Lunch Lady Pizza

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With much deference and a huge blop of literary license, I have dubbed this monstrous-good, locust-and-friends-favorite Lunch Lady Pizza.  I bow to those everyday superheros.  Cafeteria crews who work, day in and day out, to prepare and serve the (oftentimes not wonderful) goods provided them to the sometimes unappreciative (sometimes quite deservedly so) wee masses deserve our respect.   This pizza is easy, tasty, comforting, and budget-friendly… things the lunch ladies worry on our behalf about every day… and so I name it in their honor.

Fair warning, the dough needs to get started the day before baking.

A minor digression if I may.  If you don’t know exactly what the kiddos are being served at school, find out.  If you do know and don’t like the offerings, please don’t grouse at the folks behind the counter who probably are just as appalled. Grouse at the policy-makers and purse-string-holders who decide what our children will be served.  Better yet, invite the suits to eat lunch at their local elementary and ask the press along for the ride.  [Soapbox put away now.]

Back to the lunch lady lovefest …. Lunch Lady Pizza is all about the flavor.  This lovely slab o’pizza deliciousness has fed seven hungry seventh graders (rounded out with a bowl of cut up fruit and a side of cookies) with not a crumb to spare.  It can be topped with extra goodies if you’re feeling that groove but I stick with cheese.  My cheeses change according to what’s Italian in the fridge (um, no, not cheddar … that is NOT pizza cheese.  Discuss?).

The end result is an olive oil-crisped ethereal focaccia-like crust. Seriously, ethereal’s the only word I could come up with other than puffy for this crust, and puffy just doesn’t cut it; sounds like a water retention issue.  Ah, let’s just say it’s a fab crust with a hearty layer of tomato sauce and lots of cheese, some of which stays gooey and some of which gets nice char spots.  I have absolutely no idea how long leftovers last because I have never had them.  If you make this and have any, please do let me know how the crust holds up.

This is the perfect pizza recipe for lazy days when you don’t feel like tossing a bunch of dough and fussing with your pizza stone.  Just oil your pan, lay out the dough and have at it.  Easy peasy, utterly delicious, crowd-pleasing … my ode to those hardworkers in schools everywhere.

Go thank a lunch lady and mangia bene!

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This basic recipe is a very soft dough that won’t clean the sides of the bowl.   P.S. The camera woman is moi and moi has not figured out the F-stops and apertures or patience so apologies for the dark pictures, etc.

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After mixing and kneading, gather the dough into a ball, oil the bowl and then roll the dough in the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and pop into the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake – at least overnight, 24 hours is best.

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“Ugh, doctor, I have this growth… It’s alive! ALIVE I TELL YOU!” Yeast is robust… good on you. And sorry about the gross humor. We’re coming into Halloween and I live with tween boys. Yes, I will toss them right under the bus.

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Oil the half sheet pan (with sides, eh?) and spread the dough to the corners. It will take a few tries. Be patient and keep the dough covered in between stretches.

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Your food is only as good as your ingredients. Here I am using 12 oz of fresh mozzarella, a few grates of Parmigiana Reggiano and the same of Locatelli Pecorino Romano. As long as at least three-quarters is mozarella, go crazy on mixing up the Italian flavors. Asiago, Fontina… even Gorgonzola which gets a wonderful (non-bleu) flavor when cooked. Please do not use processed cheese product, American, or cheddar. They are not pizza cheeses. I am not a pizza elitist but there are just some things a person ought not do. Yellow cheese on pizza is one of them.  There is also the natural assumption that nobody uses that grated mess in a green can.  You might as well go out and gnaw on a salted tree.

 

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This pizza can handle a pretty hearty saucing but feel free to use less if that’s your preference.  I wouldn’t use much more though; it could go over to the soggy side with too much topping.  I use about half of my sauce recipe (below) per pizza and freeze the other half for another time.

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Prepped and ready for the oven.

 

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Before removing from the oven, use a spatula to pick up the corner to check that the bottom is nicely browned. If it is still white or light tan, let it go longer. Once out of the oven, wait a good 10 minutes before cutting into it. This serves two purposes: 1) all the cheese doesn’t slide off; 2) The roof of your mouth, tongue and lips won’t get blistered from the heat of pizza impatience.

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Lunch Lady Pizza

DOUGH:
1 envelope active dry yeast (2¼ tsp.)
1½ cups filtered warm water (105–110°)
2 Tbs olive oil plus 2 tsp for the bowl
2 tsp kosher salt
4 to 4- 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

SAUCE AND TOPPING:
1 – 28 oz can whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs plus 1/4 cup olive oil
1 generous tsp dried oregano (or more to taste)
1 generous tsp dried basil (or more to taste)
12-16 oz of Italian cheese of which at least ¾ is mozzarella

Combine yeast and the water in a large mixer bowl with dough hook attachment; let stand until yeast starts to foam, about 10 minutes.

Add in 2 Tbsp. olive oil, the salt and 4 cups flour.  This is a very loose dough.  If it looks more like brownie batter than dough, add the other ½ cup of flour.  Knead at low speed for 8 minutes.  It’s a relatively soft dough that won’t form into a tight ball around the dough hook.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and add 2 tsp of olive oil to coat the dough and inside of the bowl.  Use your hand to scoop the dough into a ball and roll around to get oil on the entire dough surface. You can also transfer the dough into another bowl if you need the mixer bowl. In either case, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator at least overnight, 24 hours is ideal.

When you are ready to bake, coat a rimmed half-sheet baking pan with remaining 1/4 cup oil.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator and put onto the sheet pan, pressing the dough as much as it will give to fit the pan.  This won’t spread all the way the first time.  It will start to shrink back.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10-15 minutes longer.  After that time, press to fit the pan again.  It may take another try or two depending on the temperature of your kitchen.  Be patient, it will eventually work.  Once it fills the pan, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough sit for 40 minutes.  Meanwhile, move a rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat to 450.

When the rise time is up (and oven is preheated), cover the surface of the dough with tomato sauce (you will not use the entire recipe – I keep half in the freezer for next time).  Evenly distribute the cheese(s) and put into the oven for 20-30 minutes.  Check for bubbly cheese on top and a nice light brown crust.

Let cool at least 10 minutes before cutting.

 

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