Saint Benedict of Nursia

Saint Benedict of Nursia is known primarily for reminding the church of the importance of community. He tried life as a solitary hermit, but found that he needed more to truly live a holy life.  After he realized that his solitude caused him to forget that it was Easter, he decided to live in intentional Christian community.

He founded twelve monasteries and taught that the only way to truly love God was to love people. His motto was ora et larbora, pray and work, which provided balance to his communities. 

Benedict’s main achievement was writing the “Rule of St. Benedict,” which gives guidance for communal life. This rule became the basis for all Western monasticism. It became a model for all communal documents, even things like the the Constitution of the United States. Benedict’s contributions to the Western world are so great that he is the patron saint of Europe.

Benedict lived during the beginning of the dark ages. It was a time where political and ecclesiastical power was weakening. The barbarians were sacking Rome and the church was in shambles, but Benedict found another way. His movement planted communities in “barbarian” territories and converted the Goths and Vandals to Christianity.

Around these monasteries marketplaces formed, exchanging goods timed by the prayer bells.  To this day even Wall Street still rings the opening bell. These centers became places of learning where texts were copied and written, music was notated, and knowledge was passed down.  During Europe’s dark ages Benedict’s communities shined like the sun and paved the way for the Renaissance.

In order to celebrate Benedict, we are making pizza.   This is an Italian-inspired social food perfect for a Christian community.  We have chosen the classic pizza Margherita but you are welcome to use any ingredients that you’d like.

We were thinking that there are a few lessons about cooking that we can learn from Benedict.  

  1. Plan each meal as if Christ were coming!  Welcome each guest as Christ Himself! This kind of radical hospitality was the center to Benedict’s rule. He even allows you to break a fast if you have company!
  2. Moderation in everything. Benedict taught that balance was important in food and drink—not too much or too little. 
  3. Food is for family. Try not to eat alone as much as possible. Food is meant for communal celebrations.  
  4. Everyone should help! Cooking and cleaning belong to the community and every member of the family should take a turn.  

Pictured Above: Totila e San Benedetto, by Spinello Aretino, San Miniato al Monte, Firenze (between 1400 and 1410)


Pizza Margherita

Ingredients

1 dough ball (see recipe below)
Red Sauce (see recipe below)
Fresh mozzarella cheese ball, cut into thin slices
6 to 8 basil leaves
Olive oil for drizzling
Sea salt (for seasoning)
Chile flakes (for seasoning)

Instructions

  1. Preheat a pizza steal or stone in an oven using the highest setting, ideally at least 550F. Once the oven is preheated, continue heating for another 30 minutes.
  2. While the oven is preheating, generously flour a workstation and position a wood flour peel next to the workstation. Dust the peel generously with flour. Have the sauce, cheese, and basil ready to assemble the pizza.
  3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and gently place it on your floured workstation. Dust the dough with a light layer of flour.
  4. Shape the dough by gently grabbing an edge and allowing the dough to hang down vertically and stretch out. Continue working your way around the edge until it has reached the size of your wooden pizza peel. Be careful not to overstretch the dough, as this will create holes which are difficult to patch.
  5. Place the dough on the generously floured peel and shape until it stretches across the entire surface.
  6. Spread a light layer of the tomato sauce over the dough. Distribute the mozzarella evenly across the surface. Don’t overfill the top as this will make it hard to transfer from the peel to the oven.
  7. Grab the pizza peel and gently shake to make sure the pizza isn’t stuck to any of the surface. If needed, add more flour to areas that are sticking.
  8. Carefully, but in one confident motion, slide the pizza from the peel until the piping hot stone. This is the hardest part of the process and takes some practice to master.
  9. Bake for only 5 minutes. Switch to broil setting and bake for an additional 2 minutes, keeping a close eye making sure it doesn’t burn. Bake until the cheese is completely melted with spots of brown in a few paces on the crust.
  10. Using tongs or a metal pizza peel, carefully remove the pizza from the oven.
  11. The pizza is best consumed 5 – 10 minutes once removed from the oven.

Red Sauce

Ingredients

28oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic (minced)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes

Instructions

  1. Drain the tomatoes.
  2. Blend all the ingredients together in a blender until smooth.

Pizza Dough

Makes enough for 5 pizzas

Ingredients

7 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups water
1 tablespoon + 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant dried yeast

Instructions

  1. Measure 3 cups of water between 90F to 95F into a container. Place 1/2 teaspoon of yeast until a separate container. Add 3 tablespoons of the water to the yeast and set aside.
  2. Combine the flour and the remaining water. Mix by hand until incorporated. Cover and let rest for 20 – 30 minutes
  3. After the dough rests, sprinkle the salt over the top of the dough. Stir the yeast mixture with your finger and then pour over the dough. Use a piece of the dough to scrape down the sides of the yeast bowl to make sure you added it all.
  4. Mix the dough, salt and yeast by hand, wetting your hand a little before mixing to help avoid sticking. Continue wetting your hand as needed. Mix by reaching underneath the dough and grab a quarter of it. Gently stretch the dough upwards and then fold it over the top. Repeat the process three more times until you’ve done this to all the dough. Using a pincher method, pinch the dough from side to side and then repeat the entire process until the salt and yeast is fully incorporated. This mixing process should take between 5 – 10 minutes.
  5. Let the dough begin to rise for 60 minutes. After 60 minutes, apply a simple fold by gently reaching underneath the dough and grabbing a quarter of it. Gently stretch the dough upwards and then fold it over the top. Repeat the process three more times until you’ve done this to all the dough. Turn the dough upside down to hold its shape and shape into a loose ball.
  6. Cover and allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size, about 5 hours.
  7. Once the dough has risen, gently divide into five equal portions and gently shape into balls. Flour the counter and your hands before working with the dough to avoid sticking.
  8. Refrigerate the dough on a floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap until you are ready to use. Refrigerated dough lasts for at least a few days.