Pizza Night Partial FAIL

Those who may think that pizza night chez Blork comes off without a hitch should prepare themselves for disillusionment.

Saturday was not only pizza night, it was pizza night for four, as we were “entertaining” the nephews. I never know how much food to prepare for a 10- and 12-year old, and I’m always surprised at how little they eat (an observation that I choose to not take personally). So I figured I’d make the usual two 12-inch pies for Martine and I, and make two similar sized pies for the boys — with the expectation that there would be leftovers. (It’s better to have more than you need than less than you need.)

The first order of business was to feed the boys. Being 21st century children, they are naturally entitled to receive that which pleases them and to reject that which doesn’t. As such, there was no point in adding mushrooms, peppers, arugula, or a host of other things that I would consider normal pizza ingredients. Fortunately, that old standby, pepperoni, was acceptable (as was olives, but a pepperoni and olive pizza is just wrong). So I planned for two pepperoni and cheese pizzas for the boys (made one after the other, as I can only make one at a time), followed by a classic Margherita with mozzerela di bufala to be shared by Martine and I, followed by a prosciutto and arugula pie which we would also share.

The problems started with the dough, which I bought fresh from Chez Milano that afternoon. As you may be aware, it is winter, so the kitchen is not as warm as bread dough would like it to be. That means a long, slow rise. But kids eat earlier than we’re used to, so I had to try to stretch out the dough before it was ready.

Unready dough is highly elastic. Elastic in that when you stretch it out, it springs back. After fighting with the first piece of dough, I ended up with a nine-inch, fairly thick pie instead of the hoped-for 12-inch thinner one.

Whatever. I dressed it with my simple sauce*, a sprinkle of oregano, a nice layer of pepperoni, and a good pile of freshly grated mozzerela cheese. Into the 550 oven it went, onto the terra-cotta tiles that had been pre-heating for almost an hour.

OK, that one worked out. The dough rised up and was as puffy as can be, but in a nice way. It had a warm and moist interior, a lightly crispy crust, and just a hint of char (you can’t get a proper char from an electric oven).

While the boys were eating that one, I went to work on the second pie. It was slightly less springy, resulting in a 10-inch pie, which is a move in the right direction. I dressed it the same way, but something went awry because as I was shaking it off the peel and onto the tiles, it stuck to the peel (all it takes is one rogue drop of sauce). I gave it a big shake and it came off the peel but a big load of sauce and cheese spilled over the dough’s lip and onto the hot tiles. Whoops!

A few minutes later the pie was oddly shaped, but still looking good, and ready to come out. It looked a bit smoky in the oven, and when I opened the door a massive blue plume billowed out. The next few minutes involved a lot of running around opening windows, un-plugging smoke detectors, etc. Then, before I had even cut the pizza, the boys declared that they were no longer hungry, to which I made a very purposeful mental note to not take it personally.

Fine. It was time to make the Margherita. The dough stretched out to a puffy ten inches, which I covered with sauce and unevenfully put into the still rather smoky oven. Then I set about cutting up the mozzerela di buffala, which I’ve learned to put on part way through the process so as not to overcook it. Unfortunately, in my haste I neglected to drain it very well, so it had an unusually high level of moisture. I also cut enough off the ball for a 14 inch pizza.

When I opened the oven and dressed the partially cooked pie with the thick slabs of cheese I had an inkling that perhaps I was overdoing it. A few minutes later, when the crust was golden and the cheese beautifully melted, I slid the peel under the pie and jerked it out of the oven. That’s when I realized that the sauce and cheese had formed a deep liquidy soup, much of which, as a result of my quick tug, had slopped over the edge and onto the tiles.

Time to open those windows again. The pie wasn’t completely ruined, but it had been significantly downgraded. I tossed on a bunch of fresh basil while the smoke cleared and then spent a few minutes scraping the charred and gooey mess off of the tiles and the bottom of the oven.

In the meantime, while we ate, the boys were amusing themselves by playing web-based videogames on a couple of our laptops. However, they’ve been raised on Windows, and the laptops we had to offer were running Apple OS X and Linux. So, between clearing the smoke and trying to eat we were also running tech support, dealing with the barrage of “pourquoi this” and “comment that” questions.

Then it was time for the finale; the prosciutto and arugula pie. As I prepared the dough, everything was going well, and it was stretching out better than any of the previous three. Then my hand slipped and the dough collapsed onto the board in a sticky heap. Ow. By the time I untangled it, it was like a piece of swiss cheese.

