You know when you were little, and someone you saw every year at Christmas seemed to exclaim, every time you saw them, “You’ve gotten so tall!” And how it made you a little bit grumpy, because you knew you weren’t tall; you were actually the second-shortest person in your class.
And then, maybe, you got a little older, and people a little bit older than you started having kids of their own, and you were shocked at the words coming out of your mouth as you sized them up, every couple of months or so… “You’ve gotten so tall!” And how it made you die a little bit inside as soon as you heard the words escaping from your lips, because you knew that the grown-ups who were saying it to you were right all along?
That’s kind how I feel about pizza.
How’s that for a transition?
No, but hear me out. Pizza and I have had a torrid love affair that started — as so many torrid love affairs seem to do — with hatred. When I was younger, I detested pizza. I abhorred it. I couldn’t stand the smell, and when my father, trying to do something nice, stopped at Patsy’s on the way out of New York to Long Island for a lunchtime pizza, to be eaten off of cardboard “plates” ripped willy-nilly from the box, I plugged my nose against the smell of grease on brown paper and shook my head. “No thank you. I don’t prefer pizza.” (We weren’t allowed to dislike things in my house; we didn’t prefer them. My youngest sister, I believe, still talks like this.)
It took me awhile to get used to the idea of pizza. It started slowly, with those individually-sized pizzas that are perfectly round with a crust that tastes halfway between mass-produced croissants and white bread. They served them at the cafeteria at our beach club, and I would order one and burn the roof of my mouth on melted cheese. Something about the single-serving individuality of it made the pizzas from the car — the giant ones with burnished crusts and uneven cheese and bubbles — seem like a different animal entirely.
Slowly, I evolved from individual-sized pizzas to slices of plain cheese pizza, mopped of excess orange grease with a paper napkin, sprinkled with parmesan cheese from a shaker and folded in half, encased in a paper plate, as most New York slices are.
And then we built the pizza oven.
I should say my father built the pizza oven, but the point of the story is that there was a pizza oven in our backyard. My mother had always allowed us to “decorate” our own pizzas, sprinkling whatever toppings we liked over raw dough and baking them in the oven, but somehow, the new oven changed things. I didn’t just tolerate pizza; I liked it. I tried making it at home in Toronto with less-than-stellar results, and when I couldn’t recreate what I had at home, I improvised with other pizza-like dishes.
And then, while the Sous-Chef was visiting Paris last month, I found a roll of refrigerated pizza dough at an unfamiliar supermarket and thought, “Why not?” I rolled it out, topped half with Bolognese sauce and mozzarella and the other half with my favorite sucré-salé toppings: goat cheese, crème fraiche, apple, honey, and the last of the smoked filet mignon from the Salon de l’Agriculture. TCB was over the moon… and I was on a mission for a less-sweet dough that didn’t fall apart when you manhandled it before reading the directions and realizing you were just supposed to roll it out.
As is often the case in these situations, Luisa helped me out with my predicament: the pizza experiment has become pizza Thursdays, with two individually-sized pizzas to split — one à la francaise with crème fraiche and the other with an Italian tomato-based sauce — for dinner. The other day’s margherita pizza is topped simply with my homemade tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and roasted garlic, while these two involve a bit more work, but not enough to make this difficult. I make the sauces and the dough the night before, so throwing Thursday night’s pizzas together is a breeze.
Pizza Dough (adapted from the Wednesday Chef)
Makes enough for two individually-sized pizzas.
2/3 cup warm water
1 packet (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 pound all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoons olive oil
Put the water in a small shallow bowl and sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the surface. Allow to sit in a warm place for 10-15 minutes, until the yeast foams and doubles in size.
Place the flour in a large glass bowl and make a hole in the center. Add the yeast and water and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to come together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until you have a smooth, soft dough, about 15 minutes. Knead the salt into the dough.
Rinse the bowl and pour the olive oil into it. Roll the ball of dough so that it’s covered in oil. Lightly cover with plastic wrap (allow the dough to breathe) and then with a dishtowel. Leave in a warm place and allow to double in size. Punch down, cover with wrap and dishtowel.
At this point I usually put the dough in the fridge overnight. If you’re doing this the same day, allow it to double in size again on the countertop, then punch down and roll out, allowing the rolled dough to rest for 20 minutes before adding the toppings. If you’re like me, keep it in the fridge, then take it out an hour before you’re ready to eat. After 40 minutes, roll the dough out on parchment paper and allow it to rest 20 minutes before adding the toppings.
Quick Bolognese Sauce Pizza (makes enough for 3 individually-sized pizzas)
100 g. (3.5 ounces) diced bacon or lardons
1 onion, finely diced
200 g. (7 ounces) sausage, removed from casings
300 g. (10.5 ounces) ground beef
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 glass red or white wine
1 large can whole tomatoes
1 cup whole milk
1.5 recipes dough
200 g. (7 ounces) fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
In a large, heavy pot with a lid, cook the lardons in a half-inch of water over medium heat, until they render their fat and begin to brown. Add the onions and a heavy pinch of salt, and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Remove to a plate.
Increase the heat to high. Add the sausage and beef in small amounts, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. When all of the meat has browned, add the lardons and onions back to the pot. Add the garlic and cayenne pepper. Cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and the wine. The wine will bubble up and then come back down to a simmer. Stir to deglaze the pan, then add the tomatoes and milk. Break the tomatoes up with the spoon and cook at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Allow the sauce to cool. (I prefer to make it ahead and refrigerate it, but if you don’t have time, transfer what you’ll use to a small, wide bowl to help it cool faster. Top the raw dough with sauce, and add a bit more than 2 ounces of cheese per small pizza. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until golden and bubbly.
Sucré-Salé Pizza (makes one individually-sized pizza)
50 g. (1 3/4 ounces) sour cream or crème fraiche
1 ounce ham (or smoked filet mignon)
50 g. (1 3/4 ounces) goat cheese
1/2 green apple, thinly sliced
2 tsp. liquid honey
1/2 recipe dough
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spread the crème fraiche or sour cream on the dough. Sprinkle the ham, cheese and apple over the top and bake about 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the cheese is melted. As soon as the pizza comes out of the oven, drizzle honey over the top.