Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pizza... slowly perfected

Around my house as a kid, pizza never meant calling up Domino's on the phone for a large pie extra-cheese-extra-pepperoni-please. We didn't have cable access, much less pizza-delivery access. I can just imagine my father trying to give directions to our house "Go 15 miles on county road 187, take a right at the old spooky schoolhouse-looking church, cross two bridges (watch out for the chickens running loose 2 miles down!) go 2 more miles, then stop your car, get out your flashlight and find a mailbox in front of a 1/2 mile long driveway that says 'Weiss'." I'm sure the delivery boy's tip would barely cover his gas.
I didn't know our country road had a name until I was 14. The closest Domino's must have been at least 40 minutes away. So, we made our own pizza.

It was always a Saturday or Sunday night activity, and all 4 of us kids (usually my older sister was out on a date) would get excited when Mom would start making the dough. We loved pizza. We finally loved it and not just liked it when Mom eventually perfected her crust recipe. In the beginning, when my mother wouldn't allow white flour in the house, her 100% whole wheat crusts were... um... interesting. They weren't bad per se, especially to a kid who grew up on whole wheat-sprouts-whole-whole-everything. But eventually, as my mother loosened up a bit, so did her crusts. Her cardboard-y experiments slowly became tender when she compromised with a 50-50 mix.

My father's contribution was to make the biggest, baddest mother of a pizza, loaded with the most gut-wrenching toppings, looking so thick and evil and scary that you would swear that sitting atop that burnt cheese were black olive eyes that were staring you down, almost daring you to try and eat a piece of that horrendous, over-baked mess of toppings with a little bit 'o crust. My father thought nothing of slicing large rings of onion and laying them thick on a puddle of barbecue sauce (substituting for tomato sauce, of course), adding olives, green peppers, and then topping the thing with a layer of cheddar cheese that melted and then burnt into a rubbery layer that inevitably landed on your lap after the first bite. This was my father's coup d'etat... and he called it lovingly his 'Garbage Pizza'.

After I left home, I never made pizza on my own. I wasn't a big pizza-eater, really. And then I met Mark. Funny how a relationship changes how you eat. I began making pizza only out of sheer indignation about the pizza I saw Mark buying from the frozen section of the local stop-and-shop. I couldn't let him commit this kind of crime. I had to do something.

My something was to learn how to make a pizza that was both healthy (yes, so predictable) and utterly irresistible to someone who didn't grow up with sprouty, hippy parents. I could have called my mother, but instead I ended up playing around on my own. I started with a recipe for a classic white flour pizza dough, and then made it entirely whole wheat. Blah. It didn't have the texture I wanted - sturdy and crispy but still light. It really was cardboard... I suppose I'm bound to follow in my mother's footsteps. Then, I did an all-white recipe and liked the classic flavor but couldn't help feeling unsatisfied after eating a few pieces. It just didn't fill you up, making you feel as though you haven't eaten something Real. Once you begin eating unrefined, whole foods, you begin to notice that the refined ones leave you feeling like you've just eaten air... you could go on eating white bread forever and never feel satisfied.

Even with a 50-50 flour mix it wasn't quite right, until I found that white whole wheat flour works very well - and the best is when it's sourdough. White whole wheat flour is increasingly available in stores these days. It is a 100% whole wheat flour, made from grains of white wheat which is softer and lighter than hard winter wheat flour. I made a sourdough starter, and followed the steps to making a large batch of bread. I reserved some of the dough from the batch and made it into pizzas. The sourdough process gave the crust a tangy flavor, and the light but hearty texture from the white whole wheat balanced the crust perfectly.

I think we've finally found our groove, what with the basil and oregano from the garden, and some thyme stolen from friend Ingo's garden too. Mark insists on sun dried tomatoes and sausage, with heavy-handed amounts of Parmesan and mozzarella (insert comment here about similarities to my father, ahem.) Everyone likes their pie a little differently, and mine is usually heaped with spinach and very little or no meat. Homemade pizza on a Sunday night is a fantastic tradition, it disarms a bit the 'dread Monday' feeling, and you can turn it into a movie night as well when the days become shorter. You'll just have to find your own perfect combination, whether it be white, wheat, parmesan, pepperoni or zucchini. But for me, please hold the barbecue and cheddar.


Regina said...

Oh, our parents' pizzas. Never loved anything so much as that in that period of my young life.

I grew up and paired with a culinary crazy man, and have so far made hummus pizza, engineered a salsa black bean pizza, pizza boats with honey dijon dressing, pizza with steak sauce and red potatos, and my personal most-loved invention, the barbeque-red apple-onion-cheddar pizza (love you, dad).

Teresa said...

I was cracking up the entire time reading this! I love it!