January 4, 2010

The Perfect Pizza (part four) – What do you mean, you HATE tomatoes???

It’s been an eternity since I wrote part three of the Perfect Pizza saga, Attack of the Cherry Tomatoes, and I think it’s probably safe to say that I’ve finally blunted the horror from my mind.  Mind you, it’s taken therapy, sleep, and an entirely new hobby to help me to forget.  There may have been a couple of beverages consumed along the way as well.  But, the trauma has subsided (though the scars remain… and the dreams of dough), so it’s past time I boxed this pizza up and delivered it to your door.  Here we go! 

As you recall, I had peeled, seeded, swore, and botched up 1.5 kg of cherry tomatoes to end up with about 3/4 of a cup of tomato sauce, and half a (small) bowl of dried tomatoes.  I had also made the starter batches of dough for the pizza judging.  So, all that remained was to make the pizza dough itself, and prepare the toppings for the ensuing pizza party.  Since we were having a mid-sized gaggle of people over (as we all know, a small gaggle is between 1-5 people, whereas a large gaggle is 15+ people, so I’m very definitive in saying that our gaggle was mid-sized), we felt that not all of them would be content with pizzas that were only comprised of tomatoes, basil, and cheese.  So, the day before, when we were buying up the entire cherry tomato selection of the grocery store, we picked up a few more essentials: 

  • Salami
  • Pepperoni (which could only be found in the American-style Slim Jim packages.  This baffled me at the time, but I now believe that pepperoni is a more North American term for an Italian cured/dried sausage, which was more specifically named at our local grocery store.  Or I could have just made that last bit up.)
  • Mushrooms
  • Onion
  • Olives (there are about 50 kabillion varieties of olives available here in Dubai.  I chose blue-cheese stuffed olives, figuring – correctly – that the only person to put them on a pizza would be me.)
  • Chicken Breast
  • Green Pepper
  • Feta Cheese
  • Fresh Tomato
  • Ham
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Mozarella Cheese (both in “wet ball” and “block” form – the wet ball for the perfect pizza, the block for the make-your-own pizza that followed.  I would have made it all “wet ball” mozarella, but the two tubs that we bought were awfully damn spendy)
  • Pineapple (in a tin, which remains unopened)

Despite the fact that some of our guests were Brits, I chose not to perpetrate the British blasphemy of putting canned tuna and corn (though they call it sweetcorn for some strange reason.  Is there bittercorn or sourcorn or saltycorn out there somewhere?) on a pizza, and left those items in the store.  I also had a speech prepared to defend this choice, but thankfully my guests were sensible, right-thinking individuals who did not desire such nastiness, and so my speech was left unspoken.  This was likely better for all of us (though, come to think of it, it would have probably provided at least some variation from my incessant whining about cherry tomatoes and unending batches of pizza dough). 

On to the dough making… you’ve seen this before, but we all like looking at dough, so here are some more pictures. 

I took my starters out of the fridge, and mixed up the dough as per Heston’s directions: 

  

Then, I measured out the dough balls, and tried to figure out where they could rise.  During the dough testing, I had noticed that the dough tended to stick to the aluminum foil while it was rising, so this time I oiled the foil first.  I couldn’t let the dough rise on the dining room table, as that was needed for party purposes, so had to figure out another place for it to rise that was safe from dogs, cats, and flies.  I believe I was quite ingenious here: 

 

After the dough was made, and the alternate pizza toppings were readied for post-testing pizza making, we frantically cleaned up the house, and got ready for pizza hour.  Finally, we were ready to go. 

Wait!“, you say.  “When you made the perfect roast chicken, you also made an imperfect version.  In fact, in the rules, you said that you would always make an imperfect version for comparison purposes.  But I have seen no mention of an imperfect pizza whatsoever in the saga of the perfect pizza.  All I’ve seen is you bitching about dough and cherry tomatoes!  Liar, liar, pants on fire!!!” 

