Ode to Pizza

posted in: Cooking, Savory | 39

Pizza. It is a thing beloved by millions of people across the globe, if not billions. It is something that inspires joy, lust, loathe, litigation, and fisticuffs. We all have our own personal journey with pizza; mine started at age five at Keystone Pizza in Mountain Home, Idaho.

Back then (in the olden days) the Chuck E Cheese craze had yet to sweep the nation and kids’ birthday parties were still hosted in backyards in the summer and independent pizza parlors in the winter. Since my parents so fortuitously conceived me in early spring, I have the great pleasure of sharing a birth week with Jesus. There should be a three-month moratorium on sex during spring just so no one will have a chance of being born around the same time as the dude in the leather sandals. I mean, he gets a party that people all over the planet celebrate, so how great can a Podunk pizza hoedown in a postage stamp-sized town be in comparison?

Nevertheless, I made do with what I had, and so found myself and ten of my closest Montessori friends wreaking havoc on pizza and piñatas on December 22, 1982. By then I was vegetarian, so I stuck with cheese and managed passable five-year-old pretension at the pepperoni-lovers of the bunch. Thinking back, I developed my eccentricities a young age, as I also remember secreting red velvet pants into my backpack to put on under my dresses once I got to school.

Paul Duncan was among the revelers at that first pizza party of my young life. We were in love. It’s fitting that pizza was the backdrop for our first candlelit (those red, bulbous candle jars you always see on checkered tablecloths) meal together; it’s like the cheese and sauce-woven tapestry behind so many of life’s great moments. He had the pepperoni, I had the cheese, then I snuck a peak from behind the blindfold and “accidentally” pinned the tail on him instead of the donkey just so I could cop a five-year-old feel.

Years later, at the ripe (as in puberty- ew!) old age of 13, I ate pineapple mushroom pizza from Little Caesars while sitting on the edge of the Snake River Canyon (half a mile from where Evel Knievel attempted his failed jump) with my first junior high crush.  My crush was as futile as Knievel’s jump since the object of my amour wound up batting for the other team. It explains why he was so easy to talk to!

My obsession with pineapple mushroom pizza stayed with me from junior high until last year, although I had brief affairs with various hipper toppings along the way. I went through a sun-dried tomato and artichoke heart phase, though in truth I prefer those in a calzone with pesto sauce. Potato and apple pizza saw me through several Grateful Dead concerts one high school summer before Jerry died. I can’t bring myself to revisit that pizza now since it was made with vegan soy cheese and let’s face it- I was not cut out for veganism.

If I were feeling particularly free, I might allow a pizzaiolo to add black olives to my precious pineapples and mushrooms, but never kalamatas or nicoises, only the ghetto sliced black kind that come in a can. The mushrooms and pineapples were also of the canned variety- this is one of those inexplicable throwbacks to the convenience generation that I’ve only recently been able to (sort of) overcome.

I have never been much of a pizza sharer, nor will I eat a slice containing something besides my chosen toppings (or plain cheese). I realize this is a fault in my own personality and I accept full responsibility for being an insular bitch. It may be partially-attributed to the fact that I am largely an only child, having spent very little time with my significantly-older half-siblings.

When I first visited Napoli just after high school, I was thrilled to discover that everyone orders a personal pizza. Based on that fact alone, I knew I needed to live in Italy, however it took a few more years to sort out how. My two-week-long sojourn in Napoli consisted of two pizzas and three-two scoop gelatos every day (as well as a good deal of wine for balance since it’s part of the “fruit” food group). I could only eat Pizza Margherita there since for the life of me I couldn’t convince them to put pineapple on pizza, but no matter. Margherita will forever hold a special place in my heart as the litmus test pizza by which to judge new-to-me pizza joints.

Between my first visit and eventual relocation to Italy, I lapsed back into my pineapple mushroom pie, so much so that when I finally moved to Italy I brought with me a Costco-sized pack of canned pineapple. Every time I’d go for pizza in Torino, I wielded the can and pleaded with the cameriere to convince the pizzaiolo to add my ananas to a funghi pizza. About 50% of the time, my beseeching worked. If it didn’t work, no matter, I’d just plop on my contraband pineapple once the pizza reached the table.

One thing I emphatically do not like about pizza in Italy is that you are meant to eat it with a knife and fork. I think this is a travesty because, as one of life’s perfect foods, I firmly believe we must cradle slices in our hands in order to get the full experience. Someone recently told me there are taste receptors in our fingertips. I don’t doubt it, as pizza ALWAYS tastes better when it’s eaten a mano. I would go so far as to say that if you removed cultural mores and placed pizzas in front of a hundred people, those who picked it up with their hands would be passionate types who extract the marrow from life, whereas the fork-and-knifers would be the folks who largely let life happen to them without much engagement.

