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Pizza for a crowd

  • Tagged The cooking
  • Commenters Ben W, SH, CSC, Nana Adrienne, dena, Claire Bidwell Smith, Gram Amy

Every New Year’s Day for the last five, Sandy and I have thrown open our overflowing cabinets of games and invited people over to play, hang out, and eat pizzas. I don’t know how we decided on pizza as the new traditional food of New Year’s Day (why not Hoppin’ John?), but we made pizza the first year and it just stuck.

This year the pizza operation hit a new stride. Over the course of three hours, I put ten different (tragically unphotographed) pies out for the crowd, and every single slice was eaten. The process felt smooth and organized, and unlike some years when I’ve felt somewhat beleaguered and frantic during the pizza-making hours, this year it felt really comfortable and fun. I was even able to go feed Ezra and know that the pizzas would keep coming.

Here are some tips, mostly for myself for next year, but perhaps some of you have been thinking, “I would like to make ten pizzas in one day.” I’m here to help. (OK, I know nobody else wants to make ten pizzas in one day. But this advice is good even for just two or three!)

Crust
Honestly, any crust recipe will do. I make it batch by batch in the food processor the morning of the party and then put each ball of dough (enough for 2 pizzas) in a large ziploc bag and let it rise for about an hour on the counter, and then the rest of the day in the fridge. About 15 minutes before making the first pizza, take one bag out, punch it down, rip it in half and let it rest. Then, as you make pizzas, whenever you use the first half of the dough from a bag, take out the next bag and punch it down so those balls will have time to rest. The resting makes it easier to roll out the dough.

Timing
It takes about as long to construct a pizza as it does to bake a pizza, so just embrace that. One year we tried to have several pizzas ready at once, and finding enough space for them was a hassle, plus some were always cold. Just serve one at a time. This is not a sit-down-dinner-for-thirty option. It’s a leisurely open house thing.

Bases
There are three main bases for our pizzas, and they’re easy to make in quantity beforehand. Each of these will make more than enough for 3-4 pizzas:

  • Tomato sauce: use Claire’s recipe. Add a little sugar for sweetness and make sure it’s pretty thick.
  • Creme fraiche: Heat 1 c. cream to body temperature, stir in 2 T. buttermilk, and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours, then refrigerate.
  • Garlic oil: Heat about 1/2 c olive oil with 6 (or more) pressed or chopped cloves of garlic and 1 t. (or more) of red pepper flakes. Bring it to a simmer, then turn it off and let it sit and infuse for a few hours before refrigerating.

Tools
I couldn’t do it without parchment paper, a pizza peel, and a pizza stone. I roll each pizza on a piece of parchment, slide the peel under it, and deposit it on the stone. The stone makes it cook more evenly and gets the crust crispier. When it’s done, I use the peel to retrieve it and transfer it, parchment and all, to a cutting board. The parchment guarantees that the pizza will come easily off the counter after you roll it. This is very important. Ask me how I know.

Organization
Holy pizzas, this was the smartest thing I’ve ever come up with.

Spend the days before the party leisurely cooking/chopping/shredding everything you plan to put on your pizzas (the only toppings that can’t be completely cooked/chopped/shredded beforehand are brown-prone fruits like apples and pears). The night before the party, put all the ingredients for each pizza in small ziploc bags inside a large ziploc bag along with a note reminding you which base to use. (I’m a terrible waster of plastic bags, and I’m sure you could do this in a more environmental way, but it was incredibly helpful for me not to have to look for anything for any of the pizzas, while also not having dishes piling up all around me).

This setup was also brilliant because it made it so if Ezra melted down and I had to go for a while, someone else could easily make the next pizza since everything was organized in a single location.

Toppings
There are a ton of pizza recipes out there, but we prefer to improvise. In general, figure about 1/2 lb. of cheese for a traditional melted cheese-topped pizza, or 1/4 lb. of cheese for a more sparsely covered pizza or one with crumbly cheese (i.e. feta or blue cheese) instead of melty cheese.

Here are some of our favorite combos:

  • Fig jam topped with chopped prosciutto, smoked provolone, and chopped pecans.
  • Garlic oil topped with sliced pears, blue cheese, sea salt, and chopped hazelnuts.
  • Creme fraiche topped with sauteed kale, feta cheese, nutmeg, sea salt, and sesame seeds.
  • Garlic oil topped with sliced parboiled potatoes, sliced apples, sea salt, parmesan, and rosemary.
  • Tomato sauce topped with Italian sausage, sauteed fennel, olives, and mozzarella.
  • Garlic oil topped with sauteed leeks, sliced brie, walnuts, sea salt, and a drizzle of walnut oil.
  • Creme fraiche topped with crispy bacon, peas, caramelized onions, parmesan, and eggs. It’s carbonara! (To bake eggs on pizza, bake the pie for about 6 minutes, then take it out, crack a few eggs onto the top, and bake for 6 more minutes. Then check and see how it is. It’s done when the white is set. It’ll be shiny and look raw, so you’ll have to touch it to see if it’s set.)

Next year
Well, last year we made eight, and this year ten, so I have to figure that next year I should be prepared to make twelve pizzas. So, any suggestions for new topping combos for 2011?

7 Comments

Ben W

Jan 6 / 13:16

SH

Jan 6 / 13:16

Nana Adrienne

Jan 6 / 22:15

dena

Jan 7 / 11:19

Gram Amy

Jan 10 / 20:03
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