Top | Unexplained Bacon

A piece of the pie

(article, Matthew Amster-Burton)


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When people condemn a restaurant dish by saying they could do better at home, they’re rarely talking about pizza. Home ovens max out at 500 degrees, while a good pizza oven goes way beyond, deep into burn-your-house-down territory. 

An ultra-hot oven is critical for great crust, because it cooks the pizza to a deep and flavorful brown without drying it out.

In Seattle, where I live, there are more good pizza ovens — and good pizza makers — all the time. We have a strict Neapolitan place (Via Tribunali), a great local chain (Pagliacci), and a new entry from Seattle überchef Tom Douglas (Serious Pie).

I’m not just bragging about my hometown pies. No doubt your pizza options have improved, too. So this week’s question is: Why should anyone bother to make pizza at home?

Well, for a long time, I didn’t. Then I read something in Julie Powell’s book, Julie & Julia, that made me intensely hungry:

“I reached over Eric, already racked out across the bed from his share of the vodka tonics and the jalapeño-bacon Domino’s pizza we’d eaten for dinner.”

This news was enough to get me on the phone to Domino’s in 30 seconds or less. Unfortunately, they’d never heard of bacon-jalapeño. Must have been an old special. If I wanted this pizza, I’d have to make it myself. So I headed into the kitchen and, in an unusual move, nailed it on the first try.

[%image "pizza" float="right" caption="When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie ... " credit="Photo courtesy Matthew Amster-Burton"]

For the crust, I used Trader Joe’s cornmeal pizza dough, because it was new and alluring and I figured corn would go well with the rest of the flavors. I thought about experimenting with a red enchilada sauce, but ended up using plain old tomato sauce. I wasn’t sure whether to go with fresh or pickled jalapeños, so I tried half fresh and half pickled.

The bacon was Nueske’s, an ultra-smoky artisan bacon from Wisconsin. The cheese was a mixture of whole-milk mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano. And the result, from my ordinary oven, was one of the most delicious pizzas I’ve ever had — especially the pickled-jalapeño side, where the acidity of the chiles balanced out the richness of the bacon and cheese.

After that, I made bacon-jalapeño pizza often, and my family was in home-pizza heaven. This lasted about a year, until Trader Joe’s discontinued the cornmeal pizza dough. “You’ll have to take it up with Joe,” a store employee told me. There is no Joe.

So I took it up with my friends, who, tired of hearing me grouse about the loss of my beloved pizza dough, pointed out that there’s a recipe for cornmeal dough in Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. In other words, to recreate the pizza enjoyed by Julie Powell while she took a break from cooking from Julia Child, I would have to cook from Julia Child.

One of the advantages of cornmeal pizza dough, aside from the flavor, is that it’s a snap to roll out. Because of the oil content and the coarse grains of cornmeal, it doesn’t fight back and try to shrink, so there’s no resting period or dough-ripping.

A Neapolitan pizza inspector would not approve of this crust. But as Child herself put it, “I find this formula particularly successful for the home pizza oven.”

Maybe bacon-jalapeño isn’t your bag. You might gravitate toward something with caramelized onions, red peppers, smoked mozzarella, or paper-thin slices of ham laid over the pizza after baking — all of which would be great with a cornmeal crust. That’s fine.

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When you make pizza at home, there’s no menu to circumscribe your options. You can’t have a 900-degree crust, but you might find the pizza of your dreams anyway.

p(bio). [matthew.reviews@gmail.com "Matthew Amster-Burton"] writes about cooking and culture from his home in Seattle. He keeps a blog titled Roots and Grubs.


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