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Celebrate National Pizza Month
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Happy National Pizza Month!

Italy may claim to be the creator of pizza, but Americans sure eat our share of the popular dish. In fact, each person in America consumes about 46 slices of pizza per year. That’s a lot of dough.

Pizza is probably one of Paul’s favorite foods. He has such fond memories of helping his grandfather make pizza every Friday night when he was growing up.

When we first married, we wanted to carry on the tradition and through much trial and many errors, finally pretty much perfected homemade pizza — sans a wood-burning oven like the ones they use in Italy and upscale pizzerias in America.

One trick we learned is to use our bread machine to make the dough. Just add the simple ingredients and let the machine do all of the work for you.

Of course, you can also make the dough using a standing mixer, or even without an appliance at all — it will just take a bit more work. You can also buy pizza sauce, but since you are going to the trouble of making the dough by hand, you might as well make the sauce.

It’s not difficult and if you are a pizza loving family like us, you might as well double the recipe and freeze the extra sauce. It freezes beautifully.

Of course the toppings are up to you. We prefer sautéing vegetables such as onions, peppers and mushrooms before topping the dough with them.

Another trick is to par bake the pizza for a few minutes — especially if you like a thicker crust. That way your pizza dough won’t be “doughy” in the center.

Lastly, a pizza stone, heated until it is screaming hot, is the best way for home cooks to achieve a crisp bottom — using a pizza peel to transfer the dough onto (and off of) the pizza stone is also a necessary tool to have on hand.

Making pizza with young children is always fun — let everybody make their own pie with their own signature toppings. Alternatively, you can make calzones with the same dough recipe — just put your favorite “toppings” inside the dough and serve the pizza sauce on the side for dipping.

For grownups, serve your pizza with a salad and a nice Chianti or other red wine and you are sure to enjoy celebrating National Pizza Month in style.

Pizza dough
3 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour
1/2 cup semolina flour (in the health section of most grocery stores)
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons yeast

Add ingredients to bread machine according to manufacturer’s directions. Mine says to add liquid, salt, olive oil, honey, and then add the flours, and lastly yeast on top.
If making with a free standing mixer, activate yeast with honey and a half cup of warm (not hot) water, then when it is bubbling, add remaining ingredients and mix until well combined. Knead by hand until smooth, about eight minutes. Allow to double in size in an oiled bowl, covered with a clean tea towel, about an hour and a half.
When dough is ready, turn out onto lightly floured surface. Cut dough in half to make two large pizzas or in smaller sizes for individual pizzas. Roll out to desired size.
To bake, heat a pizza stone in a 500-degree oven until hot. Place rolled out dough on a wooden pizza peel that has been lightly dusted with cornmeal. Carefully move pizza dough from pizza peel to hot pizza stone. Reduce heat to 375-degrees and par bake dough for eight to 10 minutes, until bottom of dough easily moves and the top of the dough has a surface that is not soft. Using the pizza peel, carefully remove the pizza dough and add sauce and toppings. Using the pizza peel, carefully place pizza back onto the pizza stone and continue cooking until cheese is melted, another 10 minutes or so. Remove with pizza peel, cut into slices and serve.

Pizza sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably organic
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

In medium pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, dried oregano and red pepper flakes and cook another 30 seconds. Carefully add crushed tomatoes, honey and basil. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer and cook until sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes. Cool a bit before spreading onto pizza dough.