The apartment I fell in love with was on the top floor of a modern building, not far from the monumental railway station in Milan, and I was so excited when I moved in. My elderly neighbour provided Impatiens for the small balconies and, miraculously, they survived my black thumb. The sloping ceilings added a bohemian air to my surroundings, the bathroom had the largest shower I had yet to encounter and, in the morning, I would be waken up by the sound of the tram rolling over the tracks four floors below. Today, I would find it annoying but, then, it added a romantic, old world touch ( I didn’t know then it was old world until I moved to the new world and started missing idiosyncratic things such as noisy public transportation).
The kitchen was orange, if it could even be called a kitchen – it was more like a nook open to the large living room. It consisted of a tiny fridge, a two burner stove, a sink and some storage space, next to no counter and, most definitely, no oven. I was still years away from professional baking but I soon realized some sort of oven was a must and I bought a counter top variety that came with a pizza stone. It was around that time that I started the tradition of Saturday night dinners at my house, where a bunch of friends would come and I would provide the centerpiece of the meal, which was invariably a cross between some recipe taken from a book and experimentation, and they would provide everything else. On occasion, a pizza delivery would come in handy, mostly when my experiments went awry.
The pizza stone intrigued me and, aware that I couldn’t make a real pizza in such an oven, I thought I could quickly master the homemade variety, which is thick and doughy, cut in rectangular slices and topped with tomatoes and mozzarella. My boyfriend’s mother, not exactly known for her culinary excellence, could nonetheless make such a mean pizza and provided me with the dough recipe. Invitations were extended over the phone and, on a Saturday afternoon, I set out to make my first pizza. Let’s just say I wasn’t that familiar with yeast, leavening times and all the chemical reactions that make baking so intriguing.
What I believed would be my masterpiece pizza went into the oven a few minutes before my friends were due to arrive. I can’t clearly recall who first noticed that something was amiss but, looking through the glass of my small appliance, a monster could be seen growing out of proportion, soon pushing against the door and threatening to take over the apartment. In an afternoon, I had given life to the Thing that took Stephen King 400 pages.
Needless to say, no pizza was had that night, at least not made by yours truly. It took a few more years before I recovered from my humiliation and gave it another try but I finally reached a foolproof dough.I like to make it the day before and let it rest and proof in the fridge overnight so that, when I am ready to bake it, all I need to do is stretch it, top it and pop it in the oven. For the recipes and other pizza tips, I will see you next week.