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  • A simple pizza recipe

    Posted on June 7th, 2010 Sheila Yair 6 comments

     pizzaPizza is one of Italy’s greatest successes. It is probably the most recognizable symbol of Italy. With all due respect to Michael Angelo, Da Vinci, the architecture, Rome and all its emperors, Vivaldi, Verdi, Porsche, Ferragamo etc. (I will run out of virtual ink here if I go on) the pizza is by far more present in our day to day life. What entered your conciseness first as you were just beginning to recognize and categorize the world around you? Was it the Sistine chapel or pizza? Was it a Vespa or a slice of melted cheese over tomato sauce and crust? And needless to ask here which one had you desired more. But even as adults the pizza plays a big part in most of our daily existence. A big $1.50 part. Even a classical violinist probably is confronted with pizza as often as he or she is with the fine notes of the four seasons. A car enthusiast sees that cheesy treat more often than an Alfa Romeo, Fiat or Ferrari.

    So all that said, here is a simple recipe to make this fine example, pillar should I say, of Italian culture. The great thing about pizza is that you can make it as simple or elaborate as you want. It is like a platform, a base, on which you can set off your culinary imagination and let it run wild. For this one, the ingredients are fairly simple as we are making a simple pizza. So all you need is a little plot of land, some water and plenty of sun. This is the point where some of you are scratching their heads, but I implore you to read on. By the end of this post a pizza shall be had. So you want to start at least 5 years ahead of the desired serving date, 5 years before your planed pizza party (for those of you who hate planning you can give or take a few days). At which point you should go ahead and plant two olive trees (note that if your plot is big it would be highly advisable to plant more than two trees). The olive tree is quite an amazing one. It is tightly intertwined with human civilization. It was one of civilizations first accomplishments as the cultivation of olives, or evidence of such has been found as far back as eight thousand years ago. It is very strong, bares fruit for hundreds of years, needs very little water and is highly resistant to pests. So for very little effort on your part it will grant you the best oil known to man and as if that is not enough some fine aperitifs. The latter can also be used as a pizza topping. Since we are talking about food I won’t get in to the wood qualities and how perfect it is for sculpturing and carving little souvenirs for tourists. Great, so we planted two or more of this extremely efficient and valuable tree. Now we wait for a few years, it will be between 3 to 4 years before the olive bares fruit. But we don’t have to sit and twiddle our thumbs. We can prune the trees to make sure they grow evenly and get enough light on all branches. We can turn the ground around them and fertilize them. We can even water them to help them through the first few vulnerable years. Make sure you collect all the branches and leaves you cut, we will use them later in this recipe.
    Ok now we are two years before our pizza dinner, it is time to get a goat. Note that a cow is also possible and can be substituted here according to taste. I will stick to the goat since this is a simple pizza and a cow would be slightly more difficult to raise and keep. Now goats like olives are also amazing. They are the first animal man has domesticated. Albeit being domesticated for the longest time, they are still by far the most curious of farm animals. They are very intelligent, they bond with their fellow farmer and they can eat most any plant, even some thorny specimens us humans don’t dare touch. Now this is one of the best parts of this recipe, so enjoy it. You raise the goat, taking care of it, feeding it, taking it out to pasture, seeing it interact with nature and watching it grow. The goat will become a companion of yours, you can confide in her and she will listen to most of what you have to say. It will require daily attention but soon you will find it hard to imagine life without a goat. This recipe is getting better and better isn’t it. Ok we are one year before the pizza, mmm I can already smell it. The olives trees have olives and the goat has matured and it is time to get her pregnant, like any mammal, she won’t produce milk otherwise. So as you harvest your olives, look for a good Billy goat to get your cheese process started. A goat will usually be pregnant for 150 days, it is a very precise animal when it comes to gestation. We are getting closer and closer.

    At this point the recipe will split in to two. Depending on where you live, or rather in which climate you find yourself and your plot of land. If it is a very cold climate you want to plant your wheat the spring before the pizza. That way you can harvest it in the summer or fall and save it for the big event. If you live in a warm environment you can wait till late winter, plant the wheat and have it ready right around pizza time. If you are not sure which climate you are in consult the nearest thermometer, you do not want temperatures below freezing once the wheat has sprouted. I feel a bit like a broken record but I am obligated to say of wheat that it also is an incredible plant. Extremely nutritious while also being the source of flour which can be the base of many great dishes. The wheat once again is one of the first crops man has cultivated and it is one of the first signs of civilization. Makes you wonder, is it just a coincidence that the basic ingredients of a pizza were the first crops to jump start civilization, was civilization just a means to realize a subconscious human desire for pizza? Or is pizza the end result of any civilization, is it the base of progress? Were these last ten thousand years of science, war, art, technology, religion, politics etc. only about pizza? That is definitely food for thought but lets go back to food for digestion. Lets do some math here. An acre of wheat yields around 26 bushels of grain. A little less if you are using older varieties, but lets use the above as a guideline. 26 bushels should put you in the capacity of making about 1400 loaves of bread. Since we are only making one pizza we really just need around 4 square meters of wheat for our crust. But since this is such a basic product with so many possibilities attached to it we should probably plant some more. Go ahead and plant according to your own consumption. Make sure you turn the ground thoroughly and leave no weeds, we want the wheat to grow with as little competition as possible.

