Roasted Seasoned Eggplant Pizza
Brad English

I remember standing in line late one night, or rather early one morning on New Years Eve, down in Hermosa Beach at one of our favorite local NY Style Pizza by the slice establishments called Paisanos.  I always used to joke with my wife and friends when one of the owners would call out to someone "Hey Paisano!"  I would say, "I thought I was Paisano!"  When they showed up a few years back, when I was a younger man, I would more often than not find myself wandering by, looking for a slice or two after being out for the night...if you know what I mean.   It was nice to have the added ambiance in this NY Style pizzeria here only a block off the beach in Southern California that came with a cast of NY Paisanos who felt at home barking out their indignant proclamations with their freshly imported NY Style attitudes. On this fateful New Years morning I placed my order for my favorite pizza -- their Roasted Eggplant and Sliced Tomato Pie.

Well, it turned out to be the LAST pizza of the night. (I already mentioned that it was late!)  I think we alll know how good a late night slice of pizza can taste.  Now imagine it's the last late night pizza available and there's a line out the door behind you.  My small group of friends formed a wedge as we moved out the door and ran for our lives to catch a cab home!

Yes, that last pizza of the night did hit the spot!  Perhaps this why I love eggplant on pizza so much.  I loved it before this, but since then, there is a more solid connection with the triumphant memory of being the "one" who won the lottery that night with this simple ingredient.  I was recently in our forum looking around and found a discussion where eggplant came up.  It hit me like a ton of bricks!  I couldn't believe I had I waited so long to play with this ingredient in my pizza making at home.  My Paisano memories came flooding back and I knew I had to pick up some eggplant!

To the kitchen!

Roasted Seasoned Eggplant Pizza


Pizza Quest Signature Beer Dough *LINK
Simply Red Tomatoes turned into Peter's Crushed Tomato Sauce
*Any quality canned tomato will work *LINK
Fresh Mozzarella *I used Bel Gioioso's
1 Japanese Eggplant sliced about 1/4" thick
Sliced Tomatoes
Fresh Basil
Olive Oil

*You can/should also add grated Parmesan cheese and Red Chilli flakes at the end.


Peter's Crushed Tomato Sauce is a perfect pizza sauce. Once you make it a few times following his recipe, you can start to do it on your own, just adding what feels right.  This is so simple and tastes so fresh I really don't see any reason to do anything else when I'm using a tomato sauce.  When I first tried it after reading Peter's book, American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza, I literally thought, "This is it! This is the perfect pizza sauce."  Now I know perfect is not possible, but this may be an exception.


Roast the Eggplant:

Get your oven going early, to Pre-Heat your pizza stone to the highest temperature, for at least an hour before cooking your pizzas.  I threw the eggplant into the oven while it was heating up to pre-roast it.

Peel the skin off the eggplant and slice into 1/4" slices.
In a bowl mix the slices with Bread Crumbs and add in some herbs and spices to give them that special touch.  I poured a little Olive Oil and then added some Oregano, Basil, Garlic Powder, Salt, Pepper and actually a little Cayenne because I'm insane.  You'll see I didn't overdo it in the photos. 

I pre-roasted them until browned, pulling them out of the oven in time to allow them to finish up on the pizza (but they do need to soft when you pull them out).  I didn't time this, but think it was about 20 minutes as my oven was already hot.  Check it after 10, 15 etc.


The Prep and Build:

Build the pizza by placing the Crushed Tomato Sauce on the dough.

I added a swirl of Olive Oil to the sauce

Add pinches of the fresh Mozzaarella

Add the Roasted Eggplant

Add sliced/chopped basil after the bake.

Add the sliced tomatoes (Play with the thickness of the tomatoes to affect how much moisture they will hold after baking, but a scant 1/4" thick is probably ideal).


Bake:

Place pizza into the oven.  If you have it, switch the oven over to Convection Bake, which seems to give me a better bake. 

Check the pizza in about 7 Minutes.  When it's done, remove it.

This pizza came out beautifully.  I used a thicker cut on my tomatoes, so the overall pizza, was initially "wet".  But, as it cooled, it settled down.  I added the basil, sliced it up and remembered a simpler time, before kids, late one evening, walking down the street with some friends and a piping hot Roasted Eggplant Pizza from Paisanos.

(*The cayenne was interesting.  Play with the seasoning on the eggplant, it's a great vehicle for flavor.  With the bread crumbs and pre-roasting you also get a little crunchy texture going on after the final bake and even some charred crispy bits.)

Give this a try and send us your own versions with photos and a story!


Enjoy!

 

 
A Tale of Two Flours
Stan Ginsberg

Note from Peter: Our friend Stan Ginsberg and, as of last week, now an IACP award winning author of the wonderful book, Inside the Jewish Bakery, started a small mail order specialty flour company called New York Bakers, to meet the need for those of you who have been searching for hard to find, high quality brands. You can read more about Stan in the Contributor Profiles section. We welcome him now as our newest Guest Columnist, as he tells us a little bit of his own quest to decide which Italian pizza flour he likes best. As you will see, it's not always clear cut. And, for those of you who are bread bakers or want to learn about the history and inside stories of some of America's most famous Jewish bakeries, I highly recommend his book, written with co-author Norman Berg.


When I started The New York Bakers (www.nybakers.com) a little over 2½ years ago, my goal was to offer home bakers the broadest range of non-bleached, non-bromated professional flours I could find. I didn't know what I was in for since there are dozens of professional flours out there. However, I soon earned that despite all the brands, most commercial flours are variations of four main classes: high-gluten (14% protein), bread (12½%), pastry (9½%) and cake flour (8%). I also discovered that the vast majority are produced by a handful of mega-millers –- think General Mills, ConAgra, and Cargill -- and also a number of mid-tier mills like Bay State, and Pendleton Flour Mills. And then there are the small mills, like Heartland and Central Milling, that produce premium flours for artisan bakers. And of course, King Arthur Flour, who contracts with reliable small mills to package to their specifications.

But one category that I really wanted to make available was imported Italian Tipo 00 pizza flour and, of course, the flour I wanted was Caputo, which everything I read described as the ultimate pizza flour, straight from Naples, the epicenter of the Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) universe. So out I went to locate a distributor. I found one in LA (despite our name, we're in San Diego) –- actually it was a bit south of LA proper, in Vernon, which is completely industrial -- no one actually lives there. So I phoned them and talked to one of their sales folks, who said, "Yeah, no problem. We have the Caputo, so come on over and pick it up."

So into my car I went for the 2-hour (optimistically) trek on the SoCal freeways up to Vernon. I have to admit, I was really excited. After all, everything I'd read told me that Caputo was the Holy Grail of pizza flours. So imagine my shock and disappointment when the warehouse guy comes back with several red, white and blue bags that said "Pivetti" where "Caputo" should have been.

"No worries," said the sales guy when I went back to the office to talk to him. "They're virtually identical. Besides, we have lots of customers who love the Pivetti."  What was I to do? I took the Pivetti, drove back down to San Diego and changed my product lineup to read "Pivetti."

Then I did some research and learned that the Pivetti mill, which has been owned and operated by the same family for over 130 years, is in Modena, in northern Italy, well away from Bella Napoli. It’s a city best known for its balsamic vinegar, sausage-stuffed pig feet called zampone (not to be confused with the hockey ice machine), and native son Luciano Pavarotti. "Drat," I thought to myself, "what do those northern Italians know about pizza?"

