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Football Food: The Pizza Edition

Pizza is delicious. Let's start there. Because it is delicious, and because it can be had at all hours, in all places, and in countless varieties, it fits right in with the other delicacies we've featured this season in "Football Food."

Go Irish. Beat hunger.
Go Irish. Beat hunger.

I am no arbiter in the controversy over pizza style. I love them all: California style, Chicago style, New York style, Pittsburgh style (but BEAT PANTHERS), Neapolitan, Hawaiian - you name it. As with Paint's Bloody Marys, though, there are tiers when it comes to pizza consumption. We all fall back on the ol' Tier 1 pizza from time to time, calling up the local delivery place for the joy of eating dinner from a cardboard box while watching a game. And we delight in the Tier 2 pie - the one from the best local pizzeria, with the eccentric toppings and the pronounced crust style (whatever it is) and the suspect, high-roller price.

Tier 3? Make it yourself. From scratch.

In preparation for the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh match-up, we're making a pizza sort of in the Pittsburgh style - thin crust, crunchy on the edges, with a well-seasoned and slightly sweet sauce. There are worlds of toppings to be explored, but for THIS pizza, we're going half veggie, half barbecue chicken. Okay - maybe this is more of a California style pizza.


Not pictured: cheese or chicken. But they're on the way.

Let's pull together our ingredients:


2/3 cup luke-warm water

1 packet dry yeast

2 cups flour

pinch of kosher salt

1/4 cup olive oil

pizza sauce

barbecue sauce

2 cups finely grated mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

chicken, about 1 1/2 cups cooked and sliced

2 small onions

1/2 a zucchini

fresh spinach, about 2 cups chopped

1 medium tomato


First, you need to make your pizza dough. I love this dough recipe because it's fast, reliable, and easy. Start by pre-heating your oven to its lowest temperature: you'll need a warm place for the dough to rise while preparing your toppings.

Warm your water (not too much, or you'll kill the yeast) and sprinkle the whole packet of yeast over it. Set it aside. Combine your flour and salt in a medium bowl and pour the olive oil over the dry ingredients. Like this:


Then stir the yeast into the warm water, pour the water and yeast mixture into the flour, salt, and oil mixture, and stir to combine. Then knead the whole thing in the bowl, then in your hands, for about 5 minutes until it's smooth and elastic. Add a little flour while you work to keep it from sticking to your hands. Lightly oil the bowl and place the dough back into it. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel, turn off your oven, and slide the covered bowl in to rise.

My trick here is to let the dough rise in the warm over for 15 minutes, then pull it out so it finishes rising on your countertop while you preheat the oven to 425 degrees. When the dough has risen for half an hour (which is all it needs), you'll notice the difference:


While the dough is doing its thing, you'll have just the time you need to prepare your toppings. For the barbecue chicken half of our pizza, we need to sauté and slice the chicken. While the chicken is cooking, chop up the onions. Then caramelize the onions in the same pan when the chicken is finished. For the veggie half of the pizza, slice the zucchini and the tomato very thin and slice (or chiffonade, if you're fancy) the spinach. Like so:


At this point, the dough will have risen properly, and you'll need to oil your pizza pan or baking sheet. This dough perfectly stretches to cover a 16" pan or a 13"x9" baking sheet, but you can make a smaller, thicker-crusted pizza if that's your preference.

Plop the risen dough into the center of your pizza pan and gently stretch it out towards the edges. Then use your fingers to push the dough, flattening it outward until it evenly covers the pan and you have a thicker edge around the outside. Like so:


Then comes the sauce. For a half-and-half of this kind, we'll split the sauce, too, with barbecue on one side and tomato on the other. This is also where you season the pizza with black pepper, plain or garlic salt, dried oregano, and, over the tomato sauce, dried basil.


Then the toppings. In my pizza world, some toppings belong underneath the cheese, and others belong on top of it. You'll need to figure out for yourself which toppings you like where, but for me, the caramelized onions belong under the cheese on one half, and the zucchini and spinach belong under the cheese on the other half. Like so:


The cheese comes next. Generously and evenly cover your sauces and under-toppings with the mozzarella cheese. Then finish the pizza with your upper-toppings - in this case, chicken on one half and tomatoes on the other. Sprinkle the parmesan over the top of everything.


Time to bake. The trick with baking your thin-crust pizza is to use the highest temperature you can without over-cooking the cheese, and the shortest baking time you can while getting the crust crispy under the middle. Those two things will vary depending on how thin your pizza is and how many toppings you use. This particular pizza cooked on the bottom rack of the oven at 425 degrees for 14 minutes, then I put the temperature up to 450 degrees and let it cook for 8 more minutes. Then the edges were browned, the crust was crusty under the middle, the cheese was melted, and all was well.


And then it disappeared.


Now let's hear how you all like your pizza.