Lunch has been pizza a lot lately. The meal starts early, as soon as the homey smell of yeast-rising dough drifts through the house. My own homemade pizza is a special occasion, even for lunch.
To start a pizza, I get the flour bins out of my antique Hoosier cupboard. The flour is Hoosier, too – from Indiana. I haul artisan flour from two water-powered grist mills – Greenfield and Bonneyville – that have been grinding local wheat for more than 100 years. The flours have names: New Wrinkle and Hard Red Whole Wheat. These flours have more substance than the ordinary store brands, and when you knead a lot of dough, you develop a feel. The silky white bread flour and rough whole wheat will become a hearty pizza crust.
Besides flour, the dough takes salt, dry yeast, olive oil and water. I can almost make pizza dough in my sleep because I’ve practiced the recipe for nearly 30 years. I stir the ingredients together in a heavy crockery bowl, and then turn it out onto the floured counter top for kneading.
Kneading is rhythm. It is art. Kneading done well means you put your whole body into the rhythm of pushing forward with the heal of your hand, leaning gently back, then folding the dough over on itself and pushing forward again, over and over. If it’s too sticky, add more flour. Knead some more.
As soon as I begin kneading, the yeast blooms with that wonderful bread smell, like my grandmother’s special bread drawer. Soon the lump of wet flour turns into the smooth satin stuff of bread. I can tell by feel when the dough has enough flour and when it’s been kneaded long enough. Poke it and it springs back. It feels as alive as it smells.
Homemade pizza is a leisurely lunch. After kneading, the dough rests and rises for at least half an hour. As it rises, more subtle bread aroma drifts through the house.
When the crust finishes rising, I stretch it out on my Hartstone baking stone. The crust is pleasantly warm and bouncy under my fingers, with a mind of its own. I top it quickly with sauce, Parmesan, mushrooms and mozzarella.
The single pizza ingredient I like the best is the sauce. My heart is set on Pastorelli, a Chicago brand. It’s rich red and thick with crushed fresh tomatoes, Italian spices, and a zip of Pecorino Romano cheese. It has twang. If I can’t have this sauce, I’d rather not make pizza.
My pizza bakes in a 500-degree oven to give it a crisp crust and lightly browned cheese. High heat lifts essential oils from the spices. A savory mingling of crust, sauce, cheese and spices inspires my kitchen.
In 13 minutes, it’s done. My pizza rules as good food, alive and energetic, seasoned with satisfaction of making it myself.by