I woke early this morning to the sound of rain plopping on the hosta lilies taking shape in the bed outside my window.  Last week I’d talked to my neighbor about whether we should be thinking about turning sprinkler systems on what would be easily a couple of months earlier than last year.  That may give you an idea of how wet last year was compared to how dry this one has been.  My concern was not for the lawn; I was getting worried about my birds.

Last fall, literally hours before the first of a nearly endless chain of wind storms that would grind on us all winter, I’d had all my trees trimmed.  They’re huge, and were in dire need of some serious work.  The massive maple in front was overhanging the house; two ash trees formed a low arch over the driveway, and I’d have to duck beneath leaf-laden branches; one of the ashes in back furnished lovely shade for my neighbor’s deck, but also threatened to beat it right off the back of the house; another ash had its sights set on the garage roof.  Last winter was the windiest I’ve experienced anywhere, and for months my mantra was:  Thank God I had the trees trimmed.

When I arrived home just as the trimmer and his crew were finishing the cleanup, which probably took longer than the original trimming, I was anxious about the nests I knew were there.  I love trees in winter, bare of leaves, when otherwise hidden nests are visible.  The ash trees in back held nests where sparrows and finches has raised families.  When the fledglings were capable of flying and learning to feed themselves, parents would bring them down to feeders all around the yard and stuff seed into their gaping, shrieking yaps until little light bulbs went on and they figured it out.  The maple had been home to my robin.  I still marvel at the engineering of her nest.  Its base and exterior walls consist of twigs and evergreen needles and assorted flotsam woven into mud as solid as cement.  On the bottom, the mud curved over the branch on which it sat to anchor it in place.

When the trees were trimmed, they still bore leaves.  I anxiously peered into the now somewhat visible reaches and asked the trimmer if he had saved “my” nests.  “Oh yeah,” he answered, waving a hand vaguely in the air, “you’ve got some left.”  The man may know his trees, but shortly thereafter when all the leaves had been blasted away, it became apparent that his and my definitions of “some” could not be more different.  Note to self:  the next time trees are trimmed, negotiate nests before the first chainsaw is fired.

So, grateful as I was that the trees had been seen to, I’d lost one of winter’s pleasures:  relief as the nest inventory weathered winds and heavy snows.  When bitter winter winds yielded to warmer spring ones, with precious little precipitation in any form, I began to worry about my birds.  They needed mud to begin building new nests, and hopefully reinforcing the one left from trimming.  Hence the conversation about turning on the sprinklers early.  But when I woke up early this morning, my first thought was:  mud!


Makes 1 12″ pizza

Last night was pizza night.  I’d made my dough that morning using my standard favorite recipe, and by dinner time it had risen perfectly.  I turned it out of the bowl and divided it in half.  One half would be dinner, and the other was wrapped and refrigerated to be turned into a calzone for Meatless Monday dinner on, obviously, Monday.

On a floured board, I pressed the dough out into a circle about 6 or 7 inches in diameter, dropped the piece of plastic over it (the one that had covered the bowl), and preheated the oven to 350 degrees.  I put my pizza stone in the oven at the same time.  I arranged 6 slices of bacon on a baking sheet, and when the oven was hot, slid them in.  Cooking bacon in the oven saves a serious clean-up on your stove top.  I only baked the bacon about halfway (10 minutes) because I didn’t want it to get overcooked on the pizza.  When it came out of the oven, I left it set at 350 degrees.

While the bacon cooled enough that I could handle it, I diced 2 tomatoes in 1/2″ dice.  Now that the pizza dough had rested (it’s actually the gluten that needs to rest), I could press it the rest of the way with the greatest of ease.  I wanted it about 13″ in diameter, and very thin – a little less than 1/4″.  Finally, I cut the bacon into 1/2″ pieces.

I sprinkled my peel (if you don’t have one, use the back of a baking sheet) generously with polenta – corn meal or semolina will work well, too.  I set the pizza dough on the peel and brushed it lightly with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  The bacon was scattered about next, followed by the tomatoes.  Next, I slid the pizza onto the stone – the polenta or cornmeal or semolina act like little, tiny ball bearings – and set a timer for 15 minutes.

While the pizza baked, I washed 3 large leaves of romaine, dried them with a towel, and sliced them very, very thinly across the middle.

A note here about the baking time:  typically, pizza is baked at much higher temperatures.  I wanted this one, though, to be very, very tender, and for the bacon and tomatoes to be just the right doneness.  The bacon needed to be crisp, and the tomatoes just caramelized on their tips.  After 15 minutes, the crust wasn’t quite as brown, nor the tomatoes caramelized, so I gave it another 5 minutes.  It was perfect.

After I removed the pizza from the oven, I let it sit for 5 minutes.  I wanted it still warm, certainly, but I didn’t want the lettuce to wilt when it was dropped over the top.  Since a 12″ pizza is more than I can eat by myself, I first cut the pizza in half, then one half into three generous  slices.  Then I dropped handfuls of lettuce shreds over the tops.

My friends, it may be the best pizza I have ever had.  The crust was tender, the bacon crisp, the tomatoes riotously flavorful, and the lettuce crunchy.  I savored each and every bite.  I still have a whole half left for lunch today, rain was forecast for overnight, and life was very, very good.  I have high hopes for my trees.

Someone is hoping I'll share

About thesolitarycook

I'm a chef, a cook, a teacher, a reader, a writer, a bike-rider, a dog- and cat-woman
This entry was posted in Breads & Pizzas, Entrées, RECIPES, STORIES and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to RAIN AND A BLT PIZZA

  1. Love a BLT and on pizza what a great idea. Delicious!

  2. Karen Rush says:

    I love a perfect pizza … and have not eaten many. This looks spectacular. I hate those pathetic look-a-likes made in plastic franchised- owned buildings. I once loved simple, stunning slices of pizza perfectly cooked (thin, crisp, no cheese,a quick wipe of fruity olive oil and sprinkled with diced fresh rosemary and sea salt) stumbled over in a little arcade in Sienna off the main square
    in the city. An American professor and his teenage daughter simultaneously made the same discovery. It was winter and cold outside. We stayed munching away groaning at each mouthful. Breakfast and lunch in one session. Your pizza was more but not too much more … bacon and tomato in perfect unison and with the finely cold lettuce on top. You have such a way of nailing the essence of things.

    I am not a baker as I lived a gluten free life to age 25 after a wrong medical diagnosis and also because I had a mother who had absolutely no interest or experience in such things (she was a wonderful savory cook however). I too have a highly developed savory palate and hence cook extensively at that end of the spectrum. That being said I intend to venture into baking. I would have loved to have been one of your international bakers but I am totally under-cooked in this regard. Give me 12 months though. I will buy your book and cook my way through it. I’m glad you are getting along with this terrific project. Strange though, I have a wonderful 32 year old daughter (diplomat heading soon for the UN in Geneva) who is a terrific cook and very fine baker. She was born with her late father’s love of baked goods and a particular attachment to pancakes (blog. http://www.fourfigsandaduck.blogspot.com ). Proves it is genetic perhaps.

  3. Karen Rush says:

    I also wanted to comment on what a terrific writer you are … lyrical, interesting, informative. I am so enjoying your daily posts. With the time difference, they are there when I wake up in the morning. After feeding my little dogs, we come back to bed with my coffee and my iPad – best time of the day.
    Another parallel – while you and your daughter were eating your way around Italy and France and enjoying the experience so much, Jeffie and I were meandering around Paris and cooking in south-west France with the wonderful American Kate Hill at Camont in Gascony. Jeffie’s blog covers some if this in late September/ October last year.

    • If only we’d known! It sounds as though you and your daughter travel as well together as mine and I do. Her bog is beautiful, and I especially enjoyed their travels doing wine tasting and eating. Good heavens, it’s beautiful where you live! You’re just going to have to visit that lovely young woman in Switzerland, now, aren’t you. The possibilities of having a family member based in Europe are so rich! My daughter elected not to return to Florence this summer, for reasons with which I completely agree. Still . . . it would have been wonderful to have to return to Italy. Another day.

      Now Karen, let me tell you that you are precisely the sort of person I most love, love, love working with on baking. Imagine that I’m begging you to join us. Because I am. You certainly don’t have to sign up for every single date, but let me give you and idea of what we’ll be doing: 5/28 Quick Breads, Muffins – all mixed by hand! 5/12 Scones Sweet and Savory, including fruit shortcakes and minis with savory fillings 5/19 Belle Foley’s Chocolate Cake, an heirloom recipe which also doesn’t require a mixer 6/9 Pizza! On the grill (do you people really call it the “barbie?”) and in the oven. Also Calzones. 6/16 Chiffon Cakes 6/23 Handmade pastas

      Quite seriously, I love working with people who would sooner consider themselves circus performers than bakers. My bent, if you will, is to teach people the “whys” that most cookbooks written for home bakers don’t explain, for reasons that are utterly mysterious to me. Are home bakers presumed not to be able to understand WHY it’s important to add eggs one at a time allowing each to be fully incorporated before adding the next. What the heck, just tell them to do it, don’t tell them why. Things like that drive me mad. Am I making this sound more approachable for you? You’ll receive via email a copy of the day’s recipe in plenty of time to get supplies if need be, and read it thoroughly. Then you’ll prepare the day’s recipe, evaluate it, and hopefully photograph it, and also complete an evaluation also sent via email. That’s it. You get to keep the recipe and eat and share whatever you’ve prepared. Seriously, Karen, I hope you are getting the idea that this is indeed right up your alley. You’re the sort of person I’m writing for, and I’d love to have you be a part of the process. With full attribution, of course. And if your daughter would also join us, well, more’s the better.

      Your words are so kind, and I find myself eagerly anticipating a response from you. Yours are always so rich in sweet details of your day. I, too, get back in bed with coffee, animals, and either a computer or book or both. So in the morning, as you’re reading this with your coffee and dogs, look into their eyes and ask if this is something you should do. They love you, and their beautiful big eyes will say YES!

    • You just gave me an idea. I would like to include at the head of each recipe icons for necessary equipment, such as a stand mixer – not necessary, would make things easier. Thank you!

    • Oh, and have I mentioned, I’ve been asked to put together a baking workshop in France in 2013?

    • Good grief, you must be getting tired of me. I joined your daughter’s site as boulangere.

  4. Karen B Rush says:

    I’m on Facebook as Karen B Rush and I am on twitter as krusher46 if you’d like to communicate that way.

  5. ldpw says:

    I love all of your birds and their stories. I’m glad you got some rain. This pizza sounds and looks phenomonal.

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