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From the Chronicle Kitchen
Kitchen Playdates: Pizza Party Playdate

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At this pizza party, kids get to spin pies, spin tunes and even spin art. Set aside a pound of dough, or a pie’s worth per child. While it may seem excessive, they can play with it for hours. Whether you buy it at the local parlor or in the freezer section of your supermarket, premade pizza dough is a busy parent’s best friend. You can use it to make almost anything: traditional pizza, grilled pizza, and stuffed breads, to be sure; but also pretzels and even yummy chocolate calzones. Try any of these variations for a sticky, fun mess that keeps everyone busy, happy, and well fed. You’ll wonder how you ever survived without frozen dough.

Set up a separate table with a spin art machine to keep the kids busy while everything is baking, and set out salamis, olives, cheeses, grilled sausages and vegetables, and a big salad to stave off hunger while they play and the pizzas bake.

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Rolling Out the Dough and Baking It
One pound of dough makes 1 large pie or can be divided to make 4 individual pies. If the dough has been frozen, defrost it overnight in the fridge, or take it out first thing on the day you are planning to serve. Have an extra pound hidden away for insurance.

On a lightly floured work surface press the dough into a thin circle. (Thin pizzas will cook more evenly.) Don’t get hung up on perfect circles, whatever shape the kids (or you) wind up with is fine—I call it a continent or map so no one’s feelings are hurt.

If you like a crunchy crust, you can add a handful of cornmeal to the white flour on the work surface and roll the dough over that mixture.

Position one oven rack in the middle and the other on the bottom third, and then preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone, slide the pie with its toppings onto the stone. If not, cook the pizza on an oiled sheet pan. Then remove it halfway through the cooking time and slide the pie directly onto the oven rack. Continue to cook until the top is bubbling and the bottom crust is golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes total.

Or if the weather’s right, grill the pizzas. Prepare a grill so that it is hot on one side and low on the other. Brush both sides of the dough lightly with oil. Place on the hot side of the grill and cook until the bottom has a firm crust with grill marks. Slide the dough over to the cooler side of the grill and add the toppings. You will have to slide the dough back and forth over the heat for a few minutes until the top is bubbling and any cheese has melted, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Artichoke Pizza
For a slightly more sophisticated take on your basic red sauce pizza, defrost one 9-ounce package of frozen artichoke hearts, dry them well, and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme or rosemary. Top the pizza dough with the artichokes and bake at 450 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes. Midway through baking, crumble 1/4 pound of goat cheese on top along with 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese.

Stuffed Pizza Snakes
When my kids make calzones, I find that they eat the bread and ignore the filling, after I’ve spent all that time and energy hiding healthy things inside. With a long snake of stuffed pizza, they tend to eat the whole enchilada, so to speak. Adults can put them away, too. I went to a New Year’s Eve party last year where Robert TK, who runs the yummy lake concession at Woodbridge Lake in Goshen, Connecticut, held a crowd of well-dressed sophisticates enthralled with his sausage and spinach roll. We ate the roll, adapted here, with the best champagne, and it turned out to be a very good year.

Remove 1/4 pound of sweet Italian fennel sausage links from their casings and sauté over medium-high heat until no longer pink. Add a 10-ounce package of defrosted and drained frozen spinach (or fresh if you prefer) and 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly smashed, and sauté. Season with salt and pepper. Allow the filling to cool slightly and discard the garlic.

Roll a 1- pound piece of pizza dough into a rectangle about 5 inches wide by 17 inches long. Transfer to an oiled baking sheet. Spread the filling down the center. Sprinkle the filling with 1/4 cup of grated pecorino cheese and 1/2 pound of grated mozzarella cheese. Bring the sides of the dough together, and press closed. Press the ends closed. Roll until the seam side is down. Twist into an “S” shape, like a snake. Brush with oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds or kosher salt.

Bake at 450 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the dough is cooked through. (Insert the point of a knife to make certain.)

Chocolate Pizza Sticks
Can you tell this is a snowstorm creation? Knead 1 cup of chocolate chips into 1 pound of pizza dough. Let the dough rest for about 30 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces and form into pretzel shapes, twisted sticks, or any other shape that inspires you, and place on a lightly oiled sheet. Brush the dough with vegetable oil, sprinkle with colored sugar, and bake at 450 degrees F for about 15 to 20 minutes, until cooked through.

Chocolate Ricotta Calzones
Make Chocolate Pizza Sticks dough and divide into pieces. Mix 1/2 pound of ricotta cheese with 1 egg, 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Roll or press each piece of dough into a 5-to-6-inch circle. Place a few spoonfuls of filling in the center of each circle, fold over the dough to make a half-moon, and crimp closed. Brush with vegetable oil and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 450 degrees F for 25 minutes.

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