Happiness is a Piece of Cheese

Tonight David sat down when he got home from work, carried a big hunk of mozarella cheese to the sofa, and started eating slivers of cheese.  I suggested he wait until supper to eat.  He replied, "It just tastes so good!"  I totally understood his point.  Cheese is not an everyday or even every week occurrence in our house.  I have to go to the foreign grocery across town to get cheese, and it’s also very expensive, probably triple the price of the U.S., so I only go about once per month to get it.  We ran out of cheese sometime early last week, and I just got some new cheese today.  Maybe it’s not painful to live without cheese each day.  We might not miss it even if we go a week without any in the house.  But when we do have it, we surely do appreciate it!  There are certain flavors that, when you taste them, just taste like home.   Other flavors are, well, better than home. We can get Australian and French cheeses here.  My favorite cheese ever, so far, is an Australian sheep cheese.  It’s hard and salty and habit forming in small slivers.  C’s favorite is the French camembert.  Before S was vegan, she preferred the Goat Feta we can get here.  I think D’s favorite is still the smoked cheddar.  J ?  Well, J likes any kind.  We all like it with fruit for dessert, or shredded on top of our pasta sauces.  The mozarella D was munching on?  It’s targeted for a home made pizza sometime in the near future. 
 
Here’s the recipe I pull out of my brain when I make pizza.  It comes from a mixture of places, including a now-defunct pizza restaurant in Columbia and the Reading Rainbow TV show (featuring a book about pizza).  Even a legal case in which I learned about how pizzas are made in restaurants!  And of course my own experimentation.  The reason the measurements are approximate is because it may change each time! 
 
Start with the dough.  Mix 1 cup pleasantly warm water (120 deg f) with 1 Tablespoon dry yeast and about a teaspoon of sugar (yeast think it’s yummy), whisk vigorously.  Mix 2 cups flour with a touch of salt in a large mixing bowl, then add liquid.  May add some whole wheat to the flour mixture if you like.  (In my opinion 1/4 whole wheat will not really affect flavor or workability of dough too much.)  Stir and then knead.  Pour a small portion of olive oil into a bowl which you can use for dipping your hands int.  As you knead the dough, dip your hands into the olive oil if the dough sticks to them.  Rub the oil from your hands on the outside of the dough to make it less sticky.  But don’t use so much oil that the dough gets soft!  If dough does get too soft or sticky, add a bit of flour to counterbalance. 
 
Shape dough into a very round ball and then mash so it is a little bit flat.  Set aside in a warm place to rise while you make the toppings and sauce. 
 
Next, chop up whatever veggies you want to use as pizza toppings and prepare meat ingredients.  For sauce, in a small bowl mix together the following:  one clove crushed garlic, 1 small can of tomato paste, about 1/2 tsp oregano, about 1/8 tsp anise powder, and a touch of sugar.  After the sauce is made, take a pizza pan or a cookie sheet and lightly oil with flavorful olive oil.  Powder this with corn meal (sugar free corn meal, not Jiffy Mix!), and then sprinkle with a bit of salt for flavor.  This will make a really wonderful bottom on your pizza crust.   Grate up your cheese, some combination that is heavy on mozarella and whatever other flavors of cheese you like, or you can use a bag of prefab grated pizza cheese. 
 
Next, shape the dough into the pizza pan.  I use a combination of patting and rolling (and marking with a B?).  I have no idea how to twirl a pizza dough.  Mine is too soft anyway, and it tears and gets holes in it when I try to do it.  So I just shape it out and mash it, and get it to fit into the pan.  If it tears, I patch it but I err on the side of making a rather thick pizza crust so that there aren’t tears.  Now let it rise for quite a while, like maybe an hour. 
 
The final step is to preheat the oven to as hot as it will go.  (Real pizza ovens are made to specially hot specs, much hotter than an ordinary household oven.  The best we can do is not really quite good enough!)  While the oven preheats, smear a thin layer of the red tomato sauce over the bread dough, sprinkle on oregano, basil, and a bit of powdered anise seed, then add the toppings and cheese.  (If this is for a sleepover party, each child can decorate her own portion of the pizza with the toppings of her choice.)  When the oven is really hot and the toppings are added, put the pizza in and watch it closely.  It will cook in about ten minutes, depending on the temperature of your oven.  If your oven doesn’t have good heat circulation, some places may be hotter than others and you may need to rotate the pizza during cooking.   Keep a close eye on it, even though it feels like a watched pot never boils! 
 
When the crust is brown and the veggies in the middle appear done, take it out.  Sprinkle the finished product with parmesan cheese to taste, preferably freshly grated!  Cheese, cheese, cheese!  This recipe will produce a soft pizza that you eat with a knife and fork.  If you want it a bit harder, cook the dough a bit before adding the toppings.  Also, a word of caution.  The toppings can look really yummy and maybe you want them all . . . But don’t put so many toppings that the weight of them weighs down the dough, keeps it from cooking, and makes it soggy!   Moderation! 
 
Okay, now here’s a P.S. to the story.  I did make a pizza.  Two pizzas in fact in the same night.  Each girl decorated her own as she wished it.  In the picture shown, the 1/3 with just olives and cheese is J’s, the non-dairy with mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and peppers is S’s, and the one with everything on it except black olives and mushrooms is C’s!  My yeast must be old, because the dough didn’t rise very much at all.  However, it does remind me to tell you, don’t squish the dough!  Work it as gently as possible if you want it to rise!  The other thing was, the oven seemed too hot and the dough didn’t cook so well.  Perhaps because it didn’t rise well in the first place.  We ended up cooking the pizza for about 20 minutes, but it never got crusty.  At that heat and for that length of time, the cheese got a bit too brown on top.  But that could also be due to the effect of having a large pan in a convection microwave.  It’s not quite a "real" oven.  So, more experimentation is in order! 
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One response to “Happiness is a Piece of Cheese

  1. Alex

    I\’ve changed my mind about how hot the oven should be.  In my most recent experiments (which my family said was the best pizza in our city), I heated the oven to about 350 F, then baked the dough for about 6 minutes, just to dry it a bit, then added the toppings and baked for another 10 mins or so, maybe 15.  So, a bit cooler oven does work and it doesn\’t burn the ingredients on top so much.  Also, as a P.S., tonight I watched pizzas being made in a really good restaurant.  They were using chunks of mozzarella, not grated.  That\’s just an FYI. 

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