Tuesday, December 6, 2011

CHARCUTEPALOOZA 12: SHOWING OFF. Do we do that? Brian’s Never Perfected Ever Perfect Pizza.

Here we are at the twelfth instruction from Mrs. Wheelbarrow on the final Charcutepalooza challenge: “Create a menu, a meal, a dish, a platter. We challenge you to create a celebration.”

This, of course, would be pizza. I know that for a lot of people, pizza is everyday and don’t bother to light a candle boring, something you order when you come in late or can’t think of what else to eat, but for us, pizza is a celebration. You see, in his younger life, Brian was the proud proprietor of a Santa Barbara pizza joint, Pizza Express, and though the business didn’t last long, the lifelong love of pizza did. Over the years, Brian has made pizza for all sorts of occasions – for football parties, for visitors from out of town, for all of the kids’ birthday parties, and once for his family’s neighbor Kelly, who requested “Brian’s pizza and homemade peach ice cream” when she was dying of cancer.
Ever the perfectionist, Brian is critical of each pizza that comes out of the oven, evaluating how it could be better, though anyone who ever tastes it says that it couldn’t be better.

Finally, we figured out a way to make Brian’s pizza better: top it with home made sausage and home cured meat!

For this Charcutepalooza pizza celebration, we took the pizza in two different directions. 

One was sort of Italian, with pancetta, Mr. Cavataio’s Italian sausage and thickly sliced lonzino. 

The other was spicy and smoky, with chorizo, andouille sausage, smoked chicken, and tasso ham. 

Both had tomato sauce and a mix of fontina, assagio, parmesan, and mozzarella cheese. 

We passed fresh garden arugula and thinly sliced lardo at the table.

When you make and eat pizza, it’s a joyous experience, especially when you’ve got home cured charcuterie to top it with.


This is the old pizza dough recipe that Brian wrote out for me many years ago. You can make it the same day, but if you can make it a day ahead and let it rest in a cool place, it will be better.  Nowadays, he will often just use the Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe- it is nearly the same as his, their 24 hour recipe works well, and as Brian puts it, “it’s a good recipe”.

2 Dough Balls

4.5 cups flour (high gluten is best)
1.5 cups water, warm
1 tsp sugar
½ cake yeast (1.25 tsp)
1 “glug-glug-glug” of olive oil (about 2 T)
1 tsp salt

Combine water, yeast, sugar, and oil in bowl and give it a stir. Mix in dry ingredients slowly, and add salt last.
It is best if you have a mixer with a dough hook, but can be done by hand. Mix until dough ball comes together in a unified mass. It should be fairly sticky – if it’s too dry it will split when you try to stretch it.
Completely oil the inside of two small mixing bowls, divide your dough in half, and knead each into a ball that has no seams. Coat dough ball with oil from inside of bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, sealing the edges.

Place in a cool place for 24 hours. A cool garage or refrigerator will do. The next day let it come to room temperature before you stretch it. (If you’re in a pinch for time, you can just let it rise on the counter and make it the same day, but it really is better if it rests for a day).

When you’re ready to stretch your dough, sprinkle some flour on the counter. Take your dough ball and rotate it in one direction with one hand as you press it with the other, forming it into a thick disc. To stretch, lift the dough, cupping over the backs of your hands (fingers curved), and, as gravity pulls the dough down, slide it around on the backs of your hands so that it stretches evenly. Let gravity do the work. Flip onto pizza pan (or curl if you’re cooking it on a pizza stone). We usually put it on a wire pizza pan, and then put that on the pizza stone, and if we ever cook it directly on the stone, we put it on parchment paper and then slide it onto the stone. We do it this way because Brian has found that in a home kitchen, without the high heat of a commercial oven, it is very difficult to slide a pizza directly off a peel.

