So: Wood Oven Pizzas. It was Sunday night, and I wanted something easy, cheap, and quick. What followed was definitely not any of those three. Is the honeymoon period over? I fear it may be. Storm’s a-brewin’.
The introductory paragraph is one of Gwyneth’s most ridiculous. “We’ve got a wood-burning pizza oven in the garden — a luxury, I know, but it’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made,” she begins. UGGGHHHHH. It’s this complete lack of self-awareness that makes you such an easy target, Gwyneth! Is the best way to start a recipe REALLY to not-so-subtly suggest that your reader probably isn’t rich enough to afford all the tools necessary to make the recipe as delicious as possible? Fire your publicist! Fire your editor! Fire everyone!
Thankfully, Gwyneth doesn’t insist that you actually build your own wood-burning pizza oven in your garden. Instead, she informs me, I can simply use a “conventional” oven, turned as high as it will go, and a pizza stone. Well, fuck. I don’t have a pizza stone. To the store!
Over $50 later, I had a brand new pizza stone and pizza peel. So, before I even stepped foot in the grocery store, I was already way over any reasonable budget for one meal. But for some reason I must soldier on with this stupid project, so I loaded up my shopping cart and swiped my card, feeling the cost like a hit in the gut. Am I going to have to start choosing between this project and spending money at the bars? I really don’t want to have to make that decision.
Finally back home, I could start cooking. The first step was to make the dough. I whisked together some water, sugar, and yeast, and let it foam for about five minutes. I’ve never actually used live yeast before, so this was quite exciting to watch. I felt like a chemist! It was almost as if I had graduated with a degree in science! It was almost as if I had a job my father could be proud of! Alas, this was all just a pipe dream, and I returned to the dreary work of cooking Gwyneth Paltrow’s recipes for no reason.
I added some flour (it HAD to be King Arthur bread flour, probably because they paid Gwyneth) and water, and stirred until my arm was sore and I had a giant ball of dough. The next step required my hands to get dirty, as I kneaded the dough in flour for “8 minutes of hard work.” (It wasn’t that hard. I mean, it’s just kneading dough.) The dough then needed to sit in a plastic-wrapped bowl for at least an hour and a half.
Meanwhile, I needed to make the pizza sauce. This recipe was ridiculously easy – some garlic, olive oil, canned tomatoes, and salt, simmered for an hour, and then pureed. This left me with lots of downtime to drink wine, which I guess isn’t such a bad thing. Except I was hungry, and the sun was going down, and dinner was going to be at least another two hours away. Alcohol helped sooth my crankiness.
Two hours later, I could finally start making some pizzas! I quieted my impatient stomach and ripped off a chunk of dough from my dough ball, which had doubled in size and had tried to escape the bowl I had thought would contain it. I stretched and tossed and pressed the dough, attempting to make a thin, circular crust, but I quickly learned that I am terrible at stretching dough. My fingers kept poking through the center of the dough, I got flour all over the kitchen, and I couldn’t stop the dough from clumping up on the edge of the pizza, leaving enormously thick crusts and a paper-thin center. “Fuck it,” I thought. “I just need to eat something.”
I decided to start with a simple pizza, so the first was cheese. I spread the pizza sauce and sprinkled mozzarella, Parmesan, and fontina on top. I also got a little fancy and splashed the top with some white truffle olive oil my mom got me for Christmas, because I KNEW Gwyneth would approve of that. Using my fancy new pizza peel, I slid the pie onto the pizza stone (I say “slid,” which makes it sound easy, but dough, cheese, and flour went EVERYWHERE), and got to work on the second pizza.
Cheese pizza. With awkward crust.
I quickly realized that not only had I been cooking for about four hours now (granted, with some downtime to write yesterday’s blog post and drink), but cooking pizza this way was much more complicated than it originally seemed. Every time I slid a pizza in the oven, I had to immediately get to work building the next pizza, so that it could be popped in once the other pizza was done cooking. And since each pizza took only 5 minutes in the oven to cook fully, I needed to work quickly. I was sweating in no time. What happened to quick, cheap, and easy?
So, anyway, I did even worse in my second attempt at forming the perfect pizza crust (which resulted later in cheese and sauce dripping all over my new pizza stone), but I quickly threw together a Hawaiian pizza, with ham and pineapple. I don’t know why, but I had been craving Hawaiian pizza for literally weeks, which isn’t anything that I’ve ever craved before. So I was taking matters into my own hands and seizing control of my Hawaiian pizza destiny! Or something.
A not-so-round Hawaiian pizza.
The cheese pizza came out, and the Hawaiian went in. And I barely had time to enjoy my cheese pizza, because it was time to make my third pizza, with roasted red peppers, pearl onions, and artichoke hearts. This time around, I must admit that the pizza was pretty beautiful. I was definitely getting better.
A few short minutes later, the Hawaiian pizza came out, the veggie pizza went in, and I had to whip up my fourth and final pizza: a classic Margherita, with tomato slices and basil. Finally, at 10 PM, I was done cooking, and I had waaaay too much pizza, as well as an enormous mess in my kitchen.
This is when Gwyneth’s servants would really be nice.
But the pizzas were great! The Margherita seemed to be the favorite, although I really liked them all. I felt exhausted, but I also felt I had actually accomplished something. It turns out pizza-making with Gwyneth is not a walk in the park. However, upon further reflection, I started thinking, “Did Gwyneth even really teach me anything?” I mean, this was barely even a recipe. Yes, there were recipes for the dough and the sauce, but they’re two of the most basic recipes in the book. I mean, if I didn’t have a cookbook but wanted to make some fresh pizza dough, I’d probably just guess that I had to throw together water, flour, and yeast. And pureeing tomatoes and garlic is about as simple a recipe as you can get for pizza sauce. The rest of the “recipe” is just suggestions for toppings and descriptions of how wonderful it is if you can afford a wood-burning pizza oven.
So I’m sorry, Gwyneth, but I’m taking 70% of the credit on this one. Sure, you inspired me to go through all the trouble to make pizza from scratch, but you barely gave me any guidance (some tips on how to roll out the dough would have been greatly appreciated), and you seemed totally preoccupied with your own pizza oven. Did you even care if my pizzas turned out okay? And, for the record, saying, “Put some tomato sauce on some crust and then put whatever toppings you want on it,” is not an actual recipe. It’s just a dictionary definition of the word “pizza.”