Pizza: Fresh From the Garden

their apr23 pizza.jpg

Photo by Adactio/Flickr CC


It is a pleasant coincidence that sustainable gourmands and college students share a preference for pizza. The basic concept--disc of dough, things on top, cooked very hot--remains the same from Pizza Hut on up to Chez Panisse. At Yale, when we were thinking about how to lure students into making the 15-minute walk to our campus garden, pizza seemed the only logical solution.

In 2005, we built a brick oven with a father-son mason team from Maine. Making food at the farm allows us to complete the cycle--teaching people not just about agriculture, but about food, too. We get to show how you grow the basil, harvest the basil, put the basil on a pizza, eat the pizza, compost the waste, and spread the compost on next month's basil patch. (We've been thinking about building composting toilets, but that's fodder for a future post.)

We're good at making it, too. Now, after every Friday volunteer workday, we have an assembly line of paid chefs and volunteers churning out a gourmet pizza every three minutes in order to feed a teeming mass of workers who have a habit of devouring the pie before we can finish cutting it.

We get to show how you grow the basil, harvest the basil, put the basil on a pizza, eat the pizza, compost the waste and spread the compost on next month's basil patch.

Some students come to work and stay for the pizza, but others just come for the pizza and realize the farm is pretty cool, too. What's important--and this may seem obvious--is that the pizza is really good. It doesn't need philosophy to make it worthwhile, but we've got some just in case you're interested.

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Photo by Sean Fraga

As universal as pizza is, it's also adaptable--it will accept eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, yams, greens, okra. Anything we can grow we are liable to at least try on top of a pizza. (Some ingredients don't work: we tried lavender once, and unfortunately it just tasted like lavender.) We took a break for the winter, but now that we're emerging from the greenhouses to sunshine and soil the '09 pizza is starting to roll out. The ingredient of the hour is spinach.

It helps to have a 700-degree brick oven to make pizza, but it's not necessary. You can do this at home, just crank your oven up to 450. Another trick you can use is flipping a cast iron skillet upside down and putting it in the oven before cooking. Put the pizza on top and it works like a pizza stone. (You can also purchase a pizza stone, which performs the same task of the cast-iron skillet or our oven's stone floor, of spreading heat evenly over the bottom of your pizza and keeping your it from getting soggy.)

Some of our favorite pizzas at the farm are eggplant, sage, ricotta, and onion or basil, cherry tomatoes, and mozzarella, but be creative. Just remember to top thinly and evenly. It's easy to make your own dough, too: the recipe we use is below.

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Photo by Sean Fraga

Yale Farm Pizza Dough


Basic Proportions: these makes four 7-oz balls or three 10-oz balls of dough, enough for about four hungry people. Memorize and scale the recipe to whatever you need:

    • 500 Grams Flour
    • 300 Grams Water
    • 10 grams Salt
    • ¼ teaspoon Yeast

Instructions:

     1) Measure water (preferably warm), and add yeast, to rejuvenate; let it sit for about 3 minutes.
     2) Mix flour and salt thoroughly
     3) Add water/yeast to flour/salt. Mix for 10 minutes to complete wetness.
     4) Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
     5) Flour tabletop. Knead well on counter to perfect homogenization. (This will take about 10 minutes)
     6) Using doughscraper, quickly divide dough into 7 or 10 oz clumps. Cover.
     7) With lightly floured hands, shape dough into balls (see shaping technique below) and replace in floured tray.
     8) Let dough rise covered for 2-4 hours in a warm place.

Shaping Technique:

    • Take a relaxed 10 oz heap of dough and press it flat using the heel of your palm. Then, gently stretch it in the longest direction.
    • Starting from one end, carefully and tightly roll up the dough like a joint.
    • Orient the dough lengthwise away from you with the crease upwards, and press it flat again. Gently stretch again, and gently roll again.
    • Repeat for a third roll. By this time, stretching should be very difficult and you may notice surface shearing. Minimize this. On the third and final roll, tuck the corners in at the very end.
    • To shape into a ball, place one curvaceous left-hand firmly on the tabletop and around the left side of the dough. Using the edge of your other hand, tuck the edge underneath while spinning the dough. This takes practice.
    • Place in tray with the tucked side downwards.

Tips:

    • If the dough is tearing on your second rolling, don't roll again. You're done.
    • Knead more if necessary. You're done if you pinch and there are no "tumors."
    • More salt = good.
    • If not in a warm place (>60 F), the dough will not rise.

Presented by

Dave Thier

David Thier is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New Republic, AOLNews, Wired.com, IGN.com, and South Magazine.

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