While I have to keep my wanderlust in check for just a little bit longer, as the world opens back up cautiously after fifteen months of being sheltered in place, I have satisfied my craving for adventure by reading a few roadtrip memoirs recently, the latest of which was Drive-Thru USA: A Tale of Two Road Trips by Rich Bradwell.*
On the Page
I was completely unfamiliar with Bradwell’s writing, but I will definitely seek out his subsequent books. In fact, I’ve already added two to my list. But I have always been intrigued by other countries’ views of my own. I remember cringing as a friend from Denmark gave me daily updates on their take on our 45th president who shall remain unnamed here.
So, it was fascinating to read Bradwell’s well-written and well-researched book that details two road trips he took across America, first, with a university friend and then, a decade later, with his wife. During both trips, they travel from state to state in search of the most iconic foods.
He describes, “When you drill down into the food culture of the US it’s
interesting to see that the local specialities tend to emerge from one of two
things. If a region is blessed with a particularly bountiful supply of
something (e.g. crabs in Maryland or oranges in Florida) then those dishes or
drinks are likely to be prevalent there. The second determining factor is often
the immigrants that came to that particular area and the foods and traditions
they brought with them from their homelands. Italians are one of the most
obvious examples, but elsewhere in the country where German, Polish, Swedish,
Mexican or Cuban immigrants are concentrated you will find their food traditions
influencing the local cuisine or even becoming the speciality of that region” (pg. 146).
Think lobster rolls in Maine… “I bit down and there it was, pure heaven. Heaven in a roll.
I’d come a long way to get this roll, more than 2,000 miles to the middle of
New England, halfway up the coast of Maine. It was a full pound of fresh
lobster covered in the most delicious melted butter and stuffed into a bun that
was struggling valiantly to keep hold of its meaty treasure” (pg. 6).
And I laughed aloud through his bit about American cheese, remembering how my good friend from Denmark’s brother spent a semester in Arizona or somewhere. When his parents flew in to pick him up, they did a jaunt through the Southwest, stopping here on their way to fly out of San Francisco. And, when we met them for dinner, he had picked up “American cheese that you squeeze out of a tube.” Oh, I was mortified. They come from the land of Harvarti and here he was with squeeze cheese! Bradwell writes, “…although ‘American cheese’ is also an option. I’ve never
really figured out what American cheese is exactly. It seems to just be cheese,
but the plainest, blandest, pale yellow cheese you could imagine. Not too hard,
not soft, very little taste, it should just be called cheese. I think Americans
sometimes have a habit of sticking ‘American’ on the front of stuff when they
can’t think of any other suitable descriptive word. For example, the TV show
about making a new pop star is called American Idol (it’s called Pop Idol in
the UK), and a horror TV series was called American Horror Story. Presumably
calling it just Horror Story was too plain. So when I see American cheese, I
just think ok, so you mean just cheese then, and boring cheese at that” (pg. 104).
This book, though, is not just about food. He also delves into the history of an area or the food. “…why the history lesson? Well as I’ve learned repeatedly, where there is history, there is unique and interesting food. South Carolina does not disappoint and despite not having one of the more famous cuisines it does boast its own genre of food, in this case ‘low country food’. It is called the low country because this area of marshy coastline is near or below sea level. Because of this, oysters, crabs, shrimp and so on are abundant and the dishes of the cuisine reflect that. ‘Low country food’ has a lot in common with Southern cuisine more generally, so lots of rice, grits, beans etc. Grits are a controversial topic for any British person that visits the South (and indeed for a lot of Americans from the North)” (pg. 39).
This was definitely my kind of book. And it inspired lots and lots of meals.
On the Plate
What I’m sharing for this book was inspired by this passage. “Seafood is prevalent in New England so it makes sense that seafood features so heavily on Connecticut pizzas. I’m not sure I can create a better description of the white clam pizza than the book, so I’ll quote; the clams ‘are spread across the pie with just enough of their clear nectar to give the wafer thin creation a salubrious ocean savor. This is not a cheesy pizza, in fact there is no mozzarella at all, just scatterings of grated sharp pecorino. The bite of the cheese and sweetness of the clams, along with a salvo of minced garlic and spices and a drizzle of oil, make up a topping that does not cover the crust as much as meld with it…’ It goes on like that, and my verdict was, if not quite as evangelical, that it was a damn good pizza. It was also unique, given the seafood topping, and lack of mozzarella (and tomato). It tasted authentic, and I loved the brick oven that we watched them cooking the pizzas in” (pg. 158).
You guessed it: clam pizza. So, pizza on clams isn’t new to us. I’ve previously shared Pizza alle Vongole which has a tomato base. I’ve even made pizza with octopus: Pizza con Polpo! But this heavenly sounding white clam pizza was new.
makes six 8″ pizzas (easily halved, but we love our pizza and having leftovers)
- 1 cup sourdough starter, unfed/discard
- 1 cup sourdough starter, recently fed (within 8 hours)
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 5 cups flour plus more for kneading
- oil for the bowl
- fresh mozzarella
- shaved or grated pecorino
- smoked baby clams
- cubed pancetta
- fresh clams, scrubbed clean and dried
- fresh herbs
Place starters and water into a large mixing bowl. Stir gently to get rid of any lumps from the unfed starter; mine is always a thick lump. Spoon the yeast over the top and let bloom for 10 minutes. Add in the flour and salt. Use a wooden spoon to combine to a shaggy dough like the photo above.
Turn the dough onto a floured counter and knead until smooth and elastic. Mine takes about 10 minutes of kneading.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise for as long as you can – or at least until it’s doubled in size. I usually do my dough before I go to work and leave it till dinner time, so about 8 or 9 hours.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut your dough into six pieces. Hand-stretch the dough into a round shape and place it on a baking stone. Or, if you have someone more adventurous, you can toss them.
Place pizza in the oven for 16 to 18 minutes. You want the crust crisped and browned and the cheese gooey and melted. The clams should be open at this point. Top with fresh basil and serve hot.
After three clam pizzas, they asked for “regular pizza”, so that was fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil. Done.
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