Peter's Blog, August 9th,
Peter Reinhart

Slowly I Turned...

There are some things that make even a Pizza Quest, that is, the search for the perfect pizza, shrink into nothingness and I experienced such a thing this past week when I was in Buffalo, NY. I'm not referring to having, for the first time, Buffalo Wings in Buffalo (that was pretty cool), and also my first official Beef on Weck sandwich (that was actually amazing and memorable, especially with horseradish. Actually, I've had Beef on Weck before but never in Buffalo, which claims bragging rights, and never this good, the beef so tender it was like butter).  For those who don't know what Beef on Weck is, the Weck refers to a Kimmelweck roll, kind of like a Kaiser roll but with kosher salt and caraway seeds on top -- kummel means caraway, and the proper spelling should actually be kummelweck, with an umelot over the "u".  Weck, of course, means roll. The beef is sliced paper thin, cooked slowly, and carved off the bone before piling it on the weck, which also gets a dip into beefy jus Beef on Weck is to Buffalo what a cheese steak is to Philly and, when done properly -- which not all places can do -- is equally memorable. But all of these "only in Buffalo" culinary moments are obliterated by my first ever visit to Niagara Falls.

I know, it's such a cliche and sometimes I think maybe I'm the only American who hasn't already been there. I tried not to expect too much; I didn't really expect much. I've seen waterfalls before, big, tall powerful waterfalls, but I was totally gobsmacked by the impact of Niagara Falls when I finally got to the edge. I saw the famous vapor plumes before I saw the falls, and heard the sounds of fury as I approached, but when I got to the rail and put it all together with my first sighting of the actual falls I was speechless. And I say this having seen it only from the American

 
The Brown Butter Cookie Company, Cayucos, CA
Peter Reinhart

Traci Nixon and Christa Hozie had an idea and they went for it. Somehow, they have managed to make a style of cookies so tasty that, even hidden away in the small town of Cayucos, people from all over the country have found them. They told me that a lot of their business is by mail order, so feel free to check out their website and give them a shout.

As our quest evolved while we were filming with Chef Jensen and his wife Grace, we took a little break while Jensen did some prep and wandered over to this little shop, just a few yards from the Cass House Inn, and met the delightful Traci and Christa. We had seen the sign when we pulled up to the Cass House Inn earlier in the day and Brad had told us all about these cookies from when he had first met Jensen a few weeks earlier.  So, it was only a matter of time, when even a slight window of opportunity opened up, that we found ourselves "wandering" over to check it out.  Actually, Brad was with one of the cameramen shooting some B-Roll shots of Jensen in the kitchen and we snuck away with the rest of the crew to explore - no...well to "investigate" this cookie company.   We did get a little footage before we had to return and thought it would be a nice "palate cleanser" from the pizza footage to give you a glimpse of their shop. What I especially admire about this place is how they took a simple but powerful culinary concept, browning butter to bring out maximum flavor, and then built a whole product line on it. That's "Grass Roots Marketing 101," and so I found it very inspirational and hope you do as well.

Note:  When we filmed here they had 2 main brown butter cookies with sprinkled sea salt on top:  The Original and The Cocoa.  If you happen to swing by now, or go online you will see they have added quite a few new flavors!

Here is their website:  http://www.brownbuttercookies.com/

 
Summer Heirloom Caprese Salad
Brad English

This is one of my favorite salads to make in one variation or another.  If I don't have fresh mozzarella on hand, I'll just make this as a tomato and basil salad with a little oil, balsamic and salt and pepper.  I am always happy with a tomato salad.   If you can't get an heirloom tomato any quality tomato will work.  It's a very flexible platform for pure goodness!

This salad can be a great lunch all by itself.  It's refreshing and fulfilling.  It can also be a great dinner salad.  Or, as you will see in my next post, it can be a terrific topping for a pizza, or a sandwich for that matter.  I also like to add a roasted red pepper (I try to keep a jar of them around for such an occasion).

This is a fresh and easy salad that I did not invent, nor am I taking any credit for it.  I am simply pulling the best ingredients together that I have access to and tweaking them to make this great Italian concept my own.  It will change slightly every time you make it because this salad is all about the ingredients.  Each one of them, the tomato, the cheese, the basil, the seasoning, all stand out, but also blend together so well, in much the same way that the simple ingredients we often see on a great pizza work together.  In my mind, the caprese salad is to salads what the Margherita pizza is to pizzas.  They are pure representations of what they are (salad and pizza) and celebrate the individual ingredients as well as the gathering of them into a meal.

The Summer Heirloom Caprese Salad:

Heirloom Tomatoes
Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella
Fresh Basil
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Sea Salt
Pepper

--Slice an Heirloom Tomato into slices or wedges.
--Place a ball of buffalo mozzarella (or fresh cow's milk mozzarella) over the tomato and break it open.
--Tear or snip with a scissors the basil leaves into strips, or cut them and lay over the top.
--Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the salad, to taste.
--Sprinkle a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper to finish.

