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People have strong feelings about pizza, and everyone has their favorite slice. Let me just say right off the bat, I'm not here to change your mind. My goal is simply to offer some delicious options for homemade pizza and a few tips on how to get the best results.

Pizza choices are limitless, and not just in terms of toppings. A pizza's personality starts with the crust. Some are thick and chewy, like the Sicilian-inspired Spicy Sausage and Kalamata Slab Pizza. Some are thinner and crispier, like the Roasted Mushroom Pizza, with a stress-free make-ahead crust. And there are many others in between, which is where the Hot Soppressata and Ricotta Skillet Pizza falls, a hearty, cheesy slice with a buttery crust that may remind you of something you'd find in the Windy City.

Making homemade pizza — especially pizza crust — isn't difficult. The ingredients are usually simple and the technique is, too. But it's important to pay attention to the details.

The crust

As is true in most baking, one of the biggest pitfalls is in measuring the flour. In terms of mass, it's surprising how different two cups of flour can be. If you are scooping from a densely packed bag of flour, it can be more than 20% heavier than a cup that had the flour fluffed and spooned into it. That can make a difference in the final product, making the crumb tighter and the texture tougher.

The best technique is to weigh your flour on a food scale, which is why I've given both the volume (cup measure) and the mass (weight in grams). If you don't have a scale, make sure to fluff the flour thoroughly with a spoon, and then spoon the flour into the cup before sweeping any extra off the top with a straight-edged knife or spatula.

Another helpful piece of equipment is a pizza stone. The stone starts in a cold oven and gets hot as the oven preheats. It concentrates the heat, giving the crust an extra crunchiness. I use my stone anytime I'm baking bread and, of course, pizza, even if it's baked in a pan. I even bake my pies (the non-pizza kind) on the stone to ensure that I get a nicely browned pie bottom.

The sauce

I like to top my pizza with boldly flavored red sauce. Especially on pizzas with a thick crust, as they need the extra flavor to balance out the extra crust. I make a simple version that I let simmer for a while, until it's thick and intensified in flavor. A thick sauce helps prevent any wateriness that can lead to a soggy crust.

The cheese

The perfect blend of cheese is key to a good pizza. I mix together shredded low-moisture mozzarella (the firm kind that comes in a block, not fresh mozzarella), Fontina (a flavorful Italian cheese) and grated Parmesan. The combination adds a depth of flavor you'll miss by only using mozzarella.

I usually spread the cheese on top of the dough before adding pizza sauce as an extra layer of defense against a soggy crust.

But as the old saying goes, "there's no such thing as bad pizza." And I would argue that, armed with one of today's recipes and a little know-how, you may just find a new favorite.

Spicy Sausage and Kalamata Slab Pizza has a focaccia-like crust.
Spicy Sausage and Kalamata Slab Pizza has a focaccia-like crust.

Meredith Deeds, Special to the Star Tribune

Spicy Sausage and Kalamata Slab Pizza

Makes 1 (18- by 13-inch) pizza.

Inspired by Sicilian slab-style pizza, this version has a thick, focaccia-like crust that's crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Note: The dough is sticky and loose, and the food processor makes short work of developing the gluten. If making by hand, allowing the crust to slowly rise gives the gluten time to develop on its own. This recipe must be made in advance to allow time for the dough to rise. From Meredith Deeds.

For the crust:

• 4 c. bread flour (480 g)

• 2 1/4 tsp. instant or active dry yeast

• 2 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. sugar

• 1 2/3 c. lukewarm water (376 g)

• 5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

For the pizza:

• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage, cooked and crumbled

• 2 1/2 c. Pizza Cheese Blend (see recipe)

• 1 recipe Red Pizza Sauce (see recipe)

• 1/2 c. kalamata olives, quartered

Directions

To prepare the crust: Mix the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, water and 2 tablespoons olive oil — by food processor (pulse for 30 seconds), stand mixer (knead on medium setting for 7 minutes) or hand (stir until combined and let sit, covered, at room temperature for at least 12 hours to allow gluten to form, before placing dough in the pan. See Note.). The dough will be loose and sticky.

Use remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to lightly coat the bottom and edges of a half-sheet pan (18-by-13 inches). Pour dough into the pan and turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough spread and rise in the pan for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Remove plastic wrap and gently (to maintain as many air bubbles as possible) push and stretch the dough to the edges of the pan. Cover again with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 475 degrees, with rack in lower third of oven.

To assemble and bake pizza: Spread the cheese over the crust. Drizzle the sauce over the cheese and using a spatula, gently spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the cooked sausage over the sauce and top with the kalamata olives.

Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan in the oven and bake for another 5 to 8 minutes, using a spatula to lift the crust to ensure it's golden brown and crispy. If top is browning too fast, cover loosely with foil. Remove from oven, cut into slices and serve immediately.

The crisp Roasted Mushroom Pizza is topped with mascarpone cheese.
The crisp Roasted Mushroom Pizza is topped with mascarpone cheese.

Meredith Deeds, Special to the Star Tribune

Roasted Mushroom Pizza

Makes 2 (14-inch) pizzas.

Thin, crisp white pizza is topped with creamy mascarpone cheese (the rich Italian cousin of cream cheese) and the perfect blend of shredded cheese, along with garlicky roasted mushrooms. It starts with a crust that can be made ahead and frozen, then topped and baked just before serving, taking away a lot of the last-minute preparation, making this the perfect pizza for entertaining or satisfying those weeknight pizza cravings. This recipe must be made in advance to allow time for the dough to rise. From Meredith Deeds.

