I would like to now talk about the delightful virtues of the pizza stone. I'm not even talking about the $40 version you have to buy at a gourmet kitchen store. I just mean a slab of stone, maybe it's an oversize floor tile sample, large enough to be placed in a conventional domestic oven, preheated at 500 degrees and waiting patiently to sear a crisp, perfect edge onto a rolled out piece of pizza dough.
So I had a pizza party the other night for my good pal Christa. Not only was it a pizza party but it was a secret mini living room show with her favourite musician in the world, Joel R L Phelps playing.
But since this is a post about pizza I'll save the music story for another blog.
Christa is as nuts about pizza as I am... always searching, always hoping for that great slice of perfect pizza found somewhere in one of Vancouver's gobs of dollar slice pizza shops, Italian job restaurants and modern cuisiney type places. My favourite pizza place in Vancouver is Lombardo's... we've been going there for years with my family. It never even occurred to me that it was in a weird half-empty, fairly ugly mini-mall until Rich pointed it out to me one time. Anyhow the legend goes that it was once run by a married couple, until the husband cheated and they got a divorce. The wife kept Lombardo's, the husband opened an exact copy of Lombardo's just a few blocks away but in a more jazzed-up setting, making it a snootier affair with not so great service. Garbage. Give me Lombardo's anyday over the new joint!
Lombardo's has a woodfire burning oven, the KEY to great pizza. Perfectly crisp, yet chewy too, sometimes charred on the bottom, misshapen but lovingly formed circles of dough, scattered with artichoke hearts, ham, olives or classically prepared with tomato sauce, sliced fresh mozzarella and torn basil leaves. A wooden paddle slides under the pizza and with one fell swoop blasts it straight into the hot fires of the oven's mouth, minutes away to pizza heaven.
Christa, in her pizza seeking obsession, sent me this link for the pizza party! Since we had recently had a popcorn ball-making mishap together (I sometimes like to pepper recipes with my own non-touches) there was a clear inclination that the recipe was to BE FOLLOWED!!!
Diligently I gathered the ingredients, choosing to go to the Italian foods megamart Bosa Foods (though I think I could've found everything much cheaper around where I live)... canned San Marzano whole tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh fragrant basil, balls of plump Mozzarella nestled in water, salty Italian prosciutto, a hunk of Asiago cheese and grated (I felt lazy) parmiggiano reggiano. And, of course "00" pizza flour and dry active yeast for the dough!
Balls of dough were pre-made and chilled overnight in the fridge. I was freaked because some balls seemed hard and dense and other balls were light and soft like a yeasty pale balloon. I feared I may have messed up this temperamental dough...??
Paranoid as I was, I made a "test" pizza a few hours before the party the following day on a regular old circular pizza pan, the kind with holes dotted throughout it. GARBAGE! The crust was like that of a cheap frozen pizza, thick, white, not crisp and not good. I was scared... but...roll it out and bake it on a piping hot pizza stone??
The pizza stone saves all!!!!
You get the the crispest crust, a nice char in bits, still a bit of chew... the perfect crust. The mozzarella bubbling into the crust, everything coming together to form a perfect new entity of melded together ingredients. Hot, crisp, salty, tangy, pizzaperfect party time. And a chocolate cake with mocha buttercream and homemade espresso ice cream for dessert.
All hail the pizza stone. I am a convert and a half, times infinity to the highest power.