Even though I started eating meat again about ten years ago, I refused to put it on pizza until this year. I didn’t believe it had a place on something so naturally complete. I still maintain that any pizza bearing the weight of chicken, sausage, or ground beef is not pizza at all, and don’t get me started on barbecue sauce or ranch dressing. Pizza is sacred, something to be revered, honored and preserved in its original form, whatever that means to the person eating it. I guess that’s why when I finally relented and allowed meat to mingle with cheese and sauce, I did so with pepperoni. Pepperoni was at least something I remembered from early pizza experiences, even if I’d never actually eaten it myself.

The first few times I tasted pepperoni on pizza, my verdict was out. I enjoyed it in my soul, but my mind wouldn’t let me get past the idea that I was eating something so fundamentally-opposed to my staid beliefs. Eventually, however- as with my life’s trajectory- my soul won. Now my go-to pizza is pepperoni and I can very nearly say that without guilt. It’s gradually supplanting Margherita as my litmus pizza, though really one needs to order both to gauge accurately. As a big proponent of fancy charcuterie, I realize just how provincial my simple pepperoni seems. I mean, the word isn’t even authentically-Italian, for god sakes. Nevertheless, I am not one to argue with the matters of my heart, and so pepperoni it is during this stage of life.

The good thing about relenting to pepperoni is that it’s forced me to open my mind to other salty pig products on pizza. To my mind, the reason pig and pizza go hand in hand is an issue of complementary fats. Not just any meat will lie down on a bed of mozzarella and curl up for a snuggle. Cured pork has enough salty, fatty succulence to easily slide into the cheese while still maintaining its own flavor. Texturally-speaking , it doesn’t dominate like chunkier meats do, which, as we’ve covered, DO NOT BELONG ON PIZZA.

There’s only one other food on the planet that has that ability to shape-shift and complement cheese so well, and that is the humble egg- another of life’s perfect foods. I saw many eggs on pizza in Italy and it has recently become a trend in the United States as well. The problem I’ve always noticed is that the egg pools in the center of the pizza, making it somewhat soggy, and seeps onto the plate since it’s tricky to slather up that oozing yolk.

I came upon a solution for this problem, but had no way to test it for the longest time, since, along with my already long list of pizza taboos, I also believe one cannot make pizza in a home oven. Despite finally devising the BEST pizza crust recipe ever (after much tweaking), I still don’t view a residential crust as having quite enough wood-fired bite to it. The only solution that works enough for me to finally be able to post my results here without hanging my head like a hack comes in the form of my Himalayan salt block. I feel it conducts heat better than a pizza stone, plus it imparts a little natural saltiness to the crust, which never hurt nobody.

Fast forward to this pizza pie I’m presenting you, the one I’ve been dying to show you but never quite felt I could until I’d really completed exhaustive weeks of research and development (read- eating a shit-ton of pizza). My solution to the egg problem is simple: use quail eggs. They’re smaller, and that way every slice can have an egg. Because you can’t just toss an egg on top of pepperoni, and because this pie is elevated, deistic, if you will, I decided to use speck. Speck is made like prosciutto except that it gets lightly cold-smoked after a slightly-shorter hang time. It’s not as smoky as bacon, but the fact that it is lightly-affumicato helps complete the pizza.

Low-moisture whole milk mozzarella makes a great cheese base, though mixing it with Robiola couldn’t hurt if you have the time or the inclination. More delicate mozzarella isn’t worth using on a home pie (imho) because the higher moisture content will literally drown any chance you have at achieving a near-wood-fired crust.

Finally, a word on sauce. The ideal pizza sauce is thick and robust, made by reducing whole tomatoes with garlic in a medium temperature oven over the course of several hours. Two pounds of roma tomatoes will eventually evaporate to practically nothing, but I stop them when they’re at about ¾ cup, which is just enough to cover four 8” pizzas. The reason I make my sauce this way is because it sucks all the moisture out of the tomatoes enabling a nice, dry crust, as well as condenses the flavor into a very tight, concentrated sauce. I suppose if you were pressed for time you could buy some substitute sauce, but if you cut corners in the kitchen because you are pressed for time you are probably not either a. reading this blog or b. ever going to make this in the first place.

