Pizza My Heart
August 2, 2005

My Friday Night Pizza quest continues.

I should mention that my first pizza night down here happened to coincide with the season two premiere of Battlestar Galactica and now it's become A Thing for me to make pizza, us to eat pizza, and then to watch Battlestar Galactica and scream at all the good parts. Our neighbors hate us.

This week I decided to give my upper arm a rest and sample out some store-bought dough. Actually, this week I was lazy and curious about some Trader Joe's pizza dough that I had been eyeing for awhile. You can find the punched-down mass in plastic bags in their refrigerated section. I was worried. What if it was the most awesomely perfect pizza dough? The pizza dough for which I had been searching all these...weeks? See, then I'd have the perfect pizza dough at the ready for grabbing and rolling, but I still wouldn't know how to MAKE the perfect pizza dough. However, I took a deep breath and put those petty aspirations aside to put this dough to the test.

Truth be told, it wasn't bad dough. In fact, we rather liked it. It was nice and chewy and baked up lots of beautiful, tangy bubbles. It's still a bit more bready than I like it, but I'll probably use it again once I completely knead all the muscles out of my upper arm.

This week, I had two pizza topping ideas. One is a take on the classic Italian dish of serving pesto, bits of boiled potatoes, and green beans, and the other is yet another example of one of our favorite Figs pizzas.

Even after all my training, cooking, and constant reading about and working with food, I still do totally airheaded things in the kitchen. This particular afternoon, I have no idea where my head was. I started making the pesto for my Pesto-Potato pizza base. I happily chopped up the basil leaves in my food processor, added garlic, freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, pepper, and olive oil. It was strangely disappointing. I looked at my result and didn't know how that amount would spread across a whole pizza -- forget about any additional drizzling I planned to do. As I puzzled this and figured I could always make another batch to add to this minute amount, my brain finally kicked in. Yeah. You got it, I forgot the nuts. I actually stamped my foot, which greatly amused a saucer-eyed Hunca Munca, and threw a few rubber spatulas about. I can get bratty when I cook.

I have a weird thing of not liking pine nuts. They're fine in small doses but in larger amounts they taste almost...eggy to me. So, because it's the Ligurian way to make pesto and I much prefer their heartier flavor and texture, I pulled a bag of walnut pieces from the freezer (they keep longer in a freezer because their high fat content makes them susceptible to rancidity) and started dry-toasting them in my skillet. Adding the walnuts at this stage was not necessarily going to work, you know. I mean, I had already puréed the nut-less pesto to the correct consistency and integrating the walnuts meant either excessive folding by hand or risking liquification by recombining everything in the food processor. In the end, the excessive folding was getting uh, excessive, so I banged the whole mass back into the processor and carefully pulsed it all together.

I sliced six baby potatoes, tossed them gently in olive oil, seasoned them and carefully laid them all out in my Apilco baker. I didn't want any of them to overlap or else they'd stick. I roasted the slices at 400° until they became slightly golden, but not exactly crisp. I didn't want them to burn up upon reentry into the oven.

Finally, with everything assembled and the dough rolled to some sort of okay thickness -- it kept snapping back on me in an annoyingly overworked way -- I topped with the pesto and potato slices. After the pizza came back out of the oven, I drizzled a bit more pesto over it and crumbled some chèvre for added tang.

Tasty. That one's definitely for the books.

Next up was the fig and prosciutto combo to which I decided to add some smears of Gorgonzola Dolce. I've been dying for this pizza for quite a long time and while I tried to capture the taste by stuffing deliciously fresh figs with Gorgonzola and wrapping them in prosciutto, it just wasn't the same. For one thing, the figs on my dream pizza aren't fresh, they're jammed and I hadn't yet learned how to make them. I originally thought I'd be cooking down fresh figs for this compote, but I learned from Todd English's own recipe that I was going to have to seek out dried Black Mission figs. Whole Foods obliged me with bulk dried Black Mission figs and I ecstatically filled up my plastic baggie. There's nothing like finding your key possibly-difficult-to-acquire ingredients in the first go.

The dried figs were supposed to simmer with sugar, rosemary, wine, balsamic vinegar, and broth until they were soft and starting to break down. They broke down all right, but the pan started to dry out alarmingly. I added some Amontillado sherry and lowered the heat.

Figgy Pudding Pie

Finally, the figs got sticky and looked almost spreadable, which is what I was looking for.

Figgy Pudding Pie

I mushed hot fig jam all over the dough and distributed thick slices of the soft Gorgonzola Dolce evenly over the jam. After I pulled the cooked pizza from the oven, I added strips of prosciutto and topped with peppery watercress.

Figgy Pudding Pie

Damn good. My one complaint about the fig jam is that it only keeps in the fridge for a week and when in the fridge it gets all stiff and difficult to manipulate. I hate the idea of adding something awful like corn syrup to loosen it up for storage purposes but that might be the answer.

Clearly, I'm having a lot of fun coming up with toppings but that doesn't mean I'm ignoring the crust issue. My Good Friend thinks that good pizza crust is impossible without the aid of a wood burning oven and she might be right. However, I have a few more leads to follow up on before I give up completely.

In other news...

My first column for Strange Horizons went live on Monday, and I've been writing up various San Diego restaurants over at Bay Area Bites. I recently raved about Saffron and Pacifica Del Mar.

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