I believe there are only two kinds of pizzas: good and great—and by great I mean memorable. As any passionate pizza lover will tell you, it all begins with the crust, which must be crisp, slightly chewy, and full of yeasty flavor. Yet, while it is one of the food wonders of the world, pizza crust is really just a type of bread dough. I’ve developed a recipe that is easy to make and versatile enough to turn the simplest of ingredients into a great meal in the form of pizza, calzones, or stromboli.
These variations on a pizza theme are more about the way you shape the dough than they are about using different ingredients. In fact, whether baked flat for pizza, folded over for calzones, or spiraled for stromboli, the dough and toppings remain largely the same. This means that once you’ve mastered one dough recipe, you can have a lot of fun deciding which toppings or fillings to use. I’ve included some of my classic favorites, but the flavors you create are limited only by your imagination, as long as you follow my basic guidelines.
What separates a good crust from a great crust is long, slow fermentation, preferably overnight in the refrigerator, to unlock hidden depths of flavor. It may seem a contradiction to require anything long and slow in a recipe touted as easy. But all that flavor development occurs in the refrigerator, so you can mix the dough up to three days ahead and then forget about it. Before baking, you just need to let the dough warm up at room temperature for about 1-1/2 hours.
This dough is easy to shape however you want. I don’t call for any air-tossing gymnastics when creating pizzas. Instead, I use a method of stretching the dough that creates a thin center with a thicker edge. For a calzone, which is a pizza folded in half, and a stromboli, which is a bit like a savory jelly roll, you roll out the dough with a rolling pin.
With such a delicious crust, this pizza needs little in the way of toppings. Because tomato sauce is a traditional favorite, I’ve included a recipe for one made from canned crushed tomatoes. It’s a simple no-cook sauce flavored with whatever herbs you like.
Nearly any topping will work for a pizza, from savory to sweet. And any topping that works for a pizza will work in a calzone or a stromboli, with a few adjustments. For instance, because the sauce won’t evaporate and thicken in a calzone as it does on a pizza, start with a thicker sauce. In a stromboli, sauce tends to keep the inner dough from cooking, so serve it on the side for dipping instead. Soft “melting” cheeses will shrink dramatically inside a calzone or stromboli and give off oil and moisture, so it is helpful to include some other bulky ingredients like vegetables or meats, as long as they are precooked, because otherwise, they will give off moisture as well.
A hot oven is key to getting a crisp crust. While baking pizza on a heated baking stone in a super hot oven is the best way to deliver a crackly crust, neither calzones nor stromboli require this. All three can be baked on a baking sheet in a home oven with good results. One taste of this nearly foolproof dough will have you reluctant to resort to take-out or frozen pizzas again. By making the dough ahead and stashing it in the fridge or freezer, you can easily pull together a pizza, calzone, or stromboli exactly the way you want it.