Kitchn Love Letters

I Miss a Lot of Things Right Now. These Personal Pizzas Are Helping Me Through That.

published Apr 23, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

My first job was at a local pizzeria, where I was a dishwasher, then a busser, and eventually a server-slash-garde manger (which just means I made the salads in addition to waiting tables). It was a small restaurant at the end of a strip mall in a quiet suburban town in Georgia. And it was there that I first learned how to make pizza from scratch.

I love takeout pizza (just like everyone else), but when I finally started living on my own I quickly learned how much money I could save by making my own pies. There’s the added benefit, too, that they happen to taste better homemade, fresh out of the oven, and you can make a bunch of smaller pies to freeze for “anytime pizza” later.

This meal-prepping habit has been made possible thanks to an old, very forgiving Bobby Flay recipe from the Food Network. Whenever I’m craving pizza, I set aside time one night (usually a quiet Friday after work) to mix up my own dough — just flour, yeast, warm water, and a little olive oil. (One of the best feelings in the world is wet pizza dough between your fingers, and that magical moment when it all comes together into a smooth, taut ball.) Then I divide the dough into quarters, stretch each out into individual pizza crusts, and place them on their own quarter sheet pans dusted with cornmeal, ready to be sauced and cheesed.

My go-to sauce has always been that tomato-butter-onion number from Marcella Hazan. This famous sauce tastes great with pasta, but it makes for an even better pizza — especially with fresh mozzarella just melted over.

As I’m cooking in quarantine, on day 40 here in New York City, I’m realizing the importance of returning to comfort foods like pizza — not just because it’s comforting to eat, but because it’s comforting to cook, as well. The other night, I couldn’t sleep (a common occurrence for me these days). I got up, drank a glass of water, and put on the kettle for pizza dough. Around 110 degrees is a good temperature for the yeast, give or take. A teaspoon of sugar feeds it, too. In this time of uncertainty, it helps to have certain things that are constant. For me, that’s making my own pizzas, feeling the wet dough between my fingers, and knowing that no matter what, they’ll come out perfectly every time because that’s what they’ve done for almost a decade.

As I stirred the flour and kneaded it into a dough ball, I felt my jaw unclench. Or maybe I was more relaxed because I was FaceTiming my friend Meaghan, who also couldn’t sleep.

“Are you making pizza?” she said, getting closer to the screen. I love when people do that on teleconference calls.

“One for now me,” I said, sprinkling over the cheese, “three for later (sad, drunk, high) me.”

We talked about how funny it is, the things you miss. And the things you don’t miss. I don’t miss commuting to work an hour and thirty minutes a day. I don’t miss being coughed on at the pharmacy, or doing hot yoga in an airless room. I don’t miss all of the social obligations and birthday parties. But I miss my mom. I miss grabbing a drink with my friends at our bar and watching a movie together later. I miss breaking down a head of iceberg lettuce. I miss the DING sound as you slide your MetroCard at just the right speed, and the way a stranger’s arm will graze you on the train and make you feel less alone. I miss my ex, even though we haven’t spoken in months. I miss cooking for my friends, six to eight of my favorite people crowded around a fold-up Formica table. I miss trivia night with the other waiters after our shift at the local pizzeria, and stuffing ourselves silly with meatballs after. Because no one orders meatballs at a pizza restaurant.

This story is part of our Staying Home series, in which Kitchn editors and contributors share the recipes, tools, and habits that are helping them through the pandemic. As we work to flatten the curve, we’re cooking more, shopping less frequently, and looking for the good and the bright as much as we can. In this very disorienting time, here’s what’s keeping us going.