In the midst of cooking a mid-week dinner and upon the Italian guinea pig’s return from the Co-Op food store carrying a brown bag of the missing ingredients, we reached a verdict; pizza Friday night. He carped on how I never told him my corner market carried dough, I declared innocent, as he had never explicitly sought it.
When Friday evening came and our laptop screens hit the keyboards, we roamed the grocery store to see what spoke to us. I was quiet, and took a step back, allowing the Italian to lead the way, which resulted in raddichio, sweet sausage, and a bag of dough. Our last minute arrival at our early closing Upper Valley market, 8 pm the last call, was the reason drapes were already closed over the local and specialty cheese refrigerator, and we were locked out of reach from fresh mozzarella locally kneaded and stretched across the river in Vermont. Having a beautifully aged sharp cheddar at home, we decided a milder cheese would work as a bed to the more powerful purple waxed cheddar, and for that, I thought of the Jarlsberg wedge in my fridge’s cheese drawer (although the letters printed on the drawer spell out MEAT). Little did we then know this $5 worth of Norwegian cultured cheese would cost us more than a Benjamin.
At home, I diced a slice of pork belly we had asked the butcher to wrap up for us on our last super market visit. Our theory was why buy processed bacon when you can have the fat strips shaved fresh on demand.The diced belly went into a dry hot pan, and crisped in it’s own rendering fat. I removed the browned bacon and added an entire sliced onion, that would, with an addition of salt, slowly caramelize into a sweet, savory, and rich pizza topping- an ideal compliment to the sausage, and a counterbalance to the bitterness of the radicchio. The onions were my only firm contribution to the process- I chose not to embarrass myself or get my nose in a foodie Italian’s business when it comes to pizza and pasta, as he takes two steps back when I, as an Iranian growing up with Persian cuisine, put on a pot of rice. But, I’ll have to at least mumble the fact that, while the guinea pig had his doubts, in the end it was those perfectly pig fat caramelized onions that took things to Utopia. In the meanwhile, the Italian used a cellophane wrapped wine bottle to roll out the dough as he stood over the floured table right outside the kitchen.
He brushed the dough with diced tomatoes and sprinkled with oregano. And when that went into the oven, with the pork belly fat sauteed onions in one pot, the browned sweet sausage in another, the crisped bacon resting on a paper towel, and the radicchio was roughly sliced and diced, time came to grate the cheese, when we realized the cheese had been left not in my fridge, but in the guinea pig’s. I was given directions to watch the dough, as he went back to his apartment, luckily a seven minute drive from mine, to fetch the wedge. It would be okay, the dough needed a head start in cooking- everything else was pre-cooked and only the cheese needed to melt. I grated the half block of cheddar and waited. I waited more than I thought I would; these Italians are always late after all, “on time” translating into a quarter past the negotiated time. I roamed the shelves of the refrigerator and chopped some flat leaf parsley, when I got a text that read, “I’ll be there in 10 minutes. I will explain later.”
The explanation was, while a possible blame on the guinea pig’s Italian-ness, not from an aspect of tardiness, but stereotypical Italian driving. Pulled over for going 70 miles per hour with the speed limit of 35 by the Hanover police- that honestly have nothing to do but give out traffic tickets and issue court summons to underage drinkers of Dartmouth College’s undergraduate world. The officer mellowed when he heard the reason for speeding, “We have a pizza in the oven and I went to get the cheese,” showing the nibbled wedge of cheese. The officer smiled, and maybe even gave a chuckle, (no one could have come up with a lie like that; it was clearly innocently honest) reducing the fine to $100 from what would have been more, elevating the monetary worth of the half pound of cheese. Jarlsberg is similar to what we plainly call Swiss cheese, the guinea pig and European world know as Emmental, in the sense of appearance, both having holes or eyes, and fat, both on the skim side, which, considering all the animal fat that went into our toppings, extra essential oil was the last thing we needed from a cheese. Alongside a couple of beers, the thin crust layered with tomatoes, topped with sweet caramelized onions, sausage, crisp bacon, still crunchy radicchio, and lots of cheese, garnished with fresh parsley, was worth every penny, maybe one of the best mouthfuls of pizza I’ve experienced.