Prosciutto + Basil Pizza and a Poem

By Nicole Gulotta on Friday, May 3rd, 2013

In the 1960s my grandmother wrote a nutrition column for a California health magazine. This was long before I was born, and it was just in the last few years that I’ve come to understand just how revolutionary she was. My grandmother was eating kale before it popped up on restaurant menus, ordering grass fed beef from the local butcher, and teaching mothers easy recipes to make for their families in an era when microwavable dinners were increasing in popularity.

Recently, my mother gifted me with the bound archives of my grandmother’s magazine. Now, her columns are a bookshelf away, and when I first read this poem by Wilda Morris, I couldn’t help think of my own grandmother, wearing a floral apron, testing recipes in her kitchen.

Baking

by Wilda Morris

Grandmother
poured out flour
from the bin like stories
or poems which she knew
by heart, added warm waters
of cleansing and comfort,
the salt of her infrequent tears
and sparkle of chronic laughter.
Her yeasty wisdom bubbled
through the mix. With firm,
gentle hands, she kneaded,
turned, pressed the dough
and formed it into loaves,
let them rise before
they felt the heat.

“Baking” by Wilda Morris. Originally published in Steam Ticket, 2007. Reprinted with permission from the author.

In this poem, poetry and cooking are braided together like challah bread and kneaded like pizza dough. When her grandmother “poured out flour/ from the bin like stories,” decades of memory cascaded into the bowl like an avalanche. Her grandmother’s wisdom is yeasty, bubbling to the surface and escaping through her mouth in the form of stories and advice. There is also wisdom to be found in the recipes themselves, tweaked over the years and made so often that they’ve now been memorized. It’s a beautiful portrait of a woman we can all relate to.

As the poem comes to a close, dough was kneaded into loaves, but I imagined something else: balls of pizza dough rising and scattered with mozzarella “before they felt the heat” of my oven.

Pizza with Prosciutto and Basil

I find that bread flour makes a more tender crust than all purpose flour. Regardless of which flour you use, the amount of water you need might vary depending on the temperature and humidity in your kitchen. Start by adding one cup of water, then increase the amount slowly only if the dough needs it.

For the dough

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups warm water

For the pizza

  • 4 to 6 slices prosciutto
  • Cornmeal, for dusting
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • A handful of torn basil leaves

To make the pizza dough, place the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor and pulse once or twice to combine. With the motor running, add the olive oil, then start streaming in the water very slowly. Only continue adding water until the sound of the motor changes and the dough has come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth. Oil a large bowl and add the ball of dough. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, or until it has doubled in size. When the dough has finished its first rise, cut the dough in half and shape into two balls. Let them rest, covered, for about 15 minutes. You’ll notice that they’ll rise just a bit more.

Preheat a pizza stone in your oven for 30 minutes to 1 hour, on the highest setting you have, ideally around 500 degrees. If you prefer crisp prosciutto, lay each slice on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, then crumble into small pieces. (If you prefer, you can layer the fresh prosciutto slices on the pizza once it comes out of the oven instead.)

When you’re ready to bake the pizza, be sure all your toppings are ready to go. Shape one crust and leave the other covered. Pull out the stone and dust is with cornmeal. Place the dough down, then add half the sauce, spreading it from the center to the edges. Top with mozzarella and season with salt. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and brown in places, and the crust is golden. Slide the pizza onto a fresh cutting board and sprinkle with the reserved prosciutto and basil before slicing.

Nicole Gulotta is a grantmaker by day and gourmet home cook by night. She pens the literary food blog, Eat This Poem, and founded The Giving Table in 2011, a website that empowers people to change the food system through personal philanthropy. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and French bulldog.

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