Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Pizza Joust

There is something about pizza and the weekend that belongs together . I think one reason  is that pizza today is one of the easiest foods to have delivered to your door. Another is that it has an almost universal appeal. Unless there are people in the group that have to avoid gluten , you can get custom toppings that can fit almost any dietary requirement. Pizza is basically fresh warm bread with stuff on it, and who does not like fresh warm bread ?

So here begins the tale of what could be seen as one of the biggest tragedies of our lives at the moment. Once upon a time, about 5 1/2 months ago, there was a family who lived in a town with perhaps the biggest percentage of pizza restaurants to population ratio in the Chicago suburbs. So many tasty pizza choices that it produced the heaviest contestant on The Biggest Loser ( shout out to Mike Ventrellia , who won that season). Then the family moved to a town with greater opportunities, the blessings of first floor living  and many wonderful things. There was a drawback, however. The new land had  but a handful of pizza places and most of them very bad. So bad that after ordering from a couple the mother decreed that there shall be no more carry out pizza . The family was sad , for memories of previous pizzas still danced in their memories.

All was not lost. The Mother had the skills to make a very good pizza dough, but kept getting sabotaged by the concept that pizza must have sausage or pepperoni on it. While those toppings are tasty, an extra step must be done to them or pizza became very greasy ( and the extra step made for a flavor compromise). Then one day the mother discovered a pizza topping combination that was so wonderful that it transformed the home made options into something better than could be purchased in any take out pizza place. Having such success with one alternative, she began to explore others, investigating real Italian dishes for flavor combination ideas. . Armed with this information ( and inspired by a Nadia G episode titled Dysfunctional Family Pizza Night), an evening was set aside to uncover which topping would make the Fairest pizza in the land. A Pizza Joust was declared  ! ( hey...if Bobby Flay can have throw downs, I can have Jousts !)

Dough was easy to create.For one crust, take 1 cup warm water, 1 tsp yeast, 1 tsp of olive oil and a 1/4 tsp salt and mix with enough flour to form a smooth, elastic non sticky dough( depending on the humidity this can be anything from 3-5 cups of flour) Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise till double in bulk in a warm place. Inside of the oven is a good place, on top of your refrigerator is another- just pick some place that has a little heat and is out of drafts. It will take about 40 minutes to an hour to rise , depending on the air temperature. meanwhile, start cutting up your toppings. Next , roll out your crust to the desired thickness and begin to top. Once topped, bake in a 425 oven for about 20 minutes. This step really is determined by how hot your oven runs. A thermometer makes it foolproof, but it seems to be one of those things that few people have. What is the most reliable thing to judge "done-ness" is your nose- when it smells like a pizza you get delivered, it is very likely done ( unless the cheese has spilled on the floor of your oven.

Four brave contestants were chosen for the joust.
The first was Potato with onions and rosemary ( thanks Nadia G for this idea !). With a mandolin ( of very competent knife skills), slice a russet potato and two white onions very thin.Strip the needles of 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary. Spread olive oil on the crust , layer on the potatoes and brush with a little more olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss on the onions and sprinkle with rosemary. The bottom middle section of this one was christened with some fresh mozzarella that slid from the pizza above it, but judgment was based on the non cheese adorned portions.
Second option was pesto with fresh mozzarella. I used Amore Pesto ( I simply had to use up the leftovers in this very excellent tube) and sliced fresh mozzarella. For those who do not know, fresh mozzarella comes in a ball, usually packaged in water. It tastes far superior to any shredded or bricked mozzarella, and once you taste it, you will be spoiled for the rest of your life. It is less salty, more creamy and when raw has a sort of cheese curd tooth feel. You must sluice it yourself, and toss out any idea of shredding this- it is too tender.

Third contestant was a Meyer Lemon, black olive , basil and Parmesan cheese option. This was based on the numerous Carapagio recipes out there. I would have never considered putting lemons on a pizza a year ago , but these flavors work together in a very interesting way.

Final option was something we called Caprese Pizza but the rest of the world would know it as a Margahrita Pizza. Brush the dough with olive oil , tomato paste and balsamic vinegar glaze. Sprinkle on fresh basil that has been cut into a chiffonad ( fancy french term that means rolled up and then sliced into ribbons), the cherry tomato halves and mozzarella cheese.

The winner ? The Potato Pizza. Something so wonderful seems to happen when potatoes and onions meet with rosemary and warm bread ! It's a carb lovers paradise to be sure that would work extremely well as an appetizer. The same is true for the pizza with the lemons and olives.Something about that combo is very cleansing to the pallet and makes your digestive tract sort of wake up. All options were very delicious, and all will be served again in this house. It was a lot of fun trying these combos head to head, and such competitions can make for the centerpiece of a family fun night. You become the food critic, and you participate in the assembly of dinner.

And thus, happiness returned to the land for the moment. There will be other dragons to slay though. Will pizza success force the mother to long for a wood burning pizza oven  ? Will the neighbors become suspicious of the smells coming from the apartment and begin to show up asking to borrow a cup of sugar and hoping to be invited in for a slice ? Will there ever be a home oven big enough to cook 4 pizzas at once ? Tune in tomorrow, where the answers to these questions will be completely ignored  in the attempt to deal with other dilemmas !


Enz said...

I think pizza should be its own food group!

Di said...

I agree!!