Saturday, May 28, 2011

Simple Foods: Pizza

Perhaps instead of "pizza" I should have called this edition of Simple Foods: "Olive oil and sea salt flatbread topped with roasted Mediterranean vegetables and a blend of cow, sheep, and buffalo milk cheeses." But it's the same thing either way, and it's something that, in its essence, is incredibly simple yet incredibly good. Flatten out some dough, top it with cheese and anything else that tickles your fancy, apply very high heat for a few minutes, and you have a great meal.

How simple can pizza be? Some of the classics have just four or five ingredients, such as dough, cheese, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. (A friend points out that if I count the ingredients for the dough then the list would be a couple of items longer... but I'm going to hope that she'll let it slide this time.) I sometimes succumb to the urge to use a whole bunch of different toppings, but I find that I usually enjoy the pizza more -- as well as each of its constituent parts -- when there aren't too many of them.

How varied can pizza be? According to my definition (yours may vary), pizza has to have dough that's been pressed flat with some cheese on top, and it has to be baked at high heat... but other than that there really are no rules. Which is why pizza has the amazing ability to be infinitely customizable. And that versatility means that just about anyone could create a pizza that would personally satisfy them as a complete meal.

My favorite part about this particular simple food, however, is the way each bit (or bite) of the pizza brings its own thing to your mouth. One bite carries the crunch of the crispy crust. Another zings the tongue with the saltiness from an olive, anchovy, or piece of meat. Here we have a burst of green, there a burst of sweetness or spice, and throughout the calming, unifying ether of the warm, soft cheese.

Italian foods often do a great job of surprising and entertaining your senses with different flavors with each bite, which is one of the reasons I'm such a fan of the cuisine in general. And with a good pizza you also get those great textures (soft, toothy, crunchy) and the ability put an entire and very personal meal on a single piece of bread. So what's not to like?

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