Yesterday I was reminded of how amazing bringing joy to others feels, it doesn’t matter if it’s a human being or a pet. When you participate and focus on joy for others, good things happen. I’ve been noticing this a lot lately and a few years back began to notice that I do it a lot with food and recipes. My caring nature towards loved ones often leads me through adventures perfecting the foods and recipes they love. It doesn’t matter if I personally like the food or recipe choice, I still have the yearning to learn more and make the best version. Even when the food is something I totally dislike. I do it, usually only to (re)discover (over and over) what I have been telling kids forever while tasting things- “figure out what you like and don’t like about it and learn your taste and texture preferences”.
This process of caring for my special peeps through cooking for them, teaches me about their tastes and simultaneously more about my own and in essence how to merge a variance of tastes and preferences of a few into one recipe and simultaneously or as a result bring people closer together, myself included. Sharing good food is joyful. This is what happened with me and eggnog, which I had thought I loathed. But a partner I had a few years back loved it and my love for him, sent me on a quest to master it, which I did. We had good times and jolly cheers with that eggnog. My now “famous” Middle Eastern Eggnog, today is beloved by many, he- not so much. The recipe lives on past the impermanence of that particular relationship and proving sometimes there is a greater purpose to a recipe, to relationships and to joy itself.
This obsession of mine, pleasing others through recipe development, also lead me to Oregano Pizza Salt, which not only fulfills my own herbal salt recipe creating compulsion (Summer Salt and more…) , but it’s made many pizza lovers, especially the ones passing through my home, noticeably happy.
Pizza, up until recently, had never been something I made at home. Living in Brooklyn for 13 years with access to some of the best pizza in the world- Franny’s (now closed- sorry) and Roberta’s, I just never saw the point. Whatever my skills and equipment were or were not, I could never duplicate the taste and experience of eating pizza, the way these places could, had and do. Most big apple residents would never waste their time making pizza at home, I was one of those.
But, things change, as did my life, quite drastically. After 13 beautiful years I moved out of New York , this is when my pizza life changed forever, among other things. The impetus was not just moving, but when Yahmina Mia Koda, a big time pizza lover, moved into my Bolinas home.
Bolinas, is a super isolated little surf village far from the pizza I was used to. Yahmina is the daughter of a dear friend. I’ve known Yahmina since she was four, she’s twenty five now. Yahmina moved into my home several years back to work with me during the Crespo Organic mango season. She’d work March – September during the season and then embark on global travels to far off lands, returning the following mango season to do it again. She did this for several years before eventually tiring of living in an isolated town (I don’t blame her) and moved. She’s now living in Brooklyn and I if know her well, probably eating good pizza as you read this.
Bolinas has a mindboggling lack of options for dining out, especially if you are me and have finicky taste in wine. All my meals are thus mostly cooked at home, as the nearest big town is over 40 minutes away. I tend to cook from scratch every single day and when Yahmina was here, pizza was on the menu at least once a week. It’s still on the menu once a week, even though she’s gone. The only difference is I now have to make the dough.
In the beginning of the pizza days, Yahmina would make the dough, we’d use a combination of recipes, between the Roberta’s dough recipe (which we changed and made easier) and a few of Martha Stewarts. I made the sauce by scratch, more often than not by cooking down cherry tomatoes, but I also simply “herbalized” regular tomato sauce and cooked it down a little thicker for when we were out of tomatoes. Soft and local mozzarella was a must and toppings ranged from whatever the garden was bearing to pepperoni, which Yahmina insisted she didn’t like in the beginning. Yahmina is definitely a closet bacon and pepperoni lover. The toppings always reflected the season as did the sauce. Yellow tomato pizza sauce in the dead of summer is still my all-time favorite. Or Maybe it’s the spring pizza with mint, peas and spring onions?
The point of all this is, I came to love making pizza at home…….I loved it a lot. I learned to do it better and better as time went on, keeping it simple and quick to make. I used to cook pizza at 375 degrees like most dumb online recipes say to do, I did this for years, like a total dumbass. One day, while doing some research I discovered pizza needs to be made super-hot and it’s not impossible to make your over hotter than it is, using a steel or stone. I also discovered that my oven, which is a good one, was hotter than most-with a high temp of 550 degrees F. Someone told me that usually ovens get hotter than their highest temperatures, sometimes upwards of 50-80 degrees hotter, so eventually I came to realize that my oven could essentially produce one of those Franny’s style pizzas like a brick oven- it was hot enough. So, I bought a pizza steel. I opted for the steel, not exactly sure why, I wouldn’t say there was concrete facts that lead me to believe it was better than a stone. It was mostly an instinctual choice, coupled with the idea that I couldn’t crack or break it as I could a stone.
