Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.
Today: Nicholas has come to terms with feeding his children this pizza for breakfast -- you should too.
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This is a story about Zen and pizza. It’s also about seasonal produce and whole wheat flour, but that comes later. Acceptance comes first.
Back before we were parents and addled and desperate, my wife and I babysat a friend’s toddler overnight, and before we put him to bed, we ran the highlight reel of the day:
“And what did you have for breakfast?”
“No, for breakfast, in the morning.”
When his mother came back, I said, because I was naive and not yet a parent and because I honestly thought it was funny, “You know what’s funny—Henry insisted that he had pizza for breakfast.”
“Mm-hmm,” she said. “He did.”
Two children later, I want to say: I understand now. And if you are tempted to serve pizza for breakfast and every other night, I am here to encourage you.
Accepting pizza for breakfast took children. But I have never understood why you’re not supposed to eat pizza every other night. Pizza is bread plus vegetables plus fat. The ingredients aren’t the problem. (The proportions, on the other hand.)
There’s no better time to make pizza than the summer, especially when the weather catches its breath between heat waves. In the summer, you can throw almost anything on a pizza and be rewarded. Think of it as a way to show off the seasonal bounty. Think of it as a serving dish that you eat.
But there are some parameters:
1) Channel your inner Thomas Merton: be ascetic. Do not covet. You want your spring onion pizza to sing of spring onions. Winter is the time for polyphonous pizzas.
2) Slice thinly. Mandoline-thin, if you have the mandoline.
3) Make your crust half-whole wheat, at least.
The latter isn’t about being healthy, not necessarily, although if that’s what you need to convince yourself it is OK to serve pizza for breakfast, it can be about that. But it is mostly about taste: most vegetable pizzas, especially ones with more eccentric toppings, are simply more satisfying with whole wheat crust. (You can use white whole wheat or the old-fashioned kind; the latter is more bitter but more robust, the former lighter.)
A lot of recipes with whole wheat flour include just enough for you not to notice it. This is the opposite. Here you need enough whole wheat flour to notice it.
This is not the place to use tomatoes or mozzarella. A pizza margherita does not taste better with a backbone of earthy wheat. (A pizza margherita shouldn’t be on earth at all: it should float.) Think zucchini, potatoes, young onions. Think spinach—as Jim Lahey famously did with his Popeye pizza. Think vegetables with some heft. (And think fruit, if it can handle it: plums, say.) Mix with herbs, if they’d work. Toss the vegetables with oil or cheese, but don’t lacquer the top with it.
Many of these ideas I have stolen from Lahey, who was a demented genius of pizza long before he opened an actual pizzeria. His Sullivan Street potato pizza is legendary. But the crust here is adapted from Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Baking and it is a marvel of simplicity and time: tiny amounts of yeast; mix until wet; pause; knead; kill the afternoon; make. (If your afternoon is not yours to kill, let the dough ferment for as long as you have, then stick it in the fridge, for a few days if you like.)
Will your child like this pizza as much as something with a paperweight of mozzarella? Maybe not tonight. But with time they’ll be eating it for breakfast.
As the saying goes: if life gives you children, make pizza.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).