Claudia selected Mauve Binchy’s Scarlet Feather for her first hosting gig. I am sure that you are all familiar with Binchy, the Irish treasure who wrote over thirty works including novels, short stories, non-fiction and one play. I read her Circle of Friends way back in 1990 and I know that my mother is fond of her books. Although I recall enjoying my previous foray into Binchy’s fiction, I have to say that I was not feeling very motivated to diving into Scarlet Feather. (Sorry, Claudia, just keeping it real here.) I mean, my gosh, but it is long.
I was totally wrong. Binchy’s characters (and there are a lot of them) kept me fully engaged and I finished the book long before the July 31 posting deadline. (This is an unheard of occurrence; I am always up against the deadline.)
I felt like a real “eejit” because I really enjoyed this read. (I had no idea that “eejit” is the Irish word for idiot. My family has been calling each other this name for years. We’re not Irish. 🙂 )
There are so many characters, interwoven connections, emotion and humor in this book it is hard to find a starting point so I will just begin with a synopsis.
Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather are two mates that completed cooking/catering school together. Their dream was to open their own catering business in their home city of Dublin. Scarlet Feather is finally opened and as these two struggle to establish their company they must face many challenges and catastrophes both personal and business-related. Family plays an important role in the book and as families are wont to do, members both hinder and help their progress.
So obviously for my inspired-by recipe from this Irish novel, I decided to make a Chicago-Style Pizza.
Let me explain. Cathy’s older sister, Marian (an expat living in Chicago), wants to return to Dublin for her wedding. She contracts with Scarlet Feather to not only cater all the wedding events, but to find venues, dancers, and lodging for the large American contingency that will soon descend on Ireland. Marian and her fiance request a traditional Irish meal of corned beef to which Tom and Cathy sneer and turn up their noses. They think that is too stereotypical and does not showcase Irish cuisine at all. But, when Cathy and Tom create a menu for a themed pre-wedding party, they present even more preconceived ideas about Marian’s adopted home city of Chicago. They decide to create a prohibition gangsteresque theme of old Chicago, complete with bathtub gin, Al Capone and references to the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. “They would have the Chicago greats in jazz on the music center and everyone would be so pleased with the way they had been made to feel at home.” Really, with references to a gangland slaying?
Obviously, the corned beef and the Gangster Land theme did not make the cut and menus had to be revisited and revised before the wedding occurred. I, however, could not forget Binchy’s humor here and Cathy and Tom’s attempts to make everyone “feel at home.” They would have been spot-on if they had served Chicago-Style Pizza.
Chicago-Style Pizza is a bit hard to make while trying to achieve a crisp crust. After years of trying to replicate this style of pie for The Hubs (because it’s one of his favorites), I think I may have a winner here.
1 1/4 c. lukewarm water
2 3/4 t. instant yeast
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
3 T. yellow cornmeal
1 3/4 t. sea salt
2 T. olive oil
4 T. melted butter
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Let sit for five minutes until foamy. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. Knead with dough hook for about 7 minutes. (Alternately, mix dough by hand and knead on a floured surface until dough is smooth.)
Place in a large oiled bowl, cover with a clean cloth and let rise for about one hour.
Punch down and get ready to assemble pizza. (This recipe makes a double batch. Plan on freezing part of the dough for later use.)
1-2 T. butter, softened
1 lb. Italian sweet or hot sausage, casing removed
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, sliced (8-9 slices)
1 (28 oz.) can San Marzano tomatoes
2 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T. sugar, optional
1 ½ t. dried Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
fresh basil, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Grease the inside of a 12-inch cast-iron skillet with the butter. Place the pizza dough in the center and spread evenly towards the bottom edge and 1 1/2 inches up the sides. Prick the bottom of the crust several times with a fork. (This will keep large air bubbles from forming.)
Bake the crust for 10 minutes, until it’s set and barely beginning to brown. While it’s baking, prepare the filling.
Drain the tomatoes thoroughly and place them in a small sauce pan. Crush with a potato masher. Add garlic, sugar and seasonings. Stir and heat to a simmer. While sauce is simmering, crumble and cook sausage until browned, 8-10 minutes.
Cover the bottom of the crust with the sliced mozzarella, fanning it into the crust. Add the sausage, then the tomato sauce.
Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan, and drizzle with the olive oil.
Bake the pizza for about 25 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the topping is golden brown. Allow the pizza to cool for about 15 minutes (or longer, for less oozing) before cutting and serving.
The Hubs stated, “I don’t think you’ve ever fully gone to Chicago,” meaning that I had finally nailed a Chicago-style pizza. This is a hefty pie!
Again, welcome and thanks for hosting, Claudia.
In August and September, Cook the Books is joining with Food ‘n Flix in a crossover event. I am hosting The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo for CTB (August/September round) and hosting Frida for FnF in September. There will be more posted about both events soon.
Please consider participating in both of these Frida events. You can use one post or two to celebrate this artist’s life. Stay tuned.