Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ti Amo, Roma: Life Changing Pizza

There is something about Rome, about the Italian people, really, that truly opens your eyes. Every culture has contributed and continues to contribute positively to the world, and it feels like I never really understood the joy of eating until I came here.


I will be here until May, and during this time I’ve broken down my goals to certain days of the week. While CK is off teaching, I’m at home job searching, learning chemistry, practicing Italian and Irish, working on my drawing technique, light housework and, of course, cooking.

The way Italians think about food is contagious. They know how to eat and how to enjoy it with others. There is such pride in their food. It is fresh, wholesome, simple, and traceable (I mean, how would you not be able to visit the place of your favorite cheese if they didn’t). But the simplicity of their dishes brings out the complexity of flavor. You can taste and name every ingredient, and all the while feeling daring.

Having CK as a partner has encouraged me to try new things, mostly because his willingness to participate, and has been wonderfully supportive of me facing my fears about food. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, we made donuts. They were delicious flops, completely oil-filled and cakey, but for the first time in years I had a deep fried, sugary food.

Another weird thing about me is that I struggle with the idea of more than one carbohydrate being on a plate. That would mean no bread to soak up the remaining red sauce from a pasta dish at dinner (if I could), or have waffles and hash browns as part of the same breakfast, or rice and potatoes in the same stew. It wasn’t to the point of me squealing in disgust, but the concept just didn’t make sense to me. It was weird and oddly frightening.


In Italy there is a type of pizza called pizza patate: a white pizza with, you guessed it, potatoes on top. When CK first described the dish to me, I was appalled. Why on Earth would you do that? What was the appeal? Did it even taste good? To which CK replied yes, indeed it does.

I’ve experienced a lot of healing moments since 2014. Despite the hardship of living alone in Malta, I came to really feel connected to my body and honoring its needs for the first time. Food was no longer something to be afraid of, but embraced and shared. And I fully admit that Italian cheeses have ruined it for me: I’ve yet to taste better than my first Mozzarella di Bufala Compana ball, or the sacred moment of placing a melty forkful of smoked Scamorza straight from the hot oven and into my mouth.

Since having the donut, and seeing that the world did not, in fact, end, I wanted to see what else my fears of food deprived me off. And for over a year, CK and I would talk about pizza patate in passing, and for the first time since then, I wasn’t squicked by the idea, but rather intrigued.

Last weekend, as we were recovering from Week 1 of Shaun T’s Insanity workout (yep, we’re both doing it!), we wanted to celebrate with a thin pizza. Surprisingly, I think I said I wanted to see what pizza patate was all about, and so that is what we did.

We think we can improve the toppings a bit, but the crust… the crust was a game changer.

Both CK and I believe it is the best we’ve ever made, and most certainly the best that I’ve ever had. It held together beautifully, and the taste reminded me of a good, thin pizza crust. We do want to play around with the rise, perhaps using sparkling water instead of still (this trick is wonderful for bagels, by the way), but we’ll keep you updated. We also used this dough to make a huge, albiet bursting, calzona

Thin Pizza Crust (recipe ratio and technique adapted from this recipe)

1 package Active dry or fresh yeast
1 tsp. Honey (use coconut sugar for a vegan option)
240 ml warm water, 105-115°F (40-46°C)
120 g Teff flour
120 g Glutinous rice flour
120 g Chickpea flour
1 tsp. Sea salt
1 tbsp. Extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and honey in 60 ml warm water.
Large bowl, combine the flour and the salt. Add the oil, the yeast mixture, and the remaining 180 ml of water.
Mix until the entire mixture forms a ball.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
Knead by hand until the dough is smooth and firm.
Cover the dough with a clean, damp towel and let it rise in a cool spot for about 2 hours.
Divide the dough into 2 balls.
Work each ball by pulling down the sides and tucking under the bottom of the ball.
Repeat 4 or 5 times, and then on a smooth, clean surface (not floured), roll the ball under the palm of your hand until the top of the dough is smooth and firm.
Cover the dough with a damp towel and let rest 1 hour. (At this point, the balls can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
Preheat oven to 500°F (260°C) or highest temp.
Lightly oil a medium-large cookie sheet with extra-virgin olive oil on parchment paper.
Roll out one of the dough ball, on a lightly floured surface (I typically use a roller for this part), to the shape of your cookie sheet.
Carefully transfer dough to cookie sheet, lightly press and stretch out to the edges of sheet.
Add your favorite sauce (not too much) and toppings (again, not too much).
Cook for 10 - 12 minutes or more depending on the thickness of crust due to size of pan you used.

Each pizza ball makes 1 pizza, or two servings.