Enjoy!

 
Peter's Blog, August 2nd, 2011
Peter Reinhart

Susan and I spent the weekend in Philadelphia for a Reinhart family reunion and to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday, and I had chance to revisit some of my childhood haunts and spend time with old friends prior to the big event. I had planned to stop at Mama's to pick up a cheese steak (the best!) on our way in from the airport, but our flight got delayed and there wasn't time, so Mama's will have to wait till the next trip -- drat!! But the chocolate croissants at George Perrier's new The Art of Bread, in the now trendy town of Narberth, about a mile from my childhood home, filled the void the following morning. This was not the Narberth of my youth, though Ricklin's Hardware Store and Mape's Five & Dime are still there, serving as the requisite retro icons necessary in a renewed and transformed village, sitting astride some impressive fromageries and patisseries.

While we were in Philly, I got an e-mail from Brad English, who was up the road in NYC, filming a television commercial (that's what he does when he isn't shooting Pizza Quest webisodes or cooking on his grill), telling me that he had just discovered Tony Gemignani's new restaurant, 900 Degrees. The name refers to the oven heat that he uses to make his world championship Margherita pizza, which you will see on an upcoming webisode when we visit with him at his San Francisco location, Tony's Pizza Napoletana. But, that name and temperature barely describes the enormous vision behind Tony's restaurants (he also now has a place in Sacramento and more are on their way), the main feature being that you can get almost any style of pizza and, for each style, he has the appropriate oven. Again, you'll see all this when we show the webisodes later this month, but if you want to get a sneak preview go to his website, www.900degrees.com   and also read Adam Kuban's fine review on SliceNY at: http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2011/06/900-degrees-almost-as-many-pizza-options.html.

Here's a few photos that Brad took when he had lunch there -- the pizzas were made by Tony's protegee, Audrey Pagnotta Sherman, who you will also see in our SF webisodes -- we met her there while she was studying with Tony. She must have passed the tests because she is now the lead pizzaiola at 900 Degrees! More on all this later, when we have some footage to show you, but we're excited to share this news and it was good timing for Brad to be there while I was in Philly, about to have my own pizza adventure at the now famous Osteria, quite arguably (according to my mother, who knows such things) Philadelphia's best restaurant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Osteria is part of the James Beard Award winning Marc Vetri's growing restaurant empire. Marc is one of the finest chefs of Italian food in the world, and his first restaurant, Vetri, has earned every award possible and put him into Michelin territory. But, it's small and uber-expensive, so a few years ago he opened Osteria, along with culinary partner and Executive Chef Jeffrey Michaud, and

 
Jensen's Lamb Merguez Pizza
Peter Reinhart

One of the great joys in being on the quest for perfect pizza is that it truly is a discovery process. As Chef Jensen Lorenzen and I played in his outdoor kitchen at the Cass House Inn I think we both felt that we were stepping into exciting, new territory. He knows food and ingredients and how flavors come together; I know dough; he had a brand new wood-fired oven that he was just learning to "drive," and some great ingredients; I had a camera crew and a Pizza Quest team in search of new flavor frontiers -- it was a spontaneous adventure for all of us to see what we could create with the cameras running. In this webisode you'll see some of Jensen's creative process, how a chef thinks about ingredients and how, by using certain flavors in concert with others, he can create a taste burst that suddenly becomes memorable because it connects with previous reference points and then takes things down a slightly different path, reinforcing the old reference point but also establishing a new one, a new taste memory. What a great job I have -- it never gets boring!!

So, enjoy Chef Jensen's delicious Merguez Lamb Sausage Pizza with Goat Cheese and Raitta!

 
Holy Smoke n' Ribs Pizza!
Brad English

One of our Guest Columns by Tom Carrig was called "BBQ Pizza--Not".  It got me thinking about, what else, barbecue pizza.  My first introduction to this type of pizza was back in the 90's when the BBQ Chicken Pizza became all the rage at California Pizza Kitchen, and also at Louise's Trattoria here in Los Angeles, CA.  We could talk a lot about this explosion of "new" pizza ingredients that really brought so many new pizza concepts to public attention, and I'm sure much has already been written about it.  I also understand Tom's perspective about this abuse of the term "barbecue" and have learned over the years, as I've become more and more of a lover of "process" in my food quests, that barbecue, as a word, is butchered more than the butchers at national market chains carve up cuts of meat.  Wow, that was a mouthful of words even to type --hey Mom, I'm writing in metaphors and analogies now! 

