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the best pizza ever

It was 8pm on Thursday night, and Ross and I were hunched over the granite countertop in the classroom kitchen, surrounded by dough and toppings. “You’ve got to make love to it,” he said with husky reverence, rolling the dough so that it stretched into a thin layer that we lifted onto a metal sheet pan. Having been cooking for close to 12 hours I felt qualified to get intimate with a pizza—after our morning meeting Ross, Phillip and I had headed straight to the kitchen to marinade chicken, boil potatoes, and process three batches of dough in the KitchenAid. It was a cooking marathon comparable to Christmas, and for an equally worthy occasion—Zach’s 21st birthday party.

I’d never really had success with pizza. When the urge for a homemade pie struck I usually resorted to Trader Joe’s prepackaged dough, but unfortunately that route generally results in a lumpy crust and a soft, undercooked center. When we decided to do pizza for Zach’s party—Love Apple has a beautiful pizza oven in the center of their outdoor patio—I was tempted to go for premade dough again, but Costco had none to offer. So I put on a confident face for Cynthia and Zach, assured people I’d made pizza on several occasions, and grabbed my laptop to google “pizza dough.”

Fortunately the first thing that came up was a recipe from Heidi Swanson, creator of one of my favorite food blogs, 101 Cookbooks. I made the dough at 8am Thursday morning with fingers crossed, but I knew it had a lot to live up to—Ross’ toppings included his famous caramelized onions and mushrooms, and Phillip’s barbequed chicken and ribs are pretty incredible. Then there was the bounty from the garden to contend with—carrots that became shaved carrot salad with thyme, chard that paired with quinoa, apricots, and pine nuts, and eight kinds of greens that filled three salad bowls. To top it off we even made potato salad with blue cheese and egg salad with eggs from the chickens. (If you can imagine the fridge at this point you’ll understand why the Christmas comparison begged to be made).

By 8pm the pizza oven—fired up at noon—was finally ready, and Ross and I carried out a pizza topped with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and gorgonzola. I’d selected a small egg from the flat in the kitchen, and right before sliding our creation into the oven Ross cracked it gently over the top. After three minutes in the oven and a few of Ross’ skillful maneuvers with the pizza peel, our pizza emerged—looking like real pizza. It was perfect.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so giddily proud of something I’ve helped to make, but mostly it was just a wonderful moment—the pizza, the food, the people, my first month on the farm. Six pizzas later I still felt just as good.

Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms, Gorgonzola and Egg

I followed the recipe from 101 Cookbooks as closely as I could, with the main exception being that I made the dough early in the morning instead of the night before.

1 ball of pizza dough

butter

several medium onions, sliced

1 cup small brown mushrooms, sliced

1 medium wedge gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

egg

salt

fresh basil

In a large saucepan, melt a knob of butter and add the sliced onions. Caramelize over medium heat, stirring so the onions don’t stick and watching for them to turn a shade of dark golden brown. Saute the mushrooms separately, then mix in with the onions and set aside in a bowl. On a well-floured surface, roll your dough gently with a small rolling pin until it reaches about 12 inches in diameter. Transfer to a floured pan, or a pizza stone (or flipped-over cast iron pan) if you make your pizza at the highest temperature setting in a traditional oven. Smooth a scoop of the caramelized onions and mushrooms on the dough, then crumble gorgonzola on top. Right before cooking your pizza crack a small egg over the center, then slide into the oven and watch carefully for doneness (the crust should brown and crisp, the cheese should bubble, and the center should not be soft). Remove from the oven and sprinkle with salt and torn pieces of fresh basil.

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