If I were running a marathon (which I wouldn't be), I assume there would be markers to let me know where I was along the track. In the road of life, my mile markers are meals. Anywhere I've ever been, at any time in my life, the way I remember a place is by what I ate there. Which is why most of my early memories, and photos, are of me stuffing my face. Year 6, dissected lobsters at Malaga off of First Avenue. Year 8, deconstructed chicken fingers and waffle fries and Best Health black cherry soda at Ottomanelli's. And Year 10, down in Chapel Hill, the best pizza this New Yorker had ever had.
Like most New Yorkers, I was raised on big, soggy, delicious triangles of crust, sauce, and cheese. My father and I had pizza dates three times a week, and when I was very young, he would cut each slice up into a kind of jigsaw grid for me to stab with a fork. But one day, somehow he determined that I was old enough, and like Yoda with a Jedi, he taught and instilled and insisted on the proper New York way to approach the problem: folded in half over the index finger, no cutting, no skimping, no faking. He said if I ate pizza like that, people everywhere would know that I was from New York, and that I knew how to eat pizza. He was the pizza master.
So when my mom took me down to North Carolina, and I was presented with this strange opposite-of-origami pizza that wouldn't fold over any finger under any circumstance, I was forced to consider it. Thick, crusty, almost like focaccia, shellacked with a thick layer of pungent, mossy pesto that crumbled as you bit into it, and with fresh mozzarella and crumbles of sharp goat cheese blanketing the top--it was anything but the pizza I recognized. I've had a lot of pizza, but I never forgot that farm-fresh goat cheese pizza, and when we went down to Chapel Hill again, several times, I never left without having it. In fact, and don't mention this to my dad, it may have rendered the New York fold ever so slightly inferior.
I have always idolized my father, but it was my mom's subtle little way of reminding me that she too had a few things up her sharply tailored sleeve. I made it for her last week, and we had a little drive down memory lane. Year 10 was pretty tasty--even in Year 28.
serves 1 to 2
1 cup basil leaves
1 small garlic clove
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan
½ pound half white, half wheat pizza dough
1½ ounces thinly sliced fresh mozzarella
1 ounce crumbled fresh goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 500°F.
In a small food processor, blend together the basil, garlic, nuts, oil, and Parmesan until smooth.
Roll out the dough to a 7-inch round. Top with pesto sauce, leaving a small border for the crust. Top with the mozzarella, and then the goat cheese. Place the pizza on a cookie sheet, and bake until puffed and golden--10 to 13 minutes. It should be thick and bubbling. Slice and serve.