My Sisters Cook: “Pizza”

Theron Hopkins | Local Columnist

Back in my younger and more vulnerable years, there were very few things my parents could say that got my attention more than: “Pizza for dinner.”

This did not occur often—maybe once every couple of months—and so, when it did, it was a true cause for celebration, at least in my mind.

“Shakey’s Pizza” was the place of my youth, and there was no greater view, barring a visit to the Grand Canyon, than through the plate glass window of the pizza prep station, where a high school kid in a red-and-white-striped apron and a faux-straw boater hat would stand in front of a flour-dusted board and rain red sauce and white cheese and rust-colored pepperoni onto a pre-pressed pizza crust.

You can have Michelangelo dabbing paint onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or Joe Montana executing a Super Bowl-winning two-minute drive or Mick Jagger shimmying across the stage of a sold-out arena. I will stick with the minimum-wage pizza cook working part-time at “Shakey’s” to make payments on his used 1971 El Camino as the very zenith of artistic accomplishment.

Nowadays, that artistry occurs for us at “Riverbank Pizza” in Colusa, California whose pies I would put up against any other restaurant pizza anywhere.

For my sister, Tricia, and her husband, Mike, there is no place else to get the exact pizza that their mind’s eye is set on than to cook it at home with a dough recipe that Tricia discovered in a 2004 copy of Cooks Illustrated, and that relies on bread flour, instant yeast, kosher salt, olive oil, and water as its chief and only ingredients.

Maybe the key thing that Tricia does with the dough, once it has risen for an hour or so, and once the pizza stone has been heated to REALLY HOT in the 450 degree (Fahrenheit) oven, is to not “over-roll” it.

She starts with the ball of dough, hand-stretches it, and then gives it a couple of rolls with the rolling pin, and that’s it.

This leaves some air in the crust and contributes to the “chew”, which is a Holy Grail that all of you connoisseurs out there are constantly and continuously in search of, so: Don’t over-roll your dough. And, don’t overdo it with the toppings.

It does sound wonderful: “Meat Lovers!” “Double the olives!” “More fried eggplant!” “Extra Cheese!” (Okay, maybe “extra cheese” is the exception. How can you have too much cheese? Impossible.)

Tricia assembles her pies on parchment paper over a pizza peel, and, recently, after she and Mike had purchased two tickets to Pittsburgh and returned home safely from that visit with friends in the lovely western Pennsylvania community, she doubled the dough recipe and made three pizzas: 1) marinara sauce, hot Italian sausage, pepperoni, Kalamata olives, and whole milk mozzarella; 2) garlic-infused olive oil, caramelized onion, Kalamata olives, goat cheese, and mozzarella; and 3) the garlic oil, blistered home-grown tomatoes and plenty of mozzarella. They were happy to be back in their Myrtle Beach house with their dog, Coney, and with the Detroit Lions on the television. They wanted dinner to be a tribute to the comforts of home.

They said, “We live in America; Land of choice,” so why not celebrate all of those things, plus an unwavering devotion and fidelity to the humble pizza pie, than with three options.

“One” is for amateurs. “Two” just did not sound like enough. “Four”? Are you kidding me? Way too many. “Three”; that was the number. And, as a bonus, with all that time for the dough to rise and for each pizza to cook (15-18 minutes each), what was a person to do but relax, drink your drink, cheer on the Lions, check in on the “Fantasy” team, pet the dog, live a little…Just live.

Next Week: Beth cooks “Pizza”… ■

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