Monday, September 22, 2008

pizza and movie night chez Tiny Banquet

Pizza and a movie at home: an ideal way to forget about whatever is troubling you at the moment. My troubles with the police were over, but I was in dire need of a break from the constant whirring of election chatter in my internets and my NPR. Maybe it's the fiscal crisis that's working your stomach into a pile of knots? No, not me; I am hopeful it will lead to an exodus of broke-ass bankers from my neighborhood. What I really, really needed was some time away from the terrifying visage of lying liar Sarah Palin, a primitive human being who ought to put a plate in her lip and a bone through her nose and call it a day.

The pizza was a minimalist one based on Gordon Ramsay's recipe for Wild Mushroom, Garlic And Mint Pizza.

minimalist pizza with shiitake mushrooms + pecorino

Not being in an obedient mood, I gave the recipe a quick glance while I was gathering my ingredients together and got some of it wrong during the execution. Mr. Ramsay probably would've had a few words for me. I put the toppings under the cheese because I was worried about the mint and the thinly-sliced mushrooms becoming crunchy in the oven, and because I thought I'd be better off scattering more fresh mint over the top of the cooked pizza anyhow. Also, I have a giant stash of dried shiitake mushrooms that I need to use, so I soaked them in boiling hot water for 30 minutes and used those rather than sautéed fresh ones.

We liked the pizza, but I used pecorino because Mr. Banquet is lactarded and it didn't melt nicely. I'd like to try again with kasseri, which I've used in the past; it's a Greek cheese made with sheep or goats' milk and melts beautifully.

I didn't see the link to Ramsay's recipe for basic pizza dough so I used one I've been relying on for a long time. It doesn't make the best pizza crust I've ever had but it is good, and it's ridiculously easy to make; it comes together in less time than it would take you to locate prepared pizza dough in the grocery store. I keep meaning to try this one because Heidi at 101 Cookbooks makes a very convincing case for its deliciousness, but I wasn't planning ahead and needed a dough that would be ready in half an hour.

pizza with shiitake mushrooms, pecorino and mint

adapted from Gordon Ramsay
makes 2 pizzas that will serve 4 to 6 people

for the dough:

3/4 cup warm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
small pinch of sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little more
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a tiny bit more for the bowl
a few pinches of semolina or cornmeal for baking

for the pizzas:

2 or 3 good handfuls of dried sliced shiitake mushrooms
boiling hot water to soak them in
1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
approximately 1/4 pound sheeps' milk cheese of your choice, thinly shaved or coarsely grated
at least 3 good handfuls of finely chopped fresh mint, one for each pizza and another for garnish
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Put 3/4 cup warm water in a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top, and add a small pinch of sugar. Let the yeast bubble up for 2 to 3 minutes. (I think it helps to warm the bowl first by swishing some hot water around in it and dumping it out, but maybe I am being too nice to my dough). When the yeast is dissolved, add the flour, salt and olive oil and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. When this mixture starts to come together and form a dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until it's smooth. (This whole process shouldn't take more than 5 minutes). Lightly coat the inside of the bowl with a little more olive oil, put the ball of dough back in it, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and let it rise for approximately 30 minutes, or until it has just about doubled in size.

Bring a medium-sized pan of water to a boil, throw in the mushrooms, turn off the heat, and clamp the lid on. Let them sit for approximately 30 minutes, or until they're thoroughly softened.

Preheat the oven to 400 °F.

Sprinkle 2 pizza pans with a little semolina or cornmeal. (I used one proper pizza pan 12" in diameter plus one quarter-size sheet pan 13" x 9"). Divide the dough in half and roll it out or stretch it to fit the pans.

Drain the mushrooms and squeeze them mercilessly until they're dry. Toss them with the garlic and the tablespoon of olive oil. Divide the mushrooms evenly over the pizza dough, grind plenty of black pepper over the top, and scatter the mint and the cheese over them. Bake the pizzas for approximately 20 minutes, or until they are nicely browned. (It helps to switch the pans around halfway through cooking). Cut the pizza into pieces, scatter more fresh mint over the portions to be eaten right away (and the parsley, if using), and serve at once. There's no sense scattering fresh mint over the whole lot if you're not going to eat it all that night because it will only turn brown and ugly.

In an interesting plot twist, the leftovers were far more exciting than the dinner. First—and most blissful—was a breakfast of leftover pizza warmed in the oven and topped with a fried egg and yet another handful of chopped mint. That's it, voila. Use olive oil to fry the egg, and maybe add a pinch of hot pepper flakes if that will help you face the day.

leftover pizza for breakfast

The remaining pizza got cut up into small squares, topped with thickened yogurt and more fresh mint, and served as a first course. It was still pizza of course but the yogurt and greenery made it feel healthy. I like Ronnybrook Dairy's tangy fat-free yogurt (really, it is likable!), which I thicken by plopping it into a clean coffee filter set in a sieve over a bowl. If you are starting with a thick yogurt already, you are a step ahead and all you need to do is cut up the pizza and the mint.

leftover pizza with yogurt and mint

The movie on our movie night was Billy Liar, a 1963 comedy directed by John Schlesinger. It stars Tom Courtenay as a young man who lives with his mum and dad and grannie, works as a clerk for some undertakers, and has several girlfriends he's engaged to, one of whom is Julie Christie. Here's the trailer:

The protagonist reminded me of Jim Dixon in Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim: a young man uncomfortable in post-war Britain, trying to make it a bit more comfortable with a very very active imagination. But where Jim fantasizes about plunging his adversaries into toilets, pushing things up their noses, and telling them exactly what he thinks of them right to their fat faces, Billy fantasizes about gunning them down. I don't think this works as well as a humorous gag as it might have in 1963, when it didn't happen in real life on a regular basis.

Billy is nonetheless a very likable character and the movie is worth a look-see. There are some very funny scenes—this one, for example, in which Billy prepares to give his notice at work—and there is Julie Christie swinging her handbag on her arm, which you really ought to see.


  1. Anonymous11:11 AM

    Typical elitist lawyer from NYC.
    The only liars are Obama and his crooked, racist unrepentant bomber cronies.

  2. Typical hate-fueled right-wing kook, seeking out and reading something that angers you just so you can leave a bitter, ignorant, inarticulate comment on it! Enjoy the rest of the internet.