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The Promise of Pizza

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

For way too long I denied my love of good pizza. It all had to do with some screwed up notions about which foods I considered to be healthy or unhealthy. Thank goodness I'm finally unshackled because I really love pizza. I truly believe when we deny the things we love the most that's when we create an unhealthy situation. It sets up a guaranteed, never-ending, self-punishing trigger. My advice? Be honest with yourself about your most fervent pleasures; own and revel in them. Give yourself permission to enjoy them from time to time and earn your own trust around them. That way, they cease to be your adversaries. Even better if you can replace the processed versions with real ones along the way.

I love a good, blistery, slightly chewy, thin crust pizza and lately, I've had this burning desire to learn how to make it from scratch. It's seriously daunting for me - I've never worked with yeast. Not to mention, there are so many pizza dough recipes out there making all kinds of promises, it's hard to know where to begin. So, for my first foray, I went with someone who has never let me down...Martha. The one, the only.

At the library, I picked up The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics and in it, there was a recipe for pizza dough. I followed it to the letter. After the second rise, I punched down the dough, turned it out onto my pastry board and cut in into six, equal-sized discs. I wrapped each one individually in plastic wrap and placed them in my fridge. I left for a few hours, came home and checked on the dough only to find that the Michelin Man had taken up residence in there! The dough had expanded yet again, so I peeled away the plastic, punched it back down, rolled it out, cut and wrapped it once more.

The thing I've neglected to share is that it was also my good friend's birthday that evening and she had come to rely on eating very well in my home, so there was a lot riding on this. I could feel the pressure mounting.

I had planned to grill the pizzas. Our first pizza, a classic Margherita - fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella - died a slow death on the grill because of my own incompetence - I forgot to properly oil the dough and added the toppings before their time. However, there were pieces of the dough that tasted like the charred, chewy and smoky hardwood flavor I was going for which, gave me hope. I decided not to take a chance and blow the next pizza so I popped it in the oven. This one was an homage to a pizza I'd had at my favorite Chicago restaurant, Avec. Thinly shaved beets, arugula, marjoram, Manchego cheese and Nicoise olives. The toppings were stellar but the crust, honestly, had little flavor. But with enough wine, laughter and open air we managed to still enjoy it.

I declare that I am making a commitment right here and now to master pizza-making. There will be ongoing posts until I get it right. Until it meets my very high standards. Until I become fluent in the language and the feel of it. Until I can imagine that Martha's coming for lunch, and know without a doubt, she's going to be absolutely blown away.

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