Webisode Intro #1: Pizza and Obsession
Note: We always leave this webisode at the top of the Home Page for newcomers as well as those who want to share this "teaser tape" with others. All new content follows immediately below and, eventually, rotates out to the various category archives as new content is posted.
Hi everyone, I’m Peter Reinhart, your Pizza Quest guide, and this is our first ever webisode. We're going to leave this opening segment on the front page for all newcomers to the site, but please feel free to navigate over to the Webisode page if you really want to catch up on all the webisode segments.
We’ll continue posting additional webisodes that will take us to some of the stops our traveling team of pizza freaks made on our inaugural quest. With each posting I’ll provide a short written introduction to set the stage and bring you “onto the bus” with us. As new webisodes are posted we’ll retire earlier webisodes to the "webisodes" section, where you can watch them all as often as you like (as the numbers grow, some may be listed at the bottom of the page as archived, but they will all be available at all times). We encourage you to share them with your friends and even import them to your own blogs or sites. We know there are a lot of fellow pizza freaks out there and we’re happy to have them all come along on the journey, which promises to be a long, fun ride. We set out on a search for the perfect pizza but, as you will see, we discovered a lot more than we ever imagined.
This opening webisode is kind of a highlight reel of a few of our first stops, just to give you a taste of what this quest is all about. Here are some of the people you will see in this video:
Pizzeria Mozza: You’ll see Nancy Silverton, of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles (along with Russ Parsons of the LA Times and Kristine Kidd of Bon Appetite Magazine, fellow questors who joined us at Mozza for an interesting conversation on all things pizza—we’ll have more of that conversation in a future webisode)
Peter's Blog, "Bread Revolution"
On Oct. 21st my new book, two years in the making, will at last be available. The following is an interview I did with myself in order to give an overview and provide background on the book. I won't be selling these directly, but encourage you to support your local book store or, if you prefer, purchase it online. I'll be at King Arthur Flour's Baking School this weekend (Oct. 24-25) for the first official class based on the book. Also, at Sur la Table South Park (Charlotte) on Nov. 8th for a demonstration class. Please check with both of these venue to see if places are still available. I'll post future classes right here, so please check back from time to time. Thanks!
Ten Questions and Answers with Peter Reinhart, author of Bread Revolution: World Class Baking with Sprouted and Whole Grains, Heirloom Flours, and Fresh Techniques (Ten Speed Press, Fall 2014)
What is this book about? A few years ago, I realized there was a growing movement for bread using flour made from sprouted wheat and other sprouted grains. One of the few millers in the country making this kind of flour asked me to test his sprouted whole wheat flour. I was extremely impressed by the flavor. It was better than any 100% whole wheat bread I’d ever made, even those using advanced bakers’ tricks such as preferments and slow cold fermentation. It was smoother (no rough, scratchy taste in the back of the throat), sweeter, and softer than the usual whole wheat breads, yet I made it with only the sprouted flour, salt, yeast, and water. I started playing around with it, along with other types of sprouted flours, such as gluten-free versions and even sprouted bean flours, and felt that this represented a new frontier for bread bakers.
In my explorations, I also learned about other new developments in the world of bread, such as using sprouted grain pulp, regional-specific heirloom flours, and even flour made from dried coffee cherries, grape skins, and grape seeds. Just when I thought the baking community had explored pretty much everything there was to know about bread, I saw that we were actually in the early stages of yet another revolutionary phase. This book explores some of these developments through formulas and profiles of some of its pioneers.
What is the difference between sprouted flour and sprouted pulp?
For the past 50 years, there has been a popular alternative bread on the market made with sprouted grain “pulp” or “mash.” The two most well-known brands are Ezekiel Bread and Alvarado Street Bakery. The grains are soaked, germinated, and then slightly sprouted. It is then ground into a wet pulp in a machine similar to a meat grinder. Other ingredients are added--yeast, salt, sweetener, and pure wheat gluten--and a very tasty bread emerges that is, technically, made without any “flour.” The sprouted pulp requires pure wheat gluten (also called Vital Wheat Gluten) to replace the gluten that is destroyed during germination and grinding. It was assumed that any bread made with sprouted grain would require this additional gluten in order to be light and airy.
When a few millers decided to try drying the sprouts without grinding them, and then milling the dried sprouted grain, it made a very fine flour that tasted different from non-sprouted grain. To everyone’s surprise, the gluten wasn’t destroyed in the sprouted flour and, when reconstituted as a dough, it performed like regular bread but tasted better and contained the health benefits brought about by sprouting. Now we have two ways of using sprouted grain in bread--dry flour and wet pulp—both of which provide the benefit of better nutrition and better flavor.
Can you explain more about the nutrition? It has long been known that when grains, seeds, and beans are sprouted, their nutritional value increases dramatically. Not only does the mineral and vitamin content increase but the starches are also affected by enzyme activity, releasing their natural sugars, and digestibility improves while lowering the glycemic load.
Now, just how much of the nutritional potential that survives the baking process is still being studied, but we’re seeing a lot of anecdotal evidence that shows positive digestive benefits. Of course, the fact that the sprouts are also whole grains is already a positive from a pre-biotic sense because of the increased fiber. I expect to see a lot of encouraging new studies emerge in the next few years.
What about the flavor? Why does it taste better? A seed or grain kernel is a highly concentrated package of nutrition designed to nourish new growth. Enzymes, which are small proteins that act as keys (or scissors) to break up carbohydrates or long protein chains, begin to activate when the seed is hydrated and germinated. There are a lot of implications of this activity but one is that nutrients are freed up, as are various sugars that can serve as food for both yeast and lactic bacteria (the good kind), resulting in better flavor and a richer color (that is, better eye appeal, not to be taken lightly when it comes to how we enjoy our food).
Do you address the gluten-free movement in Bread Revolution? I did not want to repeat what I wrote in my previous book, The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, but Bread Revolution does offer a few new gluten-free recipes that feature sprouted gluten-free flours and nut flours. New information is coming out every day to clarify some of the misconceptions and false assumptions surrounding gluten and other allergens, so this category will continue to be an important part of the bread revolution.
Any new discoveries about sourdough bread? I keep learning more and more about the micro-biology underlying sourdough bread, so I included my latest findings in this book. As the research shows, there is something very different about bread made with natural wild yeast starters (aka natural leaven) as opposed to commercial yeast. I think that even more information is still to come that will show the health and digestibility benefits of naturally leavened bread, both whole grain and white flour versions.
Besides sprouted grains, what other “new frontiers” are happening in the bread world? The book takes a peek at flours made from grape skins and grape seeds, as well as varietal grape seed oils. In addition, I profile a new grain product called ProBiotein that serves not only as a healthy pre-biotic fiber supplement but also acts like a sourdough starter when added to bread dough. Flour made from the dried outer husks (called the “cherries”) of coffee beans also shows great promise in both culinary application and also in the natural healthcare market. In the last chapter, I explore the next new frontier by profiling a baker who has come up with a unique method of creating one-time-use starters.
How big do you think these new frontiers will get? Gluten-free went from a fringe movement to a multi-billion dollar industry, but not every new bread frontier tips over into something major. Sometimes a small wave can lead to a larger one later on, though; for example, I’m not convinced that grape skin flour will make a huge impact in bread baking, per se, but it clearly has many other nutritional and flavor implications that could inform health care products. I do believe sprouted grain flour is going to be a game-changer, which is why it’s the focus of this book.
You also wrote about an unusual sourdough bread method. Can you give us a little preview? A baker friend taught me a new method that involves making a starter using hand-squeezed (through a cheesecloth) apple, pear, or peach juice added to flour. He influences the flavor by resting various ingredients on top of the starter bowl to draw out particular micro-organisms. He uses parmesan cheese, coffee beans, and different types of fruit to create subtle flavors. He uses the starter only once, instead of feeding it to keep it going, because he worries that the starter will change its flavor profile if it is refreshed, which will cause him to lose control of the taste. A very interesting chapter.
What’s next? Are there bread frontiers not yet seen; any predictions? Considering that humans have been making bread for at least 6,000 years, it’s amazing that we’re still learning new ways to make it even better. Enzymes, bacteria, new strains of yeast, selective and directed seed breeding, small regional mills using locally-grown flour--the growth never seems to end. I think we’re actually headed into a golden era for bread. I’m thrilled to see what’s next!
"Bread Revolution," my newest book
Just a quick announcement to let you know that on Oct. 21st my latest book will be released. I'll post a Q&A about the book on the 21st, so please check back then for that.
Last week, I did a fun teleconference with PMQ Magazine (aka Pizza Marketing Quarterly) as part of their "Think Tank" section. It aired live via Skype but I believe it will also soon be posted as a podcast. In it we discuss the new sprouted flour options and other developments in the world of doughs. Check at pmq.com for more details, but I'll post here when I know the podcast is up and running.
There may still be slots available for my upcoming demo class at Charlotte's Sur la Table Cooking School. Call the store for details if you live in the Charlotte area. I'll be in Vermont on Oct. 24th and 25th for a hands on workshop based on "The Bread Revolution" at King Arthur Flour's Baking Education Center. There may still be a couple of slots available so contact them directly via their website if you are interested (and to get their great catalog!).
More next week when I post the Q&A. Have a great week!!
Interview with Liz Barrett
Note from Peter: Liz Barrett is the Editor at Large for PMQ Pizza Magazine, one of the world's major sources of all things having to do with pizza. Her new book just came out and Liz agreed to answer a few questions for us. I wanted to post some of the photos from the book, including its great cover shot, but our technical problems are preventing that for now, so I suggest you link over to her website and Facebook page to see more or, better yet, buy the book, which is chock full of American pizza history, folk-lore, and guest interviews with many pizza luminaries (including one by me). Enjoy!
--Tell us about your new book, “Pizza: A Slice of American History,” and about that fabulous cover shot.
I was approached by Voyageur Press to write the book, and I happily accepted the challenge. We tossed around a couple of ideas for the book but landed on one that would tell the history behind the different pizza styles that exist across America as well as the ingredients used in each. The book is written for anyone who loves pizza—which should be just about everyone. At the same time, the book honors those in the industry who have dedicated their lives to crafting the pizzas we’ve all grown up with, no matter where we live. The cover shot was chosen by the book’s cover designer, Diana Boger. It’s a 50’s-style pizzeria located on Catalina Island in Avalon, California. Oddly enough, right before the book was released, my sister Shannah went to Catalina Island and posed in front of the pizzeria, not knowing it was on the cover of my book. Talk about a small world!
