Monday, November 24, 2008

Habit forming

I posted here a while back about how junk food is peculiar to where you are. I’ve also noticed that this is true of ethnic food, to my woe: first I spent nine years lamenting the complete absence of scallion pancakes in British Chinese restaurants. Then I went back to the US and found that poppadoms and pickle are not in fact the universal default starter in Indian restaurants (much to Miss B’s and my chagrin).

So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that pizza, perhaps the most ubiquitous ethnic food of them all, doesn’t seem to have much of a presence here in Canberra. Oh, don’t get me wrong: you can get pizza, but it’s not a given item on every Italian restaurant menu, and the big food court at the main shopping center doesn’t have a pizza stall. A kebab stall, a sushi stall--and no pizza slices?!

During our recent extended stay in Boston, we quickly fell into the habit of Friday night as takeout night. DP and Miss B always, always opted for our local pizza takeout. I got bored with this after a while--when you have a toddler you seem to end up eating a lot of pizza--and switched to Thai takeout from across the street. I left Boston thinking I didn’t care if I never saw another pizza. I rapidly changed my tune when it started to look as though that might actually be the case. Unable to find any pizza (eat-in or takeout) worth going out of my way for within a one-mile radius, I turned to the last resort of the hungry expat: figure out how to make my own, so the Friday family pizza habit could continue.

Since I had already gotten back on the breadmaking bandwagon by this point, I was already partway there. I use the same dough for both, and just cut off a sizeable chunk of whatever’s in the fridge to make a crust with. I then stretch it out (laboriously and clumsily—how do the guys in Bertucci’s make it look so easy?) to fit on a round baking sheet which I have greased and floured (some people use semolina here, and I would too, if I ever remembered to buy any), coat it with pizza sauce (see below), dot with pepperoni slices (or other topping of your choice), and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake in a very hot oven for 10-15 minutes, and maybe run under the grill/broiler for a minute if you want to get the cheese just so. Don’t let it burn.

This is another one of those things that you will totally impress yourself with, just by making it. I pulled my first one out of the oven and said, out loud, “Wow! That actually looks like a pizza!”

As opposed to....?

Zesty Pizza Sauce
2 T olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ t red pepper flakes (more if no one in your house is liable to say, "Too spicy!")
1 can tomato paste, or a few good squeezes/scoops from a tube/jar of same
1 28oz can (or 2 400g cans) tomatoes

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and sauté garlic and pepper briefly. Add tomato paste and let cook for a minute or two, then dump in tomatoes. If you are using whole ones, try to squish them a bit. Keep the pan at a fairly high heat, as you want to evaporate all the liquid and make a very thick tomato sauce. This means that you will end up with tomato sauce splattered all over your stove. You can partially cover the pan to limit this, but it will take longer to cook the sauce. Cook until you can drag a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan and see a trail. You can jazz this up with other flavors too. This makes enough for at least two pizzas; I freeze the rest in the hope that one Friday I’ll have dough in the refrigerator and sauce to defrost, and dinner will be really quick and easy. Maybe by then it will also take me less than 40 minutes of dough-wrassling to produce a believable crust.


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