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Iron-clad secret makes best pizza at home

I don’t know about you, but I feel comfort foods are taking on a new importance right now. I feel the need to be making them, sharing them and eating them. This week I’ve been working on the most universal of comfort foods: homemade pizza.

Most pizza lovin’ people will agree, what sets homemade pizza apart from pizzeria pizza is that glorious crispy crackly crust. That crust is developed using very high heat because commercial pizza ovens cook at temperatures between 700 F to 800 F degrees. Yeah, well, that’s not happening in most home kitchens. But we can achieve a similar effect by using a pan made of cast iron. This will act as an oven within your oven, yielding a high enough temperature to get that irresistible crispy, yet tender crust (cue the angel chorus).

Pizza is, by nature, frugal and fabulous. And the exact same ingredients used to make an average pizza rise to a whole other level by using this technique.

Safety warning! This technique is not for the kiddies or for the faint of heart. We’re going to get that cast-iron skillet screaming hot. Use caution and protect your skin and your surfaces from the heat.

The ingredients I used are below, but the wonderful thing about making pizza at home is making it exactly how you love it. Feel free to make substitutions. Use this guideline: no more than 2 cups of shredded cheese and 1½ cups of assorted toppings (vegetables and meats) or you risk your pizza becoming soggy and not cooking completely through the center.

Like a culinary hug, pizza night just got a whole lot better. Drool. Eat. Repeat.

CAST IRON SKILLET PIZZA

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Time: 45 minutes

What you’ll need:

¼ cup olive oil, divided

6 ounces Italian sausage, casings removed (about 1 link)

1/3 cup onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup bell peppers, green and red, thinly sliced

1/3 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced

12-16 ounces pizza dough, store bought or homemade equivalent

1½ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

8 ounces pizza sauce, purchased or recipe below

2 tablespoons olives, sliced

Italian seasoning, optional

Here’s how:

Bring the dough to room temperature and have your ingredients sliced and ready before you begin. If you’re using my pizza sauce recipe (below) make that now, as well.

Prepare the dough by placing it on a lightly floured surface and shaping into a 14-inch round.

Preheat the oven to 475 F degrees.

Place a 12-inch cast iron skillet on the stove top on medium-low heat. Add one tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and cook the sausage, stirring and breaking it into crumbles. Set aside on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Place the onions, peppers and mushrooms in the skillet, cooking enough to soften. Set aside.

Remove any solids from the pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Use a brush to spread the oil up the sides of the pan. Carefully place the dough round into the pan. The dough starts cooking as soon as it hits the hot pan, so work quickly to avoid the bottom burning.

Evenly sprinkle half the cheese over the whole crust. It’ll caramelize on the edges and act as a barrier preventing the sauce from seeping into the crust, making it soggy. Dollop the sauce over the cheese layer, using the back of a spoon to spread it out. Don’t go nuts; it’s OK if it’s not perfect.

Next, spread the sausage, onion, peppers and mushrooms. Top with remaining cheese and olives.

A fairy dust sprinkle of Italian seasoning is optional but highly recommended.

Brush any exposed crust with the remaining olive oil.

With caution and heavy oven mitts, place the skillet into the hot oven. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes. The cheese should be bubbling and slightly browned and crust should be golden. With extreme caution, remove from the oven and place on a heat-protected surface. Run a knife around the outside edge to prevent the cheese from sticking. Post a picture to impress your friends. Let cool for 10 minutes before devouring.

PETITE PORTION PIZZA SAUCE

Drain an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce through a coffee filter set in a strainer over a bowl for 15 minutes to remove excess liquid from the sauce.

Mix the drained sauce with 1 teaspoon each, garlic powder and Italian seasoning and 2 teaspoons of sugar.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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