Spicy Roasted Pistachio Pizza
I was shooting a scene for a commercial recently on a sidewalk in Beverly Hills. Between set ups, I wandered into a juice bar and found a little jar of spicy Mediterranean pistachios sitting on the counter. I bought them as a snack, but as soon as I tasted them, I thought "Pizza"! These would make a great option for a pepperoni-like vegetarian pizza. Pistachios add a nice crunch that can almost be "meaty" in their nuttiness and with these spicy ones, I was thinking it would be as interesting as using a spicy salty porky product that I love so much!
Let's get to the pizza. This one came out great! I ended up making 2 variations of this pizza. For the second variation I added some sautéed broccolini, which was a great addition.
The Spicy Pistachio Pizza
Peter's Country Dough
Herb Oil - for the tomatoes and to drizzle on the dough
Halved Garden Cherry Tomatoes
Chopped Italian Parsley
*2nd Pizza options:
Sauteed Broccolini with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper
Peter's Neo-Neopolitan Dough
The cherry tomatoes will become an ingredient in this pizza, but also function as the sauce. Slice them in half and cover with Herb Oil to coat and marinade. You can do this in advance. For this pizza, I just laid out the tomatoes for this pizza and drizzled some olive oil and sprinkled a little dried basil over the top before baking.
Add the grated mozz and pinches of goat cheese.
Lay some sliced shallots around the pizza and sprinkle on the pistachios.
That's it. Into the oven.
*An interesting thing happened to my pizza on the way to the oven...
I pre-heated the wrong oven! My pizza stones, steel and pizza grate are all stored in my lower oven. I accidentally pre-heated the top oven. Uh oh! I was sitting there with a pizza on the peel ready to go. By the time I could get one of the stone/steels into the upper oven and got it up to temperature, my pizza would be wet and stuck to the peel. Besides, I didn't have all day.
It was then that a lightbulb went off.
I took the cold Baking Steel out of the lower oven and placed it on the stovetop. I turned the two burners to high and it got really hot in just a few minutes. With some hot hands, I then placed the hot steel into the hot oven and in went the pizza.
This is one great reason to have a metal pizza surface around like the Pizza - Baking Steel or the new cast aluminum Pizza Grate. i love cooking on my Forno Bravo extra thick pizza stone, but these other products offer some options to play with.
In about 7 minutes I pulled the pizza. Success! Nicely done. I sprinkled some chopped Italian Parsley over the top and added some of my favorite Chili Sauce from 800 Degrees Pizzeria. Delicious! The pistachios were like little toasted pepperoni nuts! Awesome.
For my second version of this I used Peter's Neo-Neopolitan dough and added some sautéed broccolini. Again, delicious.
Two great vegetarian pizzas with some "chops" to stand up and be counted amongst the saltiest and spicy meaty of meatiest pies!
*There are additional photos of the 2nd pizza in the gallery. The broccolini added a nice juicy texture and flavor to this pizza.
Wood Fired Bo Ssam Miracle
Happy New Year!
This is my first belated post in this calendar year we've now entered. 2014! It can be a wonderful thing to start into a new year. There are all of our hopes and dreams before us. Yet it's also bittersweet because we are leaving behind yet another moment of our lives, or a measure of time. Time seems to move faster and faster as we get older. Ever since my wife and I had children things have really seemed to speed up. I feel like Snake Plissken in Escape from New York sometimes. It's as if I'm being forced to watch a giant red digital timer on my wrist counting off each second, each minute of my life! Tick tock, tick tock...
When we're younger we think our life clock is counting forward. Life is ahead of us. A big realization for my wife and I came when our second child came along. Upon closer inspection, we realized this giant obnoxious wrist timer was actually tick-tocking backwards! The thing was counting down not forward! We realized these kids, even this newest little baby, were working their way out the door to leave us. This changed things! Our baby, our daughter was now looked at with a little more suspicion! She actually wants to leave us because she thinks her clock is ticking forward.
It's really unfair!
That's the cycle of life I suppose. We all go through it, experiencing time differently throughout our lives. We seem to be always trying to get somewhere or too something and then at some point when things change, or come to an end we wish we had not rushed through them. Perhaps it's impossible to not do that ultimately, but because these measured moments in time come and then go, I try to remember to focus on not only being where I am at that moment, but also at least as much as where I've been and where I'm going.
"Ok pizza guy, get to the point!" You're off the rails!" Ok, ok! What about this Bo Ssam Miracle?
Where does my Wood Fired Bo Ssam Pork fit into this? It's funny how that works. I couldn't possibly have pre-planned this introduction to my latest attempt at "perfecting" David Chang's Bo Ssam pork. I just woke up early this morning after a busy holiday and the beginning of another new January and made myself a cup of coffee and sat down to write. I realized what this meal meant to me as I looked at the photos and thought about our friends Kurt, Kim, Ryan and Mitchell that we shared this feast with. It was a moment in time we shared with good friends and our families that was now gone.
To my mind, the best meals aren't the ones made by a master chef, or the best cooks in the best restaurants -- though they can be. Great meals are the ones that become memorable because they were part of a moment in time where you shared it all with a connection with your family or friends. It's about good food for sure, but it's also about the people and even the place. It's the overall experience that makes food and meals memorable. The first time I made David Chang's version of Bo Ssam pork was one of those perfect nights with good friends, good food, and some good beer that combined became a memorable stamp in time! Perhaps a miracle?! I've had quite a few of these moments around David Chang's cooking. While in NY on various trips, I've been lucky enough to find myself sitting in Momofuku Noodle Bar, or the Ssam Bar with friends and being blown away by how simple and good the food was.
I am not going to go deep into the recipe here because you can find it online, or in one of David Chang's books - which if you buy it at one of his restaurants comes signed, which I think is a nice touch! Here is a link to a New York Times article called "The Bo Ssam Miracle". The recipe is simple - it just takes some time in the oven.
My wood fired Bo Ssam Pork...
For this attempt at finding this "miracle", I decided I would try to cook the pork in my Primavera - Wood Fired Oven. The original recipe calls for 6 hours in the oven at 300 degrees. As I learn to take create different meals in my Primavera, I figured this 6 hour roast would be perfect to take this long road trip with my oven and work to keep it at a relatively low temperature for a long time. I fired the oven with a small fire and let it go for about an hour. At that point the oven was getting pretty hot, but I figured it was still absorbing heat and once I cut it down, I wanted enough residual heat stored in the walls to keep the process going for the duration. After the temps were approaching pizza temps, getting up to over 700 degrees in the dome, I put the door on to kill the fire and see where the ambient temperature was. I then pulled a lot of the coals out to allow it to cool down a bit more. I tinkered with it for about another hour or so while going back and forth and getting the pork ready in the pan.
As you see, I had a lot of pork in that pan! It was about 14 pounds and just barely fit.
With the door closed the temperature gauge on the door read exactly 300 degrees which is right where the recipe calls for it to be in a regular oven. I added a small piece of wood to the coals and got it to catch fire. Since I was using the WFO I figured I may as well let it do what it does -- adding some fire and smoke to the process. In went the pork. After about 15 minutes I closed the door to extinguish the fire and create some smoke.
After an hour I checked the roast and turned it. I then left for my daughter's soccer game! My pork was important, but well, you know how I said the whole family and friend thing is at least equally important with time and life ticking away -- so, off to soccer! Besides, the oven was doing all the work, I would just be pacing back and forth trying to look busy.
I came back almost 2 hours later and rotated the pork again and basted it. The temp was still holding and it hadn't burnt to a crisp! I let this baby run the full 6 hours since the temp was ever so slowly falling from 300. At the 6 hour mark, I pulled it and covered with foil. Since we were having dinner at our friend's house, we wrapped the package and hit the road.
Luckily we live in an area with great Korean and Asian markets! Kim did the shopping for the sides and ingredients for the Bo Ssam Sauces while I attempted to coax the Primavera into delivering the perfect roasted Bo Ssam Pork ever made…again!
When we got there with our package we made the Ginger Scallion Sauce and the Ssam Sauce as well as a spicy brewed fish sauce with Thai chillies. Kim picked up some great stuff at the market for sides: kimchee, seaweed salad and a few other Korean side dishes like a Seasoned Omasum (tripe) and some other spicy pickled veggies as well.