Fear not, dear reader.  I did say I would always make an imperfect version of Heston’s “perfect” recipe, using the methods and recipes that I traditionally use.  In this case, it was easy.  Pizza is traditionally made here at Villa GoodEnough using this recipe: 

 

So, we called two of our local pizza pushers, one that is internationally known and may or may not rhyme with “She’s a Nut”, and a local restaurant where I may or may not have purchased my pizza flour from in an earlier post.  We’ll refer to them as “She’saNut” and “Steve’s”.  In both cases we ordered their version of a Margherita, though “She’saNut” didn’t call theirs a Margherita.  Instead they called it a “plain cheese pizza with tomato sauce”.   We also asked them to deliver for 7:30.  They were both splendidly on time. 

When our guests had arrived (including a couple of additional children), we beveraged them, gave them our newly created, detailed scoresheet, and tried to let them know exactly what was going on and we were after (my dog walking pals and our veteran testers from Estonia were in the know, but their spouses and children and our other guests just thought they were coming over for pizza).  I’m afraid that, this more or less fell on deaf ears.  Ah well.  

Once the “imperfect pizzas” had turned up, we started in on our own perfect pizza creation. 

First, we rolled out the dough for two perfect pizzas.  Then we topped it with a couple of spoonfuls of tomato sauce, and some of the dried cherry tomatoes that I had laboured over.  Thankfully, a little sauce went a long way, so we had some left over.  In this picture you can see one pizza being rolled out, with the other having toppings applied in the background: 

 

  Finally, we topped it with torn pieces of the spendy-spendy mozarella that we’d bought, and bunged it on the barbeque (which had been preheating for some time). 

 

My handsome husband worked both as dough roller and pizza cook.  It was about thirty degrees Celsius outside, and the BBQ was set to eleven.  You can see that being a pizza chef was hot, sweaty work! 

After the 90 seconds that each pizza spent on the grill, it came back inside and was topped with fresh basil.  It was also supposed to get a sprinkling of smoked sea salt (which I had purchased) but I just plain forgot.  (In fact I didn’t realise that I had forgot until I was rummaging around in my spice cupboard about a week later and saw the smoked salt.  So shoot me.)  Here’s how it looked once it was cut into testing-sized pieces: 

 

Pretty damn good, if I do say so myself.  Here’s a close-up: 

 

We ensured that everyone had a scoresheet, and put the perfect pizza onto the table beside its imperfect friends (which the children, being starving children fresh from a rugby tournament, and entirely missing/not caring about the point because they were STARVING, and it was PIZZA, had already made substantial inroads into) and the testing began. 

How’d it go?  Well, you know how I said that the testing criteria for the Perfect Chicken was highly unspecific?  I think we went a wee bit too specific for this one.  Either that or we should have had a focus group the day before on how to use the scoresheet and score the pizzas.  Or made sure that our testing group understood more of the absolute deadly seriousness in which I regarded the testing and rating of the pizza.  (Seriously – absolutely lovely people, wonderful guests, but completely not understanding of an obsessed woman’s search for definitive answers in pizza creation.)  Or maybe it was me.  Anyway, the results were a bit odd.  Beyond that, you really could see a difference between the perfect pizza and its “imperfect” buddies.  So, a blind taste test it was not.  Alas.  Once again, scoring and testing will need to be modified for the next bout. 

“Quit your blather, woman.  Get along to the results please.” 

Okay, okay.  But first, let’s play an exciting round of “Guess who filed away all of the perfect pizza scoresheets and now can’t find them”! 

Yes, it was I. 

Sigh. 