So there you have it- my diatribe on pizza. I write one about every five years, and I’ll continue to do so over the course of my life. If you grew up with it, I’m sure you will agree that it has touched your life in ways most other foods could only dream of. This recipe represents me extending the olive branch to everyone I’ve ever annoyed with my ridiculous demands at the pizza table. I hope you can see that I’ve really gone out on a limb here, in fact I’d go so far as to say that I’ve matured both in palate and in mind.

Speck and Quail Egg Pizza

Makes 4-8” pizzas

For the crust:

  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 cup water (110-115°F)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • ¼ c lard
  • 1 c cake flour
  • 2-2.5 c all purpose flour
  • Olive oil to grease rising bowl
  • Semolina or cornmeal to dust bottom of crust

For the sauce:

  • 2 lb tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 1 tsp salt

For the toppings:

  • ¾ lb grated whole milk mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 16 quail eggs
  • ¼ lb thinly-sliced speck cut into 2” pieces

Sauce:

  1. Heat oven to 400°. Halve the tomatoes and place them in an oven-safe dish. Sprinkle with salt and add the garlic. Bake for several hours, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes are reduced to roughly ¾ c and all liquid has evaporated. Puree with an immersion blender and let cool.

Crust:

  1. In bowl of a standing mixer combine the yeast, water, sugar, salt and lard and mix until a slurry is formed with whisk attachment.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and add 1 c cake flour and 1 c regular flour. Knead to combine, then add an additional cup of flour. Continue mixing until flour is completely incorporated and dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. If it is still rather sticky, add an additional ½ c flour. Place dough in a warm place in a greased bowl to double in size- about 1.5 hours.
  3. On a floured surface, divide the dough into 4 balls. Cover with a tea towel and let rise an additional 20 minutes to 1 hour. The dough is now ready for the sauce and toppings.

Assembly

  1. Place a salt-baking slab or pizza stone inside the oven on middle rack and preheat the oven to 500°.
  2. Form one ball of dough into an 8” round using a rolling pin or your hands. Top with a thin layer of tomato sauce and some grated mozzarella.
  3. When oven is hot, bake pizza on salt slab for 10 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned. Working quickly, open the oven door and sprinkle speck on the pizza. With the back of a teaspoon, make four equal impressions on the pizza (one per slice). Drop a quail egg into each impression. Close the oven door and watch the pizza carefully. When the whites of the quail eggs are cooked, remove from the oven. Repeat with remaining pizzas.
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39 Responses

  1. I was reminiscing about my childhood pizza favorite (Keystone Pizza in Mountain Home, Idaho) and I searched for some photos on the internet. I came across your blog. Was the Paul Duncan in your post the son of Pearl Duncan in Mountain Home? I guess he’d be 30-something by now.

  2. This is known that money can make us disembarrass. But what to do when one does not have money? The one way only is to get the mortgage loans or just commercial loan.

  3. Hey, great pizza. It would be great if you linked it in to Food on Friday Series which is all about pizza this week.

  4. What is the texture of the crust? Crunchy throughout, not soft?

    Linda Reply:

    @Tay, crunchy on the exterior with a little sort of pillow of softness on the inside (when i get it just right).

  5. I have such strong opinions on pizza … For me “real” pizza is a plain New York slice that you grab and fold and eat while walking. Pineapple ist verboten. That said, if you call it flatbread I am considerably more open minded, I don’t know why. … So, if I call this flatbread, it is perfection, as not only does it contain an egg – but an egg on every slice!! The salt block is a pretty cool thing as well.

  6. dang, that is quite the epic story and pizza – plus you cooked it on a Himalayan salt block!! eggs on pizza adds a creaminess that you can’t get from sauce. it’s delicious. this is awesome – fantastic job!

  7. Looks awesome! where did you get that Himalayan salt block?

    Linda Reply:

    @zenobia, You can order salt blocks from a store based in Portland, OR called The Meadow: http://www.atthemeadow.com/shop/

  8. I thought I was the only one who liked the mushroom/pineapple combination. I’ve been eating it that way since I was young too. The egg pizza is looks really pretty and tasty.

  9. Love the pizza…and loved the story..very entertaining!

  10. Like you, I typically prefer my pizza without meat … I just don’t think it adds to the pizza. A slice of pepperoni is alright once and a while though! I have never had eggs on pizza!! What an idea! I have also never had a quail egg. I think I am missing out!

  11. I’m starting to feel pangs of jealousy towards this pizza of yours.

    But I’m with you. I really like my pizza sans meat. Not sure what that says about me on a deeper level, but hey. Weirdness rules right?

