By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
When the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie, that's a mess. Or it would have been if I had tried to make my own pizza without the help of a pair of professionals who recently had me rolling in dough while creating a thin-crust pie that was, considering the lunar analogy, out of this world.
As a person of Italian heritage, I consider pizza one of the four food groups (the other three being Twinkies, Slim Jims and beer). When I lived in my hometown of Stamford, Conn., I gorged on pies from such fine establishments as Cove Pizza and the Colony. Since moving to Long Island, N.Y., I have become a frequent diner at Paradiso, a restaurant that is, true to its name, a paradise for pizza pies.
On a recent trip to pick up a takeout order (a large spinach and meatball pizza, my favorite), I asked co-owner Pietro Ribaudo if he would risk indigestion -- better known in pizza parlance as agita -- by letting me make a pie.
"Sure," he said. "And to minimize the risk to me and my customers, you are going to eat it."
A few days later, I stood behind the counter at Paradiso, in Mount Sinai, N.Y., with Ribaudo and his pizza partner, Keith Lindblad, ready to make culinary history. Or at least a large spinach and meatball pie.
The first thing I had to do was put on a white apron, which actually was the hardest part. I fumbled pathetically with the string, trying to knot it behind me, until Lindblad kindly pointed out that it's supposed to wrap around and tie in the front.
Then I had to make the dough. Ribaudo, who was born in Sicily and has been making pizza for most of his 50 years, took me in the back, where he instructed me to dump a 50-pound bag of enriched, high-gluten, bromated flour into a 60-quart bowl without rupturing a vital organ.
Next I put in three gallons of water, five pounds of semolina flour, 12 ounces of salt, 12 ounces of sugar and three ounces of yeast. Then I set the mixer for nine minutes, during which I found out that Lindblad, 43, is of Irish, German and Swedish extraction. "You don't have to be Italian to make good pizza," he said. To which Ribaudo replied, "But it helps."
When the timer went off and the mixture was dumped onto a flat surface, Lindblad told me, "Now you knead the dough."
"I could use a few extra bucks," I said.
"No," Lindblad responded. "I mean, you have to roll it."
This entailed taking a ball of dough, folding it over so there are no creases and putting it into a small tin. I thought I got the hang of it pretty quickly until I saw Ribaudo rolling a ball of dough in each hand at warp speed. "I'm ambidextrous, too," I noted. "The difference is that I'm incompetent with both hands."
The tins are refrigerated for a couple of days, so I had to make my pizza with pre-made dough, which was fine with me because if I had to wait that long, I would have starved.
Back behind the counter, on a table in front of the big stoves, Lindblad showed me how to remove dough from a tin and stretch it out while tossing it back and forth from one hand to another. "Contrary to popular belief," he said, "you don't twirl it in the air. I tried it once and the dough hit the ceiling fan, which shot it across the counter. It almost hit a customer."
Then I smoothed out the dough on the table while creating a ridge along the edge, after which I poured on the sauce, sprinkled on some cheese and oregano, and adorned the whole thing with spinach and meatballs. I put my pie in the oven and waited 10 minutes. When it was done, Ribaudo, Lindblad and Emily Werfel, who usually takes my telephone orders, all nodded approvingly.
"It looks delicious," said Lindblad, who put the pie in a box for me to take home.
"Mangia," said Ribaudo.
At dinner that evening, my wife, Sue, said, "This is very good. The crust is nice and crispy."
Our younger daughter, Lauren, who had come for a visit, added, "You didn't scrimp on the toppings, either."
But the biggest compliment came from Lauren's dog, Maggie, who wolfed down a piece that Lauren fed her and, in begging for more, gave me two paws up.
Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima