ALL TOO often the idea of pizza is better than the actuality. Although it is nourishing and convenient, it rarely meets one's expectations.

Having grown up in New Haven, a city with an Italian influence on its culture, I occasionally crave the crisp pizza crust of my youth. But I never had the time or the inclination to go searching for the tiles or bricks that would change my conventional oven into a prize pizza producer.

Recently, a friend who grew up in Buenos Aires, another city with an Italian-accented culture, showed me an easy way to make such a crust. The trick is to bake the empty shells for a short time in a very hot oven, then to fill them and to finish the baking directly on the oven rack. (This can be messy.)

Here are two recipes for dough and three for fillings. The partially baked shells may be wrapped and frozen for future use. Working people who want homemade pizza on a weeknight can mix the dough in the morning and leave it in the refrigerator all day for a slow rising.Any filling can be used with either dough. ANA CHANNELL'S NO-KNEAD PIZZA DOUGH (Makes two 12-inch shells) 1 1/2 envelopes dry active yeast 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water 1/8 teaspoon sugar 2 teaspoons salt, preferably kosher 2 tablespoons olive oil 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour (approximately)

Put yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and let stand until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve. Add sugar, salt, and olive oil. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Add remaining 1 cup of water. Add flour gradually, beating until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. Dough should be soft, but not sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and put in a warm place such as a gas oven with the pilot lit. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove from oven and heat oven to 500 degrees if it tends to be fast or 550 degrees if it tends to be slow. Rub two 12-inch pizza pans generously with oil. Punch down dough and divide in half. Let rest for a few minutes. Press into pans to make shells about 1/4-inch thick. Make edges slighly higher to minimize leakage of filling. Bake one pan at a time until shell is set and barely beginning to brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a rack. Add filling of your choice. Bake one pizza at a time at same high temperature directly on oven rack until dough is brown and crisp and cheese is bubbly, 7 to 10 minutes. MY REGULAR PIZZA DOUGH (Makes two 12-inch shells) 1 envelope dry active yeast 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water 4 1/2 cups bread flour (approximately) 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, preferably kosher 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 3 tablespoons lard

Put yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water and let stand until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve. Put 3 cups of flour in a large mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper. Work in lard, using you fingers. Make a well in center of flour and add yeast mixture. Pour in remaining 1 cup of warm water. cBeat well. Add remaining flour gradually, first stirring then working with your hands to make a fairly firm dough.

Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball. Wash and dry bowl. Rub bottom of bowl with lard and turn dough in it to coat lightly all over. Cover bowl with a dish towel and put in a warm place such as a gas oven with the pilot lit. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove from oven and heat oven to 500 degrees if it tends to be fast or 550 degrees if it tends to be slow. Rub two 12-inch pizza pans generously with lard (or oil). Punch down dough and divide in half. Let rest for a few minutes. Press into pans to make shells about 1/4 inch thick. Make edges slightly higher to minimize leakage of filling. Bake one pan at a time until shell is set and barely beginning to brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a rack. Add filling of your choice. Bake one pizza at a time at same high temperature directly on oven rack until dough is brown and crisp and cheese is bubbly, 7 to 10 minutes. ANA CHANNELL'S WHITE FILLING (Fills 2 shells) 2 large onions, peeled 1/4 cup olive oil 1 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher, or to taste 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to taste 2 teaspoons oregano 1 1/2 pounds whole milk mozzerella cheese

Cut onions in half lengthwse and then crosswise into very thin slices. Heat oil in a heavy skillet. Add onions and cook over moderately low heat until very soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Cut cheese into thin slices and arrange on partially baked shells. Strew onion mixture on top. Bake as directed in recipe for dough. MY NO-COOK TOMATO FILLING (Fills 2 shells) 2 cans (28 ounces each) whole of plum tomatoes 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher, or to taste 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to taste 1 1/2 pounds whole milk mozzerella cheese 2 teaspoons oregano

Drain juice from cans of tomatoes and reserve for another purpose. Cut tomatoes in half crosswise and squeeze out seeds. Chop coarsely. (Do not use food processor.) Put in a colander to drain until ready to use. Stir garlic into oil. Spoon over partially baked shells. Add tomatoes. Cut cheese into thin slices and arrange over tomatoes. Top with oregano. Bake as directed in recipe for dough. COOKED TOMATO FILLING (Fills 2 shells) 3 tablespoons olive oil 1medium onion, finely chopped 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes with added puree 1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher, or to taste 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to taste 1 small bunch parsley, chopped 2 dozen black olives, pits removed and cut into pieces 3 hard-boiled eggs, cut into chunks 1 pound sharp Italian cheese, cut into tiny cubes

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and parsley. Cook over moderate heat until sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Spoon sauce over partially baked shells. Add olives, eggs, and cheese. Bake as directed in recipe for dough.