Mushrooms, arugula, red onion and mozzarella come together with [gasp!] ready made dough for this Mostly Wild Mushroom Pizza, about as fast as delivery. Recipe below.
Let me start with a confession. This is the first pizza I’ve ever made. We love pizza, and Marion occasionally makes it, always a treat. But mostly when we want pizza, we order out. That’s because when we think of having it, it’s often either [a.] close enough to dinner that we don’t have the time or patience to make pizza dough or [b.] a weeknight and we’ve been at work all day, which means see [a.].
So when I was invited to test a ready-to-bake thin crust pizza dough, Pillsbury® Thin Crust Pizza Crust, I jumped at the chance. It’s not that I’m afraid of making pizza dough [okay, well maybe I am just a little]; it’s more that I hate to plan ahead. And even though pizza dough is decidedly unfinicky and nonfragile, unlike many bread doughs, there’s also a bit of the pain-in-the-ass factor at play here, at least for me.
But if someone else were to make the dough and I was free to concentrate on the toppings, I would be intrigued. And I was. I was even further intrigued by the fact that this was thin crust dough. Despite Chicago’s reputation as a deep dish town, there’s an ever-growing contingent that prefers thin crust. Count me in that group.
Okay, so I had some dough to play with, courtesy of Pillsbury. [Full disclosure time: They sent me the pizza crust dough for free, and that's how I'm reviewing this product, for free.] Now I had to figure out what I wanted to do with it. First, I nosed around Deb’s excellent Smitten Kitchen archives. Deb loooves pizza and shares great ideas for making it on her blog from time to time. I’ll include links to some great tips she has in the Kitchen Notes below. You’ll find more about how the pizza dough performed there too.
Next I hit the library. I came away with a few books on pizza, including one by noted Italian chef Wolfgang Puck. But the one I gravitated to and learned the most from was a practical little volume, stuffed with recipes, helpful tips and gorgeous photographs, called Pizza! It’s by two London-based food writers, Pippa Cuthbert [by way of New Zealand] and Lindsay Cameron Wilson [by way of Canada]. They talk about equipment, give recipes for various doughs [and yes, I will make my own at some point] and devote an entire chapter to classic pizza recipes. And then they take off in many directions, just as pizza itself has done.
Reading through numerous recipes in Pizza!, I came up with lots of ideas to try. More important, I got a good sense of basic techniques for working with topping ingredients and the encouragement to experiment.
A visit to the Logan Square Farmers Market in my Chicago neighborhood on Sunday turned up some wild golden chanterelle and shiitake mushrooms that had been collected in Wisconsin just that morning. That was a great start. Some sliced baby bellas, arugula and mozzarella [from Trader Joe's], a red onion and some garlic, and I was ready to play.
Mostly Wild Mushroom Pizza
Serves 3 to 4
Pizza dough [I used Pillsbury Thin Crust Pizza Crust]
Flour, corn meal [optional]
6 to 8 ounces mozzarella, sliced [see Kitchen Notes]
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced [about 1 cup]
3 cups mixed mushrooms [I used a mix of wild and cultivated]
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-1/2 cups arugula, packed
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Special equipment: Pizza pan, parchment paper [optional]
Preheat oven to 425ºF.
Prepare pizza base or dough for topping. I lined a thin metal baking sheet with parchment paper and gave it a dusting of flour and cornmeal, partly to help the dough not stick to the parchment and partly because I like the hint of flour and cornmeal on pizza crust. You can also use a lightly oiled nonstick pizza pan or baking sheet. I unrolled the Pillsbury crust on the baking sheet and easily reshaped it into a 10-inch x 15-inch rectangle. If you’re using homemade dough, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch diameter circle and transfer to prepared pizza pan.
Arrange sliced mozzarella on pizza crust, leaving about a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the crust. I tore some of the slices into smaller pieces, covering the crust and leaving little gaps in the cheese here and there.
Prepare pizza toppings. Heat a large nonstick skillet over a medium flame. Add oil and sauté onion, mushrooms and garlic for about 3 minutes, tossing to coat evenly with oil. Add arugula and toss, cooking until it is just wilted, 1 or 2 minutes. Turn off heat, season with salt and pepper.
Using a slotted spoon [okay, and your fingers], distribute topping mixture evenly over pizza crust and cheese. Do this with an eye for a nice visual mix of ingredients.
Place pizza pan on middle rack in the oven and bake until the the crust is a deep golden brown, about 12 to 17 minutes. Remove from oven and let pizza rest for a few minutes, then serve.
Start at the bottom: How was the crust? In a word, excellent. I had read so much about how a pizza stone gives you a crisper crust, I was worried that this store-bought crust would suffer in that regard. Even the instructions from Pillsbury said for a crisper crust, you should prebake it for 5 minutes before adding the toppings. Not to worry. It had a nice, satisfying crunch to it, even without prebaking, with no sogginess in the middle. Of course the latter could be due to the non-sauciness of my toppings—just cheese and vegetables. It had a satisfying flavor too, particularly while the pizza was hot.
[The whole pizza was delicious, I might add. The earthy, rich flavor of the mushrooms balanced by the bite of the onion and the peppery taste of arugula; and garlic makes just about anything taste better, doesn't it? All in all, an omigod moment with the first bite.]
Pillsbury Thin Crust Pizza Crust comes in an elongated version of their iconic biscuit and crescent roll packaging. Very easy to work with and quite sensible for stocking in stores and storing in your refrigerator, but an amusing surprise when I first saw the package. That the crust was a rectangle instead of the more familiar circle was a minor disappointment to me, but I quickly got over it. Again, this was a function of practical packaging. The dough was easy to work with too, from rolling it out to stretching and reshaping it—very pliable with no tearing. You’ll find a lot of pizza recipes at Pillsbury’s website, but they encourage you to experiment and create your own.
As I said, the flavor was at its best when it was hot. As it cooled, it retained its crunch, but lost some of the flavor. This is due at least in part to the fact that it primarily relies on baking soda for the rising action. The room temperature pizza lacked some of the yeasty taste we so associate with pizza. And it was still quite good, just not surprisingly so as it had been fresh from the oven. For major fans of cold pizza straight from the fridge the next morning, this may or may not be a deal breaker.
So would I use it again? You bet. Unless I’m ordering out really high-end pizza, this was as good or better than delivery. Just about as fast too. And at about $2.49 for the crust, you’ll probably end up saving a few bucks or more per pizza while getting exactly the ingredients you want. Now that I’ve dipped my toe in the pizza pool, I really do plan to make my own crust at some point. But when a pizza craving hits on a random Tuesday night, I’ll be more than happy to have this in my fridge.
Let’s talk cheese now. While other cheeses get a paragraph or two at most in Pizza!, mozzarella gets two pages. And rightly so. It is the classic pizza cheese. Mozzarella comes in a bewildering variety of forms, though, from fresh mozzarella packed in water to block, sliced, shredded and even pearls. Whatever variety you use, one key to success with pizza is to have it as dry as possible. Block, sliced and shredded mozzarella are drier varieties to begin with, so there’s no problem working with them as is. If you use the water-packed style, blot it dry with a paper towel after slicing.
And finally, smart tips from Smitten Kitchen. As I said, Deb’s blog was my first stop when I started thinking pizza. Among other things I found was this recipe for an easy-to-make pizza dough. Even more enlightening was her 10 paths to painless pizza-making. In it, she talks about how you can make pizza dough ahead of time and let it slow-rise in the fridge, how you can approximate brick oven baking at home and the fact that you can even buy pizza dough from your neighborhood pizza shop. This last tip took away any remaining guilt I had about not making my own crust this time.