The pork was finished in Kim's home oven where we caramelized the brown sugar and salt mixture on it and then pulled the pork apart and plated it and the feast began! The thing I love about this meal besides the juicy salty-sweet pulled pork and the tangy pickled kimchee and side dishes and the warm rice in the cool lettuce that cups and the insane spicy and earthy sauces is that it is a meal that is meant to eat in a free for all style! It's a family style meal. It's a shared meal. It's a working meal - with everyone talking and passing plates and ingredients and eating with their hands and laughing and drinking and just having a good time with each other and with their food! I'd call that a miracle for sure.
We sat and began eating and continued drinking some wine and beer and after a short period the smells and our laughter began to draw the kids from their various activities around the house. As I sat there, I couldn't help but smile as I realized we were having another one of those moments…a moment that would remain with us, but was quickly going to pass into time.
Kim's Family Brewed Fish Sauce Recipe:
- Fish Sauce
- Thai Chillies
- Chopped Garlic
In a saucepan over medium heat add equal parts Fish Sauce, Water, Vinegar and Sugar. Add some chopped garlic and chopped Thai Chillies and stir until sugar melts. Be careful not to let it boil over!
Serve at room temperature. May be stored in a covered jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
*Note: For those cooking in a Wood Fired Oven, I suggest using a remote thermometer for this. I think I got comfortable because my temperature gauge was exactly 300 degrees for hours. With my diversion to a soccer game and the temp being right on the money, I let this ride. The top of the pork was a little dry (not ruined), but the middle, sides and bottom were perfectly juicy. That is part of the fun cooking with a wood oven, or over a fire on a grill. Isn't it?!! You have an added challenge which requires experience, skill, and the use of your instinct a little more than punching the keys BAKE - 3 - 0 - 0 - START. Love it!
I hope you all try this amazing recipe. I realize that though I've eaten at several of David Chang's restaurants numerous times, I have not had a chance to try his own version of this! I can't wait. It's now on my official list of things to do. We'll see how he does compared to us! Haha
In the meantime though…it's only a matter of time before I fire up the oven again and gather some friends.
The next miracle is waiting!
*I keep meaning to make this recipe and save some of it to make a pizza with. Once again, I have failed in my attempt to keep anything left over. I guess we'll have to try it again!
It's been a busy time for all of us here at Pizza Quest so I wanted to fill you in on what I've been up to and what will be coming in the next few months. I've been working on the final stages of my new book for Ten Speed Press, all about coming developments in the world of bread and flour, and will be soon shooting the photos with the Ten Speed creative team. The book is due for publication in October, but what I'd like to do in the coming blogs is to give you some sneak previews of what the book will cover -- not the recipes (I have to save them till publication), but the flour developments and fascinating stories and people that I've been discovering during my research.
What has this to do with pizza and Pizza Quest? By now, you should know how I feel: anything that affects dough automatically has implications in the pizza world (remember, for me pizza is 90% about the crust and only 10% about the toppings, though others might disagree). In the new book there will, of course, be some new pizza and focaccia dough recipes.
But that's enough of a teaser for now. I just wanted to share with you what's been happening and why I haven't been posting as often as I'd like. I want to thank Brad English for all the amazing posts he's done in the meantime, creating new pizzas and exploring wherever his own pizza muse has taken him. If I were a pizzeria operator I'd be writing down some of his ideas and using them. (Hey, wait, I am a pizzeria operator -- Brad, thanks for all the great ideas. Mind if I steal them?). I know he has a new post coming in a few days that will rock your socks, so check back soon. Also, I apologize to some of the guest columnists who sent me columns that I just haven't had a chance to edit and post. I promise to get back to those as soon as I put this book to bed.
I'll start my own blog reports after I return from the photo shoot at the end of February, and will share the highlights of that adventure, where I'll be making breads for the camera with some of the best bakers in America. I'll be in the SF Bay Area so you know I'll be checking out some of the new food developments there, such as Tony Gemignani's new pizzeria in Sonoma County, my old stomping grounds, and just a few miles down the road from my former bakery, Brother Juniper's.
More news soon, but be on the lookout for some fun posts in the coming days and weeks.
Ciao for now!
Don Antonio by Starita opening in Atlanta
I haven't been to Atlanta, where my brother lives, for quite awhile. But, I just got word that Roberto Caporuscio is opening a new Don Antonio by Starita there. I have been lucky enough to meet Roberto and even luckier to have eaten a number of his pizzas in NYC! I think I now have a new excuse to go visit my family in Atlanta.
I thought I would spread the word as Roberto helps spread artisan pizza around the world!
Below is link to the article I wrote about visiting Don Antonio in New York, where I enjoyed their famous Montanara Starita, which is a lightly fried dough topped with tomato sauce, smoked buffalo mozzarella, and finished in the wood fired oven. If you haven't tried a fried dough, you will be pleasantly surprised by it's lightness, it's crisp crust, and warm soft interior. If any of you have a chance to check it out, let us know here in the comments section how you liked it!
Don Antonio by Starita
102 West Paces Ferry Road NW
Here's a link to my visit to the New York pizzeria…enjoy!
Happy New Year Everyone!
Yes, another year has flown by, full of adventures, trials and tribulations, and, of course, great pizza! Brad and I will back with new postings throughout the coming year and plan to keep this journey alive (the quest never ends...). I have no photos to share with you today, as we approach the dropping of the big ball in a few hours, just a few year end thoughts and thanks.
First, a few shout outs: I've heard that our friend Tony Gemignani, whose terrific videos are alive and well in our Webisodes section, has expanded his pizza empire to include appearances on TV's Bar Rescue and opening a whole bunch of new pizzerias including in my old back yard, Sonoma County, where I will be checking it out in February when I'm back out there. If I still lived there I'd probably be hanging out regularly at the newest Tony's -- if any of you have been there yet (it's in a new casino in, I believe, Cotati or Rohnert Park), please comment below and let us know how it compares to the original in North Beach SF. Congrats to you, Tony -- keep them coming! (Many of you know that I enjoy analogies and I've often referred to Tony as the "Mozart of pizza" since he works at such a high level in so many styles, not to mention his acrobatic dough tossing awards and, now, TV. He was a star before I ever met him and his light keeps getting brighter. I can only assume that the next step for him will be his own TV show.
A special tip of the hat to our Johnson & Wales students here in Charlotte, a number of whom recently prepared all the food for our JWU 10th Anniversary event in Charlotte which was also, simultaneously, the University's 100 Birthday. The food was amazing, including some seriously
Wild Spicy Venison Sausage Pizza
My father-in-law is a hunter and I'm lucky enough that on our last trip up to his place for Thanksgiving he sent me home with some "fresh" Spicy Italian Venison Sausage he and a friend made up after a recently successful hunt.
When I got home I started thinking about how to use some of the sausage to make some pizza. I wanted to make something that sort of celebrated where the venison came from. When an animal is hunted by you, or someone you know, I guess there's just more of a connection to it. I remembered an old Anthony Bourdain episode of "No Reservations" where he visits London and Endinburgh. In the show, he joins the famous Michelin 3 Star Chef, Marco Pierre White, who takes him on a hunt prior to landing at his latest restaurant called the Yew Tree Inn, where they eat and drink and pontificate about food and life together.
There's a beautiful moment (as Bourdain so often captures) when he and Marco are walking along a grass covered two track dirt road on their morning hunt in the English countryside. Bourdain asks him how often he does "this". Marco thinks for a second reflecting on his lifestyle and says "About 4-5 days a week. It allows me to clear my head." He talks about how this connects him to his childhood when life was simpler and he would spend time fishing and hunting.
As they walk the road Marco says something that stuck with me. I had to go back and rewatch the episode to capture the entire quote. He says:
"I don't know how many times I saw wood pigeons eating the elderberries here. And I thought, lets roast a pigeon with elderberries. It's delicious. I love wild apples. And, how many times do you see pheasants picking at them when they've dropped on the ground? It's like shooting a rabbit and then baking it in the hay. It works. It really works. What does a rabbit love to eat? Hay. Mother nature tells us everything. We're not the geniuses are we? We're just the technicians."
Anthony has an "Ah-ha!" moment. It makes sense! It's what all good cooking is about. It's about using the available fresh ingredients that are right there wherever you are. It's about connecting the food, our environment and our lives. It's really about quality of life. You only see it in a very brief quickly cut shot, but you see Bourdain's almost childlike smile. It's a smile that says I know this, but you just taught it to me again!
