IMBB #24: Amanda Hesser's Lemon Chicken
Nigel Slater's Crumbed Mackerel

Evan Kleiman's Pizza Margherita


Before I get to any discussions of food today, I have to first talk about all the good reading out right now. If you haven't already, read Michael Pollan's piece on hunting feral pigs and eating them in the NY Times Magazine - it's fascinating, repulsive, and mouth-watering. Then, astonishingly, I found myself actually liking Tucker Carlson's article about working at the B&M canned bean plant (though, of course, the accompanying recipe for James Beard's baked beans really sealed the deal).

But the best thing I read all weekend, all month, all year so far? Calvin Trillin's article about his marriage in this week's New Yorker (with the black & white Bruce Eric Kaplan cover). I've been reading and laughing with Calvin for as long as I can remember, and like all of his loyal readers, I feel like I know his Alice, the love of his life, from his stories and articles and poems. In "Alice, Off the Page", he pays tribute to their marriage, their partnership, and their friendship, cut short by her death in 2001. I cried the whole way through. The article's not online, so buy the magazine. That article is worth the $3.99.

There's really no smooth way of segueing from heartbreak to pizza, so it'll just have to be blunt and awkward. On Friday we made pizza. After the success with Whole Foods' prepared pizza dough (I only had used half for the lemon pizza, and left the rest to sit in the fridge for a few more days before spreading it out on a sheet, drizzling it with olive oil and sprinkling the slipper-shaped bread with inky charnushka seeds (nigella sativa) before sliding it into a hot oven and letting it bake up into a blistery, chewy state of flatbread heaven), I wanted nothing more than to conquer pizza dough. Yeah, I know, get in line.

I figured I'd start with a pizza dough recipe that came from the LA Times a few years ago - courtesy of Evan Kleiman, the chef at Angeli Caffe in Los Angeles. She has you knead together a simple dough and then let it sit in the fridge for a few days, to develop better flavor and texture. When you're ready to cook, you roll out the dough quite thinly, then spread it with an herbed tomato sauce, full of sweetness and heat. We topped off the pizzas with slices of mozzarella di bufala and let the rounds cook until browned and bubbling in the very hot oven (without a pizza stone - shock, horror).

The pizzas were quite delicious, but they weren't what I was looking for. The dough wasn't as good as the Whole Foods dough (especially once it had rested for a few days). It had less character (I feel like an idiot saying my dough lacked character, but it did) and less flavor - it seemed smoother and one-dimensional. The sauce was nuanced and tasty, but would have been better on pasta. I guess I'm a purist - la pizza napoletana is what I'd like to conquer. I've got a long road ahead of me.

Pizza Dough
Makes 8 servings (four 10-inch pizzas)

1 (1/4 ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup lukewarm water
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup cold water

1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir to completely dissolve. Let it fizz for about 15 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture, 2 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt, olive oil and cold water. Mix with a wooden spoon until you have a batter.

2. Sprinkle a work surface generously with flour. Transfer the batter to the floured surface. Knead in the remaining cup of flour a little at a time, kneading for 8 to 10 minutes in all. The dough should be soft and elastic, but not sticky; add a little more flour if needed. Shape the dough into a ball.

3. Oil a large bowl and put the dough in the bowl, turning the dough to coat the surface with oil. Cover the bowl with a plate and let it rest in a warm place for 1 hour.

4. Sprinkle flour on a work surface. Divide the dough into quarters and form each piece into a tight, smooth ball, kneading it to push the air out. Place the dough balls on a lightly floured surface, cover them and let them rise for 1 hour. Or rub olive oil on the surface of the balls to coat, place them on a cookie sheet, cover with a towel and let them rise in the refrigerator overnight. Remove them from the fridge and let them come to room temperature before rolling them out and baking.