Once upon a time...

(August 19, 2007 to be exact)

...in a far-away land, a young urban Chicagoan had a meltdown.

Incensed that her then-current boyfriend was off visiting his family in Switzerland for the entirety of August whilst she had nothing equally fabulous on her holiday agenda, her insanely competitive ego went rogue and autonomously composed the following text:
"Anyone want to go to Paris or Rome for Labor Day?"
This S.O.S. was immediately disseminated to her gallivanting girl gang with the hopes that their fervent enthusiasm for spontaneous escapades might extend across the pond.

She didn't think for a moment that anyone would seriously consider dropping everything to pop over to Europe with ten days notice, but that was fine with her. She was used to traveling solo and of course, in her pathological bid for oneupmanship it would be much cooler (and far more mysterious) to go by herself anyway.

In the end, following many sincere expressions of interest and promises to check on flights, one person actually came through: her little Butter Cookie.

That would be Jen, the heroine of this particular tale...

Yes, that's right. My fairy tale starts with an awesome girlfriend rather than a boy. Following one of the all-time greatest and utterly bizarre first dates ever, Jen and I had been inseparable for the past 18 months. She was my rock. A co-conspirator and expert enabler whom I could always count on to say, "Yessss!"

Luckily, this trip was no exception.

Since we had both been to Paris within the last year - and because we share an insatiable obsession with all things Italian - we opted for Rome. Within 24 hours we had our flights booked and Jen scored us a wicked cool deal on a hotel.

We had to celebrate. At Quartino. With pizza.

A week later, we were on our way...

Pizza Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons)

First of all, let me just say that real pizza is thin-crusted. I am passionately committed to this position and have, from time to time, considered starting a campaign to ban the use of the term "pizza" in relation to those crazy deep-dish pies that we make in Chicago. But at the moment my activist energy is being channeled elsewhere.

I offer up this recipe with the caveat that it is virtually impossible to reproduce in a home kitchen that which can only be borne of a brick oven. So if your kitchen-ego can handle that, go for it and have fun.

Two secrets to creating a great pizza, one with a well-crisped crust that finishes baking in the same time it takes the topping to cook, are intense heat (upwards of 800 degrees) and direct contact of the dough with the heat source.

Since most conventional ovens top out at a mere 500 degrees, the closest you can get to recreating this environment at home is to use a pizza stone by placing it in a cold oven (per the manufacturer's directions) and letting it preheat with the oven. I also recommend using a pizza peel - those wide wooden boards with the long handles that you always see hanging in pizzerias - to safely slide the pizza onto the stone.

I hope to master the art of dough-making one day, but thus far I've not made the attempt. If I were to try it, I would probably start with this recipe. In the meantime, I have pretty good luck with store-bought dough and have found the par-baked crusts from Fox and Obel to be highly successful in emergency situations.

Whatever you choose, the rest goes something like this:

1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes
3-4 marinated artichoke hearts, quartered
5-6 black olives packed in brine (you'll want the sweet variety)
1/2 cup finely sliced mushrooms
2 ounces finely sliced ham, shredded
1/4 pound shredded mozzarella
a handful or two of arugula (optional)

Spread the tomato and the mozzarella. Technically the other four toppings should each be housed in its own quarter of the pizza, but here is where I deviate from tradition as I prefer the Quartino's version with everything mixed together. Either way, drizzle with a few drops of olive oil and bake according to your dough instructions. If you like, throw some fresh arugula on top just before serving.

Best enjoyed on a summer patio with a good friend and a pirlo.

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