Saturday, May 22, 2010

When in Rome, make pizza....

I've always loved to shop for food and living in Rome makes that pretty fun. My butcher, Sergio sees me coming and calls out “Stella” (star) and switches on the Nicola Arigliano for me and Roman to dance to. He thinks Roman wants to be a butcher and he tells all his customers that Roman is his “ciccio” (fat). This leads to raised eyebrows as if he's making some claim to paternity (he's a grandfather...) but he innocently smiles and tells them that I'm a good customer who buys his meat and Roman is breastfed and therefore a recipient of said “ciccio,” in an effort to back pedal from this well meaning misunderstanding.

Then there's Gianmarco who sells cheeses, salamis and breads at the organic store who calls Roman “giovanotto” (young man.) And there's the baker who slices off a chunk of pizza bianca, which he cannot eat yet, and hands it to Roman. Pizza Bianca is like the PB&J of Roman kids. At 4 pm when school gets out, you'll see a line at every bread and pizza shop, and little people walking around clutching their slice of salted plain pizza wrapped up in waxy paper. Of course all the way on our walk to and from the market, old ladies stop us to squeeze his legs and talk to him, calling him random cutesy names like “my sparrow” and “chubby chops.” Food shopping will probably never be such fun as this. I must say, it's pretty hard to feel lonely here. And here he is- my giovanotto:

Obviously my apartment did not come equipped with a wood oven and it might seem crazy to make my own pizza in a country like Italy. Nonetheless, after a long hiatus from bread baking, a batch of pizza dough seemed like the right thing to get myself back into gear. Confession: I do not have time to play test kitchen to find the world's best pizza dough recipe (
see NY Times Dining In section). I just happen to love the process of baking and the fact that it's hands on. It feels good, smells good and you get to play with your food.

I am the type of baker that you may hate because I really don't measure, which is very inconvenient for writing down a recipe. Baking is supposedly very scientific, but science was my weakest subject and somehow I can bake! I use a mixture of flours and my dough probably never turns out the same. But the process is the same, and that's what I love. Once you've made pizza dough or bread a few times, you will get the feel for how much flour you need to add to get the right consistency before you can knead it, and when to stop adding flour and let it rise. It's not something to stress over. Just buy some flour and start experimenting. I used to buy 50 lb bags of organic flour from the bakery at Whole Foods Market because I baked every week. Our neighbors were eating a lot of my bread!

Here is the pizza dough recipe I use:

1 package dry yeast
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 ½ cups warm water (warm enough to bathe a baby in)
2 ½ -3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Add about 2 cups of the all purpose flour, the whole wheat flour, oil and salt to the yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended and it forms a ball. Keep adding all-purpose flour until you think you can start to knead it without it sticking too much to your hands.

Turn dough onto a floured counter top. Don't wash the bowl, you're going to need it again. Knead until smooth and elastic (think baby's bottom) adding enough flour just a bit at a time to prevent dough from sticking. Then coat the same bowl from before with some additional olive oil and put your dough ball back in the bowl, turning it to coat with olive oil. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise an hour or so until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 500. Punch the dough down and let it rest briefly (5 min) before you shape it. This recipe should make 2 round pizzas. Shape and stretch the dough and place on a pizza stone onto which you have sprinkled corn meal. Add your toppings and bake for about 12 – 14 minutes or until crust is browned.

Here are some ideas I have tried in the past for toppings:

-Roasted red peppers, feta and rosemary
-Caramelized onions, feta and rosemary
-Strips of broiled or grilled eggplant, sausage, rosemary
-Pesto, thin slices of tomato, anchovies, mozzarella
-Mashed white beans, artichoke hearts, pecorino cheese and rosemary
-Pesto, sauteed mushrooms, fontina cheese
-Caramelized red onions, garlic-sauteed spinach, red peppers and feta cheese
-Pesto, lamb-sausage, eggplant, red onion

Today, I chose to cover my pizza in artichokes that I bought sott'olio (preserved in oil and slightly cured), and freshly grated good quality mozzarella, in the States you want to buy the best of the best, not the plastic stuff.

Buon appetito

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