I’m experimenting with whole-wheat crusts, too, but haven’t perfected it yet.
It didn’t make the light, stretchy dough I’d like, and this time the dough was a little dry. It had to be rolled out with a rolling pin, and was a little more brittle than regular dough, though it didn’t taste bad. Here’s how I modified his dough: instead of bread flour, I used 1.5 c whole wheat pastry flour, 1.5 c barley flour and 1 c oat flour, and 1 tsp gluten. Look for improvements on this in the future.

Swirl an even layer of sauce on your pizza, cover with obscene amounts of cheese, and then 
whatever toppings you like, keeping in mind that super finely sliced onion on any pizza is a must. Be sure that your oven is preheated and very hot, as hot as it will go, probably 450 or 500. Bake for about 10 minutes, check at 8 minutes, but gauge it by the cheese, which should be starting to brown and bubbly when the pizza comes out of the oven.

The tomato sauce has evolved, too, with minced onion replacing the added sugar, and a splash of wine or vermouth.

1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1.25 T sugar
.5 T Basil (or less)
.5 T Oregano (or less)
3 medium cloves garlic
.5 tsp pepper

Heat and cook until flavors come together.


Saute 1 small onion, minced finely in some olive oil. Add minced garlic and a splash of red (or white, or vermouth, or even red vermouth), then
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp salt
.5 T Basil (or less)
.5 T Oregano (or less)
2 medium cloves garlic
.5 tsp pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes

Cathy Masey, daughter’s mother-in-law, kindly shared her father’s recipe for Italian sausage, and the most adorable picture of Aaron at the age of four making sausage with her dad. This sausage recipe is dynamite, and I highly recommend it. It’s a simple recipe, but the flavors are balanced, and it works well in any recipe. It has become my favorite, go-to Italian sausage recipe.


5 lbs pork
1 lb beef
2 T salt
4 tsp black pepper
.5 tsp red pepper
1 T parsley
1 T fennel
.5 – 1 c water to mix seasonings in

So ends the year of meat. It has been a lot of fun to participate in such an outrageous activity, and to share the experience in this blog. I’ve stretched my already far flung boundaries, and ventured into culinary territory that I may not have explored without Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s gentle prodding in her monthly challenges.

One of the nice things about it has been that we have had a consistent and plentiful supply of meaty goodies in the freezer, ready to go, to make whatever it is that I’m cooking taste better. It is nice to have it around, to pull out and use in this and that, on an ordinary day. One of my favorite “side effects” of Charcutepalooza was not even a meat, but smoked tomatoes (try that in your coulis!) and smoked salt (try that on anything!)

Back in the spring, when I got that miserable lab work back from the doctor, I almost dropped out of it. I’m glad that I didn’t, because rather that ruling it all out, I’ve learned modify recipes slightly, to use this kind of meat more as a seasoning than as a main ingredient, so I can enjoy it and still  keep the cholesterol in check.

And there was something uplifting about joining in with other just-that-kind-of-crazy types from around the country (and the globe!) and doing this kind of activity together. It gave it another dimension, and it was so nice to be connected in that way to each other. I enjoyed occasionally dropping into the Tweet room, and spent many pleasant hours visiting my fellow Charcutepaloozians’ blogs. Over the course of the year there were some who let it go, but also many who kept with it. I’ve been touched, impressed, and inspired by these people and their blogs. I’m thankful that they were inclined to share their experiences with me and look forward to checking in on them from time to time.

It is kind of sad to be coming to the end here, but I feel like I’ve just started. It seems like just yesterday that I was figuring out how to set up a blog, and I still haven’t created a proper index for it. A few months ago, when I was browsing through other Charcutepalooza blogs, I came across a food photography class that was being taught up in Frederick, so I spent a wonderful Saturday at Frederick Foodie’s cooking school with food photographer Andrea J. Walker, learning about how much I need to learn in the realm of food photography.
And as far as charcuterie is concerned, there is always another piece of meat to cure. I think I’ll try that duck proscuitto again, oh and I really want to do a ham, could I do a country ham?, and maybe some pepperoni too. Come to think of it, that pizza would have been better if I’d have bothered to make my own cheese…
With food & love,

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