Another hour or so has passed as I re-watched the episode. Anthony Bourdain has done it again. He's inspired me. His passion to search and explore the world through food is what originally gave me the idea to reach out to Peter Reinhart in the first place and why you are reading this recipe post!
For my Venison sausage pizza, I tried to bring some ingredients together that were similar to some of those that the deer may have once eaten. I wasn't able to to go to the location and investigate it, but tried to think about what deer eat in various locations here in the Western US. I chose my Desert Dough because it was rustic and celebrates the western deserts where this deer came from. I chose to add some sage, pine nuts and berries to represent what the deer may have eaten.
There are some wonderful flavors coming together in this pizza. It was balanced with flavors ranging from earthy to sweet to spicy. The song they created makes sense.
- Brad's Desert Dough *Link
Alternately you could use Peter's Rustic Dough *Link
- Cherry Tomatoes sliced in half
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Gouda Cheese
- Spicy Venison Sausage Sliced
- Olive Oil
- A little Red Wine
- Dried Cranberries *Because this is what I could find! They work nicely!
- Pine Nuts
- Fresh Sage (Chop 3 leaves and pull and trim 4-6 others and leave whole)
- Fresh Thyme
- Large Spring Onion Chopped
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Chili Oil if you so desire as a finishing touch
Spicy Venison Sausage Preparation:
Pull the sausage out of it's casing and pinch it off in pieces that are thick enough to not dry out, but thin enough to cook and eat on the pizza.
Slice up the Spring Onion
Chop some Garlic
Add Olive Oil to the iron Iron Skillet.
Add the garlic, onions, chopped sage, fresh thyme to the pan and slide into the fire.
Saute for a few minutes to start softening the onions and blending the flavors.
Pull the pan out and add the sausage. After the sausage starts to brown, add some red wine to the pan. The red wine will deglaze some of the charred bits and create a "sauce" depending on how much you use. I wanted to also make sure my sausage didn't dry out.
Slide it back into the oven and sauté sausage to "almost done". You will want to make sure there's room for this to finish on the pizza. Venison can get dried out. The sausage should contain some pork fat to help keep it moist, but I still say leave some room for this to cook on the pizza.
Remove and set aside.
To the Pizza:
Spread your dough
Drizzle with a little olive oil. Sprinkle some herbs that go well with venison like: dried thyme and a little rosemary and I added some oregano as well.
Spread some grated gouda cheese and add a few pinches of the fresh mozzarella to blend with it which will also serve to smooth the gouda out as it melts.
Lay the venison sausage around the pizza and drizzle some of the sauce with the onions/garlic over the top.
Sprinkle on some pine nuts around the pizza.
Finish with 4 of the fresh sage leaves after soaking them in the sausage "sauce" and then sprinkle on a "few" dried cranberries. *I forgot the cranberries in the first pizza, but you can see photos of them in the 2nd. The cranberries add a nice sweet note that goes well with the more earthy venison and the slight spicy notes from the sausage mixture.
Into the oven!
What can I say here. We have about 90 - 120 seconds to wait. As soon as the dough sets up from the heat on the floor of the oven, it's time to slide the peel under it and turn it so it doesn't burn! I love cooking in fire, it's always more interactive.
Add a little Sea Salt and Pepper to taste.
Add chili oil if you have any, but first enjoy this in it's simplest form.
I hope you enjoy this one.
*As always send me your emails, comments on the site, and some pictures of your own pizzas!
The "Oh My!" Pizza
"Lions Tigers and Bears!"
Oh my, this turned out to be a great pizza! Take a walk with me down the wood fire brick road.
I had some Brussels sprouts sitting in a bowl on the counter that we hadn't gotten around to cooking and I figured I better do something with them before I had to send them on their way. I pulled a dough from the freezer and set about looking for some inspiration on the inter-webs.
I came across an interesting recipe on the Food Network site. I want to give full and due credit for the idea for this recipe. As usual, I often look around at recipes and see what I like and don't like and basically take some of the main ideas and adapt the rest for my purposes. I found this recipe for "Fried Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Capers," which was published in the Food Network Magazine excerpted from Michael Symon's book Live to Cook. Though I was making a pizza, that title caught my eye and, after a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe, I knew I saw starting point here that I could work with.
The next step was a mental run through of my assets. What did I have around? I had some slivered almonds, anchovies, salt-packed capers, and honey. I believed I could pull this thing off, but instead of frying, I was -- of course, going to run this all through my P-60 WFO! What else did I have on hand to take this from playing a role as a side dish to turning it into a pizza? I still had a cherry tomato plant that wouldn't stop producing and some chili plants that were going strong. Prosciutto... Fresh Mozzarella…ah!
This started sounding interesting and as the wheels were spinning, the train started to leave the station. They started spinning and then slowed down as the frozen dough took its time to thaw on the counter. A few hours later, though, that train was rolling again! There was a fire growing in the belly of my oven. I was trying to finalize my loose plan to take off from the launching pad of Michael Symon's inspired recipe and to create my own pizza.
This is the fun part of cooking for me.
Roasted Tangy-Sweet-Salty Brussels Sprouts Pizza
- Favorite Dough
- Brussels Sprouts
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Serrano Chili's - Chopped and Seeded
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Slivered Almonds
- 2 Tablespoons of Capers
- 2 Cloves of Garlic Chopped
- 2 Chopped Anchovies
- Olive Oil
I have a 10" iron skillet that I use in my Primavera. It's about the size of a pizza, so I just used it as a visual guide while prepping my ingredients. I like to cook without following any recipe too closely. I prefer to "feel" how much of anything should go into a recipe. I may have frustrated a few people here who prefer exact measurements, but I feel like that is one of the aspects of cooking that allows you to bring yourself to a recipe. Every time you make something it will be a little different.
Par boil the Brussels sprouts. When cool enough, slice them in half.
I grabbed enough cherry tomatoes from my garden to allow the tomatoes to become both part of the sauce and to act like an ingredient. So, I sliced some of them in half and threw some in whole. Cherry tomatoes are an amazing way to add a burst of flavor on a pizza!
If using salt packed capers, which seem to be the best, rinse a few times and set aside.
Chop up and seed the Serrano chili.
Into the pan:
Drizzle some olive oil into the pan. Start adding the ingredients.
- Slivered Almonds
- Chopped Serrano Chili
- Drizzle some more Olive Oil
Give it all a little toss, or mix to blend with the olive oil, and slide it into the oven. *Note: This would work fine in a home oven as well. I think it all roasted in about 10 minutes in the WFO at 800 degrees or so, so just give it more time in your home oven at 550 degrees. You want to roast it to the point where it's almost finished. You have to consider that it will finish roasting when it goes back into the oven on your pizza. In a way, this is par-roasting - just like par-boiling!
And now it becomes a pizza!
Spread your dough out and lay on a well floured peel.
Spread your roasted Brussels onto the pizza.
Add some pinches of your fresh mozzarella around the pie.
Tear some prosciutto and place it around the pizza.
*As I often say here, as you are placing all of these ingredients together on the pizza think about they balance with each other. In this case, I spread the roasted Brussels out on the pizza knowing that I was also going to add some mozzarella and prosciutto. This is important with cooking, but in a way it's even more important when making a pizza because these ingredients don't only have to blend together as they bake, but they also will be delivered to you on a bed of dough. Each bite will be what it is. You don't build a forkful from your plate to do your own blending of ingredients. With pizza you take a bite and that's what you get.
Into the oven it goes. My Primavera delivered it back to me in about 2 minutes. It's so giving! So selfless! In a way it would be nice if it took more time, because I love feeling the heat of the fire on my face as I lean down and watch the pizza rise to the occasion.
Lions, Tigers and Bears!
When I took my first bite, I actually said, "Oh my!". This pizza has it all going on! It's got it all. Lion's, Tiger's and Bears!
It hit the mark! As I write this, I'm still thinking about it. There's really more going on in this pizza than I originally thought. The roasted charred Brussels give that almost subtle
bitter base that allows the other ingredients to pop even more. The saltiness of the prosciutto and capers pops in your mouth. The sweetness of the honey dances around the spicy notes of the Serrano. The soft milkiness of the mozzarella plays with the juices given out by the tomatoes as they collapse and give up their liquid to create a sauce as well as their explosive pop of sweetness. Oh, but wait, this isn't over. The almonds then bring another textural experience to the whole thing. They softly crunch as you chew up their toasty-roastiness!
