Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 28, 2020

Toward a Universal Pizza Theorem. First, Make Pizza!

In times of stress, one food sustains us: pizza.

Not everyone on the planet likes pizza. In my opinion, those who don’t like it have simply never been exposed to the infinite adaptability of pizza to whatever stress or strain occupies an ordinary life … especially in these extraordinary times of global warfare and pandemic.

Before we get to positing some universal theorem, let us make pizza. No, we will not pick up the phone and ORDER pizza. Not everyone has that luxury, nor — during a pandemic — doth everyone wish to have pizza delivered by a stranger.

Let us make pizza, from the ground (flour) up.

Take between 3 and 4 cups of flour (your choice of grain), a tablespoon of oil, a teaspoon of salt, 3 cups of warm water, 2 teaspoons of yeast, and blend them together. After 8 or so minutes of mixing or — if you’re dedicated to hand-work, kneading — you’ll divide the resulting dough into two hand-shaped “boules,” like this:

Already, you feel better. You are now in charge of the universe. No one can tell you what sort of pizza you will make, nor can they prohibit you from making pizza. To my knowledge, no legislature on earth has yet outlawed the production of pizza dough. If they try, prepare for the onslaught of popular uprising.

Cover those boules lightly with a damp cloth or towel, place them somewhere warm, and let them rise for between 45 minutes and an hour. If your place is cool or drafty, set ’em in some enclosed place (an oven or a cupboard is good) next to a few cups of hot water, to get the ambient temperature up a few degrees.

After that, they should look about doubled in size. Any bread dough will tell you if it’s done rising if you poke a finger into it, and the resulting holes don’t close up, like this:

Meanwhile, during the time that dough’s been rising, you’ll be busy, preparing what will go ON the pizza.

A Pizza for Everyone

What makes pizza the universal food is that there is — so far as I know — no diet preference that cannot be accommodated by pizza. Even during times (like now) during which an uncountable number of things threaten to divide us and splinter us into haves/have-nots, reds/blues, greens/blacks, pizza can encompass us all.

It is, after all, just bread: Staff of life, the sustainer of life for the 10,000 or so years of human existence that’s preceded us, pizza is an opportunity to turn mere bread into precisely whatever we want to eat.

Here at the Under Western Skies kitchen, pizza is — like all food — pescatarian. You may wish to add ingredients not on the menu here, but here we have the following:

This would be a good time to get your oven heating to as hot as it can get. The UWS oven goes to 500 degrees, and we give it 30 minutes to get there, with a pizza stone in it, on which we’ll cook our creation. If you have one of those designer ovens that can get to 600, 800 degrees, go for it.

Unless you’re making two pizzas, you can put one of those boules into a sealed container or bag and freeze it for up to a month. We’re going to make one pizza here. With hands covered with olive oil, shape one boule into a compact ball and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Once you’re ready, oil up your hands, and set to work: On a board or clean surface, press the dough gradually, working it into any shape you want (circle, rectangle, whatever) about 1/4 of an inch in thickness (devotees of “Chicago Pizza” will go for half an inch, but they’re outliers, and will use all this dough to make one thick pizza. All due respect, Chicago, I love you, but I’m a “thin crust” guy).

Brush or smear some olive oil on the dough.

Now: The magic begins. Every aesthetic and culinary art you possess comes into play. This is the moment. No legislature or politician will gainsay you. You alone are the arbiter here. Array your ingredients — from mozzarella to parmigiano cheese, from Roma to Beefsteak tomatoes, anchovy to pepperoni: Spread ’em out.

Oven heated, pizza dressed, the moment of truth arrives. Carefully move that creation by whatever means onto the cooking surface in the oven. Not for the faint of heart, but what must be done. We rely here on a large “peel,” covered with cornmeal, to slide it onto the stone in the oven, as in the photo above.

If your oven’s at 800 degrees, it might take from 2 to 5 minutes. At 500, the UWS oven needs 7 minutes.

And then, let there be pizza.

The Universal Pizza Theorem: Where Is the World’s Greatest Pizza?

I’d like to state that I know precisely where one can find the greatest pizza on earth. If I knew, I’d tell you. I’d be famous as the travel writer who’d studied the pizzas of the world and found The Best. Believe me, I’ve tried. Anthony Bourdain, himself, probably never attained that Everest, strive however he might.

I might tell you that a long-ago spot in some Midwestern college town, or maybe an unheard-of storefront in Manhattan, or — yeah — that iconic place on Rush Street in Chicago, had the best-ever pizza.

But I’d be wrong.

The best pizza you’ll ever have depends on who’s there to share it with you. At this moment, I could book a flight to Rome, get on a tram to the Trastevere neighborhood, sit down and order what I think is the most excellent pizza I’ve ever tasted. I know that place. Come with me, I’ll take you there.

But, if I were by myself, it wouldn’t be the same. Pizza’s just bread dough covered with one or more ingredients. What makes it remarkable is who’s there to share it with you.

THAT’s what distinguishes good pizza from great: Who eats pizza with you.

Or, I advise, don’t fly to Rome. Make it at home with someone important to you, and have it together. Without someone else, pizza is simply bread dough cooked with toppings. In a time of global disaster, a pizza shared is the definition of togetherness.

Make pizza. We might be locked down. We’re not locked out. And whether you make pizza or not, hold on to one another.

© Brad Nixon 2020. One photograph © Executive Chef M. Vincent, 2020, used by kind permission


  1. One fine memory from my time in Liberia involves introducing my houseboy to pizza. He learned to make a fine crust, and even though the toppings never involved pepperoni or sausage, no one cared. Pizza and Heineken seemed a treat made in heaven.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Loved this post and for some reason now I’m hungry. Also, that offer to take me to Rome is accepted! I’m waiting on my plane ticket. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wise and sensitive words. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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