--What has it been like being a writer and editor for a major pizza magazine? What are some of the most unusual stories you’ve covered and who are some of your favorite pizza heroes?
Well, being able to write about something you’ve loved your entire life is a true blessing. Folks always ask me if I get tired of eating pizza, and honestly, I can’t imagine ever getting tired of it. I consider pizza a blank slate; you can have it so many different ways, how could it ever get boring? The pizza industry is full of interesting characters, which also makes it fun. I learned early on that every pizzeria has the BEST pizza, and that the debates about pizza can get as heated as a political debate, so make sure there are no sharp objects around if you’re going to disagree with someone about where the best slices are. As far as pizza heroes, I think that anyone who is brave enough to embark on their own pizzeria business, putting out a delicious product and quality customer service, is a hero in my eyes. There are too many to list here.
--You’ve seen about every kind of pizza that has been or can be made. What, in your opinion, are the keys to crafting a great pizza?
At the risk of sounding “cheesy,” it really does have to do with the love that goes into a pizza. And when I say love, I mean the human touch. When I see a pizzaiolo behind the counter who is kneading the pizza dough, carefully applying the tomato sauce, and meticulously applying toppings, that pizza tastes exponentially better than a pizza that goes through a pizza press and an automatic topping machine. This isn’t to say that those other pizzas are bad, they’re just different.
For folks who are interested in competing on the U.S. (or any) Pizza Team, what are the things judges look for when determining who makes the team? In terms of the pizza itself, how much is about the crust and how much about the toppings?
There’s an acrobatic and a culinary division of the U.S. Pizza Team. For those competing in the culinary trials, the pizzas are judged on taste, appearance, and commercial viability. When I was running the competitions, I usually advised competitors not to overthink their pizza, and just keep it simple. When you’re working in a competition environment, using ovens you aren’t used to, with fluctuating temperatures, you don’t want to worry about a loaded pie not cooking all the way through. From my experience, one of the main reasons pizzas received low scores was because they were not cooked thoroughly enough, and the majority of pizzas that won, were topped with simple ingredients.
--Everyone has a favorite pizzeria, or maybe a few, so we know this is a subjective, debatable question, but can you tell us about five or six of the best pizzas or pizzerias you’ve ever experienced, and what makes them so?
I agree that this is a subjective question, which is why I usually don’t answer it. My tastes are always changing, since I’m always discovering new and wonderful pizzas and pizzerias. With that said, I have certain pizzerias that I revisit when I’m traveling….some of which include, but are not limited to: Keste, Motorino, Grimaldi’s, and John’s in New York; Spacca Napoli and Coalfire in Chicago; Varasano’s in Atlanta; Sally’s in New Haven, CT; and I’m sure I’m leaving out some great ones, which is why I avoid that question. Luckily enough, I have an award-winning pizzeria, which I adore, just 30 minutes from my house, called TriBecca Allie Café, in Sardis, MS. I like it so much that I even had my wedding reception there this past July. After all, everyone loves pizza!
--What do you see ahead as the most important new trends in the world of pizza?
We’ve seen more and more general restaurants adding pizzas to the menu in the form of flatbreads and personal-size pizzas; it allows consumers to enjoy pizza in more places, but also takes away from the traditional pizzeria experience. Additionally, the build-your-own (fast casual) pizza craze has taken off, with restaurants such as 800 Degrees and Top That! Pizza offering a Subway-esque way for customers to build their own pizzas. And, while I don’t consider it a trend, online ordering continues to grow and advance, with options to order via the press of a button on your smartphone, something that was unheard of just a few years ago.
--Finally, how can our readers get your book and access your web site and travel schedule if they want to get their book signed?
The book is available in bookstores and at all of the online booksellers. I’ve set up a page on my website with more information about the book, signings, and a link to the Facebook page at: www.writtenbyliz.com.
Beer Sauteed Lamb Merguez Sausage Pizza
Note from Peter: We're still having some major problems with the photo upload and may have to do a major overhaul. But I didn't want to delay sharing this great post by Brad English, so we're breaking with tradition and putting it up without the usual mouth-watering photos. Just let your visual imagination roam and enjoy the story. Take it away Brad....
Note from Brad: I'll post a couple pictures on our Facebook page.
Lately, I've been playing with my wood-fired oven while it comes up to pizza temperature. There's a lot of usable heat to make side dishes, or in the case of making pizzas, some toppings. Once there is a good fire going, after 20-30 minutes, there is plenty of heat radiating out onto the hearth. This is the perfect time to throw something together in a cast iron skillet, or in the case of peppers or chillis, you can just throw them onto the hearth stone at the foot of the fire and roast away.
This is one of the more interesting things about cooking with a wood-fired oven, or even a charcoal fire instead of a home oven or gas grill, which are both much more accurate and controllable. Open fire cooking is more interactive. You can't just start the oven and set a timer. You have to work with the heat/fire which is constantly changing. You also have to build your fire with a well thought-out plan of how hot you want it, when you need it that hot, etc. As a home cook/food geek, with what I suppose is basically a cooking hobby, open fire cooking feels somehow more connective.
I've been sautéing my sausage this way for some time now. I've also been creating a variety of sausage "sauces" lately. I'll throw in some onions, garlic, or other ingredients like fennel, or jalapeños with my sausage and cook them, hopefully, until just before they are done, so they can finish on my pizza. The more I play with this sausage sauce idea, the more saucy it's gotten. The juice/sauce left over is a really great drizzle for the pizza, with lots of flavor!
I met a pizzaiolo named Chef Joseph Boness, who owns and operates a Mobile Wood Burning Oven business called Vella Pizza (www.vellapizza.com) in Torrance, CA. I was at one of our new local breweries in Torrance, CA, called Absolution Brewing Company, with some friends. It turned out that Chef Boness was there with his WBO. Naturally, we hit it off! He made some great pizza and I got to spend a bit of time with him talking shop! Fun stuff. I'm hoping we'll be hearing more from him in the future. Stay tuned. Long story short - and to the point -- one of the toppings he used for a delicious calzone he made for me was made with a beer sausage. He used one of the beers at the brewery to make this sausage. It was so good that, later that week, I decided to play at home in my Primavera.
Lamb Merguez Sausage and Sauce Ingredients:
- Lamb Merguez Sausage
- olive oil
- chopped garlic
- sea salt
- black pepper
Lamb Merguez Sausage and Sauce and Roasted Chilis:
Build a fire! This could be done on the stove top also, but we've got a Wood Burning Oven. So…
As the fire was getting going I threw some nice red and yellow chilis onto the hearth in front of the burning almond wood. Keep turning them while they roast to make sure to evenly cook on all sides. This worked great. As soon as these were done, the oven was pretty hot and ready for my sausage pan.
Heat up the pan and add your olive oil.
*I use a lot of olive oil because I want to make sure there is a "sauce" that I can drizzle on the finished pizza.
Thinly slice up your leeks and chop a few cloves of garlic and place in the pan and sauté.
Break the sausage up into pieces about twice the size you will want on your pizza and place them into the leek/garlic sauté.
*Once cooked, I pinch them in half to place on the pizza which exposes the middle which should still need a little cooking to finish them, or at least have a little cooking left in them since they are going back in the oven on your pizza.
After a minute or so, add some beer to the pan.
*I use a good amount to help create the sauce.
Saute until the sausage are almost done and a good amount of the beer/sauce has been reduced.
Set aside to cool. Can be used right away to top a pizza, or used after it's cooled. This can also be done on the stove top ahead of time.
The Beer Sauteed Lamb Merguez Sausage Pizza:
- Your favorite Pizza Dough
- Can of Bianco DiNapoli Whole Peeled Tomatoes - if you can get them! If not, use the best you can find
- Lamb Merguez Sausage and Sauce
- Roasted Chilis - peeled and sliced into strips
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Fresh Basil
Spread your dough.
I used my tomatoes whole by simply pulling the top off where the stem connects and opening the tomato, pulling it in half. Lay the tomato halves around the pizza.
Add your lamb sausage and leek mixture.
Tear some fresh mozzarella and place around the pizza.
Add the sliced roasted chilis and then drizzle with some of your sausage sauce which will blend with your tomatoes to make a great super sauce.
Into the oven. Bake till done, about three to four minutes if your oven is set just right (not 800 degrees, as in Naples but more like 650 - 700 degrees F.
Out of the oven.
Top with some chopped fresh basil.
This pizza was delicious! The leeks where a nice variation on using onions and went well with the bold earthy lamb Merguez sausage. The mild chilis added a nice texture and subtle chili note. I could see heating this up a bit with some roasted Fresno Chilis or Serranos, but it was nice letting the Merguez sausage take the lead note on this pizza also. The milky simplicity of the fresh mozzarella let all of these ingredients come forward and gave it a really nice balance.
*Note: I may try to marinade the sausage in the beer prior to cooking next time to give them more time to get together.
WheatStalk this Weekend
I'm on my way to Chicago for the bi-annual WheatStalk Conference, our version of Woodstock, where 250 serious "bread-heads" gather for workshops, lectures, demo's and all things bread. I'll be leading a wood-fired pizza workshop. Lots of fun!!! I'll blog about it right here when I get back. (And I'm sure at least one pizza quest adventure awaits us in the Windy City -- not yet sure where we'll go, but how can anyone be in Chicago without hunting down some Chicago-style?)
Unfortunately, we're still having technical issues with loading photos, so Brad's post is still waiting in the wings. We may have to start posting some of these things without the photos, at least until we get it worked out. Believe me, we're trying. In the meantime, thanks for your support and hang in there with us.
Peter's Blog, Quick Update
We have a new posting from Brad coming soon, all about a killer Lamb Merguez sausage pizza that he came up with in his Primavera 60. However, we're having some technical issues with our photo posting service. As soon as we clear that up, we'll post it.
Also, I have an interview coming up with Liz Barrett, Editor at Large and writer for PMQ Magazine (Pizza Marketing Quarterly) about a new book she just released called, "Pizza: A Slice of American History." The book just came out, and can be found at Amazon and other book stores if you want to check it out and order it now. I'll post that interview as soon as we put it all together (and also get the technical issues ironed out that I mentioned above).
