D is for Dinner: Perfect pizza

Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School culinary arts teacher Kent Van Dyk shares his recipe for making pizza dough, sauce and ricotta cheese topping.

Chef and teacher Kent Van Dyk shares his recipe for making pizza dough, sauce and ricotta cheese

Longfields-Davidson students are making their own dough, sauce and ricotta cheese. (Samantha McGrath/CBC)

The grade 10 culinary arts class from Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School is hosting a gala dinner at the school on the evening of Jan. 30 to help fight hunger.

To whet our appetite in anticipation of the event, Kent Van Dyk and his students join All in a Day host Alan Neal on Wednesday to share their secrets to a perfect pizza.

Today's D is for Dinner brings some of those pizza ingredients together with recipes for making ricotta cheese, pizza sauce and dough from scratch.

Basic Pizza Dough

Ingredients: makes 3 12-inch (30 cm) pizzas

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast, or 1 oz (25 g) brewer’s yeast.
  • 1½ cups (350 cc) warm water.
  • 3½ cups (500 gr) flour.
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Pinch of salt.

    Basic pizza sauce

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil.
    • ½ cup finely diced onion.
    • 1 clove garlic, finely minced.
    • 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes (or 2 large, fresh, in-season tomatoes — peeled, seeded and diced).
    • 1 tablespoon tomato paste.
    • ½ teaspoon dried oregano.
    • 1 teaspoon salt.
    • ¼ teaspoon pepper.

    In a small pot, over medium-low heat, sweat onions (cook gently without colouring the onions) in olive oil for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.  Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, increase the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the dried oregano, salt and pepper.  Cook for another 3 minutes.  Remove the pot from the stove and let the mixture cool slightly. 

    Transfer the mixture to a large measuring cup and puree with a hand-blender until smooth.  Cool completely and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Homemade pizza can be cooked in different ways:

  • Regular metal pizza pan (needs to be oiled before receiving the pizza).
  • Non-stick pizza pan.
  • Perforated pizza pan (cooks very uniformly on the bottom).
  • Pizza stone. Place the stone in the oven about 10 minutes in advance to bring it to the right temperature. Excellent for uniform cooking. The pizza bottom needs to be kept floury to prevent it from sticking to the stone.

Step by step instructions:

  • In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the warm water, and stir to dissolve it. Set aside until the yeast starts forms bubbles in about five minutes. The temperature in the room should be around  68–75  F (20–24 C), for the dough to rise properly.
  • Sift the flour. Pour the flour into a large bowl or on a work surface.
  • Mould the flour in a mound shape with a hole in the centre.
  • Pour in the centre the yeast mix, olive oil and a pinch of salt.
  • Using a spatula, draw the ingredients together. Then mix with your hands to form a dough.
  • Sprinkle some flour on the work surface. Place the dough on the floured surface.
  • Knead the dough briefly with your hands, pushing and folding.
  • Knead just long enough for the dough to take in a little more flour, and until it no longer sticks to your hands.
  • With your hand, spread a little olive oil inside a bowl.
  • Transfer the dough into the bowl.
  • On the top of the dough, make two incisions that cross, and spread with a very small amount of olive oil. This last step will prevent the surface of the dough from breaking too much while rising.
  • Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth, and set the bowl aside for approximately 1½ – 2 hours until the dough doubles in volume. The time required for rising will depend on the strength of the yeast and the temperature of the room.
  • When the dough is double its original size, punch it down to eliminate the air bubbles.
  • On a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough into three equal pieces.
  • On the work surface, using a rolling pin and your hands, shape one piece of dough into a thin round layer. Make a pizza about 12 inches in diameter.
  • Transfer the shaped pizza dough to the pan. Using your fingertips, push from the centre to the sides to cover the entire surface of the pan with a thin layer of pizza. Repeat this step with the other 2 dough pieces to obtain 3 pizzas.
  • At this point the pizza is ready to receive its topping (see recipes).
  • Add onto the pizza your preferred topping. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper if indicated by the recipe.

Chef and teacher Kent Van Dyk with some of the students from his culinary arts class. (Alan Neal/CBC)
Some additional notes:
  • Cook the pizza in a regular oven at 500 F (260 C) for about 20–25 minutes.
  • The cheese for a homemade pizza, if present in the recipe, should be added 5 – 10 minutes before removing the pizza from the oven.
  • To check for readiness, lift one side of the pizza. The pizza is ready when the bottom surface is light brown.

Ricotta Cheese (Chef’s Recipe)

  • 4½ cups whole milk.
  • ½ cup 35% cream.
  • ½ cup buttermilk.
  • ½ teaspoon salt.
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar.

Heat milk, cream and buttermilk in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until the temperature of the liquid reaches 185 F.  Stir in the salt and the vinegar and remove from the heat.  Let the mixture stand until curds have formed, five to 10 minutes.  Pull the curds gently to the side.

Line a strainer with a triple layer of cheesecloth and set it over a bowl or a plastic container.  Using a perforated skimmer, gently lift the mass of curds out of the pot and into the cheesecloth-lined strainer.  Repeat until no more curds remain.  Discard the remaining whey.

Let the ricotta drain for 20 to 30 minutes.  Lift the cheesecloth by the four corners and twist together to squeeze out excess moisture.  Place in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Fresh ricotta lasts three to five days.