Smoked Chicken Cilantro Pesto Pizza. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALIs it apple, blueberry, banana cream, Boston cream or custard? It’s actually none of the above. Depending on whose poll you read, America’s pie isn’t even sweet. It’s that savory pie that’s also known as pizza. You know, “when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie.” And Americans do their fair share of takeout and delivery of the humble pie. But you know what? It’s easy to also create your own starting from scratch.

A little over a year ago, a friend gave us a sourdough starter that she had been nurturing for several years. Nurture as in remove about half of the starter every two to four weeks, replace with a fresh batch of flour and water, let sit at room temperature until the new mass has doubled in size, then place back in the refrigerator for the next two to four weeks of “hibernation.” Of course, you don’t discard the cup of starter that you’ve removed. You simply use it as a base for sourdough pancakes or sourdough biscuits or sourdough bread or my usual sourdough pizza dough. I mix a cup of starter with two and a half cups of all-purpose flour and one teaspoon of sea salt. I then add one packet of yeast activated in a half cup of warm water with a teaspoon of sugar. When the liquid starts foaming, that’s the sign that the yeast is ready to do its work, so I mix everything together and knead the dough until the dry is totally incorporated, then let it sit for two to three hours to rise. After one rising, the dough is now ready to be stretched for a perfect sourdough pizza crust.

If you want to take that extra step in creating your own sourdough starter, go ahead by all means. It’s “simply” accomplished by mixing one cup of whole grain flour with one-half cup of filtered (unchlorinated) water and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Over the next week, you’ll remove half of the mixture, adding another fresh batch of flour and water. I say “simply” because I have failed on multiple occasions, simply propagating a batch of white or black bearded “creatures” in my mixture. My belief is that since Kane‘ohe has so much ambient moisture in the air and house temperatures can reach into the 90s, any organism floating in the air attacks my juvenile starter out multiplying friendly yeast and lactic acid producing bacteria, i.e. those “bearded” organisms.

Dock your dough or face the consequences. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

No sourdough starter or have the same luck as me creating your own? All you need is three cups of all-purpose flour, one teaspoon of sea salt, one packet of yeast, about one cup of warm water and two tablespoons of olive oil to make your own regular pizza. Activate the yeast in warm water with a little sugar then knead everything once the yeast and water start foaming. After a two to three hour rise, your basic pizza dough just needs to be stretched, topped and baked.

What If You’re All Thumbs When It Comes To Bread  Making?
The Safeways and Whole Foods in the 50th sell packaged raw pizza dough that you simply have to stretch, top and bake so I’m pretty sure you can find pre-made pizza dough in your neck of the woods. Both establishments also carry whole wheat pizza dough if you’re creating your own for a healthier option, and I have personally used both products. The Safeway product is a little sweeter and rises like no one’s business so make sure you “dock” the dough after stretching or you might end up with the Hindenburg pizza. The Whole Foods product has a traditional pizza dough flavor and creates rustic looking crust and often goes on sale for $0.99 which is half the price of the Safeway dough. And if Safeway or Whole Foods aren’t viable options for you, simply visit your neighborhood pizza shop. I’m sure they’d be more than happy to sell you pizza dough.

Your Dough Is Rolled, What Next?
The first thing you should have done even before rolling your dough is preheat your oven. I usually set my oven to 450 degrees for any pizza. After all, the professionals with their wood fired, brick ovens have surfaces that range from 600 to 800 degrees with the dome coming in at close to 1000 degrees. 450 does seem a little wimpy now, doesn’t it? For a little added authenticity, I also place pizza bricks on the bottom rack of my oven as the bricks hold the heat better than any pizza pan.

The next thing I do after rolling out my pizza dough is to “dock” the interior surface. It’s basically piercing the dough with a fork or docking device to allow gases to be released from the dough as it bakes so you don’t end up with large “bubbles” of baked dough throughout your pizza surface.

Smoked Chicken Cilantro Pesto Pizza. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto
Smoked Chicken Cilantro Pesto Pizza. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Next up, the primary flavor base of the pizza. It could simply be the traditional red pizza sauce but the main mission here is to give your pie its underlying flavor with each bite. I’ve used barbecue sauce in place of the red sauce, especially when using toppings associated with BBQ, like smoked proteins. I’ve also created “sauces” to match the theme of the pizza like a clam chowder sauce for a pizza topped with diced potatoes, celery and clams or a Thai-inspired curry “sauce” using thickened light coconut milk flavored with lemongrass, Thai curry paste and kefir lime leaves topped with chicken and eggplant. The main goal with these non-traditional “sauces” is to thicken the sauce to the consistency of a paste so it doesn’t simply roll off of the crust during baking.

After all, sauces and toppings are limited only by your own imagination as CPK has made a lucrative business out of non-traditional pizza pie.

Play Like the Big Boys
So, you’ve decided that you want to be the next Tony Gemignani. Where do you start? At the very least, I recommend purchasing pizza tiles for your oven. They’re available as individual tiles that you can configure to your own oven or they’re available as single slabs for a more authentic brick oven feel. I personally feel that the tiles provide a hotter surface than any pizza pan to create that ideal crisp crust. And they don’t cost a king’s ransom.

Of course, if you do have a little extra dough (pun intended) lying around, there are pizza specific cooking devices that won’t sacrifice Jr’s college tuition. Pizzacraft makes an outdoor pizza oven that connects to a liquid propane tank that can reach 700 degrees in just 10 to 15 minutes. Try getting your kitchen Whirlpool to hit 700 degrees. You’d either set your kitchen on fire or more likely, burn out your oven. And these Pizzacraft devices are already equipped with baking stones. If you’re a little leery of the possible dangers of liquid propane, KettlePizza makes an attachment that you place on your Weber 18.5-inch or 22.5-inch kettle grill that turns the kettle grill into a pizza oven and it also includes a pizza stone for that ideal crisp crust.

Of course if Jr. only decides on a small community college, the next step up would be an authentic wood fired oven. Almost like the authentic wood fired brick ovens from Naples so you can create your own pizza Margherita. But who sells these pizza ovens? Your friendly neighborhood Costco of course. Just go to their Website and click the Patio & Outdoor then Grills & Accessories then Outdoor Ovens links. Five wood fired ovens ranging in price from $1699.99 up to $4999.99. Who said everyone needs a four year college degree?
And if Jr. decides that college isn’t necessary or if at least five out of six numbers match your Mega Millions ticket, then you deserve a Ferrara pizza oven. Looking almost like a tiled covered igloo, these babies start at the cost of a well-equipped Camry all the way up to a nice Lexus. But if money were no object…

So you can stop purchasing delivery, take-out or frozen pizzas. With just a little extra effort, you can create your own savory or sweet pizzas and make them as healthy or extravagant as you desire. Just make your own (or purchase) pizza dough, line your oven with pizza stones (or purchase a Ferrara oven) and get as creative as you want with the toppings. Since I make pizza every two to three weeks to perpetuate my sour dough starter, I always use whole wheat flour and use just enough reduced fat cheese to keep the toppings in place. So while it may seem like a decadent meal, it’s actually pretty healthy to boot. And I didn’t even mention the world of flatbread pizzas, but that’s another column.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at

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