Monday, May 23, 2011

Battle Pizza

Whenever I go through a creative period, I become interested in cooking. I have several theories for why this is, all of which are pretentious and irritating, so I won't be sharing them here. Instead, I'll be posting my lofty and obnoxious ideals to my twitter feed, a practice I find pretentious and irritating enough to keep up with my theories.

My point is this: I've been doing a lot of "about me" decoupage collages on paperboard lately, cutting out pictures from O mag--spiraling suns to symbolize my soul, Mary Oliver quotes to prove to me how sensitive and intellectual I am--and so after the man finger-attacking his keyboard at the library became too much to bear, I put down my scissors, got up in a huff, and checked out a Mario Batali book of recipes, naturally. Which is not the same thing as a cookbook; cookbooks are for women and are stupid and amateur, they are about the home; books of recipes are for men, they are very serious will change the world, and they are about America

After flipping through the book, the thing I was most anxious to make (I was going to drop dead if I didn't have it) was the pizza. Now listen. I've been making the Pioneer Woman's pizza for awhile. But I knew that when I made her pizza dough I was just a glorified 'housewife', one who knew how yeast worked, maybe, but a housewife nonetheless. I wanted to make Mario Batali's pizza dough so that I could be something closer to a serious chef. Even just a home chef would be better than a housewife, which is a person who stays at home to surf message boards and post angry comments about how Brittany from Glee is a dancer and an artist, dammit, and not a modern sex worker. Not that I have ever done that.

Before we go any further, I should admit two things here:

1) I cannot cook, but I can follow a recipe, and

2) I like making pizza dough because if feels both pretentious and earthy at once, and that makes me smug. I pat it like a baby's bottom and remark about how well it "came together", at which point Mr.V grabs another beer and rolls his eyes at that one spot on the wall that really annoys him.

The best thing about the Pioneer Woman's pizza dough is that, here we go again,

1) it's yummy, and

2) It's really easy.



I've never managed to screw it up. Although one time I had lost my measuring spoons (Mr.V threw them on the floor because he hates me), so I had to "guesstimate" (a term invented by Alton Brown) on all the ingredients, from the salt to the sugar to the yeast, and it came together--there goes Mr. V again--perfectly, which can only lead to the conclusion that "P-dubs" is a sucker and I am the best pizza maker alive. For ever and ever. Amen.

(Don't even get Mr. V's family started on who is the best pizza maker alive, because that gets ugly fast. No joshin'.)

P-Dub's recipe, though, is idiot proof. Sprinkle some yeast over some warm water. Combine flour and salt. Stir in water. Voila. The happy housewife has made a dough that bakes up flaky and slightly crispy, and it takes just a few minutes. If there's one caveat, it's this: P-dub recommends you let her dough rest in the fridge for 3-4 days, and 4 is better than 3. This is totally fine if you are a person capable of thinking beyond where they are going to get their next cup of coffee and how they are going to hide it from their husband.

I am not.

Usually I mean to have pizza for dinner, but I remember the True Dough Waits thing, make the dough, heat up spaghettios, and make the pie the next day. It's always delicious.

However. Last night, in order to become like a real chef and not just some woman "playing around" in the kitchen, I made Batali's recipe from his book of recipes, his culinary grimoire, if you will, Molto Gusto.


I was a little afraid going in, anticipating lots of delicate steps and that ambiguous "knead" direction--but I was happy to see Mario's recipe is nearly as foolproof. It's almost identical, except Batali has you whisk the yeast into sugared water, which, now that I think about it, how does P-Dub's yeast activate without sugar to eat? But everything I know about yeast, I learned from listening to Mr. V talk about his "Craft", so I could be off on the details. Both forget to list one important step, which is "take time to smell the yeast water'. So I'm telling you here. Take a moment. It smells delicious.

I was feeling a little excited because if you've ever made pizza at home, you know it's a trick to get the dough cooked through in the middle and, especially if you are using good mozzarella, to keep it from getting soggy. To prevent this, Batali has you first parcook the crust on a super hot Mario Batali pizza griddle, or, if you don't have that, your lame ordinary lodge cast iron will suffice.

