The Ultimate Guide to Weeknight Pizza: Some Assembly Required

Who doesn’t like digging into a delicious slice of pizza while unwinding from a long day at work? To achieve this weeknight pie paradise, most people usually turn to one of the following options: delivery or frozen. However, going with the former inundates you with grease, and the latter never tastes as good as the picture on the box.

Those opting for an alternative have a few choices for do-it-yourself pizza preparation: frozen crusts, flatbreads, pizza kits or the traditional flour, yeast, tomatoes and herbs. For me, I find balancing quality store-bought elements with fresh ingredients to be the ideal. Not only does it save time and money, but it also allows you to craft excellent flavors custom made for your taste buds.

To begin planning a weeknight make-at-home pizza, the crust gets top priority. To save time, I avoid making dough from scratch using flour and yeast, but I’ve never been a fan of frozen pizza crust or premade flatbreads either. Instead, I opt for prepackaged pizza dough from the grocery store. At my local Whole Foods Market, I can always find packs of dough near the selection of house-made deli products. While I prefer white flour dough because of the rise, a quick inquiry at the pizza counter never fails to procure whole-wheat dough.

Using dough prepared by pizza makers provides the best balance of cost, hassle and quality. A pack of dough costs $3, and it takes no time at all to get it ready for cooking. Plus, because it’s made from the same ingredients and in the same manner as the dough that Whole Foods uses for its own pizzas, you can bet the taste is going to be spot-on every time.

The next step for preparing a quick and easy weeknight pizza is planning. It only took one time for my wife and I to figure out that cooking a single pie during the week left us with too many unused ingredients. Now, whenever we want to cook pizza, we always buy two packs of dough, which allows us to make 6 servings.

By making two pizzas, we can portion our ingredients accordingly without letting anything go to waste. A single 16-20 oz. jar of sauce divides perfectly between two pizzas, as do most other ingredients such as cheese, an onion and a cured sausage. Just be sure that you plan according to your own needs. If you like a certain topping, for instance, that can only be bought in a larger quantity – like a pineapple – think of ways you can repurpose the ingredient for other meals or consider making an additional pizza the following week.

Now that we’ve settled on our dough, it’s time to think about toppings and sauce. I try to go for pasta sauces that compliment the toppings I’ll be using in my pizza, but using a tried-and-true marinara works just fine as well. To kick things up a notch – as Emeril would say – I sometimes opt for a jar of decadent Mezzetta brand Truffle, Porcini & Cream Marinara. It’s not much more expensive, and the stunningly rich taste adds an element of the gourmet to the humble everyday pie. Moreover, don’t be afraid to ditch the tomatoes for other options like pesto or barbeque sauce if you’re looking for a more unique and less traditional pizza.

When it comes to toppings, the door is wide open. To spur your own ideas for a creative weeknight pizza, here are some topping and sauce combinations that my wife and I love:

  • Truffle oil marinara, Olli brand Toscano sausage, red onion and Pecorino Romano
  • Marinara, fresh basil, heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella
  • BBQ sauce, shredded chicken (roasted and seasoned with turmeric, paprika, thyme, rosemary, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper), red onion and smoked Gouda
  • Marinara, pineapple, prosciutto, red onion and Gouda
  • Pesto, artichokes (in a jar or canned in oil), nicoise olives, onion, sundried tomatoes and goat cheese
  • Marinara, Olli brand pepperoni, fresh basil and Parmesan

The final step in preparing your pizza after planning everything out and buying all of your ingredients is to build your pie and cook it. Some of your toppings may need to be cooked first – such as the roasted chicken on a BBQ pizza – so I recommend preparing these ahead of time to make things quicker. In any case, make sure that you prep your dough by letting it sit at room temperature for around an hour. If you don’t have that much time, give it a quick knead first. Also, always keep your dough in the refrigerator and never in the freezer. Since you’ll be making your pizza within a few days, this will help keep it fresher and ensure that it rises well.

When your dough is ready, butter a pizza pan thoroughly – to avoid sticking – and stretch your dough to the desired size. I always stretch my dough first and then pull it out evenly over the pizza pan. Another trick I’ve learned over the years is to place some aluminum foil down over the burner on the stove where you’re letting your pan sit and where you’ll place it when it comes out of the oven. Since most pizza pans have holes in the bottom, if you don’t put something down, you can end up with sauce leaking out onto your range. Plus, you can reuse the sheet of foil to wrap up any leftover slices when you’re done eating.

As your dough rests on the pan and your oven heats, prepare the rest of your ingredients. Chop your onions, slice your sausage and julienne your basil. Next, spread your sauce over the dough, reserving half of it for your second pizza, and then layer on your toppings. To ensure that everything cooks evenly, put what cooks quickest – such as basil, olives or tomatoes – on the bottom, and put what needs the most cooking – meat and onions – on the top. I like to finish my pie with a generous sprinkling of cheese and dried herbs such as oregano or Herbes de Provence.

When you’ve prepared your pizza, put the rest of your ingredients into storage containers and place them in the fridge. This way, when you go to make your second pizza, everything is chopped and ready to go – which is perfect since this additional pie will be made later in the week.

I prefer baking pizzas at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes because it helps the dough rise and it gets a nice browning on top. However, you can always cook your pizza at a higher or lower temperature depending on your preference, so long as you keep an eye on it.

When the crust becomes golden and the cheese begins to bubble, take your pizza out of the oven, turn off the heat and sit it over your aluminum foil on the range. I always let a pizza sit for about 5 minutes so that the sauce doesn’t run when I cut into it. This also gives me time to set the table and prepare the drinks. Now, all that’s left is to serve it up and chow down!

I hope you’ve found this guide to preparing homemade pizza helpful, and I hope it’s inspired you to ditch delivery and frozen pizzas in favor of making them for yourself. Finally, remember that the choice of toppings is up to you, which can lead to significant savings if you shop wisely and plan well.

As always, happy cooking!

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