Saturday, February 2, 2013

Pizza-a-Day

How was your January this year? Mine was busy. I ate a lot of pizza.
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Pizza. It has long been a daunting task for me. So daunting that I simply didn't approach it. I let others take the lead. And usually that was good enough. You see, I am more or less in the camp that thinks you should do something well or not at all. I don't own an oven that goes up to 800 degrees, and have long found most homemade pizza to be so subpar and depressing that it kept me away.

Some people swear by pizza stones. I'm ignorant. Of the two pizza stones in my house, one has broken into many pieces and the other simply doesn't fit into the oven. The door doesn't close and you have what is essentially a rock sticking out of a rather inefficient heater. What I do have, and any self respecting cook should as well, is a cast iron skillet. I use it for everything and so should you. I can't stress this enough. So a couple months ago I got to thinking, is there another work around for making pizza at home that doesn't require a fancy oven or specialty equipment? The answer is yes. 

Most of the method I employed is covered in this article here. But here's the quick and dirty: Turm on your broiler. Heat a cast iron skillet on your oven until you think it might catch fire. Assemble your pizza, slide it into red hot skillet, and then into the oven for a few minutes. That's it. Enjoy your pizza. The end.

Here is a simple pizza of sauce, parmesan, and blue cheese on the peel. A floured wood cutting board works great too.
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Here's the pizza in the pan right after being slid off the peel and into the skillet.
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And here it is a few minutes later.

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I'm still a couple papers away from my MA in linguistics. Instead of making papers in January I made pizzas everyday. I am a moron but also I am a better pizza cook. If anything can be learned from this, it is that learning a skill takes time. Putting your energies into something once or twice might lead to decent results. But doing something day in, day out just might make you an expert. Do I make perfect pizzas? Hello no. Can I make these pizzas in my sleep? Yes I can. I still have a lot of things to improve upon. Getting comfortable with the ingredients and methods is the step that must be overcome before you can actually have some control. Before then you might just be getting lucky.
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Some of the "best" food I've ever eaten (can I really say such a thing?) has often been made by folks who have been making a particular dish for years. For decades even. Their techniques have developed from a deep understanding of the ingredients, techniques, and results. In many ways this project was inspired from artisan bakers, noodle vendors, and taco sellers I have been blown away by over the years across the globe. No, I'm not in the same league nor will I ever be, but making the same thing each and every day has lead me to have an even deeper appreciation for those who spend years of their life making one thing each and every day of their work week.

If you have some time to spare and a desire to make pizza on your own, here's my basic dough recipe straight outta the Cheese Board recipe book. 

Here it is without much elaboration:

1 tablespoon of yeast
1.5 cups of water
1.5 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3.5 cups of flour

Over the course of the month I experimented with different combinations of flour. I found that two cups of white bread flour and a cup and a half of whole wheat made the best crust. But then again, I'm still experimenting. You should too.
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Get baking.

And for those of you who only care about the pictures, here's the slideshow of pizzas from the month: