12 July 2014

Weekend Cooking: "Perfection Pizza" by Jeffrey Steingarten (It Must've Been Something I Ate)

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It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey SteingartenWay back in May 2010, for a Weekend Cooking post, I mentioned that I had a couple of books of food writing that I really wanted to read. At the time I was positive I would add them to my reading list. So here it is, four years later, and I still haven't read either of them. I'm sure that kind of thing has never happened to you.

Anyway, the other day I was once again sorting through my bookshelves and became reacquainted with It Must've Been Something I Ate, an award-winning collection of essays by Jeffrey Steingarten. Then I had a duh moment. I didn't have to read the whole book before writing about it. So, finally, I tried one of the stories. It took me only twelve years to get around to reading it.

Probably because I recently read and reviewed Delancey, I decided to read Steingarten's "Perfection Pizza," originally published in August 2000. What a fun story about his obsession with trying to make the perfect home pizza.

He starts by talking about his newest toy, an instant-read noncontact infrared thermometer:
Sure, it cost way too much. Yes, I should have used the money to upgrade my footwear instead, or have a makeover But everyone turns green with envy when I demonstrate my ST-8, especially the men and boys.
From there he talks about some of the best pizza places in New York and gives us a little history about his favorite pizza styles: Neapolitan and Neapolitan-American. After using his thermometer on wood- and coal-fired ovens in city restaurants, Steingarten attempts to re-create the same conditions at home, with mixed success. Here's what's happened when he tried to fool his home oven's thermostat:
The results were brilliant, especially in concept. My oven, believing incorrectly that its temperature was near the freezing point, went full blast until thick waves of smoke billowed from every crack, vent, and pore, filling the house with the palpable signs of scientific success. Yes, the experiment had to be cut short, but it had lasted longer than the Wright brothers' first flight. Inside the oven was a blackened disk of dough pocked with puddles of flaming cheese. I had succeeded beyond all expectations.
After a number of other misdirected attempts (setting the oven to the clean cycle, trying different grill configurations), he finally found a solution or two. Steingarten ends his tale by sharing his crust and sauce recipes.

If the other essays in Jeffrey Steingarten's It Must've Been Something I Ate are only half as entertaining, informative, and funny, then I know I have a lot of good reading ahead. Maybe I'll get around to reading a second story before another dozen years go by.

Published by Random House / Knopf, 2003 (paperback shown here)
ISBN-13: 9780375727122
Source: Bought (hardcover) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


18 comments:

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 7/12/14, 6:45 AM  

Yes. An excellent reminder that we don't have to read everything, cover to cover, before we share with others. Those school lessons continue to shape us, I think, but we can choose to set them aside at any time.

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 7/12/14, 7:30 AM  

I love Jeffrey Steingarten as the curmudgeonly judge on Iron Chef! And, I even passed him at the Union Square Green Market in NYC once (he's very short)! However, I haven't read any of his books and now you've made me want to read them - he's funny!

(Diane) bookchickdi 7/12/14, 8:10 AM  

I enjoy dipping into essays, and this one sounds like one I'd really enjoy.

Karen 7/12/14, 9:14 AM  

I guess now I wish I hadn't read this post by Bourdain in which he excoriates Steingarten: http://anthonybourdain.tumblr.com/post/22384630883/raw (last paragraph). No, Bourdain doesn't name Steingarten, but the consensus seems to zero in on him. :(

Joy 7/12/14, 9:45 AM  

The puddles of flaming cheese made me laugh out loud.

Joy's Book Blog

JoAnn 7/12/14, 10:17 AM  

I love food essays! Wonder if my library has this collection.

Faith Hope Cherrytea 7/12/14, 11:02 AM  

A Quick heads up -

Virgin Mobile Aus @VirginMobileAus · Jul 10
For every food pic you post to Twitter with #mealforameal, we’ll deliver a real meal to someone in need.

Any tweeters...?

Cecelia 7/12/14, 11:03 AM  

I've always liked food writing - it's something I discovered while I was traveling abroad. For some reason people had left a couple of 'best food writing of 2004/5/you-get-the-idea' in hostel common room bookcases. I got such a kick out of these short stories - they're often funny or poignant, but don't stray as much into the strange/tragic like a lot of fiction short stories. That book sounds like a winner. Now I'd be worried that I'd leave it on the shelf for a decade too - my TBR mountain has gotten... out of control? Yikes.

olduvaireads 7/12/14, 12:22 PM  

Jeffrey Steingarten is awesome! I love his food articles in Vogue - it's always my favourite thing to read, ironic perhaps since it's not exactly a food magazine. And he's such a great - sometimes grumpy - Iron Chef judge!

Heather 7/12/14, 12:57 PM  

I must check for this book, it sounds most amusing. Thanks.

Laurie C 7/12/14, 2:45 PM  

I hadn't heard of the book or the author before. You make a good point about not every post having to be a full-fledged review of an entire book. You've piqued my interest in this book, and I'm usually a dozen or so years behind in my reading, anyway!

Jackie Mc Guinness 7/12/14, 3:00 PM  

Sound like two good books! And of course I've never had books on my shelves for years before opening them (not).

Carole 7/12/14, 7:05 PM  

My only knowledge of him is from Iron Chef! I've gone with Downton Abbey food today. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

bermudaonion 7/12/14, 8:55 PM  

I have a feeling Carl could relate to that essay!

bookdout 7/13/14, 12:34 AM  

I am very unadventurous when it comes to pizza - I always just have Hawaiian with onion. This sounds like it could be a fun read though.

Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

Trish 7/13/14, 5:10 PM  

I'm sure somewhere along the way I've had an oven experience like this before. Actually--my flames usually come from leaving an oven mitt on the stove burners (thank goodness for a flat stovetop, though the other day I burned a paper carton of milk). Sigh. Sounds like a really fun and enjoyable book to sink in with a glass of wine while dinner is cooking away.

Peaceful Reader 7/13/14, 8:46 PM  

It is good to sample different stories and hopefully you can get into another one soon. I can only imagine the smell in the house after the dough experiment!

Rachel 7/14/14, 8:16 AM  

Delighted to be able to review stalwart Weekend Cooking participant Janel's new culinary mystery, Pies and Peril here. Offering a giveaway of an ebook version back at the Crispy Cook.

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