Don't forget the delivery system. The crisp, charred dough with it's soft warm center delivers this package wonderfully. My mouth is literally watering. Oh my....
I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at Pizza Quest.
I just had another round of left-overs for lunch. We did our Thanksgiving up north with our in-laws on Wednesday because we had to be back in town this weekend for our daughter's Softball Tournament. It turns out that the rains came and today's games were cancelled. So, instead of being out in the cold watching our daughter play ball, I just re-heated yet another plate of the good stuff.
So, as I sit here wishing I ate a little bit less again, I thought I'd leave you with a teaser photo of my next pizza that I'll hopefully get posted up next week. This one surprised me. I intend to remake this again this week because I want to make sure it was as good as I thought it was -- sort of a pinch myself moment, but with a wood fired oven! Stay tuned...
Crab Stuffed Mushroom Pizza
I've made a number of pizzas over the years with seafood. I like the uniqueness of how seafood blends and stands out as a topping on a pizza. When you do it right, shrimps on a pizza literally snap when you bite them, and that's a good thing! Clams are right at home on a pizza. After all, what do you do when eating steamers? You sop up the sauce with bread. On a pizza, it's already done. The clams mix with the toppings and become part of the sauce and the crust is already there baking in all that glory.
Crab is another fun one. Crab all by itself, has a sweet and subtle taste. I love drizzling it with lemon, or a little Vietnamese Fish Sauce mixed with chilies and just eating it on it's own - warm or cold! Another great way to enjoy crab is in a crab dip which is just cheesy goodness! The cheese and crab combo just goes so well together, which is why crab dip and crab stuffed mushrooms and crab on a pizza makes total sense to me. Here's one of my Crab Dip Pizzas: *Link
While I was making up some Crab Stuffed Mushrooms I decided to just make myself a Crab Stuffed Mushroom inspired pizza. One idea I had was to bake the stuffed mushrooms and slice them up and use them as a topping. I had that idea after I made a different pizza, where I went with a more traditional approach -- just using the basic crab ingredients, but putting them on a pizza instead of stuffing the mushrooms. Crab Stuffed Mushroom Recipe: *Link
I have been using an English White Cheddar for my stuffed mushrooms. There is a boldness to a good cheddar, a sharpness. What I like about a good cheddar cheese is that while it's bold it is also sweet. As I write this, I actually have the sensation of tasting this cheese starting at the front roof of my mouth and then having it wash across the top of my mouth and down my throat! You feel the sharpness up front and it finishes smoother and sweeter. I never knew this, but Cheddar Cheese comes originally from England and was said to have first been produced as early as the 1100's in a village called - you guessed it, CHEDDAR! There were caves in the area that provided the consistently ideal temperatures for producing this cheese. Lucky for us.
Cheddar goes really well with the stuffed mushrooms as well as with this pizza.
Crab Stuffed Mushroom Pizza
- Favorite Pizza Dough like Peter's Country Dough
- Grated English White Cheddar
- Lump Crab meat
- Roasted Onions
- Roasted Leeks
- Roasted Red Peppers
*You could also add some chilies to give a little more heat.
- Roasted Mushrooms
- Olive Oil
* Chili Oil to finish
This is a no "sauce" pizza. I drizzled olive oil on the crust which blends with the cheese and other ingredients to keep things moist.
After the olive oil, add the grated cheddar. Don't put on too much because you want the cheese to blend with everything, not overpower it.
Add the crab, onions, peppers mushrooms and place some basil leaves on top.
Drizzle with a little more Olive Oil and slide her into the oven.
You can see that there is plenty of "sauce". If you wanted more, you could add some cherry tomatoes cut in half and allow them to add to the moisture content as they bake in the oven, emitting more of their juices.
Just like the Crab Stuffed Mushrooms I've been playing with, this pizza nails it! The cheddar really goes well with the crab, and the other ingredients add texture and sweetness that also works well with the crab.
Slice it up and make sure to have some good chili oil around. The spice is a nice finishing touch!
Peter's Blog, News Flash!
PizzaQuest follower John Daniels has been working on a really interesting baking platform, he actually calls it a Pizza Grate, that was designed to wick away any moisture from the underskirt of your crust via a series of strategically drilled holes in the plate. He sent both Brad and me an early prototype and Brad is currently testing it out and will report on it in an upcoming posting. In the meantime, though, you can help John get this to the next stage and also see a terrific video that he made showing the Pizza Grate in action (by the way, it does a lot more than make pizzas, as you will see in the video). Here's the link to his just posted Kickstarter launch. Take a look -- this could be a game changer of a product. Consider giving him some support so you can say that you were there in the beginning:
Check back here soon for Brad's report -- I expect it will be excellent.
Till then, may your pizzas all be perfect!
Peter's Blog, A Visit with Michael Pollan
A few weeks ago author Michael Pollan came to Charlotte to speak at a local university. Earlier that day I was fortunate to be able to appear with him for an hour on our local NPR radio program, Charlotte Talks, where we discussed many of his favorite themes. Most of you already know who Michael Pollan is, but in case you don't, he is the author of a number of best selling books on food and culture including The Omnivore's Dilemma which is, arguably, the most influential book on our relationship with food since Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring. He has a new book out called Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, a book that I think every serious food lover should own and read, especially the many pizza freaks who follow us here on our "journey of self-discovery through pizza" and who intuitively grasp the notion of cooking as a transformational act. The Omnivore's Dilemma is one of those rare, but painful to read books (because of the subject matter, not the writing, which is brilliant) that has often been called a true game-changer in terms of its impact on so many of us. Cooked, on the other hand, is like sitting down to a great meal that you never want to end.
Regardless of which Pollan books you've read or not read, his message is clear (and I'm not referring to his now classic "Food Rules: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants," which makes for a great sound bite as well as good guidance). No, his deeper message, I believe, has to do with connectivity and consciousness. His books help us connect with the whole lineage of sources -- from seed, to soil, to farmer, miller, merchant, consumer, and cook -- that transform things of the earth into things of nourishment and joy. He quotes Emerson and Wendell Berry with abandon, and in so doing connects us with them and all they stand for. He reveals our inevitable complicity in the taking of life for the sake of our own, and also the priestly (or, if you prefer, the shamanistic) dimension inherent within each of us to effect the transformation of raw ingredients into something totally other. In fact, what I love about this new book is spelled out in its sub-title, A Natural History of Transformation. I think it is this word, transformation, that transfixes me; it as akin to transubstantiation, or transmutation -- lots of "trans" words! It is the power to change one thing into something else, whether through skill, talent, training, artisanship, or simply through seeing and knowing -- knowing that everything exists on many levels and is never only what we think it is. It is knowing that everything, ultimately, emanates from something, or from some Thing, or, as I believe, from some Being -- if only we had the eyes to see it as so; or if we knew how to perform a series of actions that reveals it as so. Because, when you think about it, transformation isn't only about changing something from one thing into something else, but in the ability to see that the "something else" was there all along, hidden behind the veil of the thing we think we see. When Michaelangelo turned a slab of marble into a David he said that he just revealed the David that was always hidden in the slab. Transformation is, in this sense, a kind of revelation, a revealing of what already is.
Now, Michael Pollan didn't say all that I just wrote above, but he writes about things that make me think of things like this. When I say, as I have in many of my own books, that the mission of the baker is "to evoke the full potential of flavor trapped in the grain," it touches on this notion of connectivity as an act of transformation. In Cooked, Pollan shows how, throughout human history, we have learned to harness fire, water, air, and earth into tools that allow us to transform (or perhaps "evoke" or "reveal" are just as accurate here), the full potential of an ingredient, whether it be animal, vegetable, fruit, or grain, into something tasty, and also digestible and nourishing, and even more important, something other than what we thought it was while revealing what it actually could be.
So the best part of Michael Pollan's visit is that I not only got to talk about things like this with him on the radio, and then had the chance to introduce him to some of our young culinary students at Johnson & Wales, where he encouraged them to realize how much power and responsibility was within their grasp to change the world, but then, after all that, and before he spoke to a thousand people that evening at Queens University, where he continued building verbal bridges of connectivity for all in attendance -- in the midst of all of that, Michael and I broke away for lunch at Pure Pizza, where we spoke for awhile about, well, about how much we love pizza. And, of course, we spoke about a few other things too....
