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Let’s Talk Pizza

In honor of National Pizza Month (YES!), I am setting out to conquer homemade pizza. This will be no easy task, and will involve a whole lot of pizza eating, but I am willing to accept this challenge. In the name of research.

According to the Oxford Companion to Italian Food, a pizzalike form has been around since ancient Greece, and then was enjoyed by the Etruscans and the ancient Romans. It was the 19th-century Neopolitans, however, that brought us pizza as we know it today. It began as a street food, but acquired its iconic toppings (and more elevated status) when served by Don Raffaele Esposito to Queen Marherita from Savoy. He served the dough with mozzarella, basil, and tomato sauce to represent the colors of Italy. Grazie, signore. For as many variations as are possible, this classic one is still hands-down my favorite.

Friends, do you have a good pizza dough recipe? And, do you swear by certain tricks or equipment? A particular type of flour? Do I need a pizza stone? I am on a mission to understand this art form, and, simple as it may seem, I know there are many small tweaks and intricacies that can transform the simple into the sublime. So please share!

I’ve tried two different dough recipes so far this weekend and neither has really cut the mustard. I’m not sure if it’s the recipe or my technique–probably my technique. I think it might have to do with the amount of kneading. The first recipe, from A New Way to Cook, was too dry and never really came together. I added more water at the last moment, and then it had a chewy texture once cooked that probably was from being overworked (I can relate).

The second was better, from Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food, but it never achieved that gorgeously smooth texture that I associate with pizza dough. It certainly did not pass the windowpane test. Am I just not kneading it long enough?

Though I haven’t perfected the dough yet, I do want to share this mighty fine combo of toppings with you. Once I’ve found the best dough recipe and technique, I’ll share it here. In the meantime, here’s a good way to use the apples that are so amazing right now.

And really, I’d love to hear from you about your pizza expertise and experiments.

Apple Gorgonzola Pizza
1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
olive oil
1 hunk of pizza dough
1 tart green apple, such as golden delicious, thinly sliced
approx. 2 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
handful of arugula

Preheat oven to 500 degrees (This varies with dough recipe. Again, I’m still working this out. I’ll get back to you.). Place your lightly greased pizza-cooking device (stone, baking sheet, cast-iron pan, etc.) into the oven to warm for 15 minutes.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, warm the olive oil over medium and cook the onions slowly until caramelized. You don’t want them to burn. Set aside to cool.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it’s about 1/4″ thick. Lay the dough over the pizza-cooking device and layer toppings: olive oil, sliced apples, caramelized onions, gorgonzola chunks. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the crust is cooked through and golden.

Top with arugula.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

There is no weather phenomenon that I love as much as warm wind. Last night I luxuriated in an entire outdoor evening of it. Whiskey, wine, potato tacos, patio seating. Unfortunately, it led to my oversleeping and missing yoga this morning (bad Kate). But I was left with such an excitement about the seasonal change. And a happy belly. Today I’m going apple picking. What’s more fall than that?

Last week, I picked up some beautiful tomatillos and cilantro at the farmer’s market. I roasted the tomatillos and garlic while I was cooking some salmon, and then made a sauce to dress the fish. I had to make an editorial decision to leave out a picture of the finished product, because, as tasty as it was, the salmon was not very picturesque. But nonetheless it was delicious, especially with this sauce. I added a side of black-eyed peas to finish it off.

The star of the show was this salsa, really. There is something so undeniably bright about these little green veggies, which belong to both the tomato and the cape gooseberry families. I don’t know how much longer they’ll be around the market. I’m guessing we’ll see a lot more squash and roots tomorrow (market day in Wicker Park). But you certainly could pick these up at any Mexican market. In Chicago, there are millions. The leftover product was a great quesadilla topper.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

1 lb. tomatillos, dehusked and halved
4 garlic cloves, whole with skin on
olive oil
1/2 head of cilantro
lemon juice (or lime)
optional: jalapeno, destemmed and seeded

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place halved tomatillos and whole garlic in a baking pan with salt, pepper, and olive oil to coat. Roast until well cooked through, about 15 minutes. Let cool a few minutes, and when cool enough to touch, peel the garlic.

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until you get a lusciously smooth sauce. Adjust salt to taste. I didn’t have a jalapeno on hand, so mine was a decidedly mild sauce. But it would be excellent with the addition of a little heat.