Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What's the point he asked?

While bragging to my son that I had made pizza at home from scratch last Sunday, he said incredulously "I really don't get that, Mom", ie when you can buy it so easily. My answer was/is "because I can".

I was using a recipe I ran across recently in - of all places - the Wall Street Journal, advocating the simple pleasure of Pizza Margherita (nothing but tomato sauce made from scratch from canned tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil and mozarella cheese). As I had also recently seen an old Cooking with Julia Child at Home show where she makes the same pizza with another modest but genuine Italian chef, I decided this was a concurrance of information to be acted upon. Also, I'm very not busy now that all the holiday cooking is over. And I like learning about basic foods, which pizza is, kinda. Primarily, I do just want to know if I can.

And also you get to make a big mess and mix with your fingers. At least that's what I did. Both chefs advocated mixing the flour and yeast and water with your fingertips in a big bowl and kneading sensually by hand - no food processor or dough hook. Ah, the pleasures of kindergarten fingerpainting and playing with clay, re-visited. Both chefs think waiting through 2 risings is important (contrary to other hurry up recipes I found later), although I think 2 hours the second time made my dough a tad too elastic. It was really hard to roll out into a circle without the edges constantly springing back, rubberband-like, but I couldn't remember the remedy and didn't want to spend any more time than was already committed - about 4 hours start to finish. I did (privately) attempt twirling the crust in the air. Much harder than it looks on TV. More holes, but finally a rough circle created.

Both chefs said a conventional home oven would work. But there was also a lesson here re having the other right equipment. Shortly before baking time and while waiting out the second rising, I remembered we had leftover stone tiles in the garage and dug one out and put it on the bottom rack of the oven as Cook's Illustrated advised (having searched my cookbook library for a tad more advice during the first rising). But alas, no "peel" to schooch the pizza onto the tile. Also my pizza pan was not of the type recommended by the WSJ guy who used perforated pizza pans, no tile. So borrowing from both recommended options (use tile OR use perforated pan) and because I couldn't get my holey and elastic pizza off my pizza pan even if I had a peel, I put the pan on top of the tile for the first half and then after it had dried somewhat, schooched it semi-successfully off the pan and onto the tile, where the crust broke and the cheese made a little puddle of burned stuff which is still there waiting for clean up. I think I need to spring for a wooden pizza peel. Only $20 and a very cool rustic type tool.

Served in front of the football game on the coffee table in the den, the first half of the pizza was a C- for texture but a B+ in flavor (I thought). The pieces left behind on the pizza pan continued to crisp up and when their turn came, were better than the first, I would say it was almost commercial quality, at least a solid B overall, or maybe an 8 out of an Olympic 10. Or was it the beer influencing my evaluation. Not bad for a first try anyway and I did it all myself. Because I could.

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