Pizza, originally from Naples Italy, is practically an American pastime. I consider it an important part of my right of passage into the working world. It was a given that in those days all of my clothes be covered in flour. I perpetually smelled of garlic and could wield a pizza cutter like a ninja!
It was Friday night staple for our busy family, tired after a long week. Pizza is also synonymous with sporting events, and growing up in my world watching all the big games was a given. I have probably eaten pizza as often cold as piping hot out of the oven. It is great for a late night snack or breakfast the next day.
Pizza can be piled high as the sky like my friend Mike does it or eaten with the bare minimum of toppings. In New York, folding it over before eating is the way. In Chicago, you need a knife and fork to enjoy the deep dish style that they claim. With as much as we indulge in this versatile food, it’s a staggering surprise to me how little we actually make it at home. Instead we wait, sometimes for hours for a driver to deliver a cardboard box that incidentally by the time it reaches your door ends up holding half the cheese hostage anyway. And to think we prefer picking up a frozen one to making it ourselves seems funny to me.
Everyone already knows what THEY want on the pizza. Wars have been waged over what a good pie is supposed to be. Staple toppings like pepperoni or Canadian bacon, mushrooms or olives, peppers or pineapple; do you want thick or thin crust; square or round, and the debate goes on! Obviously there are infinite possibilities creating these pizza masterpieces. Yet it seems that half the time I order out, the pizza is pretty unmemorable in general. I feel like there is a little romance in the whole process of making a perfect pizza that has somehow been lost in the western world. What if we tried to bring it back to life? Make it from scratch just the way you envision it. What would that taste like to you and how hard could it possibly be? Have we gotten so spoiled that we choose convenience over quality?
I think that truth be told, it’s the dough that scares people away from the doing it themselves. At least that’s what it was for me. Most of the time, I would just get a pre-made crust and go from there. Then I thought if I was already going half the distance for a “home- made” meal, why wasn’t I all in? Looks like it time to channel my inner baker.
So let’s focus on the dough; it is really only 6 little ingredients, water, yeast, flour, salt, oil, and “biga” if you have it (a natural fermented, living starter, that is easy to make) That’s it. Not nearly as scary as I was thinking. For some reason breads and doughs have always been a mystery to me. It is more of a fun science experiment than anything. It does take a little bit of time when you commit to it. It makes me think about how long it must have taken my grandmother, or her mother, to put together some of our elaborate meals. These days I have a trusty Kitchen aid that does all the mixing and the kneading in mere minutes. Aren’t we the lucky ones?! I realize that you just have to do a little prioritizing before you hit the kitchen. Put the more complex task at the top of your list and then fill in the gaps with the quicker side work. So you make the dough first. You have to let it rest and then come back to it. Knead it a bit more and let it rest a second time. This makes the dough surprisingly soft and delicate, like a pillow of goodness. Suddenly I was thinking of other amazing things this dough could do. It could be used for so much more than just pizza. Calzones, pot pie toppings, cheesy filled breadsticks. There are options to grill it and make healthy wraps, or fry it for sinful desserts. Are you feeling the endless creative exploits? Even if you are just doing pizza though, the best part is that you can do whatever you want! There are no rules. You can make a basil pesto, do a spicy Thai chicken or a BBQ pie just to name a few. This week feels like goat cheese, spinach and olives to me.
The best part of this whole process is when you sit to eat. Somehow this all too familiar food tastes totally different to me. The crunch of the crust and the simple flavors on top all seem to shine through in separate ways and yet they merry together so well. I didn’t order this off a menu. I made it from start to finish just the way I wanted it. And it is the best pizza I have had in ages. So this weekend I say you can make, MAKING the pizza, the best part about dinner. Involve all your senses, all your friends, family and yes, probably all of the kitchen for a night. Turn off the TV, open the wine and enjoy the time and the process with all the people you love. Now that’s amore!
