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Desperation dinners: Great homemade pizza crust freezes beautifully

Any pizza aficionado knows the crust is the key to good pizza. And while food manufacturers have come a long way in providing consumers with a variety of prepared pizza crusts, a good recipe for homemade pizza crust is still invaluable. I'd go so far as to call today's crust from Mollie Katzen a truly great pizza crust.

Mollie Katzen wrote one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, "The Moosewood Cookbook."

My tattered copy has drips and stains and notes in the margins from the 20 years I've used it, and I think I have cooked every one of the recipes. Apart from my own cookbooks that I wrote with Beverly, I cannot say that about any other book.

The biggest drawback to homemade crust, of course, is the time it takes for the dough to rise. This is one dinner that must be planned at least 90 minutes ahead. The good news is that Mollie's pizza crust freezes beautifully and can defrost on the countertop and be ready to bake when you get home from work.

We love to divide the dough into fourths and freeze it ahead, taking out to defrost only the dough we need on any given night.

Mollie's pizza toppings are simply a suggestion of vegetable options, and every pizza can be different. At my house, the toppings are usually whatever's in the veggie bin and cupboard.

Let us know at tellus@kitchenscoop.com what pizza combinations you come up with to top Mollie's delectable crust.

Menu suggestion:

Mollie Katzen's Vegetable and Walnut Pizza; Sliced fresh fruit of choice

Mollie Katzen's Vegetable and Walnut Pizza

Start to finish: about 90 minutes

1 cup warm water

1 package (2 teaspoons) active dry yeast

Pinch of sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil (plus extra for the bowl)

3 cups unbleached white flour (1/4 cup may be whole wheat or rye)

Extra flour for kneading

Cornmeal for the baking tray

For topping each pizza (all or any desired combination):

3 thin slices fresh mozzarella (about 1 ounce)

3 thin slices red onions (about 1 tablespoon)

2 tablespoons thinly sliced mushrooms

4 or 5 thinly sliced red, green or yellow bell peppers

3 small broccoli or cauliflower florets

1/4 cup chopped artichoke hearts, drained well

1 tablespoon sliced olives (any kind)

1/4 thinly sliced Roma tomato

2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon chopped walnuts

Cook's note: One batch of dough divides perfectly into two 1-pound ricotta-cheese containers — or fit a whole batch into a 1-quart yogurt container — for easy freezing. Take the container out of the freezer before you go to work, and it will be ready to roll, so to speak, when you get home.

Prepare the topping ingredients while the dough rises.

You can make several different pizzas and serve them together.

Place the water in a medium-large bowl, sprinkle in the yeast and sugar, and stir to dissolve. Let stand for five minutes, or until it begins to bubble.

Stir in the salt, oil and 1 cup flour. Beat several minutes with a wooden spoon. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. The dough will be soft, but should not be sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for several minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about one hour.

Punch down the dough, and return it to a floured surface. (This is the point at which you can freeze the dough for future use.) Divide the dough into four equal parts, knead each quarter for a few minutes, and then let the balls of dough rest 10 minutes. (This allows the gluten to relax, so the dough will stretch easily into shape.)

Patiently stretch each ball into a 6-inch circle. Sprinkle two baking trays with cornmeal, and place two circles on each. (Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 F.) Top each pizza with any combination of toppings. Make sure that the walnuts are on top so they can toast.

Bake in the lower half of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges are crispy and brown. (If you're not sure it's baked through, take one pizza out of oven and cut it in half. If it is still a little doughy on the inside, return it to the baking pan and bake a few minutes longer.) Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 pizzas, 1 serving each

Approximate values per serving: 575 calories, 17 g fat (7 g saturated), 25 mg cholesterol, 21 g protein, 83 g carbohydrates, 5.5 g dietary fiber, 596.5 mg sodium.

Recipe courtesy of the California Walnut Commission, slightly adapted

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap. Fast. Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016, or send e-mail to tellus@kitchenscoop.com. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at www.kitchenscoop.com. © Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. Dist. by United Feature Syndicate Inc.