Pizza is a lot like sex. When it's good, it's really good.
When it's bad, it's still pretty good.
Our favorite pizzeria in Italy was about a twenty-minute drive from Ettore’s house. We would bundle the two boys into the car every Friday evening and drive the winding back roads to Arluno. During the winter months, the trip was done in the dark, pitch black dotted with freckles of yellow lights coming from a house here or there in the distance. We passed in front of the other pizzeria to get there, that pizzeria standing alone and rather forlorn right up against the edge of the road; a waiter holding aloft a huge, flat tray would dash nervously across that road, dodging cars zipping around the curve, to get to the terraced porch on the opposite side. In the summer, the days longer, the trip was made in the waning afternoon light, the boys jiggling excitedly in the back seat. Once arrived, we would be greeted by the jubilant Silvana and her soon-to-be husband, Gino and Silvana’s father, the pizzaiolo, always so warm and welcoming, as if we were their special guests.
Their menu was divided into Pizze Rosse– red pizzas, those which were spread with tomato sauce - and Pizze Bianche – white pizzas, those with no tomato sauce. I would waver between the two, juggle the pros and cons with each visit, sometimes ordering one, sometimes the other. The white pizzas were covered with an endless combination of such purely Italian ingredients from artichokes, rocket, gorgonzola or smoked scamorza to radicchio, mozzarella Bufala or speck. Or simply garlic atop an olive oil brushed dough. Focaccia, you might say. But no, white pizza.
And each week, at the end of the meal as we passed in front of the bar to pay and say goodbye, Silvana would give each of the boys a hug and pull out the huge can of Chupa Chups lollipops and let them each stick a little fist inside and pull out the flavor of their choice, which they would then suck on all the way home.
(During toad season, the little pot-holed dirt road that led to our house in the fields was covered with toads… their eyes would light up brightly in the headlights, little shiny specks in the puddles. JP would stop the car and let Clem climb out who would run behind the car and snatch at toads, trying to catch one. And he usually did. The car would bounce and bump along the path, jerking back and forth as JP tried not to crush any toads.)
You better cut the pizza in four pieces because
I'm not hungry enough to eat six.
– Yogi Berra
Once a week, I make pizza for the family. I make the dough by hand sometime in the afternoon, allowing it well over the hour required for it to rise, leaving me with a light, fluffy dough. Which in turn produces a light, fluffy pizza when baked. No Kitchenaid in sight, I mix my dough ingredients by hand, I knead by hand and I roll it out by hand to create, as we enjoyed in Italy, dinner plate-sized individual pizzas.
A family ritual, we always have the same tomato sauce – mozzarella pizzas every single week; some add goat cheese, others toss on spicy chorizo and I top my own cooked pizza with chopped rocket just before digging in. Over and over again. There is something so comforting and familiar with this ritual. We come together once a week for family pizza night, put on a movie, open a bottle of wine and enjoy the evening. Not quite as rowdy or exciting as our nights out in Arluno or today when we walk over to Pizzeria Pinocchio, just a quiet family night in, a chance to chat and laugh and joke around with the boys, now tall, independent young men.
I want to share this with Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly event Yeastspotting!
PIZZA BIANCA – White Pizza or Focaccia Pizza Dough
This makes quite a bit of dough but I love having enough to make pizza for 3 or 4 of us (depending upon how many sons dine at the house) the first night and a large focaccia the second night.
3 Tbs (40 g) brown or white sugar
3 ½ tsp (18 g) active dry yeast
about 2 lbs (1kg) flour + more for kneading and rolling
4 ½ tsp (21 g) salt
Warm (body temperature) water - twice 1 1/3 cups (300 - 325 ml), more as needed
Place the brown sugar and the yeast in a small bowl; pour on 1 1/3 cups (300 ml) warm water. (I turn on the tap and let the water run over the back of my hand and wrist; when I can't feel it anymore, when it is just nicely skin warm, not hot, I measure into the measuring cup. Remember: if the water is too cool, the yeast won't activate, but water too hot will kill the yeast.) Let this sit for about 15 minutes until the yeast has activated, dissolved and frothy.
Measure the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl or on your work surface. When the yeast is activated, make a well in the center of the flour, pour in the yeasty water, scraping out all the yeast and sugar sticking to the sides or left in the bottom. Add about half of the second 1 1/3 cup (300 ml) warm water. With a wooden spoon or your hands, mix slowly and carefully, gradually pulling in all of the flour until it is all dampened. Add more water little by little where there are pockets of dry flour and continue stirring until all the flour is moistened.
(Remember: if your dough starts out too wet when you turn it out on your work surface to begin kneading, you can always add more flour to the dough as you knead until it is the desired texture and dampness. But if you start kneading and it is too dry, if you initially haven't blended in enough water, then it will be extremely difficult to add more! So if in doubt, make the dough wetter – adding a bit too much water - rather than leaving it too dry.)
Once the dry ingredients are dampened and the dough comes together in a scraggly ball, scrape it out onto a well-floured work surface.
Using all your force, knead the dough for 6 minutes, pushing, folding back onto itself then pushing with your knuckles, over and over again. Sprinkle flour on the work surface and even on the ball of dough whenever it feels sticks to your hands. By the end of 6 to 7 minutes, you should have a beautiful, smooth, elastic dough. Like a baby's bottom.
Pour a tablespoon or two of olive oil onto the center of an large oven tray. Turn the ball of dough around in the oil, rubbing it until the dough is well oiled all over. Place the ball in the center of the now oiled tray and cover well but loosely with plastic wrap, pulling the plastic over the edges of the tray to allow room for the dough to double in size yet still stay completely covered with plastic. Allow to rest in a dry, warm spot for at least an hour. It should double in size or more.
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C) regular oven or 400/425°F (210°C) for convection. Prepare parchment paper-lined pizza or oven trays.
Judge quantities needed based on what you would like on top of each pizza, how much of each and how many people are joining you.
Fresh cloves of garlic, peeled, trimmed and very thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Fleur de sel, if desired
Fresh rocket/arugula, if desired
Fresh ricotta, if desired
A baseball-sized round of dough will make one, thin dinner plate-sized individual pizza; use about a palmful of dough for small pizzas. Roll out each round of dough on a well-floured work surface to the desired size and thickness. Lift and move to a piece of parchment or oven paper the size of the baking tray – for large, thin pizzas, lightly roll around the rolling pin to lift and move. Press gently into shape and brush all over with olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with grated mozzarella – as much or as little as desired. Dust with freshly ground black pepper (add a light dusting of fleur de sel, if desired) and top with thin slices of garlic, as much or as little as desired (we like a lot).
Bake in the preheated oven until the dough is risen and done and the edges and bottoms are golden brown (or as desired) and the cheese is a golden brown, bubbly and gooey.
Remove from the oven. Top with chopped fresh rocket/arugula and ricotta or anything your heart desires and eat while hot!
Pizza Bianca Night #1 - larger, thinner pizza on a dinner plate.