    It was all fun and games up to now, but here is where we are going to have to multi-task. Like every good cook we are going to have to carefully plan everything so that it is all ready at the same time, I mean if we have everything but the cheese or everything but the sauce we really do not have a pizza. So let’s concentrate, it has been a very nice four and a half years but now we start to boogie. The olives are picked. We have crushed most of them to get the oil out. We pressed it and stored it in our cool cellar. Some of the olives we slit and put in brine. We made sure to use one tablespoon of salt for every cup of water. Our goat has given birth to a beautiful kid goat, we should attend to her and make sure the kid is drinking enough milk and the mom is well. After a few days we can start milking the goat and use the milk for cheese. We want to bring the milk to 40 degrees Celsius and put some rennet or enzyme. We can also add some of our favorite cheese culture but it is not necessary. We let it sit for an hour and then cut the coagulated milk into small cubes of about one cm. We place it in a draining dish in the shape of our choice and let it sit. Over the next few days we should salt the top, bottom and sides. Now we will let it sit for about 3 months in a cool place, checking on it and flipping it every now and then. Gusts of fresh milk fill the kitchen air, you are starting to smell the very first odors of your pizza. Now we are about 3 months from the actual pizza and the excitement builds. Push has come to shove, shovel that is. It is time to plant some vegetables. You want to prepare the garden before planting. So lets turn the soil and make sure there are no weeds. Then lets put some fertilizer. The goat has supplied us with that and we can mix it in with the compost we have been preparing. Once the area is covered, we turn the ground again, water it and let sit for a few days. Now lets put a few tomato bushes, one or two types of pepper, hot pepper, eggplant, some basil, oregano, garlic and onion. You should probably seed them in a greenhouse or any plot of land protected from wind and heavy rain. Once they are out and about 2 cm tall transplant them. Leave them now to grow, checking every once in a while to see that they have enough water. Eggplant, tomato and pepper have deep roots so check under the surface for wetness.

    Things are really bubbling now. Mother nature is diligently preparing all our ingredients. Like any good chef, we want to check on things as they cook, so lets lift those pot lids so to speak and keep weeding the garden and look for any pests, weed the wheat, milk the goat. The pizza odor is getting ever more present especially when you smell the tomato bushes and the basil plants. We are getting there.

    Now we are a few days before pizza and the wheat is ready to cut. We will cut it and let it dry in the field. When it is dry we will separate the grain from the stem. Now we can grind it in our stone grinder. For those of you who are unfortunate and only have a coffee grinder that will also do. Of course we grind the whole grain with its shell to get a lovely light brown whole-wheat flour.

    It is the night before pizza, when all through the house

    Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse

    Well maybe not stirring but we are definitely mixing. We took today’s fresh milk and put some rennet or enzyme in it along with the optional mesophilic culture. We stir it well and let sit for the night. We mix the dough for the starter. We put two cups of flour to one cup of water, to which we add some yeast, half a teaspoon will do. Mix everything together and let it sit covered overnight. Now yeast is readily available in the air that surrounds us. So if we prefer to use the generic one, we should make the flour and water combination a little earlier and let it sit for 4-7 days while constantly adding water and flour. The next morning the dough should be bubbly and the cheese should have separated from the whey. Lets get 3 big tomatoes from the garden, cut them to cubes, and cook in a pot with some finely chopped peppers. Once it is watery we add salt, black pepper, oregano, basil, chopped garlic and a pinch of sugar. We let it cook on a low flame to absorb all the flavors. Lets add a cup of flour and a quarter cup of lukewarm water to our dough, add a quarter tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt and knead it. Kneading will release the glutton in the dough and make it more elastic. We don’t want to over knead it so it stays airy and fluffy. A good 6-8 minutes should do. After that, lets shape it as a ball and let rise while covered. Lets slice the eggplant thin and lightly fry it, chop the onion and sauté it, slice the peppers and roast them. So many words for putting stuff in a pan. With all the above, we want to make sure we cook them just enough so they are soft. Lets collect some of those dry olive branches we have lying around from the beginning of the recipe, the leaves of course we gave the goat as that is one of their favorite foods. We will light the branches in our wood brick oven and get it up to around 400 degrees. Again for those unfortunate people who cook with gas, a regular oven will do. Lets take the dough ball out, it should have doubled in size by now. With a rolling pin we flatten the crust and shape it. This is the point where you decide upon a thin or thick crust pizza. Generally the thinner the dough the thinner the crust. Now you can toss the dough up in the air several times and roll it on your arm but those steps are not absolutely necessary. You can achieve the desired crust with a rolling pin alone. Once we have that done lets spread the sauce, and grate some of the hard cheese and fresh cheese. We place the eggplants, peppers, onions and olives on the cheese. We can also put some hot peppers if our taste calls for it. The oven should be nice and warm now so lets carefully slide the pizza in to it and let it bake for about half an hour. Now you better sit down. Take a deep breath and pull your creation out of the oven. Before you are 5 years of collaborated teamwork between you and nature, before you is a pie that some say is the base of progress, a hidden subconscious desire that has pushed humans towards civilization. Before you is a delicious simple pizza ripe with flavor and ready to please. Think of all you did these past five years to deserve such a delightful treat. Enjoyment is guaranteed.

    So that is the simple pizza, now I am guessing some of you out there might have a simpler way of doing it, I have even heard crazy talk about this hut that has ready-made pizzas. But to me this is a nice and simple way to enjoy the best of Italian culture. Hope it was helpful.