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Fabulous at-home pizza: Easy as pie!

Few dishes please more diners than pizza. Whether you make it meaty or vegetarian, thin and crispy or deep-dish, this Neapolitan favorite passes the test of even the most finicky eaters.

So why relegate pizza pie to the parlor? It's just as easy to create your own delicious, meal-in-a-pan right at home. With the right equipment and a sense of adventure, you'll be turning out family-friendly pizzas in no time.

An oven that bakes evenly at a high temperature is the key to a great crust. If you've got the passion and the pocketbook, investing in a brick and wood-fired oven might answer all your pizza pie prayers.

"We made accommodations for this when we built the house," says Phoenix party-thrower and local businessman, Art Alfinito of the Earthstone wood-burner on his wraparound deck. "We call it the volcano."

A large contraption including a stainless steel wood containment unit as the base, Alfinito's "volcano" relies upon a layer of fire bricks under a dual-chambered wrought-iron oven with a terra-cotta chimney. Oak wood (which Alfinito swears creates the driest, longest-lasting fire) burns in one chamber while the pizza cooks next door. An industrial stainless steel awning protects the bakers and their booty from rain and sun.

Reaching temperatures of 800 degrees, a wood-burning oven bakes a homemade pizza in just about a minute. "If you turn your back for three minutes, you'll have a piece of coal," Alfinito warns. And he should know-he's been making pizzas in similar ovens since his family opened Lupo's Famous Pizzeria and Neapolitan Restaurant in 1936, marking the arrival of pie on the West Coast.

Is your home a volcano-free zone? Never fear. "If you don't have a pizza oven, a commercial pizza stone is the best tip," says Neil Buettner, owner of Cozmic Pizza in Ashland. "It's a round stone you put in your oven that makes the crust nice and crispy." For best results, bake the pizza in a pan directly on the stone. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for recommended times and temperatures.

For baking with or without a stone in a conventional oven, be sure to use a dark, seasoned pan-a thin, round one for thin crusts or a deep-dish pan for thick crusts. Avoid soggy crusts by staying away from shiny pans.

Once your pie is bubbling and fragrant, handle it like a professional. A pizza peel is a large, flat wooden paddle that makes removing the pie from the oven super easy. Then use a large pizza wheel to cut perfect slices. (Kitchen scissors will also work in a pinch or if the crust is less than crispy.)

On the off chance that you have any leftovers, reheat your pizza in a 400-degree oven on a rack over a baking sheet for about five minutes. Happy munching!

Dress your favorite pizza dough in the red, green and white of Italy's flag. The Margherita, a classic pizza combination of tomato, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil, is credited to Raffaele Esposito of the Pizzeria di Pietro, who dedicated the creation to Queen Margherita in 1889. The MargheritaSauce Toppings Assembly

One large onion, sliced and sautéed

Five cloves garlic, chopped

One large can tomatoes, drained

Five tablespoons mixed fresh oregano, basil and marjoram or two teaspoons dried

1/8 cup red wine

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend thoroughly. "Mix it cold, don't simmer it," says Neil Buettner, owner of Cozmic Pizza in Ashland. "It'll heat up and cook when you're cooking your pizza."

Roma tomatoes, sliced

Fresh mozzarella, sliced

Fresh basil, torn into bite-size pieces

Roll dough into a thin disc that fits pizza pan. Spoon sauce onto middle of dough then spread to edges. Arrange tomato slices over sauce, followed by cheese slices. Sprinkle basil over entire pizza. Bake on pizza stone according to manufacturer's directions. (Usually at 400 degrees for about 12 - 15 minutes.) Enjoy!

Fabulous at-home pizza: Easy as pie!