Mushroom Magic

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

   Once upon what seems like a very long time ago, I was a five year old with an extremely limited palate. One of my steadfast food rules was never, ever, even-if-a-stranger-has-a-gun-to-your-head, eat your pizza with any sort of topping except cheese. I stood by this rule with what I now view as extreme loyalty.

   In my defense, the most common topping ordered in our household was either pepperoni (gave my little self reflux) or mushroom (gray, slimy, wet, from a can... 'nuff said).

   Those mushrooms will always have a very special place in my heart. One night, while enjoying pizza dinner with my family, they were doing their best to encourage me to try the mushroom pizza. No, no, no I emphasized, not over my dead body. Finally, dinner was over and I huffed outside. What was their issue anyway? I didn't force my obviously superior pie of plain cheese on them! In the midst of my self righteous internal rant, twilight crept into our back yard, and I spotted... mushrooms. A whole lot of them! There they were, quietly growing in my very back yard, under some of the brushy trees at the edges of our property. Perfect, I thought, now I can try mushrooms with no one watching, there will be no pressure, I can even spit them right back out if they taste as funky as they look. I went ahead and popped a few in my mouth. I remember the earthy flavor to this day: dark, complex and mysterious, intangible... unlike anything I had every tasted.

   Next thing I knew, my older brother was dragging me inside, yelling for my mom like a mad man. Turns out, wild mushrooms are not the sort you place atop your pizza unless you are trained in the art of mushrooming. A mouthful of ipecac and several hours of retching later, my adventurous taste buds went on hiatus once again, not to be seen for another ten years.

   There really aren't enough nice things I can say about siblings who watch out for their less than savvy halves.

  Anyway, that little girl eventually grew up and discovered New York style pizza and a wider variety of culinary delights to place atop them. When Steve and I went to Italy last year, we started every single day with pizza buscaiola, a round of thin, crusty, chewy, tangy dough with the barest whisper of sauce and fresh buffalo mozzarella. These pies were finished with hunks of just made pork sausage and, you guessed it- mushrooms! I couldn't have loved those piping hot plates of dough and cheese more.

   This past year, during the Dark Time as I will now refer to my months as an intern, I started making Post Call Pizza. I would blunder home around lunch time of the day following the start of my shift, tired and possibly reeling from some kind of medical tragedy that my tired mind hadn't the chance to process. I remember these mid afternoons in a haze of warm sunlight, the rays breaking through leaves so green it almost broke my heart to behold. I would wander into my kitchen, open a cupboard and throw together a handful of this and that to create a pliable, tangy smelling dough that yielded to my hands in the sweetest possible way. This ten minute window of doughy therapy was the perfect antidote to the previous night, the sweetest introduction to my post call nap.

   Five hours later I would wake, roll the dough and sprinkle toppings, hug Steve and enjoy a slice or two of perfection- a taste of memory, love and homemade flavor.

   I gift this pizza to you, minus the exhaustion and heart ache. Buon appetito!

Post Call Pizza Buscaiola
   Makes one 13 inch pizza 
   Special equipment needed: 13 inch pizza stone 
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (or one packet) active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose, unbleached flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plain tomato sauce
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (doesn't have to be fresh, I like Organic Valley brand)
  • 1 pint baby bella mushrooms, dirt brushed off with a damp cloth, sliced thin
  • 1 hot Italian sausage in natural casing (the ones I got from the deli weigh about 7 ounces)
   In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the water and mix in the honey. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and allow to dissolve and become foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and salt, stir to incorporate, then dump the whole lot onto the counter. Knead, adding as little flour as you can manage to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the counter top, for a full 10 minutes. The dough will become smooth and pliable but never been completely stick free. This pizza dough needs a good work over and the relatively high moisture content to eventually become that crisp but chewy crust we're after.
   Very lightly grease a medium sized bowl with olive oil, place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Now you have several options: you can leave it to rise at room temperature for at least 4 hours or up to 8, or you can place it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. If going the fridge method, remove from the fridge 30 minutes to an hour prior to baking to allow it to come back to room temperature.
   When ready to assemble your pizza: preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Sprinkle your work surface with flour and use a rolling pin to roll the dough to a little less than 1/4 inch thickness. Make sure to lift the edges frequently and re sprinkle with flour to prevent sticking. Slide your pizza stone under the dough. You need at least an inch of extra dough hanging off the edges.
   Spread the tomato sauce evenly over the surface, up to 1/2 an inch away from your stone edge. Evenly spread the cheese over this. Now evenly layer with your mushroom slices. Finally, slice open the sausage and pull one inch hunks of the meat out, distributing evenly over the top of your pizza. Crimp the extra dough around the edges to create your crust, pinching it down with your fingers (if there is a lot of overhang just trim accordingly to get an extra inch or so that you can crimp into a crust).
   Slide into the middle third of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is bubbling and the edges are browned and sound hollow when knocked with your knuckle. Allow to cool 5 to 10 minutes. Slice. Devour!
   Note: this dough shouldn't stick to your pizza stone if you rolled it with enough flour. However, if using your stone for the first time, make sure to brush the stone first in olive oil, then lay your dough over this. After this treatment your stone should be stick free for future use.

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