Is there anything kids love more than pizza?
Probably not. Pizza is the most popular food in the school lunch program. Say “pizza” in the kitchen and kids are bound to come running. So we could hardly continue on our world food tour without making at least one version of Italy’s most famous pie. In this case, we attempted to prove that even the most persnickety eater will try a vegetable like broccoli if it is presented on pizza. (In all but one or two cases, we were proved correct.)
Some people like to make their pizza dough in a food processor and that works fine. But here’s a revelation: you can indeed make pizza dough by hand. In fact, that appears to be the way it was done before food processors arrived on the scene. This turns out to be a perfect exercise for our food appreciation classes as the kids fight over a turn to knead the dough in their own little hands.
The dough is simple enough. Make it at least a couple of hours in advance so it has a chance to rise. We also had great results with dough that was made the day before and refrigerated. Give it a chance to rise first. Oddly enough, it seemed to continue to rise a little even in the fridge.
After rolling out the dough for a pie, we par-bake it until firm, then add the broccoli topping and the mozzarella cheese before returning it to the oven to finish. This way none of the toppings are overcooked before the crust is nicely browned.
I prefer a thin crust, which sometimes turns out ever so slightly crispy. But you can go thicker if you like.
It helps if you have a pizza stone on which to cook your pizza, but a baking pan will work as well. We also use a wooden peel–a device that looks like an over-sized paddle–to move the pizza in and out of the oven. Give it a light coating of corn meal so that the dough slides on and off easily.
For the broccoli, cut one broccoli crown into bite-size florets. Cook these in boiling salted water until just done, then drain in a colander under cold water and shake dry. Reserve.
For the dough, mix one package yeast (or pizza-formulated yeast) into 1/2 cup warm water in a measuring cup. Give the yeast about five minutes to activate. When it begins to foam, add another 3/8 cup warm water and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, stir together 2 cups bread flour and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Pour about 1/4 cup of the water-yeast mixture into the flour and mix well with a spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Continue adding water and mixing until the flour forms a ball and is tacky but not wet. You may have some water left over.
Drop the dough on a floured work surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If it is too sticky, dust with more flour.
Roll the dough into your preferred shape and thickness, brush all over the top with olive oil and place in a 500-degree oven for 3 or 4 minutes, or just until the dough has become firm and bubbly. Remove the dough and dust the top with grated mozzarella cheese. (The kids will have lots of fun poking holes in those bubbles.) Distribute the cooked broccoli over the pizza, dust with more cheese and season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste.
Return the pizza to the oven and bake until the cheese is thoroughly melted and parts of the crust have turned golden brown.
Make a big show of slicing the pizza with your pizza wheel and serve. But make sure the kids know it’s hot. They’ll soon be back for seconds.