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Pizza On Board

At 11 years old I had my first sailing experience at Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club and stayed a sailor until 2004 when, instead of a larger sailboat (we owned a Hallberg-Rassy 31), my wife Charlotte and I went out on a limb and bought a trawler.

One of the benefits of Carrie Rose, our Nordic Tug 32, is that she has a roomy kitchen and an oven that actually works. I grew up with a Sicilian mother who, despite working 40 hours a week, came home every night and made our family a great dinner. One of her specialties was pizza. When I finally grew up and moved out I missed my mother's cooking, so I devoted my dinnertime to learning how to cook well, including baking pizzas.

If there is one thing that galls me, it is living in the great pizza town of Chicago, ordering a pizza, and realizing it was prepared with pre-made frozen dough. It is a sacrilege, especially when making a pizza can be quite simple, even on a boat. If you can figure out how to navigate and maintain your boat, you can certainly make a pizza.

I am going to explain pizza-making on board step by step, so sit down with a cup of tea and absorb the text. If you do not understand it right off, wait a day, brew another pot of tea, and read it again. I promise you that after a couple of readings it will begin to come together. Below is a list of the equipment and the ingredients you will need, and then the actual instruction.

First you need an oven. I know that every boat does not have an oven, so you can make it in a Dutch oven or maybe, try making it on the grill. Secondly you will need a pan, and if your oven is anything like mine, a small pan. My pans measure 8 by 11 inches. The recipe will make enough dough to fill two pans.

Each pan is good for 1 ½ people, except if you have teenagers aboard, so plan accordingly. Recently, I have discovered that pizza cooks well on parchment paper and that it makes cleanup much easier, so I now line my pans with it before I start.

You need a bowl large enough to fit all the ingredients, or you can do what I do and use the largest pan you have on board. It works great and its cover helps keep the dough moist while rising. Measuring cups and spoons are nice to have, but if you do not have them, improvise with a coffee cup, and teaspoons and tablespoons for measurements. That is about it for gear, so let's move on to the ingredients.

Dough is the lifeblood of pizza and it requires, dare I say, a little skill to prepare correctly. So do not get frustrated if your first or second attempt is not what you expected. The most common mistake is killing the yeast with hot water. If you are not sure about the temperature of the water, use cold water. It will just take longer for the dough to rise.

1 package rapid-rise yeast
1 c. warm (not hot) water
1 t. salt
2 T. olive oil
2 T. yellow cornmeal
2 T. stone-ground whole-wheat flour
Approximately 2 c. all-purpose white flour

Pizza sauce or chopped, stewed tomatoes
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Oregano, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated
(Vegetable and meat toppings optional)

If you do not have olive oil, use any cooking oil. If you do not have yellow cornmeal (I would not use white cornmeal) or whole-wheat flour, just add more white flour.

Mix together the yeast, water, salt, and oil. Then add the cornmeal and whole-wheat flour. Mix the above while slowly adding the white flour until the dough is moist, but not sticky. Once the dough is mixed, pour a little oil in the bowl, cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and let it rise for 45 minutes. While 30 minutes will do, the extra time will make the dough more compliant.

Once risen, punch the dough down, form into a ball, and divide in half. Knead the dough the way you would massage your significant other's shoulders after a long day out on the water. When the dough feels like the consistency of Play-Doh, let it rest for a few minutes and then spread it out in two oiled pans. If using parchment paper, oil it.

Now, coat the dough with oil and add chopped, stewed tomatoes or pizza sauce. Cover with shredded mozzarella cheese and then sprinkle the pizza with oregano, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.

Feel free to add vegetables, but sauté them first. I am fond of using the fried peppers in oil that you can find on most grocery store shelves. Of course, you can add meat. I am a vegetarian (a trait I developed in college), so as with the grill and Dutch oven, you are also on your own with the toppings.

Preheat the oven to 350° and cook for approximately 20 minutes. Every oven is different, so there is no way to be exact about the time. I used to watch my grandfather incessantly tap the bottom of the focaccia he loved to bake to test for doneness.

Choose a cooler oven temperature if you are not sure of the accuracy of your oven. An overly hot oven will burn the toppings without cooking the dough. In a cooler oven, the pizza will just take a little longer to finish.

While you're waiting for the crust to brown, open a bottle of a nice young red wine like a Dolcetto d' Alba, and appreciate how lucky you are to be on the water.