Thursday, May 9, 2013

it's happening

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I’m so into the new Justin Timberlake song that I should probably be arrested; or at the very least, taken into custody. Anyways, now that I got that out of the way I should tell you something: I’m going to Italy. Like, tomorrow. You can’t see this from where you’re sitting but I just did an embarrassing chair dance/ jazz shoulders move that I normally do right when the food comes whenever I’m out to eat. I do believe that to say I am pumped about this trip would be the understatement of my life to this point. I mean, it’s Italy. And I think, I thiiink they might have pretty good food there. So I hope the entire continent of Europe is ready for the aftershock of one jazz shoulder shake after another, because Porky Dickens is going continental.

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I’m headed out on an incredibly cool eight day educational wine tour with a distributor and importer we work with at the store. This is hands down the most radical “work” opportunity I have ever gotten. I mean when I was an office manager there was this one time the free gift with our Staples order was a pump top coffee pot and I got to keep it. That was pretty cool; but this is slightly better. When I decided to make the move to completely change directions in my career, I never even thought that I would get an opportunity like this. I didn’t even know they existed! I’m totally humbled by the chance and was sincerely so superstitious about it actually happening that I hesitated to even tell most people until I received an email with plane tickets attached. This is happening. Life is happening and I am super pumped about it (high kick!).

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So today, I’ll leave you with pizza. Of course pizza! Not just because I love pizza deeply, but also, because it's Italy. I know it's not like I haven't covered pizza ad naseum on here before. I've told you how I like to make it in summer, how sometimes I use a skillet or even fire one up with a salad on top. So I had to ask myself: is there such a thing as too much pizza? And you know, I’ve never been able to answer that question thus far in my life, so I’ll assume the answer is no. I also have happened to have made this or some form thereof at least three times in the past two weeks, so it’s fresh on the brain. This is our go-to weeknight pizza, with a chewy, puffy Sicilian style crust. The process is more about technique and temperature than anything else; this pizza is deceptively simple, yet ridiculously good. So enjoy it my friends, I’m gonna go gain some weight. Ciao!

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Store bought or homemade pizza dough
Crushed tomatoes (San Marzano or Pomi are good brands)
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Garlic powder
Olive oil

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The crucial steps to making this pizza delicious all revolve around two themes: temperature and technique. With temperature: take a “more is more” approach, cranking your oven as high as it will possibly go and letting your dough sit at room temperature until its almost so expanded and bubbly that you get worried about it. With technique (i.e. dough wrangling and topping) take a “less is more” approach, you don’t want the whole thing getting bogged down and soggy. The end result will be a puffy, bubbly, chewy, thick-crusted pizza that is light and airy and so easy to eat that two people will very handily crush it in one sitting.

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Heat your oven as high as it will go: 500 degrees if you can; 475 if not. If you have a pizza stone, you can feel free to use it here. I do not have one, so I really don’t have a lot of experience with them. While your oven heats, let the dough sit out at room temperature. Once the oven is fully preheated, then begin to prepare your pizza. To stretch the dough: lightly flour your countertop and hands and gently press the ball of dough out into a small circle. Then, take that circle in your hands, hold it vertically and just pass it from hand to hand, letting gravity and the weight of the dough stretch it out. If you’re good and meticulous, you may even end up with a circle, mine always looks a little ragged and oblong. You want the edges to be thicker than the middle and the dough in the middle should be thinned out to about ½ inch or less, but not so thin that there are holes in it. If you do get a hole simply pinch it shut with your fingers. You have to be patient while shaping your pizza: doing it this way the dough won’t tighten up and snap back, but will gently ease out into its shape. Whatever you do, don’t use a rolling pin.

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Grease a cookie sheet with about one tablespoon of olive oil and place the dough on top. Take two or three tablespoons of crushed tomatoes and spread onto the dough in a thin layer. A crucial trick that I read a few years back is to use just unseasoned, uncooked crushed tomatoes, not a cooked sauce. That’s what pizza parlors do and they’re the experts, right? Sprinkle a little bit of garlic powder, salt and pepper on top of the sauce and then top with shredded cheese. Don’t get nuts with the cheese. Remember: less is more. Pop the pizza in your oven and let bake for anywhere from 12 to 18 minutes. Check it periodically. If you had a wood-burning pizza oven, you would have pizza in less than five minutes, but since we’re all using conventional ovens, it takes a bit more time. Ideally your cheese should be melted and bubbling and the crust should be golden brown. Use tongs to peel one edge up and check to make sure the bottom is cooked and remove it when it looks ready. Scatter torn basil leaves on top and devour immediately, maybe with a salad if you're feeling virtuous and definitely with a cold beer.

Top with whatever else you would like, just don’t get crazy heavy-handed with the toppings. Some of my favorite go-tos: sautéed mushrooms and onions; sliced kalamata olives; sliced banana peppers; or, swap the sauce for basil pesto and top with blanched broccoli rabe if you want to get funky with it.

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