PS You can listen to the podcast of our radio interview by going to http://wfae.org/programs/charlotte-talks-wfae?page=1 Scroll down the page till you find our podcast, dated Oct. 10th, and click "listen."
Fire Roasted Brussels
Oh my god! I found the most amazing vegetable! I don't think anyone knows about it. They are these little bulbs called Brussels Sprouts and I'm the first one to ever think of cooking them and eating them.
Ok, maybe not the first.
Boy are these things the hot item these days. I bet they run out of favor soon because they seem to have exploded so big as THE gourmet side dish. I enjoy them, so I fear they may slide back into history and slowly emerge as that strange vegetable that is force-fed to children across the land.
I remember as a kid I wasn't supposed to like them. That probably has a lot to do with how they were served by my parents. I called my mother to see how she served them to us and the phone went silent. She finally said, "I don't think I ever served them to you kids. Maybe it was your grandmother. We didn't eat Brussels sprouts." Well, I know I ate them somewhere, so let's blame Grandma! We decided they were probably steamed. I would probably like that today, and as I said, I sort of did back then. I felt like I was a giant eating a whole head of cabbage or something. Pretty funny!
But today is a different story. We don't steam them anymore. We roast them, or pan fry them to the point where they are both moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. In fact, we treat them more like a pizza than a vegetable. I always nail them with high heat and give them the business and they are so thick that they can withstand it all and still give something great back to you.
What better way to cook these little babies than in a 900 degree wood fired oven? Let's see what we can do here.
Wood Fired Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Brussels Sprouts
- Bacon or Pancetta
- Chopped Red Onion
- Olive Oil
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Salt and Pepper
Clean the sprouts by trimming off any browned bits at the base and pull off any browned leaves. I par-boil them for a minute to get them soft, but not done. Let them cool and then cut them in half. This allows you to brown more of them up when cooking.
The bacon and onions:
Separately, chop up some bacon and red onion, or shallots, and sauté them until they are only "mostly done," that is, till they wilt and the bacon renders off a lot of fat but has not yet crisped . They too will finish in the oven.
In a bowl, combine the sprout halves and bacon/onion mixture and drizzle with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper to taste and toss.
Put the sprout mixture back into the iron skillet and slide it into the WFO. 900 degrees F. gets the pan hot and these things cooking pretty fast. Don't worry, there's time to sip your beer. You did open a beer, right? Do I have to include that in the ingredient list?
Brown them. Char them. Toss. Back into the fire.
Make sure to get the enough of them charred up. The burnt tips/edges provide a ton of flavor as well as a crisp texture to contrast with the softer interior.
These make a great pizza topping. I even created a pepperoni seasoning that I sprinkled onto my sprouts once and created my own vegi-pepperoni - *LINK. The slight bitterness of the sprout gives it some bite and stands out against the sweet balsamic and saltiness of the bacon and seasonings.
Wood Fired Pizza Rolls
What's a pizza roll?
If you fold a pizza it's called a calzone. If you roll it up, it's a stromboli. I've seen something in between simply called a sausage roll. I found out recently when breaking in my new wood fired oven and learning to use a metal pizza peel that what starts out as a pizza may end up flipping over while going in and end up coming out of the oven something more like a calzone! When this first happened to me a light bulb went off and I said to myself "So that's where the CALZONE comes from!" Or, maybe they made Calzones first and one unfolded as it was slid into some ancient wood burning oven and the poor guy slinging it in said to himself "Atsa da pizza!"
My local "Brooklyn-style" pizzeria, Valentino's sells a nice sausage roll. Whenever we order pizza from them, we throw a couple of these babies on the order. We cut them up and snack on them as a necessary warm-up act while getting ready to hit the pizza. I was getting some ingredients to toss onto some dough and, when I browsed the pork products, my minds-eye drifted off to those sausage rolls and I decided I would be trying something new when I got home.
Should I fold? Should I roll? I ended up sort of doing both. They came out great in the wood fired oven. I'll have to try this in the home oven next. The high heat of the wood oven melted everything nicely inside and set up a great crispy charred crust all around. I think it will be tough for my home oven to equal it but I'll let you know....
The Pizza Rolls
- Pizza Dough, your favorite recipe
- Sliced Cherry Tomatoes
- Chopped Red Onion
- Hot Italian Sausage
- Olive Oil
- Pizza Dough
- Sliced Cherry Tomatoes
- Chopped Red Onion
- Hot Italian Sausage
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Olive Oil
I'll post a recipe that I like to use for the roasted Brussels Sprouts soon. I have been popping things in the oven when I make pizza to keep expanding my experience working with the wood and fire rather than my home oven. These came out great! I was in Boulder Co. a couple months ago and Kelly Whitaker did a great Market Pizza with Brussels. They seem to be the "it" topping and side dish these days. Good for us. I love that slight bitterness, and you can really impart other flavors into them when you prepare them.
Back to the rolls...
I made the first roll like a pizza. After I spread the dough I just started topping it and I realized that I made a pizza! So, I just sort of lifted the sides and joined them and then folded the whole thing into a roll. What was nice, was where the dough was pinched together it was clumpy and doughy and gave the roll some more texture and a real rustic look. When I made the second one, I wised up and put the toppings in one place anticipating the end result! Either way works! In fact, my first accidental calzone looked like a disaster, but tasted amazing. It was more of a Pizza-Roll-Over.
Can I coin that term?
The great thing about these is that they not only tasted great but they also saved really well. When we were done eating, we sliced up the rolls into snack sized slices and tossed them into a baggie. The next day they came out, went into the oven and baked up to near perfection again. Since I eat my leftover pizza as a cold slice in the morning, while going out the door, these rolls make a great breakfast-to-go alternative.
What's my second favorite food? You guessed it -- cold pizza.
Enjoy the pics and let us know if you have any favorite calzone/stromboli/pizza roll ideas!
Crab Stuffed Mushrooms!
I'm in the middle of the beginning of a journey that started quite a while ago. That's a mouthful, but believe it or not it's true! I just got a Primavera 60 from Forno Bravo and I am beginning to chronicle my tales of learning how to drive this new oven. I recently posted Part I of my wood fired oven journey (see a few posts below). But....
"Stop the presses!"
I must interrupt this introduction to bring you a new recipe!
As I've been learning to fire up the Primavera and get my pizzas in and out of the oven, I have also been experimenting with other dishes -- sides and entrees that use the oven in different ways. There is hot and there is Pizza HOT! On the way to pizza hot, I'm finding out that it can be a good time to throw some other things into the fire. I've been roasting lots of vegetables -- so easy and so delicious. At the lower temps they don't char as much as on a grill, but when you do them at Pizza Hot temps, they char up just fine! I've thrown fish in this baby and then used the fish as a topping on my pizza, and roasted some chicken, and also flash fired some shrimp!
But, what have we stopped the presses for?
I find myself stuffing a lot of mushrooms! I mean, pizza and mushrooms go together right? You can never go wrong having mushrooms around when you are making pizza. I love stuffed mushroom caps. In fact, one of my first "foodie" experiences may well have been about stuffed mushrooms. My first job in high school was as a bus boy in a little family run restaurant. I remember two things about that job. The first was the negative! The sons, who were the waiters never shared their tips with me! The second is that the chef gave me one of their stuffed mushrooms one day back in the kitchen. Oh my god! I was hooked. I'm almost certain they were crab stuffed. They were moist and cheesy and crabby -- just delicious! This was the highlight of that job; once the chef knew I liked them, he would slip me an extra here and there. He probably knew I was getting screwed by the brothers!
I figured that stuffed mushrooms would be perfect to try at various temperatures to help me learn how to work with the oven and understand how it gives off it's heat. Man, was I right! I started with some Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms and then started playing more with crab versions. I nailed it the other day and thought I needed to interrupt my intro to the Primavera with my Crab Stuffed Mushroom celebration!
What's in em?
*Remove stems and chop to add into crab mixture
Panko Bread Crumbs
Chopped Serrano Chilies from my garden! Go a little easy on this -- per your taste for "the heat"
A little Chopped Garlic
Chopped Red Pepper
Chopped Red Onion
Grated English White Cheddar! I can't say enough about this combination...
