I rarely make pizza these days, what with all the beautiful fish in my life, and one needs the proper atmosphere. A well-lit kitchen full of people and wine and loose flour floating through the air to give the scene the quality of a movie flashback. It needs to be kneaded, watched, risen, kneaded again, prepped, refrigerated, taken out, and prepped again. All of which makes the pie taste better, with someone handing you a glass off wine or a good Belgian Tripel, rather than you standing alone eating the pie over your sad ghetto oven until it’s gone. With the proper atmosphere, the pies are never gone.
The reason the pizza I make is so time-consuming (but not a chore) is due to the fact that it’s all handmade. Well, ok, within reason. I don’t harvest and mill the grains with which I make my own dough, nor do I grow the tomatoes I make the sauce with (but I do grow the basil and other herbs) neither, alas, do I culture my own Buffalo Mozzarella, but damn, we all gotta set boundaries somewhere. I mean I got time since breaking up with my girlfriend, lots of it, but we’re talking, “How ’bout I roast the Jalapeños!” kinda time and not, “Betta’ git to threshin’ the wheat ‘afore the Snows done set in, Pa!” kinda time. Ok, I’ll admit to charging up my extra virgin olive oil with roasted garlic, rosemary and chilis, but dammit! ain’t be like I sit around waiting for my corn to age so I can pestle and mortar it into fine yellow meal so my dough doesn’t stick to the foil I use to keep it separated from the fish-juice magma that makes up the juicy black bubbly bottom of my crappy oven (May the Lord God Bless its Little Oven Heart!). Yep.
Pizza Crazy – Hand Tossed Homemade Pizza Pies
So there I was, Friday night, nothing to do, no one to play with, all by my lonesome self. I decided it was high time to get back into white wine, specifically a beautifully demi-sec Rioja from Valencia, chilled to an icy perfection and decanted one glass at a time, into my nice, big hand-sized ceramic mug (I completely prefer ceramic to glass when it comes to vino). Plus, knocking a few back while cooking is what cooking’s all about, that and good speakers pumping something nice and funky to get your hips moving in time with that swishing knife flying through veggies, the wooden spoon stirring your bubbling sauce and, lest we forget, whatever already finished bottle of red you have to substitute for a rolling pin, because, well, they just work better than your hands on that badass dough you just hand made. I said Ye-ah!!
Living in Japan is occasionally inconvenient, often a pain in the ass, and most of the time just incomprehensible – where things like cooking in ovens is concerned. The Japanese don’t really consider dishwashers, dryers, insulation and whatnot to be household fixtures, so why should an oven be any different? The fact that “Obun” usually refers to a Microwave which happens to have an “oven” function (I don’t trust it) and “sutobu” (stove) refers to a kerosene floor heater may paint you a general picture of the frustration I would likely face when wanting to bake anything, let alone the magnificence that is my homemade pizza. Luckily I am ghetto. Growing up poor allowed me inroads into substituting my creativity where technology was missing. In short, it made me come up with inventive ways of engineering broken down old gadgets, knicknacs and junk into something useful, and more than that – something I needed at the time.
Enter me into Japan: 1st World Country on the outside (in Tokyo), 3rd World Country on the inside (everywhere else). Excuse my ethnocentrism here, but I grew up relatively poor, but we’re talking American poor here which by African standards just doesn’t even equate. I mean I had a floor and water and no diseases, so here’s me thanking the arbitrary luck of being born in Southern California. Regardless, enter me into the world of small town Japan, my 60-year-old concrete teachers’ apartment building, my showerless/hot waterless bathroom, and (not even close to) finally, my cooking apparatus-less (except for a toaster) kitchen. Ya-ay! Welcome our Country Beauty of Nippon important Ambassador Foreign of the Teaching of English! Here is traditional wheat chaff pillow for comfort head, don’t mind!
Yeah, after 2 years of trying to get under the skin of the Japanese lifestyle in the solitude of Nagano, I’ve learned a few tricks: 1) Every 6 months (in most prefectures) there is a “big trash” day where the government will pick up anything. Of course, in keeping with the Post WWII mentality of “We are rich, so forgive and accept us world!” the Japanese apparently have little or no trouble throwing away objects of considerable valuable. It is not unusual to find year-old snowboards and skis, last year’s TVs, DVDs and VCRs, newish furniture, pornographic paraphernalia, and much to my culinary pleasure a veritable cornucopia of appliances, all tossed uselessly away as soon as this year’s model comes out. A complete turn around from the efficiently frugal image Japan once truly portrayed to the world, though interesting -and profitable – to live in the midst of.
