When in Rome, do as the Romans do, as the old saying goes, but more pertinent to this week’s situation: when in Florence, do as the Florentines do.
And as North Carolina could very well be “in Florence” later this week, as in literally inside Hurricane Florence, one could be forgiven for asking, “what would the Florentines do?”
“Eat pizza?” one might respond. Probably not, as that is what Neapolitans would do, but it’s a good answer nonetheless.
Pizza is actually a pretty good solution to two of the problems caused by the extended power outages that often accompany a hurricane: what to eat and what to do about all the food in your fridge and freezer that’s going to go bad.
Pizza dough is essentially bread, which has been made for thousands of years before refrigeration and electricity were known to humans. Only four ingredients are required — flour, yeast, salt and water — none of which require refrigeration. (You did buy bottled water, didn’t you?)
And dough rises at room temperature, without benefit of refrigeration. If it sits out too long, you may end up with a sourdough crust, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It tastes good, and it’s probably not going to kill you. Which is all that humans asked of their food for millennia, and they weren’t always overly concerned with it tasting good.
If your stove is electric, or if your gas stove has an electric ignition, cooking is not going to be easy, and may be impossible. You can always light the burners of your gas stove with a match or a grill lighter (note: buy matches and a grill lighter), but the oven is a little trickier, since no one without a death wish wants to stick their head in a gas oven and light a match.
But your gas grill is still going to work. That is, it will work if you have propane. (Note: buy a tank of propane. Better yet, buy two.)
You can cook pizzas on the grill. And pizza provides a blank canvas for all the stuff in your freezer that will thaw and spoil if not eaten quickly. Pile your pizza full of formerly frozen food in peril of spoilage. Meat, vegetables, sauces, it’s all fair game. Pile your pizza so full it would make a garbage pizza from a Staten Island pizzeria look positively minimal. Regardless of why certain pizzerias call their fully loaded pizzas garbage pies, yours literally is a garbage pie, because everything that goes on it is saved from going into the garbage.
Some people claim a gas grill can be rigged to simulate a wood-fired brick oven, and though that claim seems a bit optimistic at best, you don’t need gourmet pizza. You need a hot meal for your family that’s going to leave you with a few less spoiled items in your freezer.
So remove the outside grates from both sides of the grill leaving one grate in the center. Place a pizza stone on it, if you’ve got one. (If you don’t have one, use a pizza pan and hope for the best. Remember, this is not a gourmet experience. This is an emergency.)
Turn all the burners to high, close the lid and preheat for 20 to 30 minutes to get the pizza stone good and hot. Open the lid slightly and toss a few drops of water on the stone. If it sizzles like holy water thrown in a vampire’s face, you’re ready to go.
Get your pizza onto the pizza stone the best way you can. If you’ve got a pizza peel and know how to use it, use it. If not, transport the pizza on a sheet of parchment paper and after a minute or so and the dough has begun to set, you can shimmy the parchment out before it bursts into flame.
Keep the lid closed as much as possible. It’s probably about 550 degrees in there, hotter than your oven but not as hot as a wood-fired brick oven, so your pizza will be done in about five to eight minutes.
Make sure your toppings are going to be cooked in that short amount of time. Cut in small pieces, or pre-cook a little while heating the pizza stone.
Don’t be afraid to get creative. Bacon and Brussels sprouts? Great idea. Find some cheese in the fridge that hasn’t spoiled, and slather on a bit of apple butter in lieu of sauce. You’ve got dinner.
Did you buy a family pack of chicken breasts that haven’t got even the tiniest chance of surviving a power failure once they thaw in the freezer? Got some frozen spinach? Well that right there is an actual Florentine pizza waiting to happen.
There’s your sign. Go for it.
Thin-Crust Pizza Dough
This recipe assumes you have a regular oven. Substitute the grill instructions above while the power is out.
Makes two 10-inch pizzas
3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 tsp. active-dry or instant yeast
2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Set the oven to 500°F or as hot as it will go and let it heat for at least half an hour before making the pizza. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the lower-middle part of the oven now.
