If you took a poll, I'd bet that pizza wins as the most likely eaten food on Friday nights, in America anyway. My guess has always been that after a long work week most don't want to fuss in the kitchen and choose to be in comfy clothes on their couch with something fresh and hot delivered to their doorstep. When I was growing up, we either had pizza or Chinese take out on Friday evenings. Both equally delicious in their own way, but I always favored the pizza nights. Although I didn't realize it then, I feel fortunate to have had such an amazing and early exposure of independent, mom and pop options in Long Island and I'm proud to say that I never saw or had the likes of chain pizzeria's until moving to Florida. My family's favorite local pizzeria, Umberto's in New Hyde Park, Long Island. They serve up a full menu of fantastic Italian food, but it's their Sicilian pie that still brings hoards of people day and night, even through the worst winter storms.
It all starts with your nose. From the moment you walk through the front door, you're greeted with a warm breeze of sweet tomatoes and cheese (and probably a little bit of cologne too, you are on Long Island afterall). Waiting in line seems like an eternity as your hunger grows by overwhelming senses of smell and sight. Behind the counter, fast paced pizza guys hustle and spin. Customer after customer, ordering Sicilian slices to go. You see those golden crusts zooming by on plates, mozzarella draped down the sides with a steady trail of steam following behind. It's your turn to order and you fight for the coveted "corner" piece; pronounced "caw-nah" if you're from Long Island. Pies are running out and you're told that that they are out of corners and you'll have to wait for the next batch of pies. Just like that, you toss the idea of a simple slice out the window and order a pie instead, there's comfort in knowing four crispy corners will be available for sharing. About 20 minutes later, the piping hot pizza is ready and finally hits the table. The crust, crunchy, thick and buttery, you could taste the olive oil with each bite. It was inevitable that someone would end up burning their mouth. The excitement you felt with that pizza staring you in the eyes, who could possibly wait for it to cool? To this day I've still not had a Sicilian pizza that can even come close to Umberto's and whenever I return to L.I. for a visit, this is always my first and last stop before getting on a plane. With so many other mouth watering pizza memories from my youth, this was the sole reason I stopped going out for pizza when I came to Florida.
In recent years, we've got about three pizzeria's I think highly of, but lately I've found I'm more satisfied making my own. In no way am I claiming to match the legendary Umberto's, but at home I know I'm guaranteed a good pizza and the ingredients going into it are as fresh as can be. Having created a batch of roasted fig & pignoli meatballs the night before, I needed to find a way to wiggle the leftover meatballs into something suitably yummy. An ordinary sub sandwich seemed too obvious and then my mind flashed to a gorgeous pie. The meatballs are delicious enough to stand on their own so I didn't want to over power it with too many other flavors. I've been wanting to use burrata in something and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, so I decided to replace mozzarella in this recipe.
I'll admit that I often purchase pre-made pizza dough from Whole Foods when I'm feeling rushed, but this time I wanted to make my own. The dough was a simple mix of flour, yeast, salt, water and a bit of honey. Allowing it to proof on the counter for at least an hour, it puffs up beautifully and is ready to spin out to create a pizza base.
Next, it's time for me to assemble. I sliced my meatballs up a bit so that they'd warm through properly and also making it easier to eat a slice. When making pizza, it's important to use your sauce sparingly as not to make the dough soggy during the cooking process. Even though it may seem like you don't have enough on the dough, it spreads as it cooks, restraint is important!
I'd never cooked with burrata before and I was blown away by its sweet, creamy texture. I dolloped a bit throughout the pie, so we'd be able to taste it with each bite. I give the pizza a quick drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and my last step is a sprinkling of parmigiano. I'd already preheated my pizza stone at 500 for about an hour so it was ready to go. In the past, when I've used pre-made pizza dough, the pizza normally doesn't need more than 12 minutes to cook. With my homemade dough, I noticed it needed to cook about 10 minutes longer, in the 20 minute range.
Upon removing the pizza from the oven, I tear some fresh basil over it and a few more flurries of parmigiano. I can see the parmigiano melting into the hot pie, the aromas of the kitchen are unbelievable. It turned out exactly as I imagined and I loved the use of burrata.
I've resigned myself to the fact that I'll likely never be able to match the pizza's of my past while living in Florida. Over the years I've learned to be okay with this, as long as I can continue to satisfy my soul in the present, twirling homemade originals out of this tiny downtown kitchen.