My first pizza on the steal was made when Yahmina was is in Croatia traveling, it was amazing and she was jealous as hell. It had puffed darken sides, melty insides and a crisp under crust. It took a total of 9 minutes. This changed pizza life for me and eventually Yahmina when she returned the following mango season.
Yahmina and I indulged in a lot of pizzas together throughout the seasons, they were easy for us to whip up and mango season, gets hectic, busy and incredibly stressful -pizza became our comfort food that was easy to prepare, seasonal and delicious. Our way of bonding and being close despite hectic and grueling days- working and living together, wasn’t always easy.
But I couldn’t stop at pizza alone, I needed salt. I don’t do much that isn’t herbal in nature so eventually pizza salt was born. I love the taste of the salt on top the pizza, just before I eat it. I can’t eat it without. My kitchen has about four different types of salt in bowls laying on various parts of the counter, and I have a windowsill full of about ten more styles. Salt is important to me. I also think salt is one of the easiest items to impart flavor into, especially finishing salts, leading to tinges specific flavors that will marry with the food, via the vehicle of the salt melting in. I started putting herbs in salts a long time ago, in my Oceanside, California days. Today I am more advanced with the idea and have somewhat perfected my style. I make all kinds of flavored salts with herbs, zests, chilies and spices and this pizza salt is one of my favorites.
The idea came to me in a pizza joint a few years back when I saw someone putting salt, chili flakes and pizza seasoning on their pizza, it took so much time and I was sad for them that they couldn’t just dive in while it was still hot. I thought to myself- “that’s a lot of steps- I can shortcut that and make it better”, as is my way. My next thought was, “Yahmina will love it.
The next day, I harvested oregano, rosemary and thyme from my garden and mixed it up with some red pepper flakes (the good kind I brought back from Turkey) and some black pepper and cooked it up with Maldon salt and there we had it- a classic pizza seasoning done freshly. I “shortcutted” what I saw and made it fresher, more distinct and non-processed – better.
I wowed Yahmina and myself. The takeaway from the story is more than the pizza salt recipe; it proves that by caring about others, mutual joy can be shared. Eating and cooking together, like crying together and laughing together brings people close. Doing good things for others keeps joy moving in the circular way it’s intended.
My life motto is SEEK JOY, I believe joy is impossible to “get” without giving. We give what we can, I give recipes. Eventually Herbal Roots will sell this salt! But for now, I suggest you make it yourself, or better yet for a loved one.
Oregano Pizza Salt
½ cup chopped super fine oregano
1 tablespoon chopped super fine rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped super fine thyme leaves
2 teaspoons red chili flakes
2 teaspoons finely cracked black pepper
1 ½ cups Maldon flake salt
Pre Heat oven to 200 degrees F.
Mix together all of the fresh herbs, chili flakes and pepper in a medium mixing bowl. Gently fold in the salt and mix. Use your fingers to make sure the herbs and spices are well incorporated into the salt. Place the salt/herb mix on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper so that its spread out evenly across the entire sheet and flat. Place in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the herbs seem to have lost most moisture, they should not be totally dried out and still look greenish. Store in a small bowl on your counter for a few weeks.
Basket of Cherry Tomato Sauce
Makes 2 cups
I am the greatest fan of fresh and easy and this is exactly that. I am afraid of tomato peels in my food, they cook down way more than most chefs will lead you to belive. This recipe yields a quick and tasty pizza sauce, utilizing the year-round supply of amazing cherry tomatoes we have access to. There are plenty of amazing organic cherry tomato growers growing all over the country and in Mexico that provide sustainable and regenerative tomato options, there is no valid excuse not to buy them in the fall or winter. I buy Jacobs Farm and Covilli Brand Organics, they have the best flavor and do the most good for the world of any of the organic brands.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 gloves garlic, chopped fine
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped fine fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 basket cherry tomatoes (about 2 cups) cut in halves or quarters depending on size
1 teaspoon salt
Heat a medium saucepan on medium heat and add the olive oil, garlic, chili flakes and oregano and cook about 45 seconds to 1 minute, making sure that the garlic does not burn. Add the cherry tomatoes and salt and stir.
Turn up the heat to medium high and let the tomatoes cook aggressively for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. This will encourage the cherry tomatoes to extract juice more rapidly. Turn the burner down and simmer for about 10 minutes until the cherry tomatoes are cooked down into a thick chunky sauce. Take off the heat and cool completely before using on the pizza.
Using a hot sauce will give you less crisp crust, my lack of patience proves that every time.