It’s nice to take a traditional pizza party up a notch these days by creating an interactive, homemade pizza experience among friends; one that includes rolling out the dough, ladling on fresh tomato sauce, and then topping from a selection of meticulously prepped vegetables, meats, cheeses and spices. This is exactly what my domesticated, epicurean pal Emily did this past weekend for a group of ten lady friends. Add a few bottles of vino, offer lightly dressed greens on the side and you’re all set to host one highly successful, casual affair.
The phrase “pizza party” conjures vivid images of my seven-year-old self delighting in a slice of mediocre pie while straw-sipping soda and yammering with a handful of bubbly schoolmates at a local Chuck E Cheese’s. While moderating moms stood closely nearby, the event was sure to be the highlight of my weekend…err, month. And, let’s be honest, when does this pizza party-loving feeling ever really die? Ripe in my post-collegiate years, these gatherings still evoke the same excitement and sentiment, possibly even more so now that I can better appreciate the moment.
The interactive element of a pizza party is most easily executed for those who are blessed with a spacious kitchen (à la Emily’s). We assembled, baked, ate, drank and socialized all while excitedly crowded around a large center island. For those of us who work in very tiny Manhattan-like quarters, try to make the most out of what space you do have. Shift things around and just go with it! Offering crudités or other apperitivo bites for guests to immediately nosh on while assembling pies will help pass the baking downtime. Remember this is supposed to be a leisurely and fun, not rushed, activity.
Regardless of kitchen size it is imperative to make the dough in advance; dough needs time to rise. Then, come party-time guests simply roll it, sauce it, top it, bake it and EAT IT! It is also wise to prep fresh vegetables ahead of time as many have a high water content. Thinly slice, then lay out on dry paper towels to absorb excess liquid; it will prevent the crust from being soggy. No one likes a soggy crust.
Once making a tomato sauce based pie or two, you may start thinking of what on-hand pantry items may help diversify the menu. At our gathering, an impressive fresh basil pesto was made on the whim by processing leftover basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and salt/pepper to taste. It made for the base of one delicious vegetable-topped pie. Similarly, you could make a classic white pizza by simply brushing the dough with garlic-infused olive oil, then adding fresh tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and whole basil leaves. Yum!
Now, the involvement of the below recipe may certainly be scaled back per desired level of effort. For example, you could buy and thaw frozen dough, use jarred tomato sauce and snag store-prepped toppings; shy of assembly, all of the work is done for you. This fast-forwarded approach may be enjoyed by some just as much as doing the whole shebang. For me, the taste of freshly homemade dough and tomato sauce cannot be beat. Bravo, dear hostess! Plus, there’s something novel and unpretentious about friends working together in the kitchen; it makes for great memories.
Emily’s Homemade Pizza Dough & Sauce
Makes enough for one small to medium sized pizza depending on thickness of crust. For additional pizzas, double both dough and sauce recipes accordingly.
2 T dry white wine*
6 T warm water
3/4 t active dry yeast
1/2 t honey
1 t salt
1 T olive oil
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour**
cornmeal (for dusting stone)
*White wine adds great flavor to the dough, but 2 T water may be substituted if necessary
**To make a whole wheat crust, substitute half whole wheat flour where the recipe calls for all-purpose
8 roma tomatoes
1 to 2 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 c dry white wine
1/2 t sugar
3/4 t salt
Basil, whole leaves or chiffonade*
Pepperoni, thinly sliced
Peppers, thinly sliced
Onions, thinly sliced
Sausage, browned and crumbled
*Chiffonade is a technique in which herbs or leafy green vegetables are cut into long, thin strips. Stack leaves, roll them tightly, and then cut across the rolled leaves with a sharp knife to produce fine ribbons
1. Whisk wine, water and yeast in a medium bowl until yeast is dissolved. Add honey, salt and olive oil and stir until blended. Add flour and – no matter how dry it looks – work it out with a spoon and your fingers until it comes together as dough. *Add water one T at a time as needed for the dough to come together
2. Sprinkle flour on counter and knead the dough for a minute or two. Put the dough in a bowl coated with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.
1. Bring medium pot of water to boil. Poach the tomatoes for one minute, then drain. When cool enough to handle, peel the tomatoes and remove the hard stem. *It is often advised to squeeze the tomatoes into a colander over a bowl to rid of the seeds; use the whole tomatoes and now de-seeded juice if using this method. Rinse and dry the pot, then return it to the burner over medium heat.
2. Pour the olive oil in the pot and heat slowly before adding the garlic. Stir a minute with a wooden spoon, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the red pepper flakes and stir for another minute. Add the peeled tomatoes, wine, sugar and salt, breaking up the tomatoes with the wooden spoon.
3. Let sauce simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are fully tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
1. Preheat oven to its highest temperature (I use 500°F). Put pizza stone* in the oven to warm.
2. Turn prepared dough onto a floured counter. Form into a ball and let rest for 15 minutes loosely covered with either plastic wrap or underneath of an upended bowl.
3. Using a rolling pin, roll dough to desired thickness. Remove pizza stone from oven and sprinkle with cornmeal. *This prevents dough from sticking to the stone. Lift flat dough onto the heated stone, then add sauce, shredded mozzarella, and desired toppings.
4. Bake about 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and crust is browned. Remove from oven and let sit for a minute or two so that the cheese can set.
*You can absolutely enjoy homemade pizza without a pizza stone. This recipe works just as well with a standard baking sheet – no need to warm the pan before hand, just sprinkle with the cornmeal and bake until crisp.