Sep 07 2009

Fast Food My Way: Stovetop Personal Pan Pizza

Who doesn’t like pizza? No one I know. But not many folks make pizzas from scratch. It’s easy to see why. Oven-baking can take an hour or more, and it sure heats up the kitchen in summer. That said, take-out isn’t the only way to go when you want a good pizza in a hurry. It might be Labor Day, but that doesn’t mean I want to toil over a hot oven when I could be doing something outside. So, at times like this, when I’m in a hurry and pizza’s on the menu, the oven gets a day off. I do the biz on the stovetop, instead. The end result may not rival a pizza baked in a wood-fired stone hearth, but it takes less then 15 minutes to go from prep to plate. Better yet, the crust is chewy without being tough, and the cheese has a rich, smoky tang. Sometimes second-best can be pretty damn good.

All it takes is a source of heat, and a camp stove will do as well as an Aga. Plus a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with a lid, a spatula, and a pizza pan — or a cookie sheet. In a pinch, even a large plate will do.

At heart, pizza is a bread. I make my own dough, dividing each mass into eight balls and freezing them till the day they’re needed. Then I remove as many as I want from the fridge — each ball is bagged in plastic — putting them on a counter to thaw. (Don’t leave this till the last minute. It takes several hours for a ball of frozen dough to warm up to room temperature.) If making dough from scratch sounds like too much trouble, you can always pick up some frozen dough at the HyperMart, or even buy a ready-made crust.

Anyway, here’s a list of everything that goes into my stovetop pizza:

  • Pizza dough (or ready-made pizza crusts): one baseball-sized ball of dough per personal pizza
  • All-purpose flour
  • Canola, peanut, or corn oil (NOT olive oil — too smoky)
  • Pizza sauce (I use canned crushed tomatoes)
  • Ground black pepper (optional)
  • Herbs (optional, but I like dried oregano or basil)
  • Grated mozzarella
  • Grated Parmesan
  • Any other toppings of your choice

Have everything ready before you start. If, like me, you prefer to do as much as you can yourself, grate your own cheese. Or buy your cheese ready-grated. I allow two ounces of mozzarella per person, along with a few shavings of Parmesan. I also use crushed canned tomatoes and season with dried oregano and ground black pepper, but you can use a prepared pizza sauce if you prefer. Whatever you do, though, don’t overload your pizzas, or you may find that the crust has blackened before the cheese has melted.

Now the real work begins. Dust a pizza pan, cookie sheet, or large plate with flour. Use just enough to prevent the dough from sticking. Then gently stretch the dough out into an eight- to nine-inch round, as shown below:

Personal Pan Pizza

Make as many rounds as you need. Next, drizzle a small amount of oil into your skillet and place it over a high flame. (Or on a burner set to High.) When a small piece of dough dropped onto the hot iron sizzles, slide the first preformed pizza round into the pan. It may bubble up in the middle once it hits the hot oil, but gentle pressure with a spatula will soon have it under control. Once that’s done, cover the pan.

Personal Pan Pizza

After a minute or two, lift one edge of the round and see how things look. Is the underside a light golden brown? Then flip the dough using the spatula, taking care not spatter yourself with hot oil. Now cover the skillet again and let the dough “bake” for another minute or two. Check the underside as before. Is it golden brown? Good. It’s done.

Personal Pan Pizza

Set the finished crust to one side and slide the next into the pan. (You may need to add a little oil at this point, particularly if you’re making more than two pizzas. Be sure to give the added oil a minute to come up to temperature.) Top the first crust while you’re waiting for the second to brown. It will need three or four tablespoons of crushed tomato, followed by a sprinkle of oregano and pepper. Then add the cheese — mozzarella first, Parmesan last. Additional toppings, whether meat or vegetable, should be sandwiched between the crushed tomato and the cheese. A reminder is in order here: Do NOT overload your pizzas.

Repeat as often as necessary. When all the crusts are nicely browned and at least one has been topped, it’s time to finish the job. (If necessary, add a little more oil to the pan, once again giving it time to heat.) Place the topped crust in the pan. Cover immediately and lower the flame (or dial the burner back to Medium-High).

Personal Pan Pizza

Top off the remaining crusts while the first pizza cooks. Don’t be tempted to lift the lid on the pan until about four minutes have passed, after which you should check on progress. Has the cheese melted? Then the first pizza is done. (If you’re in doubt, just replace the lid and leave it alone for another minute.) Here’s how I like mine:

Personal Pan Pizza

When you’re satisfied that everything is as it should be, slide the finished pizza out onto a heatproof surface and allow it to cool while you put its successor in the pan. Continue in this manner until all the pizzas are ready to eat. (Don’t be surprised if your kitchen gets a little smoky, or if the the pizzas char a bit on the bottom. It shouldn’t affect the flavor.) Now shut off the stove, let the last pizza sit for a few minutes, and cut each round into quarters with a chef’s knife. Serve with salad and a glass of beer or wine. Pizza doesn’t get much easier — or better, come to that.

Personal Pan Pizza

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