Of course, I hadn't tried the stuff yet – in fact, I'd never used any authentic Tipo 00 flour – so I proceeded to do so. I used the classic formula for VPN, which was 58% water, 2% salt, 0.3% fresh yeast, no bulk fermentation, and cold retardation of the dough balls of 12-18 hours.
Well, I was blown away. I had been using high-gluten flour, mainly General Mills All Trumps, at 75% hydration and with 5% olive oil, for my pizza doughs, and constantly found myself struggling with tearing. The Pivetti was pure pleasure, even at that low hydration level. The gluten was well-developed, but the most extensible I'd ever worked with; when I stretched it, it stayed stretched, and I could get a 16-inch pizza out of 10oz/280g of dough. I could literally read a newspaper through that crust. So I was a happy camper.

But I couldn't stop thinking about the Caputo. One of my customers in Arizona found a distributor there and started using the stuff. She told me that it was more elastic than the Pivetti, and held its shape better. I was tantalized, like the kid at a store window filled with imagined candy.
Finally, a couple of months ago, my supplier told me that he had the real-deal Caputo in stock and would I be interested. I think I broke the speed limit on my way back up to LA, loaded up the car with several bags of Caputo, plus a couple of Pivetti, and tore back home so I could try out my new found treasure.

It wasn't what I expected. Where the Pivetti was white and fine, the Caputo was more yellow and had what felt like a slightly coarser grind. Where I expected the same degree of extensibility, I found instead greater elasticity, comparable to a mild bread flour like General Mills Harvest King (12% protein) or King Arthur Bread Flour (12.7%). The Caputo formed beautiful round crusts, with a well-defined edge, but the gluten was really evident.

Here's how they compared in my test bake:
Raw flour: The Pivetti flour is a very pale yellow, nearly white, with a very fine grain. The Caputo has a somewhat coarser grain (although still fine, since 00 refers to the grain size and not protein/ash content), and a definite beige/ yellow brown color.
Mixing: The Caputo is definitely thirstier than the Pivetti. At 58% hydration, the Caputo formed a much stiffer dough -- to the point where my Kitchen Aid Pro was laboring on the dough hook. Not so with the Pivetti, which produced a smooth, fairly slack dough.
Benching: I rested both doughs for 20 minutes before dividing it into 280g boules and put each into a lightly oiled plastic sandwich bag.  The dough then went into my wine cooler for 10 hours.  The Pivetti dough increased in size more than the Caputo and was slightly softer to the touch.
Throwing the pizza: Both doughs rested at room temp for 2 hours.  My technique was the same for both doughs: cutting the sandwich bag away so as not to disturb the dough, flouring both sides and using my fingertips to stretch the middle, then shaping the pizza by putting the rim over my knuckles and stretching it to about 16" in diameter -- thin enough to see light through the center.  I then put the dough onto a floured peel, dressed the pizza and baked at 550F for about 6 minutes.
Both doughs were quite extensible, the Pivetti more so because its protein content is clearly lower than the Caputo, which almost felt rubbery and very firm. That said, both doughs threw very nicely, with a nod in the direction of the Caputo for ease of forming a more uniform circle.
The crust: The Caputo crust was denser, chewier and more flavorful than the Pivetti, which sprang nicely in the oven, leaving big air pockets in the rim.  Both crusts were thin and crisp, and biting off a piece of the Caputo pie took more effort than the Pivetti. At the same time, the Caputo didn't seem to hold up under the weight of the toppings as well as the Pivetti, so there was more sag when we picked up the slices. That said, both crusts had distinctive personalities and were excellent in their own way,
Verdict: If you like a chewy crust, not unlike good American pizza (emphasis on good), the Caputo wins hands down. My family and I prefer a crisper, less chewy crust, and the unanimous winner in my house was Pivetti.

Final Note from Peter: What do you think? Anyone have your own opinions of these two or other Italian flours? We'd love for you to comment. This could get us into "Coke or Pepsi?" territory....Meanwhile, check out Stan's full selection of flours at his website, including Central Mills newest blends.

 
A Simple Salami Pizza
Brad English

Sometimes you just want comfort food.  This pizza is comfortable and comforting.  This is a pizza that will warm the cockles of your heart.  There isn't much fanciness about it.  This version isn't what we'd call artisan, or pushing the limits of artisanship anywhere.  It's just good.  It's just sauce, cheese and salami. 

You can, of course, make this fancier.  You can go down to the deli, or your fancy gourmet market and get yourself a funky cool salami with some wild name and it will likely be even better yet.  I would make this with sopressata, speck, a specialty salami, or any artisanal hand crafted salted pork product I can find and each unique product will definitely give this pizza it's own unique expression of what is possible by bringing quality ingredients together and making something bigger than the whole of the parts.

That day I was in the mood for comfort and I was home and didn't want to go shopping.  I had the dough, cheese, tomatoes and some basic sandwich salami -- in a bag.  This salami is meant to process sandwiches for hungry kids and families on the go. It's perfect for a last minute party platter if such an occasion arrises.  Though it's in a bag it's still good!  In my opinion salted/cured pork is by it's nature simply good.

Have you ever seen the Simpson's episode called "Lisa the Vegetarian"?  Homer explains the specialness of pork here better than anyone.  Lisa declares that she is no longer able to eat meat after a visit to a farm where she got to pet some of the little cuddly animals. Here's the "meat" of the conversation (pun intended)…where Homer continues in shock:

Homer:  Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute!  Lisa, honey, are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again?  What about bacon?

Lisa:  No

Homer:  Ham?

Lisa:  No.

Homer:  Pork chops?

Lisa:  Dad!  Those all come from the same animal!

Homer:  [Laughing] Yeah, right Lisa.  A wonderful, "maaaagical" animal! [Laughing]


For the record...I am not saying anything negative here about vegetarians! I love vegetarian pizzas as well.  It's just a shame they don't get to eat this magical animal in all of it's forms - especially the salted/cured ones and the slow barbecued, roasted, or grilled ones! 

Okay, moving on before I bury myself here and alienate half of our readers...



Simple Salami Pizza


Pizza Quest Signature Beer Dough *LINK
Simply Red Tomatoes turned into Peter's Crushed Tomato Sauce *LINK
(*Any good quality canned tomato will work)
Olive Oil
Grated Mozzarella
Sliced Salami
Red Chili Flakes


*Peter's Crushed Tomato Sauce is a perfect pizza sauce. Once you make it a few times following his recipe, you can start to do it on your own, just adding what feels right.  This is so simple and tastes so fresh I really don't see any reason to do anything else when I'm using a tomato sauce.  When I first tried it after reading Peter's book, "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza," I literally thought, "This is it! This is the perfect pizza sauce."  Now I know perfect is not possible, but this may be an exception.


The Prep and Build:

Build the pizza by placing the Crushed Tomato Sauce on the dough.

I added a swirl of Olive Oil to the sauce

Add grated Mozzarella

Add Salami, sliced thin -- your favorite kind, but Genoa is pretty hard to beat

Place pizza into the oven.  If you have it, switch the oven over to Convection Bake, which seems to give me a better bake. 

Check the pizza in about 7 Minutes.  When it's done, remove it. I'm looking for charring on the salami and crust.  I love the little burnt bits and tips of the ingredients and dough!

Hellllo --  look at this!!  I typically don't have an idea of what I want to write when I make pizzas for this site.  I have an idea of what I want to eat, or explore, and when I come back and pull up the photos and think about the pizza I just see how the combination of my notes, photos and memory come together.  For this pizza, my first thought was Comfort Food, simple and fine, perfect for drop in guests (at least the meat eating ones)!  Thanks for stopping by for a visit...