  12. I can’t do CPK-style pizza, I never could. For me, it’s either pepperoni (sometimes with anchovies) or Margherita. The use of quail eggs is brilliant! I love it. Of course, this post hasn’t helped my two-week old pizza craving, but I’m happy to have dropped by just the same. :-)

  13. I make Pizza alla Bismark all the time, but I’ve never used quail eggs – that is something different, but I am not opposed to trying it.

    I’m signing up my daughter at a Montessori … hope it works out for us. :)

    Linda Reply:

    @Kate @ Diethood.com, I think I’ll go the montessori route for Bentley when he’s old enough too. Hope you like it…

  14. I am totally going to have to try this base – it looks amazing. I loved your story about your long-term relationship with pizza – and how did I never know you were a Montessori child? I taught at a Montessori school for a numebr of years and you would have been one of my favourite students – I love the quirky ones :-)

    Will you still be my friend if I tell you that I love eating pizza with a knife and fork? They do that in France too. I still do it at home because it helps me eat slower. Otherwise I stuff myself too fast…

    Having worked with quail eggs at your house, I am determined to find some myself – they are so beautiful and such a lovely colour and I *do* love a good egg on my pizza!

    Linda Reply:

    @Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite.com, you taught at montessori? i bet it was so much fun! & yes, it’s ok that you like knife and fork, some things i let slide:)

  15. You have quite the complex attachment to pizza! Especially for a 5yo vegetarian! Aren’t you glad you eat speck now? This is such an artful pizza too. I love the salt block. I have one too, but have only used it to serve crudo. Hmmm. What’s wrong with me? GREG

  16. oh, this looks so delicious! I`m absolutely sure that`s really tasty!

    Have a great time,
    Paula

  17. I think I may be the only human alive (other than Dr. Food…that is why I married him) that hates pizza. Having said that I have to say that you tricked me into dooling over the picture by sneaking those quail eggs in there. I am a sucker for anything with an egg on top.

    Linda Reply:

    @Janis, What? You don’t like pizza? How can that be? :)

  18. I have never had quail eggs before, but I saw them used on “Chopped” once:) This looks amazing and the idea of egg on pizza puts this dish in a whole new category.

    Linda Reply:

    @Ang, they are so good and so inexpensive too. worth hunting down.

  19. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Frances Myers and The Local Dish, Linda M Nicholson. Linda M Nicholson said: Ode to Pizza (Speck & Quail Eggs make a pie) http://www.saltyseattle.com/2011/01/ode-to-pizza/ cc @slice [...]

  20. A great read! You have a lovely voice and this pizza along with the photography are sensational. Thank you for the enjoyable diatribe.

    Linda Reply:

    @Brooks at Cakewalker, glad someone actually “enjoyed” my ranting :)

  21. Looks so dreamy! Love the photos, and pizza recipe is lovely!

    Linda Reply:

    @Sandra, sweet, thanks.

  22. Normally my breakfast piece of pizza is what was left over from the night before. Quail Egg Pizza sounds like quite the nouveau treat for the trendy. I can see it now, Denny’s Grand Slam Pizza, and it all started because of you! another great post.

    Linda Reply:

    @Kent, ha- that would be pretty funny!

  23. As someone slightly older than you, ahem, I recall that Chuck E Cheese was all over the place circa 1982 – how did you miss out on Whack a Mole and the animatronic rat show? Was there not at least a Straw Hat in the wilds of Idaho?

    That said, I’ve always been a fan of pineapple pizza but never thought of combining it with mushrooms. Mushrooms are meant to go with sausage or pepperoni or bell peppers, tomatoes and onions. Pineapple is meant to be solo or with Canadian Bacon, clearly ;)

    Pizza idiosynchracies aside, I love that you included speck on this pizza. I fell in love with Speck in Rome and never looked back.

    Linda Reply:

    @Sarah @ OC2Seattle, Maybe Chuck E Cheese hadn’t made its way to the ozarks of Idaho quite yet?

  24. I never got the pineapple-on-pizza thing…probably because I’m Italian and grew up in NY. Fuhgeddaboutit!

    Really good/entertaining read and solid recipe!

    Linda Reply:

    @Joan Nova, It’s a love/hate thing, I’m discovering.

  25. You and me are friends…cuz you like salty pig and quail egg on pizza. =)

    Linda Reply:

    @Belinda @zomppa, we’re so smart, aren’t we?

  26. Oooh sounds great! At first I thought that was marble block. And as much as I love pineapple in my fried rice, can’t have ‘em on pizza.

    WTH? They put barbecue and ranch dressing on pizza?

    Linda Reply:

    @Christine, some people do, in fact, put ranch and bbq sauce on pizza- the horror!

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