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When Life Isn’t a Picnic, Pizza Helps with Hard Decisions

When I was 15, my dad gave me my first Hemingway book saying, “He made me realize writing doesn’t need to be fancy. It can be simple and be good.” Like my father, I fell in love with Hemingway’s journalistic style of writing. Without auxiliary language, Hemingway constructed a clean novel. The simplicity of his sentences conveys more than what is on the page. The words evoke emotions that are tangible and relatable, even when the scene is far from familiar.

His work made me want to write, and I quickly realized I wanted to write for magazines. I wanted to construct words into that precise and perfect order that creates the exact message I want – both on the page and emotionally for the reader. I am drawn to magazines because they are an incredible forum for this. Those glossy publications are not simply a source of hard facts; they provide meticulously edited essays, profiles, and personal stories that are all coupled with beautiful photographs. The reading experience is sensory and intriguing, whether the actual article is of interest or not.

I have spent the last eight months drowning in the Journalism graduate school application process. The process culminated in a choice between my top two schools. As someone who hates making massive life-altering decisions, I decided there was a better way to look at it: through pizza.

On one hand, I had Chicago. Deep-dish and totally unique. It’s ready to hold oodles of toppings on its substantial surface, but sometimes that tradition of pizza just doesn’t taste quite right.

On the other hand, there was New York. Exciting, massive, and ever changing. But everyone goes for the New York style – is it more exciting to go a different route.

I finally put my deposit down for the latter option. That New York Style pizza, which is the neo-Neapolitan variety served at most national pizza chains, is ready to be covered in whatever toppings you want and enjoyed exactly how and when you want it. It is a quirky pizza, the way the tip of every slice starts to droop, but it is always delicious.

New York-style Sauce and Cheese Pizza
From Peter Reinhart’s The American Pie
Makes one 12-inch pizza

1 New York-Style Pizza Dough Ball, recipe follows
¼ pound mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino
¼ cup coarsely grated medium-sharp Cheddar
¼ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp dried basil
⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp granulated garlic powder
⅔ cup All-Purpose Marinara Pizza Sauce, recipe follows

Place a baking stone on the middle shelf of the oven and preheat at 500° for at least one hour. Flour the backs of your hands. Begin to shape the dough by placing it on your floured hands. Use your knuckles to gently stretch the dough, only stretching from the edges, not from the center. Rotate the dough a few inches and repeat. Continue this process until the dough is ¼ inch thick and has a 12-inch diameter. Lay the dough on a cornmeal-dusted dough peel or inverted sheet pan.

In a bowl, stir together the cheese, oregano, basil, pepper, and garlic powder. Spread the tomato sauce evenly over the dough, leaving a ¼-inch border uncovered. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the pizza.

Carefully slide the pizza from the peel onto the baking stone. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the dough is crisp and slightly charred on the edge and the cheese is fully melted and beginning to caramelize.

New York-Style Pizza Dough
Makes three 12-ounce dough balls

5 cups bread flour
1 ½ tbs sugar
3 ½ tsp kosher salt
1 ½ tsp instant yeast
3 tbs olive oil
1 ¾ cups room-temperature water

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Fit mixer with dough hook, and mix on low speed for 4 minutes. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then mix again on medium-low speed for another 2 minutes; the dough should clear the sides of the bowl and stick just a little to the bottom. If the dough is too soft and sticky to hold it’s shape, add flour by the tablespoonful; if dough is too dry or stiff, add water by the tablespoonful.

Divide dough into 3 equal pieces. Round each piece into a ball and rub with olive oil. Place each in its own Ziploc bag. If you plan to use the dough later that day, let dough balls sit at room temperature in the bags for one hour, remove them from the bags, punch them down, reshape them into balls, return to the bags, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  If you are making the pizzas the following day or later, let the dough balls sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then put them in the refrigerator overnight or freeze the ones that will be used even later.

Remove the dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before you plan to roll them out.

All-Purpose Marinara Pizza Sauce
Makes about 6 cups, so plan to have more pizza or pasta dish later in the week!

1 28-oz. can tomato puree
1 ¾ cups water
1 tbs dried parsley
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried marjoram (optional)
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs granulated garlic powder
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 ½ tsp salt, or to taste

In a bowl, stir together all ingredients, starting with ½ teaspoon salt and adding more to taste. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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