The Problem with Pizza

posted in: Recipes, Ruminations | 8


Last Sunday I spent a couple of hours making sauce, dough, preparing the toppings and putting it all together in a cheesy, sausage and jalepeno pizza to share with a couple of friends. We all had a great time. Then afterwards, I got really sad when I realized, thinking about the cost calculator section of the blog post that would be, that I probably would have spent just the same if I’d just bought a large sausage and jalepeno pie at any of the pie joints down the block. Such highs and lows are the life of the home cooker.

The experience proved an example of a dish that’s just hard to beat when cooking it at home. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as the time I made thirty or so tiny pizzas, but it’s time-consuming. And not one of the easiest operations when you don’t have a counter large enough to fit a full-size pie.

The town in New Jersey that I grew up in had three pizza shops within a three-block downtown radius. Two of them had dough throwing stations in the windows of the shop so you could watch them throw the dough in the air, scoop a ladle of sauce and spread it in a spiral on the dough, throw the cheese on and then take the wooden board the pie sat atop by the handle and thrust the pizza off of it and into the oven. Then they’d grab another ball of dough and do it over. It was almost something of a mechanical, continuous movement, making one large pizza pie.

The third and last pizza place to arrive in town was decidedly higher-minded and touted their wood-burning “brick oven” pies. Their crusts were thinner and black and sooty on the bottom. The first pizza place had been there forever; I thought their pizza tasted a little cheap compared to the other two. The guys who worked there tended to have attitudes. The second place had been opened by a guy who quit the first pizza joint to open his own restaurant. With better quality ingredients and toppings, their pizza was the median of the three. (And nobody in Jersey called them “pie shops”; they were “pizzerias.”)

Little did I know as I watched these guys spin dough behind the glass, clouds of flour pluming up with the brevity of their movements and the hot oven door behind them continually being opened, pizzas in, pizzas out, how inconvenient it would be to re-create this scene at home. That the flour would not gently pile against the crevices of glass windows and counter but would lodge itself in the splinters of my hardwood floors, go through the grates of my gas stove. Get in my hair, and alternately, get hair in it. All of this, and for exactly what? I wasn’t saving much of my hard-earned money much for the effort. If I’d decided to buy more elaborate ingredients I’m sure I would have been able to get that at a more expensive, elaborate pizza shop in the city. To what degree of satisfaction can the skill of stretching and throwing dough into a flat disc possibly extend?

The next question, then, was how can I make pizza to better make use of my time, money, and space in my kitchen. Use leftover spaghetti sauce and veggies on their last days in the fridge? Utilize the age-old English muffin or French bread pizza instead of making the dough? But I’m not really crazy about those kinds of pizzas to begin with, soggy bread underneath the sauce and all.

So the problem with pizza being on my blog (the dough and sauce made from scratch) is that it just doesn’t add up. Cost, time, health, nutrition, convenience—I can’t vouch for this. The case is dropped. But that doesn’t mean I’m never going to spend a few hours and make a mess cooking this at home again. After all, it’s fun to create a big project serving no usefulness whatsoever. That’s why I started this blog in the first place.


How I made these two pizzas:
(made about 4-6 servings)

Recipes for the dough and sauce from my post on mini-pizzas a few weeks ago, this time adding more spices, herbs, and a dash of brown sugar to the tomato sauce.
4 sweet Italian sausage links, browned and sliced
jarred jalepeno slices
2 12-oz packages of mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Dust baking sheet with a little flour or cornmeal. Stretch dough into the shape of your baking sheet and place it down. Layer tomato sauce, then cheese, then toppings. Bake for about 20 minutes, and let cool for a few minutes before cutting.

Cost Calculator
(for 4-6 servings)

3 1/2 cups flour: $0.75
1 yeast package (at $1.99/3): $0.65
1 large can of tomatoes: $1.99
1 can tomato paste: $0.59
2 12-oz packages of mozzarella: $7.00
4 Italian sausages (at $2.79/pack of 6): $1.86
several jarred jalepeno slices: $0.30
Spices, salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic: $0.17

Total: $13.31

Health Factor

No credit here for attempting to make pizza healthier. I’m sure it can and has been done in many ways, but a better idea might be to serve healthy sides along with it so you don’t end up eating too much of the pizza.

8 Responses

  1. Yvo

    That still looks fab and was delicious, I bet. Well, I guess you’ve conclusively proven that sometimes you just have to order a pie to go. Mm, your crusts look really thin though, and that’s a good thing… good thin crust pizza can be really expensive.

  2. michael

    Arturo’s was rocking pesto and balsamic grilled chicken on their pizzas before most people had even *heard* of pesto. But I always found myself going back to Roman Gourmet…

  3. Jason Truesdell

    For me, making pizza at home ends up being cheaper for what I get then when I go out, because I’m far more likely to use real buffalo mozzarella, more interesting mushrooms, vegetables, cheeses, and so on. Most cheap pizza places use low-moisture mozzarella or some monstrous institutional product, and I tend to prefer at least the fresher taste of a cow’s mozzarella that must be sliced.

    But more importantly, making bread is good for the soul. And your home will never smell as good from the takeout place as it will when your entire home smells of yeast and sizzling cheese.

    If I’ve only got 15 minutes to get dinner ready, maybe I’ll go grab takeout. But on a weekend, I usually prefer what I can produce at home.

  4. cathy


    Jason–how nicely said 🙂 (Love your blog!) Definitely will have to try this with buffalo mozzarella next time–I got a kick out of eating Polly-o straight up like string cheese but I think that’s over now…

    Michael–right, the no cheese and no sauce pizza didn’t go over too well, did it? Damn those fancypants’.

  5. Tim

    Who cares if it might have been less expensive to buy in? Just quietly that is not the point of cooking for yourself and sharing the joy with a few friends!

  6. cathy

    Thanks Tim!

  7. Charles

    I have to agree with Tim.

    For a couple of years now, I’ve had friends over every other Saturday or so, and we cook. We do all different kinds of things and experiment a bit, but we always come back to pizza. In fact, I’d say that 75% of the time, that’s what everyone wants.

    I found a fast dough recipe that doesn’t need an extended rising time (takes literally 20 minutes from start to in the pan), because my friends like thin crust. Very thin crust.

    Anyway, we all get together in the kitchen and talk and laugh and share as we make dough, cut up toppings, and argue about whose will be the best and way.

    We play around with toppings a lot and have discovered some incredible thingst to put on pizza (prosciutto, for one, and smoked mozzerella for another), and at the end of the evening, we’ve all had way too much to eat. (Did I mention that since I got an ice cream maker for Christmas, we are constantly making ice cream for dessert?). But we’ve also had a chance to take a break from our busy and stressful lives and just have a bit of fun.

    And no take-out, no matter how good, can top that.

    Love the blog. Just found you today and added you to my growing list of favorites.

  8. fornetti

    I do not believe this

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