Give this a try and send us your own versions with photos and a story!



Enjoy!

 
Peter's Blog, IACP Conference, First Recap
Peter Reinhart

Last week I spent five exciting days in NYC attending the annual IACP Conference, which I referenced a couple of posts ago (especially for those culinarians among you who may want to join).  I think of it as fantasy camp for professional foodies.  There were over 40 workshops, panels, tasting sessions, field trips, throughout the conference so it was impossible to attend more than a small percentage of them -- which is why so many of us come back every year, to make up for the ones we missed. Here's a list of some of the things I did:
--"Eat the Street," a tour of Queen's famous Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights, considered to be the most diverse street food scene in the world. In our short (but very filling) tasting, we had Tibetan Momo dumplings filled with a tender, spicy meatball; Ecuadorian Bollos de Pescado (a plantain wrapped fish tamale); a classic Elote tamale bought from a little old lady holding an insulated box filled with them; an amazing Columbian cassava (tapioca) and cheese filled roll called Pandebono (chewy and cheesy--I could have eaten them all day and I definely plan on learning how to make them!); one of the most popular and successful street taco trucks, run by Mirna Allone, called Mexico Lindo where the tacos and also the homemade hot sauces and salsas are truly quest-worthy; and then we had a killer street quesadilla at another stand, Las Quesadillas de la 86, which were like the tacos except they were grilled to order on a small outdoor flat grill, serving business men in suits as well as pedestrians like us; and then we washed it all down with a wonderful Columbian rum-spiked coffee called Caraljillo, at a sweet little jazz bar called Terraza 7.

There were other bites in-between -- I can't recall them all -- but we were stuffed by the time we got back on the elevated/subway #7 train and headed back to Manhattan.  I could (and probably will) do a whole posting on this excursion alone, as it fits so nicely in with our Pizza Quest themes, so I'll quickly mention some other conference highlights and return at another time to expand upon my Roosevelt Ave adventure over the next week or two. But let me say thanks to tour leader Andrew Silverstein, who is putting himself through an economics doctoral program by taking people on these street food tours. If interested, contact him at: streetwisenewyork.com  Thanks also to John Rudolph, Executive Producer of the NPR series Feet in Two Worlds, who documents these inspirational immigrant stories on radio (news.feetintwoworlds.org) , and to Fany Gerson, who provided additional commentary from her perspective as a Mexican-born baker and author now living in New York City.

Other highlights (and I can see now I'll really have to do this as a series of blogs since each one deserves more space than I can give here):
--A "conversation on the stage" between author Ruth Reichl (formerly of Gourmet Magazine and before that the restaurant critic for the New York Times) and super chef Grant Achatz (of Alinea and also Next, in Chicago) on future things we might see in restaurants (inclduing food that actually levitates before you eat it!).

--A presentation on the new generation of reinvented Jewish deli's, with Ari Weinzweig (co-founder of the famous Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, MI), author and Jewish food expert Joan Nathan, Ed Levine (pizza expert and founder of Serious Eats), and Noah Bernamoff, owner of Mile End Delicatessen in Brooklyn, an example of this new renaissance in Jewish deli's (he brought along some of his Montreal-style smoked brisket -- pastrami to the rest of us -- which made him instantly one of my favorite people at the conference.

-- A discussion of how traditional recipes from classic French cuisine evolve over time, featuring cooking teacher extraordinaire Anne Willan (of La Varenne), Master Chef Daniel Boulud, and award winning author Dorie Greenspan.

--A presentation on the growing phenomenon of food festivals -- and how hard it is to do one properly -- by folks who have put them on in Austin, Portland, and in Panama.


--A panel on The Fashion of Food, with super-star chef Marcus Samuelsson, Bon Appettit's Editor-in-Chief Adam Rapaport, New York Times food writer Kim Severson, and Susan Lyne, founder of the on-line magazine and food emporium Gilt Taste.

--A panel on how food can make a city famous (that's a big question we keep asking here in Charlotte, as we see cities like Portland Austin, Charleston, and of course, NYC, Chicago, and London accomplishing exactly that).

--A workshop on the next frontier in baking using sprouted wheat flour and other sprouted grains, by Peter Reinhart (hey, that's me -- I'll write more about how this went in a future posting but for now I will say it was a success -- and thank you to the team at the French Culinary Institute for all their help).

--A product and information fair where we got to taste, touch, and see all sorts of new foods and tools.

--Media tours to various magazines, the Food Network test kitchen and studios, and independent production studios.

--And, of course, the grand finale Awards Gala, where Pizza Quest almost won for Best Food Blog.

--Last but not least, time to visit a few of the fabulous NYC restaurants, in my case, Mario Batali's Lupa and new Iron Chef Marc Forgione's called (surprise), Marc Forgione.

More on all of this in coming postings, but for now, I'm still standing, gained only a few pounds because of all the walking I did (NYC is a great walking city!), and I returned home to tell about it. Next week we'll dig a little deeper into some of the key takeaways I got from this adventure. Next year the conference will be held in San Francisco, my old stomping grounds, so you know I'll be there! If this little tease of some of the things that go on at the conference have enticed you, perhaps you will be there as well.

PS If any of you who reading this were also in NYC at the conference, I'd love for you to chime in below, in the comments section, and share some of your own highlights.

 
Pizzeria Crawl on Bleecker Part 3
Brad English

I was having an interesting night. I haven't always been comfortable just going out alone and sitting in a restaurant while surrounded by people who were out together enjoying a social experience.  I don't remember when that changed exactly, but I do remember how it became that much more of a comfortable thing while I was working in New York.  I realized that I liked it in a way because, in this city there is so much going on and it would be a shame to not go experience it all just because you were there alone.

I just had two great pizza experiences in a row, in the span of a couple of hours, and had only walked a couple of blocks.  John's Pizzeria was a throwback to a classic New York style pizza that

 
Asheville Bread Festival 2012
Peter Reinhart

I'm headed to NYC, the Big Apple, for the annual IACP Conference (the first time it's ever been held in NYC -- it moves to a different city every year -- next year it will be in San Francisco). It will be like fantasy camp for foodies this weekend, culminating on Monday at the Awards Gala when we'll find out whether Pizza Quest wins for Best Food Blog of the Year.  Thank you, all who voted for us. The voting closes March 30th, so there's still time. Just go to www.iacp.com and look for the big VOTE sign and click through. We are one of three finalists in the judges category but would love to win the People's Choice award too, which includes dozens of other blogs.  I'll report more on this next week when I return.

But first I want to give a quick recap of last Saturday's Asheville Bread Festival, which was fabulous, as always. I did a demo from the upcoming "Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking," and made gluten-free chocolate pecan cookies and also a walnut, almond sweet bread for the 100 or

 
Mossuto's Fat Lip Pizza
Brad English

I was recently working back in NYC.  I had a number of pizza adventures on this short trip, which I started writing about a few weeks ago, and this pizza recipe is from one of the more interesting visits, which I haven't written about.  I was staying with my good friend Holly, who is like a sister to me.  I grew up next door to her family, where her twin brother Billy and she quickly became my big sister and brother by proxy.  They were five years older than I was and helped "keep me in line" like I kept my younger brother and sisters in line!  Our two houses may as well have been connected by a hallway, that should have been built, to make the trip across the well worn path more hospitable during the cold winter months.  But, that would have ruined the Stoop-Ball court between the houses.

