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The Other Pie Crust

Toppings aren't the only versatile part of the pizza.

March 21, 2001|JUDY ZEIDLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pizza is described in one dictionary as a "baked, open-faced pie consisting of a thin layer of dough topped with tomato sauce and cheese." In which century was that written? Somebody has to tell them about Thai barbecue chicken. By now everyone knows that pizza is infinitely flexible, adapting to almost any topping you're wacky enough to put on it. But what you may not realize is that pizza dough is equally adaptable. You can use a basic pizza dough to make calzone, focaccia and even really incredible bread sticks.

What's more, the simple yeast dough can be put together in as little as 10 minutes. Then it takes only an hour to rise before it's ready to be used. Once it is finished, you will be amazed at all the delicious things you can make with it.

Try a Provencal pissaladiere-a kind of Southern French pizza made by combining sweet long-cooked onions and pungent anchovies. This is a wonderful antipasto to begin dinner.

Or make calzone, a cheese-filled turnover. Roll the dough out exactly as you would for pizza, place the cheese filling on one side, fold the dough over the filling and bake.

In Italy, focaccia is sometimes made from the same pizza dough, depending on the locale. I have included several versions of focaccia for you to try. In the seaside town of Forte di Marme, cooks make a version of focaccia that is baked in a wood-burning oven at an extremely hot temperature until the dough blows up like a balloon. Olive oil and salt are generously sprinkled on top and it is served piping hot. When the dough is pierced with a fork, this versatile focaccia turns into a flat cracker bread.

Another version of focaccia was introduced to us by friends Wolf and Bettina Rogosky, who live in Tuscany. They layer thin slices of tomatoes and onions in a pattern and sprinkle fresh rosemary over the focaccia before baking.

But one of the very best things to do with pizza dough is make grissini, crisp thin breadsticks. Just roll and cut the pizza dough very thin-a pasta machine and fettuccine cutter work perfectly-and coat the dough sticks in seeds or herbs to add crunch and a subtle toasted flavor. The baked bread sticks can be stored in plastic bags in the freezer and, when heated in the oven, they will taste as fresh as the day they were made.

Once they're baked, fill several large water glasses with the bread sticks and place them on table for an edible decoration.

Pizza Margherita

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes plus preparation time for dough.

Save the leftover Marinara Sauce for another use.

MARINARA SAUCE

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 onions, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with liquid

1 cup dry red wine

1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon minced fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons minced parsley

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, onions, bell pepper, carrots and celery and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes with the liquid, the red wine, oregano, basil, parsley and sugar. Bring the sauce to a boil, cover and simmer until it's thick, about 30 minutes. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer it to a bowl to cool, cover it with plastic wrap and set it aside. Makes 3 cups.

ASSEMBLY

Basic Pizza Dough

Cornmeal

2 cups Marinara Sauce

2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Divide the dough into 2 equal balls. Roll 1 ball out on a floured board into a thin circle, about 12 to 14 inches in diameter. Dust a round pizza baking pan or baking sheet with cornmeal and slip the rolled dough onto the prepared pan. Spoon 1 cup of sauce in a thin coating on the pizza, spreading it with the back of a spoon to within 1 inch of the edge. Sprinkle the pizza generously with half the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil over the top. Repeat with the second ball and ingredients to make a second pizza.

Bake the pizzas in batches on the lowest rack of the oven until the crust is crisp and brown and the cheese is hot and bubbling, 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

2 pizzas, 4 servings each. Each of 8 servings: 506 calories; 723 mg sodium; 27 mg cholesterol; 22 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 58 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams protein; 5.26 grams fiber.

Basic Pizza Dough

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes plus 1 hour rising

This makes enough dough for 2 pizzas.

2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast

1/8 teaspoon sugar

1 1/4 cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees), divided

1/4 cup olive oil

3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

Dissolve the yeast with the sugar in 1/2 cup of the water and set aside until foamy.

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