Fresh squeezed Lemon
Tab of butter - to place on top of each cap before placing into the fire
I am playing with this recipe. It's sort of an everything but the kitchen sink celebration of a crab roll in a mushroom cap kind of thing! It's pretty versatile as you'll see. While I had the ingredients, I made a version of a crab pizza that night with some crab, mushrooms, roasted red onions, red Fresno chilis, basil, and, of course, grated English White Cheddar! You'll see in the pictures, that I also ended up making plenty extra -- to save it in the fridge to use on a sandwich in the form of a delicious "Crab Roll" the next day! No I was not "over" the crab the next day. You don't have to go so crazy though.
I won't give you amounts on this one. Just find the balance. Pick a bowl and just start building it and consider balance as you go. Start with the crab and work your way down the list. Taste it when you get it all mixed together and see what you may want to add more of to find that point where it's still about the crab, but it's also about the bread crumbs and the white cheddar, and the slight heat from the Serrano's, and the crisp snap of the red peppers and the depth of the onions, or a hint of the parsley…and definitely allowing room for the butter and garlic! You get my drift?
Scoop the crab mixture into each mushroom cap and place them in the oiled pan. Add a "pat" of butter on top and drizzle some more olive oil. I also STRONGLY suggest that you spoon the extra crab mixture into the pan and toss a butter pat or two in there for good measure. This extra stuff will sit and bubble into a crispy edged bit of perfection that you can scoop onto a bit of bread.
Finally drizzle everything with some lemon and then drop the lemon halves in the pan to cook with the mushrooms.
Into the fire! Watch them. Turn them. Brown them. I cooked this batch in a relatively low temperature fire - 550-600 degrees. I have also done them at pizza temps and they just cook faster and you have to watch them, turn them, and move them a little more. It's an interactive thing, so just stick with them. Sip a beer. Talk and adjust the pan as it cooks.
Once browned, I pull them out and cover with foil so they can finish up. This will continue to steam them and make the 'shrooms very moist when you are ready to eat them. They are good to go in a couple of minutes, or as they cool down and need only be lukewarm when serving with your main entree.
Squeeze a little more of the lemon over the top before you serve.
These are a great appetizer or side dish. Don't forget to spoon the extra mixture that you cooked in the pan onto your plate too!
The Gallery - more pics to enjoy!
Birra Basta - The Finale
So we come to the end of the story, at least this story that began with Kelly Whitaker and I challenging Patrick Rue to make a beer inspired by a pizza. If you've been following it from the start this finale segment is kind of a denouement, as we, sated and satisfied, drift off into the Denver sunset, having our own Pizza Quest version of a Rocky Mountain high. If you are just joining us, please go back, via the Webisodes button above, and catch up -- it will quite enjoyable, I promise.
In this final segment, Kelly decided to tweak the "Challenge Pizza" by replacing the white anchovies with house cured pork belly. In retrospect, I wish we could have done one more version, with both the bacon and the anchovies but, hey, the sun was going down, we were were running out of ingredients, that amazing Birra Basta was waiting for us, and the keg was getting quickly drained by the rest of our thirsty crew. Besides, the switch to pork belly gave us a chance, after doing dozens of these webisodes, to get one of my all-time favorite sound bites, as you will hear, this one from beer maker extraordinaire, Patrick Rue: "Bacon is my favorite vegetable."
Wood + Fire
What is it that makes a great pizza?
I've been on a personal quest searching for the answers to this question for some time. I've traveled and eaten more than my share of pizza. I've also spent many hours slinging my own pies in and out of my home oven in all in an attempt to further understand and expand this quest. I'd say I've even gotten pretty good at it! I've made some of the best pizzas I've ever had right here in my electric oven baking pies at 550 degrees. At least you'll have to trust me on that because the pictures look like they are good tasting pies!
Every once in a while I end up being "wowed!" When that happens, it usually means I'm sitting in a pizzeria with a wood fired oven. There is something different that the intense heat, fire and smoke bring to a pizza. My crust is getting better all the time. I get good puff, some bubbles, and I even manage to get some decent char in my home oven. But, it's not the same as when Tony Gemignani, Kelly Whitaker, or so many other amazing pizza makers pull a piping hot pie out of their oven.
So, one can wish. One can ponder. One might even go as far as I have and try to build a wood burning gas grill oven out of my existing grill!
I am happy and sad that a new chapter has begun in that journey. Wood and fire and oven has come to the English household! I'm happy because I've wanted one for so long! I'm sad because now I have no excuses in my quest to be the one to make that perfect pizza!
Yes, I got a new tool, or toy to play with. A rather large crate came to my door a couple of weeks ago. It had the words "Forno Bravo Primavera 60" stenciled on the side! It took some doing, which I'll probably chronicle in the forum, but I can report that it is indeed now up and running!
I was champing at the bit, or chomping. I champed and chomped as a few loyal and brave friends came over to help me set this oven on it's stand. Let's get this baby set up, fire it up, and make some pizza! Well, maybe not so fast. I have made some pretty amazing pizzas in my home oven. I figured I could now just slide my pizzas into the Primavera and out would come my best pizzas ever.
Well, yes and no.
First I had to learn patience. It takes 5 days of building "low" temperature fires to finish curing the oven. As I began the process I remembered filming with Chef Jensen Lorenzen at The Cass House Inn in Cayucos, CA. Jensen and Peter were talking about his new oven that Jensen and his wife had recently installed. I remember Peter saying to him, "Over time, you'll figure out how to drive this thing." As they talked further he discussed how each oven cooks differently and, as it cures and ages, it will continue to evolve in its performance. I always thought that was interesting. I recall how much respect he seemed to have for the oven as a sort of participant in the pizza making process -- like it was an ingredient rather than a tool. It was similar to so many conversations I have heard over the years when a winemaker talks about coaxing the full flavor potential from the land and elements out of their grapes. It's not just having a good grape, but how and where it's grown. What soil is helping to feed the vines and how the weather and climate conditions stress the grapes, which creates a better grape. In both instances, the artisans learn to work with the elemental factors to coax "perfection" into their finished product.
Cooking with fire is definitely a challenge. Fire is not just heat, it is alive and moving and unpredictable. It breathes air and exhales smoke and heat. There is something primal about cooking with fire. It's never the same - you are always involved and adjusting things when cooking with open fire. A home oven is a highly controlled heat box. There are variations in how things cook, how each oven cooks, but in general the home oven is a relatively predictable platform to cook with. You set the exact temperature and it hits it. Try building a 300 degree curing fire and keep it in that range for 8 hours! Now, that's a dance!
I have always been driven to cook with fire. I think it's about being interactive with the food I'm cooking. I have a gas grill, which is the easiest application of that desire and also somewhat predictable, but I also pull out my Weber Smokey Mountain cooker to patiently smoke my ribs, fish or other things that need that kind of slow time and attention. When I want to cook a perfect piece of fish I pass up my oven and gas grill and use the bottom half of my Weber smoker to fire up some lump charcoal and, with added wood chips, try to dance a little with flames and smoke to bring that piece of fish as close to perfection as possible. I think there's no better way to cook fish! We'll see how the WFO does!
Hey, I have a Wood Fired Oven, baby!
After 5 days of firing for about 8 hours, at low and rising temperatures each day, I was now ready to take this oven out on the open road. It's like breaking in a new engine -- you have to drive it slowly for some time before letting it open up. In this case, it's just to get the water out of the mortar and make sure that it doesn't blow up on you from intense heat creating expanding steam pressure within the structure.
It was time! Today, more wood; more fire! The temps were rising! There's a point at around 800 degrees F. when the black carbon from the fire burns off the inside of the dome. That's one way to know when you are finally pizza hot. I'm only a few weeks into driving this oven, but let me tell you it was quest-worthy just seeing that! I knew it was supposed to happen. I was looking for it to happen, but when it did, I had a lump in my throat. I was officially speeding down the highway!
OMG I have a pizza oven right here in my backyard!
I'm going to cut this "I got a Primavera 60" chronicle off here and call this Part I. I will continue to tell the next part of my story as I figure out how to control this baby! Many of you reading here already have a wood fired oven and can probably relate and hopefully look back with pride and remember how you felt your first time. For those of you who haven't I hope my journey continues to motivate you to pursue and push your own quests forward.
Thanks to a few of my brave buddies who came over to help me install this thing. I had a plan and they followed me -- though skeptical at times, we continued our march forward. Nobody was injured and no backs were hurt during the process! A few weeks in, they still haven't made it back to try some of my initial test drives!
