Pizza that talks back.

1-DSC01426-006What does every college student crave?

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Pizza. Gooey, greasy, crusty pizza.

The collegiate pizza-phile phenomenon is not exclusively American. My fellow classmates and I feasted on thin, rice flour crusts covered in yellow curry, tako octopus suction cups, and buttery scallops after school in Japan. In Nepal, my roommate and I celebrated her impending Nepali marriage ceremony and my return from independent research  over a 19th century desert plate-sized pizza. We ordered seconds even though the musty waterbuffalo’s milk cheese didn’t exactly taste like home.

These days pizza is so integrated into food cultures that you can’t even call it an Italian export.   1-DSC_0399-001

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When I was a freshman in high school, my parents took me and my brother  to Naples. We went with one purpose. We sought to try pizza in its birthplace, in its most elemental, quintessential form.

We sat outside a small trattoria, our cafe chairs wobbly on the cobblestones. It was midday and hot and we were hungry from a long day of feigning Italian and playing Frogger in Naples traffic. It was the golden hour of our Italian journey and we ordered Pizza Neapolitan.

After a literal hour, the waiter dropped a burnt, anemic crust decorated with two lonely slices of mozzarella, a handful of basil leaves, and a mealy tomato on the table like a plate of norovirus or maybe Twinkies; it depends on the waiter’s opinion of American Hostess snack cakes.

Needless to say, our palates were disappointed. We didn’t realize it then, but we were looking a richer, more subtly flavored pizza we would never find in Italy. As soon as we got home and recovered from jetlag, we made a pizza piled high with Gruyere cheese and garlic and mushrooms and savored every piece of it.

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In the past four college years my stomach has seen a lot of pizza; I’ve never been to a college event where I haven’t had the addictive triangle slices pushed on me as if they were a litter of free pound puppies awaiting death row.

Pizza from a box satisfies something deeply primal and collegiate within us. But when you toss dough smooth with olive oil or a friend crumbles feta over homemade sauce, pizza becomes a community event. It becomes a collective, anticipated, expressive celebration.

Pizza Neapolitan and Japanese curry pie are tastebud adventures, but no pizza compares to the kind you make with a couple friends, a cold beer, and your own accent.

What does your pizza’s accent sound like?

1-Spring 2013

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Handmade Pizza

Makes two 10-12 inch pizzas. Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes.

It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

Pizza Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (105°F-115°F)
  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour (can use all-purpose but bread flour will give you a crisper crust)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Cornmeal (to slide the pizza onto the pizza stone)

Pizza Toppings

  • Tomato sauce (depending on preference, you can use tomato puree, chunky jar sauce, or anything in between.)
  • Mozzarella or Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Feta cheese
  • Caramelized mushrooms, thinly sliced (or whole if you’re going for a looker pizza), see below for caramelizing directions
  • Chopped fresh basil
  • Pesto or minced garlic
  • Onions, thinly sliced
  • Optional and extravagant: salami or prosciutto, thinly sliced

Part One

  1. Add warm water to a large bowl. Sprinkle in yeast and let sit for 5 minutes until the yeast is dissolved or foaming.Add olive oil, flour, salt, and sugar and mix on low speed for about a minute with a stand mixer, hand-held mixer, or your very own brawny muscles.
  2. Knead dough in stand or hand-held mixer on low to medium speed with a dough hook attachment. Or, if you’re a poor college student without any sort of mixer or just want to get some frustration out, add a 1/4 cup flour to the dough and  turn out on to a floured, clean counter top. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If the dough seems a little too wet, don’t be afraid to sprinkle on a bit more flour.)
  3. Place ball of dough in a bowl that has been coated lightly with olive oil. Turn the dough around in the bowl so that it gets coated with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit in a warm place (75-85°F) until it doubles in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or several hours longer, a longer rise will improve the flavor). If you live in North Dakota or are an air conditioner addict and don’t have a warm spot in the house, turn on your oven to its lowest setting for 2 minutes, let it cool a bit, and add your bowl of dough to rise.

Side Note: At this point, if you want to make your dough ahead, you can freeze the dough in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Part Two

  1. Place a pizza stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the lower third of your oven. Preheat the oven to 450°F for 30 minutes (or an hour if you’re using a pizza stone.)
  2. Punch risen dough down so it deflates a bit and divide in two. Place each in its own bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Prepare your toppings. To caramelize mushrooms, with a bit of olive oil, salt, and baking soda (about 1 tsp) on medium heat for 10 minutes, our until golden brown. Prepare other toppings. (Note that you are not going to want to load up each pizza with a lot of toppings as the crust will end up not crisp that way. About a third a cup each of tomato sauce and cheese would be sufficient for one pizza. One to two mushrooms thinly sliced will cover a pizza.)

Part Three

  1. Take one ball of dough and flatten it with your hands on a slightly floured work surface. Starting at the center and working outwards, use your fingertips to press the dough to 1/2-inch thick. Turn and stretch the dough until it will not stretch further or reaches the desired diameter – 10 to 12 inches. Use your palm to flatten the edge of the dough where it is thicker. You can pinch the edges if you want to form a little crust fence. Brush the top of the dough with olive oil (to prevent it from getting soggy from the toppings). Use a fork to poke little holes along the surface to prevent bubbling. Repeat with the second ball of dough.
  2. Lightly sprinkle your extremely hot baking sheet with corn meal. and transfer one prepared flattened dough.
  3. Spoon on the tomato sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and place your desired toppings on the pizza. Bake pizza one at a time until the crust is browned and the cheese is golden, about 10-15 minutes. Enjoy with a cold, cheap beer and a term paper.

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One thought on “Pizza that talks back.

  1. I love the story of you and your family in Naples. Man, I think I would’ve started crying if that happened to me. That pizza would’ve been my sole reason for going all that way. I honestly could not imagine the heartache and pain you must have felt that day!

    You did have me laughing though with the waiter dropping it like a plate of norovirus. Hahaha, so great.

    Making pizza should be exactly as you described. It’s one of those dishes that bring people together. Many good times were had growing up with a box of pizza in the room. It’s great to have friends to share such memories with. Thanks for sharing this awesome post!

    …And for making me want pizza when I’m already in bed…

    Oh… And my pizza accent totally sounds like Mario. “It’s-a me, makin’ a pizza!”

    Oh, again… Feta on a pizza is instant freaking WIN.

    Ok, Sorry. Pizza gets me talkative. I’m done now.

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