 

Holly was dying to take me out for pizza.  I had just come from New York City where I had lunch at the new Don Antonio by Starita, where I met Roberto Caporuscio (who also owns Keste, one of my favorites), and had a truly unique new pizza for lunch and got to spend some time with Roberto and his daughter Giorgia back in the kitchen.  How can you follow that up?  I am never pizza'd out but I wasn't currently in the mood.  Holly kept insisting we go try this new place.  I wasn't really hungry and frankly, she isn't a pizza fan.  A few days before, she boldly said to me that she wished I was on a Wine Quest instead of a Pizza Quest. What she didn't realize, though, is that I was on one of those also.  The Quest is the "Quest".  Period!  So, anyway, I was a little skeptical of getting dragged out to a Jersey shore pizzeria that night!  She insisted, though, wanting to show me this new place that wasn't far from where we grew up over in Wall Township on Route 35. 

The place is called Mossuto's Market.  It's an Italian Market/Deli turned Market/Deli/Pizzeria/Restaurant.  I'll tell you more about it all in a follow up article, or two.  But, what I want to tell you about now is the new pizza I ran into that night.  Its name is "The Fat Lip" and it's a signature pizza of Biagio Schiano, who is

 
Peter's Blog, March 22nd, 2012
Peter Reinhart

It's hard to believe, but the time has come for another Asheville Artisan Bread Festival, this Saturday, March 24th.  Seems like just yesterday we were there, that I posted some photos here on Pizza Quest, and that we had a chance to celebrate with artisan bread bakers, cheese makers, and other Asheville area craftspeople in the lovely foothills of the Smokey Mountains.  This is our 8th annual event and I've been to every one, usually presenting a demo on whatever my latest obsession is.  This year, I'll be presenting the first sneak preview of recipes from the new book that Denene Wallace and I just finished called The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, published by Ten Speed Press.  The book goes to press in a few days and won't be available until mid-August, but the folks who come to Asheville will get to taste two of the recipes from the book and learn how to make these unique products.  I'll write a lot more about the premise and methodology of the book in future postings but, suffice it to say for now that the recipes are not only gluten-free but also sugar-free and, essentially, carb-free, with zero glycemic load.

 
Pizzeria Crawl on Bleecker Part 2
Brad English

Note from Peter: This is Part Two of Brad's recent personal pizza quest in New York City on Bleecker St in Greenwich Village. Following the lead of guest columnist John Arena's dictum that this was the best pizza neighborhood in the country, Brad had quite an interesting adventure and shares it with us here. If you haven't seen Part One, scroll down the page and begin there -- this new posting picks up from where he left off.

As I walked down Bleecker Street in the light rain, I felt satisfied.  I had just had a storybook first pizza at the famous John's Pizzeria.  I would love to have sat there longer, perhaps ordering another beer and continuing to eat more pizza.  I could have easily turned and walked uptown, dropped under the city streets back into the subway that would take me to my hotel.  But, I had a plan.  I was heading down Bleecker Street on my mini pizza quest (or as I used to term it, a Pizzeria Crawl).

I walked down the street and looked over as I passed a bustling Keste Pizzeria and almost couldn't believe I was walking right by it!  As many of you know, this place has been at the top of my list since I first experienced it.  But, I was inspired by John Arena's article and decided that I wanted to seek out something new this night.  Not far down the block I came to Pizza Roma.  I had forgotten about it being Valentine's Day, but I remembered when I saw Pizzeria Roma.  There were hearts on the window, and even a heart shaped pizza on the inside window display.  This place feels more like a small neighborhood bistro, or cafe, and this one was celebrating holiday!

I thought I would stop in at this point and just try a slice and keep walking down the street.  My plan for the night was to hit John's, Roma and Joe's.  I had a hard time cutting my John's trip

 
Pizzeria Delfina, revisit with Anthony Strong
Peter Reinhart

I mentioned last week that Anthony Strong was recently named San Francisco's 2012 Rising Star Chef for his work at Locanda, Craig Stoll's newest restaurant, located just around the corner from Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina in the part of town they affectionately call, The Gastro. So, in tribute to Anthony's well deserved success and budding fame, and for those who missed this the first time around, we're replaying our visit with him when he was head pizzaiolo at Pizzeria Delfina. In this segment, I sit down with Anthony and Craig as they explain how Pizzeria Delfina evolved out of the original Restaurant Delfina ("If Delfina is John Coltrane, then Pizzeria Delfina is Iggy Pop," Craig says -- I love that analogy!).  You will also hear one of our all time favorite Pizza Quest sound bites, also featured in our introductory webisode at the top of the home page, in answer to the question of why they work so hard and do what they do. As Anthony says, "It's a compounding interest of obsession."

Obsession -- in this context I believe it represents the notion of passion, but perhaps passion on steroids -- is a driving premise of Pizza Quest.  We saw it in Anthony's eyes as we chatted with him and Craig over some potent cups of cappuccino (trust me, it was there both before and after the cappuchino). Craig has it too -- this obsessive streak-- but as an older, mature, James Beard Award winning chef who has already been to the mountaintop, he does a great job of what I call "keeping a lid on his happy." In his own way, though, he too embodies obsessive drive. But as you focus on Anthony in this segment, perhaps many of you can relate to that youthful excitement of discovery, the realization that life is fathomless, opening before us like a springtime tulip; a relentless, enervating, delicious adventure. Anthony and Craig represent bookends, in this regard; the arc between a chef on the rise, at the genesis of what promises to be a great career, and an already celebrated chef who has achieved far more than 99% of the chefs in the world, at the zenith of his success, yet still looking for new mountains to climb and talented young chefs to mentor.

These are the people we look for, the artists we celebrate, whose contagious excitement about their own discovery process leavens the rest of us, whether through the food they feed us or simply the energy that they generate as a result of their obsessive drive on our behalf and that we just want to absorb.

Congratulations again to Anthony -- and also to Craig (and his equally talented wife Annie, the co-creator of the Delfina/Locanda empire)! And, to our viewers, especially the ones who missed this the first time around, enjoy the vicarious thrill of being in their presence and sharing their vision. Fire up your espresso makers and dive in.

 
A Tomato Sauce Sandwich Pizza
Brad English

My Left-overs journey continues with my Cheese Steak Sandwich theme:  I had also grilled up some sausages the previous night, which were sitting in the same container with my Tri-Tip.  Now, nobody would want the sausage to feel left out, would they?  Would you? 

As I mentioned, I was using a can of Simply Red Tomatoes that I was given by Rob DiNapoli.  My first pizza, a Tri-Tip based Cheese Steak Pizza, turned out great.  The tomato sauce was a delicious foundation to this famous pizza sandwich combination.  The tomatoes were bright and tasty and, dare I say, fresh tasting even though they came out of a can.  I recently came upon my first pizzeria where that made their tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes every day.  I will be telling you all about this place soon enough, but it was the first place I had come across that did this.  Quality canned tomatoes are used by so many pizzeria because they are good, or even great, and also consistent.  And, in this case, they were all of the above.  Delicious. 

I wanted to use the grilled sausage and try another version of this concept, basically using the same ingredients as before, but what could I do differently?

What about adding the tomatoes on top after the bake?  I am a huge fan of this concept. If you have been reading my pizza recipe rantings, you'll have seen quite a few examples of this.  The cool ingredient layer, on top of a hot pizza, adds another taste sensation and even a new flavor profile to the experience.  A cool, or room temperature sauce just tastes different than a cooked sauce.  This isn't to say that one way is better than the other.  It is just different.  It is another way to extract flavors in a different way and experience something in a unique way.

