Pizza with prosciutto & mozzarella fresca: $1.77 each

With the exception of Red Baron when it’s on sale (which is about as close to pizza as a cardboard box covered in scented candle wax), pizza does not come any cheaper than this. Or better, unless you happen to have a wood-fired oven at home, in which case you probably don’t care if your pizza costs $1.77 or $177. But for the rest of us commonfolk with cheap, rickety department-store stoves that struggle to break 500 degrees, this pizza is a godsend.

It does require a bit of advance planning, as the dough has to ferment overnight at room temperature and then for another two days in the fridge (you can get away with one day, but it won’t be as good), but so long as you work it into your schedule, it really takes no time at all.

It also requires a baking stone, but if you can’t afford or find one, unglazed quarry tiles from Home Depot would probably work just fine.

Dough:
Sourdough starter: 18 cents
Main dough: 66 cents
TOTAL: 84 cents/5 dough balls = 17 cents

All-purpose tomato sauce (also great for any recipe that calls for tomato sauce! Makes about 2 cups)
1 can whole tomatoes, TOTALLY DRAINED of their liquid; put the contents in a sieve, redistributing every now and then for about 5 minutes: 99 cents
1.5 T olive oil: 44 cents
1 garlic clove: 3 cents
pinch of chili flakes: 3 cents
pinch of dried oregano: 3 cents
salt to taste: 1 cent
TOTAL: $1.53/4 pizzas = 38 cents

Toppings (Grocery Outlet):
8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces (I suppose die-hards could make their own mozzarella, but a particularly food-savvy co-worker of mine has repeatedly tried to do this and never got a texture firmer than ricotta, so I was dissuaded): $2.99
3.5 oz. package diced prosciutto: $1.69
TOTAL: $4.68/4 pizzas = $1.17

Cornmeal and flour, for sprinkling: 5 cents

GRAND TOTAL:  $1.77 a pizza

There are a million and a half ways to make pizza dough, and if you already have a recipe that works for you, by all means use it. I prefer this method because, while it takes the longest amount of time, it’s the most hands-off, requiring no kneading or stand-mixer involvement to speak of, and the texture of the final product is perfectly chewy with a soft inside and crisp outside—pretty close to what you’d get out of a wood-fired oven.

Depending on how many pizzas you want to make, this is pretty close to what I did, except I doubled the salt, substituted sourdough starter for about 20% of the final dough weight, and instead of letting the dough rest for 15 minutes before shaping, I went ahead and divided the dough into reasonably even portions, pulling the surface taut on each ball and pinching the excess dough underneath (final product at left). I then put them on parchment paper-lined plates in the fridge, wrapped them in plastic, and let them sit in the fridge for two days. (Note: The dough will have spread out on its plate by the time you go to use it; this is normal.)

Also of note is the fact Lahey gives a choice of using bread or all-purpose flour; I always use all-purpose, as the bread flour always seems to produce a crust that’s a bit dense or cracker-like.

The overnight ferment, unfortunately, was a bit of challenge this time around, as my continued refusal to turn on the furnace (we’re almost out of heating oil, and the current price per gallon is something I’d like to remain ignorant of for as long as possible) has resulted in our home’s “room temperature” holding steady at around 55 degrees. I’m not sure how much of an effect this had on the final product, but if you have a warm spot in your home, be sure to let your dough rise overnight there.

When it comes time to cook, be sure to preheat your oven with the pizza stone on the very bottom rack (this dough is kind of thick; the thicker the dough, the lower the stone should be in the oven; if you have a super-thin dough, put it on the top rack) and crank up the heat as high as it can go. (I just took the dough straight out of the fridge when I was ready to shape it.)

As with all Neapolitan-style pizzas, the crust is the star of the show, so the sauce and toppings are kept very simple. With so few ingredients, the quality of the sauce is largely contingent on the quality of tomatoes, so be sure to buy the best you can find or afford. (To make the sauce, simply take the ingredients in the price list above and purée them in a blender.)

Shaping the pizzas and transferring them to the oven is by far the hardest process. It will probably not go well your first few times, so don’t get discouraged. I use a metal pizza peel sprinkled with flour and cornmeal, which works great, but you could also use a thick piece of cardboard or a very thin baking sheet, sprinkled liberally with flour and cornmeal. A few tips on doing this:

• Pick up the dough ball and stretch it with your hands into the most evenly distributed, reasonably circular  shape you can muster before placing it on the peel. Make sure the bottom of the crust is mobile in all places; you’ll have to lift up every part of the rim to make sure there’s flour or cornmeal under it.

• Make sure you have all your toppings prepared and ready to go so you can throw them on; the longer your dough sits on the peel, the more likely it is to stick to the peel.

• If you go to put the pizza in the oven and notice it’s not coming off the peel, immediately take it out and re-flour and -cornmeal the crust underside as best you can. It may already be too late, but whatever comes about will be better than scraping a jumbled, burning mound of dough and cheese off a 500-degree baking stone.

The pizza is done when the crust has puffed up dramatically and it, along with the cheese, is starting to get a little char. Let it sit for about 5 minutes before cutting.

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