Monday, September 5, 2011

Pesto and Pizza Dough

I hope you folks had a nice restful Labor Day weekend.  Mine has been busy but very enjoyable.  Wouldn't it be nice if every weekend was three days long?  I don't think I would mind going to work each day if I knew three days of rest and productive home life awaited me at the end of each week.  Anyway, let me snap out of dream world and get into what I have been up to these past three days.  In addition to traveling to Hillsville, VA for this awesome (and absolutely huge) flea market, I went to the mountains to get apples and then spent today canning them along with some plums and making pesto and pizza dough for the freezer (more on the canning projects coming soon). 
1/4 cup of pesto thawed and ready to use
It seems that everyone these days enjoys pesto, and you probably know how to make it already.  It is quite possible that you even have your own favorite recipes/methods for both pesto and pizza dough.  I am not going to try to convert you to my recipes, but what I am going to do is suggest that you begin making larger quantities of both to freeze and use on those busy nights when spending time cooking and cleaning in the kitchen may not be at the top of your to-do list.  

These two items are favorites in our house.  We use them together to make pizzas, and we also use the pesto with pastas, sandwiches, and vegetables.

I had made some pesto earlier in the summer with the basil from my garden, but I was beginning to worry that I would not have enough to last through the winter, so I bought four large bunches from a vendor at the market.  He was getting ready to call it quits for the day and gave them to me for only a dollar each which I thought was a fantastic deal. 

I took my purchase home and divided it into two bowls along with the other ingredients needed for the batches.  Now, I must tell you that I don't use as much cheese as is called for in most recipes.  I prefer to use less which allows me to have a lighter pesto for some things, or I can add more cheese to the pesto, when needed, for other dishes.  I also tend to use pecans rather than the traditional pine nuts because they are less expensive and more readily available in my neck of the woods.

Ingredients for 6 batches of pesto measured out (3 batches in each bowl)

Once my batches were portioned, I used a food processor to blend everything together.  Now here is the part I like best...I freeze the pesto in a standard muffin pan which gives me exactly 1/4 cup pesto per muffin cup.  This is the perfect portion amount since most of the time I use about 1/4 cup on pizzas.  If I need more, I just remove multiple pesto "muffins" from the freezer to thaw (I just put the pesto muffins in a freezer bag once frozen). 

Pesto ready for the freezer-  each pesto "muffin" is 1/4 cup
I have to tell you how excited I am about this particular batch of pesto.  It is almost entirely local!  The same day I bought the pesto, someone was selling locally grown pecans as well as garlic!  As you can see, it doesn't take much to get me excited about something. 

Now, on to the pizza dough.  I love homemade pizza, and there are several recipes we like to have on a frequent basis, but I don't usually have time to come home and make pizza dough from scratch, and I didn't have the freezer space to store large quantities of dough for future use.  This usually meant that I either didn't have pizza or I used a store-bought crust (unless it was the weekend and I had time for homemade).  No more!  A month or so ago I bought a small deep freezer, and I have discovered the beauty of freezing pizza dough!  You can easily double the recipe or do as I do and make several batches back to back to rise at the same time.  It begins with water, yeast, white flour, and whole wheat flour (you can use all white flour if preferred) which are combined in an electric mixer (or you can do it by hand) and kneaded (in the mixer or by hand) until it is smooth and elastic.  When you can stretch a small piece of dough out and it forms a "windowpane" of dough rather than tearing, you will know it is ready.    

One batch of dough after being kneaded in the mixer
At that point, the dough will need to rise in a warm place covered by a damp towel until doubled in size which will take about 2 hours.

Two batches of dough after rising 2 hours (I just removed the damp towel)
After it has risen completely, remove the dough and divide it into smaller pieces.  I usually divide one batch of dough into 4 pieces which gives me 4 medium (8-10 inch) pizzas.  You can also divide it half to get 2 large pizzas or in eighths for 8 individual size pizzas.  Knead each portion briefly to form it into a smooth ball and bag them individually in freezer bags.  The dough will last approximately 3 months in the freezer.  To use, simply put it in the refrigerator several hours before you are ready to use it to allow it to thaw.  Then roll it to the desired thickness, top it, and bake it.  

Eight bags of pizza dough ready for the freezer (each one makes a medium pizza)
The recipes that follow are for one batch.  I made two batches of the pizza dough in the pictures above, and I multiplied the pesto recipe by 6 in the pictures above.  Remember that I don't add as much cheese to the pesto, so if you want to add more, feel free to do so before freezing.  

Basil Pesto (with pecans)
makes a little over one cup of pesto

1 cup packed basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped pecans (you can use other nuts or pine nuts)
1 tbsp parmesan cheese (or more to suit your tastes and needs)
1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
(sometimes I also add the juice of 1/2 a lemon if I feel it needs some acidity)

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or blender.  Process until relatively smooth.  Spoon pesto into muffin cups and freeze if desired.  Once frozen, pop the pesto out of the cups and place in a freezer bag to store.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)
makes enough dough for 2 large pizzas, 4 medium, or 8 small

1 3/4 cups water, divided (some warm and some at room temperature)
2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast (1 envelope)
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for brushing
3 1/4 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more depending on humidity
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
additional olive oil or cooking spray
cornmeal for dusting (this is needed when you are ready to bake the dough)

Measure 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Sprinkle the yeast into the water and let stand 5 minutes until foaming.  Add 1/4 cup warm water plus 1 1/4 cups room temperature water along with the 2 tbsp olive oil.  In another bowl, combine the flours, salt and sugar, and whisk to combine.  Add dry ingredients to the mixer and mix on low speed for 1 minute.  Mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic and you can see through the dough when a small piece is stretched.  Add more flour as needed to reach this texture.  Remove the dough from the mixer and form it into a smooth ball.

Put the dough in a large bowl that has been brushed with olive oil or sprayed with cooking spray.  Turn the dough over in the bowl to coat all sides.  Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half, quarters, or eighths, depending on the size pizzas desired.  Form each piece into a ball.  At this point, dough can be frozen or used. 

To freeze dough, lightly coat each ball in oil or cooking spray and place in individual freezer bags.  Dough can be frozen up to three months.  To use, thaw in refrigerator several hours and proceed with the follow baking directions.

To shape and bake, preheat a pizza stone in the oven on 450 degrees while you make the pizza.  Flatten each ball into a disk and use your fingers to stretch it outward until you have a pizza crust with 1/4 inch thickness. 
Transfer dough to a pizza peel or the backside of a cornmeal dusted sheet pan.  Add toppings and slide dough onto the preheated pizza stone.  Bake until golden brown- 9-10 minutes for large, 5 minutes for medium, or 4 minutes for small.  You may need to leave the pizza in longer depending on the thickness of the crust and the toppings on the pizza.



  1. the thought of canning has always scared me. I am going to try this pesto recipe, because I love Pesto. Following you now. Look forward to canning with you. :)

  2. Canning is actually a pretty simple process. When I started thinking about canning, the thought of it was a little intimidating, but once you do it one time, you see that it is really nothing to be afraid of. Actually, once you do it, you'll wonder how in the world you ever got along without doing it. It is fun, relaxing because of the routine of it, and easy. Go for it! As for the pesto, I say, go for that too. It is so much easier to have it on hand all the time rather than having to run to the store to get it.