Sunday, March 28, 2010

The patina of the cold immemorial.

Being invincible is largely a matter of convenient timing and clever diet. Avoid sick people and eat only what you like. This winter--now that it's over we can finally talk about it, taxed the senses more than most. More snow fell in February than in any other month in recorded history. Love lives involved neighbors, a triumphally sad piano dirge called 'I Wonder' by an unknown balladeer named Big Ceasar (sic), and a thoughtful, indeed thorough, rethinking and remapping of the notion "the silent treatment." Some weeks I deep fried balls of gelato in duck fat and chased them with foie gras and mayo, others I don't think I even looked at food. I distinctly recall cutting into the vividly colored concentric design in a watermelon radish--the one I used for the salade Nicoise piece probably, and thinking it was astonishing that something so beautiful could live so comfortably in the natural order with no discernible purpose. It was only later, lying in bed, no doubt fucked off about the aftertaste of PBR and love gone bad, that I realized with a perfectly startled air of discovery that the radish is in fact a tuber, and by the parameters of our archeological reckoning a food stuff with a decided purpose.

Again, there were days when I did eat. And days when I surprised myself.

Maybe because JJ knocked one out of the park at Dinette or just the rote banality of making them I found this season populated heavily with pizzas. JJ's involved anchovies and thinly sliced serrano chilies. It was, to say nothing of its godfatherly standing among other pies, one of the finest foods I've ever eaten. So too did I find it behooved me to make a few myself.

Running the cheese counter at the store presented me with a rather novel challenge. How do I get people to try something they regard as over-priced continental elitist garbage? I could shave wafers of Societe Roquefort off for people wearing Dale Earnhardt t-shirts all I liked. In the end it's just shwag. It dawned on me that the only way to effectively convince people that cheese is in fact the culmination of our worldly initiative with the Earth was to dislocate it, give a fresh context: Everybody loves pizza. So I made pies for people to sample, pies with Beemster's goudas, with Sini Fulvi Pecorino Romano, with homemade ricotta-stuffed burratas, anything I could get my hands on. I still only sell about five bucks worth of cheese a day but when Dale Earnhardt's flock tastes those pies every Saturday morning they are, if only momentarily and of course unwittingly, transformed into les becs fin.

History clings exclusively to those particles of our discovery and invention that provoke the senses.

The pie pictured above was made with Hodgson Mill-brand yeast, and honey where the recipe's author, Mario Batali, employed wine. For a conventional oven you must resign yourself to a slightly inferior crust--yes even with a pizza stone. The heat is insufficient to achieve that ideal crisp edge and pillowy streak in the interior. Sorry Charlie.

Oh yeah, fair warning, if in the course of our co-habitation you should discover me building a wood-burning pizza oven in your back yard it's a fair signal of my intention to marry you.

With a handicap on the crust the emphasis shifts even further to the cheese melted over-top. On this occasion I chose a buttery stinky Taleggio. Previously I hung the contrastive balance on tomatoes and salty Pecorino Pepata, so as a foil for the rich flabbiness of the cheese I went with roasted endive and radicchio. In general I prefer a sauce rich with olive oil. There are several reasons: first, it's a very flavor-friendly element and showcases your aromatics dutifully, but in terms of simple mechanics I have found that loose fresh tomato purees tend to sog the crust down. The solution is to treat the sauce like a vinaigrette: emulsify chopped tomatoes with olive oil and whatever herbs you like. In the mortar of the cheese you will find it becomes veneer-like.

The final accent, crucial in the lightless winter months is a handful of loosely chopped green herbs--in this instance I had parsley basil and thyme. Dress the herbs in a mixture of olive oil lemon juice salt and pepper then add to the finished pie--it should look like an afterthought. The effect is pretty invigorating and momentarily winter abates.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Bryan. Just couldn't resist sharing this link with you. Has absolutely - need I say - nothing to do with bad pizza.
    (uh, screwed up the link the first time)

  3. Thank you. Oh, and what did you delete? Looks like you grew cold feet.

  4. No, I didn't delete a thing! For some reason I thought the link would highlight itself, which it didn't, so I tried again. Silly. I had to re-type everything so perhaps I forgot some details. You're funny. Remind me of myself.

  5. And hey - remember, it's about the food.

  6. Looking over these abominations I remember some like-minded works: my old 1970-something copy of the Larousse Gastronomique, in which bona fide delectables look an awful lot like these ill-conceived things--especially when aspics are involved; the other is the equally Rabelaisian

    The site itself has been suspended, but here's a link to the Facebook fan site. Enough to give you an idea of what they're about...