But, Tom really got me thinking about barbecue and pizza.  I'd love to try an official BARBECUED PIZZA (as he defined it), where all the ingredients are indeed touched by the fire, the smoke, and all that low and slow temperature and time.  It sounds like an adventure but would also require

 
Peter's Blog, July 26th, St. Martin
Peter Reinhart

A week away from pizza--it was hard. Every time I passed a pizza place on the island of St. Martin I had to fight the desire to check it out as an act of PQ duty. But it was our vacation, Susan and I, and that included a vacation from anything that would draw us back into the things we were vacating. Let's face it, sometimes you just have to empty out and, frankly, the food in St. Martin (more so on the French side, not the Dutch side of the island) is considered some of the best in the Caribbean.

 

 

We designed a great routine: a short visit to a small, humble boulangerie in the morning for a chocolate croissant and a cappuchino or a cup of tea; some serious ocean time; lots of reading (for me, a great novel by Anne Patchett called "State of Wonder" -- remember that you heard about it here when the book awards are announced in the fall) as well as a book on the history of Google called, "I'm Feeling Lucky," (great title--a fun read), along with trying to catch up, futilely, with the bottomless pile of articles from The New Yorker that have been collecting on my I-Pad and in the growing stacks in my bathroom, office, suitcase -- they multiply like rabbits and there's no way to keep up, yet I'm totally addicted… well, you get the picture. Reading, swimming,  enjoying time together uninterrupted by deadlines and teaching schedules, and, at the end of each day, eating

 
Sourdough Pizza
Teresa Greenway

Note From Peter:

Teresa Greenway is a serious home baker and sourdough expert who has been corresponding with me for the past few years. She has written her own beautiful book on all things sourdough, loaded with photos, and is making it available as a free download for anyone who wants to get it from her website (see the link at the end of this article, or go to her Guest Contributor profile). We welcome Teresa on board as our resident sourdough expert and look forward to future columns from here.  Please feel free to send your comments and let us know about your own sourdough exploits. The method she describes below makes a fabulous dough!

I have a passion for baking with sourdough. I enjoy sharing the fun by helping others learn to bake using it too. If you want to join in the fun but don’t have a sourdough starter, you can learn to make your own here: http://www.northwestsourdough.com/.

Lately I have been thinking about making pizza dough using sourdough starter. In this recipe a sourdough starter is used to make a piece of dough called a “preferment” which is then used to make the final dough.

I decided to use a sourdough pre-ferment so as to have a large quantity of wild yeast and bacteria

 
TJ's Asparagus Pizza
Brad English

I have been corresponding through our email with a Pizza Quester named TJ about making the Buonchristiani Lamb Sausage with Fennel Pizza.  TJ asked a few questions and then went off and had great success making the pizza  (that really is one that you have to try -- I love that pizza!).  In one of TJ's emails he told me about one of his own favorite pizzas.  It's a thinly shaved asparagus pizza.  Right there, that sounded really interesting, so, I thought I would give it a try. (in other words, he had me at "shaved asparagus")

I asked TJ where he got the recipe and he said that the original recipe is from the blog Smitten Kitchen.  I looked that up and here is the link so that they get the credit.  It's another great pizza!  We love pizza, don't we?!  You can find the original recipe here: http://smittenkitchen.com.

I am going to use TJ's own words to tell you how to make this pizza.  I think it demonstrates a couple of things.  The first, and most important thing, is simply this: passion.  This pizza is a perfect example of how important these simple passions are to our daily lives.  We keep ourselves younger by engaging our minds with tasks that push us to learn, or grow in some way.  TJ and I have never met, and may never meet, but we connected and engaged in this shared passion.  I hope that experience is enriching for both of us, I know it was for me.  And, the second interesting thing is this: that any recipe can be taken and should be interpreted, adapted, and adjusted for each individual. 

Following is TJ's email about his version of the Smitten Kitchen's Version of an Asparagus Pizza.

 
Following the Chalkboards
Brad English

A long time ago, I took a trip with my high school buddy, Milan.  We went to Europe one winter to ski and roam around a little.  The two of us didn't have any real plans, beyond hitting some key ski spots like Chamonix, Zermat, Davos, St Anton, and Kitzbuhel among many others.  We had a stop planned in a small farm town in Slovakia to visit his relatives but, other than that, our planning consisted of getting tickets and reserving a rental car. 

We hit the ground driving.  Leaving Frankfurt, we eventually made a stop in the Black Forest for some German beer on Lake Titisee.  It was a cold day, and a blanket of snow covered most things.  There weren't many tourists there that time of year, but we found our beer and it was as beautiful a place for a cold beer as I had ever been.  I would find many such places on this trip.

 
A Pizza Farm
Jeffrey Michael

On my last couple of visits to Minnesota, I had been hearing about a unique and must see‚ pizza place in Stockholm, Wisconsin, about 90 minutes from the Twin Cities.

So this year, during our annual summer visit to see my wife's family, we decided it was time to make the trip out there.  On our 14th wedding anniversary, my wife, Julie, and I packed up the car with our friends, and fellow adventurers, Chris and Kristen Johnson.  As a side note, the Johnsons had recently opened up a fantastic Texas style barbecue joint in Bayport, Minnesota (www.bayportbbq.com) and this may have been one of the only nights in months when neither of them was working at the restaurant.  So with a leap of faith, and the car loaded with blankets, utensils and beverages, we turned south on the highway and began our quest.

