Menu: Local Arugula, Prosciutto & Tomato Pizza; Crème Brulee; Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
Confession: I am a recovering perfectionist, a quality that often rears its ugly head in the kitchen. Shortly after moving to Albuquerque I attempted to bake a buttery pound cake to take to a Fourth of July party. Having no experience with high-altitude baking, I was shocked when I peered inside the oven and discovered a giant trench tearing through the center of the loaf pan. It was only after Maikael convinced me that we could conceal the damage with whipped cream and berries that I stopped weeping and conceded to not throwing the marred cake in the trashcan.
Last week, with a huge bag of peppery arugula from my Skarsgard Farms “harvest box” as inspiration, I decided to make my favorite pizza, which I first tried at a wonderful pizzeria in Seattle called Tutta Bella. Thin slices of prosciutto, wafer-thin rounds of tomatoes, and lots of fresh mozzarella cheese bake atop a crisp crust. Just as the pizza comes out of the oven you top the whole affair with a generous bunch of arugula that’s been dressed with olive oil, which slightly wilts the greens. If you’re me, you drizzle a smattering of syrupy balsamic vinegar over the arugula; it’s like having a salad on top of your pizza.
But first I had to make the dough and, I admit, dough scares me. It strikes me as fickle and unforgiving. While I tend towards perfectionism, I struggle with accuracy. Although my mother was a professional baker I inherited none of her exacting nature in the kitchen, which I think is crucial to successful baking. When it comes to anything even approaching the bread category I generally leave it to Maikael to handle. He is an engineer, and I have discovered that engineers, with their orientation to precision, make excellent bakers. To wit: the best baker I know is our friend, Tim – also an engineer – who happened to be our guest for the evening. (I keep encouraging him to open a bakery which, naturally, would be called “Pi.”) Tim is our most frequent dinner companion, and since Abra’s been born we’ve fallen into a comfortable routine a few times a month wherein I handle dinner and he provides a good bottle of wine and a fabulous dessert. Last month he baked the most perfect handmade French baguette, and if I had it my way, Tim would have spared me the anxiety of making the dough our meal called for.
Putting aside my fears in honor of The Sunday Dinner, I combed through my cookbooks and found a recipe for slow-rise pizza dough, which allowed me to make the dough before Abra woke up, prepare the toppings in dribs and drabs over the course of the day, and bring everything together in a final flourish just before we were ready to eat. This is the only way, I’ve found, to make more labor-intensive dishes with a toddler underfoot. I carefully read the recipe for the slow-rise variation, which clearly said to decrease the yeast by ½ teaspoon. After cautiously following each step and placing the ball of dough in a greased bowl covered with plastic wrap I left the house to go to the gym. When I returned an hour later the ball had already ballooned in size. I reread the recipe. Dough is ready when doubled in size, about 8 hours. After another hour the dough had risen so precipitously that it was pushing on the ceiling of plastic wrap with yeasty fingers. Nervously, I reread the recipe again. Decrease the yeast to ½ teaspoon. Whoops.
The “old me” would have thrown out the dough and started over again. But the truth is, I no longer have the time, energy, patience – or, quite frankly, interest – to start things over from scratch. These days, whether in the kitchen or in life, I try to make the most of situations. Eventually the dough stopped rising and, when I fretfully rolled it out a number of hours later, I discovered, with a sigh of relief, that it was perfectly fine. Abra, who I feared would make inhospitable company after having been in a foul mood all day, happily played hide and seek with Tim as I finished assembling the pizzas. Then Tim, Maikael, and I moved like a well-oiled machine to shuttle the pizzas in and out of the oven. Abra eagerly munched on pizza crust for nearly an hour while we chit-chatted around the dinner table, and we capped off the evening with crème brulee that Tim made using his own homemade vanilla extract (seriously) and crispy peanut butter cookies sandwiched between a decadent layer of peanut butter cream.
As the adage goes, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” We miss out on experiences when our fears get in the way of trying something new or difficult, lest the result threatens to be less-than-ideal. So take a risk this week and do something that scares you a little, either inside or outside the kitchen. Strive to be less-than-perfect. Life is full of surprises, from wonky pizza dough to temper tantrums that never materialize. A successful meal needs nothing more than good – not perfect – food and good company. The rest is just whipped cream and berries on the cake.
Elizabeth Grant Thomas writes regularly for Edible Santa Fe and at her site elizabethgrantthomas.com. She can be found here every other Tuesday as she chronicles her family’s journey “back to the table.”
Local Arugula, Prosciutto & Tomato Pizza
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
Yields 3 pizzas, serving 6 total
½ cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
½ tsp. instant yeast
1 ¼ cups water at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups (22 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1 ½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons semolina or cornmeal
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing
1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced into very thin rounds
4 ounces thinly-sliced prosciutto
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices
3 cups young arugula leaves, washed and thoroughly dried
Balsamic vinegar, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Measure the warm water into a medium bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves, about 5 minutes. Add the room-temperature water and oil; stir to combine.
- Place flour and salt in bowl of mixer. Using the paddle attachment, briefly combine the ingredients at low speed. Slowly add the liquid mixture until a cohesive mass forms. Stop the mixer and replace the paddle with the dough hook attachment. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, place in a large, deep bowl coated with cooking spray, and cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a cool place and let rise until doubled in size, about 8 hours.
- Once dough has risen, place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven. Heat oven to 500 degrees for 30 minutes. If you don’t have a pizza stone you can achieve a similar effect with a rimless cookie sheet. Punch down the dough, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Cut the dough into three equal pieces and form each piece into a smooth, round ball. Cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for 10-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare toppings by slicing the tomatoes and the cheese. Set aside.
- Working with one piece of dough at a time, shape the dough by first patting it into a circle and then gently stretching it until it is approximately 12” round in diameter and ½” thick. Transfer it to a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with semolina or cornmeal.
- Lightly brush the dough round with olive oil. Arrange 1/3 of the tomato slices over the dough, leaving a ½” border. Season with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil.
- Gently “shimmy” the dough onto the heated stone or cookie sheet. Bake until the crust edges start to brown, about 6 minutes. Lay 1/3 of the prosciutto slices over the tomatoes and sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella. Continue baking until the cheese melts, 2-3 minutes more. Meanwhile, toss 1 cup of arugula with 1 tsp. olive oil and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Remove the pizza from the oven and top with the arugula. Drizzle a small stream of balsamic vinegar atop; a little goes a long way. Cut the pizza into wedges and serve at once.
- Repeat steps 5, 6, and 7 with the remaining dough and toppings.