In my day-to-day pursuit of the perfect pizza, the same equation keeps producing the best pizzas by far: Fresh + Fresh = Great Pizza. Luckily, I’ve got fresh in spades out here in Athens, Ohio, and today I’m out to visit Larry and Kim Cowdery at their farm on the Ohio River.
Native Americans of the Eastern part of North America learned to plant foodstuffs in the dark forests that covered much of the east coast before the arrival of …er…you know who. These farming techniques weren’t plotted around a laboratory conference table at Con Agra or Monsanto; they were employed using logic and the manipulation of Mother Earth. The three sisters (corn, beans and squash) became a tried and proven way to grow three crops in a small amount of space, each helping the growth of the others.
This is what they did. (Let’s just imagine you are there.) Look up into the canopy of the dark forest and find a large tree that, if gone, would let sunshine filter in from east to west. Listen to the empty grumble in your stomach before taking a sharp impliment like the jawbone of a deer or a broken pizza cutter and dig into the heart of the tree to kill it. Eventually after several weeks of carving at the core or heart, the tree will die without weakening the tree itself. Wait for the next season spring, loosen up the earth around the now dead tree and make mounds where the best sunlight hits. Place rotton fish, eel or a slice of anchovy pizza in each mound with corn seeds. When the corn is about 6 inches high, plant the bean seeds next to the corn and the squash seeds in and around both.
As the corn grows, it provides a natural trellis for the bean plant, whose roots in turn produce sustanance for the nitrogen hungry corn to grow. The squash plant that snakes around the ground provides shade, preventing weeds from growing and producing a “micro climate” that is moist. The prickly vines of the squash plant also prevent deer and other vermin from eating any of the sisters. Brilliant companion planting.
Larry and Kim Cowdery have the three sisters and much more. There farm is on a historical bench of land along the Ohio River and offers some of the best growing soil, as well as spectacular veiws. The Cowdery family has been farming this glorious acreage for over 100 years and I am glad to have them as my friends. Here is Larry gathering our squash for the pizza. (I misspoke when I say that the cousa squash is hollow-it’s usually hollowed out in Mediterrean cooking and stuffed with lots of stuff.)
And here is a quick video with a weird looking squash. (No…you with your filthy mind!)
Well, I’ve gotten all my corn, squash and beans and am heading home to make a great pizza. I am torn between making a sauce out of the corn but have decided to steal some great looking, first-of-the-year tomatoes that the Cowdery’s have in their greenhouse. Before we go to make this great pizza, here is another video about the insect that makes all this squash possible, the wild bee.
In planning this pizza, I must do as the Native Americans have done with the companion planting. Every component must compliment each other. This is really no easy task since I have four different kinds of squash. (Zucchini, Yellow, and Mediterranian or Cousa squash.)
I did get a little fancy with the squash/zucchini weave. It’s a real eye-opener but you don’t have to do it.
For the dough: use the Easy Pizza Dough Recipe and reserve one dough ball whilst freezing the other for later use.
For the beans and tomato:
1 large ear of sweet corn or 2 small ones (enough to make 3/4 cup)
6 to 8 large fresh stringless beans
8 basil leaves
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cherry tomatoes
Cut the ends off of the beans then cut through the bean lengthwise to halve it. Cut the halves again into quarters and place in bowl. Add the vinegar, sugar and chopped basil. Cut and quarter the cherry tomatoes and toss with beans. Let sit to macerate. The juices will develop and meld the flavors.
For the zucchini and yellow squash weave:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium zucchini and 1 medium yellow squash, sliced thinly either on mandoline or with knife
1 pinch salt
Half a medium fresh mozzarella ball
Heat a saute pan on high heat, add teaspoon olive oil and cook all zucchini and yellow squash slices for 1.5 minutes on each side until just limp. You may add more oil each time you cook. Place on plate and cool in the fridge.
When the slices are cool, cut 1/4 of an inch from the skin inward by slicing vertically on a cutting board. Reserve the inside of the slices. Place the sliced skin threads next to each other in a green-yellow pattern and continue until you have a 4 to 5 inch line up. Starting at one end, weave another thread over the yellow and under the green threads that are running opposite. After about 3 rows, you can now pull the threads toward yourself bending them over for an easier weave. This process is very tedius and may drive you insane unless you get into a “weave-groove” as I call it. The result is spectacular and worth it. The sharp point of a knife will help tremendously in picking up each strand. Make sure all strands are woven together tightly.
When you have an approximate a 4 or 5 inch square, take a round cutter and, using a sharp knife, cut a circle. Place the zucchini weaving on half of a salted mozzarella ball. (For better results, I put a small basil leaf, then salt before draping with the weave. Reserve for later.
For the corn mix:
Shuck the corn and place upright on a cutting board. Cut the kernels off and place in a bowl. Take the inside of the zucchini and squash and run your knife down the length of them, making a fettucini. Add to bowl and reserve for topping.
For cousa and pattypan squash:
Peel the cousa squash and then cut into 4 inch logs. Insert filet knife into center and cut out the middle. Cut the cousa rounds thinly (about 1/16 of an inch). Cut the stalk end off of the pattypan squash and cut the same thickness.
Topping the Pizza:
After rolling out a 10 to 12 inch round pizza dough disc, place it on parchment paper. Top with the corn and squash strips. Place the mozzarella and Gruyere on top. Arrange the cousa and pattypan around the pie, trying not to overlap for better cooking. Place the bean, basil and tomato mix on top.
Slide an upside-down cookie sheet into the oven, then slide the pie onto the preheated sheet pan. Cook for approximately 9 minutes, then put the zucchini weave and mozzarella ball in the middle (just enough time to soften up the cheese.) Cook for 2 more minutes or until the bottom is just getting dark brown and the outside crust is getting golden. Serve to a curious cat as soon as possible.