For the crust:

• 3 3/4 c. all-purpose unbleached flour (450 g)

• 2 1/4 tsp. instant or active dry yeast

• 1 tsp. sugar

• 2 tsp. salt

• 1 1/4 c. lukewarm water (283 g)

• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• Cornmeal for dusting

For the pizza:

• 24 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms

• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• 3/4 tsp. salt, divided

• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided

• 6 cloves garlic, minced

• 8 oz. mascarpone cheese

• 3 c. Pizza Cheese Blend (see below)

Directions

To prepare the crust: Place the flour, yeast, sugar and 2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Add water and 1 tablespoon oil and process until the dough forms a ball, about 30 seconds. (Alternatively, mix and knead in a large bowl, by hand or with a mixer, for 5 to 7 minutes.) The dough should be smooth, elastic and slightly tacky, but easy to handle.

Transfer to an oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Or place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, up to 24 hours. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.

While the dough is rising, put a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. If you don't have a pizza stone, place a large baking sheet, upside down, in the oven as it preheats.

Deflate the dough with your hands and cut into 2 pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough on a floured surface into a 14-inch circle.

Sprinkle the cornmeal over the surface of a rimless baking sheet or a pizza peel. Place the rolled-out dough on top of the cornmeal (it will spring back a little in the process). Pierce the dough a few times with a fork (to keep it from puffing up in the oven) and place the dough in the hot oven, sliding the dough off the sheet and onto the hot stone or baking sheet. Keep an eye on the crust and continue to carefully poke holes into it if it puffs in the oven.

Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough just begins to brown in spots on the top, and remove from the oven by sliding the crust onto the baking sheet or a pizza peel. Slide the crust onto a cooling rack while the other half bakes to prevent it from steaming underneath. (The cooled crust can be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 1 month. No need to thaw before topping and baking as directed in the recipe. Just add another minute or two to the cooking time.)

Repeat with the remaining half of the dough.

To assemble and bake the pizza: In a large bowl, mix together the mushrooms, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Arrange in an even layer on two large, rimmed baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes. Stir the mushrooms and sprinkle the garlic over the top and switch the positions of the pans. Bake for another 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are just browned and garlic is no longer raw, but not browned. Remove from oven.

In a medium bowl, combine the mascarpone with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread half of the mascarpone mixture onto one of the crusts, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Top with half of the cheese blend and half the mushrooms and bake for 9 to 12 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly and crust is browned on both the bottom and edges. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack for a few minutes before cutting into slices. Repeat with remaining crust and toppings.

Hot Soppressata and Ricotta Skillet Pizza is similar to the deep-dish variations you’d find in Chicago.
Hot Soppressata and Ricotta Skillet Pizza is similar to the deep-dish variations you’d find in Chicago.

Meredith Deeds, Special to the Star Tribune

Hot Soppressata and Ricotta Skillet Pizza

Makes 1 (12-inch) deep-dish pizza.

Note: With its rich, buttery crust, this pizza is similar to a Chicago deep- dish but a little lighter and airier. This recipe must be made in advance to allow time for the dough to rise. From Meredith Deeds.

For the crust:

• 1 1/2 c. all-purpose unbleached flour (210 g)

• 3 tbsp. cornmeal (30 g)

• 1 1/2 tsp. instant or active dry yeast

• 1 tsp. sugar

• 3/4 tsp. salt

• 1/2 c. lukewarm warm water (114 g)

• 1/4 c. melted butter (56 g)

• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

For the pizza:

• 3/4 c. whole milk ricotta cheese

• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• 1/4 tsp. salt

• Pinch of red pepper flakes

• 2 c. Pizza Cheese Blend (see recipe)

• 1 c. Red Pizza Sauce (see recipe)

• 1/4 lb. thinly sliced hot soppressata

• Chopped basil, for garnish

Directions

To prepare the crust: Mix the flour, cornmeal, yeast, sugar, salt, water, butter and olive oil — by food processor (pulse for 30 seconds), stand mixer (knead on medium setting, for 4 minutes) or hand (stir until combined and knead for 10 minutes) or until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic. The dough will be slightly tacky, but should be elastic and form a ball. Add another tablespoon or two of flour if dough is too soft to handle.

Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a 12-inch cast iron skillet and use your fingers to coat the bottom and sides of skillet. Transfer the dough into the skillet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Or place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before transferring to skillet and proceeding with the recipe.

Once the dough is raised, place oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 475 degrees.

To assemble and bake the pizza: In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes.

Press out the dough in the skillet to cover the bottom and come 112 inches up the sides. (If the crust is pulling back, let it rest in the pan, covered, for 15 minutes.)

Spread the shredded cheese onto the bottom of the crust. Top with the pizza sauce and soppressata. Dollop the ricotta cheese mixture over the top and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the bottom of the crust is browned when lifted slightly with a spatula. If the top is browning too fast, cover loosely with foil until the bottom of the crust is done. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Sprinkle chopped basil over the top, cut into slices and serve immediately.

Red Pizza Sauce

Makes about 2 cups.

Note: From Meredith Deeds.

• 1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes

• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 cloves garlic

• 1 tsp. dried oregano

• 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. sugar

Directions

Using a blender, immersion blender or food processor, purée the tomatoes briefly. lt should not be completely smooth. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, salt and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened.

Pizza Cheese Blend

Makes about 4 cups.

Note: A mix of cheeses gives the pizza lots of flavor and an impressive pull of melted cheese with every bite. From Meredith Deeds.

• 12 oz. shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese

• 4 oz. shredded Fontina cheese

• 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

In a large bowl, combine all the cheeses.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredithdeeds@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.