RAVENOUS / Jennifer Brizzi
February 11, 2010 01:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pizza is a blank canvas

You can't, really. I've never met anyone who doesn't like it, and luckily it's available everywhere, in varying quality and variety. Maybe we love it only because it's fun to eat; what else comes in a big triangle that you slide into your mouth? (Only skate wings, perhaps, which you have to eat with knife and fork).

The first pizza I ever made was in my early twenties in Vermont, in those wild days before I learned that less is more. I piled on all my favorite toppings and cooked it in a medium oven, making a barely edible, sodden mess. Later, in Providence, R.I., at Gallimaufry, the take-out lunch spot I managed, I made giant pizzas formed on restaurant sheet pans that I learned how to slide out of the tray and onto the pizza oven floor. Every Friday there would be a couple of kinds I'd cook for takeout lunch, different each week. I started with the ever-popular pepperoni and standard toppings like that, then got more adventurous, moving on to the Provençal pissaladière of caramelized onions, olives, anchovies and pine nuts. I remember a Reuben version, with corned beef and sauerkraut. There was certainly clam.

In between Fridays I sustained myself on Rhode Island's classic cheeseless pizza strips, available cold on the counter at every gas station. My skepticism turned to addiction. They were and are truly good, a classic from a state where cheese on pizza is not a given but an optional topping that costs extra.

Later I made my own pizzas at home, beginning with deep-dish versions from a gift kit - I still use the cutter - and moving on to as real a deal as I could muster in a home oven that only went up to 500° F. A pizza stone took up permanent residence in the bottom of my oven and I had a long wooden peel.

Although I didn't master twirling the dough in the air, I was committed to making good pizza. My bible was James McNair's Pizza (Chronicle Books, 1987), in which the author poses, pizza Napoletana in hand, dressed in a crisp short-sleeve yellow dress shirt and yellow-and-red garish tie to match the pizza, a fish-shaped bottle of Verdicchio on the side. Maybe he didn't know yet that even the Italians - as I found out years later - prefer beer with their pizza.

My crusts were part semolina, part wheat flour; my uncooked sauce made of canned tomatoes steeped with crushed garlic, crumbled oregano and a hint of olive oil; my cheese the best and freshest I could find; my toppings spare and of the moment: arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, dabs of pesto and such. I loved the way my artful creations would slide so willingly off the cornmeal-dusted peel and onto the hot pizza stone, to emerge only a few minutes later, steaming hot and so good.


ore recently, as a mom with less free time, I made my pizzas of the English-muffin variety, or with store dough that never seemed to stretch out how I wanted it to, making for too-thick, puffy, misshapen crusts. But more often, especially with our old persnickety oven, our pizza came from the local pizzeria, the one we drive past three others to get to because we like their pizza best. But even that is rare. My poor husband, who delivered pizza for quite a while back in our Rhode Island days, can no longer tolerate pizza's cheese. He has to just get a sub and watch us eat it.

The kids want theirs pristine, without even pepperoni (my daughter peels away her cheese even), so we get our pizzas half plain, half (for me) embellished with one item, mushrooms usually, or maybe eggplant or fresh tomato. Although I once claimed to hate them on pizza, because everyone else did, anchovies are perfect - salty as a good olive but with more going on. Bacon on a pizza is so good and so decadent that it ought to be illegal; I indulge once every 11.5 years.

I am going to confess here in print right now that I love day-old pizza cold for breakfast. And I'm proud. Don't knock it 'til you try it. But I bet you already have.

When I was a kid in Vermont and we went to Mama Peduzzi's, we always got our pizzas with sausage, onions and extra cheese, a delightful glop fest I remember fondly, although most foodies would sneer at that now.

Pizza is a blank canvas, ready for whatever toppings you can conjure up in your wildest imaginings. Many skip the tomato sauce or skip the cheese. Most stick to pepperoni, by far the most popular topping. Some scatter a bag of marshmallows over the top before baking - for real. People actually do this. In real life. I know, I know.


few fresh vegetables, some great cheese over a great crispy crust - that's too boring for some, so they venture beyond experimentation, beyond creativity, into another realm. A realm of madness. Think smoked duck with hoisin sauce. Roasted garlic alfredo sauce. Sliced hot dogs. Tofu. Chicken livers. Peanut butter, with or without jelly. Sliced potatoes. Whole eggs. Squid. Squash. Truffles, caviar, foie gras and gold foil for showoffs.

Other countries are even more adventurous than we are. In Japan you can get spaghetti, fish roe, fish flakes, eel, seaweed or Tater Tots on your pie. You'll find peas on pizza in Brazil, corn in the Middle East, pickles in New Zealand, coconut in Costa Rica and pickled ginger in India.

Gourmets with refined palates choose roasted asparagus, caramelized fennel, wild mushrooms, zucchini, prosciutto, pancetta, gorgonzola, bleu, fontina or feta. If it's good to eat, it may well be good on your pizza.

That original Neapolitan pizza, dating from the lava-lined ovens of Port' Alba's original pizzeria in 1830, is world-renowned for its simplicity and use of the best ingredients. The crust is made only from high-protein flour, yeast and salt, the sauce from San Marzano tomatoes grown in rich volcanic soil, topped with local buffalo-milk mozzarella and cooked for one minute in a 900° oven.

A few decades later, immigrants to America brought pizza with them, and the first American pizzeria opened in New York's Little Italy in 1905. Just over a century later the stuff is wildly popular, with more than 75,000 pizzerias across the country. And there is no end in sight on new ways to top the pies.++

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