Sunday, May 30, 2010
This may be the dumbest thing I've ever said. But I feel I need to say it to help you make sense of what will be the rather frequent appearance of this dish on this blog, so here goes:
I have a very special relationship with pizza.
May I explain?
Pizza has always been the culinary equivalent to an old friend who's seen me through the bitter and the sweet of growing up - the unrequited loves (frequent), academic successes (rare), acne (moderate-but-persistent), family dinners when my mom didn't feel like cooking (lovely), snot bubbles, farts and all the other things you shouldn't really exhibit or do in front of other people. Pizza restored a sense of normality in me when life felt too crazy or incomprehensible, much like the comfort of a mother's hug, or Frasier reruns on Fox, back when they were still analog.
I can remember countless birthday celebrations at Pizza Hut where, after dinner and several games of I Spy and Spelling Words Backwards, the waiters would bring out a cake with candles and a sparkler (always a sparkler) and everyone would loudly sing Happy Birthday to the Birthday Person. And my father would then offer all the other patrons a slice of cake. I was so embarrassed at the time, only to years later think the whole thing was ridiculously sweet, and be reminded of what a gentle and lovely man my father is.
There was the pizza-and-pool party at middle school; I recall sitting next to Viktor, the boy I had a crush on, who I'd realized that afternoon liked me back. I remember sharply the feeling I had in my stomach, like agitated butterflies mixed with indigestion, and the awkward glances we stole at each other with shy smiles, their exuberance restrained by tight lips. He was making fun of me for picking off all my pepperoni pieces and eating them first, then taking off all the cheese and eating that, then and only then eating the crust, on it's own. All told, it took me at least half an hour to eat one slice of pizza.
And of course, there was that night many years ago with my best friend, which we now refer to as 'that night we ate the pizza.' We'd piled the homemade dough with what could easily be described as a family-sized vegetable garden, complete with a well stocked cheese emporium sprinkled on top. I've never had such a stomach ache in all my life. We still laugh about it.
So, with all this history and heady nostalgia for the sweetness of my youth, is it any surprise that I make pizza as much as I do? Consequently, I've become rather good at it, even boasting of my dough-making prowess to my friends. And so, as was bound to happen, a dear friend of mine who was coming over to dinner asked me to make her pizza. I was pretty excited, as this was the perfect chance to christen my new KitchenAid Mixer in cobalt blue. I hoped I could live up to my own hype.
I used my go-to dough recipe, from here, put all the ingredients in the mixer and turned it on to speed # 2. The mixer made this deep Whhhhhhirrrrrrrr noise, rhythmic and purposeful. The dough was having the absolute shit knocked out of it. I watched, in complete awe, and clapped with delight. I was about to call Husband into the kitchen to share my excitement when I realized I was having what we call a 'sunglasses moment.' (This is where you catch sight of yourself in the reflection of your companion's sunglasses and see yourself doing something really goofy and are suddenly flooded with shame and/or reminded of the usefulness of vanity.) I decided to keep it to myself.
The pizza itself was really simple; I used a store-bought sundried tomato pesto as the base, then spinach, grape tomatoes and green onions, and finally, big chunks of herbed goat cheese on top. Still on my vegetable kick, I made a salad with carrots, apples, chives and green pepper with a balsamic vinaigrette.
My friend came over in the evening, armed with wine and tarts from Clafouti (that I failed to photograph before eating.) Dinner was delicious; the meal was light, fresh and just right for a sweaty-hot day. We talked and drank and sat out on my deck when the sun went down and the air had caught a lovely coolness. Somewhere down the way, neighbours were having a barbeque and the strains of music on a radio drifted towards us like a breeze. And I reckoned this was another bit of magic to be put away in the pizza archives.
Simple Pizza Dough via Everybody Likes Sandwiches:
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I tend to use a mix of all purpose and whole wheat flour)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp assorted dried herbs (I used oregano and basil, but I'm sure lots of different ones will work)
1/2 tsp salt
cornmeal (I've never used this, but I'm sure it's lovely)
1. By hand: In large bowl, combine yeast with 1 cup of the warm water. Stir in flour, salt and olive oil and mix with wooden spoon till sticky dough starts to form. Add the rest of the warm water and shape the dough into a ball with your hands - you may need to flour your hands a bit if the dough is too sticky to handle with ease. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. Get in there! Get it nice and elastic.
By mixer: Proof yeast in 1/4 cup of warm with a tsp of sugar; wait ten minutes till it gets foamy. Add to the mixer bowl with the rest of the flour, water, herbs, olive oil and salt and turn on speed # 2 and watch it to see that it firms up and gets elastic, about 5-10 minutes. You may need to add more flour, as I did, if your dough is still sticky. I ended up using about 3 cups.
2. Oil up another bowl and place the dough inside. Cover it with plastic wrap and set it in a warmish place and allow to sit for 2 hours. It should double in size. If using, sprinkle some cornmeal on your work surface along with a bit of flour and set the dough on top of it. Cut the dough in half - this recipe makes enough for 2 pizzas. You can either use both doughs now or do what I do and freeze the other half - it freezes really well and just needs to be thawed in the fridge for a few hours. You can also keep it covered in the oiled bowl in the fridge for a couple of days if you want to make another pizza during the week.
3. If you have a rolling pin, I'm sure that would make life a lot easier, but I've never had one, so I've just stretched out the dough to about a 1/2 inch thickness, placed it on a greased baking sheet and then added my toppings. Bake at 350-400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye on it so the crust doesn't burn. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then cut and devour!