Never let it be said that Rhode Islanders don't know their pizza.
Pizza is a way of life here. On Federal Hill, the most Italian neighborhood in the most Italian state in the country, even the local bar grills pizza in a wood-fired oven. Thick crust or thin, from North Providence to Newport, you can find above-average pizza everywhere, including in our middle-of-nowhere village five miles up the road.
And, because we love our pizza, every market sells fresh pizza dough, often from the local pizzeria or from a comissary not more than a few minutes from the store.
I hope you can find ready-to-use pizza dough in your regular grocery store; it's a great convenience food that will help you get a healthy, original pizza on the table in minutes. My local market stocks white, whole wheat, and organic variations.
You can purchase white or whole wheat pizza shells, too, if you like your pizza round and thin. I'm partial to the freeform shapes I can get by rolling out the dough myself; I like to control the thickness of the pizza crust, and sometimes to fold in cheese or herbs or a sprinkling of crunchy salt and black pepper. And the dough is more versatile than the pizza shells.
Keep fresh pizza dough wrapped in a plastic bag, in the coldest part of your refrigerator. If you don't plan to use it within a day or two of purchase, store it in the freezer so the yeast doesn't start to ferment, which will make your dough taste a bit like beer. Defrost the dough in the fridge, and bring it to room temperature, to allow the gluten to relax, before you try to roll it out.
Whether your dough is store-bought, or homemade like my favorite easy whole wheat pizza dough, you'll love having it on hand for spur-of-the-moment calzones, spirals, tomato and mozzarella rolls, or pizza in a bite. And for pizza, of course, topped with good things from your pantry: tomato and pesto, garlic and shrimp, bacon and eggs, or maybe ice cream and chocolate sauce.
Peachy Mama pizza
I could eat this every day of the week, and twice on my birthday. My friend Julia, of Grow.Cook.Eat., gave me the peppers -- my first taste of peachy mamas -- and Peter, who guest blogs from his pousada in Brazil, made the pizza in my kitchen last month. Proportions are approximate; use as much or as little of each ingredient as looks good to you. Serves 2 for lunch, 6 as an appetizer.
1/2 lb fresh pizza dough
1-2 tsp olive oil
1/2 medium sweet or red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup butternut squash, cut into thin strips or small dice
Cornmeal, for the pan
1/3 cup total shredded cheddar and gouda (or your favorite cheeses)
3 Tbsp chopped peachy mama or roasted red pepper strips
Drizzle of olive oil
Sprinkling of fresh coarsely-ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425F, and take dough out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature.
In a small nonstick frying pan, heat 1 tsp of oil, and add the sliced onion. Cook over low heat for 10-12 minutes, until onions are lightly caramelized. Remove the onions to a plate, and add another tsp of oil to the pan. Add the squash, and saute until browned and caramelized. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Flour your work surface, and roll out the dough as thin as you like it, less than 1/2 inch thick. On a flat baking sheet, sprinkle cornmeal (it will act like ball bearings to keep your pizza from sticking). Lay the dough on the baking sheet. Spread the cheese all around on top of the dough. Arrange onions and squash around the surface. Sprinkle peachy mamas here and there. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil, and season with black pepper. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted and crust is lightly browned. Serve hot.
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