Alimentary, My Dear
Pizza to Go? Why Not!
By Tamia Nelson
October 9, 2001
Is there a paddler who doesn't like pizza?
I'm sure there is, but I've yet to meet one. And for Farwell and me, pizza
is a staple food. In fact, Friday night is pizza night in our household.
It's a tradition of long-standing, one we've been observing faithfully for
nearly two decades.
And it's become quite a ritual. I make my own dough, and then top the
crust with generous quantities of mozzarella, freshly grated Parmesan,
minced garlic cloves, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil (when I can get
it), and lots of dried oregano. I admit that I use canned pizza sauce, but
that's because I've found one that beats anything I can make.
Of course, pizza at home is one thing. Pizza on a paddling trip is
something else. For a long time, our canoeing and kayaking holidays were
holidays from this family tradition, as well. For one thing, once you're
away from workaday routines, the days of the week don't matter quite so
much as they do when every block on the calendar has a deadline to meet or
a chore to do. Must of us go paddling to get away from rigid, imposed
schedules, after all. We "light out for the territory" to relax and
unwindand to find the freedom that eludes us at other times.
Remember Nessmuk's words? "We do not go to the green woods and crystal
waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at
I couldn't agree more. Still, after three or four days in the bush, I
get a hankering for certain foods, and that hankering gets more insistent
as the days go by. Sooner or later I start thinking that it would be nice
to have a green salad with tomatoes. Or cold fresh milk. Or a crunchy
apple. Or pizza.
Pizza. Right. Looking back, it's hard to believe I went for so many
years without trying to make a back-country pizza. But I did. Then a mouse
set up housekeeping in our ancient gas oven at home.
I didn't know this till I heard the scurrying behind the stove. I'd
just turned on the oven. At first I thought I was hearing things. But the
noise continued, getting louder and more frantic with every minute. So I
grabbed a flashlight and peered into the dark recesses between the wall
and the stove. What did I see? A white-footed mouse staring back at me.
And she wasn't alone. She was surrounded by a mob of tiny, pink
miniatures, all squirming blindly. I quickly put two and two (and two and
) together. Mom had built a maternity suite in the insulated
walls of the oven. It probably seemed the perfect place: comfortable,
safe, and warm. Then, suddenly, the temperature started to rise, and it
kept rising until it became unbearable. So Mom snatched up her brood and
carried them away from the scorching heat, one at a time.
Now she was standing in the beam of my flashlight, surrounded by her
offspring. What could I do? I turned off the oven, just in case Mom had
more miniatures to rescue. And I crossed my fingers, hoping she'd move on.
No luck, though. When the oven cooled, I could hear her carrying her brood
back to her carefully-prepared nest.
What was I to do? Call me an old softie, but I wasn't about to evict a
new mother, let alone incinerate her. So I looked in a guidebook and
learned we'd have to wait about a month for the miniature mice to grow up.
Could we do without an oven for a month? We decided that we could.
But what about Friday pizza? We didn't want to give that up, and
driving half-an-hour to the nearest take-out wasn't an attractive idea
either. So I began experimenting. And guess what? I learned that it's
possible to make great pizza on the stove top, without sacrificing either
flavor or quality. I simply made the dough as usual, but formed two small
crusts instead of one large one. Each crust was then "baked" in a covered,
10-inch, cast-iron skillet, directly over a burner. When the crusts were
done, I removed them, added the toppings, and then "baked" the completed
pizzas again, one after the other, in the same skillet. The result?
Sure, this method wasn't exactly easy. It required constant attendance
and some deft juggling. But it produced individual pizzas that tasted
every bit as good as oven-baked pizzas. The main differences were that the
crust's bottom often became a little charred in places, and the
cheesethough it melteddidn't form the crusted brown bubbles of
a real oven-backed pizza. Otherwise, though, my stove-top pizzas were
This got me thinking. If I could make pizza on a burner at home, why
couldn't I do the same thing on a paddling trip? So I tried it, and I
found I could. Now I really had pizza to go! And I wasn't alone. A couple
of years later, the foodie magazines started running features on cooking
pizza on a gas grill. Suddenly, stove-top pizza was mainstream.
OK. If I can do it, so can you. Not many people will want to make yeast
dough from scratch in camp, but there are plenty of acceptable
substitutes. You can enlist pita bread as a crust, or a flour tortilla, or
even one of the shrink-wrapped ready-made pizza crusts. Or you can make a
and use it as your base. But the simplest way of all is also the most
obvious: just use a prepackaged, dry pizza-crust mix and add your favorite
Whatever crust you use, you'll need to have a large skillet with a
tightly-fitting lid. I like cast iron because it's sturdy, stands up to
the heat, and heats evenly. The downside is that it's heavy, but what's a
few extra pounds on a canoe trip? Remember what Nessmuk said. We go to the
woods to smooth it. And eating well is part of smoothing it.
