Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pizza Pie – Mi Amore

Who among us doesn’t love pizza? My mother would point out that as a child, for a while I didn’t like pizza; I even refused it as a guest at a birthday party and the mom had to order me a cheese steak instead. (In my after-the-fact defense, that cheese steak was really, really good.) I have certainly gotten past that momentary gustatory lapse: during the fall and winter months we make homemade pizzas once a week. I like to think the residual warmth from the oven helps heat the house.

My earliest recollection of pizza is from the Cabin in Bath, Maine. This very local institution, located across from the shipyard, has been around for at least 35 years. When my parents first moved to Bath, going to the Cabin on Friday nights was the highlight of their tightly-budgeted social calendar. Since the toppings at that time (the early to mid-70s) were limited by today’s standards, my dad kept his own personal tin of anchovies in the restaurant’s refrigerator. Now, of course, anchovies are on the doughy-crust pizza menu, along with pretty much everything else. My current favorite Cabin pie is a white pizza (mozzarella cheese and olive oil but no marinara sauce) with black olives.

Later on, my Midwestern-born folks introduced me to Chicago-style, deep-dish, double-crust pan pizza. Made at home in a special round pan with a two-inch high lip, this pizza could feed an Olympic soccer team. Lay in the first crust, and then fill the pan with everything you’ve got: onion, green pepper, meatballs, pepperoni, shrimp, olives, artichoke hearts, anchovies, Italian sausage, broccoli, tons and tons of cheese. Put the second crust on top, cover it with red sauce and more mozzarella, use a forklift to place the laden pan in the oven and then wait for the utensils-required gooey goodness to bake. That old deep-dish pan of my parents’? Still in heavy rotation.

These days when we go out for ‘za, we head to the Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine. Located right on the working waterfront in a stunningly rehabilitated pier warehouse, Flatbread deals in natural, largely organic flatbreads. The company seems to be hippie-run (and I mean that in the very best way) with a commitment to using natural and organic ingredients, supporting local small farmers, fostering community and serving damn fine food. Their organic house salad, comprised of mesclun and small leaf lettuces (with the option of tasty purple arame seaweed!) and dressed with a homemade ginger-tamari dressing, is delightful and their flatbreads are just fantastic. I usually go with the “Punctuated Equilibrium” pie (topped with Greek olives, local goat cheese, rosemary, red onion and roasted red peppers) but I always take the time to hear the daily specials.

More often than not, however, we make our pizzas at home and, since it’s grilling season, we grill’em. It’s much easier than I thought it would be. I use frozen or refrigerated pizza dough (not bread dough and certainly not dough from scratch) and split the ball in half since smaller pieces are easier to manage. Heat a clean, well-oiled grill to medium-high, and then put the naked stretched dough right on the grate. It will crisp in 3-4 minutes, depending on how hot the grill is, and – amazingly – doesn’t sag down through the grate openings.

Once the underside is browned, remove the pizza, putting the uncooked side down, and put your toppings on the cooked side. Place the dressed pizza back on the grill for another few minutes to cook the bottom and warm the toppings, and then presto - pizza! We’ve been keeping the toppings fairly simple: pepperoni and Kalamata olives on red sauce, or grilled chicken and black olives on pesto. You do need to be organized enough to have all the ingredients ready to go grill-side, so be prepared. It’ll be worth it.

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