If you find yourself a guest at my house, the chances are good that you will be served homemade pizza for dinner. If I don't know you well, pizza is almost guaranteed to please. If I do know you well, I've probably already added your favorite toppings to my shopping list.
This particular cheesy specimen, topped with roasted red peppers, sausage, and plenty of Monterey Jack cheese, is one of my stand-by pizzas. My "house" pizza, if you will. C'mon over — I'll make you one!
If I've had enough advanced warning of your visit, I will make the pizza dough myself. While I do love my old recipe for Thin Crust Pizza, I've recently come to love the no-knead dough from Artisan Bread in 5. The basic recipe from this book makes four good-sized pizzas, which usually means enough for dinner with friends plus lunch the next day. I also love the crispy-chewy texture of the pizza that this dough makes. However, if you are a surprise visitor or my work day got the better of me, the pizza dough from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods makes a mighty fine pie.
But perhaps even more than a good crust, I think the secret to a fantastic pizza is cranking your oven as high as it will go. This high heat is what elevates pizza beyond simple take-out and makes an average pizza night with friends into something special. The crust bubbles up and blisters, crispy on the outside but perfectly chewy in the middle. The cheese becomes molten and melds with the tomato sauce in a magical way. Don't be scared — crank your oven up!
Now, this particular combination of toppings has become my house pizza for the simple reason that I almost always have all the ingredients in my kitchen — plus, of course, because it's a seriously tasty pizza. Jars of roasted red peppers and cans of tomato sauce are pantry staples. Links of sausage are also something I keep in the freezer for quick meals like this one. I like chicken sausage because it comes pre-cooked and is easy to find in a lot of flavors. (Sweet Italian and Andouille are favorites for this pizza!)
The toppings are simple and un-fancy, but when combined on a chewy crust, they become something more than their humble origins. They become a reason to find yourself at my house at dinner time.
Step-by-step instructions on making pizza:
• How To Make Really Good Pizza at Home
Pizza with Roasted Red Peppers, Sausage & Jack Cheese
Makes 1 pizza, serves 3 to 4
1 pound pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
1/4 cup tomato sauce, store-bought or homemade
1 (3-ounce) sausage link, diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced roasted red peppers (half of a 12-ounce jar, drained and rinsed)
1/4 cup diced red or yellow onion
1 mounded cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Pre-heat the oven to 550°F or as hot as it will go. If you have a baking stone, place it in the oven on a rack in the bottom third of the oven. If you don't have a baking stone, place a baking sheet on the rack to heat with the oven. Heat the oven for at least 30 minutes before baking.
While the oven heats, prepare the pizza. Cut a large square of parchment, and lay the pizza dough in the middle (See Recipe Note). Starting in the middle of the dough and working outward, press and push the dough into a flat round approximately 10-inches wide. If the dough starts to shrink back and wrinkle the parchment, let it sit for about 5 minutes to relax the gluten in the dough, then continue. Once the pizza is shaped, let it sit on the counter to rise until you're ready to top and bake, 15 to 20 minutes.
Prepare all the toppings. If your sausage is not pre-cooked, quickly cook it in a little oil over medium-high heat on the stovetop.
When ready to bake, sprinkle the pizza dough all over with a little salt, then spread the tomato sauce nearly to the edge. Distribute the sausage, red peppers, and onion evenly over the surface of the pizza. Sprinkle the cheese over the top.
Using a baker's peel or the backside of a baking sheet, transfer the pizza on the parchment into the hot oven. Bake for 5 minutes. By this time, the pizza will have released from the parchment; use a spatula to lift the pizza and slide the parchment out from under the pizza. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes (8 to 10 minutes total), until the crust is golden and charred in spots.
Transfer the pizza to a cutting board and cut into wedges or squares. Serve immediately. Keep any sliced not eaten right away on a cooling rack so the crust doesn't become soggy. Leftovers will keep for a week.
Doubling This Recipe: I usually make 2 pizzas whenever I make this recipe because the ingredients work out more evenly. Two pizzas uses 1 whole (12-ounce) jar of roasted red peppers and half of a 12-ounce package of chicken sausage.
Baking on Parchment: I bake my pizzas on parchment paper and remove the parchment halfway through cooking; I find this to be the easiest way to transfer a topped pizza in and out of the oven. However, if you prefer a different method, feel free to substitute! The finished pizza will not be affected.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)