As part of our ongoing Food, Family, Faith special feature here on AmericanCatholic.org, Susan caught up with Father Dominic, who has two recently published books. Here is their conversation.
And just in time for New Year’s Eve celebrations, Fr. Dominic shares a recipe for smoked salmon pizza.
Besides baking, mostly I’ve been praying, teaching and writing! I’ve done a lot of bread demos and classes, including some week-long workshops at the Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, worked on book projects and plays, and then had my regular round of classes at the high school run by my community.
I know you have two new books coming out. What are they about and what was your inspiration for them?
Thursday Night Pizza came about because I was getting a reputation as a gourmet pizza maker. I started making pizzas for our community’s recreation night on Thursdays, and that eventually expanded into pizza parties and fundraisers, so word got around. My publisher was at one of these functions, and after he sampled my Carbonara Pizza, he said, “We have to do a pizza book!”
Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery started out as a children’s play for my summer theatre program at the Academy back in 2004. The book is about a young baker monk who can see and hear guardian angels. The angels hang out in his bakery because it’s the place that smells the most like heaven, so they don’t get homesick. When the abbot tells him to open the bakery to the public, they encourage Br. Jerome and help him to get his first customers. We were fortunate to find Richard Bernal for the illustrator—his drawings are warm and rich and comforting as a home-baked cinnamon roll!
Why do you think food and faith are so closely linked?
Faith always has an external expression of some kind, and a really deep faith expresses itself in every aspect of one’s life, including food. In the Catholic tradition, our central act of worship is a meal, so by extension every meal has the opportunity to be a sharing in the Eternal Wedding Feast.
How can food strengthen relationships?
Think of how many relationships have been begun or broken over dinner and a movie! But in a more ordinary sense, one way that food can help build strong family relationships is to share in meal planning and preparation as well as eating together. I don’t remember my mother ever saying “Get out of the kitchen, I’m busy!” What she said was, “Get in here and beat these eggs!” Some of my happiest holiday memories are from Christmas cookie baking with my family.
What do you, personally, get out of cooking/baking?
On a purely human level, there is great satisfaction in producing a beautiful loaf of bread or a unique pizza, the same kind of enjoyment that quilters and woodworkers get in practicing their craft. I also like exploring new recipes, expanding my knowledge of baking traditions, and learning new cooking techniques. And I read cookbooks with the same enthusiasm that some people read murder mysteries. But on a deeper spiritual level, I also like bringing people into fellowship at the table, whether it’s in a formal dining room or at a kitchen counter. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” and very often he showed love by sharing a meal with people who needed his love very much.
What are you most grateful for this year?
In the past year I’ve had something of a spiritual renewal, and my prayer life has never been better. That spiritual nourishment has made me a better teacher, a more faithful friend, a more dedicated priest and monk, and I’m grateful that God has been gradually transforming me by his grace.
People seem drawn together by food. Why do you think that is?
It’s one of the extensions of our social nature, in a sense a consequence of being made in the image and likeness of God. The Trinity is a community of love, and so we are drawn to community in a variety of ways—in our living arrangements, in our work, our leisure, and our eating.
Do you see yourself heading back to TV anytime soon?
I’ve done a few pledge specials for public television, including a pizza special to be aired in the spring. There aren’t any specific plans for a series at present, but we’ll see what God has in mind!
Smoked Salmon Pizza
The crust is baked first like a focaccia and the ingredients put on when it’s cold.
Recommended crust: 14 oz. Italian style
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
2 Tbs. capers
3 to 4 Tbs. fresh dill (about 20 small sprigs)
8 to 12 oz. smoked salmon
Using your fingertips, hand-stretch the pizza dough to 12″. Place crust on a cornmeal-dusted peel 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 450˚ F. Bake for 12–14 minutes or until browned (the interior temperature of the bread should be 190˚ F to 195˚ F). Remove from oven with peel 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.
—This pizza was taste-tested at a gourmet pizza and wine pairing party at a fine little restaurant called the Nodding Onion in Utica, Illinois. The owner, Kevin Ryan, is a former student of mine and lets me use the restaurant for pizza party fund-raisers for our drama department. He smoked the salmon himself, which certainly added to the quality of the finished product, but you can let your local deli do the job for you, too.
—We discovered that 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.
—Onions are another traditional ingredient to accompany smoked salmon. Feel free to add them here, but only in very thin slices or they can overwhelm the other flavors.