Fri 11 May 2007
You’re saying, “FK, what’s the big deal about another pizza? You make a pizza about every Saturday of your life. Pizza, two movies and so on.”
Well, several things happened with this pizza that were interesting.
First, I took a minimalist approach to the ingredients. Often I can be an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of cook, and I’ll pile on the toppings for a pizza, but under the inspiration of LL, who cooks in a much more spare fashion, I tried to keep the ingredients on this pizza to four or five. My model was a chicken soup she made recently.
We had been back from Mexico for a few days and I was feeling a bit puny, and LL said, “What you need is some chicken soup.” Now I make chicken soup pretty frequently, especially in the fall and winter, and besides chicken broth and chicken I tend to fill the soup with green beans, zucchini, green onions, celery and carrots, maybe some diced potatoes or turnips, some kind of pasta or noodles, maybe some chopped chard and usually a big can of diced tomatoes. In other words, it’s vegetable soup with chicken.
The soup LL made had these ingredients: chicken and chicken broth, of course; a little celery, sliced very thin; a shallot, sliced very thin; a handful of linguine; some spinach that she put in the bowl and ladled the soup over. That was it. It was fabulous. Pure. Intense. Rather Asian.
So, under this inspiration — less is more — the pizza pictured here has heirloom tomatoes (yellow, red and slightly purple), roasted cipollini onions, pancetta, heaps of basil and a few black olives. A little grated Parmesan cheese. For me, that’s really minimal.
The other interesting aspect of this pizza was that I made a mistake with the crust. For years I have used Gold Medal Bread Flour to make pizza dough, but on this Saturday morning, I reached in the drawer and hauled out a bag of flour and started making the dough, and then realized that I had begun with a cup of regular flour, not bread flour. Now this was White Lily, the flour preferred by many Southern cooks for biscuits, but not what I use for pizza dough. “Rats,” I said, thinking how I didn’t want to start the process all over again, so I just got out the bread flour and continued. So this pizza dough was about half bread flour and half regular flour.
The result was a crust that was as thin as usual but a little denser, a little chewier. The next time I made a pizza, I used about half a cup of the White Lily, and we liked the crust so much that I think I’ll continue to do that.
For wine that movie and pizza night, I opened a bottle of Plungerhead Old Vines Zinfandel 2005, Lodi, a label from The Other Guys division of Don Sebastiani and Sons. Now if I remember correctly, the 11th Commandment (or maybe the 12th) goes, “Thou shalt not name a wine Plungerhead.” I mean, really, the whole cute-daffy wine name thing (including cute-daffy back-stories to justify the cute-daffy name) is getting out of hand, and Don & Sons is responsible for many of them: Screw Kappa Napa, Mia’s Playground, Smoking Loon, Hey Mambo, Gino Da Pinot. Like, ha-ha, dude. Though I concede that these are primarily well-made and tasty wines, and none is expensive.
That was the case with the Plungerhead we had with this pizza on movie night. At about $14, this zinfandel delivered a whole personality-packed wallop of plummy-jammy blackberry, blueberry and boysenberry flavors permeated by smoke and spice, by lavender and violets and minerals, by earthy touches of briers and brambles and black pepper. I know that my friends with Euro-centric palates are saying, “Gack, FK, that sounds awful!” (Are you reading this, TH?) But they must remember that we’re talking about a California red wine here and moreover a California zinfandel made in the good old-fashioned slightly (but not too much) over-the-top style. Sometimes exuberance trumps elegance, and that’s OK. Anyway, the Plungerhead Lodi ’05 rates a solid Very Good with a Good Value addendum.
The Plungerhead line-up includes two other zinfandel wines.
Plungerhead Old Vines Zinfandel 2004, Sierra Foothills, turbos the alcohol to 15.3 percent, and you definitely feel that element in the wine’s funky super-ripeness. It’s very deep, very dark, very spicy and boldly, profoundly tannic, and its vibrant blackberry, boysenberry and blueberry flavors are roasted and smoky and imbued with hints of cloves and sassafras. This is a zinfandel that takes balance way out to the edge and then doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. 618 cases. About $16, and I’ll give it Very Good+.
Third in this trio is Plungerhead Old Vines Zinfandel 2005, Dry Creek Valley, a classically proportioned zinfandel from Sonoma County’s best region for the grape. This is clean and fresh yet quite roasted, smoky and meaty, like a grilled steak. The flavors are blackberry and blueberry but without the over-ripeness of sweetish boysenberry that often comes into high alcohol zinfandels; this is “only” 14.9 percent. The whole shelf of dried baking spices is here, as well as the sharp pungency of freshly ground black pepper, all of this bolstered by a texture so supple and thick that it’s almost viscous and might be overwhelming if it weren’t for the serious tannins, dense and chewy, that linger through the finish. Excellent. About $19.
Plungerhead wines are closed with the bizarre Zork, a plastic stopper that’s opened by loosening and unwinding a plastic strip that curls several times around the bottle neck.