Homemade pizza, quick enough for a weeknight

by Terry B on October 1, 2008

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.

Kitchen Notes

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.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Ronnie Ann October 1, 2008 at 3:47 am

First of all Terry…I am THE pizza girl. If I could, I would eat it at every meal (thin crust of course). And, I must admit, my first reaction to a store-bought crust was intense skepticism. But considering how quickly you whipped it up and considering you don’t have a brick oven (I assume), this sounds FABULOUS! Red onions, mushrooms, and garlic is a favorite topping for me. Never thought of arugula… sounds interesting. Thanks for another great post. And I definitely want to hear about that homemade crust one of these days!

Ronnie Ann

Ronnie Ann October 1, 2008 at 3:56 am

Oh…sorry for the double comment but I forgot to mention just how much I appreciate a non-tomato pie. I’m kind of allergic to tomatoes (although my love of Italian food makes that really hard) and it’s rare to see someone do pizza without them. Not that I don’t know how to leave them out myself or order it that way, but this was so wonderfully reaffirming: I’m not leaving anything out at all! This is the real deal just as it is. Thank you for that.

Ronnie Ann

Carolyn October 1, 2008 at 4:03 pm

Great link to the Pillsbury site, Terry. Coupons!

altadenahiker October 1, 2008 at 4:09 pm

Wolfgang Puck is Sicilian, no? Given the success I had with your Chinese Noodle recipe, I’m on to pizza. Good food, great stories, you’re right.

Terry B October 1, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Ronnie Ann—No problem with the double comments. This is supposed to be a conversation here, so the more the merrier. And while I do like tomato sauce on pizza sometimes, it has become such a default that it’s great to be seeing so many different choices out there. Also, the whole point of this quick crust is having good pizza fast. So unless I wanted to use pizza sauce from a jar, it would slow things down too much. I’m also a big fan of sliced or chopped fresh tomatoes on pizza in place of the sauce.

Carolyn—Coupons? I totally missed that. I’m going back there now! Coupon clipping is definitely on the rise these days as food costs go up along with everything else.

altadenahiker—Glad the Chinese noodles worked out for you! You know, for all the fun you’ve been poking at food blogs on your blog lately [and very funny, I have to admit], I suspect there’s a burgeoning foodie lurking within you.

The Italian Dish October 1, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Your pizza looks fantastic and the crust is intriguing! We make homemade pizzas every week at our house – Tuesdays are always Pizza Night. I always make the dough from scratch (it’s really too easy) and you can make the dough a day or even two ahead and just refrigerate it until you want to use it. But this dough intrigues me for surprise, last minute pizzas. I will have to try it!

Erin October 1, 2008 at 5:21 pm

My mom used to use frozen bread dough for pizza crust when she was short on time, and it worked out really well, too. I like that this is pre-made thin crust; I might have to try it sometime. I’m lucky, though, I married a guy who worked at a pizza place in college, so I get excellent homemade pizza anytime I want it :)

Kristen October 1, 2008 at 5:55 pm

I received this from Pillsbury too and have yet to make a pizza with it! This looks like a delicious way to use the crust and great tips too!

altadenahiker October 1, 2008 at 6:55 pm

don’t tell anyone, but I like my fish raw and steak rare, and will pawn anything for the right wine and cheese. Oh, and collect great recipes such as yours. This will be our dirty little secret.

evi October 2, 2008 at 3:44 am

Hoorah – for some reason my link to your new page hasn’t been working. Finally – success! It’s so great to be back

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) October 2, 2008 at 4:05 am

Don’t hesitate to take a bit of help from the pantry (or freezer) if it makes it easier to have great pizza at home. We live so far from the nearest pizza delivery place that when the urge strikes, I’ve been known to take a frozen pizza out and doctor it up. No shame in that, and and you can have all the toppings you want!

Terry B October 2, 2008 at 4:40 am

Italian Dish—Please share your “really too easy” dough recipe with us!

Erin, does your husband deliver?

Kristen—Can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

altadenahiker—For a quarter, I won’t tell a soul.

evi—Welcome back!

Lydia—Oh, I take advantage of the pantry and freezer on a regular basis. Do give this crust a try; I think you’ll like it better than doctoring a frozen pizza.

My Sweet & Saucy October 2, 2008 at 7:37 am

What a fabulous looking pizza! The toppings look sooo good!

Donald October 2, 2008 at 5:10 pm

I am one of the fortunate ones. My first job was in a pizzeria when I was 13. By the time I was 15 I had become an expert on cheese steaks and the perfect pie. I prefer tomatoes, even just stewed down a bit to a conventional sauce. And it goes on the pie sparingly!