That's right, you bring your own utensils, beverages and any other thing you may want to sit/lay/sleep on.  No this, wasn't your usual checkered tablecloths pizza and beer joint.

When we arrived in Stockholm, there was not much open in this quaint town except for the Stockholm Pie Company (www.stockholmpiecompany.com). 

 
An Amazing Smoked Albacore Pizza
Peter Reinhart

Okay, so we picked up our smoked albacore at Ruddell's Smoke House and now what?  Time to make a pizza, of course. Chef Jensen is an inventive cook and has a great eye for presentation as well as a firm grasp on how to use fresh, locally sourced ingredients.  And I'm big on the use of acidity -- this time in the form of both hot an cold heirloom tomatoes as well as Ruddell's "secret sauce" -- to make things pop so, between the two of us, I think we came up with an amazing pizza (but it was really mostly Jensen -- I just got to go along for the ride and throw in a few comments).

The use of the finishing "secret sauce," provided by Jim Ruddell himself, is the final key to tying all these great ingredients together. It was, as far as we could tell, a sort of lemon aioli, like an olive oil mayonnaise with extra lemon if you don't want to go to all the trouble of making aioli from scratch; we're not sure how Jim made his but it was good! The sauce, whether this one or any number of other "secret sauces" that all fish taco shacks have in their arsenal (as does any great hoagie shop), causes every ingredient to seemingly explode and give up its full potential of flavor. I mean, when you fold a slice of pizza around these ingredients there really is very little difference between a pizza - a sandwich - or a taco, which is exactly the point I've been making for years: pizza is just dough with something on it and it exists in every culture, in many variations, and under a variety of names. Dough with something on it, when the dough is killer and the something on it explodes with flavor, it works every time no matter what you call it.

So, our goal was to create a sort of fish taco pizza and, in one of my favorite moments in this video, you can tell how well we did by looking closely at Jensen's wife, Grace, and the subtle look on her face when she takes her first bite -- priceless!!

The Cass House Signature Central Coast Pizza with locally smoked Albacore!

 
A Fish Tacone Quest
Brad English

It's officially Fish Taco season here at Pizza Quest.  Why not?  It's summer and there isn't a better time to enjoy the fresh summery flavors than in a great fish taco!  As you've seen in recent webisodes, we stumbled onto two incredible fish taco places while visiting The Cass House Inn in Cayucos, CA.  Both the Taco Temple and Ruddell's Smokehouse create some of the most delicious fish tacos I have ever had.  You will see later this week, in an upcoming webisode, how our passion for great fish tacos translates into a truly unique Central Coast Signature Pizza designed by Chef Jensen Lorenzen and Peter, using some of Jim Ruddell's fresh smoked Albacore.  So, sit tight, as we keep exploring the world for memorable foods.


While we're on this subject, I want to share my own fish taco recipe, one that I have worked on for

 
Peter's Blog, July 12, 2011
Peter Reinhart

Today (Monday) we made pizza dough during the first day of our week long Kid's Baking Camp at Johnson & Wales. I'm jazzed, because tomorrow we're going to actually make the pizzas with my 14 campers, all between 13 and 15 years of age. These are great kids and today, on Day One, we made killer chocolate chip cookies, wonderful soft dinner rolls, and flaky blitz biscuits. Tomorrow (Tuesday) we will be making apple pie (if pizza isn't "American Pie" then apple pie truly is), French bread with pre-fermented dough, and, of course, individual pizzas. Later this week we'll make pate choux filled with pastry cream, bagels, soft pretzels, focaccia, and banana cream pie and quiche, and who knows what else. In the class room next to mine there is a group of 9 to 11 year old kids baking up a storm -- I saw lots of great looking cup cakes today. Upstairs there is a group of 11-13 year old kids. There is also a hot foods class for another group of kids of various ages -- the school is filled with kids hungry to cook and hungry to feed each other their food.

What I love about this camp is how easily these kids pick up the techniques and how well

 
Ruddell's Smokehouse, Cayucos, CA
Peter Reinhart

I love smoked fish of all types. As a child, nearly every Sunday morning in our family we had some kind of smoked fish platter for brunch, usually lox and bagels but often sturgeon, kippers (hot-smoked salmon as opposed to the cold-smoked Nova Scotia and belly lox), white fish, or whatever else my folks were able to find at the local deli. That's probably where my fascination with smoked foods in general began, as we didn't have classic barbecue joints in my part of Philly, but we did know about pastrami (smoked brisket). Later, when I discovered the whole wide world of "low and slow" regional barbecue all the lights went on!

