A couple of weeks ago we had my parents over for dinner. My entertaining philosophy has changed from wanting to make the most complicated, impressive, new dishes I can to limiting the food I make to one homemade dish and short-cutting the rest. But you love to cook! You say. Why wouldn’t you want to spread that love of cooking and discovering new and exciting dishes to your guests? You say.
I’ll tell you. The first reason is pretty general; when people are over I don’t want to spend my time in the kitchen missing all of the fun and conversation. The second reason is more specific to me; I’m single-minded to a fault. This is why I am awesome at studying in libraries for hours on end and knocking out 10 page papers in an evening, but terrible at remembering to take my purse with me from the back of my chair when I leave a restaurant. Boil this down to entertaining and you get a really delicious, well-thought out meal served at 11:30pm. People are hungry.
My favorite type of dinner party to throw is Make-Your-Own-Pizza. Before I adopted my new entertaining philosophy, I’d make all the dough from scratch, all the toppings would be made to order, and pizzas would be coming out of my oven for upwards of 3 hours. This way is fun if you have all day and night, but for a weeknight dinner party things need to move a little faster. Short cuts and ingredients you can make ahead are perfect for this.
Pizza night-made-easy starts with pre-made dough. I don’t mean from your freezer aisle; I mean go to your favorite pizza parlor, or in my case the pizza counter in my grocery store, and ask to buy dough. They are happy to sell it to you and you can be certain that it’s delicious. The dough for a large pie is enough for 2 people.
Next, assemble your toppings. This is a combination of homemade toppings and quality store-bought ingredients.
I browned some spicy Italian sausage and caramelized onions until they were deeply golden and sweet. Colorful bell peppers were cut and set aside. I did all of this ahead of time and stored it in the refrigerator until we were ready to assemble.
When the time comes to start making pizza, organize the toppings into categories. I had one area designated for vegetable toppings. Sun dried tomatoes in oil, marinated artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, baby spinach, chopped peppers, and an olive tapenade that my mom made and brought over made up this station.
I also had a cheese station.
Shredded mozzarella is the glue that holds everything together, so make sure you have plenty of that. Other cheese ideas include but are definitely not limited to: habanero pepper jack cheese, fresh mozzarella sliced, gorgonzola crumbles, ricotta cheese, and of course, Parmesan.
There was a meat station that included the cooked sausage, leftover shredded chicken from chicken tostada night, and good pepperoni from the deli.
I set up all the toppings as if my kitchen were a pizza assembly line. Oiled baking sheets were placed at one end and I stretched the pizza dough as thin as it could go. Then my dinner guests came in and added as much sauce as they wanted.
They took their baking sheet around to the other stations and assembled their dream pizza. Or at least their dream pizza that could be made with the toppings provided.
My mom is a vegetarian so she went heavy on the veggies.
Peppers, caramelized onions, artichoke hearts, olive tapenade, and a sparing layer of fresh mozzarella and her pizza was complete.
My dad is not a vegetarian, and went with the pizza supreme route.
Sausage, chicken, pepperoni, peppers, artichokes, caramelized onions…. let’s just say he added a little bit of everything.
K is a pizza purist and usually only eats plain cheese or pepperoni, so he surprised me when he went with more of a “meat-zza” route.
He went heavy on the sausage and chicken, then topped with ricotta, artichoke hearts, and mozzarella cheese. I had a bite and it was delicious.
I topped mine with sausage, peppers, a few artichoke hearts, gorgonzola cheese, fresh mozzarella, and some shredded mozzarella to keep it all together.
I had my oven set to 450 degrees and was able to bake two pizzas at a time. My parents went in first and were baked for 10 minutes while K and I assembled our pies. After 10 minutes the crust was golden brown on the sides, but most importantly, on the bottom.
There pizzas were sliced and served while ours went into the oven.
Red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, and freshly grated parmesan should be on the table for serving.
Isn’t that pretty?
We crowded around the coffee table and ate pizza while watching Jeopardy, because pizza dinner parties should be casual, and also Jeopardy is awesome and we record it so we can binge on episodes for hours on end.
These pizzas, stretched thin, were only about 10 inches so they were perfect for individual servings. The best part is getting to taste everyone else’s creations, if they are willing to share, that is.
Organization, help from the store, and a few homemade ingredients made in advance are the keys to hosting any party, but especially a pizza party. Save the experiments for another night–make something easy, interactive, and that your guests will love. Memories will be made and best part–you’ll get to be a part of it!
Here’s the Recipe? Instructions? Guidelines? Well… here’s a summary at least.
How to Host a Homemade Pizza Party
What you’ll need:
- Pre-made pizza dough, which can be found a your local pizza parlor or sometimes in your grocery store, separated into individual dough balls that are about the size of a baseball
- Pizza sauce. Either really good store-bought or homemade in advance. (Other ideas include: pesto, Alfredo, sun dried tomato spread, barbecue sauce, ranch, plain ol’ olive oil…)
- Cheese Options:
- LOTS of shredded mozzarella–that’s the glue that holds pizza together
- Fresh sliced mozzarella
- gorgonzola or blue cheese crumbles
- shredded pepper jack (or something else with a little kick)
- Grated Parmesan (both for assembly and for serving)
- Ricotta cheese
- (Other ideas include: feta/goat cheese, cheddar, pecorino, sharp provolone…)
- Vegetable Options:
- Caramelized onions, made in advance
- sliced peppers
- marinated artichoke hearts
- sun dried tomatoes in oil
- olives or olive tapenade
- (other ideas include: hearts of palm, pine nuts/other crunchies, fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs, jalapenos…)
- Meat Options:
- Cooked Italian Sausage, made in advance
- Shredded chicken, either leftover or from a rotisserie chicken
- Good pepperoni
- (other options include: meatballs, cooked and crumbled hamburger meat, canadian bacon, REGULAR bacon–yum!..)
- Seasonings for serving:
- Grated Parmesan
- Salt and Pepper
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Dried Oregano
- Garlic Powder
What to do:
- When it’s time to make pizza, preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Set up stations: sauce station, vegetable toppings station, meat toppings station, and cheese toppings station. Spread these out as much as you can in your kitchen to avoid bottlenecks.
- Have enough baking sheets for your guests. You’ll need at least 4 and then after that you can re-use them after one groups pizzas come out and are sliced. Lightly oil the baking sheets with olive oil and either roll or hand stretch the dough as thin as it will go. Next hand it off to your guests.
- Guests will travel through the toppings stations and assemble their pizza as desired. When they are finished, place 2 pizzas at a time in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is deeply golden brown and crunchy and the bottom of the pizza looks done when lifted from a corner of the pie. Meanwhile, other guests are assembling their pizzas.
- Transfer cooked pizza to a cutting board and slice. Transfer slices to a plate and serve with seasonings.
- Repeat until all guests have baked and sliced their pies.
Enjoy! And have fun.. it’s a party!
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