Stay tuned for some more to come as I venture into this new arena. I can tell you now that an already difficult task of making pizza and simultaneously taking pictures will now be even more difficult! I may have to innovate!
Oh well, you can't win 'em all
As many of you already know, I did not win the New Yorker Caption Contest this week, though I did get many e-mails from folks saying they thought I should have. But the winning caption was very funny and I figured it might very well win when I first saw it in the finals, and it did. Was it because the author had more Twitter followers or Facebook fans than me? I don't know, but I bear him no malice because, well, his caption was quite brilliant and mine was, well, it's not for me to say, though I liked it. I can't recreate the actual cartoon drawing here -- it belongs to the New Yorker and they, naturally, want you to visit it on their site (I gave the link in my previous Peter's Blog a few weeks ago). But, for those who are wondering, it was a drawing of man in a restaurant, with a plate of fish in front of him, a whole fish, head on, mouth open, looking at him. My caption was: "Or, I could teach you how to fish."
The winning caption was, "Just water for me, thanks."
I hate losing at anything but, in this case, I can live with it because that other caption made me laugh out loud. And, hey, there's a new caption contest every week so I'll try again -- when the muse delivers something witty. But, next time, I'll try to make it something that causes me -- and everyone else -- to laugh out loud. Till then, I will take solace in the old balm, "It was such an honor just to be a nominee...."
The Challenge Pizza, The Big Reveal
So, if you've been following our webisode series, we've been building up to the moment when the pizza, created by Kelly Whitaker and Alan Henkin of Basta, along with me and the Pizza Quest team -- who came up with the Germainia Malted Dough -- finally meet the beer created by Patrick Rue and his Bruery team. In the previous segment, we showed the Bruery guys two different pizzas and they chose the white one, which you will see again in this segment. The brewers then went to work and came up with a one of a kind biere de garde, which they called Birra Basta (we love that name!), made with citrus peels, roasted zucchini, a secret blend of hops and malts and other spices. Finally, months later, we all met in Denver, a few blocks from the Great American Beer Festival, at the Summit Beer Garden for, what we've been calling, The Big Reveal. This is the moment when the beer and the pizza finally come face to face -- right into our faces, of course -- and we find out if, indeed, a beer can be inspired by food in the same manner as food is often inspired by beer. As you will see, the answer is a resounding YES.
As you watch, make note of the incredibly beautiful amber luster of the beer -- it seems to glow and to scream out "Drink me!" And note, of course, the wonderful burrata cheese, white anchovies, squash blossoms, and Meyer lemon puree on the pizza, topped by dressed arugula and fennel pollen salt. What you can't experience through the video, sadly, is the unique, rich, toasty flavor of the beer -- the grilled zucchini in the wort provided a deep bass note that, in my opinion, forged a unique bridge between the pizza and the beer. At one point, as you will see, it seemed hard to tell where the beer ended and the pizza began, as their flavors merged seamlessly. Also, you will want to one day make that Germainia Malt dough that, from the pizza side, provided the same bass note that the zucchini did for the beer. I love this dough! I will re-post the recipe for it in a few weeks but, just to tease things a little, be on the look out here for an announcement that our friends at Central Milling will be packaging and making available, in the near future, a kit with all the ingredients for this dough (along with a few other signature Pizza Quest dough mixes too). We will announce it right here on the home page as soon as we have all the details worked out.
While we wish all of you could have been there to taste this once in a lifetime combination (the Bruery has told us this beer was a one time thing, so, as the saying goes, you had to be there -- sorry!), at least enjoy it vicariously through this webisode segment, The Big Reveal, and let it inspire you to challenge your local micro-breweries to a similar throw-down or, at least, to stage your own inventive pizza/beer tastings.
Note: We have one bonus segment left to show you in this Beer Challenge series, coming up in a few weeks. As you will see here, we decided to tweak the pizza with pork belly, so we want you to see how that one turned out too. Still to come, so check back....
Grill Smoked Yellowtail Pizza
The perfect piece of fish!
Fresh piece of Yellowtail
A little Pepper
Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
Perfection is not easy and once achieved is no longer perfection because it seems there is always something better coming. That's interesting to think about. Have you ever seen the most beautiful girl you thought you had ever seen in your life? How many times? Funny isn't it.
If I want that perfect piece of fish I will take out my Weber Smokey Mountain Bullet and use it as a base for setting up a fire over lump charcoal and then add in some wood chips before laying the fish on the grill. I just think a gas grill can't get you there. The open fire, the coals, the smoking wood just bring something more basic, or raw to the cooking experience. To me, this is something I notice more with fish than with meat or chicken. I think fish is simply more delicate than our other favorite proteins. The timing has to be just right to get it off the grill so it can ease itself to the finish line on the plate. The flavors are more subtle also, which is perhaps why I notice the wood and smoke flavors so much more. A perfectly cooked piece of fish is about balance.
I didn't have time to do this one on the Weber though. So, as a substitute I used my gas grill and accompanied it with a lot of wood chips in my smoke box. This baby was thick. I wasn't timing it, but I was nervously watching it because I was going to take this piece of fish and use some of it on a pizza. I definitely didn't want it to go past that critical moment, and I actually wanted to pull it off the grill before that moment to make sure it was moist.
I usually test my fish by pressing on the thickest part with a finger to sense the resistance. It's a guessing game, but you can get a good sense of when it's done this way with practice.
I laid this thick, beautiful piece of fish down and closed the lid. I did some more prep for what seemed like moments. I was nervous about this thing for some reason. I felt an urge to get out and turn it. But, I waited. I cut up some tomatoes. "You should let it sit there. Wait for it," I kept saying to myself. I looked at the tomatoes and decided how many I would slice before I went back to check. Finally! I opened the lid and turned the fish. It was looking good! So, I put the lid back down to keep the smoke rolling around.
After a few more minutes, I did my finger test and decided that this piece of fish was done. It was time to rest it on the plate, covered in foil, as it finished cooking.
Grilled Smoked Yellowtail Pizza with Fresh Cherry Tomatoes and Ricotta
A "Brew in Germania" Pizza Dough - or any favorite dough!
Halved Cherry Tomatoes
Lemon Garlic Aioli Sauce *See below
Grill it (see above) and set it aside. This can even be cooled when you put it on the pizza after the pizza has baked.
The Lemon Garlic Aioli:
I found an aioli recipe that looked good. There are tons of them online. Here is a link to the one I used from About.com Culinary Arts: *Link but you can use your favorite version Make this beforehand and it can sit in the fridge.
Spread your dough
Drizzle with Olive Oil.
Place pinches of the ricotta cheese around the dough. Follow with enough tomatoes to make sure you balance their function as a sauce and topping. When you do bite into them, you get that explosion of flavor. *See photos and then feel free to ignore what I just wrote and add as many as you want! I try to place as many as I can cut side down, because they steam and really hold in the moisture in the oven and are extra juicy when you bite into them.
Add the torn up, or chopped basil leaves.
I was firing this pizza on my grill also. I used the Baking Steel as the base and my Forno Bravo Stone elevated above it as a refractory element to help hold the heat in when I opened the grill lid. I also set a fresh fire box of wood chips ablaze to add some real fire and smoke to the cooking set up.
Into the pizza grill it went.
I had to pull this out quickly because the steel bottom was so hot, it would have burnt the bottom. So, the dough didn't quite get the rise I was hoping for.
The Finishing Touches:
Pull off flakes of the yellowtail and spread around the pizza. Drip the aioli on top. In a sense, this pizza is upside down. The sauce is on top!
Stop the presses! OMG! TPII!!! Owen! Get over here and try this. In fact, it was so good, I wanted to make another. The dough was a little too burnt on the bottom. So, I wanted to give it another shot. I started the next on the top deck, the FB Baking Stone, and then moved it down to the steel to finish. This helped the crust situation and confirmed that This Pizza Is Insane (TPII)!!! I hope you were wondering what the heck that meant. If not, I feel sorry for you, but I'm impressed at the same time.
The only issue with this pizza was the imperfect grill set up I had to bake it. I will be visiting this one again and working further toward pushing this toward perfection - which can never be achieved and will therefore allow me to enjoy this pizza over and over again on the journey.
