|Pizza My Soul|
|July 22, 2005|
Yes -- I'm still questing to make the perfect pizza. It was midway through making an avocado aļoli this afternoon when I realized that my quest is more about reproducing Figs pizzas than about making the perfect pizza. However, in my mind, there exits no more perfect pizza than the ones we had at Figs. So, I guess I'm still on my quest. In a roundabout way. I had this philosophical moment while blending up avocado, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice because of a very memorable pizza from Figs. It was a spicy shrimp and green onion one that was lightly drizzled with, you guessed it, an avocado aļoli. Now the aļoli at Figs wasn't so much acting as the base of the pizza as it was really just being dripped over the spicy little shrimps. This is the pizza I'm hoping to make tonight, and I'm also going to throw on some calamari for good measure.
I decided to get things started right by following Todd English's own recipe for tomato sauce. All was toil and troubling well until I tasted the sauce after I added the salt and pepper. Big mistake -- it was so salty that Nancy Crater could've lived off it for the rest of her natural born vampiric life. I'm not entirely sure what made it so salty -- the chicken stock, the reduction, or the juice the San Marzano tomatoes were packed in -- but at least I knew a way to fix it that didn't involve the garbage disposal and starting all over again.
Sugar. Yes, sugar. Sugar can balance out the acidity of tomatoes and deepen the overall flavor of the sauce. I added the sugar in carefully measured handfuls, tasting after every addition, and got it to a tang level I liked. Whew! Disaster (and visitations from a moldy Star Trek costume department) averted. Now I don't know what possessed me to do this, but I didn't feel that the tomato sauce was "special" enough, so I decided to add a few pinches of allspice. Crazy? Maybe. Tasty? Definitely. I'll have to make a recipe note of that somewhere.
I have no earthly clue how the chefs at Figs make their avocado aļoli but I'm taking a (rather blind) stab at it anyway. While the sweetened tomato sauce cooled off to room temperature, I banged a few perfect avocados into my food processor, squeezed lemon juice over them to stave off nasty brown patches and to add flavor, and started to blend. With the motor running, I slowly added olive oil, some crushed garlic, and salt. I gradually more enough olive oil to bring the mixture to a fairly loose state -- I don't want something to dip chips into, I want something I can drizzle, fo'shizzle! I can't get away with that, can I?
The dough I made last week has been defrosting in the fridge for about 24 hours. I had such an excess from last time that tonight is not the night to try out new dough recipes but next time will be. I do see that Todd English also has his pizza crust recipe posted on his site, and since that's the crust I aspire to in my Pizza Nirvana, it might have to be my next attempt.
Ah. Dinner is over. Well, it wasn't a COMPLETE failure. I mean, the pizza toppings gave off more liquid than I would have liked and I tried something new with the crust and then panicked and had to stop but the avocado aļoli was really good and the shellfish was first rate...BREATHE!
I'm getting ahead of myself. In an effort to crisp up my crust to cracker consistency, I decided to pre-bake the crust for a bit with no toppings other than a bit of olive oil for browning potential. I slid the dough in and waited. All you pizza makers out there might already know what I saw when I peered in the window a few minutes later. The crust had bubbled up to twice its size in about three major places. I braved the heat of the oven to slash at the bubbles with my paring knife, hoping to deflate the crust from becoming carta di musica. It didn't exactly work. I sweated it out a few more minutes, but I could stand it no longer -- I removed the partially baked crust and deflated it with a few ladles of tomato sauce.
In terms of toppings, I had already pre-cooked the shellfish in separate stages. I diced the calamari steaks into one-inch pieces, tossed the pieces with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted them in a 500° oven until golden and slightly crisp. After I took them out and set them aside, I'll admit to being more than a little afraid that they would be so rubbery that our teeth would snap back the minute they attempted the first bite.
For the shrimp, I heated up some olive oil and tossed in a few pieces of scallion to get warm but, because I'm still fairly amateurish at times, I DIDN'T SLICE THEM ON THE BIAS! It's ALWAYS more pro to slice on the bias, or at an angle! It's all artistic and shit. I guess one could argue that I really DID slice tonight's scallions on an angle. It just happened to be a 0° angle. Next, I added peeled and deveined shrimp and some garlic and removed the skillet from the heat. The shrimp started to turn pink and opaque so I dumped the contents of the pan onto the sauced crust. That was going to turn out to be a big mistake. See, so eager was I to preserve all flavor and so worried was I not to dry out the sauce that I dumped more liquid (in the form of olive oil) than was totally necessary.
After I arranged the shrimp and scallions, I positioned the roasted calamari around the pizza and slid it all back into the oven. This time I left the pizza severely alone because I wanted to get some really good browning on the crust. When it pulled it out -- about ten minutes later -- I had some good browning. I also had some good puddling in the middle. Clearly, the calamari hadn't released all their liquid in the roasting process and the added olive oil from the shrimp and scallion pan didn't help matters. Neither did that extra ladle of tomato sauce. And I might have overloaded in toppings a bit. Damn.
Fine. Well, I cut it into slices and drizzled some of that carefully made avocado aļoli (which was just as carefully dumped into a plastic squeeze bottle in order to get that fancy-dancy restaurant fo'shizzle) over the shellfish and served. Hm. While it may not have looked pretty, it sure tasted gorgeous -- and that's not me talking, that's what Dr. Mathra announced when he went back for his second and third helpings. I'll tell you something, though, the crust was damn crispy-crunchy.
Wine recommendation: No wine. Beer. Belgian Beer. Maredsous 10 Triple Belgian Abbey Ale Fermented in the Bottle and Bought at Whole Foods Beer. It kinda smells like peanut butter.