Anyway, just wanted to let you know that more great content is on its way, so keep checking back. More soon....
Rest in Peace, Robin Williams
I first saw Robin Williams perform about a year before his career took off, when he was doing stand up in San Francisco, where I lived at the time. I was about 28 years old and I went to a comedy club, called The Boarding House, with a friend, having heard rumors of this hot new comic. About ten minutes into his frenetic routine my friend and I looked at each other, our mouths agape, and simultaneously said, “Unbelievable!” It was unlike anything that anyone else was doing; spiritual, profane, gross, sublime, full of popular culture and also arcane historical references, like someone took the lid off the universal Pandoric subconscious and just let the genie out to roam at will (and this was years before he played the genie in Aladdin, which was the most perfect casting in the history of cinema). He acted out a slow motion tai chi dance in one of his routines, while spouting witty one-liners in concert with the movements, to illustrate how he could manipulate time, perhaps giving us a glimpse into how he experienced reality and how different his experience was from ours, like an athlete in the zone. “Reality, what a concept,” was a getaway line for him.
I’d long been a fan of Jonathan Winters, who was clearly one of Robin’s main inspirations, but that night was like watching Jonathan Winters on steroids to the tenth power (of course, we later learned it was probably fueled more by cocaine, but in those innocent days I’d hoped it was au naturale).
After the second time that I saw him perform I tried to send him a note, via one of the club managers, to ask if he would let me interview him. I was, at that time, a seminary student and a regular contributor to a theological magazine called Epiphany Journal and I believed that Robin Williams was operating about as close to the “Eternal Now” as was humanly possible, and I wanted to know more about his process. There was an Icarus-like quality to his ambitions and I feared that the wing-wax might soon melt but, as a performer, he flew as close to the sun as I’d ever witnessed; it was both inspiring and scary. I never got a reply to my interview request and I doubt that he ever received it, but it was as near as I ever got to him, though I followed his career earnestly till the end.
I saw him perform a few more times during that break-out year, and when I went to catch his set at a different club, about twelve months later, just as he was about launch Mork and Mindy (he’d already done a legendary HBO special, so he was no longer my/our little San Francisco discovery), he was clearly off his game. Normally, (if such a word could ever be used in association with Robin) he had a very clever way of pulling out of a bad joke sequence by stopping the show and directly addressing the audience with a straight face, declaring, “So this is what must be known as Comedy Hell.” Then he’d go off on a comedy hell riff, invoking demons and inner voices that would magically turn things around and win back the crowd. (He also had a “Comedy Heaven” routine that he’d use when the audience was too easy on him, admonishing us by saying, “Now you’re laughing at nothing.” Brilliant!) But on this night even the Comedy Hell trick wasn’t working, so he kept sputtering, working hard to turn it around, sweating profusely, drinking lots of water, knowing that it just wasn’t happening, a little panic entering into what seemed like his coked-up bravado. It was hard to watch but I was glad I got to see him in this situation, though disappointed that he wasn’t as mind boggling as before, because everyone knows that these are the situations that really test a comic’s mettle. It was painful but, by now he was a veteran trouper and he managed to pull out of the tailspin enough to leave us hungry for more, applauding for him wildly; an A for effort. It was on that night that I began to wonder how long he could keep going at this pace before imploding. Amazingly, it took thirty five years, though who knows how many crash and burns he went through along the way -- we do know of a few, but probably not all. Every time he got clean and sober I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped he could keep bouncing back. But his resilience, as we now know, had its limit.
There’s no way to know just how much each performance took out of him, but if any of you have ever laid it all out there (“Left it all on the field,” as they say in sports) -- and I know many of you have -- you know how it is both exhilarating and draining, how there’s always a cost. When I heard of his death I became profoundly sad and it hasn’t surprised me that so many others were equally saddened. Great artists have a way of becoming transparent to and sharing with their audiences their deep longing for something always just out reach. Robin’s performances, at least the early ones I got to witness, and also some of his best film roles, caused us to believe that, even while still out of reach, the things longed for were nearer than ever to our grasp, maybe even achievable but, oh my, at what a cost. The sadness I now feel is a kind of melancholy, putting me in touch with my own longing for what C. S. Lewis called the great “I know not what.” When Robin performed, the “I know not what” seemed almost graspable. But, because it is, in reality (yes, what a concept), still always just out of reach, the quest for it can sometimes wear you out. I wish we had another twenty years of him, but that’s just selfish.
I’ll find my own way to stay renewed in the quest of my own longings, and wish I had been able to help him keep bouncing back. A lot of people are wishing that, even those of us who never knew him. But what a joy it was to live, if even vicariously, in the slipstream of his unbelievable energy.
Peter's Blog, Aug. 1, 2014
I'm about to head out with my wife SUsan for some long-awaited R&R, so will just post a quick one today and do a more substantial posting when I get back. I want to tell you then all about The Kneading Conference that I just attended in Skowhegan, Maine, a true fantasy camp for serious bread-heads, but still need to gather my photos and collect my thoughts. I learned new things about sourdough starters worth sharing, and had some pretty righteous wood-fired pizza and, of course, breads, breads, breads (including my own demo, featuring sprouted wheat flour). Still to come....
Also, wanted to suggest that you check out my friend Dede Wilson's terrific website, www.Bakepedia.com where she recently did a pizza posting featuring me, and also posted my "How to Re-Heat Cold Pizza" trick. This should get you there but if it doesn't just go to the website and type my name in the search box: http://www.bakepedia.com/?s=peter+reinhart&submit.x=0&submit.y=0 . But there's a lot more there than pizza there -- a great resource for all aspects of baking. Enjoy!
More when II get back....
This Zucchini Pepperoni Pizza
You only thought you didn't have any pepperoni in the fridge!
They say pepperoni is the most popular pizza topping in the United States. I'm sure that the vast majority of that comes on delivery pizzas and your local town or chain pizzerias. When we think of artisan pizza, pepperoni isn't the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, it's the opposite…you'll almost never see pepperoni on any artisan pizzas. Instead you'll see a variety of salted cured pork delicacies on the menu such as seasoned Salumi like Calabrese or Finocchiona as well as sopressatas, prosciuttos or other gourmet cured items.
When you think about your favorite wood fired pizza, or artisan coal fired, or brick oven pizza, it's the dough and the charred bubbles on the crust and then the amazing "new" variety of gourmet toppings that will lay on top of the deliciously warm, soft and crusty dough. When I am ordering at my family's favorite local pizzeria I will almost always choose salami instead of pepperoni. Truth be told here, I do lose that battle with my kids once in a while.
When I do, I'll admit I secretly love my pepperoni pizza! I particularly love when the edges get crispy and fold up giving a little crunch to the salty spicy bite you are enjoying. I also love how the pepperoni juice becomes part of the sauce of the pizza. When I have a pepperoni pizza I always remember why it's the number one topping in America. It's good stuff.
So, what do you do when you have a pepperoni craving and no pepperoni? You improvise! I made some home made pepperoni one time and then had the idea to use those spices and seasonings to make up pepperoni flavored broccoli stalks. *Link to recipe here. Why stop with just broccoli stalks? They were great, but let's give it a whirl with some zucchini I have sitting here. For this pepperoni pizza, I also thought about gourmet-ing it up using "artisan pizza" ingredients. Check it out...
The Zucchini Pepperoni
- 1-2 Zucchinis thinly sliced
- Olive Oil *Approx. 1-2 Tablespoons
- Rice Wine Vinegar *Approx. 1/2 Tablespoon
- Paprika *Approx. 1 1/2 tablespoons
- Garlic Powder *Approx 1/2 Tablespoon
- Ground Red Pepper Flakes *Approx 1/2 Tablespoon
- Ground Mustard Seed *Approx 1/2 Tablespoon
- A little Cayenne Pepper
- Ground Black Pepper
*Note: I have been making this by "eye". These amounts are approximate. Start with less and add more of each as needed per your taste. Mix it all together and taste one. Adjust and taste again until you have it where you like it. I simplified this a little from my broccoli pepperoni where I used a few more ingredients. *LINK
Slice the zucchini. Add the olive oil and spices and mix.
Saute them in a pan, or in the oven for a few minutes to get them on their way. They will finish on the pizza. Set aside.
To keep things interesting and not vegetarian ("Not that there's anything wrong with that!"), I slipped in some Italian and Andouille Sausage I had in the fridge!
A little sautéed Sausage, Mushroom and Red Onion for good measure:
- Olive Oil
- Chopped Garlic
- Sausage broken into bits
- Sliced Mushrooms
- Chopped Red Onions
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Place in the oven, or in a pan and sauté until the sausage is just cooked through. Leave a little room for it to continue to cook on your pizza. The mushrooms and onions will also cook down, but have something left for the bake on the pizza.
This Zucchini Pepperoni Pizza:
- Your favorite Pizza Dough - It better be one of Peter's recipes!
- Olive Oil
- Peter's crushed tomato sauce
- Grated Mozzarella
- A little sliced fresh mozzarella
- Sauteed Pepperoni Zucchini
- Sauteed Sausage, Mushrooms and Onions
- Chopped Italian Parsley to finish
Spread your dough
Cover with the tomato sauce and grated mozz
Layer with a little of the S-M-O mixture and the pepperoni zucchini slices
Tear some of the fresh mozzarella to add a little creaminess to the cheese. *I love the way the hard mozzarella blends with the softer fresh mozzarella giving it two textures and a creamy milkiness you don't get with just grated mozzarella.
Into the oven. In this case, I was using my Primavera WFO. Writing this I can smell the wood and smoke as the pizza began to come to life in there! In a few turns in the oven, about 90 seconds and a lift into the dome this pizza is ready to go.
The savory sausage and mushrooms went nicely with the juicy spicy zucchini pepperoni on this pie. There's also a subtle milkiness that the soft mozzarella brings through the cheese layers giving balance to the toppings and sauce.
Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, Part 7 (conclusion)
Note from Peter: This is the final installment of Bob's series, which has been a huge inspiration for many of us. Bob has shown that where there's a will (and serious fire) there's a way. Please note in the narrative below the link to Bob's video, which was professionally filmed by a local crew for television -- really terrific! And feel free to subscribe to his newsletter and stay connected with The Ben Franklin Society and The BreadWorks events. Here's a link, also, to a recent news story about Bob and his work:
Remember, you read about him here first!! Thank you Bob for a great series. When you come up for air we'd love to hear more from you.
