This month's Inviting Writing series is about "first tastes," revelatory experiences of foods you'd never tried before. My first memory of a first taste is of pizza. I was six years old, and the pizza was pepperoni with extra cheese at a pizza parlor that had just opened in my neighborhood. I remember playing with the stringy cheese and being giddy with delight at the delicious taste, all the while experiencing a vague sense of regret that I had lived my whole life unaware of this magical food.
My taste in pizza toppings grew a bit more sophisticated as I grew up: mushrooms, green peppers, maybe some olives. In Europe I tried pizza with an egg cracked on top, which was both tasty and absurd. When I moved to California for graduate school in the 1990s, I discovered that those kooky Californians would top a pizza with anything: walnuts, potatoes, corn, artichokes, herbs I'd never tasted before. It was all delicious, and so freeing. Pizza, like life, can be anything you want to make it.
I've been experimenting with weird pizza toppings ever since—broccoli, squash, black beans, crab, arugula—and enjoying the pizazz that others bring to their pizza pies. Amanda tried Swiss chard and squash blossoms. California-style, no-rules pizza has caught on across the country. Serious Eats has a Slice blog dedicated to pizza news, baking tips and odd recipes. Pizza blogs, like Thai restaurants or hair salons, tend to have clever names, perhaps demonstrating the creative potential unlocked by a good pizza: Pizza Goon, Pizza Therapy.
While trying to figure out how best to use the two Meyer lemons that grew on my potted tree this year (my pathetic attempt to grow a California specialty in Maryland), I found a recipe for lemon pizza. Not lemon-flavored pizza with a dash of zest in the crust or a spritz of juice to make the sauce tangy, but pizza with lemons on top, rind and all. I modified the recipe a bit, but the main twist is to thin-slice a lemon, saute the slices in olive oil with garlic and peppers until the rind softens, and then top the pizza with that mix plus some cheese. Yet again, a pizza led me to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about food.
What are your most surprising and surprisingly delicious pizza toppings? And can you remember the first time you tasted a slice?