So, our visit to Jim Ruddell's Smokehouse in Cayucos was like a pilgrimage , of sorts -- a recovery of some very fond family taste memories. Jim couldn't have been nicer and more down to earth -- he clearly does this hard, daily work because he loves it. It's a one man show, and another sparkling example of food artisanship, with his attention to the the right wood and temperature choices, and the joy of a daily harvest of whatever he happens to be smoking that day.

In this week's webisode you'll meet Jim, as Jensen and Grace Lorenzen accompany me to his Smokehouse to gather ingredients for the pizzas you'll see in later episodes. As you're about to see, he made us a smoked fish taco that was as memorable as the one we had at The Taco Temple, yet totally different and distinct (could it be that we'll need to do a whole season on Taco Quests? Who knows....?). Like I said, I love smoked fish and we had more than our fair share of this beautiful product during our outing.

Sit back and enjoy our shopping trip to Ruddell's Smokehouse, on the Pacific Coast of Central California.

 
Peter's Blog, July 5th
Peter Reinhart

A Primer on Flour
Hi Everybody,
I've been getting a lot e-mails asking about flour and how all the different types work for pizza. Here's a quick, and by no means comprehensive look at some of your options. There is so much good flour available that you can't go wrong, but with all the interest in Italian style flour as well as the various types of American flour, it might be helpful to know the following:


-- Italian "Tipo" Double Zero (--00--) Flour is favored by people who have been to Naples or to one of the new American VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) pizzerias and love the soft texture and natural sweetness. The term "double zero" refers to both the purity of the flour -- culled from the endosperm (white part) of the wheat berry and very finely milled, usually of moderate protein levels (about 9.5% - 10.5%) comparable to American All Purpose flour. It has wonderful extensibility (as opposed to elasticity) which makes it easy to stretch for pizza. It also does not absorb as much water as American flour, and doesn't require as long a fermentation period to release it's wonderful flavor. It does not usually come with malted barley flour, as American flour does to promote browning, because it is designed to be baked at very high temperatures for a very short time (less than two minutes, usually closer to one minute) so the malt enzymes could cause it to burn. The most well known brand, now available to the American marketplace at some specialty stores and via the Forno Bravo e-store (and from Orlando Foods via their distributors, if you have a pizzeria), is Caputo. Another brand, of similar quality, is San Felice, but it is harder to track down if you don't have a pizzeria. By the way, "Italian" flour is not made with only Italian grown wheat but rather a blend of wheat, some of it from the USA, that meets the specifications (specs) of the mills. Also, there are a few -00- types, some used for pasta, some for bread, and some for pizza, so be sure to get the right one for your situation.

--American Double Zero (--00-) Flour is a new option, now available via Central Milling and possibly other mills. But the American version tends to  contain higher protein flour (close to 11.5% - 12%) than the Italian brands, but yet retains the Italian extensibility qualities due to the specific wheat selections. It feels very soft because it is finely milled, and absorbs far more water than the Italian brands. Llke the Italian, it is unbleached and retains a beautiful, golden hue. Central Milling now makes a few types, some with malt and salt added, for pizzerias or for home cooks not planning to bake at super hot temperatures. The Central Milling flour is certified organic and has a soft, sweet flavor very similar to the Italian brands. Ordering info listed in a previous Peter's Blog.

--Unbleached Bread Flour is available at all supermarkets, produced by a number of major mills such as General Mills, King Arthur, Pillsbury (now owned by General Mills), Con Agra, and many regional mills (used primarily by restaurants and bakeries). The protein level is somewhere around 12.5% and the flour makes excellent bread, pizza, and focaccia, especially when made at higher hydration levels than the Italian flour. Because the protein level is higher, it has a chewier texture, a kind of al dente quality, that many of us find appealing. It is usually sold with a very small amount of diastatic malted flour added, which helps promote browning due to the enzyme activity of the malt.

--High Gluten Flour is often favored by American pizzerias because it is so strong that it can be stretched or spun out into larger pizzas, up to 18" in diameter and in some places, even wider. The hardness of the protein (gluten) is offset by the addition of oil or shortening, up to 6% and in some instances 8% of the flour weight, and usually some sugar or sweetener is also added. While the artisan pizzerias tend to steer away from this flour, the general public loves pizzas made with it because of the large slices and ability to hold a slice straight out without "droopage." I think of it as street pizza or college pizza -- loaded with cheese and other toppings. This flour is hard to find at supermarkets but restaurants and pizzerias can order it from their distributors and, if you want to use it (it is especially favored for bagels, multi-grain and rye breads, as well as for this style of pizza) you might be able to buy some from your local bakery or pizzeria.

Final note: While everybody has their own favorite types I always fall back on this truism: There are only two kinds of pizza -- good and very good; it's hard to make bad pizza unless you burn it. So stick with what you like and play around with the other types as you expand your repertoire. American (and Canadian) flour is the best in the world and usually finds its way into Italian and French brands, so remember that it's really about finding the type (tipo) of flour suited to your preference and then learning how to use it. And, of course, there's only one way to learn how, and that's by making lots and lots of pizza.