And now, the final chapter, full of useful tips for any of you with that same passion and fire within to pursue your own quest or, simply, make your own delicious tomato pies!
PART SEVEN – PHILADELPHIA STYLE, CAROLINA CHARACTER
When I left Philadelphia 15 years ago to begin anew in Carolina, I created a “Philly-in-the-Woods” in my adopted home. It has a log cabin, and overall I’ve tried to combine the genius of Ben Franklin with the practicality of a small farm. This Little Philly on my Lynch Creek Farm now serves as a get-away in the middle of Franklin County, a special gathering place to dine and entertain with your friends. Who’d of thought an idea like that would work? Me. I just believe you can sometimes will things to happen - with enough hard work and determination.
As part of creating my Little Philly, I wanted to develop a signature pizza reminiscent of Delorenzo’s Tomato Pie. A recent BreadWorks event at my farm attracted 65 folks and confirmed for me that each attendee, in their own way, experienced “Philly-in-the-Woods” – tasty food, coupled with live music and great friends – in a most unlikely Carolina venue. We’re not Asheville, nor the Outer Banks, but just as special and exhilarating for those who came. Watch my video called BreadWorks Tomato Pies with Bob Radcliffe on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjLTiSLj02A.
It’s no coincidence this installment shares the same title as my monthly BreadWorks newsletter, and similarly conveys the notion that for every ending, there is a new beginning.
My starting point was understanding that to make a great Tomato Pie, I first had to master open-fire cooking. There is no modern digital or even mechanical control over the temperature – just primal fire, heat and smoke – a near religious experience. Grilling comes to mind, but we’re talking about wood-fired, oven baking here! Have you surmised the fate of my sacrificial pie? My first test dough is usually destined for ruin in an oven too hot, but serves as a necessary quality check before I begin food service. Another essential first step is to clean the oven floor of all debris first, initially from wood embers, and later from burned semolina flour. Always use a natural bristle brush, never a brass, metallic or plastic brush. That avoids introducing metal or plastic fragments into your Pie. Natural bristle brushes burn up over time and I discard them. Wrap the brush with a wet cloth and wipe the oven floor to remove any remaining grit.
Next, insert the Tomato Pie in the oven with a short-handled wooden peel. Once in the oven, I manage the pies with a long-handled metal peel, the flat-ended kind you may have seen in pizza restaurants. This approach works best for me. Also, clean the oven floor every four to six pies. You want to capture the smoky oven flavor, not the burned residue on the oven floor.
Clearly outside ovens are disadvantaged in cold and wet weather. My shed roof provides working cover for me in the rain, and I prepare pies inside my warm cabin when it is cold, then walk them outside to cook; otherwise the dough is unworkable. Even in the dead of winter, my oven still registers over 200 degrees F after cooling down overnight (a great time to roast or braise a sizeable cut of meat).
When I am cooking a large number of pies (40+ for a BreadWorks event), I partially cook the pies ahead of time, cover them with foil, and store them on metal serving trays in a rolling baking rack. When patrons begin to arrive and food service begins, I reheat the pies quickly, add the toppings, cut and serve continuously without undue delay - with the help of my aiuto pizzaiola or assistant pizza maker - April Hitchcock.
I prefer classic-style aluminum trays to serve my Tomato Pie - preferably ones generously decorated with cut marks – like those I remember from Delorenzo’s. Although I recall a short-bladed knife was used to cut the pies into irregular shapes, I prefer a rolling cutter. To each his own. There was nothing better than sopping-up the last drips of olive oil and bits of tomato from those metal trays with a piece of crust. The cardboard forms and boxes used today ruin this experience altogether. And yes, I always serve retro glass-bottled soda - never cans, plastic foam cups, paper plates or plastic cutlery – Philly style demands the real thing.
If you ever have leftovers, wrap the slices in foil and refrigerate. For the best taste, reheat in a hot cast-iron pan without oil. Just drop the slices onto the pan and heat until they gently bubble. The slices will taste like they just came out of the oven. I’ve heard it put this way: “It’s the iron pan – stupid!” By all means never use a microwave.
By the way, in May, my favorite TV show, “The Mind of a Chef,” received the James Beard Foundation’s Broadcast Award for Television on Location (www.jamesbeard.org/#home-awards ). I must sadly note, it beat out “A Chef’s Life” featuring Vivian Howard of the “Chef & the Farmer” (www.chefandthefarmer.com ) in Kinston, NC – my home-state TV food telecast.
Gosh, (drawing my Pizza Pie story to a close), it has certainly has been an incredible journey, as Peter envisioned when the Pizza Quest website was launched. I believe my story is one of many testaments to the “amazing things” revealed when artisanship flourishes. Thank you, Peter, for the opportunity to tell my story, and for understanding that “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.” Above all, it’s been fun!
Thanks to each of you for reading along and providing comments and suggestions. My odyssey continues - there’s the looming Potato Pie story, flavored cheeses, other toppings, seasoning-wood alternatives, and who knows what the mind of a chef will conjure-up – roasts, casseroles and even desserts.
I hope to have honored my promise not to bore you with my story. I have shared a lot of my techniques in the belief I could encourage you to make your first Tomato Pie. You will hear from me again, but until then, by all means cook with the mind of a chef - YOU CAN DO IT! If you ever need help, know you can always contact me by email.
In the meantime, keep up with my latest adventures by subscribing to my monthly BreadWorks newsletter (www.benfranklinsocietync.org). Better yet, attend one of my upcoming BreadWorks events, or stop by to see Molly and me, and of course take a tour of downtown Rocky Ford.
Call ahead though, so I can remember to leave the light on. Happy trails!
P.S. A note of special thanks for the backstage help I have received during the publication of this series of articles and my BreadWorks events from: Marion Blackburn, Dennis and Jane Radcliffe, Brad English, Pat Washburn, Dave Debonzo and Gloria Urbano.
Peter's Blog, July 2014
It's been awhile; crazy summer, going way too fast. Just a few quick items for you:
--First, we'll be running Bob Radcliffe's final installment of the Rocky Ford Tomato Pie series in a few days, so please do check back. It's been a very inspirational story, full of useful tips for anyone who loves pizza and also for those of us who still have a dream or two to pursue and need to know that it's never too late.
--Also, my friend Dede Wilson, who created an amazing website called Bakepedia.com, just ran two pieces about me and pizza. Here are the links and, after you check them out you might want to check out the rest of the site and revisit it often:
--Brad English is working on another crazy fun recipe and we should have that ready to post soon too. I don't know how he keeps coming up with these but he's a big, hungry guy who loves to feed people. Brad is the personification of what Pizza Quest is all about and his recipes are awesome!
--One final note: for any of you in the Skowhegan, Maine area, I'll be there next week from July 23-25th for the annual Kneading Conference (a fun and informative gathering for serious bread heads), followed by the Maine Bread Festival on Saturday the 26th at the Fair Grounds that is open to the public. Come over and say hi if you're there.
Thanks so much for your support and loyalty, and for continuing to visit us here. Lots more still to come....
Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, part 6
Part Six – A “Field of Dreams”
When we bought our Rocky Ford farm property in 1997, it was the culmination of a lifelong dream. We had previously restored an 1858 row house in the historic Spring Garden neighborhood of Philadelphia, but this was different -- nearly 55 acres with a stream along side. We named our farm property Lynch Creek, after the stream that I found had more history associated with it than I ever could have imagined. That discovery led me to create the non-profit Ben Franklin Society in 2008 honoring the forgotten Yankee namesake of our county, and then hold fund-raising events through the associated Franklin BreadWorks private dining and entertainment club.
Even though I spend a lot of time indoors cooking, my days include many hours managing the farm using sustainable practices. This outdoors work is a labor of love. Indeed, all my life I’ve been an outdoors type. As a kid, I would fish all day at Gropp’s Lake in Yardville, N.J., riding a bike to the lake from my home. After college, I lived in a Dutch Colonial farmhouse in Middlebush, NJ and played hooky from work to go trout fishing alone in the Delaware Water Gap. It seemed natural to me in 2000 to begin the work necessary to place our farm in permanent conservation easement. Our legal agreement with the local Tar River Land Conservancy was finalized in December 2007. By deed, our property will remain a farm forever, may not be subdivided or developed beyond the needs of a farm, and has a restricted 12-acre stream buffer zone along Lynch Creek.
In the same time period I began working to secure organic farm certification, which you may imagine was the butt of many jokes in a very traditional Southern farming area in North Carolina’s tobacco country. I vividly recall baffled local farmers scratching their heads with hat in hand as they stopped roadside by my 15- acre field of buckwheat in white blossom. They had never before seen such a cover crop – buckwheat, peas and clover!
Over the years I have fixed fencing, plumbing and electrical problems; built a front pasture storage barn, stream pump and spring house, a woodshop, a chicken coop, a heated greenhouse and unheated high-tunnel, a produce workshop with walk-in cooler, and a vehicle maintenance barn; built our Log Cabin from 100 year old pine logs salvaged from two dismantled tobacco pack houses in Elmo, Va.; and finally, built my wood-fired Pompeii-style brick oven. Only a smokehouse renovation project remains on my to-do list.
Our Log Cabin was initially to be an antique showroom for my wife, Kerry. It morphed into an artist’s studio, and finally into a business meeting event center when we finally completed construction in December 2012. Construction continued over ten years with many obstacles. If you’re interested, our website, www.lynchcreek.com has posted a month-by-month chronology and photographs of the last four years of my construction work.
The site plan we designed (with help from Tim Hanauer of Earth Graphics, Greensboro, NC) around the cabin to control erosion provided the opening I needed to add an outdoor, wood-fired oven. At the time, no one, not even Kerry, comprehended why I was doing this. To me it was simple – not to cook traditional Southern BBQ, but rather to bake Tomato Pie and artisan breads, of course!
I began building my oven in 2008. The Forno Bravo guideline Pompeii Oven plans were my reference. It was an incredible challenge to build. Its sheer size (56” inside diameter) dwarfs most residential and commercial models. I needed to be sure I could bake two standard sheet trays (18” x 26”) at a time. When I bake breads, I always start my loaves on sheet trays and then transfer them to the oven floor (it’s just too difficult to do otherwise). I use my oven door when I bake breads. It was made by our Pennsylvania friend and expert blacksmith, Ray Mathis (www.tuttometaldesign.com), The Forno Bravo Forum was an incredible resource along the way, but my Yankee ingenuity was required to overcome a few key construction dilemmas:
· Oven entranceway: I chose to use formwork, not brickwork, to build an arched opening. I also used laminated chimney flue pipe to create the precise, arched door reveal. Special high-temperature concrete mix was required – like that used in pottery kilns.
· Chimney flue transition: I again built a custom form to transition from my rectangular flue opening to my circular double-insulated stainless steel chimney pipe. I used carved Styrofoam that could be chipped-out after the high-temperature concrete cured to expose the flue geometry.
If interested, you can view a slide-show of how I built my wood-fired oven using the web link provided on my Biography page here: http://www.fornobravo.com/pizzaquest/contributor-profiles/54-contributor-profiles/506-bobradcliffe.html.
I finally cooked my first Tomato Pie in the Oven on Oct. 24, 2011. We prototyped a handful of BreadWorks events in 2012, and began scheduling monthly BreadWorks Dining and Entertainment events in 2013 at the showplace we have today. To understand how some of the more than 400 Ben Franklin Society BreadWorks community members feel about their headquarters, you can read the comments posted for the articles of this series. We are humbled by the success and support we have received.
Indeed our “Field of Dreams” had become a reality – even more than we had envisioned. Kerry often reminds me to “watch what you pray for.” Our property also represents a new sustainable farm model – one integrated with a non-profit entity committed to educational, literary and scientific endeavors. Remarkably, what makes it all work, is food and entertainment - with a blend of farm and public service. Rather than growing food for market, I now grow menu ingredients.
Many have asked me “If you had known how much time and effort it was going to take, would you have begun?” In reply, “I just decide what I want to do, and go do it.” I’ve concluded over the years that I am just wired differently than most. Few contemporaries of mine have ever understood my choices and timing. That’s okay.
Now you understand how long it took, and how difficult it was, before I cooked my first Tomato Pie in Rocky Ford. Let me pass some tips along to you about using such an oven:
First, let’s talk about firing the oven. As you know, everything passes in-and-out of the oven entrance. With larger diameter ovens like mine, you need a bigger fire. To do that, I start small “Lincoln” log fires (on wooden rails) with a propane torch just under the flue opening in the entranceway, and then slide the log rails into the oven with my metal peel. I usually make at least two, if not three, such fires. I then begin adding split oak wood to gradually create a large fire at the middle of the oven. I burn a vigorous fire for about three hours (until the oven is white hot). I always use oak (hardwood) for what I call the furnace fire that’s solely responsible for heating the oven.
Next, I use a metal hoe to split the fire and push the coals and remaining wood equally to each side creating a center cooking platform. From this point on, I consider these side-fires - flavoring-fires. I optionally use seasoning woods such as hickory, apple, pecan, and even coal, to add another hidden layer of flavor. These fires use smaller pieces of wood, but are essential as you bake Tomato Pie as I do, over several hours, to keep the hot air circulating from the dome above, to the floor below. I continue to experiment with variations of fuel whose smoke flavors my Tomato Pie.
Then, I bake what I call my “sacrificial” pie.
More about that in my next installment - “Philadelphia Style with Carolina Character.” I’ll have more tips about baking, plating, and presenting Tomato Pie and how to deal with leftovers (if any). And yes, gently wind my story down -- for now.
Modernist Breads, the announcement
As promised, here is the announcement of the new book project I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, "Modernist Breads." I've copied the text below but, for photos and a link to the Modernist website, see it in full at:
(The text below is copied from the link above, written by the folks at Modernist Cuisine. Enjoy! I'll keep you all posted as we get deeper into the project but my recent trip to headquarters in Bellevue, WA, working with Francisco Migoya and his baking team, was very exciting and I expect this book will be like an encyclopedia of bread when it comes out in a couple of years. Anyone who has seen "Modernist Cuisine" already knows how spectacular the photography and content was, so we have a lot to live up to.)
The Art and Science of Bread
We are frequently asked what our next big project will be, and for almost a year we’ve alluded to “having something in the works.” In actuality, our culinary team has been working overtime baking and learning about bread. From crust to crumb, we are excited to finally reveal that our next book will be entirely devoted to the art and science of bread.
Why bread? Because it’s so ubiquitous that we now have vast, daunting selections of breads to choose from at most grocery chains. Many of us have started taking the bread course for granted when dining out. But bread shouldn’t be an afterthought on the table or simply a building block for sandwiches—breaking open a good loaf of bread, fresh from the oven, is an experience that can evoke nostalgia for years to follow. For many of us, however, baking bread at home is intimidating and shrouded in mystery. Unlike cooking, most breads are made by varying the amounts of four simple ingredients: flour, water, salt, and, of course, yeast. Yet the simplicity of these ingredients is complicated by the intricate science of the bread-baking process and by the fact that bakers must contend with an ingredient that is alive and sensitive to its environment.
With thousands of years of wisdom that inform techniques still used today, the art of baking bread is steeped in tradition. As such, we are researching bread’s rich past and studying the science therein. We have been fortunate to meet a number of talented bakers and chefs who are sharing their expertise and knowledge with us, and we remain on the lookout for new experts and resources.
This project comes with another exciting announcement as we welcome to our team Francisco Migoya as head chef and Peter Reinhart as assignments editor. We are incredibly lucky to have recruited two individuals whose contributions to pastry and baking have already set the bar high.
Under the leadership of head chef Migoya, our bread program has blossomed in a relatively short time. His passion has led him to push the boundaries of pastry arts in savory, pastry, viennoiserie, and bread. Chef Migoya pairs sublime flavors with Modernist techniques to create exquisite, avant-garde pastries and chocolates that are almost too stunning to eat. Having worked as executive pastry chef at The French Laundry, and most recently as a professor at The Culinary Institute of America, his work has earned him recognition as one of the top pastry chefs in the country by both the Huffington Post and Dessert Professional, and he has been imparted Medal of Master Artisan Pastry Chef by Gremi de Pastisseria de Barcelona. Chef Migoya has authored three pastry books, winning a 2014 award for The Elements of Dessert from International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
One of the leading authorities on bread, Peter Reinhart will lend his extensive expertise to this project. As a full-time chef on assignment at Johnson & Wales University, Peter teaches courses on baking and the juncture of food and culture. A best-selling author of nine books, his approachable methodologies and techniques have been embraced by home bakers and earned him numerous awards, including Book of the Year (2002) for The Bread Baker’s Apprentice from both IACP and the James Beard Foundation. Additionally, he won James Beard Foundation awards for Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads (2008) and Crust and Crumb (1997), with a nomination for Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day. His newest book, Bread Revolution, will be released in the fall of 2014.
Our hope for this project is that, by revealing the history, science, and techniques of baking bread, we will create an in-depth multivolume set of books that will be useful and accessible to amateur home bakers, passionate bread enthusiasts, restaurants, and small-scale bakeries alike. But because we are in the beginning stages of this book, we do not know how many volumes it will be or when it will go on sale. There is a lot for us to decide, but we will stay true to the approaches used for Modernist Cuisine, so readers can expect the same level of rigor and detail in our writing, illustrations, and photography as we attempt to showcase bread in a new light.
If you have a burning question about this project, or would like to contribute your expertise, we would love to hear from you. Please contact
Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, Part 5
PART FIVE – LAYERS OF FLAVOR
My experiences working at Jack’s Firehouse were the most memorable of my 20 years living in Philadelphia. The deal I made with Chef Jack McDavid was simple – I would work one day a week without pay, if he would teach me three new things each shift. When I left and moved to Rocky Ford, he told me, “If you put your mind to it, you could run a restaurant one day.” I took that as a compliment and confidence builder that to this day, steadies me when confronted with the demands of managing a 55-acre working farm.
My analytical background served me well in the past. As I began adventuring into the culinary world it became clear to me from everything I read, the professionals I observed, and the impressions I got from a proliferation of TV shows that it was all about “layers of flavor.” More important, about being willing to do whatever it takes to develop those flavors.
Let me explain how I think about building the “layers of flavor” into my Tomato Pie:
--It was paramount to remain true to what a Delorenzo’s Tomato Pie meant to me. It’s all about the bread and tomatoes. The crisp (almost burned) artisan crust becomes the foundation layer of flavor to the extent that I do everything possible to ensure it remains crisp. That means isolating the dough from the juicy tomatoes with a thin layer of cheese, for instance, or not using even a drop of olive oil either in or on the dough until after it has been cooked.
--I prominently display the tomatoes in visible chunks, not in an indiscriminate layer of sauce, to visibly convey their importance.
--Many patrons in the South tell me “No garlic, please.” I nod affirmatively, but always proceed to spread a large clove of freshly crushed garlic on every dough I prepare for the oven. I follow this with a generous array of freshly ground black pepper. Never a complaint so far!
--Thin slices of cheese follow to seal the dough from the moisture of the tomatoes and meat toppings that follow. Meats, if any, are selectively placed, and then, always last, come the tomatoes. Then I quickly slide the pie into the awaiting oven. That’s it!
--Noticeably missing are the olive oil, mushrooms and spinach. I never apply olive oil while the dough is cooking (in the oven). No one wants a “burned” mushroom or spinach flavor from the extreme heat of a wood-fired oven, nor be the reason to remove a pie before the crust is perfectly cooked. I sauté and season the mushrooms and spinach to taste, ahead of time, to perfection! They are warmed by the pie as it cools down. (Again, I credit Jack for teaching me that all temperatures cook – both low and high ones. Whether I was cleaning squid in an ice-water bath to keep it from cooking, or recalling his story about how Japanese tuna fisherman quickly pull live tuna in with hand lines and then ceremoniously cut and bleed them, force a rod down their spine to immobilize them, and then flash freeze them at sea – all to preserve the essence of the tuna flesh – a most highly prized and costly product. All fish start to "cook," even at sea water temperatures, as soon as they die).
From this experience I concluded, “Why waste the heat of a cooling Tomato Pie? Let it warm the oil, mushrooms and spinach.”
--I generously apply olive oil with a squeeze bottle to the cornicione (edge of the crust) immediately after I remove the pie from the oven. An added benefit of this approach is that you never burn the roof of your mouth and ruin the pleasure of eating the rest of your pie. If desired, I sparingly add the mushrooms and spinach. Then I apply the salt, grated Parmesan, and (always last) torn basil. Done!
