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Markia’s Mother’s Pizza

August 11th, 2015

Maria’s Mother’s Pizza

We’re in Maria’s mother’s kitchen.  Maria’s mother is kneeling on the tile floor.  Before her she has spread out a cloth, and on the cloth she has a plastic bucket, a bag of white flour and a bag of semssmolina flour, dry yeast, a bottle of olive oil, salt, and water.

Maria’s mother is making pizza dough.  She’s showing us how it’s done.

We are seven guests from the locanda, the guest house, where Maria works. We’ve walked down to Maria’s mother’s house, about half a kilometer along a dirt road, through the rolling hills of Tuscany, the sunfllowers in bloom across the vallley.  It’s a brilliant spring day; here in Maria’s mother’s kitchen, however, it’s quite dark.  Most Italian kitchens are quite dark.  And tiny.  Mama would never complain.

Maria’s mother — none of us learned her name — lifts the bag of white flour, and pours an amount into the plastic bucket.  She then scoops some semolina flour from the other bag and adds it to the white flour.  She adds several pinches of yeast, a small palm of salt, several glugs from the olive oil bottle, and several glugs of water.

“You’ll notice,” I comment, “The scientific precision of measurement.”  We all chuckle.  Maria’s mother smiles.  She speaks no english; neither does Maria.

Maria’s mother starts mixing these ingredients in the plastic pail, putting her weight into the task.

I’m in my own kitchen in Carolina, starting my pizza dough.  I measure out three cups of white flour, one of semolina, four teaspoons dry yeast, two teaspoons salt, three tablespoons of olive oil, and 1-5/8 cups warm water.  These all I dump into the bread making machine, set the control to “dough”, and press the start button.

Maria’s mother, after about five minutes, has created a lovely, spongy, pliable dough.  We can see what a great mixing container is the plastic bucket–not like a ceramic bowl, which is unmaliable, but somthing you can bend and twist to make it easier for you to knead the dough.

Now the dough will need to rise.  But we don’t have to wait for that–Maria’s mother has already made a recipe of dough, which she has already let rise, kneaded again, let rise, kneaded, then divided and set out to rest under damp cloths.

My breakmaker’s alarm goes off;  I remove the dough onto a floured wooden board, knead it a few times, divide it in two, then wrap each half in plastic wrap.  these will sit for one-half hour.

We all troop out of the kitchen, into the back yard of the house.  It’s a three-story old farm house.  Three generations are living here, three sons and families, the mother, her grandchildren. The men are working in town, and will be home later.  The grandchildren, not yet in school, are busy in a room upstairs.  We are on the piazzetta, or veranda, where there are set up several tables,.

Toward the bottom of the grassy yard is a brick oven.  We understand that Maria’s mother bakes bread in this oven evry week.  Maria is taking a part, stoking the oven with the knarled logs of olive wood.
Now the preparatio really starts.  The alrady divided dough is brought out.  Maria’s mother rolls out the dough, exquisitely thin, and starts putting on the toppings.

In my kitchen, I roll out the dough with a wine battle roller, then pile on the toppings: garlic, olives, red pepper, salt/pepper, oregano, a bit of tomato sause, basil, arugula, mozzarella, gorgonzola.

She makes really simple pizzas:  oil-salt-and-rosemary;  garlic and oil and tomato; usually just two or three ingredients.

The pizzas go zipping into the brick oven on the long-handled wooden peel, and come zipping back out seemingly at onec, the oven is so hot, making crispy, puffy crusts.

My pizza takes at least ten minutes in my electric oven, whose temperature cannot get above 500 degrees Fahrenheit; I don’t take it out til all the cheese is bubbling.

A treat at the end: a pizza of honey and pear slices;  the children join us for this one, and some get a dollop of ice cream .

It’s been a great treat.  We thank our hostess, Maria’s mother.

As we are about to leave, we’re asked to stay a moment.  Gathered on the drive, we see the men coming home in their cars; they get out and stand looking back at us fro the house.  We regard each other as we would aliens from outer space.

The children, it turns out, have been weaving for us friend bracelets.  We are touched.

We can’t speak the same language; but we are grateful, and try to make our appreciation known.

Here are some more details:  When writing up that recipe for pizza dough, I left out what you would do if you didn’t have a bread making machine.  It’s so easy with the bread machine!  You just stick the stuff in, turn it on, and /ecco!/ the dough is done after about an hour.

But if you don’t, you can use your Cuisine-Art to mix the stuff up; then you want to keep the dough warm, so it rises: like, covered in a warm oven, or as I’ve done, in a bowl that sits in a bowl of warm water.  If you don’t have a Cuisine-Art, then you mix the ingredients together by hand (first you disolve the yeast in warm water), then let it rise in the bowl-in-warm water.  Well, you have to come back to it about every 10 minutes, kneading it, pounding it down every time.  But that’s the fun of making bread!

The thing the bread making machine does is to 1) keep it warm throughout, and 2) knead it every 10 minutes or so.  You can do this by hand, if you want.

So, what do you do for toppings?

Here’s what I use:

First I roll out the dough (half the recipe) onto my pizza peel.
A lite coating of oil along the edge (to grab the cheese gratings I put on later)
Garlic:  you can never have too much garlic.
Olives — chopped oil-cured olives
If I’ve got some left-over tomato sauce, a very light coating — or some chopped fresh tomato (juice removed)
Above-mentioned grated parmesano or romano cheese, for outer-edge crust beautification
Spices:  Salt, black pepper, red pepper
Herbs: oregano (fresh or dried), basil (fresh or dried) or lots of  chopped arugula
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Shavings of  gorganzolla  cheese

That’s maybe excessive.  Other options are available.

Here’s an idea, something made for us in the Chianti countryside:

Pizza Sucre con Miele e Pera
(sweet pizza with honey and pear)

On your rolled-out pizza dough, smear honey, and layer on slices of ripe pear.  Bake.  Eat.
This is a desert pizza.

How about maple syrup and ripe apple slices?  Yum!

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