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Cooking for Cheapskates: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Pizza

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Throw-The-Kitchen-Sink-In-It Pizza: with Vodka Sauce, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Garlic, Mozzarella, Pepperoni, Basil, Parmesan, Caramelized Onions, and Olives

We've gotta admit, Mozza was great, but Lord knows we can't eat like red-headed Italian kings every day. In fact, even ordering pizza every night tends to add up: $20 per pizza per day for two people over one week? That's over $140, even if you eat the leftovers for breakfast! It's enough to make us want to...I don't know, cook at home more often. Even that can get sorta expensive, though: want to make a pizza from scratch with fresh tomatoes and homemade sauce and hand-grated cheese? It'll still cost you, although if you practice a few thrifty tips and make sure your pantry is always stocked with long-lasting basics like flour, sugar, butter, olive oil, canned fish, garlic, onions, and canned sauces and beans, you can throw together all manner of cheap and easy weeknight meals.

Keep in mind that most hard cheeses (like parmesan and cheddar) last for a week or more, and can be used on pretty much anything you cook, including fresh veggies, pasta, burgers, toast, whatever. Butter also keeps well, while milk , on the other hand, is one of those "if you drink it a lot" propositions. (Also, it starts to take on the smell of your fridge after a few days. Yuck.) Pasta, of course, always keep stocked. Meat and fish keep in the freezer; you can also freeze soups, sauces, chili, casseroles, anything like that, ready for the microwave, for when your culinarily-challenged significant other is contemplating eating his or her own arm rather than finding food for themselves.

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Bread is a tricky proposition to keep around - the natural, fresh stuff gets hard and moldy pretty quickly, while the hard-core processed additive-packed brands are just...scary. We know it doesn't have mold on it, but we just don't feel good eating a two-week-old loaf of bread. Fresh fruit and veggies do have to be purchased rather close to eating, and the problem with the produce section is that it's EXPENSIVE. Fuck American food & agriculture policy for making a pack of Doritos cheaper and more calorically dense than ripe apricots, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, and lots of other good foods that don't start with "A." But keeping some staples like spinach, peas, and edamame in frozen form isn't necessarily a bad idea.

Anyway. What you've got to do is buy up a lot of cheap, key ingredients (canned stuff, spices, oil, butter), and plan out some meals during the week where you can supplement what you've got sitting in the pantry with fresh stuff you buy that day (or on the weekend). Pizza is a great way to do this.

Note the concentration on olives on one side and the concentration of cheese on the other, to account for personal differences in choice of topping.

Dough is super easy and cheap (flour, water, yeast, maybe a teensy bit of sugar and olive oil, salt and pepper), and a little goes a long way. This recipe makes enough for two large (10x10 or 9x12) pizzas.

Pop open a can of crushed tomatoes, or go super-economical and mix a can of tomato paste with a little chicken broth or water. Or wine. Whatever. Instant pizza sauce! Then pile on whatever you've got leftover in the kitchen - how about chicken tikka masala? Thai spicy rice? Random bits of lunch meat and cooked veggies? Put 'em on, sprinkle with cheese, call it pizza.

Ingredients and approximate cost (serves 2 people over two nights). These are typical GROCERY STORE/SUPERMARKET prices and do not reflect the great bargains you might be able to find at local/small markets.

3 cups of flour ($1.79 for two-pound bag)*
1 cup warm water (free, yay City of Los Angeles!)
1 packet yeast ($2.99 for three packets)*
1-2 tbsp of honey (3.49 for a honey bear)*
A few tablespoons of Olive oil, optional ($5.99-$8.99 for a 17-oz bottle, depending on what brand you buy)*

Pepperoni* ($3.00 or more for six ounces, depending on quality)
Tomatoes* ($3.50-$6.00 per pound - ouch!)
Cheese* ($3-whatever you like per pound)
Garlic* (About a buck. THANK GOD.)
Olives* (All over the map. Cheap black canned ones are two bucks for a ton that you might not use all of, while kalamatas are easily $6 per jar, at least, but those are more easily put into pasta, tapenade, etc.)
Mushrooms* (Cheapest are $4/pound - OUCH AGAIN)
Onions* (Under $2/pound)
Basil* (About $2-5 depending on how much you get.)

Whatever you've got on hand. Seriously. I made one the other night with leftover bean salad, tapenade, tuna fish, and various capers, olives, spices, etc.

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Put yeast in bowl, mix with warm water and honey. Mix, let sit until foamy. SO COOL. Add flour a little at a time, mixing until you get it into a nice ball - a little sticky, but smooth. Knead as little as possible. I never get this part right - my dough's always a little floury. But get it as smooth as you can while handling it as little as possible. Let it sit for at least an hour, at room temperature, til it rises. That's also very cool. Some people say to punch it down a little after a while, and let it keep rising. I knead it out once, look at the disaster I've created, and then let it rise again into a proper shape. But that's probably not right.

Anyway. Provided you have let it rise for at least an hour, ideally more, start to smoosh it into whatever shape you want (mine was kinda 9x12). Make sure you've got lots of flour on hand to dust it roll it or toss it out. Let's be serious here. Roll it out. If you don't have a rolling pin, use an empty wine bottle. Luckily we have tons! You should probably split the dough in two: there's enough there to make two large pizzas, enough to feed two people with some leftovers for two nights.

Put on a pizza stone or (being real) baking sheet dusted with flour. Then bring it with the ingredients. You can either just use tomato sauce or one of the above suggestions for the pizza sauce, or use a jar of whatever pasta sauce you've got on hand. You're recycling! Put on the sauce sparingly, otherwise all your toppings will slip off later. Start to layer: either begin with a layer of cheese, or put toppings right into sauce.

Bake in a 400-degree oven for about twenty-five minutes. You can top with more cheese or hot sauce!

*This all adds up to about $37-40 bucks. That feeds two people for over two days. But it's actually a pretty good deal in general: as you might have noticed, you probably won't use every last bit of the ingredients on this list. In fact, a lot of it - flour, sugar, oil, olives, honey - are in that lucky category of long-lasting multi-use goods. You can make another batch of dough if you like and use the leftover cheese, sauce, tomatoes, and basil for another pizza margherita or two. Or: make pesto. Use the stuff in an omelette. Boil in chicken broth and make a soup. Put them in pasta salad. You get the point: reduce your shopping trips, reuse the previous night's menus, and recycle all your leftovers!

Photos by cmeathrell via flickr

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