As honor and shame are strongly rooted in the fabric of Japan, one could easily see how dishonorable and embarrassing it would be to get caught skulking about at night with the neighbor’s grocery cart, let alone even consider the idea in and of itself. I know. Because it was during the first night of one of these sorai-gomi (which really is the best time to cash in on the choicest items) that I “found” an oven and various other useful contraptions (a microscope, a french press, a kerosene heater, some porn…). While dragging these things home I got “caught” by a neighbor who shaded her young child’s eyes from watching the pale skinned barbarian “stealing” the trash. Truthfully the figure I cut must have scared the crap out of her: 6 foot plus paleface clad all in black laughing ominously to no one in particular whilst hauling a pretty beat up old oven back to mine. I’m pretty sure I pranced or possibly even skipped at one point.
Ok, back to the point. I got an oven! While not some Amana 2010 version of Hal the wonder-baking machine (“Open the Oven Door, Hal.” “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Manny…you did get me off the street, you do realize that, don’t you Manny.”), the 40CM Hitachi TO-A12E “Famiry Oven”, despite its pull-out tray floor covered in flash heated fish bits congealed with god knows what kind of sauces, gets the job done. Thankfully, since taking a chisel and the torch I generally reserve for flambe-ing sushi to it, I’ve gotten the oyster stink out and all my pies and cakes emerge smelling as they should.
Alright, all this is just the wine talking, so let’s get to the recipe, already. First the dough:
Dissolve 1 Packet of Yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp) with
1 tbsp Sugar in
1 1/4 cup (250ml) Water (110°F/43°C) until bubbly (10 minutes or so)
While the yeast is frothing, put 4 cups flour (2/3 bread or all-purpose to 1/3 wheat) in a mixing bowl and add
1 tsp salt plus whatever herbs you dig
Rosemary, dill, basil, coriander are all great
Mix wet with dry, kneading into a roundish shape for 5 minutes, then let rise for 5-10 minutes while you contemplate which bottle of wine to open next. Punch down dough, knead for another 5 minutes, and finally place in an oiled bowl covered by a dishcloth and let rise in a warm place for at least an hour (1-2 is optimal).
While the dough is doing its thing, get your sauce ready. There are a million different sauces one can make, so I won’t deign to suggest what is best for you, but suffice it to say, I dig tomatoes and you should too. Fresh ripe tomatoes will make anything better, even breakups, especially breast-shaped tomatoes with nice, firm points…mmmm. I digress. I score my tomatoes before immersing them in boiling water for 20 seconds, then slip them into a nice cold ice bath to get their skins to peel right off. After which I dice them up and throw them into a saute pan with a bit of already sizzling olive oil (you’ve had onions and garlic browning for 5 minutes or so on a low-medium flame, of course), salt and pepper. After reducing for 10-15 minutes add the juice of half a lemon, a spoonful of the homemade pesto you’ve just thawed out and some of your garden’s better medium heat chilis, finely diced. Let simmer for 5-10 more over a low flame.
For toppings, I generally endorse and and all vegetables, especially artichoke hearts, jalapeños, red onions, tomatoes and or tomatillos, zucchini, eggplant, roasted garlic, ad infinitum. As for cheeses I dig chevre, feta or anything from a sheep/goat, fresh mozzarella, parmigiano-reggiano, asiago, gouda, or as a general rule, anything from Europe, even a funky finger-stinky picante gorgonzola would yield a great pie. The key, for me at least, is not piling it on (especially if you are planning on using a strong French or Italian cheese) so much so that it overpowers the other toppings, the sauce and the herbs.
The dough ball could be cut into 2-3 pizzas depending on your girth, so do what feels natural. Spread the crust thin, and remember that perfectly round is not always pretty, so get Mickey Mouse if you want to and have another glass of that good Malaga red. Throw on plenty of sauce and layer your toppings accordingly. Throw into your ghetto oven at 350°F (I go to 250°C due to my element disfunction) for 10-20 minutes. Don’t forget to leave some for the morning. There’s nothing like cold pizza for breakfast.