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If you’re like me, you like pizza. Maybe you’d go so far as to describe yourself as being moderately obsessed with pizza. Perhaps, if you were forced to spend eternity on a desert island with only one food, you wouldn’t think twice to name pizza as the one dish you’d dine on for the rest of your life. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve spent countless hours devoted to finding the best way to make your own pizza at home.

Now, since we all don’t have the luxury of pulling a Gwyenth Paltrow and building a wood-burning pizza oven in our backyard, the rest of us have to get creative – and resourceful. My absolute fave method for preparing pizza at home is outdoors, as nature intended, on a hot grill. It’s fast, messy and festive, and produces a crispy, superior crust in a flash. Sadly, being an apartment dweller creates an added obstacle in my pizza-making-experimentation. I’m sadly grill-free chez Menu.

Moreover, my kitchen is quite free of any form of ventilation. Anytime I turn the oven on over 400 degrees results in a low level of smoke and a high level of noise from my too-sensitive-but-fully-operational smoke alarms. (Side note: do I really need four smoke alarms in a less-than-900-square-feet apartment?) When performing your own, personal pizza-making research, the first thing that professional pizza-makers will drill in your brain is that you must, must, must crank your oven up to the highest degree possible. And use a pizza stone. After borrowing Mother Menu’s pizza stone for a test run, my beloved smoke alarms had a fit. Apparently, the oils absorbed by the stone do not interact well with my particular brand of kitchen.

I thought I might be on to something when I came upon another category of pizza recipes that call for using the broiler. But my lovely apartment, always conspiring against my pizza consumption, got in the way again with its awkward drawer-style broiler that won’t fit a sizable pan in it.

So here’s the method I developed. I won’t say it’s the most perfect in the world – but it’s the most perfect method for my imperfect, but loveable, little apartment kitchen. It’s inspired by countless recipes I scoured from the Web – but since none fit my kitchen’s peculiarities, I tweaked and adapted and am pretty darn happy with the results.  And since I figure I just can’t be alone in my pizza-making-predicament, I thought I’d share the fruits of my laborious research.  Here’s what to do.

1. Make or buy your dough. I’ve convinced that the dough I purchased through local Richmond company Pizza Tonight is near perfect. I love it. You know how, when you order pizza from a takeout place, everyone fights over the piece of pie that has a huge, charred bubble of doughy goodness on the outer crust? Well, every pie I’ve made with Pizza Tonight dough has resulted in multiple bubbles. More on Pizza Tonight later. If you’re set on making your own dough, I’d recommend this recipe from the Washington Post.

2. Pick a day when you’re experiencing neither blizzard nor heat wave in your community. Open as many doors as possible and turn on all the fans in the house. (Fortunately, to accompany my four smoke alarms, my landlord thoughtfully provided four ceiling fans.) Voila, make-your-own ventilation!

3. Adjust an oven rack to the very lowest setting, closest to the base heating source. Crank up the oven to (gasp) 425 degrees, giving it a good 20-30 minutes to make sure it’s good and hot. (Of course, if you’re in a kitchen with proper ventilation, feel free to preheat to 500 degrees – you’ll likely get better, and slightly quicker, results.)

4. Heat a well seasoned cast iron skillet on the stove top over medium-high heat.

5. While the oven and pan preheat, prepare your dough. Dough should already be at room temperature. If you’re working with a damp dough, cover the ball lightly in flour before holding it in one hand and allowing gravity to do its work, letting the dough “hang”  down, using the other hand to stretch the dough into a rough circle that’s quite thin in the middle without reaching the fully-transparent stage, and no bigger in diameter than your cast iron skillet. Pizza Tonight offers an excellent tutorial on this very subject.

6. Prepare the toppings. My latest favorite combination is fully inspired by Pizza Tonight which, in addition to selling kits of dough and sauce, also sells fresh-from-the-oven baked pies on-site at local farmers markets. I sampled a slice of their Fig & Pig creation and was hooked: fresh figs, prosciutto and Gorgonzola cheese. Yum. For my version, I opted for a combination of pesto, dried figs, fresh mozzarella and prosciutto, layered in that order and using just the thinnest layer of pesto.

7. Nestle the dough carefully in the cast iron skillet and add toppings.

8. Bake for about 8 minutes.

On my first try, I over-baked in hopes that the top crust would magically char. But without an upper heat source (i.e., from a broiler), that’s just not going to happen, so don’t make my mistake. Taking the pizza out after 8 minutes yielded a pizza that was the perfect mixture of crispy and chewy – and thanks to the skillet I still enjoyed some of those tasty char marks on the bottom of the pizza.

So that’s my journey. My greatest discovery? Every pizza is as unique as the kitchen that produces it. So, unless I stay in this particular apartment for life, I’m looking forward to more pizza discoveries in newer and greater kitchens in the future!

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