When I awoke from my post-red-eye haze on Tuesday, I was delighted to find tons of homemade pizza waiting for me in the refrigerator - it seems Ben went pizza crazy while I was out of town. One of Ben and my signature parties is the pizza party, and I think all our friends and family have taken part at one point or another. They're always very casual and fun, not to mention a great way to involve guests in the cooking process. Measurements and proportions for the toppings are very forgiving and really just depend on how loaded you like your pies. However, the one thing you do need is a great tomato sauce to act as a base. Whether you make your own crust, or buy one of the surprisingly good pre-made pizza crusts from Whole Foods, a good sauce can make all the difference. It's official - Ben's super duper secret sauce is out of the vault and hitting the streets.
Tomato Sauce (makes enough for 5-6 pizzas)
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dried basil*
1 teaspoon dried thyme*
1 teaspoon fennel seeds*
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon honey (or 1/2 teaspoon of granulated sugar)
salt and pepper to taste
*you can substitute 1 tablespoon of Herbes de Provence for the basil, thyme, and fennel seeds
Combine the tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dried herbs, fennel seeds, chili flakes, and honey in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, turn the heat to low and let the mixture slowly bubble until it thickens into a sauce (about 25-30 minutes). Stir occasionally. Taste for seasoning.
With this sauce as a base, you can make all kinds of pizzas. Every oven is a little different, but most of them will cook for about 9 minutes on a pizza stone in a 450 degree oven. If you don't have a pizza stone, just use the back of a large sheet pan. Here are a few of my pizza party favorites, and they all start with the tomato sauce as a base.
1. Add a generous layer of grated mozzarella cheese and fresh basil, ripped into pieces, for a classic pizza margherita.
2. Layer strips of black forest ham over the sauce and sprinkle with grated emmenthaler and grated mozzarella. Once it comes out of the oven, finish it with big dollops of basil pesto (pictured above).
3. Combine prosciutto and arugula and top with grated fontina cheese.
4. Layer grated mozzarella with red onion, thinly sliced summer squash, corn, crumbled feta cheese and a sprinkling of red chili flakes. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro.
5. Sprinkle a thin layer of grated mozzarella on top of the tomato sauce, then add a layer of sauteed leeks, shrimp, corn, and crumbled feta. Finish it off with a little lemon juice, fresh parsley and mint.
6. Sauté broccoli rabe in olive oil and a couple tablespoons of water. Cook with a cover on for a few minutes until the stocks are tender, then add one minced garlic clove, a pinch of red chili flakes, and a handful of pine nuts and cook uncovered for a couple minutes until the water has evaporated. Pour the mixture over the tomato sauce and sprinkle on some grated mozzarella.