Simple but thoughtful steps mean that we are always building layers of flavor as we go. Oh, yes, one last hidden flavor: the delicious one that comes from the wood-fired oven itself!
Don’t think I was born knowing how to do this type of cooking. It took years of trial and error to decipher this culinary puzzle. Don’t be constrained by tradition and consensus thinking. Leap outside the box (a learned, but uncanny ability I have had through all of my life’s endeavors). Maybe this is why I became so attracted to the TV show “Mind of a Chef.” It helped me more clearly understand what food was really about – a metaphor for life itself. Without food there is no life. The quality of our food is integral to the quality of our lives.
As an educator, it was important to me to convey knowledge to the next generation, but it was even more important to give them the confidence they needed to succeed. “The answers are all there; learn to ask the right sequence of questions,” they told me in engineering school at Rutgers University in 1964. I credit the leaders, educators and friends I had along the way for shaping my “can-do” mindset.
Jack McDavid was the only chef I ever worked for, and to this day, I feel grateful to have had that experience. Thanks again Jack. You done good!
In my next posting I will discuss the wood-fired oven that I built so I could achieve the high temperatures needed to cook my ideal Tomato Pie, adding that "invisible layer of flavor."
It is aptly named, “A Field of Dreams.” Still lots to discuss, so see you again soon.
A Couple Tomato Pies
I have been drooling and laughing and hoping to meet Bob Radcliffe some day as we've been posting and reading the wonderful articles about his Tomato Pie journey here on Pizza Quest. Keep them coming Bob! Don't stop when you've run out of things to say about your Tomato Pies -- let's see about getting you into some cheese making next! Or, perhaps let us in on some of your other wood burning oven activities out there on your farm. I can smell the wood smoke coming from your chimney now.
Bob has taken things to another level. He is the type of true artisan we're all so lucky exists! He takes that unprecedented time and focus that it takes to move things beyond good and into the category of being great, or perhaps insane. Of course, I use the term "insane" more as a form of praise for his drive rather than one to declare his true levels of sanity. Lucky for us, he is also sharing his passions.
My brother was just out for the weekend, and he hadn't ever had one of the pizzas from my new Primavera 60 Wood-Fired baby…I mean oven! We had plans to go out to dinner his last night here, but he kept looking at the oven sitting on the patio and asking questions about it or, as it turns out, hinting questions that would lead to the obvious change of our plans. When I clued in, the plans changed. I "decided" to make a couple of pizzas for him that night. With Bob's stories running through my head, I thought I would play ball…take the plunge and pull a few of my own attempts at the Tomato Pie game.
I didn't do it by the "book", but the results were so good I will definitely continue to bring this pie into the line up when I make pizzas. In a way, this could be the starting point for any pizza night. It's the simplest ingredients that often come together to define a dish. For pizza the basics are: great dough, great tomatoes, great cheese and a few other ingredients as you wish.
A Couple Tomato Pies:
- Peter's Neo-Neopolitan Dough
- Canned San Marzano peeled tomatoes (*I had a #10 can of the Bianco Dinapoli Peeled California Plum Tomatoes!)
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Chili Oil (Just assume this is around if I ever forget it in a recipe. It's really not part of the recipe, but at the same time, it is part of THE Recipe!)
So, I opened my Bianco Dinapoli can - after refrigerating it because Bob tells us that's what he's found works best for him. Hello tomatoes! I have to confess, sitting over the counter and sink as I cut the tomatoes I started drooling. This was a lucky circumstance because the object of my desire was right there in front of me. I picked up one of these "plums" and leaned over the sink, tilted my head and dropped the fruit/vegetable into my mouth like a servant feeding Ceasar. I took most of it in my mouth and bit holding the top of the tomato. It oozed a little out of my mouth -- since I was over the sink and I was feeling a little decadent I let it drip down my chin as I savored the tomato. Holy Moley -- so simply good it was amazing!
Back to cutting the tomatoes after I digressed for a taste. Ok, I digressed two more times as I made the pizzas. What? It was a #10 can! There were a lot of tomatoes.
The Tomato Pies:
You'll see two versions of my Tomato Pies in the photos. The first was the basic: Dough - Tomatoes - Cheese - Basil - Oven. It was great! As I went to make the next one I thought I could use a few more tomatoes. I varied my construction: Dough - Cheese - Tomatoes - Cheese - Tomatoes - Basil. A double double as it turns out is good for a pizza as it is for a fast food hamburger. Come on! You know those are good! How about Animal Style? The secret menu at my house is developing.
These were amazing pies. Peter's Neo-Neopolitan Dough is always a great performer. It's always light and puffy and allows the ingredients to shine. They shined! I'm sure I'm way off the mark of where Bob is when pulling pies out of his oven, but I'm here to tell you to jump on board Bob's Tomato Pie Express. Delicious!
I'll be playing with this for awhile.
Enjoy the photos...
Tomato Pie #1:
Tomato Pie #2 - The Double Tomato Pie:
Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, Part 4
PART FOUR – A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
I’m known for more than making Tomato Pie on my Franklin County Farm. I’ve also made an appearance of sorts on the front page of the Times – the Franklin Times that is – and the cover of Back Home Magazine (thanks to friend and writer Donna Campbell Smith).
Let me explain how my ass gets on the front page! Molly, my donkey, is the guard animal for my herd of beef cattle, protecting them from predators. I bought her from a goat herder who was going out of business. Starting to sound strange? She was really pretty but had bad feet. “Would you buy a used car with four flat tires,” I ask? Probably not, but I did! I was confident I could fix her feet. Heck, I was already vetting my cattle, pulling calves and castrating bulls. Not too shabby for a city-slicker. But honestly, without Coy Duke’s help (rest his soul), I would be in deep, as they say.
Well, after two long years of research, vet consultations, medicines, help from farrier Joey Hite, and nearly getting kicked to death, Molly now has four sound feet and is a real beauty queen -- a cover girl – and, when pictured with me on the front page of the local newspaper, the cue for everyone to ask “Which one is the jackass?”
I take all this in stride because I’m a Yankee in the South who is on a mission to make Rocky Ford famous with my Tomato Pie. Can you hear the laughter getting louder down at the Biscuit Kitchen in nearby Louisburg?
Well, I tell everyone down here that I am no rabbit, but I sure am a fast turtle. I am confident I will live long enough to get the last laugh -- at least I sure hope so. If not, as they often remind me, I can always use my return bus ticket and find my way back to Philadelphia and points north.
I’ll get back on point – Tomato Pie – since that’s what you’re reading for! I’ve got some interesting tips about toppings. Once you’ve had a look, I would appreciate some emails from you with your recommendations.
Toppings cooked on my Tomato Pie
large fresh-crushed clove on the dough
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
on the dough
7-9 slices covering the surface of the dough
Sausage (and any other meats)
nominally one piece per slice
irregularly spaced pieces
· Each garlic variety tastes different. I am still experimenting with which variety to grow and use. I have raised both hard and soft-necks. I prefer hard-necks because they store longer. The soft-necks tasted great, but are too perishable. Do you have a garlic variety you could recommend?
· Replicating the sausage flavor I recall from DeLorenzo’s has been a real challenge. I finally gave-up on the prospect of simply buying it somewhere. I was really excited when I bought my commercial Bread Mixer because I could grind meat with it as well. When you make sausage, you can’t do it in tiny batches. So each experiment that doesn’t work out leaves you with at least 5-pounds of stuff. You’ve got to first select the cut of meat and target fat percentage, use the right die-size on the meat grinder, and get your seasonings and proportions right. Experiments like this get expensive and quickly consume a warehouse of freezers. I finally have honed-in on my own “secret” recipe after years of fiddling around. I just describe it as a sweet-basil Italian sausage. By the way, I also have developed a “secret” breakfast sausage recipe that I sometimes serve at my BreadWorks Sunday Brunches.
I am sure that in 1950 DeLorenzo had a butcher buddy that knocked this stuff out with simple ingredients. There were no supermarkets at the time, no TV Food Channel, no celebrity chefs, probably just Tony next door. But he made great Italian sausage; probably a hand me down family recipe from Sicily like the one I someday may pass along.
I always use free-form, “loose” sausage pieces on my pie, not neat slices with a casing. Maybe, that’s why I shy away from using pepperoni on my Tomato Pies. It just doesn’t look right, and in my opinion, overpowers the tomatoes.
Toppings added to my Tomato Pie (after it is removed from the oven)
immediately applied to the crust with a squeeze bottle – be generous – heated by the Pie
sparingly applied if so desired – heated by the Pie
sparingly applied if so desired – heated by the Pie
Coarse Kosher Salt
applied to taste
Fresh-grated Parmesan Cheese
for flavor and decoration
always last for aroma
· The olive oil should not be light, fragrant or aromatic, but rather a middle blend, to prevent the heat of the Pie from creating an unpleasant aroma. Think about focaccia when applying the oil. Be generous. It will be absorbed by the crust. You will never burn the roof of you mouth, like most pizzas do, that cook the oil on the pie in a hot oven! The oil is slowly warmed as the Tomato Pie cools down.
· Mushrooms are sautéed separately and seasoned as desired and simply added to the cooling pie. In this way they are never burned. I prefer the earthy flavor of the shitake, but crimini (small portabellas) work well also. Only at last resort do I use white button mushroom – they lack the flavor I prefer. What variety of mushrooms do you recommend?
· Spinach is also sautéed separately and seasoned as desired and simply added to the cooling pie. In this way it is never burned. I prefer fresh whole leaf spinach with garlic, but frozen spinach works fine if well drained.
· Course kosher salt is preferred, but specialty sea salts can be used. Do you have any such recommendations?
· Fresh-grated Parmesan – the better cheeses, although more expensive, are worth it. Do you have any recommendations?
· Fresh-torn basil adds that flash of aroma as you eat the first slices of your Tomato Pie. It burns easily, and a little goes a long way. I grow basil in season (above freezing), but prefer to have potted plants nearby the kitchen.
Before winding this installment down however, I want to let you in on a secret. I have been experimenting with a new topping – beyond what DeLorenzo’s (past or present) ever imagined. Fingerling potatoes - like the size and shape of your small finger.