A couple of tips: Keep a pot-holder handy. Cast-iron handles get
very hot, and there's no ER in the back of beyond. And don't forget
to bring along a big pot or bowl for mixing the dough. A small cutting
board is also useful for shaping the crust andafter the crust is
cookedfor assembling the pizza. A clean paddle will work fine.
What's that? You like to cook over a wood fire? No problem. Pizzas can
be "baked" in a skillet over coals, too. Just be sure you experiment at
home till you can control the temperature. Heap coals up for high heat.
Spread 'em out for low. Then place your skillet where the temperature is
right. For my part, I like the convenience of a camp stove. Balancing a
heavy skillet on a small stove's pot supports can be tricky, however, so I
usually set a folding wire grill over the burner and then place the
skillet on the grill. It takes a little fiddling to get the height right,
but it's worth it.
Campfire or stove? The choice is yours. But be sure you practice at
home before you take your pizzeria on the road.
Pizza to Go
(makes 1 pizzaenough for one hungry paddler)
To feed two, simply double the amount of each ingredient. Pour two
packages of pizza-crust mix together in one bowl and then split the dough
1 tablespoon cooking oil (I use corn oil)
1 6.5-ounce package pizza-crust mix (I use Betty Crocker)
1/2 cup hot (but not boiling) water
All-purpose flour (for dusting hands and dough ball)
Toppings of your choice
Have your toppings ready at hand. Pour the pizza-crust mix into a bowl
or pot, and then pour in the hot water. Caution: Use too much water
and the dough will be sticky. Use too little and the flour mix will not
hold together. (If you do use too much water, add a small amount of
all-purpose flour and stir until the dough is no longer sticky. On the
other hand, if you use too little water, add just a bit more.) Stir the
water and mix together until you've got a ball of dough. This should take
no more than a minute or so. Then cover the bowl or pot and allow the
dough to rest for a few minutes.
While the dough is "resting," begin heating your skillet over a high
flame (or hot coals). Let it get quite hot before coating the bottom of
the skillet with cooking oil. (Do not use olive oil!) As the oiled
skillet heats, flour your fingers and press the dough ball into a 9"
round, using a flour-dusted cutting board or clean, dry paddle blade as a
work surface. When the oil is hot enough to make a pea-sized pinch of
dough sizzle, slide the crust carefully into the skillet and put
the lid in place. Allow the crust to "bake" for only a minute or
twojust long enough to permit the crust to brown slightly. Then,
using a spatula to help, carefully flip the crust and allow the reverse
side to "bake" under the lid for another 15-30 seconds. The goal is only
to harden this side of the crust, not to brown it.
Now remove the skillet from the flame (or coals) and set it on a
heat-proof surface, like a rock. Don't set the hot skillet on your
paddle or boat, and don't shut off your stove. Working quickly but
carefully, place the toppings on the pizza. (Don't overload the crust.)
Then return the skillet to the stove and cover. Let the pizza "bake" for
about 3-5 minutesjust long enough to melt the cheese and allow the
toppings to heat up. Be sure you don't peek too often. If you do, the
crust will char before the toppings get hot. Once the pizza is cooked
through, remove it from the heat, cut into wedges, and serve.
If you plan to make two pizzas, combine two packaged mixes to make one
dough, and then divide the dough in two. Form the first crust from
one-half of the dough, and then shape the second while the first is
cooking. When the first crust is cooked on both sides, slide it out onto
your cutting board, pour a little more oil into the skillet, and
immediately put it back over the heat. Once it's up to temperature again,
cook the second pizza crust just as you did the first. Meanwhile, put
toppings on the first (cooked) crust. When the second crust is done, slide
it off, and place the now-garnished first crust in the skillet. Cook as
directed, while garnishing the second crust. When the first pizza is
completely baked, slide it out, and heat the second. (You may need to add
more oil first.) Slice the first pizza while you're waiting.
Sound complicated? It is. But it gets easier with practice.
OPTIONS Toppings can include tomato sauce, grated cheese, dried
spices, canned or rehydrated mushrooms and other vegetables, sliced black
or green olives, sliced pepperoni, and even sliced fresh garlic. Just be
careful not to overload the crust. If you do, your toppings won't heat
through. Worse yet, the crust will become soggy and break when you try to
lift it. And if you plan to use fresh veggies like bell peppers and
onions, be sure to cook them first, before making the pizza crust. They
simply don't get enough time in your stove-top oven to cook through.
There you have it. Pizza to go. And all because of a mouse!
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights