Serious Entertaining: How To Throw a Pizza Party
Who says kids get to have all the fun? Throwing your own pizza party is an excellent way to get friends together, and working together on stretching and topping pies will help alleviate those awkward silences that occur some time before the last guest arrives and the first beers kick in.
Here's what you'll need to do to guarantee high-pie-ing success:
Know Your Dough
The type of dough you end up using will depend largely on the mood of the group and their skillet level, but here are a few suggestions:
For True Beginners and Kids: Premade
Come on: you know you love it. French bread, English muffin, or bagel pizza, it's all cheese and sauce-covered bread in the end, right? If quick and easy is your route, there's no shame in using either a par-baked pizza shell or some other sort of bread product.
If you want to take the next step up, look for pre-made pizza dough in your supermarket or from the local pizzeria. Those doughs generally contain conditioners that make them nearly fool-proof to stretch without tearing or sticking, and they taste just fine.
For First Time Dough-Slingers: Square Pie
Of the three basic styles of pizza I make most, the Basic Square Pan Pizza is by far the easiest. It's made with a very wet dough that you mix up in a stand mixer, then pour directly into a rimmed baking sheet and allow it to stretch on its own to the edges.
If you prefer, you could also try out our New England Greek-Style Dough, which rises in 10-inch skillets or cake pans, making them more suitable for a smaller party with individual-sized pies.
Once you've got the dough made—and you can make a few well in advance and have them ready and waiting in your baking sheets—all that you and your guests have to do it top it and bake it. You end up with real-deal pizza with a crisp, golden brown, olive-oil-fried bottom, and fresh toppings.
For The Experienced: New York Style
New York Style dough requires manually stretching before each and every pie, but it's also a relatively relaxed and easy dough to work with. You can even have your guests go the rolling pin route, or stretch the dough out on oiled pizza pans instead of using the flour-and-peel method.
For Pros: Neapolitan Pizza Dough
This dough is significantly harder to work with than either a square pan or a basic New York style dough. Chances are if you haven't worked with a very wet dough before, you'll end up either stretching this one too thin, or making holes in it. Not to worry—this is a pizza party, not opening night at your new pizza joint with the whole world watching. The great thing about pizza is that even when it looks like crap, it still tastes great.
- Make more than you need. If you're going the premade shell, New York, or Neapolitan routes, make sure to have at least 1 1/2 times the number of dough balls or shells as you have expected guests. Everybody loves leftovers, and you're inevitably going to have a botched pie or two that will need to be reworked.
- Make your dough at least a day in advance. Dough that's had a three to five day rest in the refrigerator will be tastier and easier to work with than freshly made dough. It also makes set up for you planning simple.
- Pull your dough out, portion it, and let it rest at least two hours before your party. Cold doughs are impossible to work with. You want to pull out your dough, portion it into individual size balls, then let them sit on a lightly floured cutting board covered with plastic wrap and a towel for at least a couple hours before it'll be in prime condition to stretch.
I like to give guests the choice of either red or white pies, though the specific sauces you make are up to you. You can go the simple route with a plain old can of San Marzano tomatoes crushed by hand and seasoned with sea salt, or try out one of these recipes below:
And of course, once again there's no shame in going with a store-bought sauce if that's what you'd prefer.
Top It Off!
With your doughs resting and your sauce ready to go, all you need now is a toppings bar. Try and go for a mix of things and encourage people to experiment. I'd start with at least a dozen topping options, though warn your guests that more is not always more. The best pies are made with careful thought and restraint. Here are some of my favorite ingredients:
- Grated aged mozzarella (see our taste test here)
- Fresh buffalo mozzarella, torn into chunks
- Coarsely grated parmesan or romano
- Grated provolone or cheddar
- Fresh ricotta (see our taste test here)
- Fresh chèvre
- Smoked mozzarella or gouda
I'm a firm believer that the best meats to put on a pizza are cured meats, as they offer the requisite flavor punch to complement a pie without weighing it down. If you like things like chicken or barbecue on your pizza, go wild!
- Pepperoni, preferably thick-sliced by hand
- Spicy soppressata
- Raw sausage (preferable homemade)
- Thin-sliced lardo (I like to apply this directly to the dough with just a bare dusting of grated cheese on top)
Watery vegetables should be applied thin sliced and sparingly, or should be par-cooked to avoid sogging out your pie.
- Sliced onions
- Artichoke hearts
- Mushrooms (cooked or fresh, thin sliced)
- Cherry tomatoes, split
- Eggplant slices, par-cooked (you can do this in the microwave!)
- Sliced peppers or roasted peppers
- Potatoes, parcooked and sliced
- Shaved asparagus
- Shaved zucchini or squash
- Figs, split in half
Spices and Pickles
- Chili flakes
- Coriander or fennel seed
- Pistachios, pinenuts, almonds, or walnuts
- Pickled banana or jalapeño peppers
- Chili oil
These are things that you want to add to the pie after it's baked to keep their fresh flavor and texture.
- Thin sliced prosciutto or serrano
- Fresh herbs like basil or oregano (can also be applied before baking)
- Salad greens like arugula
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Grated parmesan or romano
- Thin sliced scallions
- Extra-virgin olive oil or other strongly flavored oils
And if you need more toppings ideas, I suggest you take a look at this scholarly work of stunning genius:
Let 'er Rip
Once you've got your ingredients all ready, throw your stone or steel into the oven, crank it up, and get ready to party. Limit your dough stretching and topping to one at a time, and make sure that you don't have a pizza topped and waiting while you've still got another on in the oven. Nothing worse than a pie that ends up sticking to the peel because it sat for too long.
If there's one mistake that's made more often by first-time pie makers than anything else, it's over-topping. Cheese and toppings should be applied very sparingly.
Have a cutting board and a pizza wheel ready for when the pies start coming out of the oven, and make sure that the person who created the pie explains his or her creation to the rest of the party. Half the fun of eating a pizza is the inspiration behind it!
(P.S.: Don't forget the dessert pies—honey, walnuts, and goat or blue cheese are awesome, as is an empty crust spread with Nutella post-bake).
And, well, that's about all there is to say on that matter. Happy pie-slinging!
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.