The idea of using fingerlings on Tomato Pie actually comes from Tacconnelli’s Pizza, another famous haunt of mine in Philadelphia. I remember having Vince make a special Potato Pie for my 40th birthday celebration. It was delicious, but sadly the first and last Potato Pie I’ve ever eaten – but not forgotten. When fingerling potatoes are roasted properly, they are as addictive as peanuts!
Coincidentally, I have specialized in growing fingerling potatoes for years. As by now you can probably imagine, I grew a test potato garden (in 2006) of a dozen varieties to find the best one for my soil and environment and settled on Austrian Crescent’s – and they do have great Rocky Ford terroir!
When I perfect my recipe and technique, I believe Potato Pies could be hugely popular in the South, and my “ace-in-the-hole” to make Rocky Ford famous (if my Tomato Pies should stumble). Maybe I’ll be the only Tomato and Potato Pie baker in North Carolina – perhaps the whole country – maybe the world!
I started this column today with a story about Molly so by the time you got to the end of the article you could catch your breath from laughing so hard. But I’m afraid my latest idea – Potato Pie – may have you howling again. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Catch your breath, as there’s still more to come about “Layers of Flavor.” The tables included above establish a framework for that discussion. Please remember to send your suggestions by email to
(as well as commenting below).
Peter's Blog, quick update
In a day or two we will be posting Part 4 of Bob Radcliffe's entertaining series on his quest for the perfect "tomato pie." We've been getting great comments on this, especially from people who have been to his Franklin Society events and have had Bob's pies and have now deified him (read the comments if you don't believe me). I can't wait to get to eastern Carolina and experience one of his Saturday night events.
In the meantime, I wanted to bring up something I've noticed in our comments sections: we're starting to get a lot of spam and phishing stuff in there so I will start going back through some of the older ones and delete them out. We've accumulated such a large archive over these past three years that most people don't go back into the older posts, but lately I've seen some legitimate questions coming through them with pizza questions, such as whether it's okay to use baking parchment in the wood-fire oven (yes, but it will burn up pretty quickly, so I advise against it), and how to add sourdough starters to traditional pizza doughs, and the like. Since I don't often get to go back through the posts that we've taken off the front page (but keep in our archives so that you can access them by using the buttons on the top of the home page), I suggest that if you have a question for me, rather than for the group or a particular author of a post, write to me at
(likewise, you can write to Brad at
, or to us in general at
). Please allow time for a reply, though, as I am on the road a lot, as is Brad, so we don't check our mailboxes everyday. Also, for those interested in sourdough, I advise you to take a look at Richard Miscovich's new sourdough video course at www.craftsy.com and also to avail yourself of Pizza Quest contributor Teresa Greenway's website, www.northwestsourdough.com
Finally, some personal news: I should soon have a press release to share here on a new book project I'll be starting this week that will keep me quite occupied for the next 2 to 3 years. Can't say more than that until the release is approved, but be on the look out. Also, this week marks the final stage of the editorial process for my upcoming book, Bread Revolution, before it goes off to the printer in two weeks. The book will be out in October. You can read more details on Amazon and the B&N sites, as they've already started taking pre-orders. In other words, lots going on, but we promise to keep posting new things for you here too -- Brad's recipes, Bob's ongoing saga, hopefully some new posts on going pro by John Arena and other guest columnists, and my own posts about the sprouted flour movement that is chronicled in Bread Revolution (yes, you will get sneak previews right here even before it hits the stands).
So keep checking back and thank you for all your support. Our readership numbers keep going up and we love having you on the journey with us. More soon....
Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, Part 3
PART THREE: TRY IT, YOU’LL LIKE IT
Let’s talk tomatoes:
Like Mikey in the old cereal TV commercial, here in the South, when it comes to tomatoes it’s often a pleading, “Try it, you’ll like it.” That’s because down South, leafy greens and butter beans take center stage, leaving tomatoes relegated to salads and canned spaghetti sauce. I first had to decide which tomatoes to buy. Heck, why would you buy them, when you can grow them -– right? I’m sure most of you aren’t looking to hold a tomato taste test, but that’s what I did.
In 2004, I ordered 18 different plum and paste tomato varieties of seed, with enticing names like Cour di Bue, Costuluto Fiorentino, Opalka, Polish Linguisa and Viva Italia. Can’t you just taste those beauties? I planted the seeds, transplanted and secretly labeled the rows and, about three months later, sand-bagged Nick Thomas, a food writer at the time for the Raleigh News and Observer, into a blind taste testing of the lot by promising him exclusive rights to the story. I also arranged to take several baskets to a local Italian restaurant (since closed) to make tomato sauce.
Well, what do you think happened? Nick concluded that San Marzano’s were the best. Yet, although he loved those varietals, the restaurateur found it was too much trouble to cook them down.
Subsequently, I experimented by growing different strains of San Marzano’s, but just wasn’t happy with the taste. I grew them outdoors; I grew them in a greenhouse; I tried different organic approaches with fertilizers and irrigation schemes for watering. Forgive me, again, but I cussed a lot – thankfully, no one was nearby (well maybe Kerry, my wife).
I can grow tomatoes, but the soil and climate here just isn’t their favorite. Then I realized, “Wouldn’t an agricultural state like North Carolina be growing tomatoes instead of tobacco, cotton, soy beans, wheat, sweet potatoes and collards if it could?” Dah!
Alas, I finally understood what terroir meant. It certainly has nothing to do with North Carolina being an English Colony instead of a French one. Terroir is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology, and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products. Wine connoisseurs know it permeates the grapes. It’s simple: Italian tomatoes have terroir, and my Rocky Ford tomatoes do not! Italy’s San Marzano tomatoes simply taste better!
It’s embarrassing for me to admit how much time and effort I wasted trying to grow this crucial ingredient for my Tomato Pie. What had seemed like a sensible idea was,in fact, a big bust! But you only learn from your mistakes. Chef Sean Brock on the “Taste of a Chef” would have been proud of me, but I can see the tears of laughter coming down his face, and hear him howling as he reaches for another brew. Always use the food ingredients that taste the best.
So, we now buy imported San Marzano Tomatoes from Italy by the case each month, from Philadelphia of course, when Kerry travels there for work. The Rosa brand we use are imported into Philadelphia and Baltimore, while the Cento brand is available in Camden, N.J., just over the Ben Franklin Bridge. They are always intrigued when Kerry arrives at the warehouse as their only North Carolina customer yet who always gets their “best” cash discount price (of course). By the way, I also have to admit that these imported tomatoes cost less to buy than if I were to grow them. (Wow, will I be happy to finish telling you my tomato story.)
Each can is opened, the fruits individually cleaned and broken into pieces, and then adjusted with sugar (if need be). Every can tastes different – I adjust each can separately and then combine the tomatoes together. Handling and cleaning each fruit is usually deemed unnecessary by everyone else. Yet I always do this! (Maybe it’s just the training I received at Jack’s Firehouse, the many hours I spent picking crab, cleaning squid, and de-boning salmon.) No other spices or seasoning are added; no salt or pepper nor any olive oil. I like to prepare my tomatoes a day ahead and refrigerate them overnight. They simply taste better this way. “Last-minute” tomatoes just lack the flavor I want. I always return the tomatoes to room temperature before using them.
Yes, this is a Tomato Pie: it’s all about the bread and the tomatoes. The care I take with the tomatoes seems in keeping with their overall importance. What do you think?
Now, let’s talk about cheese. I was going to discuss cheese later, but after my tomato-growing debacle, I decided to continue my confessional and get my embarrassing stuff out of the way. Does this introduction sound familiar? Heck, why would you buy cheese when you can make it – right? Try to contain your laughter, as it can become contagious.
Before setting out to make cheese, I had to decide exactly what type of cheese I would use. Obviously mozzarella, but low-fat, skim, part-skim, whole milk or what? After cooking pies with them all, I found that whole milk was the only one that did not separate on the pie. Hands down, always buy whole milk mozzarella! I have made pies with both fresh cow's milk and buffalo mozzarella but the cost and softness usually rule them out for me because I am typically making about 40 pies at a BreadWorks Event. For a small family affair, though, cost is not a factor. Since I always slice my cheese and never grate it, I buy 1-pound blocks, the firmer the better. I always keep it refrigerated and cut it while it's cold into thin (less than 1/8”) slices. I usually find that I can prepare about 5 pies per package.
I want you to know, though, that it really is easy to make your own mozzarella cheese. For a modest investment of $25, you can buy a kit that includes a dairy thermometer, muslin, citric acid, vegetable rennet tablets and cheese salt – and you are ready to go. (I like to shop online at the New England Cheese making Supply Company www.cheesemaking.com.)
A gallon of milk will make about a pound of mozzarella. The big problem is finding and buying good whole milk. I own beef, not dairy cattle, so no advantage there. I am not about to get a dairy cow and have one more thing I have to do every day (milk the cow). The sale of raw, unprocessed milk is illegal in most states. Folks get around this by owning a share of a milk cow, and therefore technically are not selling the milk, but own it.
When I was a kid, we still had milk delivered in glass jugs to a milk box on our side porch. The jugs were sealed with a paper disk. When it was below freezing outside, the cream would rise to the top and push the lid off. When it was spring you could taste the field “onions” the cows were eating in the milk. The milk was rich (high butter fat content) and the kind that you wish you could find today to make cheese – but good luck! Buy the least homogenized and pasteurized milk you can find; it works better for cheese making.
Actually, I was quite successful making mozzarella and would recommend you try it. I just found that the cheese I could buy saved me a lot of time without sacrificing taste. I do however sometimes make special flavored mozzarella with basil and assorted herbs which add a unique layer of flavor to the Pie.
So maybe I was being a bit paranoid, dreading the discussion of my experiences with cheese. I just so much wanted to be able to tell you to “make your own bread and cheese, and grow your own tomatoes.” Is that so weird?
Oddly enough, my best old Confederate friend, Joe Elmore, recently gave me a book titled “Weird New Jersey.” The thought of it makes him laugh out loud every time. I know he’s really laughing at me, but that’s OK, I find him pretty funny too. I haven’t found the “Weird North Carolina” book yet, but it’s got to be out there somewhere!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this posting. Come back for my next installment, “A Match Made in Heaven,” where I’ll discuss toppings. Get ready to laugh and hear about my “ace-in-the-whole”.
I hope you had a chance to look at my Rack o' Pork recipe. If not, I'll wait a second to continue here.