You know what you could do Terry, is make the dough on Saturday, let it proof overnight, on Sunday cut it in fourths, and have pizza whenever you want. The dough will keep in the fridge for a week, or you could freeze it. Now, to find the right dough recipe is a bit trickier.

Mike October 2, 2008 at 6:10 pm

I almost feel like the time and pain-in-the-ass factor about making pizza dough is a good thing…otherwise, I’d be eating it nightly, lol. Glad to hear the crust worked out well–the end result looks delicious!

Ginny October 2, 2008 at 10:58 pm

Looks like a delicious combination! Yummy!

Phuong October 4, 2008 at 7:35 am

Loving it! I only order pizza, but from the look of it, I’m more inspired on trying out new recipes and toppings for pizza ^-^.

Jennifer Hess October 4, 2008 at 12:14 pm

That pizza is so gorgeous I literally gasped! Beautiful and inspiring.

Terry B October 4, 2008 at 2:38 pm

My Sweet & Saucy—Thanks for stopping by!

Donald—What perfect training for a future food blogger. This experience has definitely gotten me interested in messing with some dough.

Thanks, Ginny!

Phuong—Start with this crust or pizza dough bought from a pizza shop and you can work your way up to making your own dough. At least that’s my plan.

Jennifer—Awww, thanks!

Cara October 4, 2008 at 9:37 pm

I can’t believe this is the first pizza you’ve made, Terry. What a winner.

ann October 6, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Making pizza dough is easy, but buying it is easier! I get mine from an Italian deli down the street, but in the past I’ve bought it from pizza parlours. Sometimes they’ll sell you some dough if you ask nicely and bat your eyelashes (that I’d pay to see Terry ;-) ) Sometimes I use the pizza dough to make faux focaccia too. Not every meal has to be crazy complicated and difficult!

Terry B October 6, 2008 at 5:39 pm

Cara—And after an action-packed weekend with too much eating out, Marion and I quickly threw together another pizza with some of this dough, two cheeses, heirloom tomatoes [thanks, Brandon!], onion and arugula. A nice, simple meal with practically zero effort.

ann—So that would make it fauxcaccia, yes?

CC October 7, 2008 at 4:16 am

I made this tonight! What a hit. I’ve never made pizza before (except for with a contraption my parents had in the 80′s that you plug in or something – it was HORRIBLE)

Thanks for the inspiration! arugla is growing in my indoor garden as we speak! =)

Andrea October 7, 2008 at 8:55 am

Wolfgang Puck is from Austria, but never mind :-)
I will try this recipe tonight, looks like even I could get it right. And I love arugula!

Terry B October 7, 2008 at 2:54 pm

CC—Thanks! Always glad to hear when someone makes a dish I suggest and likes it.

Andrea—Yes, I know—just a little joke. One only has to hear “Voolfgahng” speak to know he’s Austrian. Hope you enjoy the pizza! We’re big fans of arugula.

Joan Nova November 3, 2008 at 6:26 pm

I’ve used Pillsbury thin crust for pizza and to make salted rosemary flat bread and was very pleased at the results. Wish someone would send me some! :)

Matthew Gioiosi February 27, 2009 at 11:31 pm

That Pizza loooks sooooooo good. Even if it was your first time. Im starving for pizza just looking at this pic!

Lisa March 27, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I have to totally disagree – i think you would be much better off taking the time on a weekend to make a large batch of pizza dough, portion it out, and then freeze the dough balls. This way, just take it out in the morning and place in the fridge. roll it out when you come home from work and there you go – quick dough. also, you can probably make 10 pizza dough balls for hte price of 1 pilsbury tube of frakenfood.

the chemicals, texturizers, dough conditioners, GMO ingredients and god knows what else that Pilsbury uses scares me. I would never eat such processed poison or feed it to my family.

Pilsbury knows this – so they prey on talented bloggers with great repuations (like you) to give a better image and credibility to their product.

that said – I love the toppings you chose and used them on my own homemade crust with delicious results. My issues aren’t with your recipe, its with Pilsbury and i’m just sorry to see that you bought into the tricks. of course they sent you free dough – $2.49 well spent for all the free advertising you gave them. personally, i’d have tossed the dough in the garbage and said thanks but no thanks.

Terry B March 27, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Lisa, I appreciate your point. We really try to limit our use of processed foods, sticking mostly to things we consider ingredients, not full on prepared meals. I consider this dough an ingredient. It’s a way for me to make a mostly real meal with limited time. We also occasionally buy prepared pizza dough from Whole Foods, and some pizzerias will even sell balls of dough. These are other sources one could consider. Regarding your plan for making dough ahead and freezing it, it’s a great idea if one has the time. Weekends or not, I rarely do.

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