What are you celebrating? Did you get a new job or complete that project you’ve been working on forever? Did someone you love get a promotion or some other life upgrade? Or is it the fact that you had a relatively low-drama day or week (lucky you!), or that it hasn’t rained in three days? No matter how grand or mundane the occasion, this make-your-own pizza bar is a fantastic way to focus on the present, connect with the people you love, and appreciate all the goodness around you.
Here at the Thursday Night Pizza headquarters, we're celebrating a slow-but-steady return to "normalcy" after our two-and-a-half-year-old son Jack's second open-heart surgery on July 31st.
The recovery so far has been bumpier than it was for his first surgery. And yet, though he's still being monitored closely by his cardiologist and his little sternum has a lot more healing to do, we're home. Jack is thrilled by all his new toys. I cleaned both bathrooms while he napped on Tuesday afternoon. Gradually, the aftershock has dissipated, and this week my brain began to function like the mother of a "normal" toddler again. Fine—I'll sing the Darth Vader theme song one more time if you keep eating your broccoli.
Those tastes of same-old ordinary life looked like big wins from where we were standing—signs that we should bust out of quarantine and host our first post-op pizza party ASAP. A few texts later, John's brother, Chris, and his girlfriend, Paula, were confirmed for Wednesday night. And in a stroke of brilliance the morning of, I decided that, instead of making each pizza myself, I'd assemble a pizza bar and have everyone make their own! (Less time stretching and topping = more time drinking wine.)
The Pizza Bar Strategy
Here's how it worked: I prepped all the toppings a few hours ahead and arranged them on platters and in small bowls in the center of the table. When our guests arrived, I gave each adult a large cutting board to work on, a ball of dough, and either an oiled baking sheet or a floured pizza peel. After showing everyone how to roll or stretch out their doughs (Jack helped press my ball into a baking sheet with his fingers, "just like a kitty-cat"), I butted out and let everyone top their pizza with whatever combination of toppings they liked.
The topped dough rounds were slid into the hot oven, one at a time, and the room fell silent each time a finished pizza was brought back to the table, everyone projecting whose was going to be the tastiest.
It was the most "normal" I'd felt in a long time. In fact, for the first time in a while, Jack's heart barely came up in conversation. We were too busy chatting about Chris's new job and Paula's promotion—and who first discovered the deliciousness of hot sauce on finished pizza (I credit John, for the record). Sometimes, the best way to celebrate an event like Jack's surgery is to move forward, adding it to the ordinary commotion all around us, and talk about something else for a change.
Interested in hosting your own pizza bar party? Below are the toppings I provided for mine, followed by step-by-step directions for pulling it off. Start here, then make it your own with different (complementary) ingredients. I can't wait to hear what you come up with!
- An assortment of fresh and lightly cooked vegetables (sauteed mushrooms, blanched green beans, roasted tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, thinly sliced sweet peppers)
- 1 to 3 types of meat (thinly sliced salami, pepperoni, or prosciutto; cooked sausage; diced cooked ham; chopped cooked bacon; shredded roast pork or chicken)
- Mozzarella cheese (fresh or low-moisture), pinched into small pieces or freshly shredded
- 2 to 4 other cheeses (aged Gouda, cheddar, and/or Parmesan; something delicious and creamy; something a little stinky to experiment with), freshly shredded, sliced, or broken into small pieces
- Marinara sauce
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and a pepper grinder
- Red pepper flakes
- Pizza dough (homemade or store-bought)
- Hot sauce, ranch dressing, and whatever else you like to dip the crust in
Assembly and Baking
- Preheat the oven to 500°F (if you're using baking sheets) or as high as it goes (if you're using a stone/steel). If you plan to use a baking stone or steel, place it in the oven before preheating and set the oven to Broil about 10 minutes before you're ready to bake.
- Set out oiled baking sheets and/or floured pizza peels or pieces of parchment paper (if using a stone/steel).
- Arrange the prepped toppings in bowls and on platters within easy reach of where your guests will be assembling their pizzas.
- Give each person a ball of dough and instruct them to stretch or roll it out to a 12-inch circle or square.
- Have everyone transfer their stretched-out dough to their baking sheet or pizza peel / parchment paper, then get creative with toppings!
- Bake the pizzas (8 to 10 minutes on baking sheets, 6 to 8 minutes on stone/steel).
- Slice and serve with additional seasonings at the table, such as salt, pepper, fresh herbs, red pepper flakes, dried seasoning blends, olive oil, hot sauce, and/or ranch dressing.