“Food is our common ground, a universal experience,” James Beard
Last week when teaching a cooking class, as I gathered my students around a large island, I naively assumed all we had in common was the pizza we were making. I taught on the technique of stretching out the dough, demonstrating the proper way to gently pull it. As I passed around dough for the students to try, the conversation became more relaxed. While talking, it came up that one of the students was from the south, just as I am. We quickly realized that we have family living across the country from us but only a few hundred miles from each other in the same state. In just a few short minutes, people were quickly realizing all of the things they had in common. This large world full of strangers suddenly became less nameless and far warmer. I felt a connection to these women who, moments earlier, were unknown to me.
Every night at home, as I chop, sauté, roast, boil, and baste, it is with the intention of feeding my family’s bodies. But just as important is the fact that this creates an opportunity to gather together, to give the highlights of our days, discuss ideas, and often tell jokes. It is the time in our day to put away our cell phones, to shut our computers, and focus on interacting with one another. At no other time during the day do we have the luxury of all being together like this. I can’t count the number of bedtimes that are pushed a little later because dinner is stretched out due to a great story being told or a member of the family having everyone doubled over in laughter with their jokes.
Beautiful things happen around a dinner table. Friendships are formed, family bonds are strengthened, and love grows. The times we are fortunate to share meals with friends, I always leave with a smile on my face and a heart full of gratitude.
Food is unlike anything else. It brings us close – it creates a connection and serves as a medium for bringing together community. As much as I relish creating delicious food, the interactions that happen around a dinner table bring me greater delight than I can ever express.
To me, pizza is the ultimate comfort food with a starchy crust, gooey cheese, and toppings of choice to fit the mood. It is a warm blanket for long days, bad days, and even good days. I find working with dough is therapeutic – gently pulling, kneeding, stretching until it’s ready has a nice, calming effect on me.
*A tip for creating a good homemade pizza is to not overload your pizza with toppings. If you overload it, your crust can’t evenly cook, and you end up with a soggy middle and crunchy corners. Even the 1 cup of brussels sprouts was a bit too much for the pizza so I left a bit off.
Brussels Sprouts and Prosciutto Pizza
Pizza dough(my favorite dough recipe is from the NY Times)
1 cup of brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/4 cup of vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 medium onion
6 ounces. fresh mozzarella
1/3 cup dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons of maple syrup
pinch of paprika (I used smoke paprika here, but any would do)
3 ounces sliced prosciutto
Non stick cooking spray
Flour & cornmeal for the bottom of the pan
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Remove the base from the bottom of the brussels sprouts and remove any tough outer leaves. Cut into quarters. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium high heat. Add the brussels sprouts and toss to coat. Pour in the stock. Cover and cook for 3-5 minutes until the sprouts are tender. Drain off the liquid, and set aside. While the brussels sprouts cook, chop the onion into thin strips . Whisk the dijon mustard, maple syrup and paprika in a small bowl. Thinly slice the fresh mozzarella. Prepare your pizza crust by gently stretching it. (Food 52 has an excellent video on how to do this like a pro). Spray your pan with non-stick cooking spray, lightly flouring and cornmeal to prevent the pizza from sticking.
Spread the mustard mixture over the dough. Place half of the onion on top of the sauce. Add the mozzarella and add the remainder of the onions and the brussels sprouts. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until all of the cheese is melted and the crust is golden. Top with the sliced prosciutto.