The dough toasted up super nice on my lodge; and I should also add that both Batali and Pioneer Woman tell you to use your kitchen aid mixer, which they do only to taunt me because they know I don't have one. But then at the end they're both like, "oh, if you DON'T have this kitchen aid mixer, you are an inferior human being and just mix it with your hands/wooden spoon/cave-husband's club, and that will be just fine for you and your kind." But whatever, they are right to mock me, because I don't have a kitchen aid mixer. The dough comes out fine without one.

Mario's recipes do have a few minor glitches. For one, he told me to use "3 and 1/2 cups of "OO" flour". It could have also been "00" flour, as in double-zero flour, as in secret agent flour. It might as well have been because either way I don't know what the crust he was talking about. I skimmed the whole book for an explanation and didn't find one. And for the sauce, he left me flailing. The directions say to use something like "1 and 1/2 cup of Pomi tomatoes". Um, what the hell? What the hell does that mean? Is that a type of tomato? A brand? Is it a sauce, a puree, are they chopped, diced, stewed, or whole? Should I buy fresh tomatoes and saute them, or should I just set them, whole, on top of my dough and hope for the best? I suspect people who live in Manhattan or Orange County could translate this for me. Why doesn't he just say at the beginning, "Look, if you are a housewife, especially one without a Kitchen Aid Mixer, this just isn't the book for you. Just wait til we get to the anchovies, you are in so over your head here"?

Mario's Book Of Recipes has several pictures of really yummy-looking pizzas that have anchovies on them. I wanted those fishies on my pizza. The instructions just call for "anchovies", so I went out and bought four tins of anchovies from the fancy section at the King Soopers, you know, the section where the aisle bulges out like a rich belly.Because that is where they keep the foods for rich people. That is also where I bought a can of San Marzano tomatoes, because nothing said "Pomi" and I'd heard good things. Well. The anchovies were disgusting, and I won't embarrass Ayla by telling you that she ate several of them, whole. They appeared to have hair sticking out of them, but it may have been bones. They were salty and fishy, like sweat plus Dead Sea, and looked nothing like the ones in the pictures, which I suspect were fresh.

I'm just saying, it would have been helpful to write,

"Anchovies, fresh. God help you if you buy canned anchovies, you stupid, stupid woman."

instead of simply,


The San Marzano tomatoes were whole, in sauce, so we just used the sauce and put on our toppings, which also included a sliced serrano pepper and kalamata olives. You won't believe it but the pizza came out soggy in the middle--even after that promising parcook. I blame my stupid sauce, and also my fancy mozzarella. The next day for lunch, I took an unused crust, skipped the sauce, put some mozzarella on it that I had inadvertently dried out by leaving it out on a "tea towel" (by which I mean kitchen towel from the dollar store) for four hours. I added some fresh sliced tomato on the top, and after it baked, some sliced avocado. It was awesome. And not at all soggy.

What I know now:

I'd probably use P-dub's recipe in the future , just to save time by skipping the parcooking step. I'm going to start drying out my mozzarella. I suspect this might solve my sog problem. I guess I'd give fresh anchovies a whirl if they are ever available here. I think I saw them once at Whole Foods. But frankly, Pioneer Woman's toppings are amazing--carmelized onion with prosciutto, anyone? Or would you prefer roasted eggplant and tomato with garlic? Look, I don't want to declare a winner because Batali had lots of wonderful combinations, especially if you can afford things like caviar and glass eels. And I still dig the theory of the parcook, even though it didn't work for me. His Quattro Fromaggi pizza looked like a true, rustic beauty. A great, simple pleasure. But to get something like that worth eating, you have to execute it perfectly. And I just can't.

I am Vesuvius and Ayla wants to try the caviar.


  1. Now you have me feeling like a total loser for using Pillsbury pizza dough in the can... and when GUESTS were coming, no less.

    Ayla & the fish...sigh... maybe it's some sort of Scandinavian gene she inherited??? They like fish, you know. (Did you know?)

  2. I thought your Pillsbury baked up great. No joke.


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