My final thought was to make this pizza a little more about the tomato sauce.  A tomato sauce sandwich pizza.  Stay with me.  Let's go make the pizza.

 
Peter's Blog, March 12, 2012
Peter Reinhart

March Madness begins this week in college basketball -- my favorite sporting event of the year, full of last second drama and indelible moments of sports greatness. But it is also a big week for pizza too. Tomorrow, the annual Pizza Expo begins in Las Vegas -- the biggest, baddest pizza show in the world and we're sending the intrepid Brad English to cover it for Pizza Quest. I expect he'll have some terrific stories, adventures, drama, and photos to share with us when he returns. For those of you who are also going to be there, look for him -- he's the big, bald dude with the camera, probably with a slice in the other hand. Introduce yourself to him and let him know your a Pizza Quest fan -- it will make his day!

Hey, I just got an e-mail from the Delfina's Restaurant group and guess what? Our friend and super-obsessive pizzaiolo Anthony Strong, featured in our Pizzeria Delfina series of webisodes, has just been announced by the San Francisco Chronicle as their 2012 Rising Star Chef for his work at the newest addition to the Delfina restaurant constellation, Locanda. We saw his talents at the pizzeria, but now he's on an even bigger, broader stage so if you're in SF, check him out at Locanda and tell him you heard about it here.

Also, and I assume the timing isn't a pure coincidence, Parade Magazine made pizza the cover story for yesterday's edition, which I'm sure many of you saw if you get the Sunday paper.  The article is by the wonderful Jane and Michael Stern, of Road Food fame, so they have true street cred. I'd love to hear your reactions to their honor roll list, which included a few places I've been to (Pizzeria Bianco, Al Forno, Serious Pie) and a lot of places I've never been to (Coletta's in Memphis, Buddy's in Detroit, Dean-O's in Lafayette, LA, DiCarlo's in Wheeling, W.V., Menches Bros in Green, OH, Hot Truck in Ithaca, and Frank's in Silvis, IL). Suddenly, I feel like a Pizza Quest virgin again -- I need to get out more!  For those who know these places, or the others in the Stern's list, or who want to nominate a place not on the list, please write to us here in the Comments section.  It's time to find out where greatness is happening and deserves to be recognized. If you do make a nomination, state your case -- we need to know why it's on the list, not just because you like it but by what criteria you make your claim.  Maybe we can assemble the most worthy nominations into a Pizza Quest Hall of Fame of our own.

So, again, just to be clear, tell us who but also tell us why -- it doesn't have to be long but it does need to be convincing. This is our version of March Madness -- so let the madness begin!!

 
Another Left-Overs Cheese Steak Pizza
Brad English

If you know me, you know I love Tri-Tip or Santa Maria steak and, chances are, you've probably had it a few dozen times off of my grill.  The Tri-Tip cut is mainly a West Coast thing.  It's certainly my thing. As I understand, it used to be a cut of meat that was mainly used to be ground up for hamburger, or used for stew meat.  One day back in the late '50's, at a Safeway Supermarket in Santa Maria, CA, the meat manager decided to throw this whole cut of meat onto the rotisserie with some salt, pepper and garlic salt.  The butcher commented that he was wasting his time, that this meat would be too tough to chew. Instead, after about an hour, what they discovered was something new.  This left-over section of beef, shaped like a triangle (Tri-Tip), turned out to have a whole new texture and flavor profile.  Here's a link to a couple sites for more information on cooking and the history of Santa Maria Tri-Tip.

The first is a great article by Russ Parsons of the LA Times.  I had been using this recipe for some time before I had the chance to meet Russ while filming at Pizzeria Mozza (check out our Pizzeria Mozza webisodes to see his conversion to loving Nancy Silverton's Hawaiian Pizza, something he thought could never happen).  At the time, I didn't even know Russ wrote this article.  One day, I looked at my folded, faded cut-out newspaper article and noticed Russ' name.  Needless to say, I was that much happier having met him - now realizing I was already a huge fan! 

http://articles.latimes.com/2005/jun/29/food/fo-calcook29

Here's another link with a little history about how the cut came to be:

http://www.santamariaelks.com/history/tritip.html

Now, I'm not saying these guys are going to be written up in the history books for this, but they are in my history notes.  There are some great websites out there discussing how to cook a Tri-Tip and I have used it many times to create pizzas.  And, if you like Cheese Steak Sandwiches like I do, then how could you not like a Cheese Steak Pizza?  I can still remember the first time I had a Cheese Steak while I was working one summer for my uncle's moving company.  We pulled into a nondescript strip mall and

 
Pizzeria Crawl on Bleecker Part 1
Brad English

John Arena recently wrote a Guest Column here on Pizza Quest about one of the best areas in the country to go on a pizza tasting tour, or to engage in a personal pizza quest in one single neighborhood.  He doesn't claim that this is the "best" place to go, lest he start a pizza turf war.  Rather, he defines Greenwich Village, NY as a special place that will deliver some of the best and certainly some of the most diverse and interesting pizzerias in one neighborhood that you will find.  I happened to have been headed back to New York the very same week that we published John's article.  I knew I wouldn't have much free time, but then again, I don't need much of a window to seek out a good slice of pizza while in New York.  I always try my best to find something new, as well as to stop in at some of my other favorite places.  In a city this large the list is always growing - especially, when you only get to come in for a visit a couple times a year. 

John had connected me with Scott Weiner of Scott's Pizza Tours.  We tried to figure out a time to get together, but our schedule's weren't lining up.  When my first moment to escape for some "me time" came I targeted Bleecker Street in the Village, where I could practically crawl to hit some of the top pizzerias in the city in short order.  My hotel had a subway stop only steps from the lobby door.  The #1 train took me to within a block or two of John's of Bleecker where I decided to start.  I had always wanted to go there, but my visits to Bleecker had thus far always taken me straight to Keste (if you've been to Keste, you'll know why I kept returning!).  But, tonight I was following John Arena's lead and was going to try a couple new places that he spoke about.  For a winter's night in New York, it was quite pleasant.  There was a light rain just starting that felt like a little mist as the tiny drops began to hit my face while I walked down the street. 

I got to John's and took a few pictures outside and could see through the windows that the place had a simple charm to it that had been worn in over time.  You quickly see just how worn in it is as you notice the carved wooden booths that so many customers, over so many years, have chosen to "decorate."  I looked over the menu and the long list of pizzas.  These are just starting points, or suggestions.  The menu encourages that you build your pie from scratch.  Each suggestion starts with Cheese, then Tomato Sauce and it goes from there.  A few things popped out at me right away: Anchovies, Sausage and Mushrooms.  It was as if these ingredients came off the page at me from different lines.  I didn't find that exact combination, but stopped looking much beyond my realization that this was the pizza I wanted.

I ordered a beer, a simple salad, my pizza and waited.  As a pizza quester this place, on this night, was perfect.  The pizzeria is old, worn, comfortable in a cozy sort of way and just oozes what a New York Pizzeria is meant to be.  It was raining outside, which always makes being inside just a little better.  It's like that difference between reading a book on your couch, or watching a movie when it's raining outside.  The room was busy.  There were a few larger groups, some smaller ones and some couples gathered around the tables in various configurations just talking, eating pizza and enjoying their night out.  I forgot it was Valentine's day here. It felt like any night in what would otherwise be a small neighborhood pizzeria in any city or small town across the world.  

