Like Darwin’s Finches



I’m sitting here in one of the local coffee shops (of which there are several….from my window perch I can view another three over a two block span,) fascinated by a beetle walking up the window. Ok, some of you are doubtless thinking “she’s sitting in a restaurant watching a bug walk by and is NOT; 1. Shrieking and waving something squish-ready at said bug, or B.  Alerting the authorities of A BUG!  Nope, I’m not, for two reasons: first, the bug is more of the interesting than icky variety (and as an ex-biologist, I have a higher ‘ick’ tolerance than most); second, the bug has provided an interesting example for today’s blog musings. (NOTE: I feel it necessary to let you know that as I typed the above, the beetle in question began to join me on my table, and didn’t seem at all phased that I dispatched him back to his window with a gentle flick.)

The point of all this entomology? As this critter was wandering up the window, he fell off. Being determined, he began his upward journey again. And again. And, again. These Sisyphean efforts aside, what was interesting was every time the guy fell, he landed on his feet. No lying on back all legs-a-wiggle helplessness. Just dogged persistence. Seems Ringo (I’ve named him that, for obvious reasons) and his folk have adapted to a shape that always lands on its feet. Dripping metaphor aside, I kind of hope I’m the same way. Actually, I’m counting on it, or to stick with the buggy theme, squishing is inevitable.

A year ago, it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary to look into a coffee shop window on a Sunday and see me tapping away at my keyboard. Of course, my view back then was considerably different from today. The volume of everything was much greater. The people, sound, vehicles, everything multiplied at least tenfold. And it’s likely I’d have barely noticed. However, take that same keyboard-tapping gal and plop her down into small town Pacific Northwest, and I notice everything. Admittedly, it was a little jarring at first. The lack of noise made every sound louder. Lessen the number of feet on pavement and every foot is more noticeable. The types and varieties of gear, or coffee, or wine and beer — ridiculously plentiful and totally overwhelming. And Subarus. The only thing comparable in NYC to seeing so many of one type of car in so few square miles is the taxi line in front of the Garden after a Knicks game.

But like Darwin’s finches, one adapts over time. I find “awesome” coming out of my mouth more and more. Polar fleece usage is definitely up, I know what a growler is, and I’ve stopped running outside to take pictures of rainbows every time I see one, (only running out every third time now…) And hopefully, somewhere along the way, I’ve started to land on my feet too.

photo 1OK, so I know I’m pretty good at assimilating into a new landscape, there is one thing I will never adapt to…the local pizza. While I give points to a sincere effort in certain venues, for a decent back-home slice my search has turned up nada. I admit I’m a pizza snob, but anyone who grew up in the NY metro area would be. And even though they do so many things really well here,  pizza (and bagels) isn’t among them, so I thought it high time to take matters into my own hands.

Homemade pizza can seem daunting (there’s yeast involved), but it really isn’t all that difficult, especially if you find a good recipe. And what you put on it is entirely subjective to the dough thrower’s taste. I knew there was no knead (sorry) to reinvent the wheel here, so what I’ve done is take my favorite dough recipe (from Stanley Tucci) and my favorite sauce recipe (a combination of Lidia Bastianich’s and Jim Lahey’s), and adapt both to what I like. The dough recipe below is enough for two 12” round pies, or one round and one 9×13” rectangle. This dough freezes really well, and as far as the toppings, I’ve given you the basic margherita pie. Think of it as a jumping off point and evolve away!

Pizza (Without the Box)

This is the basic Margherita Pizza – in other words, just sauce and cheese. However, that doesn’t mean you can load it up with other stuff on top. Just remember one basic rule – less is more. Too much on top and it’s likely all that goodness will land on your lap when you pick up a slice.

Pizza Dough (From The Tucci Cookbook by Stanley Tucci, 2012)

Makes enough dough for 2 12” round or 9×13” rectangle pies

This is Stanley Tucci’s grandmother Tropiano’s pizza dough recipe, which is one of the reasons I love it. The other is it’s a terrific and very reliable basic dough. I did this all by hand just like grandma, but you could just as easily do it in a standing mixer with dough hook attachment.

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water (you may not need it all)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBSP kosher salt
  • 2-3 TBSP cornmeal (fine ground is best)
  • 2 TBSP olive oil

In a measuring cup combine the yeast with ½ cup of the warm water. Stir until yeast dissolves.

In a large bowl (or bowl of mixer), combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture. Begin by mixing with a fork and then by hand while adding enough of the remaining 1 ½ cups water to form a soft, dry dough. *  (*Don’t add in all the water at once. Add half, and then more as you are mixing.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and continue mixing it with your hands. Knead to form smooth dough, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from being too sticky. Form into a ball and place in a clean bowl. Cover the bowl loosely with a clean dishtowel and set aside in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled – about 2 hours.

When the dough is risen, preheat oven to 500°F.

Divide the risen dough in half. (If you wanted to freeze half, wrap well in oiled cling wrap, then put in freezer bag.) Roll one half of the dough on a lightly floured surface into a round or rectangle (depending on what pan you have.)  Sprinkle the pan with a tablespoon of the cornmeal, then transfer dough to baking 2

The Sauce:

Some folks like to use a cooked sauce for pizza, but since the sauce is going to cook on the pizza, I prefer to do a simple raw sauce for the best tomato punch. You could substitute the same amount of your favorite basic sauce if you prefer.

  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes (use the best ones you can find – there isn’t much to the sauce but really good tomatoes, salt and olive oil. And if good fresh tomatoes are available, use those!)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp olive oil, plus 1-2 TBSP more for drizzling 

Drain the tomatoes, saving the juices. For each pie, measure out 1/3 cup drained tomatoes and 3 tbsp juice (you want a total of 5 oz.). Add 1/8 tsp salt and ¼ tsp olive oil. Stir and set aside.

The Cheese: (per pizza)photo 3

  • 2 ½ ounces shredded mozzarella (I love a combination of 2 oz. mozzarella or fontina, and a ½ oz. gruyere)
  • 1 TBSP grated pecorino romano  

Putting it all together: 

The biggest mistake when making homemade pizza is too much sauce on the dough. It gets soggy and bottom doesn’t crisp nicely, or gets way too heavy and molten sauce and cheese slide off and onto your lap when you pick up a slice. That’s why only 5 ounces of the tomato mixture is all you need. You’ll also notice I don’t use any oregano or garlic. That doesn’t mean you can’t. If you want to add both, just sprinkle a pinch of oregano over the sauce, and as much minced garlic as you like before adding the cheese.

For each pie: 

Drizzle the dough with 1 TBSP of olive oil. Spread the 5 oz. of sauce on the dough, leaving an inch all around the edges. Sprinkle the mozzarella on top, then the romano.

photo 4Bake until the edges and bottom are lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes depending on your oven. Let sit 5 minutes before cutting and serving.  And for an authentic NY slice, have extra romano cheese and dried red pepper flakes on the side for sprinkling on top. Calories: about 200 per slice, based on 6 slices per pie.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at Thanks! 🙂




4 thoughts on “Like Darwin’s Finches

  1. Okay, you are giving me the courage to try pizza at home again. This time, I am ready with your recipe! But, no pizza stone?? What is your take on them? Will report back. Maye I ca do this next weekend! xox

    • I have a pizza stone and do love it, but when I’m using a pan there’s not really a need (plus it’s less fuss.) I used my stone more when I had a gas range too, and definitely when baking my no knead bread.

      Have courage my friend – give it a shot!

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