Sunday, June 13, 2010
Pizza is my constant
When I was growing up my parents would make homemade pizza using tomato sauce and Bisquick baking mix. Canned mushrooms and pepperonis where my favorite toppings but I liked just about anything on my pizza. As the working parents of six children, pizza was a meal that was easy to prepare,hot and cheap. I made my first pizza somewhere around the age of ten and I have never looked back. When I was in high school I got a job working at Happy Joe's pizza parlour. Happy Joe's is a local Midwestern chain whose signature combination of diced Canadian bacon and sauerkraut is my favorite of all time. At the time I worked there Happy Joe's had big stone ovens. We had to grab the pizzas using long handled paddles that sometimes weren't quite long enough. I still have scars on my forearms 30 years after the fact from trying to reach the pies in the back.
We made the pizza in front of a huge glass window that all the kids would press their noses against. The uniform of the day was a straw hat they called a "boater"and black and red pinstriped shirts. Happy Joe's had a 1890's theme which was kind of a pain but the pizza was and is still awesome. I worked at Happy Joe's for the entire time I was in high school, the summer prior to my enlistment in the Army I was given the absolute coolest job any teenager could have. I was the "dough guy" I came in every morning and unloaded the delivery truck, took inventory of the pizza"skins" that were left in the cooler and went down to the dough room in the basement of the building. For the next 3-4 hours I would jam out to tunes while rolling out and cutting all the new pizza crusts and then making 5-6 55 gallon drums of new dough that I would put in the cooler to rise for the next day. It was just the kind of work I have always enjoyed, give me a task and stand out of my way.
At my first duty station Fort Bragg I rented a room from some friends, this was my first official place. And even though it was just a room in someone else's house it had a kitchen and often we would cook pizza. Once again because it was cheap and it went well with beer. I still remember the mix we used, it was called Appian Way named after the ancient Roman highway. I guess that was supposed to make us think it was authentic Italian but since it came out of a box bought from the Winn Dixie I highly doubted it was authentic.
And so it went throughout my travels, every where I went I would look for a good pizza. Once I made it to Europe I discovered that what we call pizza in the United States is not exactly the way they make it on the continent. I ate pizza in Germany and Switzerland, the cheeses were outstanding but they tended to pile all the toppings in the center of the pizza in a small mound. In Kosovo the neighborhood we stayed in had a Serbian pizzeria right down the street. I bet my team provided over 50% of its income in the 5 months we lived there. I used to order a large ham pizza and eat the whole thing myself. In my defense a Serbian large is about an American medium and the ham was really good Italian prosciutto. In Greece I ate pizza topped with fried eggs and olives. Not my first choice but still pretty good. In Turkey I had pizza at a restaurant on the coast of the Mediterranean, drinking EFES pilsner and watching the fishing boats bob in the water.
Eventually I made it to the mecca of pizza, Italy itself. I ate pizza topped with goat cheese and Roma tomatoes in the south of the country. Around Brindisi the toppings tended to be seafood related and tuna was a topping as well as shrimp. I ate thick crust pizza in Naples in the style of that city.Much like our own country Italy has regional variations on pizza. One point of order however, if you order pepperoni pizza in Italy you get pizza topped with small hot peppers not slices of meat. If you want what we call pepperoni you need to order salami. Learned that one the hard way. I think the best pizza I ate in Italy was sitting outside a small cafe' in St. Mark's square in Venice. I was drinking cappuccino, the pizza was cheese, the atmosphere was something I will never forget. I ate that pizza watching the sun go down over the canals wondering how a guy from Iowa had made it that far.
Even though I haven't left the Midwest lately I still enjoy pizza. The quick pizza you throw together using Chef Boyardee to the pizza I make using my pizza stone and gourmet ingredients. Pizza will always be my favorite and my constant.