No Hard Feelings, Pizza

by Carilyn on September 23, 2020

 

I don’t LOVE pizza. At least not in the way other people do. In fact, when Tim and I were first married, it drove him crazy that I was not a pizza person. Pizza was cheap, easy, and filling – a perfect triumvirate for two starving law students. But I had not grown up eating pizza. Yes, we occasionally got it from our favorite Italian restaurant – Bella Napoli – but only as an afterthought to the Chicken Jerusalem and Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, like special bread to sop up the sauces of the REAL meals. When I did have chain pizza, I just didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It was a lot of bread, bad tomato sauce, cheap cheese, and sad toppings. No thanks.

This ambivalence about pizza has carried on into adulthood. I like it, but I don’t love it. As embarrassing as it is to admit, one of the biggest disappointments of my culinary crusade (often involving dragging unenthusiastic “volunteers” with me) was making a special trip to a very famous Chicago deep dish institution on a “food vacation” and being absolutely underwhelmed. So much bread. So much sauce. So dense. Ugh. And we waited in line (with reservations) for over an hour.

But tonight, I found myself alone in the house after Tim had gone to visit his mother. I sent my usual soup, but stayed back since my own mother had just recently been released from rehab after falling and breaking her hip, still requiring round the clock nursing care. It has been a very rough couple of months (Covid, aside – how do you nurse the elderly when you can’t have contact?!?!), and I have to admit that I have not handled it as gracefully as I would like. I have spent more time than is appropriate on my knees praying for some sort of fix for an un-fixable situation, wishing, as always, that my repertoire of desserts would be the answer to all prayers. Alas, it proved not to be, but once we “sprang” my mom from the dreaded rehab facility, I headed back into the kitchen, first, trying to perfect the honey almond apricot nougat that was proving to be the bane (and raison d’etre) of my existence, and then working on a great pizza dough. (Don’t ask. I have no explanation. I was simply intrigued with comparing dough made from bread dough v. AP flour. OCD much?) Anyway, when it was all said and done, I had a beautiful boule of pizza dough and nowhere to go. So, I baked off a Griselda Cat tray of squishy dough, and ten minutes later I had the most delicate, but lightly chewy/crispy crust. I snacked on it all afternoon, finally whittling it down to a Florida-esque shape before topping it with a homemade red sauce that I started “just because” (I was experimenting with pizza dough, you know, so why not?), and some fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil.

And something in me shifted.

Is this why people like pizza? LOVE pizza? Become obsessed with pizza? Does it really come down to a great crust? The perfect sauce? The ratio?

I still truly don’t know. But I will say that I am much more a believer now than I ever was before. Maybe it was the long, languid swim in the pool I took while the dough was proofing on the counter under a checkered tea towel. Maybe it was that I ate it while standing at the counter while listening to “No Hard Feelings,” by the Avett Brothers. Maybe it was the jammy red wine I poured while I was finishing off the sauce. Maybe it was just luck and desperation. Who knows? But whatever it was, this pizza was worth opening up my computer and writing about it. I won’t know until tomorrow when Tim gets home and I try to repeat it.

I just hope that I am vindicated for hating pizza when we were poor, struggling students. I’m not sure he has gotten over it. But I’m hoping that if I did make a great pizza, we can reach a peace agreement. Kind of like me convincing him that running is the best activity ever.

Never stop hoping and praying (and a little swimming, wine, and the Avett Brothers can’t hurt).

 

*The secret to this very delicate, thin pizza dough is bread flour. I promise it is worth the trip to the store to get some if you don’t have any.

 

Thin-Crust Pizza Dough

3 1/2 (up to 4 cups) bread flour

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons dry yeast (1 packet)

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

1 1/2 warm water (110 degrees F)

2 tablespoons olive, plus more for resting bowl

Pour a scant 1/2 tablespoon olive oil into a glass bowl to place your bread dough in for rising after it is mixed and kneaded.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a bread hook, mix the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Let stand for about 5 minutes.

To this, add the flour, oil, and salt, mixing on low just until incorporated, then turn up the mixer to medium high and mix until the dough forms a ball and lifts away from the bowl. If the dough is too wet, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time. You want the dough to stay soft and light, so don’t add too much flour, but it should not be super loose.

When you have a nice soft ball of dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about three minutes, or until just smooth and soft, like a baby’s bottom.

Place the dough into your oiled bowl and cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. If it is going to sit out for more than an hour, put into the refrigerator so that it won’t proof too much.

When you are ready to bake it off, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and heat the sheet in the oven for 5 minutes. While the pan is heating, pull off a ball of dough about the size of an orange. Roll or stretch it to your desired thinness. Cover with whatever toppings you choose. Pull the pan out of the oven, sprinkle with a bit of flour, and place your pizza on it.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the edges start turning brown and all the cheese has melted.

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