Pizza toppings should be thinly sliced so the pie cooks quickly, making for crispy crust. - Bob Pennell

Simply delicious pizza

Well-versed in all things Italian, Caterina Moore knows pizza.

At the world's oldest pizzeria in Naples, Italy, you won't find cushiony crust, pools of sauce or even pepperoni. Italian pizza is light, crispy and adorned with minimal toppings, Moore says.

"I don't generally call it pizza. I call it flatbread," Moore says, adding that her term removes the dish's uniquely American connotation.

Authentic pizza also is fast — so speedy that families can assemble it from scratch on weeknights. During a Friday class at Ashland Food Co-op, Moore will demonstrate how making "fabulous" pizza takes less time than waiting for delivery.

"I do it as an appetizer all the time," she says.

Moore starts with a baking stone preheated to 450 F before it touches pizza dough. Also useful for breads, baking stones can be had for roughly the cost of a pizza-parlor pie. A hot stone sets the crust, so it's crisp on the outside but tender and slightly chewy on the inside.

Although home cooks could purchase dough at their favorite pizza parlor, there's no need, Moore says, when flour, salt and water come together in about a minute. If ultra-crunchy crust is what you're after, omit the yeast and save the time that dough would otherwise need to rise, she says.

"I think people tend to be intimidated by the idea of making dough," she says. "Dough is very forgiving."

If dough gets too sticky, just add a little more flour, Moore says. Confining a rolling pin to the dough's center, rather than extending it over the edges ensures an even thickness — more critical than symmetry. Beyond circular, pizzas can be rectangular, oval or raggedly misshapen.

"It doesn't have to be perfect," Moore says.

The dough, though, must slide easily onto the preheated baking stone. A pizza peel, also available for about $20, simplifies the task. An inverted cookie sheet works, too.

Although home cooks may invest a few dollars in equipment, they'll save over the long term. High-quality pizza toppings can be had for a fraction of what restaurants charge per pie.

"You can make a pizza for half the cost of a pizza you would buy," Moore says.

"You can put so many delicious, healthy toppings on it you would never get in a restaurant."

No matter how nutritious or delicious, there's no need to pile on pizza toppings. Too many increase a pizza's baking time and diminish the crust's quality. Although Moore cuts vegetables as thinly as possible, she chooses just three or four for each pizza. In lieu of sauce, she brushes the dough with extra-virgin olive oil and then crumbles on distinctive cheeses like feta, goat cheese or Gorgonzola.

"It's so much lighter without a typical sauce on it," she says.

Pizza also can conform to dietary restrictions, Moore says. She'll recommend brown rice-flour pizza skins and soy cheeses in Friday's class.

"People assume if they're dairy-intolerant or they're gluten-intolerant, they can't have pizza."

Regardless of a pizza's ingredients, Moore always falls back on a restaurant trick for finishing her pies: a touch of extra-virgin olive oil, which adds not only flavor but a mouth-watering sheen. Cutting pizza in irregular pieces lends rustic charm, Moore says.

"It's a great comfort food, and it can be fun and whimsical."

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail

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