Foodbuzz Challenge #5: Pizza Epiphany

written by cookeatlove on October 17, 2010 in Blogalicious Thoughts and Featured Articles with 55 comments

I had an epiphany today.  A moment where my personal truth intersected with my desire to be creative.  With this pizza recipe remix challenge, I began thinking about all the unique and different ways I could make pizza and even ways I have already tried.  I thought of butter chicken pizza, Thanksgiving pizza (turkey, cranberries and stuffing on pizza), tuna and fried egg pizza (a nod to my time in Italy), scallop and prosciutto pizza (which I am still going to try).  Anyway, the list was endless.   My sister who does not cook laughed at the thought of how much can go into making a pizza and said “Such a dilemma, I’m so creative I’d do ham and pineapple.” And then she said, “I saw pizza on TV, they were putting caviar on it! It was like, hundreds of dollars a slice!”   Once my extreme curiosity about what a pizza with caviar on it would look and taste like subsided I thought, “What is my favorite pizza?”  The answer struck me in a mental gasp.  My favorite pizza is…Hawaiian.  Hawaiian.  The pizza that is as common as mini vans at Costco.   The pizza that hits the top 3 in every menu, grocery store and fast food chain known to mankind.  How could this be?  I still love all of the incredibly creative pizza out there (and will later Google caviar pizza), but the truth of the matter is, deep down; throughout my whole childhood my heart has belonged to the classic ham and pineapple.  The original Hawaiian with tomato sauce, ham, cheese and pineapple, no olives and other fixings trying to turn a pauper into a prince.

I re-read the criteria for the recipe remix challenge and one line stood out to me accompanied by the sounds of angels heralding my humbling discovery about pizza.  It was this one:  “Or re-envision the dish from a different perspective”.   It was a green light that would take me on a journey to the roots about around why I loved the Hawaiian.

My first experience with Hawaiian Pizza was back in grade 4.  I have referenced growing up in Penticton, BC Canada before and will now reference it again.  When any new restaurant showed up in Penticton, the people of Penticton would flock to it in droves.  Conversations could be heard in Supermarkets about the new A&W with the fire pit in the center of the restaurant or whether the new McDonald’s on Main St. would last.    Well, Pizza Hut moved to town and had become the meeting place for every birthday party, soccer start-up and just plain family fun on a Friday night.  I honestly remember the moment I took my first bite of this strange, new, ham and pineapple pizza.  As much as a 10 year old can elaborate on an experience with food, I remember taking a moment to think, “this is good.  In fact, this is really good”; another swig of root beer and the moment was over. But over the years, since that moment, there was never any question about what kind of pizza I wanted.  I looked at the pepperoni loving kids and thought, “fools, you like to burn your mouths off”, and the plain cheese lovers as…”too scared to try something new”.   I stayed there comfortably for a large portion of my life until one day without ever noticing, I never ordered ham and pineapple anymore.  It was the days of the more the merrier, and getting the most bang for your buck.  The almighty ‘fully loaded’ and ‘meat lovers’ took over.  I ordered the more sophisticated pizza as a mark of my maturity..the Greek, the Buffalo Chicken, the clever Taco Pizza.   I had left my childhood pizza love behind, seduced by these more “original” ones.  This most recent foodbuzz challenge has reminded me of my humble roots.  When thinking about a pizza that I could create, that tasted out of this world, my subconscious cried out from a red booth at Pizza Hut…”Hawaiian!…you love that combo of ham and pineapple”.

Which brings me full circle to this moment now.  Days of oscillating back and forth for this challenge between what is the most original pizza, what tastes the best to the gourmet, what is the trickiest to make…to…I am making Hawaiian dammit and I am redeeming every nay-sayer out there who has ever called it a “polynesian perversion” (and there were those that did).

When I began doing some research on the Hawaiian pizza I came across some surprising discoveries  which confirmed for me that I am going in the right direction.  Although I am not sure I need to say it, I will, Hawaiians did not invent the Hawaiian Pizza.  It does not originate from any Polynesian or Caribbean place.  The true origin of the Hawaiian pizza is Canada.  I am Canadian.  We are the same.  In a little pizzeria in Chatham Ontario circa 1962, a man by the name of Sam Panopoulos was the first person to make the Hawaiian pizza.  He speaks of his little restaurant called ‘Satellite Restaurant’, where he created this gem of a pizza where people would drive long and far to order some.