 
My Love Affair with Pizza Napoletana
Brad Otton

My love for Pizza Napoletana started the first time I ever tasted a pizza straight from a wood burning oven in Napoli. I had only been in Italy a couple of days and was not prepared for what I was about to eat. These were the early 90’s, before food blogs or the internet. While I knew that Italy was the birthplace of pizza, I was uneducated when it came to the significance of Napoli in the history of pizza. More importantly, I was unaware what made Pizza Napoletana different than the chain pizza I was raised on growing up in the States. My first ever Pizza Napoletana was actually served “libretto” style from a back ally pizzeria near the main train station. Before the invasion of the Euro, you could get a folded up “libretto” margherita pizza with a Fanta Aranciata (aka orange soda!) for about 2,000 Lire or about $1. My love for this pizza started here, folded up pizza in one hand, Fanta in the other and hot San Marzano tomato sauce dripping down my arm. It was quite simply the greatest thing I had ever tasted.

But a deeper passion for pizza was not born until I traveled back to Napoli with the intention of opening a pizzeria in Las Vegas. There I spent time training with Enzo Coccia and Davide Bruno at Pizzeria La Notizia. Spending the mornings training with them and the evenings working and being around the pizzeria is where I developed an intense passion for Pizza Napoletana. This kind of pizza passion is infectious, and it is impossible to experience how proud these pizza makers are without it transferring to others.  Among these pizzaioli the history of pizza is taught as we would teach about the Revolutionary War, it is a part of their identity and their heritage and they do not take it lightly.

After spending time with the crew at La Notizia I was convinced that I not only wanted to open a Pizzeria Napoletana, but I wanted to honor the tradition of the product and do everything possible to re-create the exact pizza that has been made on the streets of Napoli for over 300 years. Since the day we opened Settebello our only requirement for choosing which products we use is if it makes the pizza more authentic. Price cannot be an issue. When I sit down with our head pizzaiolo to evaluate products the only question we ask ourselves is if this product makes our pizza more authentic; that is all that matters.

The Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) has provided a strong support structure for those of us who have decided to take the route of making authentic Pizza Napoletana. Initially there were only about 10 members scattered across the US but it provided a strong support group of people all trying to achieve the same goal. The VPN was established by pizza makers in Napoli to protect the integrity of Pizza Napoletana. Certain standards are set up to ensure that members are trying to maintain an authentic product. More importantly, for us it was a fraternity of sorts. Members all seem to help each other out in any way possible and, as new restaurant owners, this was priceless.

Note from Peter: Brad Otton, whose bio is posted in our Contributor's Profile section (some of you may know him as the former starting quarterback and Rose Bowl champion at USC), is one member of a growing community of pizzaiolos committed to the VPN model. We'd love to hear from others and will soon be presenting webisodes featuring some of the other American pizzaiolos who are likewise dedicated to authentic Pizza Napolitano. We all know that there are many ways to make pizza, many versions,  but we'd love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and questions regarding this particular style. With Brad's help, and the help of the other experts we've met, we'll try to answer your questions and to help keep the discussion going.  Feel free to start the thread right here.


 
Mozzarella Curd Pizza with Pepperoni
Peter Reinhart

Joe D'Astice, of S'mores Pizza fame (see the Instructionals archives), is back with another demo as he shows us how he uses fresh mozzarella curd, not the stretched cheese balls, to save time and money and still come up with a gorgeous, delicious pizza.  It really raises the question of why more pizzerias don't simply use this method instead of making or buying the more expensive version, so we're going to start asking this question and see what we can find out from the experts. If you have any thoughts or experience in comparing the two versions please let us know because I was pleasantly surprised at how similar this cheese tasted and performed comparable to the silky cheese balls.  Of course, there's tradition, which is a serious matter and usually filled with folk wisdom that isn't immediately apparent, and there's also something oh so satisfying about handling the cheese in a warm salt water bath that makes it worth the effort on so many levels (see our webisode filmed at Pizzeria Delfina with head pizzaiolo Anthony Strong, as well as the Bel Gioioso click-through button to their video on the subject).  But for those who don't want to go through all of that, and can find the pure curd at your local cheese counter, this version is a simple solution. The curd looks more like what we used to call Farmer's Cheese, so there are a lot of other applications for it -- even in cheese cake or cheese filling for Danish pastries and the like -- for which this can be used. Feel free to share your own tricks and tips right here in the comments section. In the meantime, enjoy this demo by our friend Joe, filmed at The Fire Within Conference in Boulder, CO, and visit him and his mobile oven in Rockford,, Illinois.

