Friday, May 28, 2010

Pizza Pie and Poor Grammar on Restaurant Signs

I'm always fascinated by the ease with which pizza is made at home juxtaposed against the low willingness of people (myself included) to do so. It's the simplest thing--cheapest, too--with the ability to deliver big flavor with minimal volume of ingredients. So we made pies a couple of times recently.
Quick homemade dough is simple to do. I always like to get some whole wheat flour involved; I suppose it tricks me into thinking something healthy is happening, but it also looks a bit better and tastes good, too. The longer the dough rises, the more funky it can get (a good thing), but really the dough can be ready in an hour or so after kneading and rising. Keep extra in the freezer and have the foresight to take it out the night before you want to use it again. Get an oven really hot, roll the crust out, brush it with oil and sauce if you are using it, top it, remember that not all pizzas have to be doused, Dominoes-style, with tons of poor quality cheese, and bake it in said hot oven. Quick and easy. Bake it on parchment paper on a pan, or, get a pizza peel (which will surely give you some sort of street cred with your hipster baking friends if seen hanging on your wall) and do the following trick I learned from a joker I used to work for: forgo the expensive pizza stone and buy a cheap terra cotta plant pot bottom. You know, the thing that the pot sits in to catch excess water? Get the biggest one that will fit in your oven. Leave it in your oven all the time (be sure the oven is cold when you put it in so it does not crack from a sudden temperature change). Not only will it soak up heat and help greatly in heat retention anytime you use your oven (as will not standing there looking in the oven with the door open, wondering if something is done or not while heat escapes--in this case take the item in question out of the oven, close the door, then do your wondering while the heat remains inside the oven), it will serve as a great baking surface for bread and pizza. That's how you'll get that great crust bottom you are most certainly striving for.
Topping wise, be creative. Concentrate flavors and use big ones. In the first case, we used that good Tennessee bacon, caramelized leeks and onions, sauteed mustard greens, and roasted garlic. I think the cheese was fontina. The second time around two pizzas were made: caramelized cremini mushrooms, cooked long and slow in olive oil, sopressata, a quick tomato sauce, and cheddar leftover from the farmer's market the previous Saturday. The second pizza got more of that remarkable bacon, sauteed fennel, quick roasted garlic (simmered in olive oil on the stove top, giving us a lovely garlic oil to brush on the pizza) and chihuahua cheese.
Other things made on that first night: strawberry ice cream (I've been amazed at the quality of strawberries this early on) with cashew butter churned right in, and a soup of pureed, roasted cauliflower and corn (using the cobs from the corn to make a quick stock with carrots, leeks, coriander and parsley), finished with a pistou of parsley, garlic, lemon and scallions.
Then there was a remarkable meal at Nightwood in Pilsen; solid food there to continue my love of all things Lula Cafe-related. Salty smelts, poached eggs everywhere (one way to my heart), hand cut pasta, whipped goat cheese, ricotta cream, some super crispy fries, and another spot-on vegetable dish of greens, farro (so satisfying!), and crusty bread with herb butter slathered right on...rhubarb panna cotta, crazy brownies, sorbets, gelatos, much to list without overload. Check it out.
And finally, a "meal" that never happened, due to some technical issues at a brunch spot, that reminded me that sometimes, actually getting the food doesn't even matter if you're in the right company. In the end, isn't that--being able to be around those you wish to be around--what it's all about?