This is a pizza, I can believe in.   Many people either love ham and pineapple or hate it.  I would like to bring more people over to the Hawaiian pizza team by creating it with another perspective in mind and enhancing those two flavors that have gone together since the beginning of time.  Think of that ham roast with the pineapple circles all over it and those cherries tooth picked into the center of each pineapple ring.

So, here it is….My childhood favorite re-visted.  The Hawaiian.

For the ham:   I seasoned a bone-out leg of pork with a mixture of ground fennel, chili pepper, salt and pepper.  I used some olive oil as well to coat it.   Slow roasting the pork at 350 according to size gives this pizza the most amazing flavor.  I have limited oven space so the roast had to come first.

Once cooked, it should pull apart into shreds with a couple of forks. I asked the butcher for help with how to score the crackling. He also gave me extra crackling to add more flavor for the pizza.

For the pineapple I wanted to really bring out these flavors in a unique way.  I sliced a fresh pineapple with a mandolin.  I then coated them with a Tbs of sugar and baked them in the oven to caramelize them and really bring out their flavor.  I was contemplating what would bring the out the freshness of the pineapple against the saltiness of the pork.  I thought, mint!  I used about 12 mint leaves for this.  I am so glad I did, it was the perfect choice.

For the sauce:  I like to keep the sauce very simple.  I sauteed garlic in olive oil until golden.  I quickly sauteed the basil for a few seconds (do not cook too long as the basil gets bitter).  I then added my favorite brand of jarred strained tomatoes and let this simmer for a few minutes and then took it off the heat.  It is important to use the best tomatoes possible.  Add salt, pepper, sugar according to your personal taste.

For the cheese:  I thought about doing something a little different to enhance this Hawaiian pizza, like Jarlsberg or smoked Gouda but my instincts told me to stick with mozzarella.  I bought some buffalo mozzarella from Bosa foods-so fresh, so moist and so tasty.

For the pizza dough.  I have used many recipes over the years and what I have learned is that most decent recipes for pizza dough will do.  The real key is how you actually bake the pizza.  I almost always use my bread machine on the dough setting to make the dough.

Now for the most exciting and important part of a pizza, or so I have just discovered thanks to this latest blog challenge.  I had heard that you can make your own “pizza oven” at home simply by by placing a large slab of granite on a rack in your oven and cooking your pizza directly on the stone.  Granite can withstand the highest heat in your oven, mine is 500 f.  I went out and bought a big piece of granite just for this occasion.  I Googled granite supply stores and found a place that was very happy to find me a piece of unused, untreated granite and chop it into my oven dimensions.   Thankfully the oven rack held out for this monstrously heavy slab of granite.  The crust is important to me.   Cooking pizza at high temperatures is the only way to get a nice, beautiful, light, crisp crust.  What happened when I put those pizzas in the oven was nothing short of miraculous and I will never, ever cook pizza any other way if I can help it.

To Assemble the pizza:  Roll your dough out to the desired thinness.  As I said before, I like mine very thin.  Spread the pizza with tomato sauce.  Add a few of your thinly sliced pineapple with mint.  Don’t add too many toppings, keep it light and fresh.  Add some of your shredded pork and then fill in all the spaces with torn pieces of buffalo mozzarella.

Place the pizza directly on to the granite slab in your pre-heated oven.  Let cook for 5-7 min.  That is all it takes compared to my former 20-25 min.  You will have pizza oven quality crust!  The dough literally bubbles up all over.  Very exciting to watch.

Remove the pizza from the oven sprinkle with more mint and EAT.

This Hawaiian Pizza was the perfect blend of salty and sweet.  The mint tied everything together in a way I can hardly describe.  You just have to try it.

The only problem I found with this challenge was that I could not stop making pizzas.  But in the end, Hawaiian was still my favorite!