When trying to pick the great pizza cities of the world there are a few places that I call the “usual suspects." Naples, for many reasons, is often considered number 1, followed by a chorus of voices shouting about New York, Chicago and, for the real pizza fans, New Haven. All of these places can make a legitimate claim to pizza supremacy but if you are serious about pizza you should consider adding another city to your bucket list. Sure, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Phoenix have become great pizza destinations but I’m thinking of a place a bit further south.
There is a city that most pizza fans don’t even think of that can make a strong case for being the Pizza World Headquarters and that place is (drum-roll)…Sao Paulo, Brazil. Wait New Yorkers, stop gnashing your teeth and keep reading. Think about it; first off, Sao Paulo has a multi- cultural population of 32 million people! The economy in Brazil is very strong, with a vibrant middle class that eats out often. And here’s the key part: Sao Paulo is full of Italians or, more accurately, people of Italian descent. That’s right, a recent survey showed that 30% of the college students in Sao Paulo claimed Italian heritage. In the early 1900’s, at the same time that Italians were pouring into the U.S., a huge number of paesani were headed to the warmer climate of Brazil, seeking work and opportunity. So, for many of the same reasons that pizza found its way to Brooklyn it also ended up in Brazil, and believe me it is thriving. There are 7,000 pizzerias in Sao Paulo alone. We’re not talking about low quality chain places either. The vast majority of these restaurants are wood-fired, artisan pizzerias offering hand crafted pizzas with unique toppings that reflect the abundance and diversity of Brazil’s food culture.
A few weeks ago I travelled with legendary pizzaiolo, Jonathon Goldsmith, of Chicago’s famed Spaccanapoli Pizzeria. I was invited to Sao Paulo to speak at "ConPizza," a gathering of 500 innovative and dedicated pizza makers from all over Brazil. I was brought in to teach, but the truth is the teacher became the student because the Brazilian pizza makers have a lot to offer and can hold their own with pizza exponents anywhere in the world. From delicious Pizza Ripieno (stuffed crust pizza) filled with the creamy Catupiry, a local cheese that’s great on just about anything, to the gorgeous Pepperoni Bread offered at my friend Carlos Zoppetti’s Pizzeria Bari, Brazilians are creating their own spin on pizza that is as much a reflection of their unique influences as Deep Dish is to Chicago.
Pizzerias in Brazil range from beautiful rustic places like Pizza No Roca, a multi award winning restaurant where they lovingly create world class pizzas using meats and produce raised on their own farm, to Veridianna, an opulent multi-level pizza palace that features a tuxedoed musician playing a grand piano on a glass stage. It would take a lifetime to visit all of the great pizzerias of Sao Paulo but it would be a life well spent. The passion and pride of pizza makers like Andre Cotta of Pizza Presto will make a believer out of you.
With the World Cup coming to Brazil, and fantastic espresso available on every corner, it’s a great time for every pizza explorer to head south.
I'm taking shameless advantage of this platform to let you know that a caption I submitted was chosen as a finalist in the weekly New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. It is only the second time I've ever tried entering and, frankly, I usually find it hard to come up with anything funny or clever, so I often pass. But this time it came to me in a flash, so I guess that's the secret!
You do not have to be a subscriber to vote but you do have to follow this link to register to vote, unless you already are registered. You don't have to choose mine unless you really think it is the best of the three finalists, but take a peek and let me know, right here in the Comments section, if it worked for you (or not). The voting ends Aug. 18th.
BTW, the prize is a full size version of the cartoon, signed by the artist, along with the winning caption. Now that seems like a mighty fine (and unique) prize to hang on the wall. Here's the link:
A brew in Germania Dough
Quite literally, this dough truly is a brew in Germania! I'm "working on" a keg of Firestone Double Barrel Ale. I've had it a while and been too busy to use it up! No time for friends to come help me get to the bottom of this keg. So, I thought I'd draw a pint or two and also use it in my Germania Flour blend from Central Milling.
I first tried this flour, which is officially called, Organic Germania Pizza Flour, when Peter decided to use it to make our Pizza Quest Signature Bruery Dough (as shown in a recent webisode); it is still one of my favorite pizza doughs. It's a little more difficult to acquire the malted barley crystal, which Peter used in the place of an actual beer, so I am using an actual beer as a substitute for my lack of malted barley crystal. Also, it's a fun way to make a pizza dough. What goes better with a pizza than a cold beer? It's a nice way to introduce the beer to the pizza before it comes out of the oven.
Central Milling's simple description for their Organic Germania Pizza Flour is: "Italian-German inspired rustic blend for pizza and flatbreads." I emailed Nicky Giusto of Central Milling and he told me the blend uses three types of flour: 00 Normal, Type 85 (T-85), and Pumpernickel. The mix of 00 Normal and T-85 is the rustic Italian "bit" because Nicky uses that blend for his ciabatta; the Pumpernickel is the German "bit," which makes it Germania (the word "German" in Italian). I love it!
There is definitely a rustic, country quality to this dough. I added some whole wheat flour to the pictured batch to enhance that even more. On top of that, if you've tasted the Firestone Double Barrel Ale, you will find the same flavor tones in the beer. So, I'm interested to see how this all comes out. As a sort of contro batch, I also am making the dough without the whole wheat to see the difference.
The dough is based on Peter's Country Pizza Dough, which is another great home pizza dough! If you saw my previous post, where I made a similar dough with the addition of some mesquite flour, you'll see I've adjusted my liquids a little. This time the dough handled more easily. I did a couple of stretch and folds after mixing, and popped the doughs into the fridge to allow them their own sweet time to get ready for some baking action.
I reduced the oil to 1 tbsp instead of 2, because the dough absorbs plenty more oil from the counter as I rolled it and stretched it and folded it. I also wanted to manage the stickiness of these doughs for ease. It's a little easier for me to add more liquid, if needed, than it is to add more flour to find the right balance (though Peter says he finds it easier to add flour to a sticky dough than water to a stiff dough, so I guess you'll have to decide for yourself) .
A Brew in Germania - The Pizza Dough
- 20 Oz of Central Milling's Germania Flour
- 4 Oz Whole Wheat Flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (0.18 oz.) instant yeast
(or 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast dissolved in the water)
- 2 teaspoons (0.5 oz.) kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz.) olive oil (optional)
- 1 tablespoon (0.75 oz.) honey (optional)
- 2 1/8 Cups (17 Oz) Beer - (A Firestone Double Barrel Ale if you have it or any malty ale)
*Alternatively, I made a second batch and only used the Germania Flour (24 oz). *See photos for the two examples.
Combine the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl and mix with a spoon. I like to do this to make sure the ingredients are well distributed before adding the liquid.
Add the olive oil and honey, if using, followed by the beer. (Note: At about 10AM it was too early to have a beer during my dough-making session, but I would be lying if I didn't say I did taste the beer a few times as the doughs came together. Again, it's an interesting connection when you taste how similar the flavor profiles of the beer and the dough are. There is a distinct yeasty nuttiness that comes across your tastebuds, once with a pinch of the newly formed dough and then again as the liquid beer washes through the scene. After all, beer is liquid bread -- as they say.)
Mix for about 1 minute to get the ingredients to come together. Let the dough rest for about 5 minutes and mix again for another minute until it's a relatively smooth ball that has come together.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled surface/counter. With a little oil on both the counter and on your hands, stretch and fold the dough into a ball and let it rest for another 5 minutes.
Then, stretch the dough again and fold it. Stretch it another direction and fold it onto itself again. Do this a few times and form the dough into a ball again. Place a bowl over it and let it rest for another 5 minutes on the counter.
Repeat this process 1 more times, maybe 2 depending on how it's setting up. It will become more firm and bouncy each time as the gluten begins to form.
Finally, form the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put the covered bowl in the fridge overnight for best results. Make sure to take the dough out of the fridge about 2 hours before you want to bake and form it into dough balls. In a rush, I will set a cold dough by my oven and try to get it to warm up a little quicker, but it's best to just let it come to room temperature on it's own.
Note: If you prefer, divide the dough as soon it is finished the last stretch and fold it into about 4 or 5 dough balls and place each ball into an oiled zip-lock bag, and they can go in the freezer for a few months. To use these later, pull them out of the freezer the day before you want to make pizza and place in the fridge. If making pizza that same day, you can, instead, place the frozen dough in the zip lock on the counter and allow a few hours to thaw. I would guess about 4 hours would get you close.
We have 56 guests online
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.