Both Heston Blumethal and Jeffrey Steingarten have written at length about perfect pizza. Even I, if I dare include myself in the same paragraph as there two august food writes/chefs, have blathered on about finding decent pizza in London. Those guys have written about achieving the terrifying temperatures needed to make good pizza, both have postulated on the correct ingredients for base and topping and both, I feel, have missed a trick. Both these guys have endured blood, sweat and tears to create something at home that really shouldn’t be, Heston more than Jeffrey I imagine, as Jeffrey doesn’t strike me as one of life’s great toilers. Anyway, the trick that both these fine gentleman have missed are the joys of home pizza. The more than less than perfect pizza that I have enjoyed since my earliest childhood.
This isn’t bad pizza, this isn’t frozen pizza, we don’t shirk, it’s home pizza and my mum perfected it I reckon, though I imagine she picked up a few tips from her Italian forebears. This is pizza lovingly made at home that satisfies something at a cellular level and usually requires the wearing of a vest around the house. That probably needs some explanation.
Preparing food is often about role playing. I have a “in the kitchen face” and a certain attitude when preparing certain dishes. Pizza or pasta, anything Italian, then that side of my DNA kicks in and the kitchen starts to resemble A Big Night crossed with Goodfellas. Stir frying brings out an exacting state of calm followed by bellowing chaos all enacted with a steely ninja like determination, something akin to Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. I’m basically a large child who’s allowed to play with knives and stuff that gets hot and I like pretending. So when it comes to pizza it’s all very “going to the mattresses”.
Often I’d come home from school and there’d be that sharp yeasty smell in the air and a large slowly rising ball of dough on the side wrapped in linen tea towels. It would sit there slowly growing until mum got to work, pushing the dough onto shallow backing trays that had been liberally coated with olive oil and then slopping on her multi usage tomato sauce and then the simplest of toppings. Some tuna, some peppers, a handful of olives, a sprinkling of anchovies, some mozzarella, whatever she had to hand. The whole lot ws then thrown into the old Cordon Bleu oven with the gas cranked all the way to the top. The smell of that pizza baking is one of the happiest food memories I have.
This was pizza to sooth. The rippled and thin dough dripped with sauce and once it started to cool slightly tightened to produce a base that was satisfyingly chewy. It didn’t quite have the crispness of proper pizza; it was mode sedate, a sloppy, comfy sort of meal, like wearing a favourite worn sweatshirt.
I make my own today when nieces or nephews come over. We are a bit more adventurous in our toppings than mum was, though the kids will always insist on sweet corn which sends a shudder though me. It’s all done with a haphazard sense of fun and for me, that’s pizza, that’s what it meant, just being at home.