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Pizza with purpose

Illinois priest and monk spends his days praying, reflecting... and baking a divine pie now and then

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You may remember Father Dominic Garramone from his PBS cooking series Breaking Bread With Father Dominic, which aired for a few years at the turn of the millennium.

When he was younger and would see people who were accomplished, published and always on the go, he never thought he'd be "that guy." But with seven books to his name, including his latest, Thursday Night Pizza: Father Dominic's Favorite Pizza Recipes (Reedy Press, $16), regular requests to do public speaking and a career teaching religion and drama at St. Bede Academy, it turns out the full-time priest and monk of St. Bede Abbey in Peru, Illinois is "that guy."

"I'm booked until October... I used to think, 'Really, how busy is that guy that he's booked until October?'" he says.

"But it really happens!"

So much for the contemplative life.

But life is not just busy work for the 50-year-old priest. What he does is meaningful (he is sometimes known by his students as "Papa Dom"), and he is engaged in the life of the monastery with its daily ritual and requirements, and the camaraderie that entails.

"Fortunately, this is the thing that I appreciate about being here, precisely because there are specific times set aside for silence, prayer and reflection," he says over the telephone. "No one expects us to be anywhere else. When that bell rings, nobody says, 'Why aren't you sweeping? Why aren't you building? No, you're supposed to be joining in prayer."

That is one tool for building the community life, the other is to share food and leisure.

It's that sharing of food and fellowship, which on Thursday nights is known as haustus, the evening before the Friday of fasting and prayer, that allows Father Dominic to develop his pizzas, and a sense of the importance of the meal. That also came from his experience in front of a congregation and in his mother's kitchen.

He and siblings grew up helping his mother prepare meals, and when a Grade 5 French class assignment required him to bring a food from the eponymous country, he brought a loaf of his very own French bread to class -- which was consumed toute suite. He started baking on his own, but when he arrived at the monastery as an adult, he got serious about the bread.

He began making herb bread and pizza sauce, to help use up the tomatoes from the monastery garden. Before long, he took over the pizza-making from another priest, who while he had been making pizza, was not really a "dough guy." Soon he was producing the goods not only for haustus, but for the kids at high school and for fundraisers.

"There are two things that inform my work in the kitchen, apart from feeding other people," he says. "One, I'm so familiar with the scriptures and all the times food is in the scriptures -- meal sharing, multiplication of the loaves, the feeding of the poor -- that's in my head all the time.

"Also, because I came from a cooking family, every time I'm in the kitchen, I'm using a rolling pin my dad made, a bowl my brother bought for me, a cool knife I found at a rummage sale when I was with my sister -- there are all these memories with the tools in my hands that inform the work and make it more meaningful. I think it's a really important things for us to have heirloom tools, things that are handed down to us or bought for us by special people.

"When I was in high school, I read Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, and in it he says: 'Work is love made visible. If you bake bread without love, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half a man's hunger.'"


Heavenly pizza recipes

Father Dominic is all about the handmade crust, but space prohibits all those instructions, so I will recommend that you use your own recipe (I am always happy with the one that came with my breadmaker) or find a fresh-made dough (De Luca's sells fresh dough in the produce department).


Denver Diner Pizza

It includes everything that goes in a Denver omelet -- including the eggs!

Your favourite pizza crust: 420 g (14 oz)

125 ml (1/2 cup) Béchamel sauce (your favourite commercial brand or recipe)

125 ml (1/2 cup) each diced ham and tomato

50 ml (1/4 cup) each chopped green pepper and onion

250 ml (1 cup) shredded cheddar cheese

750 ml (3 cups) shredded mozzarella

5 or 6 raw eggs

Roll dough out into a 30 cm or so (12" to 14") crust with a thicker outer edge. Place on a pizza peel well dusted with cornmeal. Brush on Béchamel sauce, then top with ham, tomato, onion, and peppers. Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top, then the mozzarella. Bake on a pizza stone in a preheated 260C (500F) oven for 3 minutes -- just long enough to get the mozzarella to begin to melt. Spray the bottom of a cup or glass with non-stick spray and press five or six divots into the half-melted cheese; crack an egg into each divot. Carefully slide back into the oven and bake until eggs are over-easy.


To serve, bring the pizza out to the table whole. Then stir the yolks and whites together and spread over the top of the entire pizza, and add salt and pepper then cut it into squares.

One warning: If your oven doesn't cook evenly, be sure to rotate the pizza once or twice during the baking period, or you could end up with hard-cooked eggs on one side and runny on the other. Also, the egg whites will be opaque and still jiggle back and forth quite a bit even when over-easy.


Smoked Salmon Pizza

The crust is baked first like a focaccia and the ingredients added on when it's cold.

Your favourite crust:

420 g (14 oz) Olive oil

250 g (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, room temperature

30 ml (2 tbsp) capers

45 to 60 ml (3 to 4 tbsp) fresh dill (about 20 small sprigs)

250 to 375 g (8 to 12 oz) smoked salmon

Using your fingertips, hand-stretch the pizza dough to about 30 cm (12"). Place crust on a cornmeal-dusted paddle and cover with a clean, dry towel. Allow dough to rise for 20 minutes. Press your fingertip to make dimples all over the dough. Brush the top of the dough with olive oil and slide dough onto a preheated pizza stone at 230C (450F). Bake for 12-14 minutes or until browned (the interior temperature of the bread should be 88 to 90C (190Àö F to 195F). Remove from oven with paddle and allow to cool to lukewarm.

Spread cream cheese over top of warm crust. Sprinkle with capers. Break the salmon into pieces with a fork and distribute evenly over cheese and garnish with dill sprigs.



Father Dominic says this pizza pairs nicely with white wines that are dry and have some acidity (try a white Bordeaux, avoid oaked Chardonnays), and if reds are your preference go for a Pinot Noir.

Also, feel free to add onions here, but only in very thin slices or they can overwhelm the other flavours.


Spinach Pesto Pizza

You'll love the bright green of the spinach pesto for this pie, which has fresh vegetable flavours and a gourmet appearance.

Your favourite pizza crust: 250 g (8 oz)

125 ml (1/2 cup) spinach pesto (recipe follows)

2 thin slices of red onion, sections divided

2 or 3 baby portabello mushrooms, sliced

85 g (3 oz) shredded Muenster cheese (without rind)

Using your fingertips, hand-stretch the pizza dough to about 20 to 23 cm (8" to 10") and place on a cornmeal-dusted paddle. Spread spinach pesto evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1 cm (1/2") border at the edge. Evenly distribute onion and mushrooms over pesto, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 260C (500F) on a preheated pizza stone for about 10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.


Spinach Pesto

1 litre (4 cups) washed, torn spinach leaves, stems removed, well-packed (about 170 g /6 oz)

3 garlic cloves

125 ml (1/2 cup) walnuts or pistachio nuts, toasted

75 ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil

85 g (3 oz) Pecorino Romano cheese

juice of 1/2 lemon

salt & pepper to taste

Place 500 ml (2 cups) of spinach leaves, garlic, nuts, and lemon juice in a food processor container. Cover and purée until well-blended. Add remaining spinach and olive oil and blend until smooth. Fold in Romano cheese and adjust seasoning.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2011 D1

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