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Cooking with Kids

Pizza Night
By Chef Mary Sue Milliken

There may be a kid somewhere who doesn't like pizza, just as there are adults who don't like chocolate cake, but I've never met them. It's one thing to be eccentric, and another to be completely foolish. Pizza is just too much fun to live without.

Easy as Pie

At my house, when the dreaded weeknight dinner doldrums set in, I'll get everyone's mouth watering again with a homemade pizza night—something we can all look forward to as the day progresses. If I'm really organized, my son Declan and I make fresh pizza dough the night before. (Mind you, that hasn't happened since I had my second child four years ago!) It's easy enough to make in the food processor, even if you have absolutely no experience with bread baking.

But on those evenings when time is running out, I simply call my local pizza shop before I leave the office and ask them to have about four pizza dough balls ready for me to swoop up on my way home. It costs about $12 and all we have to do when I get home is roll, sprinkle, bake and eat. Since it takes a team to make great pizza, my husband Josh mans the oven or grill.

The Tools

Special equipment is not necessary, but a long-handled pizza paddle adds flair for getting the pies in and out of the oven. A stone for drawing moisture out of the crust and a stainless steel wheel cutter for cutting perfect slices also add pleasure. Instead of a paddle you can improvise with the back of a cookie sheet or two spatulas. Pizza equipment is available at cookware stores and web retailers, but beware of buying pizza stones sight-unseen. The big, thick one I bought when my old one split in half doesn't fit inside my oven!

Since we got a gas grill, I'm enjoying the extra control you need for delicate items like pizza. Here's how the Milliken-Schweitzer production team works: The kids and I roll out the dough on a well-floured counter, low enough for everyone to gather round or with stools at a high counter for smaller kids. Meanwhile, Josh sets the gas grill to medium heat. At both stations are stacks of over-sized (14-inch) plates for the kids to carry the pizza back and forth. If you're using the oven, you want to set it at highest heat, about 500 F.

Josh grills the rolled dough until about half-cooked and golden on both sides, about two minutes per side. Then the kids bring the golden disk back to the counter where we each get to pile on our favorite toppings. We tend to be old school when it comes to toppings. We like tomato sauce and mozzarella, with a few basil leaves and a dusting of Parmesan.

Totally Cheesy

For the all-important cheese, slices of fresh mozzarella are wonderful, but the kids enjoy a good processed brand like Polly-O, grated for better melting. A combination of cheeses (like smoked mozzarella, fontina, Parmesan, goat cheese, Gouda, Tallegio, feta, good cheddar) adds interest to any pizza. Roasted bell pepper strips or piquillo peppers, black olives, prosciutto, half-crisped bacon (always a hit in my house), spicy salami, tuna and capers are typical toppings from the pantry. Sometimes I fry an egg and just place it over a simple cheese pizza for an added dollop of richness and nutrition.

Then the kids (carefully!) carry their beautiful creations back to Josh for one more round on the grill. Dad cooks them gently, with the cover on, for two to three minutes longer, just until the cheese is melted and all of the flavors are perfectly blended. We dig in right away and start slicing and serving each one while it's still piping hot. It tastes better that way!

Have your own pizza party tonight with these basic recipes:

Pizza Dough
Quick Tomato Sauce

More great pizza recipes:

Alice Waters' Rainbow Tomato Pizza
Caramelized Onion Pizza with Prosciutto and Arugula
Pizza with Red Peppers, Garlic and Mushrooms

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