Combine the water and yeast in a mixing bowl, and stir to dissolve the yeast. The mixture should look like thin miso soup. Add the flour and salt to the bowl and mix until you’ve formed a shaggy dough.
Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface along with any loose flour still in the bowl. Knead until all the flour is incorporated, and the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. The dough should still feel moist and slightly tacky. If it’s sticking to your hands and counter top like bubble gum, work in more flour, one tablespoon at a time, until it is smooth.
If you have time at this point, you can let the dough rise until you need it or until doubled in bulk (about an hour and a half). After rising, you can use the dough or refrigerate it for up to 3 days.
Cover the dough with the upside-down mixing bowl or a clean kitchen towel while you prepare the pizza toppings.
When ready to make the pizza, tear off 2 pieces of parchment paper roughly 12 inches wide. Divide the dough in 2 with a bench scraper. Working with one piece of the dough at a time, form it into a large disk with your hands and lay it on the parchment paper.
Work from the middle of the dough outwards, using the heel of your hand to gently press and stretch the dough until it’s about a 1/4-inch thick or less. For an extra-thin crust, roll it with a rolling pin. If the dough starts to shrink back, let it rest for 5 minutes and then continue rolling.
The dough will stick to the parchment paper, making it easier for you to roll out, and the pizza is baked while still on the parchment. As it cooks, the dough will release from the parchment, and you can slide the paper out midway through cooking.
Spoon a few tablespoons of sauce into the center of the pizza and use the back of a spoon to spread it out to the edges. Pile on all of your toppings.
Using a bread peel or the back side of a baking sheet, slide your pizza (still on the parchment) onto the baking stone in the oven. If you don’t have a baking stone, bake the pizza right on the baking sheet.
Bake for about 5 minutes and then rotate the pizza, removing the parchment from under the pizza as you do so. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes until the crust is golden-brown and the cheese looks toasty.
Remove the pizza from oven and let it cool on a wire rack. Repeat with shaping, topping, and baking the second pizza.
Let both pizzas cool for about five minutes before slicing and serving.
Chicken Florentine Pizza
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3 cups cooked chicken breasts (about 1 pound), cubed
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 pre-baked 12-inch pizza crust
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 tbsp. oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/2 cup shredded fresh mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 425°. Stir together Italian seasoning and garlic powder; toss with chicken. Spread ricotta cheese on pizza crust. Top with chicken, spinach and tomatoes. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Bake until crust is golden and cheese is melted, 10-15 minutes.
Mongolian BBQ Pizza
This recipe gives an example of how to use up some steak on a pizza. Use it more for inspiration than an actual blueprint. Use what you have, leave out what you don’t, and see if there’s anything in the freezer you can slap on. The recipe assumes use of a stove and oven, but use your grill if you need to.
3/4 pound beef for sukiyaki (super thinly sliced steak)
1/2 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
12 ounces bean sprouts
1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, sliced
1 tbsp. plus 1/2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. teriyaki sauce
1/2 tsp. hot oil
2 tsp. sesame oil, divided
1 tsp. ginger, divided
2 tsp. olive oil
2 cups shredded mozzarella
oil for frying
5 wonton wrappers, cut into strips
2 green onions, diced
Preheat oven to 430°F. Roll out pizza dough and place on a 15 inch pizza pan. Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes to slightly cook the dough. While dough is cooking, cook steak in a skillet over high heat, just until browned, about 1 minute. Add in mushrooms, onions, garlic, jalapeno, bean sprouts and green bell pepper. Add in soy sauce, teriyaki, hot oil, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Cook until vegetables have softened slightly. Turn off heat and set aside. Remove pizza crust from oven. In a bowl combine remaining ginger, sesame oil and olive oil. Brush onto pizza crust. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Put cooked beef and vegetable mixture evenly over the top of the crust. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until crust has browned. While pizza is cooking heat a 1/4 inch of oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Once hot, fry wonton strips, in batches if necessary. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle with salt. Remove pizza from oven. Sprinkle with fried wonton strips and green onions over the top. Slice and serve with sriracha and hoisin sauce on the side.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.