Blizzard Lunchbox: Dad’s Pizza

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Blizzard Lunchbox: Dad’s Pizza

Clearly this isn’t one of my weekday office lunchboxes. Though I think the accompanying prosecco would make work much better. (Sigh, I miss my agency days when wine with lunch was normal practice.)

I’ve been wanting to try making pizza dough from scratch – specifically the pizza dough that my dad used to make when we were kids. I always loved those Saturdays when we’d make pizza at home. Even as an adult, I’ve made pizza using fresh dough bought from the deli at Whole Foods. But it’s somehow felt a little like cheating since I hadn’t made the dough.

So when it looked like we really were going to be snowed in this weekend, it seemed like the perfect excuse to try making it. I felt like I had time to focus on it, and perhaps re-do it if it didn’t work the first time.

Indeed, as I found when I stepped out my front door this morning to see if Thinking Cup was open, we were most definitely snowed in!

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View from my front door – That should be a sidewalk and cars.

So I had some time to work with the recipe. What didn’t work the first time, or the second time, was the yeast. I’m not very experienced with bread doughs, sweet or savory. I just haven’t gotten into them. But conceptually I do know that the yeast has to be activated to make the bread rise. And my yeast just wouldn’t activate.

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Yeast just poured on top of the water.

First I thought it was that the water was too cool. But when it didn’t work the second time, I decided that it was actually my kitchen. My apartment is in an old building that is very cold and drafty, with the kitchen being the worst. On bitter days, I can’t stand in front of my dishwasher for any length of time because of the terrible draft that seeps through from behind it and from underneath the sink next to it.

The recipe suggested putting the dough inside the oven (without the oven turned on) to proof, which gave me the idea to pop the yeast inside the oven once I sprinkled it on the water. Except that my oven is fairly chilly inside! This was getting all a bit complicated. So I turned on the oven, let it get to 75 degrees, then shut it off. I sprinkled the yeast on the water, added the sugar, and put it inside. Voila! Sort of.

It grew but possibly not like it should have. I made the dough, and it felt a touch dry. But it looked good. And I felt that point when it came together and got smooth and elastic.

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The dough, pre-proofing

I proofed the dough, punched it down, stretched it like the recipe instructed, and made 2 pizzas. (It was supposed to make 4, which was way too many, so had halved the recipe. Maybe this was where the issue was?) I sprinkled corn meal on my wooden pizza peel, on top of which I assembled each. As I ran my hand over the cornmeal in a circular motion to spread it out on the peel, I found the zen of pizza making. For a moment I was truly paying attention. And the bright yellow cornmeal grains that rolled roughly under my hand as I spread them on the wood, made me think of standing in my parents kitchen and helping my father bake pizza.

I hadn’t bought the ingredients that he used to use, but I remember them clearly as he was very proud of the 3 different cheese he used – shredded mozzarella, parmesan, and provolone. The provolone was his secret, and it gave the pizza cheese a sharp, slightly sour taste that was  complex and unique (at least for a small town in upstate NY in the 80s). He used fairly large pepperoni, about 3in in diameter. I will have to make this again and use those ingredients. And drink it with beer. I rarely remember my parents having a drink, but Dad always had a beer with his pizza. Later in my teens after he started going to England for work, he’d drink the beer out of a honeycomb-patterned British Imperial pint glass that had been given to him by the company he was visiting there.

I went a more traditional Neapolitan route for the first, making a Pizza Margharita. I lightly spread some olive oil on the stretched crust, then spooned on some Pomi Margharita sauce. (As much as I don’t like boxed products, this is imported from Italy and sold at the Salumeria on Richmond and at the Goose, and it is fantastic. Sold in a half-quart size juice-box like box, it’s an all-natural shelf-stable sauce, and it is perfect for when you don’t have time to make sauce from scratch.) I topped it with sliced fresh mozzarella, torn basil, and a light turn of salt.

I baked it on a pizza stone in a 550 degree oven for 10 minutes, which was just enough time for the pizza to bake and the smoke detector to go off. (It wasn’t burnt. But some cheese had dripped onto the stone and was smoking.)

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Pizza Margharita

For the second pizza, I made my favorite, which is white garlic. I’d roasted garlic cloves in aluminum foil with a bit of olive oil in the oven while the first pizza baked. When they were done, I slid them out of their skins, diced them, and sprinkled them onto the oiled crust of the second pizza. Then I added sliced fresh mozzarella and freshly grated parmesan cheese. I drizzled a tiny bit more olive oil on the top, added a turn of the salt grinder, and slid it into the oven after I’d taken out the Margharita.

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White garlic pizza

When the pizzas were done, I let them rest for just a couple of minutes for them to set up, then cut myself a piece of each and enjoyed them with a glass of prosecco. As I took my first bite, it immediately reminded me of being a kid and eating the pizza at home. The crust has a very distinct texture and flavor, dense and just the tiniest bit sweet. (Though I don’t know why since there is just a pinch of sugar added to the yeast.) My crust was a bit denser than it should have been and just a tiny bit raw in the center. But for a first try, I was very proud.

And amazed at the memories it brought back.

 

 

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