Want to make a low-cost meal that your family will love — and might even help you make? Think pizza. The trick to making it both extremely low-cost and fun is the same: You’ve got to make the dough.
I can almost hear the primal screams: Dough! I can’t make dough! Do I look like Betty Crocker? You can make dough. It’s a little time consuming, but not at all difficult. And the only reason it’s time-consuming is because you need to wait for the dough to rise. You don’t have to watch it rise. It can rise while you go shopping, or watch t.v., or read a book.
But you’ve tried making dough in the past and it didn’t work out? My guess is that’s because you fell for what I can only assume is a twisted conspiracy in the cook-book world. They leave out the one ingredient that makes the dough rise: sugar. The trick to making dough is dealing with the yeast. If the yeast isn’t happy, your dough doesn’t rise. What makes yeast happy? Warm water mixed with a teaspoon of sugar. Do the cookbooks tell you that? Nah. Most suggest the warm water and yeast alone. After following those directions and having rock-hard bread that never rose, I whined to my mom about my woeful bread-making skills. She asked: “Did you mix a little sugar in the warm water to “proof” the yeast?” Huh? That’s the secret.
It’s magical. Without the sugar, you have sullen, listless, teenage yeast. With the sugar, you have happy, bubbly I’m-in-college-now-and-life’s-a-party yeast. Happy yeast makes dough rise. That’s it. Once you’ve dealt with the finicky yeast, dough is as forgiving as your neighborhood priest. Seems a little dry? Add some water. Too gooey? Add some flour. Seriously, it’s tough to mess up. Once you get the hang of it, you’re probably going to love it so much that you’ll become a dough-making fiend, baking bread at the drop of a hat. (Weight watchers may want to block — or, a cynic may say, advertise — this recipe.) Ready now? Great. We’re going to make pizza– a meal that will cost you somewhere under $2 a serving.
The cost break-down
Pizza dough requires water, flour, yeast, a couple tablespoons of oil, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of sugar.
My 25-lb bag of flour cost me $6 at Costco. There are 94.5 cups of flour in that bag, which works out to a cost of roughly 6 cents per cup.
I also buy yeast in bulk at Costco. I’ve had my 2-lb bag of yeast for a long time, so I had to refer to the internet to figure out what it cost — $3, which works out to about 3.5 cents per loaf of bread. (If you buy those silly little packets, yeast costs a lot more. Don’t do that. You’re going to love making bread. Get the family size.)
There are 133 tablespoons of olive oil in the monster container I also got at Costco, which costs $28 for 2–about $14 per liter. That works out to 10 cents a tablespoon. The 10-pound bag of sugar cost me $5.79 and contains 1,134 teaspoons, according to the package. Cost per teaspoon? 1 penny, rounding up.
Tap water? Fractions just don’t go that low. Teaspoon of salt? Again, it’s under a penny a teaspoon. (The container that says it holds 491 teaspoons cost me $1.) We’ll add another penny for both water and salt because I’m feeling generous. The total cost for making this dough: 50 cents. And it makes enough for two big pizzas. So the dough costs you about 25 cents per pizza..
What would it have cost to buy the same number of pizza shells? I looked up the cost of a Boboli pizza shell — $4.69. And it tastes like cardboard. You can get balls of pizza dough for between $1.20 and $3 at stores ranging from Walmart to Trader Joe’s.. Bottom line: You’ll pay 5 to 20 times more to buy the shell.
Convinced its worth trying to make the dough? Good. Here’s what you need.
4 cups flour: 24 cents
2 tablespoons of olive oil: 20 cents
2 1/2 teaspoons of yeast: 4 cents
1 1/3 cups of water: half-cent
1 teaspoon of salt: half-cent
1 teaspoon of sugar: 1 cent
Total cost: 50 cents for 2 pizza shells; 25 cents each
This is the important part. You actually have to do this stuff in order.
Put a teaspoon of sugar in a measuring cup that’s big enough for 1 and 1/3 cups of water. Run
your tap until the water is hot. When the water is hot, add 1 1/3 cups. The sugar will dissolve
Pour the water and sugar into a big mixing bowl and test it, kind of like a baby bottle. If it burns
your finger it’s too hot; when it’s baby-bath warm, sprinkle in 2 1/2 teaspoons of yeast.
“Agitate” the yeast. (I love that expression. Like the teenager, the best way to agitate yeast is to
not let it sit around. Stir it up. Make it move. It’s very agitating.) Now, the yeast, like the teen,
would tell you to just go away. Go ahead. Leave the yeast alone for 10 minutes.
Do your nails; call a friend; play Sudoku; whatever. When you come back in 10 or 15 minutes, the yeast is going to look bigger and bubbly. Add the salt, olive oil and flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough is mostly mixed together and too tough to stir. After that, you’re going to knead the dough with your (very clean) hands. Can you use your mixer, you say? Yes, princess. But if you don’t have a $300 mixer in your kitchen, you can use your hands.
If you’ve never kneaded dough before, this means that you’re going to push forcefully with the palm of your hand, flip the dough over and do it again. It’s kinda fun, but sticky. If you’ve ever made a mud pie, you’re going to love it. If not, get over it. You’re saving a ton on every pizza shell and it’s going to be yummy. This is a step that you can also hand over to your little kids. They’ll have a blast — and a good reason to take a bath later.
(If you want more direction, this YouTube video shows a woman named Bhavna making a pizza start to finish. She even makes the sauce, which I think is overkill. But, hey, I’m not going to micro-manage. If you want to make your own sauce, more power to you. I use use the Classico spaghetti sauce from Costco and sometimes mix it with a scoop of the Costco pesto. Simple; affordable; no blender required. But, I digress)
Once the dough is all mixed and has settled into one big gooey ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and go away. This time, you need to leave the dough alone for about an hour. And it’s fine to leave it longer. During that time, the little sticky ball of dough is going to double in size. Meanwhile, you can contemplate what you want to put on your pizza.
When the dough is ready, you can punch it to push out some of the air, or just pick it up, cut or pull half off and roll it into a round ball. Place it on a well-floured breadboard and roll it out with a rolling-pin or just work it with your hands to stretch the dough thin enough to fill your (lightly oiled and floured) pizza pans. It’s a good idea to let the dough sit a little while on the pizza pans to re-rise a touch before you put on the toppings and put it in the oven. But it’s not necessary, particularly if you like thin crusts.
Now it’s up to you
If you’re an imaginative cook, you can top with pizza with almost anything. I’ve made pizza with figs, Gorgonolla cheese and a little pesto; apples, cheddar and pesto; as well as traditional favorites, such as basil and tomatoes. The veggie pizza here was made under the supervision of nutritionist Stamm, who monitored the measurements and provided the calorie and nutrition information. The vegetable selection was based on what I had on hand, which works nicely with pizza. Another, somewhat higher calorie alternative is the pineapple and sausage pizza that I made with the other ball of dough. Nutrition information is based on slicing each large pizza into 8 generous portions.
1/2 cup marinara sauce (Classico basil & garlic)
1 cup broccoli
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup part-skim shredded mozarella
Heat oven to 375 degrees
Chop broccoli and onions, toss together and place on a
cookie sheet. When the oven is warm, cook the onion and
broccoli for about 10 minutes. This softens the vegetables
and sweetens the flavor of the onion. While that’s cooking,
spread the marinara sauce evenly over the prepared pizza
dough. Then top with your partially cooked vegetables and,
finally, the cheese. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese
melts and has a slight golden crust. Bon appetite