Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pizza D'Amore

I’m heading out of town for a couple of days, so I decided to demonstrate what a lovely wife I’d make by baking The Love Of My Life (TLOML) a delicious pie.

It’s the first time I’ve cooked something new in a while, and I needed a recipe to go by.  Damn, I wish I had brought my Nigella Lawson with me! She is languishing, along with my winter coat, a printer that will probably feel like a relic by the time we move to London, and other treasures, in a storage unit in Kentish Town. So I went online and found a recipe for something called Pizza Rustica, happily, by Nigella herself. It’s basically a pie filled with cheese and meat. Perfect for redblooded TLOML.

Except for a couple of minor problems. The first being that it’s really not easy to find Nigella’s recommended luganega sausage in our local Ralph’s. There’s a ropey-looking range called Boar’s Head which appears in every supermarket (and some so called ‘delis’ which really should know better), which produces this big balls of cured meat covered in strange dextrose syrups. Probably not quite what Nigella had in mind. But I found some decent prosciutto and figure after 45 mins in the oven a Boar’s Head mortadella probably tastes much like Bologna’s finest.

Then the pie crust. Nigella specified ‘cold unsalted butter’, so I reached for the Land of Lakes. In doing so, I learnt two important facts:
1. TLOML and I do not own weighing scales. American recipes all use cups. Cue some hasty conversion of Nigella’s weights into American cups. Squishing cold butter into a cup, then scooping it out, in order to measure it is a skill I will have to master.
Any explanations for the absence of weighing in American recipes welcome...
2. American butter is weird. When you bake with it, it flakes and crumbles and not in a good way. Apparently European butter is made with fresh, cultured cream, not the pasteurized sweetcream used in the States. Bring on the microbes and live dangerously, I say.

So my pie crust is a little crumbly but undeterred I fill it with the nasty Boar’s Head mortadella, a ton of prosciutto, some cheddar, mozzarella, and sausage. And stick it in the oven at 200, as Nigella instructs. A good hot oven. Or so I thought. But here’s the next thing I learnt – American ovens are in Fahrenheit; Nigella writes in Celsius. This is a schoolgirl error I know. But it took me a while to figure it out. To be precise, about an hour and a half. When the pie crust resolutely refused to go golden brown, I decided it was the fault of the American butter and took it out anyway.

‘Grub’s up darling!’ I yelled. All excited for the meat and cheese fest I had promised, TLOML hurries in and sets the table. I cut into the pie. It is lukewarm and anaemic.
‘How odd, it’s been in the oven twice as long as she says.’
TLOML is smart about temperatures and physics and engineering stuff. So he had the light bulb moment. We put the unappealing pie back in at 400F, for another thirty minutes.

The pie crust was a nice golden brown and the filling oozed with meat and cheese. A little too much so. Maybe we’d lost our appetites with the long wait (supplemented with chips and salsa and a couple of beers). Maybe it’s because we prize our cardiovascular health. But neither of us fancied more than a thin slice. And I strongly suspect the rest of it went in the bin the next day. Big sigh.

Instead of proving my excellent domestic goddess qualities, I spent all day preparing a late, stodgy, heart attack on a plate. Must do better next time.

PS I have since learned that good European butter is hidden in among the European cheeses, several aisles away from the American butter, in most supermarkets. Good to know.