Alice Waters is one of my favorite people — despite us having never met — and I wanted to pay a little tribute to her today. So I’m making pizza.
Warning: you will be hungry when we’re done.
Let’s start with the basic problem: cheap pizza usually isn’t good and good pizza usually isn’t cheap.
Before you start writing nasty letters notice I said usually. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a cheap pizza. It happens. I’ll also admit right now and right here in public that one of my guilty pleasures is a certain frozen pizza that I occasionally find on sale for less than $3. Don’t judge.
If you didn’t know, Chez Panisse is Alice Waters’ iconic restaurant. I have never been there but I would dearly love the chance.
Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago… two years ago, on Thanksgiving.
(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
But eating at Chez Panisse is unquestionably on my bucket list though. Someday, with luck.
Yes, Ms. Waters was the first woman to win the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. And true, several of her books occupy a comfortable share of my shelves.
Even more groovy though, I’m a big fan of her Edible Schoolyard Project with its flourishing school gardens and teaching kitchens. We are lucky enough to have our own school garden project just down the street. And I can’t tell you how much I love buying the food grown by these kids when I wander one of the local farmers markets.
Perhaps more than anything else Alice and I share a basic philosophy of cooking food.
Use the best ingredients you can find and afford and prepare them simply.
Now let’s make some pizza.
“Let things taste the way they are.” — Alice Waters
I know, normally I don’t show brand names in the pictures but today I want you to see what I’m using. These are some of my favorite products.
I confess I had to make a special trip for the rye flour — not something I keep in the pantry. Until now, that is.
Way back when, my first W-2 job was cooking in a pizza parlor. (Have you noticed we don’t call them parlors any more?)
And making dough was our first prep work every morning. I’d pour big bags and bowls of ingredients into a commercial mixer the size of a La-Z-Boy recliner and just let the power do its thing. Today we knead by hand per the Chez Panisse recipe.
An envelope of active dry yeast, a quarter cup of rye flour, and a quarter cup of warm water into a large bowl. How warm? Baby bottle on your wrist warm plus a tad. 100° – 110° is ideal. Any hotter and you can kill the yeast. Use a thermometer if you need to.
Let it sit and proof for about twenty minutes.
Then some more water, spoon of milk, two spoons of olive oil, pinch of salt, and some flour. Mix well and turn it out on a floured board.
Knead for 10 – 15 minutes.
I did it by hand because Alice said so and I actually enjoy it sometimes. (But I could have used a stand mixer with a dough hook.)
Into an oiled bowl covered with a dish towel and go do something else for a couple of hours. Punch it down and go away for another 40 minutes.
Time to Cook
Before you roll out your dough, prep your toppings if needed. In my case, I wanted a Margherita pizza so I sliced up Roma tomatoes and mozzarella cheese and picked a handful of basil.
I also put an old baking stone in the oven, bottom rack position, and preheated to 450°F for half an hour.
Roll the dough out — not too thin. 12-14 inches. (My peel is about fourteen inches wide so I couldn’t go bigger even if I wanted to. Perfect.)
Brush with a little olive oil. Arrange the toppings. Few gratings of Parmigiano-Reggiano (quick tip: I get real-deal imported Parmesan at Costco for a fraction of what it costs elsewhere) and a little good salt on the tomatoes.
Into the oven for 15 – 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.
And look at that! I wish you could be here.
Incredibly good pizza. Simple. Cheap. But not fast. Works for me.
I’ll leave you with this final thought which I believe with all my heart:
“…we have an obligation to support the farmers, fishermen, and ranchers who are taking care of the planet at the same time they are nourishing us, and an equally solemn obligation to nourish our children, who are depending on us for a livable future.”
— 40 Years of Chez Panisse, The Power of Gathering
Incredibly good pizza. Simple. Cheap. But not fast. Works for me. Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.
- 1/4 cup lukewarm water
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup rye flour
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Mix the sponge ingredients in a bowl and set aside for 20 minutes.
Stir in the remaining ingredients until just combined.
Turn out on a floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. Use as little extra flour as you can get away with.
Put the dough ball into a lightly-oiled bowl. Turn the dough over a couple of times to oil it too. Cover with a dish towel and leave in a warm spot in the kitchen for a couple of hours.
Punch the dough down, re-cover the bowl, and let it rise another 40 minutes or so.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Use a baking stone on the bottom rack if you have one otherwise you'll need a pizza pan.
Roll it out on a floured surface to 12-14 inches round.
Brush with a little olive oil. Add the toppings.
Bake for 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.