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October 03, 2022

California Pizza Dreaming

By Lydia Manx

When I was a child, pizza was a rare treat. My dad and mom would make pizza from scratch on special occasions. I remember the careful slicing of the vegetables, meats and cheeses. The grating of not one but at least two types of cheese! A ball of mozzarella and a chunk of Romano or Parmesan cheese would be carefully grated and mixed just so. The sliced cheeses varied with provolone and at times some others unnamed -- I just knew as "tasty." The meats depended on how many pizzas were being made and what folks wanted. Always pepperoni, but salami and ham made their appearances along with their cousin Italian sausage. Onions, black olives, bell peppers and mushrooms were sliced and stored in compartments until it was time to make the pizzas.

The yeasty smell of the large bowl of dough covered with a kitchen towel would roll through the house while everyone sliced and grated the toppings. Dad would lightly flour the Tupperware pastry surface and then begin to roll out the crust. An assembly line was usually formed and we all had our places. Once the crust was thin enough it would be stretched to fit the pan and a tomato sauce would be thinly skimmed over the crust. Cheese, followed by whatever toppings were desired. Mom would pop the pan in the oven and soon the pizza party was going. Large platters were filled and emptied in record time.

Those were my first memories of pizza. I had nothing but homemade pizza for years. I was a teenager before I truly became conscious of any other types of pizzas. Okay, so the occasionally necessary frozen offering would show up on the table but they were 'dressed up' before any of us kids would even nibble. Mom would add some more topping before she baked the frozen pie. Maybe just some sliced olives or even extra shake of parmesan cheese, but something would be added.

The seventies brought the era of fast foods crashing into the hungry market. No longer were restaurants content to simply serve us burgers and shakes in record time, but now the food industry began to explore the thirty-minute pizza delivery. The first on the block was Domino's. The Dominos Pizza chain is pretty good now. It started out very scary. I came from a home where a pizza was made and quite literally handcrafted. Now there was a 'fast' delivery of a cardboard box and cardboard pizza inside slopped on my doorstep by a local high school student with attitude and a car leaking fluids in my driveway. I adapted.

So I worked one long summer during college in the local pizza shop. The man who ran the place brought his recipe from home, which I think was somewhere back East like Chicago or New York, I never did remember. Joe Bellisario made a very good pizza and I learned to make it fast! Spending a summer working a pizza oven builds character and blisters. Also I figured out how I liked to make my pizzas. Joe sold the business to some really nice folks who still own the restaurant but a summer of playing in pizza ovens pushed me out the door and back to working in French kitchens making pastries and exotic appetizers.

On my own I learned to make the kinds of pizza I found tasty. I explored pesto sauce instead of the traditional tomato sauce. I used very California ingredients and enjoyed experimenting with whatever my garden grew. Some results were not to be repeated. Nor will I share what horrors they were. I have great family and friends who put up with that phase of my culinary existence.

As I moved around this country I found a different style of pizza. I had a passing knowledge that out East, pizza was sold by the slice at restaurants and that they had thicker-crusted pizzas -- but no working knowledge, just vague stories and jokes within movies and shows. Life had kept from me a whole new realm of pie. I moved to Michigan in the nineties and found out about deep dish pizza.

PizzaPapalis is in Greektown in downtown Detroit. There they serve Chicago style deep dish pizza. I never was able to eat more than one full slice at a sitting. This was ambrosia. It had absolutely nothing to do with what I thought pizza was. Instead of one crust, it had a thick outer crust laid into a deep pan then filled with what I had always considered 'toppings' inside, then it is topped with a very thin crust. The crust is lightly pricked and a topping of crushed tomato sauce covers it and some herbs. It is baked to perfection and serves ten. At least.

I came back to California. No more Chicago style pizza. But since I had left I found there was a new place in town. California Pizza Kitchen. Here they make pizzas with different toppings! My favorite is the Thai Chicken. It is considered their original pizza, according to their website. I just know it was different and delicious. My mom still doesn't think it's pizza but I do.

Locally more pizza places have started to deliver. I find Round Table pizza to be amazingly tasty. They have some interesting combination pizzas such as Maui Zaui and Wombo Combo. Not your average toppings, but a taste delight.

