A Recipe for New York Style Pizza and a Taste of Mystic, CT for Hannah McKinnon’s Novel MYSTIC SUMMER
I was thrilled to open my mailbox and find that Mystic Summer, Hannah McKinnon’s newest novel, had been sent to me from the publisher at Simon & Schuster, Inc. to review. My husband and I spent our first year of marriage living about ten minutes from the picturesque whaling seaport of Mystic, CT and had recently returned to give our sons a tour, showing them our old stomping grounds.
By the time we reached Mystic, our family was wrapping up ten days of sampling different pies throughout New York and New England, starting with a floppy, soppy, just-the-way-I-like-it, thin crust on our way to the seaport states, through New York. We liked Brother Bruno’s in Middletown, NY so much that we stopped in for another dose on a following trip to New England.
When I was growing up in Florida, our family friends were Italians from New York who owned several restaurants, over the years, in my home town. Because my parents gave the kids in their family a ride to school every morning, my sister and I were lucky enough to catch the ride home with theirs, which meant frequent stops at their pizzeria on the way home when business needed tending. These stops invariably meant tall glasses of soda circled around what remains the best cheese pizza I’ve ever tasted, the kind that just hangs straight down, dripping cheese and sauce when you pick it up. Kinda like the ones we find at Brother Bruno’s.
We found other noteworthy pizza parlors on our last two trips to New England– in St. Johnsville, NY, at Lombardo’s, at Bella Piazza Cafe and Pizzeria in Plymouth, MA, and at Portland Pie Co. in Manchester, NH.
Of course, we also made sure we took the kids to Mystic Pizza in Mystic, CT, the place made famous by the Julia Roberts movie of the same name.
My little guy decided that the “secret ingredient” in “Leona’s” pizza is paprika. I think I might agree.
Mystic is a picture perfect town. I’ve always thought so. From the bascule bridge that plays an important role in McKinnon’s book, bringing main character Maggie Griffin a little closer to the love of her life, to the quaint main street with its little shops and nearby waterway, also integral to the story.
I just had to stop in the town’s crowded little sweet shop on our last trip to see if I could find some saltwater taffy to take home.
The “tour” of Mystic McKinnon gives readers with her detailed and frequent descriptions would have brought the town to life in my mind if I hadn’t already had my own fond memories of the character of the seaport and “honeymooning” there with the love my life for an entire year, before we moved on and started “real life” together. Sunny morning walks through town and across the bridge that ended with pastries and coffee at a local bakery. Misty evening strolls that led to hand dipped ice cream, when the weather permitted.
Here is my own tried and true pizza dough recipe that I’ve used for years as a base for any number of topping combinations. Clay pizza and baking “stones”, preheated in a very hot oven, 400 to 450 degrees F, make pizzas reminiscent of the wood fired brick oven baked ones I helped roll out in an Italian restaurant in Honolulu, decades ago. The only thing missing with these clay baked pies is the dusting of wood ash from the floor of a brick oven which, in my opinion, gives the real deal its flavor. A wood pizza peel can be tricky to use but is key to getting a pizza on and off the hot baking stones in the oven. It doesn’t take long to master the flick of the wrist technique needed to get the job done, though I do prefer a thin metal peel to a wooden one, for efficiency. Anyone wanting to make great “pizzeria style” pizzas at home should invest in a couple of clay pans and a peel and practice using them…with copious amounts of flour to prevent sticking. It’s definitely worth the effort. And, while you wait for your dough to rise, let the Mystic Pizza jaunts in Hannah McKinnon’s Mystic Summer inspire you. I guarantee they’ll have your mouth watering for fresh, hot pizza and interesting topping combinations.
Basic Pizza Dough
6 cups all purpose flour + more for flouring the work area and peel
1 T yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 T extra virgin olive oil + more for oiling the proofing bowl
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 c. warm water (around 108 degrees F)
Sift together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.
Make a well in the center. Add the tablespoon of olive oil to the warm water. Stir the water and oil into the flour mixture.
Stir in an additional cup of flour. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until the dough forms into a nice, smooth ball. Coat a large bowl with olive oil. Turn the dough in the oil to coat. Cover with a towel and leave in a warm place to allow the dough to rise, from one hour to overnight.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead a few times before smoothing into a ball. Portion the dough for the size and number of pizzas that will be made. When I made pizzas to go with this book, I used some of my dough to make garlic knots and even a little cinnamon log that I baked into cinnamon rolls, since I had plenty of nice, soft dough on hand.
To bake your pizzas, you can either grease pans and smooth your dough into them, heat clay stones in a 400 degree oven ahead of time and make your pizzas on a well floured peel, or make your pizzas on a floured surface and flip them onto the peel before placing them on the hot stones.
Add any toppings you want and bake until the cheese is melted into the puffed and bubbly crust. For the New York style cheese pizza, I used mozzarella and provolone slices.
And when it was baked and served, I did the sloppy, floppy cheese pizza test.
It passed with flying colors!!
Short and sweet, like the year spent in our little apartment outside Mystic, Mystic Summer gave me everything I wanted in a fun and touching summer read, with the added bonus of a stroll down memory lane. The homemade pizzas the book inspired me to make were a nice finish to my nostalgic journey.