"Tomato Pies, 25 Cents" by Grace Cavalieri + Margherita Pizza

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Andrew and I just had two cases of Zinfandel shipped to us from one of our wine clubs. You know, house wine for the holiday season... Obviously, we needed to test a bottle or two before serving it to our family and friends, so pizza night was in full force. And it got me thinking. Isn't pizza one of those quintessential childhood foods? So many memories of mine include dough, cheese, and red sauce. Pizza parties after soccer games. Ordering Little Caesars pizza every Monday night when my dad was teaching at the university. Sharing a pie at Woodstock's with my college roommates. Then I picked up the pre-made dough and sauce at Trader Joe's while my cooking muscles were still flexing. Today, there are gourmet pizza restaurants in every city, which I love, but making pizza at home is one of great pleasures of home cooking, I think. It's really not to be missed.

It's now been several years since I began making my own dough. I think I've tried every new recipe that's come along, from Peter Reinhart's overnight dough (delicious but more time-intensive) to an instant yeast version that's ready in under five minutes. I've since settled somewhere in between, using active dry yeast and a reasonable rise time (1-2 hours). I haven't experimented with 00 flour yet, though I know that will come, so for now this is my favorite pizza dough. It's reliable, and when cooked on a hot pizza stone, will give you a really good quality pie in your own home.

Tomato Pies, 25 Cents

By Grace Cavalieri

Tomato pies are what we called them, those days,
before Pizza came in,
at my Grandmother’s restaurant,
in Trenton New Jersey.
My grandfather is rolling meatballs
in the back. He studied to be a priest in Sicily but
saved his sister Maggie from marrying a bad guy
by coming to America.
Uncle Joey is rolling dough and spooning sauce.
Uncle Joey, is always scrubbed clean,
sobered up, in a white starched shirt, after
cops delivered him home just hours before.
The waitresses are helping
themselves to handfuls of cash out of the drawer,
playing the numbers with Moon Mullin
and Shad, sent in from Broad Street. 1942,
tomato pies with cheese, 25 cents.
With anchovies, large, 50 cents.
A whole dinner is 60 cents (before 6 pm).
How the soldiers, bussed in from Fort Dix,
would stand outside all the way down Warren Street,
waiting for this new taste treat,
young guys in uniform,
lined up and laughing, learning Italian,
before being shipped out to fight the last great war.

From Sounds Like Something I Would Say

In this poem, pizza (or pies, as they used to be called), is the family business. Lots of Italian-Americans have stories like this, but even if your family doesn't run a restaurant, food is likely the thread that binds generation after generation together around the dinner table.

I like all the details. The price goes up for anchovies, the white starched shirt. This is very much a series of memories come to life. It reminds me of the times I'm able to talk with my grandfather, and he'll tell me stories about our family. Sometimes it's driving to work in the snow with his father in Rome, New York, or running his furniture store in downtown Los Angeles, how the big oak dressers were the most beautiful in town.

In every story, he manages to remember something extraordinarily particular, like the song being played in his Miami hotel lobby when he found out World War II ended, or the look on his mother's face when he walked into the basement to help her can tomato sauce for the winter. None of this explains why certain details resonate more than others, but when they do surface, like 25 cent tomato pies, it's a treasure to have them written down.


Making pizza dough as much as I have lately, I've noticed one thing: The amount of water you need almost always varies. It depends on the weather, the day, what kind of mood the flour is in. The key is knowing when it's done. When the dough is ready, you'll notice the sound change on your food processor and the dough will have come together into a ball.

I make a simple pizza sauce by sautéing some garlic and oil for a few minutes, then adding a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Add 1-2 cups of water, and let simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and dried oregano (optional), and set aside for the pizza. (You'll likely have some sauce left over.)

Makes 2 pizzas

For the dough
2 3/4 cups to 3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 1 1/2 cups warm water

For the pizza
Cornmeal, for dusting
1 cup tomato sauce
8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
Some small heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
Fresh basil, for garnish (optional)

Place the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor and pulse once or twice to combine. With the motor running, add the olive oil, then start streaming in the water very slowly. Only continue adding water until the sound of the motor changes and the dough has come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth. Oil a large bowl and add the ball of dough. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, or until it has doubled in size. (I like to put my dough in the oven, turned off of course!).

When the dough has finished its first rise, cut the dough in half and shape into two balls. Let them rest, covered, on the same floured work surface for about 15 minutes. You'll notice that they'll rise just a bit more.

Preheat a pizza stone in your oven for 30 minutes to 1 hour, on the highest setting you have, ideally around 500 degrees. So you don't lose a lot of time with your stone outside of the oven, be sure all your toppings are ready to go. Shape one dough and leave the other covered. Pull out the stone and dust is with cornmeal. Place the dough down, then add a ladle of sauce, spreading it from the center to the edges. Top with mozzarella, tomato slices, and season with salt. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and brown in places, and the crust is golden. Slide the pizza onto a fresh cutting board and place the stone back in the oven. Slice and serve.