I think a great deal about hospitality. Quite often, I think about hospitality when people are knocking on my door, and I have just realized that I forgot to purchase some key ingredient. That’s when I think that I should leave this hospitality thing to those who are cool under pressure. Those who aren’t so distractable and clumsy in their kitchens.
But just as often, I think about hospitality while I’m standing on our porch watching the last car drive away. I think about hospitality when I am so full, full to overflowing, with the gift of friendship and conversation and delicious food. When all I can say is thank you for the gifts God continues to pour down on such an unlikely hostess. On me. A woman who never remembers to retrieve a guest’s coat from the closet, a woman who can hardly set the table and carry on a conversation at the same time.
In other moments, I think about the practical side of hospitality. I determine to always set the table before guests arrive. I recommit to preparing as much food as possible ahead of time, and I promise myself to rely only on my most familiar recipes. I’m the type who simply must save the experimentation for family dinner night.
Yet I have become increasingly convinced that my own practical measures almost never create the hospitality I long for. Instead, all my planning, all my preparedness, merely puts me in a position to receive. Being practical has become like prayer. A way of saying, Here I am, Lord. Please, won’t you come?
And he comes. Again and again, he comes. Hospitality – that miracle meeting of people and place, beauty and nourishment, is like grace. Always, it is a gift. And like grace, it shows up in the most ordinary moments and most mundane circumstances. Like our family’s Friday-night, make-your-own pizza night.
We make pizzas every week with our kids. The recipe for our quick-and-easy dough is probably the only thing both my husband and I can make entirely from memory. We always have flour, yeast, olive oil, and honey in our pantry. We buy logs of fresh mozzarella from our favorite warehouse store and keep them stashed in the freezer. I know how to make the easiest pizza sauce possible (saute a little garlic in oil, pour in two cans of diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, and dried oregano, simmer, and, if you like, puree). But all those things – those every-single-Friday things – are just the prayer.
And the answer? The answer is a friend who always lets me know when her family is free on a Friday night. Then she packs three kids under age three into carseats, bags up add-ins for the salad, and comes to my house. And she turns an ordinary family pizza night into a feast shared with friends.
Once each year, the answer is another friend who flies with her three children all the way from Tokyo to spend a summer week with us. We each have boys with severe food allergies, but pizza night is the highlight of our visit. She helps me keep the mozzarella isolated from the shredded vegan “cheese.” Together, we test the rise on our rice-flour crust. And once each year, my son shares his pizza with a friend.
Recently, the answer looked like another friend staying in our home for an Easter visit. Though I was my usual frazzled self in the kitchen, my friend took the time to gather up our kids from in front of the television so they could each make their own personal pizza. She showed her sons how to stretch the dough. She helped her daughter spread just enough sauce.
I don’t think I’ll ever be at my best with kids underfoot in the kitchen, but I am sure that few things are more full with the beauty of grace than a child’s eyes when they see their very own pizza emerge from the oven.
Here are just a few practical tips for this every-Friday-night prayer:
Individual crusts. I bake two at a time on a cookie sheet, and everyone eats the combination they like best.
The most basic pizzas are often the best. A smear of extra-virgin olive oil, a little pepper and coarse salt, and a few pieces of fresh mozzarella can’t be beat.
Ready for a change? Raw veggies are fine, but veggies that have sautéed for just a few minutes in oil and garlic are amazing. We like spinach or mushrooms.
For the meat-lovers, I keep sweet Italian sausage in the freezer. Thaw it out, remove the casings, and saute in a skillet until it’s brown and crumbly.
When I am really desperate for toppings, I caramelize onion slices in a little oil until golden and sweet. I could eat this straight with a fork.
- 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 2 packages dry yeast
- 1 Tbsp honey
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
- Combine the water, yeast, honey, and 3 Tbsp olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer. (This method works best with a dough hook.)
- When the yeast is dissolved, add 3 cups of the flour, then 2 tsp salt, and mix on medium-low speed. While mixing, add up to 1 more cup of flour, enough to make a soft, not-too-sticky dough.
- Knead the dough with the mixer for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle additional flour as needed to keep from sticking to the bowl.
- When ready, turn the dough out onto a floured board. Knead by hand, about a dozen times, until smooth and elastic.
- Let dough rise in a well-oiled bowl at warm room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat a (hopefully) clean oven to 500 degrees.
- Divide risen dough into six equal pieces.Cover with a damp towel and let rest for ten minutes.
- Stretch each ball into an 8-inch circle. Place 2 circles on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Coat dough with a little oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add any toppings.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until crust is crisp.
- Slice and serve.
- Ina Garten's "White Pizzas With Arugula" are delicious, and I highly recommend seeking out the Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook. We save the arugula and goat cheese for special occasions but do follow Garten's instructions for making easy individual pizza crusts.