I’ve been on something of a chemical-free kick lately, food-wise. (I still put Lord-knows-what’s-in-it volumizing spray in my hair before I blow dry, but I’m using organic conditioner and wash my clothes with biodegradable detergent! Baby steps.) While I’m not making any groundbreaking changes in my diet, beyond the basic healthy choices I’ve adopted over the years, the whole “farm-to-table,” hormone-free dialogue just makes me think. A lot.
It also leaves me with questions. How many chemicals, preservatives, dyes and additives are in foods I eat every day? What’s their impact on my health? And how difficult will it be for me to channel my inner Alice Waters / Barbara Kingsolver / Michael Pollan on a teacher’s budget?
The easiest way to start, as someone who’s a long way from either being a master chef or growing her own animal, vegetable or miracle, is to try making what you can from scratch. A friend once told me that she stuck to the “outer rim” of the grocery store — produce, lean protein, etc. — and I find that the more “whole foods” I buy, and the more things I make on my own, the better I feel. And, frankly, the better my conscience feels, both in terms of my own health and in terms of my impact (or lack thereof) on the earth. I could buy the premade pizza dough and tomato sauce, manufactured hundreds of miles away, stuffed into non-biodegradable containers and chock-full of preservatives and chemicals, or I could make my own.
Granted, I’m not in an episode of “Portlandia” here — no one made homemade parmesan cheese in an organic bucket with locally sourced rennet, and I’m not exactly raising my own chickens on an urban homestead. Nor am I looking down on those who don’t make their own pizza crust, sauce or the like. Life’s too short to judge how “green” someone else’s diet is. But the baby steps are the building blocks of real lifestyle change. Why not try and make some little adjustments, if the overall benefit is to your health and the joy of your taste buds?
And oh, is it worth it! There’s something so lovely about taking that kind of ownership over your food. Cutting through a crust you’ve kneaded. Spooning on a sauce you’ve cooked yourself. Slicing market-fresh vegetables and sprinkling them with cheese. Serving that hot, steaming pie to people you love. As Martha would say, it’s a good thing. (Then again, Martha also went to prison for insider trading. Again, nobody’s perfect.)
Easy Peasy Homemade Pizza — serves 4 – 8
For the dough — makes enough for 2 pizzas. [courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens]
- 2 cups lukewarm water (105° to 115°, to get technical; just make sure it’s not too hot, or you’ll kill your yeast.)
- 2 packets active dry yeast (or 4 and 1/2 tsps)
- 6 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose (OR 5 cups all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat)
- 2 tsps sea salt
For the sauce — makes enough for 2 pizzas.
One recipe Homemade Pasta Sauce, minus the tomato paste and carrots
You’ll also need …
- 1 small bag shredded mozzarella cheese (1-2 cups)
- Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling
- Romano cheese, for sprinkling
- Various dried Italian herbs
- Toppings of your choice — I love fresh bell peppers, tomatoes, and cooked chicken. (Especially shredded Rotisserie Chicken!)
Here’s what you do:
- Mix your water and yeast in a large bowl; allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes, or until slightly bubbly.
- Add flour and salt, mixing to combine. The pre-kneaded dough may seem pretty dry.
- Knead the dough on a floured surface (I used my tabletop) for 6-8 minutes, or until elastic in texture. (I.e. when you poke it, it bounces back a bit.) Form into a ball.
- Grease a large bowl; place the dough in the bowl, turning over once or twice until it’s coated in oil or spray. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled in size, or 1-2 hours.
- Meanwhile, cook up your sauce; allow it to simmer on low, covered, as the dough’s rising.
- When the dough is fully risen, cut off half to use for another pizza. [Freeze the dough, tightly wrapped in saran wrapped and bagged in a Ziplock, for up to 3 months. (According to BHG. Have yet to test this theory.)] Roll out the dough on a floured surface and place on a cornmeal-covered pizza stone or baking sheet. Brush with a small amount of olive oil and bake in a 450° oven for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, remove the crust from the oven. Ladle on your sauce, spreading over the hot crust. Add cheeses, herbs and toppings in amounts to your liking. Return to 450° oven and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and brown.
What are your favorite pizza recipes? How have you gone “farm to table” in your own apartment kitchens?