In one last fit of determination, I managed to plug the holes and get something resembling a circle although it was an alarmingly uneven nine inches in diameter at best. On went the sauce, the cheese, and the prosciutto, and into the oven it went. No alarms, no sticking to the peel, no nothing.

A few minutes later it emerged, small, thick, but delicious looking. The boys, in the meantime, had figured out the laptops (one, I think, was hacking into the Pentagon, and the other was launching a rocket from China). As I tossed the arugula onto the steaming pizza, the phone rang. It was Martine’s friend calling from Australia.

I’m always happy to talk to the other side of the planet, by I am becoming more and more convinced that there is a conspiracy to phone chez nous exactly as I am delivering my pièce de resistance.

Regardless. One of Martine’s many skills is to eat pizza while talking to someone in Australia. She performed with aplomb, which is more than I can say for myself on this evening of bad pizza kharma.

* Blork’s simple pizza sauce: One 28oz can of San Marzano Italian tomatoes, drained for five minutes and then ground or blended. Three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. No pre-cooking required. This makes enough for about three 12-inch pizzas.

Saturday: Pizza Night

In lieu of U.S. election coverage, I present to you a few notes and photos regarding Saturday’s pizza night chez nous.

We always start with the classic and zen-like pizza Margherita, which, when done right, can be a truly joyful thing. I attempt to do it right by using a very simple sauce composed of only drained, then ground, San Marzano tomatoes, a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper. That’s it. No cooking, no nothing. Just top notch-Italian tomatoes with a bit of oil and seasoning to make it sing. It is important to drain the tomatoes through a wire sieve first, as almost a full cup of water will come out. A too watery sauce will make your pizza soggy (something I wish they’d learn at Bottega, supposedly Montreal’s finest pizzeria).

This Margherita was also blessed with real mozzarella di bufala, which is expensive but worth it. As you can see, 125 grams was enough for this roughly 12-inch pizza. Finally, it was topped with fresh basil plucked from a living plant. And naturally, the basil was added after the pizza came out of the oven.

pizza margherita

The second pizza was a real eye-popper. Same crust, same sauce (but slightly less of it and dressed lightly with some dried oregano), then topped with grated Friulano cheese, pan-crisped pancetta maison, and big hunks of porcini mushrooms.

In this case the mushrooms were frozen (and thawed, of course) as that amount of fresh porcinis would have cost about $20, if you could even find them. The cheese, Friulano, is an Italian inspired Canadian cheese that is sort of like mild cheddar but slightly nuttier tasting. I usually go half-and-half with mozzerella, but I had no mozzarella left. The only downside to the Friulano is that it’s very oily when you melt it (as you can see), but if you can forgive yourself it’s mighty delicious!

pizza with porcini mushrooms

I wish I were a good enough bread man to make my own dough, but I’m not so I don’t. For the past year I’ve been using the fresh pizza dough from Milano, on Boul. St. Laurent in Little Italy (Montreal). I find it works remarkably well, and has never let me down. It rises up nice and soft inside with a definitely crispy exterior, just the way I like it.

OK, now that we’ve had dinner, it’s back to that election coverage.

Autumn, Just Like That

I‘ve been in denial about the arrival of autumn. While it remains my favorite, although somewhat melancholy, time of year, the arrival of this year’s autumn is particularly hard to take after last year’s winter.

However, there is no doubt it has arrived, and it seems to have arrived in full this weekend. It was impossible to miss on Saturday, when Martine and I went on a covered bridge hunt in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. But that was out in the country. What about closer to home?

I knew it was here for sure when I looked into the back yard this morning. Our maple trees are among the last in this neighbourhood to give up the green, but when I saw the leaves on the table out back I knew it was time.

Autumn leaves in the back yard

On the way to catch the bus into town, Autumn’s arrival was loud and clear, made particularly interesting because of the early morning fog we had today.

Autumn in Longueuil

As I walked through the quiet morning, I finally shook off summer. Despite the unseasonably warm air today, autumn is upon is. There’s no going back. Now it is time to embrace autumn’s beauty and then hope for a short winter.

Autumn footpath

HBO

I‘m in the habit of abbreviating. For example, when something runs low in the kitchen and I make a note of it on the chalkboard, I usually abbreviate it. I know my own codes, so it’s easy. WWB is whole wheat bread, MLK is milk, WW4C is white wine for cooking, and so on.

One day last week we ran out of something, so went to the chalkboard and wrote “HBO.” As I was writing, I realized it was my first time using that abbreviation but at the time it was glaringly obvious what HBO stood for. (I think you know where this is going.)

It’s been a week, and I still can’t figure out what HBO means.

House brand oregano? Hard boiled oysters? Home-baked octopus? Will I ever figure it out?