The other day, I got to thinking about comfort foods and what mine are. It seems that bloggers tend to often write about their own comfort foods and there is usually a lovely childhood story behind them. Unfortunately, I'm not quite so lucky in that regard. I didn't grow up with home cooked meals and family recipes passed down from grandma.
No, I grew up on McDonald's and anything microwaved.
Not very romantic, is it? Mom wasn't much of a cook. (Still isn't, but that's okay!)
I read about other people's comfort foods and they usually sound so dreamy and exotic - especially those who come from different countries (or whose parents did). I sometimes wish I could live through them the best, most comforting moments of their lives, just eating what is soothing to them. The memories and feelings a certain dish can bring back, I truly wish I had that.
I never believed I did until a recent epiphany. We were in desperate need for a hefty grocery store run, but it was late and I didn't feel like going. I figured I'd find something to throw together and make do until the next day. Being in a rather lazy mood, I decided to make a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich, something I haven't made for myself in years (though I practically make them daily for my son who loves them above anything else).
As I ate my sandwich, my first thought was how good it was. Every bite made me feel like a little kid again; reminded me of that sliver of time that came after school and before my parents came home from work (yes, I was also a latch-key child) and the freedom of those couple of hours. The simplicity of having nothing to do other than your chores and perhaps a little bit of homework. The excitement of catching an hour or so of MTV (banned in our house - too risque in my parent's eyes) hoping to catch a video I'd already seen a hundred times. And that's when it hit me: this is my comfort food! I never would have thought of PB&J that way, but there it was. Each bite took me back to a simpler time and gave me a touch of the warm and fuzzies inside. And that is what comfort foods are all about. It's not gourmet, it's just simple and good. I like that.
This pizza I made recently is also just that: simple and good. It's not quite as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but it's incredibly easy for a homemade pizza. You can make it after work and not feel like you had to put much effort into it. The crust is a simple a no-knead recipe and only requires 2 1/2 hours total of rise time and turns out thin and crispy.
While you can always add whatever toppings you wish, I really wanted to showcase one of my favorite cheeses on this pizza. I used Beecher's Smoked Flagship which is amazing alone and even more incredible on a pizza. A little goes a long way and the smokiness is not overpowering. One bite and your eyes sort of roll back and you can't help but let out an enthusiastic, "Mmmmm!"
This recipe makes enough dough for two thin crust pizzas (sheet pan sized - 13 by 18 inch). I halved the recipe and it worked just fine. I prefer to use weight measurements but also included volumetric to the right if you don't have a scale.
One more note - no-knead bread is usually very wet and sticky. That is not the case with this recipe, in fact, it's the driest no-knead dough I've come across yet. You may have to really get in there and mix those last bits of dough into one ball - don't let that worry you! Sometimes hands are the best utensil :)
Basic Pizza Dough
from My Bread by Jim Lahey
500 grams bread flour (all purpose is fine) / 3 3/4 cups
10 grams instant or active dry yeast / 2 1/2 teaspoons
5 grams table salt / 3/4 teaspoon
3 grams sugar / 3/4 teaspoon
300 grams room temp. water (about 72 F) / 1 1/3 cups
extra virgin olive oil
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water and using your hands, mix until well blended. At this point, it won't seem like typical no-knead dough, but much drier. Cover with a towel and let rise until more than double, or approximately 2 hours.
Remove dough from bowl and form into a rough ball. Divide into two halves and space them about 4-5 inches apart; cover both with a moistened towel (so it doesn't stick) for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, preheat your oven to 475-500 (if it goes that high, if not 475 is fine) and prepare your toppings. I prefer to keep it simple, so I used leftover spaghetti sauce, red onion, a roma tomato, Beecher's Smoked Flagship and a bit of manchego cheese that needed to be used.
Lightly oil your sheet pan. Take your dough ball and gently stretch it the length of your sheet pan and place it in the middle of the pan. Carefully stretch your dough until it covers the entire sheet pan. This dough is very easy to stretch and doesn't snap back on you. You may need to work it a bit to get it to cover fully, but it will.
Once your dough is stretched you can add your toppings. Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until the crust is golden. Remove and sprinkle with fresh basil.