Go on, go back and read it. I won't wait for you to make it, but I hope after reading that recipe and this pizza recipe that you'll be making plans to pick up a rack this weekend.
It isn't easy coming up with pizza recipes to make and write about. Actually, it's probably easier to come up with the recipes to make and eat than to write about them. Actually, as I am writing this, my mind wandered and I just stumbled on an idea for the next firing of my Primavera oven. That part is easy. The ideas pop into my head. I imagine the sum of the parts, the hot pizza, and that first taste of crusty cheesy goodness and know the pieces will come together nicely. I then have to force myself to sit down and ramble on about my successful pie. Fun stuff.
So, back to this baby. I had found that recipe for the Roasted Rack of Pork on a website called Chef Dennis and thought that it would be an interesting meal and mostly a new challenge to cook in my wood burning oven. *Link to Recipe. Pizzas are relatively easy. Get the fire really freakin' hot and slide the pizza in and keep a close eye on it - turn it a couple of times over about 90-120 seconds and you're a genius. It's not that simple to come out with a great pizza in the end, but falling off those rails of perfection starts when you make the dough and continue right up until you pull it out of the oven. Pizza is simple, but because it's so simple I think that's what makes it so hard to perfect. I've been at this a while and whenever I get one that rises above the others approaching "better than normal", I am amazed. It's not that I did anything different - at least not anything I can really nail down as the moment that made the difference. It's just a lot of little things that went right.
Anyway, I opened my fridge a couple of days after making the rack of pork and saw the left overs. The light bulb went off. Why not? Let's see how this stuff will groove on a pizza. I've got dough. How about some herb oil and some of my ever-growing and ready garden cherry tomatoes for the sauce. I've got some English White Cheddar and some soft "fresh" mozzarella and even some fresh basil on hand. When making one pizza, there is almost always a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th on it's heels.
This first rack of pork pizza is going into the regular oven. The next into the Primavera WFO. Don't even begin to think I have too much time on my hands! It's just about taking advantage of small windows of time!
- Peter's Neo-Neopalitan Dough
- Peter's Herb Oil
- Brad's Garden Cherry Tomatoes sliced in half
- Grated English White Cheddar
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Left over Rack-o-Pork with Montreal Seasoning - thinly sliced *Recipe Link
- Chopped fresh basil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Chili Oil if you so desire as a finishing touch
To the Pizza:
Spread your dough
Drizzle with a little herb oil and add the halved cherries. If you haven't noticed this combination appears on a lot of my pizzas. It's become a favorite for a couple of reasons. First, I have these two tomato plants that won't stop producing these beautiful little tomatoes. Second, they are fresh and as "local" as I can get - being only a few steps from my kitchen. Last, but not least, the tomatoes are a great topping, but also become essentially a sauce with the herb oil as well. Delicious!
Spread some grated cheddar and add a few pinches of the fresh mozzarella to blend with it, which also serves to smooth the cheddar out as it melts. The cheddar is not as smooth when melts as grated mozzarella, so the creamier texture and milkiness of the fresh soft mozzarella is a nice addition to the cheese blend.
Lay the sliced pork around the pizza.
Into the oven!
I have my oven producing well browned pizzas in about 6 minutes. I have a few pizza stones and a pizza steel sitting in there, which I think helps concentrate the heat around the pizza (along with the convection function of the oven). This crust came out nice and even and almost starting to char in a few places.
Time to go...
Add a little Sea Salt and Pepper to taste and sprinkle on the chopped basil.
Drizzle some chili oil on the pizza and enjoy!
*As always send me your emails, comments on the site, and some pictures of your own pizzas!
Oven Roasted Rack o' Pork!
I just found the pizza and sandwich topping of the year! You heard it here first. In this post I'll tell you how to make it and, in future posts, how to use it on pizzas and also how to make the King of all Cheese-(Pork) Steak sandwiches, with the left overs.
Here's the background story: I was looking to play with my Primavera one weekend not long ago. I was bored and wanted to try something new. I've had it now for almost 6 months and it still feels new and, I'm still either learning to drive it, or thinking about ways to drive it. That may be half the fun of it. Like any hobby, the fun and rewarding part is often as much about the journey and not the destination. I was "feeling" pork that weekend. I reviewed some of the great recipes on the Forno Bravo Forum, and put in some time searching on the internet, when something caught my eye.
Oven Roasted Rack of Pork.
Rack of Pork?!!! Now that just sounded too good. Rack of lamb is one of my favorite things to make and maybe that will be next to hit the fire dome, but a rack of pork -- that sounded perfect! I don't think I have ever had a whole rack of pork cooked for me before. Pork chops, roast pork loin, smoked pork, barbecued pork, on and on, but never before had a full rack of pork been presented to me. I found a gigantic 8-bone specimen at the store. Beautiful!
So, back to my weekend...
It was a slow weekend and I had some time to just hang out with my family. We had a break in our usually crazy schedule of running the kids from one sport to another, or to one friend's house, or a movie. When a calm window opens up like this I often feel like cooking. I do some of my best meals when it's just the family. I enjoy cooking for and with friends, but there is also something about hanging out and making something amazing when it would be just as easy to order a pizza or to throw some burgers on the grill. After all, do the kids really appreciate a good meal? The truth is, even my kids don't! I can admit it. You get the occasional, "That was really good!" but on weekends like this it's more about the time you spend with each other. I think gathering around a big meal, or a special meal means something more than just the food. With the way the world is these days, this type of time spent together is more and more important.
By the way, that said, a burger on the grill is almost always a good idea! I'm just saying…
Back to the rack!
I can't take credit for this Rack of Pork creation. I found it on a website called Ask Chef Dennis - www.askchefdennis.com. Just click on the *LINK to his recipe and I could stop here and pass you on. Trust me, you have to make this!
I won't stop though. I did add something to this which I think our pizza making, wood fired oven lovin' community will appreciate. I made this in my WFO. I think it was Newman on one of the Seinfeld episodes that proclaimed about the Kenny Roger's chicken: "It's the wood that makes it good!" You gotta love Newman as he munched through a chicken leg, mouth half full enjoying his chicken while spewing those words. The wood does make it good, right? It certainly makes it fun. And, it makes it more primal. We like primal.
I followed Ask Chef Dennis' basic recipe. It's simple, as so much of great cooking is.
- 8 bone center cut rack of pork *Take the pork out of the fridge for 30-60 minutes before cooking.
- olive oil
- sea salt
- black pepper
- Montreal Steak Seasoning
- 2 carrots - rough cut
- 1 small onion cut with skins
- 2 stalks of celery - rough cut
- 6 cloves garlic peeled
Since you are on Pizza Quest, it's time to build a fire! The recipe calls for 450 Degrees for 15 minutes and then turning it down to 325 degrees for 2 hours in the oven. As we all know, there is no turning a wood fired oven down after 15 minutes. There's more of a dance to be played out in order to do what Chef Dennis is trying to do here.
So, this is not going to be a pizza hot fire. I got a small-medium fire going and let it saturate the oven for a little more than an hour or so. I got the walls up to around the 400's and let the fire settle down. I wanted to get the oven interior temp to be holding in the low 300's and hold that for about 2 hours without loosing too much. I also wanted to try to sear the pork with a higher heat. So, I added some small logs to the fire and let it flare up when I put the pork in. After about 15 minutes, I decided to close the door to capture some smoke and to kill the fire a bit and hopefully, get this thing to ride in the low 300's. You'll see I did pretty well.
Now that the fire is rolling, go set up the rack of pork:
- In a roasting pan add the cut veggies *We'll use these and the drippings for some pan gravy.
- Rinse the pork and pat dry
- Place pork fat side up on top of the bed of veggies
- Rub the olive oil all over the pork
- Sprinkle the entire rack with sea salt, pepper and then with a good coating of Montreal Steak Seasoning. *Use a good amount of the Montreal Seasoning to form a crust.
- Place the roast into the oven. *See my notes above if using a wood burning oven.
- Use a remote thermometer to get the outside of the racks to reach 160 degrees. This will make sure that the thicker center is not as cooked as much. This should take about 2 - 2 1/2 hours, but because you are in a wood oven with less consistent temps, make sure to monitor it.
- Pull the rack of pork out and let it rest at least 10 minutes.
- While the rack is resting, place the roasting pan on your stove top. Add 2 cups of water and, with a wooden spoon, loosen the scraps and veggies in the pan. Add a little flour, or pre-make a roux to thicken the gravy. Strain the chunks and bits and you have a delicious gravy!
Back to the pork:
- Cut the rack along the bones. Serve with the pan gravy.
I served this with mashed potatoes and some roasted carrots. So simple and so good! What a great meal!
Ask Chef Dennis was right! The Montreal Seasoning and the pork go so well together. It's not fair to other cuts of meat and spice combinations. It really isn't. I hope you enjoy this amazing meal. Check out the original recipe on the link above if cooking in your home oven, or if you are lucky enough to have a WFO, then get to this recipe and do it soon. It's a winner and it keeps on giving.
I'll be back with some pizzas made with left over Rack o' Pork with Montreal Seasoning. This is an amazing pizza topping and worth the effort to make and use for pizza alone! And, as I said, I later made a cheesy rack-o-pork, Philly Cheese Pork sandwich that may have put the original to shame.
Asheville Bread Festival This Weekend
This Saturday, April 12th, I will once again be at the annual Asheville Bread Festival (this year marks the 10th anniversary). Harry Peemoeller, Lionel Vatinet, and many other great bakers will also be teaching classes and, as usual, every bread baker within at least 100 miles will be there showcasing their beautiful products. It all takes place at the culinary center of A-B Tech, Magnolia Building and I advise you to arrive by 10 AM when the doors open because the breads (and cheeses and other crafted foods) go fast. I'll be there with some of our Johnson & Wales students, so look for us and come to my demo at 2 PM on sprouted grain flours. It will be a nice sneak preview of my upcoming book, "Bread Revolution," due out in October. Let me know if you're a PizzaQuest follower too -- it's always great to meet our fellow pizza freaks! See you there.
For more details go to:
Also, check back here in a few days for Bob Radcliffe's next installment of his relentless Tomato Pie quest. Based on the number of responses we've gotten, this story is touching a nerve. I first met Bob at the Asheville Bread Festival a few year ago, so the timing is perfect. Onward….
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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.