Pizza Envy

Spicy squid pizza, ready for the oven

Spicy squid pizza, ready for the oven

James is one of my favorite dudes. He drinks fine wine and rides motorcycles and drives 4WD tractors and builds things and does all those kinds of things I think of real men as doing. But that’s not why I’m envious of James. I’m envious because he’s got a wood-burning pizza oven on the patio outside his kitchen.

An invitation for pizza night and James and Catherine’s house is one of my favorite invitations. They buy a dozen or so pizza doughs, put out toppings from mozzarella and feta to sausage to roasted peppers, and invite everyone to design their own pizza creations. Not one to leave a simple dinner invitation alone, I of course have to bring a bag full of special things to make a bunch of my own fancy pizzas — which I’m never quite sure causes my hosts joy or distress.

The other night, one such pizza party, I arrived with duck confit, house-cured and -smoked salmon, homemade Chinese plum sauce, San Marzano tomatoes from the garden, pancetta, Spanish chorizo, radicchio, squid tentacles and other accessories. I also brought a chopped salad just to fully impose my imprint on their soiree. The kids frolicked in the pool, James was running around on the hillside chasing a stag away (“We might be having a venison dinner soon if I can keep these deer out of the garden!”), the ladies were sipping pink wine and I contemplated my pizza strategy.

Our neighbor Glennis had recently invited us to pillage her plum tree, and with the overripe fruit I had made a Chinese plum sauce, which I would pair with duck confit and onions for a Chinese-style pizza. Inspired by Mario Batali’s Sicilian lifeguard-style calamari, I would do a squid pizza with spicy heirloom tomato sauce (I had intended the chorizo for this pizza, but to my dismay discovered that James’ daughter Julia had mistaken it for pepperoni and covered her own pizza with it first). I would also riff on that deli classic, bagels and lox, with a pizza topped with cream cheese, cherry tomatoes, red onions, capers and post-oven cured and smoked salmon.

But the standout of my four pizzas was a composition of wild mushrooms in a cream sauce, radicchio and curly, crisp pancetta. Pal Ernie also produced a stellar pie, covered as it came out of the oven with mounds of arugula and proscuitto di Parma.

Pizzas (clockwise from top left): smoked salmon and cream cheese; duck with Chinese plum sauce and red onions; roasted peppers and feta; spicy calamari; arugula and proscuitto di Parma; and wild mushroom with radicchio and pancetta.

Pizzas (clockwise from top left): smoked salmon and cream cheese; duck with Chinese plum sauce and red onions; roasted peppers and feta; spicy calamari; arugula and proscuitto di Parma; and wild mushroom with radicchio and pancetta.

The kids went first, and I must admit, for all my wild inventiveness, nothing looked or tasted quite as good as their simple tomato sauce and mozzarella pies.

The morning after: inevitably, I find myself awash in pizza envy, wandering my own property, looking for a place to install my own wood-burning oven. And dismayed at the lack of a proper spot for one, resign myself to my own good-enough convection oven-baked pies. And to the knowledge that soon enough, there will be another invitation to join James and Catherine and let my pizza creative side run wild.

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. senelslant
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 15:27:49

    Oh wow…this was the wrong post to read before lunch when tryig to be healthy. WOW!

    Reply

  2. The Kat and The Falling Leaves
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 15:31:39

    This makes me hungry. I’d have to be happy with my regular oven to make pizzas for dinner.

    Reply

  3. coffeetablecookbook
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 15:57:07

    I would have major pizza envy if my friends had a wood burning oven in their backyard! That’s living the ultimate dream!

    Reply

  4. Andy
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 19:58:08

    Yummy! I’ve beent thinking about the Pizza you taught Steve to make, Sean. Haven’t had it for a while.

    Reply

  5. Jessamine in PDX
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 20:45:38

    I am totally suffering from envy. Though it’s tie between the oven and the pizzas. They all sound amazing!

    Reply

  6. Michelle
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 21:38:34

    Jealous! We’re having pizza tonight. But, needless to say with just the two of us, just one variety.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jul 12, 2013 @ 21:44:27

      Hard to eat more than one pie when you’re only two! Jim Lahey’s no knead pizza dough is fantastic, by the way. And even though he advises you don’t freeze it, I’ve found it freezes/defrosts beautifully.

      Reply

  7. rachelocal
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 00:54:24

    I saw a squash blossom pizza recipe the other day and thought of you! I’m hoping to make it this weekend with the no knead dough.

    (This is why you are the ultimate food snob – you bring your OWN ingredients to the dinner party.)

    Reply

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