My pizza came and looked terrific.  It said New York to me.  It was the classic New York style pizza that called back to my childhood memories of what defined what pizza was and should be.  This isn't what I would call street slice pizza that I also loved so much.  The coal fired crust separates it there.  But, it was that simple New York Pizza that so many west coast pizzerias just couldn't seem to reproduce for so many years.  You find a decent one, or a good one once in a while, but it's not the same.  Maybe it is the water?  Or, maybe it's an East Coast/West Coast thing?  This could be an interesting Quest series to tackle some day.

My Pizza...

I rarely get to have anchovies on a pizza at home because my family isn't "down" with the concept.  I'll hide a little in here and there, and sometimes get away with it if I chop them up really fine and sneak them into the sauce below the melted cheese, but that's not really a good idea. When they figure it out, it's bad news!  So, these anchovies were that much better!  This pizza had a perfect balance of ingredients: cheese, tomato sauce, anchovies, sausage and mushrooms.  I can't fail to mention the delicious coal fired crust again!  My pizza was a great example of how the simplest ingredients, combined in balance, can create a truly satisfying meal.

I am not here to review Johns.  I didn't speak to anyone about their ovens, or find anything else out about the place.  I was here to experience it.  I grew up in New Jersey and my pizza benchmark is based on this kind of pizza.  This is the city and the style of pizza that laid the foundation of what would later become this more formal quest.  At some point I remembered I was on a little Greenwich Village pizza crawl here and stopped short of eating the whole pie to save room for then next stop.  Let me tell you, that was tough! Johns on Bleeker St. lived up to it's reputation.  I would love to come back and explore the full range of this place some more in the future.

Next stop -- Pizza Roma....

 
Sauteed Jalapenos and Tri-Tip Pizza
Brad English

My in-laws were down one weekend recently.  I had decided to make some pizzas for them.  They were all sitting at the table playing a fierce game of Attack Uno.  I figured it was safer for me to give them all some space as the family battle unfolded.  This may seem to be an ordinary game, but my family, is not ordinary.  This can get serious. 

We had grilled up some Tri-Tip the previous evening and had a good amount of left overs.  I thought I would take advantage of this favorite ingredient of mine that I had laying around.  I'm often just as happy with my second round use of a good Tri-Tip.  One of our favorite meals is a Pepper Steak, which features left over Tri-Tip, Chopped Bell Peppers and Onions all sauteed up with a little oil, salt, pepper and any other herb or spice we feel like throwing in.  Toss this with pasta and you have a happy English Family.  But, this time, I was going to take this to the flatbread.

My kids fought valiantly with their grandparents, their uncle and their mother.  Uno is a high stakes game that lifts my kids up and brings everyone else down to where they are all on the same level - the battle field.  I started to chop ingredients and get a head start sautéing items for the pizzas I was going to make later on.  I sliced up some onions, mushrooms and a couple jalapeños that I had in the fridge.  As the war waged on over at the kitchen table only a couple of yards away I chopped, sliced and snapped pictures in relative peace.

The onions and mushrooms sautéed up without a hitch, or so much as a notice from the family.  Then I decided to sauté my sliced jalapeños.  I noticed a little tearing as I did this.  But, mostly I noticed the Uno crowd getting louder.  They weren't just getting louder due to their competition though.  It started with a single cough.  Then I heard a couple more.  As someone would shout out some game attack charge, it was proceeded by a cough.  Then, the chatter was also followed by a cough.  Pretty soon, the whole group was laughing and coughing as the game got more and more intense.  All at once, we all realized what was happening!  The smoke from the sautéing jalapeños had filled the room with whatever make those babies hot and was bringing tears and coughs and a lot of hilarity to this family gathering!  They spiced up our food later, but definitely had a spicy effect on the game too.  Needless to say, when we all realized what was going on, we laughed our heads off as we then opened all the doors and windows.

It was all worth it.  I had some nice rare pieces of Tri-Tip and when it all came together with the jalapeños, I created a pizza that was "perfect".  I know that perfection isn't really possible, but

 
Pizzeria Mozza, Redux
Peter Reinhart

This week, because we've had so many new visitors to Pizza Quest, we've decided to re-post one of our earliest video webisodes, from Pizzeria Mozza, in Hollywood.  I chose this particular segment because Matt Molina, who is the Executive Chef at Pizzeria Mozza, fills us in about what it's like to be working under the tutelage of owners Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali and we also get some great shots of the beautiful pizzas that come out of those glowing wood fired ovens. For those who never got to watch the whole Mozza series, this segment should get you fired up to go to our Webisodes section and look over the whole list (the actual list is located at the bottom of each of the two pages in this section, and all the Mozza links are at the bottom of the second page).

Matt, who has been working for and with Nancy since he was 20 years old (he's over 31 now), first at her James Beard Award winning restaurant Campanile, and now at Pizzeria Mozza, oversees a full team of pizzaioli who have to turn out not only hundreds of world class pizzas daily (their Hollywood customers won't settle for less than the best), but also an array of inventive side dishes and killer desserts. One of the recurrent themes we've explored throughout the past year here on Pizza Quest is the necessity of the presence of a key person, an artisan, to be at the center of the pizza experience.  It's enough of challenge when this all falls to one person, an artiste who controls every single pizza, but most pizzerias are too big and busy for this and must rely on a team of well-trained pizzaioli, and each member of that team carries the whole reputation of the restaurant on his or her shoulders. In the case of Pizzeria Mozza, the transmission of the artisan spirit must travel from Nancy (and Mario, though Nancy is the pizza visionary while Mario focuses on the menu at Osteria Mozza next door),  through Matt, and then through him to his team. We've seen the same challenge at other places we've featured such as Pizzeria Delfina and Tony's Pizza Napoletana and, of course, at many other pizzerias we've not yet featured in webisodes. We also have all seen how at some of establishments, when this transmission breaks down so does the reputation of the restaurant.  You can tell from Matt's personality that he'd be a great guy to work under, that he takes his responsibilities seriously, and it's obvious from the consistency of the pizzas that emerge from the almond wood-fired brick ovens that the transmission of the original spirit definitely gets through to everyone.

If you enjoy this segment, as I think you will, please go back through all the Mozza episodes, including a visit to the famous La Brea Bakery where the doughs are made (about 700 every day -- that's a lot of pizza!), a session with Matt making us some pizzas, and also watch our sit-down with Nancy Silverton and well-known food writers Russ Parsons, and Kristine Kidd.  These segments convey far more than I can in written words the excitement that great pizza evokes in all of us.

You'll notice that I used that word, great, intentionally. The pizzas at Mozza are among the greatest in the world, in my opinion, and this greatness is a result of more than any one thing or one person, but it all starts with a vision and a visionary who is committed to greatness. We all know of such places and people, and we take great joy here at Pizza Quest in celebrating them and sharing them with you.

 

 
Learning From the Ancients
John Arena

As students of pizza we spend a lot of time trying to uncover the “secrets” of past masters. We are constantly trying to reach back into antiquity with the assumption that there was a “golden age of pizza” and that it is our duty to resurrect these honored traditions. To a certain extent there may be some truth in that belief. But let’s not ignore the possibility that some of our longing for a so called “true” or Vera Pizza may not be as justified as we hope.  I am referring specifically to the ingredients that we select.

