We recently purchased a small outdoor pizza oven as we thought it would add authentic, interesting, interactive culinary experiences to our children’s lives, and delicious pizzas to ours. So far, after one attempt, we have achieved a small fire and three ‘accidental calzones’.
I started mid-afternoon on Friday; Milo still at school, Monty my little pizza padawan. We rode the Flame Bike to the IGA to purchase an array of authentic ingredients that cost vastly more than our usual Friday night pizzas. We assembled homemade passata from scratch; Monty harvesting the pathetic miniscule basil remnants that had survived the winter and chopping it up. We prepared our pizza dough by hand (more or less) according to the recipe. I say ‘prepared’ but it was more like we coaxed it gently to life; the recipe was full of evocative words like ‘breathing’, ‘resting’, ‘springing’, ‘growing’. The dough was highly temperamental and moved forward strictly according to its own desires and timeframes. It would not be rushed.
Perhaps it was because the dough had seized my initiative, but while it slowly luxuriated I became disgruntled and lost interest in the instructions. This was a mistake.
I woke it from its slumber after 45 minutes. Jeepers – does it really need an hour of R&R before I can cook it? Yes apparently.
I broke the temperamental mass up into a few roughly similar-sized amoeba-looking globules and wondered how I was supposed to know how much dough each pizza might need. Does it matter? Maybe it doesn’t matter? I would easily have been able to answer this had I flipped the page. Yes it matters, very much. In fact one must deploy a small weigh scale to ensure consistency. The phrase roughly similar sized amoeba-shaped globules does not feature in the instructions. I know this now. The exactly weighed pieces of dough are in fact to be formed into precise and identical ‘doughballs’ – the dough is ‘balled’ to use a verb that has been fabricated from a perfectly good noun. The ball is to be smooth and stretched, and light and dense and balloon like and sealed and matte and shiny. Oh also one must ‘prove’ the dough after balling, and some higher end recipes even call for a pre-ball and post-ball proving. I knew nothing of any of this then, and having now read the instructions I continue to know nothing of any of this.
My other quite significant oversight was buying exactly 1kg of flour as the recipe called for, such that I had none for scattering or dusting or rolling or tossing or sprinkling or balling or proving. Again, I wondered if such flamboyant flour activities were a nice to have. I decided, yes, probably non-essential, and continued on smooshing my unweighed, undusted, completely unproven, unstretched and unloved masses of unballed pizza dough around our entirely utilitarian, jack-of-all-trades, non-artisanal, not-fit-for-purpose wooden chopping board.
Satisfied with my smooshing, I levered up the ugly masses and deposited them on separate plates for the boys to load up with non-conventional topping combinations. In hindsight I do recall noting how sticky and unwieldy these masses were at this point, and how rather unleverable they had become. I ignored my nagging sense of impending catastrophe and, well, cracked on. Of all the brainless choices I made which, when laid end to end, could have only had ‘small pizza fire’ as their outcome, smearing the sticky dough puddles onto ceramic plates with ridges around the outside and then allowing them to be drowned in passata, pineapple, salami, mozzarella, more mozzarella, more mozzarella, pineapple, was among the most brainless.
Well, the rest of this story is obvious so I won’t labour it. With the boys literally skipping, and hugging, and dancing right behind me I started with Milo’s. Of course, undusted, unproven and dangerously over its design weight, Milo’s pizza had no interest in separating itself from its comfortable plate. The instructions called for me to ‘confidently’ slide the ‘pizza peel’ (big paddle thing) underneath the dough. I think the only positive thing I can say about my dough was that it could smell fear. My confident peeling therefore made no difference whatsoever and I soon had a heaped pile of coagulated dough and eclectic pizza toppings perched precariously on the edge of the peel, tangled and not at all happy with their cohabitation.
I had shielded the unfolding pizza atrocity from the boys with my body, so they continued to skip and salivate. With a resigned shrug of my shoulders, I looked back once more at my beaming children and pushed the heaped mass into the fiery jaws of our pizza oven, with great, inconsequential, confidence.
The sticky mass clung onto the front of the 400 degree pizza stone like a cat into a carrier, tumbled over itself a little and then immediately burst into flames. Now I was on the clock. What is the optimum time for a quasi-pizza-ball to be on fire in order to minimise salami incineration and maximise the percentage of vaguely-cooked dough? I went with about 45 seconds, then desperately scraped the assimilated Borg-like memory-of-pizza out of the oven and presented it to Milo. Having repeated this terrifying process twice more we all sat down together to eat.
These two delightful children ate with gusto, only rejecting the truly charred, and stopping to compliment the moderately charred.
“You know,” said Milo between bites “some pizzas are really fancy, you know? But I love this one, it might be my favourite ever. It’s like, because you have no idea what you are doing, it’s not fancy at all, and that’s great.”
Which proves, that although most of the time parenting is like being whacked unsympathetically in the face with a damp hessian bag full of onions, once in a while… just once in a while, it is the loveliest and most uplifting pursuit you can spend your days and years pursuing.
The moderately charred