Thursday, February 17, 2011

February: In Praise of Pizza

Pizza is one fast food that even a dedicated Slow Food member can love. Just because it doesn’t take very long to prepare, and is sometimes served in a shopping mall food court should not ban it from the Slow Food menu. Pizza can be nutritious, can be made entirely of local ingredients, and can be a wonderfully convivial meal… slow food perfection! The fact that it sometimes contains unhealthy, imported ingredients, and is often eaten in less than convivial settings and styles (ie. in front of the TV or in an ugly fast food “restaurant”) is not the fault of the dish.

Pizza comes in an array of styles and varieties that range from the bready “deep dish” Chicago style right through to the wafer thin, crisp, wood-fired version. And toppings! Pizza has been garnished with every imaginable food item.

My favorites include the very plain and simple “Margarita” which was named for the 19th Century queen of Italy because it has the three colours of the Italian flag: white (mozzarella cheese), green (fresh basil), and red (sliced tomatoes). The Pie Plate restaurant in Virgil makes a great version of the Margarita, which they cleverly call “Boot Queen.” (Boot – the shape of Italy on a map + Queen = Italian Queen or “Margarita”… get it?) At the other end of the scale, The Pie Plate serves a seasonal special pizza, which, during the fall and early winter is a concoction of apple slices, cheddar cheese, walnut pesto, and a drizzle of maple syrup! You really have to be daring to try it, but once you do, you’ll order it again and again.

Lorenzo’s Fine Foods in Fonthill makes a delicious gourmet pizza, too, and Lorenzo’s tomato sauce is perhaps the best in the business. I learned recently that he is so picky about the tomatoes he uses that he has enlisted the help of the horticulture experts at NTEC in Port Robinson to grow a specific strain of tomato (San Marzano) just for him, so he won’t have to import them from Italy.

But you don’t have to rely on the creativity of others to get unique and delicious pizza. Pizza is easy to make at home, whether you opt for the simplicity of topping flat bread, choose a frozen crust, or go all the way and make your own pizza dough. The latter, by the way, is very easy to do in any bread maker: just follow the instructions to make the dough, roll it out, top it with your favorites, and pop it in a pre-heated oven for 15 or 20 minutes.

One of my all time favorite pizzas is “pissaladière,” a no-cheese version that is not from Italy at all, but originated in the South of France in the area around Nice. Cut into bite-sized pieces, it makes a great appetizer.

thin crust pizza dough or flat bread for one pizza… usually rectangular rather than the traditional round pizza
olive oil
3 large onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
12 black olives
¼ Cup of pine nuts
2 - 3 Tbsp of fresh thyme
12 - 20 anchovy fillets
1. Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil at low heat until caramelized, about an hour, stirring occasionally
2. Spread the onion mixture on the pizza and lay the anchovy fillets on top in a grid pattern making 12 squares (you may need more or fewer fillets, depending on their length)
3. In the centre of each square formed by the anchovies, place an olive
4. Scatter the pine nuts and thyme evenly and drizzle the pizza with a little olive oil
5. Bake at 450 degrees for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the edge of the crust is golden
6. Serve hot or at room temperature