 
Quesadillas Ingles
Brad English


A little voice, in fact, a very persistent little voice is constantly calling out "Daddy, can you make me a quesadilla?"  Moments later the chorus continues and continues until I relent or take the dog on a walk.  This happens in the morning, after school, for dinner, or later in the night as a snack!  The result of these requests has meant that I spend a fair amount of time over my stove making up quesadillas for the kids (and others of us).  And, also the dog has gotten his fair share of walks. 

This is Pizza Quest, however, not Family Pet Quest - so let me focus on the mighty little quesadilla.  Sometimes, it can even be a mighty big quesadilla.  One of my favorite versions is a Breakfast Quesadilla, which is a cross between a breakfast sandwich and a breakfast pizza.  The dough, or tortilla is simply the delivery system.  Peter has often referred to pizza as dough with something on it, akin to a grilled cheese sandwich or any other product where dough serves as a host for a number of ingredients to make a tasty meal. The quesadilla, in my opinion, falls right in line with this concept.  It's a dough and its main basic ingredient is cheese.  Who is going to argue this isn't a pizza on some level?

Many great Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants take that to a whole other level, offering a quesadilla as a meal with chicken, or as a full breakfast, or whatever they have come up with to enhance the basic cheese between two tortillas concept. 

As I said, I have spent a good amount of time playing around with my versions here at home.  With my last name being English, these are now "officially" being called Quesadillas Ingles.  I never really thought about it much, it's just cheese and a couple of tortillas heated up on the stove top but, after being "forced" to make these things over and over and having a few incidents where I might have a lucky accident, I began stretching the concept beyond slapping some cheese between two tortillas.  One of the first "accidents" I recall was noticing when a little cheese spilled out from between the tortillas and fried into a perfect crispness on the side.  I love that crunch! 

Sorry for the digression, but, we have to take a short road trip up the coast.  If you live anywhere near Santa Barbara, CA, add a visit to La Superica Taqueria on Milpas Street to your list of must-do places.  You will always find a line out the door of this taqueria and you will see why after you go.  They have a side dish which is fried cheese with bits of bacon and onion.  It isn't fried crisp, but has a bit of that flavor from the onion and bacon, and the edges can get a little crisp and charred.  You take this small bowl of pure perfection and add it to your tacos, or even to just a warm corn tortilla.  It is the only place where I've come across this treat and, living in Southern California with a great Mexican restaurant always around the corner, that's pretty noteworthy.  I happened to be in the area this past weekend and took some photos that I'll share soon. 

Ok, so back to Quesadillas Ingles. One day, I thought of double decking the little corn tortillas to make them more substantial.  I think I was trying to just make them a little bigger so that I would have to make fewer of them.  I like to use corn tortillas for these and they're small and the kids are always calling out for more.  My daughter starts this pleading, usually, and then my son shows up and joins in.  Then I'm making these for two people and I'm inevitably cutting them up like small pizzas and stealing a wedge or two for myself before delivery.  Thus, the double-decker was born. 

You can add all sorts of ingredients besides cheese to make these more of a meal.  I've added sauteed onions, Mom's Pickled Jalapenos (see the Instructional archives for this recipe), chicken, and a mixture of cheeses.  You don't add much, these are more like street tacos than over-filled restaurant tacos.  A little goes a long way. 

I made two versions here in these photos.  The first is a basic double-decker with cheddar cheese.  The second has some leftover spicy Italian sausage that I had used in a pasta dish the night before.  I chopped up the sausage, which I fished out of some great tomato sauce, and sauteed it with onions.  I added some new, freshly chopped onions and sauteed those until soft.  I then added this mixture with each cheese layer and suddenly had a nice spicy sausage pizza, er, I mean a double-decked Quesadilla Ingles with Spicy Sausage and Sauteed Onions.

Quesadillas Ingles

Fresh Corn Tortillas
Cheese (Cheddar in this case, but don't stop there)
Cooking Spray, or Butter
Pan
Heat

Options:
Add anything you can think of. 
I have triple stacked these babies, but find a double stack holds up better and has the right balance of cheese and tortilla.  If you follow my technique you can get all three layers of tortillas  crispy, which is better than having a soft middle layer (in my humble opinion).

 

Suggested Instructions:

Set your dial to medium high; you may have to adjust.  This can be a smokey operation.  You want the heat to make things go quickly, to melt the cheese and give a little char on the tortilla, but it's a bit of a dance, so be prepared to make adjustments as you learn.

Hit the pan with a little non-stick cooking spray.  This works best to make sure the cheese doesn't stick. 

Lay down your first tortilla.

Put your first layer of cheese on the tortilla and cover with a second tortilla.  Let this go until you get the bottom tortilla crisp before flipping.  What I'm trying to do here is get that 1st tortilla crisp because it will become the middle tortilla when you flip it over.  It adds another layer of crunch in the middle.  Trust me, it's worth it.

Flip the tortilla over (after giving the top another spray so it won't stick when you flip it over).

