Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cheese Board pizza

Time again, kiddos, for another installment of the great ETH pizza experiment! Take a seat and let me regale you with tales of yet another homemade pizza that blew my mind.

Where were we again in this saga? Oh right, last time we were planting ripe heirloom tomatoes and fresh cilantro on a dough from Martha Stewart's baking handbook. Well, let me tell you, things have changed around here. Thanks to a trip to Modesto's fantastic library (let me mitigate this praise a little bit with something that's kind of been nagging at us since we started using this library quite a lot: while Modesto shelves both sides of an entire aisle with floor to ceiling cookbooks, we have not found a single book of poetry in the whole damn place. I mean, come on! It's a whole form of writing unrepresented. For shame, Modesto, for shame.) we've been paging through The Cheese Board: Collective Works, indescriminately trying recipes so heavy with cheese each could bankrupt a dairy. This is a book devoted, as far as I've been able to determine, entirely on the analysis of every possible intersection of cheese and flour and I can't reccomend it highly enough. It's an orgy of cheesy breads and cheesy scones and cheesy rolls and, as anyone who knows anything about the Cheese Board would invariably assure you: recipes for some of the best hippy pizza available on this planet.

See, the Cheese Board's pizzeria offshoot holds a special place in the hearts of those who've spent time in the East Bay. Rain or shine you'll find the place packed for lunch and dinner, often with a line stretching down the block and a jazz group blazing away. At the counter, they'll be serving up one and only one type of pizza, invariably something greasy and crisp and topped with a slathering of seasonal ingredients and gourmet cheeses.
Which is not to say it's everyone's taste. Certainly when I was holed up in Berkeley's hills it wasn't to mine. I stopped in to the Cheese Board a grand total of twice: once for pizza and once at the original establishment to buy cheese. The cheese rocked but the pizza I thought was weird, topped with a dusting of these strange-tasting purplish olives and almost livid with olive oil and tangy cheeses. I never went back, confirmed in my belief that when it came to pizza in town Blondie's and Fat Slice were the furthest I need trek. But in the six years since then, my tastes have changed. I've long since identified the weird olives as kalamata and embarked on a grand love affair with the things; have developed a growing appreciation for goat cheese; have begun to read whole books on pizza just because I want--no, need--to know it better; in short, have come to a place in my life where the Cheese Board's mission makes sense to me, where I see how amazing a place I was near yet somehow stupidly, stubbornly blind to.

So just how good is this pizza?

So good that with occasional forays back into the world of the deep dish, I think I've found my crust. So good that when my best friend Jack who, like Mikey from those old Life Cereal commercials, will eat anything and probably has, described it to another friend of ours, he used the words "best pizza in the whole friggin' universe."
So here's what you need to know about this pizza: it's easy and it's quick and despite being vegetarian it's terrible for you. Just... just terrible. Let's start with the dough:
  • 3-1/2 to 4 cups bread flour
  • 1-1/2 cups of warm water
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 tsp kosher salt
Combine the yeast and water and let sit until foamy (about ten minutes), then add in the oil salt and a cup and a half of the flour. Stir with the paddle attachment on the mixer for 5 minutes then add in another cup of flour. Switch to the dough hook and let knead for another 5 minutes gradually adding in the remaining flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Transfer to an oiled bowl and let rise for an hour or overnight in the refrigerator.
After it's risen, separate and flatten into three 10" rounds. Meanwhile, combine a clove of minced garlic with a Tbsp of olive oil in a small bowl and let sit.

Next, take a pound of cheese of various types. We like a mix of sharp cheddar, mozzarella, and feta, though I would not call it an error to use a good crumble of goat cheese here. Divide out a third of the cheese and sprinkle it on the dough rounds. Nope, you didn't miss the tomato sauce, it's just cheese straight on the dough. Now add your hot toppings. We've tried a couple of different iterations but the best we've found to date is actually one of the standard recipes from the Cheese Board: roasted red peppers, a kalamata olive tapenade (firefox spelling suggestion: did you mean tapeworm?) made with a bit of black pepper, a cup of olives, a Tbsp of olive oil, and some red pepper flakes processed into a chunky spread, and chopped basil. For this recipe, the roasted peppers go on next and the remainder of the cheese goes on top.

Pop this onto a pizza stone in a 450 degree oven for about 12 minutes or until crispy and just starting to blacken in bits. The crispier the better, I say. Top the bubbling mess of cheese with the tapenade and basil, and brush the outside of the crust with the olive/garlic mixture. Slice and serve and watch your friends' eyes go fuzzy and their jaws go slack. Listen to the crunch of the crust where it has infused with the mountain of cheese, wait for your world to crumble around you.

Yes, this pizza is terrible for you as far as vegetarian pies go, but my God is it not wondrous as well? Is it not somehow exactly what I'd tasted as a youngling and yet also not at all that? Do you even know what I mean at all?


Tanya Patrice said...

Thx for the recipe - it looks fantastic and I can't wait to try it. Oh I bet I could fool everyone with this pizza into thinking I bought it.

Dana said...

Oh, it's definitely the sort of pizza to impress your friends and neighbors. Gorgeous and crazy delicious. I think our dinner guests were pretty happy.

grace crawford said...

We do homemade pizza most Fridays also. I'm definitely going to try this!
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David Hall said...

I think the recipe is supposed to read one tablespoon of yeast, not one teaspoon.