|July 20, 2005|
Okay, so again it's been a long time since I posted, but I got lost in my kitchen and only just found my way out. I'm serious! We're living in San Diego for the summer and this kitchen is so big it could eat two of my San Francisco kitchens and still have room for dessert. Can you guess what's been keeping me so busy that I haven't been able to post? Yup -- whole lotta cookin' going on!
For starters, I've forayed into making pizzas. So far, all the toppings have been coming out great, but I'm not totally happy with the crust yet. I've heard that's the pizza maker's lament. I'm searching for a specific crust. A crust thin, crisp, and crackerbread-like. A crust that holds up well under the toppings without sag or sog. A crust like Fig's in Boston. A crust I still dream about to this day. If the Fig's dream doesn't happen, I'd settle for a Pizzetta 211 crust. You can see that I was inspired by Pizzetta with this, my first humble offering.
I was afraid I might make a royal mess out of the "farm fresh egg" thing, but it actually turned out pretty well. Next time, I'll be really bold and crack two eggs so my husband and I can each have our own.
With the pizza stone we thoughtfully brought down from San Francisco, our electric oven can actually get satisfyingly scorching. That is, if you let it heat up for about 30-40 minutes. I've taken to screaming "Liar!" at the oven when beeps after its 3 minute "preheat" coundown. Good thing my oven thermometer isn't one of the things I forgot. Because of the adequate heat, I'm now trying to figure out a way to bake the dough to crispy doneness without overcooking the toppings. For the egg pizza, I brushed the dough with garlic oil and layered the pizza with Fontina and Raclette cheeses before putting it in the oven. Some minutes later, I drew the pizza out on my peel, cracked the egg on top, and baked until the white was opaque and firm and the yolk was slightly set. Only after the pizza was fully done baking did I add the slices of prosciutto. If you add the prosciutto and expose it to the extreme heat of the oven, it will get dried up and withered. I prefer it to be warmed only by the heat of the hot pie.
Throughout the entire baking process, I anxiously watched the crust through the oven window. When I saw bubbles blowing up on the crust, I crowed happily and rubbed my hands. Somehow, those bubbles meant it was going to be a real pizza crust. Yeah, I can't explain it either.
Again taking the lead from Pizzetta 211, I decided to toss on a handful of fresh arugula. It added a peppery hint that balanced out the richness of the egg and prosciutto.
My second pizza was all mushrooms. Earlier in the week, I took some rapidly aging mushrooms, minced them, sautéed them with garlic and thyme, and stored them for a future use. For the pizza, I now puréed the mixture into a paste and spread it as a base. Then, I quickly sautéed some chantarelles (God bless Whole Foods!) with garlic and parsley. Finally, I crumbled bits of chèvre over the whole thing and baked it off.
The pizza dough that I spent all day making for this, my first pizza experiment, came from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Cafe cookbook. I think I ended up with several pounds of dough, and as I didn't bring my stand-up mixer down here, I really wore myself out with the hand kneading. But I enjoyed it, you know? I loved squeezing the dough and rubbing it back on the counter. Pushing the heel of my hand into the dough and flipping it over. I'm always so amazed how a dry, crumbly, Shar-Pei mass of ingredients is transformed into a smooth, slightly moist, elastic dough. It feels alive. I've also found that it's a good way to work out aggressions over forgetting to pack your rasper. After two full days of making pizzas, I woke up with that good kind of sore in my upper arms and across my back. Making dough -- be it pizza or bread -- seems to satisfy a part of me that wants to be out on a farm getting my hands dirty, harvesting lavender, or picking grapes.
I couldn't get Mathra to admit which pizza was his favorite -- he wants both again -- but I think I was more pleased by the egg and prosciutto because it's such a favorite of mine at Pizzetta 211. But still -- that perfect crust evades me. Anyway, it was a satisfying first attempt and I'm looking forward to perfecting it in the coming weeks.