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Cold Pizza
Cold pizza always seemed like an aberration. Given a choice between one hot out of the oven, with melted cheese, green peppers and sizzling pepperoni or another served at room temperature with an inch thick puffy crust topped with just tomato sauce or a few grilled vegetables, the choice was easy. Hot won every time.

For me, cold pizza always meant a slice of last night's all dressed, pulled from a cardboard box. There was something slightly sinful but consoling about the coagulated cheese, the slightly soggy dough and the still spicy meat, like a good friend who stays long after the party is over. Cold pizza was always a morning after indulgence.

Why then, I wondered, were so many Italian friends serving slices of pizza rustica—a thick slab of white bread pizza—and enjoying it, even preferring it to what came out of the oven.

The answer, of course, was that my friends would go out for oven pizza; but when it came time to eating it at home, they were just as likely to buy a large square of cold pizza and serve it as an antipasto or for lunch with a green salad and maybe a little cheese and red wine.

Pizza rustica—as many call it—is a yeast dough that is cooked at a much lower temperature than standard oven pizza. The temperature is about 375F versus 500 or 600 degrees F in a pizza oven. Eggs and even a bit of sugar may be incorporated into the dough. The result is lighter, thicker and less crisp than pizza that is cooked quickly in a very hot oven. Pizza rustica bakes for an hour to 90 minutes and is left to cool before it is served. A pizza cooked in a searing oven may take as little as six or seven minutes and will barely rise at all.

The pizza rustica method has advantages. The toppings are cooked, not scorched. Vegetables—particularly red peppers, zucchini, eggplant and Swiss chard—are mouth-watering rather than burnt.

Pizza rustica is great buffet food because it doesn't need to be heated before it is served. The tomato base and meat or vegetable toppings are enhanced in the baking and work nicely with the soft yeasty dough. This is comfort food and, as my Italian friends knew all along, ultimately satisfying.

Cold pizza is commonly sold in supermarkets but most slabs have been on the shelf for at least a day and are bland. It is worth the effort to go to one of the city's many Italian bakeries. In the west end, Boulangerie NDG at 5801 Upper Lachine Road (phone: 514-481-4215) makes several varieties. Plan to get there before noon as they often run out. If you have a favourite combination (say eggplant, artichokes and black olives) call and they will make it for you.

Other good bakeries are Marguerita at 6505 Clark (phone: 514-276-6126) and Salerno at 2411 Charland (phone: 514-384-9142).

© Barry Lazar 2002

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