Modern modes of transportation have made the world a smaller place It is now much easier to access the ingredients that we assume are being used in Italy. Coupled with that assumption is the belief that ingredients from Italy are of the highest quality and will produce the best pizza. Certainly in many cases the food products of Italy are outstanding, but let’s take a closer look:

We have all used or heard about the celebrated “00” Flour of Campania.  It is usually very good and, for certain applications, it is the right choice for pizza; but don’t make the mistake of

 
Peter's Blog, February 24th
Peter Reinhart

Hi again.  We've kept a lot of recent postings on the home page because we've been getting a number of new viewers and one thing I've noticed is that most people tend to stay on the home page rather than explore the archives or section categories (I know this thanks to Google Analytics!!). So, we're going to leave things up as long as we can before they automatically default to the archive section to allow as many of you as possible to catch up to some of the ongoing topic points. But I do encourage you to visit the various sections, as you will find lots of golden oldies there and, to our great surprise, we've been astonished to see how much material we managed to post in just over a year. If I didn't have a conflict of interest I'd say, "Quite impressive!"  Oh look, I said it anyway.

One of the recurring themes that you will see in these past (and future) postings is the celebration of the artisan spirit and what we think is their expression of greatness, whether in pizza or in any pursuit.  Chris Bianco once told me that he's tired of hearing the word "passion" bandied about so frequently when it comes to greatness because he doesn't think it is the vital defining quality that everyone else thinks it is. I believe I know what he means and, perhaps, a better way to utilize that passion word is to frame it within a larger definition of greatness. Passion probably is, as Philosophy 101 would term it, a necessary but not sufficient cause. Passion, as many of us might also say, has become a cliche. And here on Pizza Quest one of the things we strive to get beyond is cliche. So the question still stands: what is the defining quality of greatness?

We've focused in these articles and webisodes on technique, method, ingredient quality, the virtues of local, organic, wholeness (as in whole grain), authenticity, tradition, and, of course, on passion. I've cited another quote of Chris's that he gave me when I was writing "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza," when I asked him what was the secret to his amazing pizzas; his response was (after citing the quality of the ingredients and the dedication of his growers and suppliers as necessary but not sufficient causes), "It's me, I'm the secret. I can teach people my tricks and techniques but I can't teach them to care as much as I care," and this drills down a bit closer to the core of the matter. But we're still always drilling even deeper, trying to capture that elusive something that would answer, once and for all, "What is the secret to greatness?" Yes, caring more than anyone else is yet another necessary but not sufficient cause, but even that doesn't scratch the itch beneath the itch. So what is it then?  Do you see why we call it a quest?

I'm a firm believer that the most important things we strive for are ordained to be elusive, like a carrot on a stick and even when we find what we're looking for we rarely recognize it in the moment, and then we realize, later, that now it's just behind us, a memory. That's what most people refer to as nostalgia, looking back to happier or significant times with a kind of regretful longing, as if things will never be quite that good again. But a truer, deeper, and more literal meaning of the word nostalgia (and I've written about this in earlier blog postings) means, "A longing for one's true home, yet to come."  C.S. Lewis is my go to guy for this one and he believed that this longing is more a forward thrusting, not a backwards glance to the past, though the emotions this longing evokes are often similar. Whether it touches upon a distant memory or is an intuition of a memory not yet experienced, outside the realm of time but nevertheless a future reality -- well, those are two sides of the same coin, and another vague and ambiguous way of defining that coin is "soulful."  Yet even as I write these words I'm reminded, again, that the more we try to define it in words the more elusive it becomes. But an encounter with it somehow rings within our own beings, our souls, and whether in the moment or after the fact, we recognize it when we see it.  We've been defining this encounter as "memorable," as a way to distinguish it from other experiences that are merely good, status quo, or expected. An "abnormal, memorable moment that opens a door into a longing for something true, something lasting, maybe even eternal, maybe home...,"  and then it's just out of reach again, and it becomes an inconsolable longing.

And that's why the search for the perfect pizza is both a great metaphor and also an earthly delight. Because, fortunately for us, in this quest we do have a chance from time to time to encounter a real, literal slice of nearly heavenly joy and to establish new reference points and new memories for greatness, even if we can't quite put our finger on the words. And then we get to start again....

 
A Pizzeria Basta Market Menu Pizza
Brad English

When I make a few pizzas, the one I often end up liking the best was the one that wasn't planned so much, but just sort of came together.  This pizza may have been born because I was in a store and something caught my eye.  I might have come across a new pile of chili peppers.  I might have sampled 5 or 6 salted pork products and found something interesting.  Or, I may have had something at home that spurred an idea or tied some of the other ingredients I had shopped for together. 

This favorite pizza of mine is more often than not the "Last Pizza" I made. It's my left over ingredient pizza, or my "idea pizza."  It's the one where I let chance or even fate drive the story of the pizza I am creating.  This is a fun pizza to make.  It comes together a little more organically, as if you said to yourself that you felt like pizza that day and went out to the garden to see what you could find.  The "Last Pizza" is truly a creation from scratch.  When you hit a home run, or sometimes a grand slam with this pizza, it's a little more special because there is just a touch more discovery here than when you follow a recipe.  I think there is a bit of this in all the pizzas we make, which may be why we're on a quest here.

Kelly Whitaker at Pizzeria Basta has a list of pizzas on his menu that are always there like most restaurants. As a customer, you know you can get your favorite pizza, which is what we often crave. He also has a Market Menu that is driven by this same concept of cooking with the most fresh and interesting ingredients you can find. I love that in a restaurant.  It makes me feel that the chef is thinking and touching the process and, more importantly, caring about it.  If I were a chef, I would certainly want to cook this way.  They spend a lot of time developing the menu designed to satisfy their customers.  But, I think that a chef would enjoy this process of discovering and creating something new even more than I do with my "Last Pizza".  To Kelly, I imagine this is what the Market Menu provides for him. And, if you're like me, it provides a great option as a customer to enjoy something new at a familiar place.

I will probably continue to visit Basta's website (www.pizzeriabasta.com) to see what new Market Menu pizzas Kelly and his team come up with.  After all, I am just a home cook; Kelly is the chef and I am happy to follow his lead and make and share his pizza ideas.  Interestingly, as I choose to make my versions of Kelly's Market Menu Pizzas in the future, they will become my planned pizzas and, while I'm out shopping for those ingredients, I will keep an eye out for something different for my own new Last Pizza for that day!

Looking at his Market Menu pizza online recently, I could see that this was definitely a gourmet ingredient driven pizza.  First of all, he is using the Bianco Dinapoli Organic Tomatoes.  I did a series of recipes using these - just a simple crushed tomato sauce with nothing added, and it was almost unbelievable how good they were.  In fact, my son Owen commented that day on how great my sauce was.  It was such hard work for me.  I opened the can and squeezed the tomatoes into a bowl by hand. How pure is that? 