Its official…I finally like octopus!! I wasn’t sure this day would ever come despite my efforts to order it at every authentic Greek, Italian, and sushi restaurant that boasted the best of the best of these intelligent eight legged sea creatures. I had come to the unfortunate conclusion that it just may be the “ocean’s bubble gum” for me. Maybe it was just one of the things my palate and I did not agree on. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a good deep fried calamari from time to time but I find it hard not to love something battered and submerged in grease. And then it happened…
“I’d like to be, under the sea, in an octopus garden in the shade”plays in my head as I pull from the oven a dark Stuab cauldron filled to the brim with olive oil, garlic, thyme, lemon zest, juice and itty bitty squid and tiny octopi. The texture of this dish is perfect. If I didn’t know what I was eating I would equate it to, well, chicken, I guess but only in texture. The colors have turned from translucent and white to a beautiful lavender/mauve mix. The taste is rich, bright and has the hint of sea in the background.
With the change of our April menu comes the beautiful Springer Chinook salmon. This may be the most amazing fish on the planet. They are caught coming in from the ocean this time of year as they head back upstream to their original spawning grounds. I can’t even find my keys half the time! Fish instinct is amazing! The bright, pink-red flesh is tender and full of good fatty oils for their long journey home. Salmon has long been revered as a spiritual creature in the Pacific Northwest having sustained cultural civilizations for centuries. So with this amazing fillet in front of us, just a little less than 24 hours old, Bob and I pause and with intention and all seriousness, take a moment to honor and thank this fish for its life and sacrifice. There’s not much more that needs to be done with a fish of this caliber. It can be eaten raw, pan seared and lightly smoked. I have a feeling we will be cooking it all these ways before the season ends. I am loving spring!
This week I was also set loose with the pasta machine…. (mwahhahahahhahhah!); the goal being fresh pappardelle noodles and, of course, to make my mentor nervous. That would be, Bob, who watches with eagle eyes as I take on this task. The snowfall of flour took me back to one of my favorite jobs, working in the cooking classes of a local natural health food store. I have a newspaper clipping of myself, all of 19 years old, bleach blonde pigtails and arms filled with what seemed like miles of flat golden dough. I had to stop to laugh at the cyclic nature of life. Somehow, years later, I am here again in a quaint kitchen, covered in flour with a smile on my face, creating plates of happy, edible memories for the masses. Katie B
It has recently come to my attention that I may no longer be the “spring chicken” I once was. Not that I am that far out of the woods mind you, but my new venture has proven a bit more of a challenge both physically and mentally than I had previously envisioned. Along with my first month of learning’s came sore feet, sweaty palms, and a surprising amount of blushing! Thankfully my digits are all still accounted for, but I have had a couple minor burns and a fight with the edging on the foil box that sadly I lost.
Further, I have had occasion to stutter as well as be at a total loss for words when asked simple kitchen questions. And yes if truth be told there may have been a tear or two shed in the walk in cooler. Learning something new every day isn’t as easy as it once was. As kids we can make mistakes and bounce back without missing a beat. Still, I have had such an amazing ride already; makes it hard to wipe the silly grin from my face. New techniques, kitchen tricks and a good friendly banter between co-workers is a great day in my book.
The conversations I have in my head often start something like, “Whatever you do, don’t screw things up”. Which, of course, inevitably means I will do just that. It’s ironic the pressure you can put on yourself to achieve some sort of instant perfection; as if that were possible to begin with. The words “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” come to mind. Isn’t that why I came here in the first place? To learn, have some fun, broaden my horizons and yes, possibly screw up once in a while? Well, OK maybe once a day! That is why we call it learning after all. And there’s a well known euphemism that says we learn best from our mistakes. So maybe we go ahead, throw caution to the wind and try a new approach. And if I muck it up, hopefully its not beyond repair or salvage but even so c’est la vie right?
Wisdom, after all, comes with time and experience. It is obviously time for me to step out of the way, well, of myself. Stop over thinking and just trust the process. Its funny how things can flow so much better when you stop fighting so bloody hard. So to you, my previous all knowing spring chicken, I say this. You would be delicious rubbed with a Tuscan salt blend, stuffed with fresh rosemary and roasted to a crispy, golden perfection. Bon appétit!!