So, from memory.  There were a few people who did not prefer the perfect pizza.  One found it too tomatoey, and doesn’t actually like tomatoes, so that was that.  This person (who shall not be named, but is now about 5 1/2 months pregnant, a fantastic tennis player, and hails from a former Soviet republic which has made amazing strides since its independence and is one of the places that I really, really want to visit), preferred the pizza sourced from “She’saNut”.  One or two preferred the distribution of cheese and topping on “Steve’s” pizza.  The rest were overwhelmingly in favour of Heston’s.  So, in order of finish, we had: 

  1. Heston’s Perfect Pizza
  2. “Steve’s” Margherita
  3. “She’sanut” Cheese & Tomato

And now, a picture of the testing process.  Note the diligent person filling out his or her scoresheet, and the two plates of “imperfect” pizza which had been decimated by the herd of locusts children (we’d ordered two pizzas from each restaurant, so were able to supply more): 

 

Once the testing was done, we moved on the “Make your own pizza” part of the event.  This was a hoot.  We have a long breakfast bar in our kitchen (which you can see me sitting at during the day of the tomatoes), so we organized a dough-rolling area, and topping assembly line. The kids were up first (with dough rolling assistance from the wimmenfolk who were around): 

 

Aren’t they beautiful boys?  Nice, polite children as well.  They also loved the fact that they got to make and top their own pizzas (and ate up the results with no qualms at all, despite having filled up on “imperfect” pizza before they made their own.  Of course, my dog was around to offer assistance if necessary).  In fact, the “Make your own pizza” event worked so well with the kids, that I think it’s a great idea if you were having a children’s party.  (Disclaimer:  I have no children, and any such advice I give regarding children/children’s parties/childbirth/child-raising in general should be regarded accordingly.

After the kids were finished with the pizzas, the adults had a go.  They had to roll their own dough.  Interestingly enough, most of them commented: “Well, your pizza was awfully good, but this, this! is a perfect pizza!” (while pointing at / eating their own creations).   For the record, my own perfect pizza is one topped with ground beef, mushrooms, black olives, onion, and feta cheese, and which comes from Hollywood Pizza in Edmonton, AB.  It’s a thick-crust, “Greek-style” pizza, and is absolutely nothing like Heston’s pizza. 

Here’s one of the perfect pizzas: 

 

And someone else made the Perfect Pac-Man: 

 

While this was going on, I made some observations on dough rolling technique.  Sorry ladies, but them ones with the Y chromosome were vastly better at rolling out their pizza dough.  Of course, they were also vastly slower, and were more focused on the beer-drinking/bullshitting part of the evening as opposed to the children-wrangling bit, but ladies, if you are having a “Make your own pizza party” for your child, put the dough-rolling into a man’s hands.  They love, love, love to do it too!  

We had another observer of the festivities, but he hasn’t made any comments about the evening, aside from a request that we invite any more dogs to his house (there were three including our own).  He watched from the top of the highest cupboard, and watched very carefully indeed: 

Hey! Where are you going with that pizza?

 

Finally, after everyone else had made their pizzas, and were happily munching away, my husband and I pizza’d ourselves and joined the group.  It was a very satisfying feeling. 

But enough about the party.  Would I do this again? 

Most certainly.  Once you took away the dough-testing insanity, the pizza dough was very, very easy to make and tasty to boot.  Admittedly, the tomato part of the recipe is a bit fiddly, but you could certainly make a whole bunch of pizza sauce and jar it for a later date.  If you do want dried tomatoes on top, I’m pretty sure that these could be frozen as well.  I am intending to try this recipe again, but this time I’m going to use Roma tomatoes instead of cherry to see if they’re “good enough”.  But if you do have a surplus of cherry tomatoes and some time to kill, I don’t think that you’d go wrong making Heston’s tomato sauce (and lots of it). 

As for time, supposing that you had everything ready to go, making your own pizzas, even in an oven, would probably take less time than it would to order a pizza over the phone. 

Have I done this again? 

Well, no.  Pizza is an unplanned event here at Villa GoodEnough, usually because we’re too wiped out to be arsed to do anything else.  But, honestly, this pizza was such a cut above any takeout pizza that it really should be planned for.  It really is awfully damned perfect. 

Coming up next:  I dunno.  What do you think?