He also used a nice salami that

 
Peter's Blog, Feb. 17th, 2012 -- Great News!
Peter Reinhart

Yesterday was my birthday and among the terrific gifts I received, including a fabulous dinner with Susan at Charlotte's  delightfully romantic Passion8 Bistro -- a real gem of a place -- I got some especially great news: Pizza Quest has been nominated by the International Association of Culinary Professionals (the IACP) as one of three finalists for best food blog of the year! Here's a link to all the nominees in the book and media categories: http://eater.com/archives/2012/02/16/iacp-announces-2012-food-writing-finalists.php

I'll be in NYC for the annual IACP Conference, where the winners will be announced at the awards gala on April 2nd, and where I will also be doing a demo presentation on sprouted grain flours on April 1st. The IACP is an amazing organization,

 
The Best Pizza Neighborhood?
John Arena

Answering The Big Question

We are all very lucky that the quest for pizza excellence involves some really interesting and (usually) very tasty field research. In fact, although I grew up in a pizzeria I didn’t really start to understand my craft until I began traveling, observing and, most importantly, eating pizzas around the country and around the world. Those journeys, over more than 40 years of pizza obsession, have not only resulted in memorable food experiences,  they have also been the catalyst for some of my most valued relationships. including a treasured friendship with Jonathon Goldsmith of Chicago’s Spaccanapoli. So, as a fairly well traveled pizza lover, the question I am most often asked is, “Which city has the best pizza?” This is a question that can turn the most timid soul into a valiant defender of civic pride. It is also, in my opinion, the exact WRONG question for an aspiring pizza maker or a motivated pizza veteran to be asking. Let’s face it, taste is subjective and in the modern era just about every city can contain some hidden gems along with a collection of pretenders and old timers resting on their laurels. For me a visit to a place like Home Slice in Austin Texas, with all of its quirky charm, can be as exciting as a trip to one of the venerable pizzerias of Naples.

 

So, let’s put aside the question of “Best” which we know can never really be settled and focus on a more relevant question for those of us looking to make better pizzas. What is the best city to visit if you want to improve your pizza knowledge and experience and even your own skill? The answer to that question can not only provide an interesting destination, it will save you a fortune in international travel and put you on a path to inspired pizza making.

While the world is full of great pizza cities, there is one place that offers a glimpse of our art -- past, present and future. In fact, it is not even a city but a particular neighborhood. In one small enclave within just a 10 minute walk you can experience an evolutionary timeline of pizza making. That place is… Greenwich Village in New York City. OK, I can hear the groans going out from Boston to Phoenix, but remember I am not making a judgment about who has the best pizza. I am simply stating that Greenwich Village is the best place to visit for a one-stop pizza education. Sure Wooster St. in New Haven is the home to several great pizzerias, but they are all doing essentially the same thing. Chicago has, in recent years, developed some real pizza diversity but you would have to travel all over the city to visit them. For shear pizza concentration there is no single place on earth that compares to “the Village”.

Start out at Keste, where they are making traditional Neapolitan pizza that would bring tears to Queen Margherita’s eyes. Roberto Capporuccio’s skill will inspire you with some of the best renditions of the classics and some modern variations that are bringing new life to pizza making in Italy. Step across the street and you are at John’s, the landmark coal oven pizzeria that is a time capsule of the days before cheap slices and a million places named Ray’s became synonymous with New York style pizza. Places like John’s and Arturo’s, another coal-fired place a few blocks away on Houston St., will give you an idea of how pizza started to evolve when it got to America.

If you want to see how the very same thing happened as pizza traveled from Naples to Rome, simply step back across the street to Pizza Roma and experience the wide variety of creative pizza toppings that have taken the Eternal City by storm at places such as Pizzarium. Pizza Roma will verify that culinary self- expression is as common in Italy as it is here. Now walk a few blocks to Joe’s for a great rendition of the classic NY pizza slice. This is terrific example of the post World War Two street slice that is most often associated with New York style pizza. Enjoy their thin crust pizza and, while you are there, grab a slice of “Sicilian” pizza, the thick, square-pan pizza that most closely resembles “housewives” pizza in Italy. If you want to see the pie that inspired that style, walk a few blocks over to Ben’s on the corner of Thompson and Spring St. and order a slice of the “Palermo”. This is one of the true pizzas of Sicily, no mozzarella, just a thick sauce heavy with sweet onions (in the old country they also dissolve some anchovy in the sauce), rich with olive oil and topped with grated cheese and bread-crumbs. In Sicily they call this sfincione, a regional variation that could be considered the grand-mother of pan pizza. Still hungry? Catch a sample of modern international pizza at Slice on Hudson St. where Miki Agrawal is putting a new spin on pizza with healthy pies inspired by her Indian/Japanese heritage.
The whole trip will take one afternoon, give you new insights, fill you up, and save you a fortune in plane fare. More importantly, field trips like this will reinvigorate your personal pizza quest and inspire your own contributions to our craft.

*Pictures courtesy of Scott Wiener of Scott's Pizza Tours.

http://www.scottspizzatours.com/

 
Kelly's White Pizza
Brad English

I'm currently exploring some of Pizzeria Basta's great pizzas.  The word Basta means "enough" in Italian.  I think that word offers a great insight into Kelly's cooking in general.  With Basta he created a pizzeria restaurant that showcases delicious foods in a simple and pure way.  He also wants everything to be "touched by the fire," so literally everything eventually sees some time in his custom wood fired oven, either from start to finish, or as a finishing touch like his Sous Vide Beef Ribs that slowly cook under pressure for up to 72 hours, and then see the intense heat of the wood fired oven just long enough to add the crispy charred outer layer that completes the dish.  He allows his ingredients to speak for themselves and blends them beautifully.

I think Kelly's concept of "Enough" speaks to the simplicity, balance, and purity of the tastes he is striving to share with his customers.  When you watch him preparing a dish (we hope to bring you more videos of that soon), you see that he is taking those elements into consideration at every step.  He doesn't just place an ingredient on a pizza.  You see him staring, almost analyzing each move he makes.  You can imagine that in his mind you'd be hearing "That's just right.", or "Enough" when he places his basil down, or adds a touch of salt, or even the amount of cheese he lays across a pie.  The bottom line is that he cares about what he is doing and that transforms ordinary quality ingredients into something great.

I love that about his cooking.  It brings a true balance to all of his food.  He allows each ingredient to be tasted and yet become something more when brought together.

Enough!

One of the perfect pizzas on his menu that celebrates this philosophy is the White Pizza.  It is dough, cheese, basil and a little garlic.  That's simple perfection.  You'll see below how, in my version, I added a little more than enough of one ingredient.  Although my pizza was fantastic I came away with a better understanding of what Kelly was striving for because of my own lesson in finding balance.


Kelly's White Pizza


- Peter's Classic Pizza Dough *See archives for recipe
- Peter's Herb Oil *See archives for recipe
- Ricotta
- Mozzarella
- Parmesan
- Sliced Garlic
- Whole Fresh Basil Leaves

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to highest temperature (550 on most home ovens) for at least 45 minutes to an hour prior to baking in order to get your pizza stone up to the right temperature.

Spread out your dough and place it on your well-floured pizza peel.

Add a little Herb Oil to the dough - Hint: use just "enough"!

Add the Mozzarella and pinches of the Ricotta cheeses.  Consider how they will melt together to determine the amount you want.

Add a little thinly sliced garlic

Drag your basil leaves through the garlic oil to coat and place them on the pizza.  In fact, if you are doing this, you may even omit the step where you add the herb oil to the dough.  I think this alone will be "enough".  I like the way the basil comes out when it has some oil on it.  It stays a little more moist and also gets crispy.

It's time for the oven.

This one baked for 7 minutes on Convection Bake - which adjusts my temperature down to 525 degrees.

Looks nice! It has a nice deep colored crust and a little charring.

Add a little Sea Salt and you are good to go.

The crust is puffy and the pizza has some nice caramelizing all around.  It is delicious.  You experience the warm crust followed by the garlic cheese and the then aromatic basil chimes in as a finishing note. 

*Note: As I said above, my version had a little too much oil.  Next time, I would adjust the amount I used on the crust back a little bit.  I don't know if Kelly used a little oil on his crust - it's not listed in the ingredients on the menu.  I added it because I love what this herb oil does - especially on simple cheese featured pizzas, so I almost always add it if I'm not using another sauce. 



 

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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.

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