Near where I work there is a Sammy's Wood Fired Pizza. Every now and then a few of us head over for lunch and we have been exploring the menu. They make a good pizza with a nice crust. I found a great pizza with pears and prosciutto on top -- I make them put the green stuff on the side (technically it is called the Arugula-Pear Pizza) and a lovely gorgonzola cheese tossed in to make it interesting. So you see I am not the only one with odd toppings!

Here are the sites for the pizza places mentioned and a few recipes for the pizza I still make:

PIZZA DOUGH WITH STARTER

SPONGE INGREDIENTS

  • 1 envelope dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105 - 115 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup bread flour

STEPS

Sprinkle yeast over water in large mixing bowl and stir with wooden spatula until dissolved. Blend in flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in cold oven until mixture expands and is bubbling actively, about 15 minutes to 1 hour.

DOUGH INGREDIENTS

  • 12 to 13 tablespoons warm water (105 - 115 degrees)
  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 3/4 cups bread flour
  • additional bread flour

STEPS

Gently fold water, olive oil, salt and sugar into sponge. Stir in flour and mix well. Turn out onto lightly floured work area. Knead until dough is smooth and silky, adding more flour and water drops as needed, about 7 to 10 minutes.
Form dough into two circles by holding dough with left hand and tucking ends underneath with right hand. Turn dough slightly and repeat folding and tucking until a ball forms.
Pat sides of dough to even ball. Sprinkle ball and baking sheet with rice flour (It is preferred because it is not readily absorbed ... I used bread flour).
Arrange dough tucked side down on sheet. Cover dough completely with plastic wrap to prevent crust from forming but allow enough room for dough to expand.
Transfer to cold oven and let rise until dough doubles to triples in volume, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Pizza can be shaped by tossing or pulling, I prefer to roll the dough out into oblongs and cook according to pizza topping chosen. Dough should be about 1/4 inch thick and not stick to the pan. Cook at 425 degrees.

SHRIMP AND PESTO PIZZA

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 - 6 tablespoons coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed
  • 15 - 20 medium shrimp, shelled
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 12-inch pizza crust

    STEPS

    Combine pine nuts, 1 cup basil, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper (to taste) in food processor. Process until finely minced for pesto. Set aside. Heat remaining oil in skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic until tender. Add shrimp and cook one minute (Do not overcook). Remove from heat and set aside.
    Spread pesto over pre-baked crust (Pre-bake for 4 minutes after piercing all over with fork). Top with shrimp, red onion and remaining cheese. Bake lowest rack of 425 - 475 degree oven for 15 minutes (check often to avoid burning). Garnish with remaining basil.

    ONION - GOAT CHEESE PIZZA

    INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • sliced onions
  • sliced mushrooms
  • sliced olives
  • sliced zucchini
  • anchovies (optional)
  • oregano
  • garlic, minced
  • basil
  • olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 1 piece (3.5 ounces) goat cheese (or feta crumbled) in 1/4 inch pieces
  • Pizza Crust

STEPS

Pre-bake crust for 4 minutes (425 - 475 degree oven) after piercing all over with fork. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle oregano and basil over surface. Scatter bits of garlic on top of spices and top with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese.
Return to oven for 5 minutes. Bring out of oven and place on counter. Quickly crumble feta cheese over hot toppings and start layering remaining ingredients (onions, zucchini, mushrooms, then olives is standard) alternating with cheeses. Top with Parmesan cheese and anchovies (needless to say optional).
Return to oven for final baking. Depending on how thick the vegetables are and cheeses it cooks for 5 to 15 minutes.
In place of spice and olive oil layers you can use your own pizza sauce or a jar of store bought sauces if you want a more California taste.

ALL PURPOSE TOMATO SAUCE

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 small onion finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 - 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 (15 oz) cans tomato sauce
  • 1 (12 oz) can tomato paste
  • 1 (28 oz) can ready-cut peeled tomatoes (or whole)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • water as needed

STEPS

In large, heavy pot saute garlic, onion, spices in olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes over medium low heat. Watch carefully to avoid burning.
Add tomato sauce, paste and cut tomatoes stirring constantly until well blended.
Heat over low flame and add water if seems too thick (1/2 cup at a time and wait between additions). Stir occasionally and heat for 20 - 30 minutes.
Add wine and sugar and heat 10 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings (if too mild add more oregano).

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-08-07
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