Just in case the title of this post didn’t give it away (I do understand that not everybody is a Rat Pack/Dean Martin fan–the horror!–and also that not everybody will have seen “Moonstruck” more than a few times in his or her lifetime, which, you know, you should think about fixing if you haven’t), today’s post is going to be about pizza. Warm, gooey, delicious pizza. More importantly, pizza with a bit of a twist since, as my mother pointed out to me today when I was making blueberry lemon pancakes for breakfast, “You just can’t use good old tried and true family recipes; you always need to be changing things.” On the one hand, that’s a completely fair assessment of my character and this is not the first time I’ve been accused of a need to “reinvent the wheel.” It’s also highly reminiscent of my need in the Slavic library to create “new and improved” Library of Congress call numbers when the system isn’t suiting my steadfast belief that all Nabokov books should be shelved together. But, on the other hand, I’d like to mention that she really liked those pancakes. In fact, she heated up the leftovers not too long ago for a little evening snack. To my credit, I didn’t say I told you so, but I can’t say I didn’t smile…and maybe a little smugly, but clearly in a good-humored way; this is, after all, the woman who gave me life. However, we’re talking about pizza here, not generations of hard-headed women verbally duking it out in the kitchen and insisting that she knows better, if not best. 🙂
My basic point here is that it’s important for you to understand that, when it comes to my family, we take our pizza very seriously. I know the secret ingredient used in my great-grandmother’s pizza dough, despite the fact that I’ve never produced it in my life (maybe on my next visit; perhaps to be revealed in a winter post); I also know that we use brick cheese instead of mozzarella and that I prefer this too. And I generally can’t think of pizza without having an image of a boisterous and rowdy Italian-American family (stereotypes, I’m sad to say, do often exist for a reason) sitting around a table, out-talking each other and munching away at thin slices of pizza with homemade tomato sauce. Which is why it’s a little surprising that I decided to go the route that I did: polenta pizza with spinach and the Greek cheeses (clearly, I am a Benedict Arnold not only to my family, but to my “heritage” as well….alas, it must be so) that I love: Feta and Kasseri.
While I have to admit that this pizza might not be for everybody (polenta is, after all, never going to be entirely crispy and textured, even if you let it brown in the oven. According to Wikipedia, “mush” is one of polenta’s aliases), it makes for a nice alternative to standard pizza crust. Mainly, it charmingly removes the possibility of having the eternal debate over the benefits of a thin crust compared to a thick one (in my humble opinion, these matters should be decided based not only on one’s mood, but also one’s location). It’s also light and tasty, which, given the current high humidity levels on the east coast, is just what the doctor ordered for a summer afternoon meal….with a nice, icy bottle of beer to top it all off. I started reading Beloved recently and, besides being intrigued by the odd happenings at 124, I also amazingly fell upon a line that embodies my thoughts on this meal and, oddly enough, is appropriately about corn (taken in context, however, it’s overtly sexual, but pizza and amore often go hand in hand…or so the song goes): “No matter what your teeth anticipated, there was no accounting for the way that simple joy could shake you.” And as we all know, simple pleasures are often the only kind worth having; try it and see if you don’t agree.
Greek-style Polenta “Pizza” (adapted from Mark Bittman’ s February 18, 2009 “The Minimalist” column)
Yields up to 8 slices (depending on how the pizza is cut)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, more for pan
1/2 cup milk, preferably whole
1 cup cornmeal
2 tsps. of both freshly chopped chives and oregano
1-2 Roma tomatoes, sliced finely (optional)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1 pound spinach, washed, trimmed and dried
6 oz. grated Kasseri cheese
4 oz. crumbled Feta cheese
-Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
-Brush a layer of olive oil on a pizza pan or cookie sheet.
-In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine milk with 2 1/2 cups water and a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking to prevent lumps from forming. Turn heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently, until thick, 5-10 minutes. If the mixture becomes overly thick, whisk in more water (mixture should resemble a thick oatmeal).
-Stir 1 tablespoon oil into cooked polenta and spoon it onto prepared pan, working quickly (note of warning: the polenta will stiffen if you dally). Spread it evenly to a thickness of about 1/2 inch all over. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the freshly chopped chives and oregano.
-Cover baking sheet with tin foil and put it in the refrigerator until it firms, an hour or more (the polenta can be prepared the night before).
-Place polenta in oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it begins to brown and crisp on edges.
-In the meantime, put two tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and allow it to soften for about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute or two.
-At this point, add the spinach to the skillet and sauté, sprinkling it with salt and lots of pepper.
-Take polenta “shell” out of oven and place the slices of tomato on top, before sprinkling the “shell” with the two cheeses.
-Spread the onion and spinach mixture evenly on top of the cheese; drizzle with another tablespoon olive oil.
-Put pizza back in oven for 4-5 minutes, or until cheese begins to melt.
-Cut into slices and serve hot or at room temperature.