Now add your second layer of cheese on the charred bottom, which is now your top.  Add other toppings, or fillings if using with each cheese layer. Place the 3rd tortilla on top of that and hit that with some more spray. Allow the bottom one enough time to crisp and char to your liking.  You can flip them and check, and then flip them back as many times as you need to.  The cheese will be melted quickly enough, so you are just looking for the texture/crispy finish on the tortilla. 

Flip it again onto the 3rd tortilla (the top) to finish. 

After the last flip, allow the tortilla to cook a bit. Then, pick it up and throw a couple pieces of shredded cheese on the pan and place the tortilla back down on the cheese.  Add cooking spray if you think you need it so it won't stick.  The cheese will fry/crisp quickly and stick to the tortilla.  Flip and repeat and you will have added a nice toasty crunchy cheese crust to your Quesadilla Ingles.

Take a slice!

Enjoy! Then walk the dog....

 

 
Peter's Blog, June 28th
Peter Reinhart

Last week I reported on our recent quest and pizza/beer challenge at The Bruery in Orange County (Placentia, to be more precise--their tap room is open to the public on weekends if you happen to be in the neighborhood!). I just want to add a few words this week on one aspect of our experience there, something I addressed on film during the taping but, since it won't run for awhile, I thought I'd write about it now while it's still fresh in my mind.

As we learned more about the art and craft of beer making during our tour of The Bruery facility, I kept thinking of the old saying that "beer is liquid bread." I've always taken that seriously because there are such obvious parallels, mainly, the proper fermentation of grain to evoke its full potential of flavor.  But what I realized perhaps for the first time, even though I've toured breweries before, is how much more difficult beer making is than bread baking, how much more complex it is, how many subtle choices the brewmeister has to make, gets to make, in manipulating the ingredients to create, hopefully, amazing flavors. We''re all flavorists, those of us who cook, and it's also a truism that the primary purpose of serious cooking, aside from delivering nutrition so that we can stay alive and thrive, is to deliver flavor. This is what culinarians pay all that money for when they go to expensive culinary schools--to learn how to deliver flavor. I've joked before about the reason pizza is the most popular food in the world is because it is the perfect flavor delivery system -- dough with something on it -- and I still believe that. But artisan beer making functions and delivers flavor on a whole other level, one that is dependent on

 
Peter's Blog, June 26th
Peter Reinhart

Yes, I'm late with this posting. I promised it by Thursday but, as so often happens, time got away from me and I couldn't get online from where I was. But here I am, to tell you only a bit about our latest quest. It may take a while before we get it all edited and posted, so this is just a little advanced notice to let you know what's coming. It all began a few months ago when Kelly Whitaker, of Pizzeria Basta, told us about a great micro-brewery whose beers they feature at Basta called The Bruery, in Orange County, Southern California. Turns out that our Pizza Quest producer and columnist, Brad English, lives not too far from there and, so, he checked it out and became friends with the creative beverage team there. One thing led to another and, before we knew it, we all found ourselves back at Pizzeria Basta, this time with The Bruery owner, Patrick Rue, who was there for a special beer and food pairing. I'll go into more detail on this part of the adventure when we post the webisodes, but the bottom line is that we filmed the food and, also, some great table talk in which, after Kelly, his beverage director Al, and Patrick explained to us their creative process of matching food with beer, we decided to challenge Patrick to match beer with pizza. That is, Kelly and I proposed that, instead of the usual approach of having a chef match the food to the beer, that instead, we create a unique, signature pizza, present it to the Bruery's brewers, and have them create a beer inspired by the pizza. Patrick accepted the challenge.

This was all back in early May.  So, to make a long story short,

 
Cass House "A Mulberry Pizza"
Peter Reinhart

Following our welcome and introduction to the Cass House, and a little local shopping and foraging, Chef Jensen and I finally got to that new oven of his and decided to create an improvisational pizza based on some of the ingredients we had gathered and that Jensen already had on hand. The result is this beautiful mulberry pizza with two different kinds of cheese (we made one side with each type to see which one we liked more -- the smoked blue cheese won out). My favorite take-away from this exercise was the wonderful balsamic glaze that we squiggled over the top -- a syrupy reduction of balsamic vinegar and port wine. This really tied everything together and reinforced a long held belief of mine that garnishes are the least understood and appreciated aspect of cooking. They are more than a complementary color or sprig of herb, as many people think, but must fulfill two vital functions -- eye appeal ("We eat first with our eyes"), and appropriate flavor functionality -- enhancing the other ingredients. This glaze was a home run on all counts.

If you want to see how this pizza already inspired Brad, check out his photo essay in the Instructional section (we'll also leave it on the home page for a few more weeks), where he created his own version using blackberries instead of mulberries ("You use what you can get," he told me) to great success.

We'll be making a smoked fish pizza and a few other treats in future segments but, for now, enjoy this beautiful mulberry pizza and let us know when you make your own version.

 

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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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