Oh my, pizza pie!
My sisters and I learned to make pizza from our mom, who had Italian neighbors as a child and visited the pizzerias in New York as an adult. As a child, she developed such an affinity for the neighbor’s cooking, that she tried to hang around just about dinner time to finagle an invite. Evidently, her friend’s parents only spoke broken English, but Mom could still understand she was wearing out her welcome. Mom’s first taste of pizza was on Coney Island when she was 16; the experience is still fresh in her mind even now at 81. She later learned to make pizza from her sister who lived in New York for many years.
She brought her love for Italian food and pizza with her to our farm in Missouri. Making pizza became a Christmas tradition, a special time for family and friends. Everyone loved Mom’s pizza so much, there was the usual chatter at the table about how she should open a pizzeria, but she was happy to host an annual feast in her kitchen of 8 or 10 custom pies. Guests were easily beguiled by the flavors, over indulging, unaware of the “swell” that can follow pizza eaten too fast with a soda chaser. One year, my sister’s boyfriend ate so much he got sick, unwilling to heed the warning and pace himself. Like I said, everyone loved Mom’s pizza.
As we got older, we could do more than grate cheese, so we learned to make the dough by hand, mix the sauce, and eventually make the pizza at every step. Although the topping combinations changed, certain things were consistent, important to my enjoyment of pizza to this day. Regardless of toppings, each pizza was finished with Romano cheese, oregano, and a drizzle of olive oil. A sprinkle of Parmesan was fine at the table, but a generous handful of Romano crowned the pies like a delicate halo, bringing the pizza to life.
Over time, our favorites expanded beyond sausage and pepperoni or regular white flour crust to include gourmet toppings and crusts made with no flour at all. That’s one of the things I love about pizza, it is so easy to customize. This series is inspired by my mother’s lessons all those years ago, mixed with my own creativity into a virtual pizza feast, Five Pies in Five Days—a collection of pies just for my on-line friends. You are welcome to join-in with a link to your own pizza recipe—feel free to do so in the comments, or just chime-in with your favorite topping combinations.
The first pizza in this series is BBQ Chicken Pizza. This is a family favorite as well as a friend, neighbor, and just about anybody walking down the street favorite. I’ve had this type of pizza a number of times in restaurants and in my opinion, it’s never quite right. Too often the sauce is so strong it overpowers everything or there seems to be a cilantro shortage because there is barely enough to land on every slice. I think you’ll like how these flavors complement, yet allow each one to remain distinct. A mild tomato-barbeque sauce, tender chicken, smoky bacon, creamy Jack cheese, a hint of red onion, and fresh cilantro is a blend of hearty, satisfying flavors your family will ask for again and again.
There is a wide range of opinions about pizza crust—thin, hand-tossed, pan pizza, low-carb, gluten-free—we will highlight several of these throughout the week. One thing I think we can all agree on is, the crust is important, so choose the one that you fancy the most and go with it. At our house, we avoid using white flour, so this pizza is shown with a hand-tossed, sprouted wheat crust. Of course, you can always make it with whatever flour you choose, or check out this pizza crust recipe too. Either way, I recommend using a seasoned pizza stone or dark pan for pizza, shiny or light colored pans do not allow the crust to reach the desired golden brown color or crispness.