For some inexplicable reason, it seems as though new couples often find the need to engage in displays of culinary prowess in the early days of dating. Maybe it’s the thought of a romantic dinner where the dining room is conveniently located in close proximity to the bedroom; or, should one be so cheeky, the thought of frying up some bacon together the next morning.
As my now-husband and I clumsily fumbled our way through the heady days of infatuation, we often found ourselves in the kitchen. I remember a meal of pan-seared scallops prepared in the galley kitchen of my apartment, browned in melted butter and tossed with garlic and chives, served with a side of trepidation in hopes of impressing my parents, who had arrived in town eager to meet the young man who had captured their daughter’s heart. I remember cooking meals in the retro-styled kitchen of the house my lover shared with his buddies…or at least, looking into the cupboard and upon finding a box of spaghetti and a small bottle of Chili powder he’d picked up on a trip to Mexico, ordering from our favourite Chinese place instead.
Above all other foods, my husband and I have always shown our love for each other with pizza. Our first pizza was at my place just a few weeks after we met, and it was a test. I have always been a fan of more adventurous flavour combinations when it came to my favourite slices, and so I wanted to see if the new man in my life would try something that might challenge his palate a little, which it appeared had been well-honed on a steady diet of chicken wings and Kraft Dinner. So onto a pre-prepared crust went a thin layer of basil pesto, a handful of shrimp, and a sprinkling of cashews. For some reason I have a greater recollection of the process of making this pie than of how it actually tasted. I remember pulling out these ingredients – so incongruous with my dear man’s established pizza standards – and piling them onto the crust, looking up at him to gauge his reaction as I did. Though he didn’t flinch, shrimp never did make it back into our pizza topping rotation.
Of course there were many many regular old pizzas – pre-packaged crusts, sauce out of a bottle, flavourless pepperoni slabs and handfuls of mozzarella. But then, something magic happened. Not even a year after our courtship began, we bought a house together. It was a newly renovated house in a rough, or, as our realtor preferred to say, “up and coming” north end neighbourhood. Though the little two-storey place near the harbour had lovely charm, it also came with a back yard full of gravel and several years worth of fast food containers pitched over the fence by our neighbours. Our first task was to turn it into a yard. As the daughter of avid gardeners, I was cautiously excited about the idea of a garden of my own. Over the course of weeks, gravel was replaced by grass, and I had a little plot of dirt, an intimidating carte blanche for the amateur green thumb. I had no idea what to plant, until I found six little tomato plants for five dollars each at the local farmers market. In they went, and I watched them blossom and grow and sprout dozens and dozens of hard green fruit. That fall, I had more tomatoes than I knew what to do with. After making litres of salsa and bottles of green tomato chow, I decided to roast a little garlic, chop a few romas still warm from the autumn sun, and throw the mixture on some dough with pepperoni and cheese. And so it was that, oh so quietly and unassumingly, our pizza epiphany dawned. Homemade sauce. Our lives would never be the same.
…stay tuned for Part Two…but until then, enjoy our favourite classic pizza.
It starts with Dylan’s awesome tomato sauce:
This is just a bunch of tomatoes chopped coarsely and boiled down for a couple of hours (until it’s started to reduce and caramelize – which you’ll see happen when your volume of sauce decreases and starts to turn a browner red) with a full head of roasted garlic (to roast garlic: place bulbs – skin on – in a baking dish with a good few glugs of olive oil. Roast at 400F until soft. Remove the skins and add to your sauce). We usually add salt and pepper to taste for seasoning, as well as oregano and thyme.
Sometimes, though, we don’t even cook the sauce in advance. We just finely chop some tomatoes, add the garlic and some finely chopped onions, and spread that right on our pizza crust. Up to you!
Then we add some really lovely salami – usually a spicy genoa – and a few red peppers, mushrooms and cheese. We find that keeping the toppings to a minimum makes for a better ‘za.