Pizza

My father has decided that "they" call me "Isaac 'Pizza' Skibinski." Not without reason. I've made pizza three times in the past week.

In the summer I always seem to be drawn to making pizza, despite the fact that turning on the oven when it's ninety degrees outside seems absurd (or, alright, just environmentally insensitive). When it's not delivered to your door as the quintessential late-night food, baked (or rather fried) in "deep dish" swimming with grease, two-inches thick and covered in various kinds of meat, I think of pizza as a summer food. In part this is because I grow basil in the summer (for some reason I've never been one of those enterprising people who grows it in a little windowsill pot when it's too cold for it to survive outside). What is pizza without fresh basil? (Yes, I know, I'm stuck on this.) It's also simply because my image of pizza is a summery image: thin, brightly colored, light(ish), bathed in sunlight.

In other words, my love of fresh pizza is slightly sneaky nostalgia for Italy. Even though what I make bears little resemblance to the thin snack I devoured there, it is that which I long for by making these things, I admit. I know it's not cool any more to think of Europe as the gastronomical promised land (unless you're Elizabeth Gilbert), as it was in the 30s and 40s when M.F.K. Fisher was visiting and dreaming of France. Nor is it 1961. Nor am I Julia Child. But let's be honest: I have silly idyllic daydreams of European food. There is nourishment and there is nourishment. I create this delusion that I'm creating Europeanness for myself more via the combining of Mediterranean ingredients than any meticulous attention to technique or finished product. As long as it has the right stuff--tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil, maybe olives--and sort of looks like I imagine it should, I am content.

Generally I put these ingredients atop thin slices of good bread (in Ashland that's hearty, sour New Sammy's Cowboy Bread or La Baguette's French Sourdough, which is so fluffy that it becomes rock-hard stale in two days), and throw it in a hot oven for fifteen or twenty minutes. Recently I've discovered that the Ashland Food Co-op makes pizza dough and sells it in plastic bags. I've been looking for exactly that ever since I left Bar Harbor, where the local bakery sold bags of the stuff as well as the supermarket, but only recently did I actually find it here (because god forbid I, you know, ask). If I were one of the bazillion mothers who blog about what they feed their families, I would say that I have found a relatively quick and easy way to make pizza "from scratch," and wink as if I'm passing on some scandalous corner-cutting secret.

I wish I could say that their fresh dough is immeasurably better than bread. While the flat bread that comes out of the oven is fresh, its texture is tame and crispy like a cracker, where the bread slices are chewy and crunchy. This could be because I haven't kneaded the dough; it hasn't been stretched into the pizzeria crust I'm wishing for. But it's hard enough squishing the dough into the right shape without kneading it at all. Should I be kneading it and tossing it? Is that the only way to get it to not bounce eagerly back into itself?

I think, however, there is a certain romance in my lazy pizza-crust-making process. I plop the blob of dough into the glass roasting pan (we lack a cookie sheet or anything else more appropriate at home), which has a little olive oil on it. I dust the top with some white flour to keep it from sticking to my hands, and mash it down with fingers and fists. Once it's relatively flat, I begin stretching instead of squishing, until it roughly fills the whole pan. When the oven reaches 475 degrees, I lather and arrange all the ingredients on top of the dough, and bake it.

13 August 2011