It's impossible not to admire the elaborate pizza ovens, usually beautifully tiled and prominently displayed. They are wood-fed kilns that fire the beauty that is Napoli pizza. Soon enough it's time to branch out into the pastas and the salads. There will be be one culinary revelation after another culinary revelation And then it slowly dawns . . . uh, where's the Chinese food, the Thai, the Greek, the Japanese, the Indian, the MEXICAN!!! And this jaded American palette will pine for the great inclusiveness of our restaurant fare, indeed, even our supermarket fare. (woe is me, why can't I pick up some stuffed grape leaves from Whole Foods) And it's a pining that must remain unrequited by a restaurant or ready-made food here.
Italians are devoted to their native cuisine -- all that talk about latin infidelity? Nonsense! They are food monogamists, unwaveringly true to Mama's cooking.
Fortunately, I love to cook (most nights), so we savor mostly Indian, Mexican, and Chinese fare in our house . . . I have a pretty extensive repertoire in each of those beautiful food disciplines and am always seeking more standards to add to my range. Also, we shop at the commissary with its extensive stock of ethnic staples (completely unavailable in the markets here). One telling moments occurred our first week here when an Italian cashier at the commissary held up my fresh ginger and asked me earnestly what it was and how I cooked with it. I told her it was used like garlic (and with garlic) for flavor and mimed grating it. She looked unconvinced that it was a food and not a flower tuber.
But now we've even resumed cooking pizza at home . . . a frequent occurrence back in Virginia. There I invariably used Ken Haedrich's earthy whole-grain dough (from his book Country Baking). But influenced by the purists that are Napoli pizza makers, I more often use a standard white flour dough here with
1-1/2 cups warm water
1 tbspn dry yeast,
3-1/2 to 4 cups flour
1 tbspn olive oil
a sprinkling of salt
Let the yeast and water foam for five minutes, add everything else -- and if you are lazy like me, you turn on the old Kitchenaid mixer (mine dates from 1972 -- an amazing $10 garage sale coup) and start chopping salad stuff. Or knead steadily for several minutes. When it looks and feels like an elastic dough, stop kneading or stop the Kitchenaid, and watch last night's Daily Show on the computer . . . then divide the dough in two and roll, toss, press, or otherwise convince the white stuff to cover two medium pizza pie pans (liberally sprinkled with cornmeal or semolina flour if you have it on hand).
This is the moment when being in Italy has its definite advantages. Last night we loaded our pies with buffalo mozzarella (Naples is famous for it), aged Asiago cheese, prosciutto, chopped green peppers and wonderful marinated mushrooms that I found in a big jar at the local market. Bake these for 20-25 minutes in a 500 degree Farenheit oven -- pans on bottom rack.
I forgot to take a photo before everyone dug in, but this is what remained.
You can see our pizza pans have been lovingly used for many years . . . indeed I got them from our Italian neighbors when we lived in student housing at U of Michigan. Thank you Agnes . . . they have served me well for 10 years!!!