Monday, June 21, 2010

Spiritual Pizza

    I just attended a family function to send off one of the family to the great beyond. It's amazing how after not seeing people you know for some 20 to 30 years they have already learned that you make pizza. After the hello's and how are you's the conversation always reverts to: I hear you make pizza and tell me about your pizza making.  Now, had they been reading any part of the blog that has been available at their doorstep over the past couple of months they would know more than just that. I know some people tell me what a huge waste of time it must be to write a blog and what a huge waste of time it would be to read one. Would Emerson's or Thoreau's blog been a waste of time? Would Uncle Tom's Cabin been any less effective had it been a blog?  Either way, that's when I say that when you are on a journey the road is sometimes flat and lonely but other times it is ripe with adventure, mystery and surprises. They also won't get invited over for pizza. Ha ha! It kind of reminds me when a certain nephew use to stay with us for a couple of weeks in the summer. He would want to stop at every comic book store there was and every one that we would see. After a couple of those I had to put my foot down and ask him a simple question while holding the car keys up in the air. I would say, "Who has the power Aaron?" He would say, "You do Uncle Vince". He knew Uncle Vince had reached his quota and patience level. He, who has the pizza, has the power? I could indulge his passion, but only to a certain point. Thus it is with a blog.
    What some people see as junk, others will see as treasure. I have also extended invitations to certain people, who, after 5 times, with an excuse each time, I will not invite them anymore. I am happy to share my blog about my journey with those who are interested and my pizza with those who are hungry and talk pizza with those who want to share some knowledge and experience. However, I am not going to force it down anyone. The journey isn't pizza, that's just a vehicle to take us on a journey.
   The blog is for those who like to share and like a journey. It can be for those who like pizza as well. I am reminded of the the comment I made earlier in this series of blogs that pizza is a communal bread in a sense. It is a sharing of food and life experiences. It reminds me of the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. That book was a book that made the reader feel that they were traveling with them on their adventure, but the reader, at certain points starts to question if it had anything do do with motorcycle maintenance, but more to do with life. Then the reader will question whether or not there was really a journey on bikes but maybe only in their minds. One of my brothers that does not and will not read this blog mentioned that it's a shame we, as a family, don't have a community type of sharing going on where we can all add our 2 cents worth to and communicate with others on a non intimate level. I just had to laugh and say to him that we do and you have chosen to not be a part of it. I, for one, have connected with numerous people whom I have never met as well as friends and relatives from the past and present. Some of these stories go out to people who can relate to my stories and have similar ones as well. That is the zen and the pizza is the art that goes into it. Feel free to leave me a comment, some feedback or whatever is on your mind. Many of the responses I have gotten so far are so enthusiastic and full of good energy and I thank you!
    Albert Grande talks about spiritual pizza. At first I thought he was talking about pizza as soul food. As this journey continues I wonder if the pizza is only the vehicle that carries the soul of friendship, knowledge, connectivity, humor, and passion, not to mention the taste that it can deliver and the satisfaction to all, once consumed. He has asked the biggies in the industry of pizza making, the Legends of Pizza, what makes your pizza so good? One of the answers came back from Chris Bianco of Pizza Bianco in Phoenix that Albert thinks maybe he ( Chris Bianco) might be the one ingredient that nobody can duplicate. I think that may very well be the answer. The pizza I make may be science but the passion I put into it is creation. The sharing of the pizza whether by word or by consumption becomes spiritual.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Time to Vote: Vince vs. The World

     It's time to vote for your favorite food pairing with the Santa Margherita Chianti. We opened a bottle of it with friends this last Sunday and sipped it with two of my home baked pizzas.  If it wasn't $30 a bottle I'd have it regularly but that will not be happening soon! Many of you have already commented on the video and many more whom I don't actually know have left some great comments and compliments. To all of you I say, thank you. Now in the future if you choose to bring a bottle of wine over I won't have any objections if you were to pick up a bottle or three of the Santa Margherita Chianti and head on over. I was actually able to find it at Safeway under the Imports sign that read Italy on sale for $19.99. I could live with that!
   This contest right now is a popularity contest it appears. The category that I am in is for pairing my recipe of the Margherita pizza with their Chianti. The winner in each category goes to L.A. and will cook for them. The winners there will go to Chicago and compete. Have your kids vote if they have an email address and put it on FaceBook, Twitter and whatever else is out there. This is my campaign for better pizza and wine!  I will need all of their votes! Thank you and Pizza on Earth! Vince  Here is the link:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pizza on Earth

The pizzas I made during the week from Tony's dough and Peter's dough were virtually the same outcome as far as the crust goes. Tony's dough was very good in the rustic sense of pizza dough. I did make a couple of pizzas using his dough which were both highly successful. One of them was a New York white sauce with chicken with some tomato slices. He suggests chicken breasts but I prefer thighs as I believe they have more flavor and are less dry. Covering the precooked chicken pieces in mozzarella and slices of provolone cheese and sprinkling some thyme on them, made for a pizza worthy of royalty. The second one, I made from Tony's dough was amazingly successful also. I think I cracked the code. He has a pizza on his menu in San Francisco that is called the Clam and Garlic made on a thin crust. It doesn't appear in his book but after making his chicken pizza I didn't think we were far away from the one that he isn't telling. Each slice of pizza has it's own unshelled short neck clam on it plus others under the layers of cheese. It is worth a drive into the City just to have one of his Clam & Garlic  pizzas. However, I think I can save myself the gas money by doing it right here in my kitchen. Sorry Tony, but I guess that what this journey is all about. Yes, it's called reverse engineering! Maybe I have unlocked more than the pizza code, maybe this is primal man breaking the hunter or gatherer code. It appears that the pizza is out there but you have to hunt it down. On the other hand, if you are to gather up the right ingredients and information,  you can construct your own pizza. If Robert Oppenheimer knew for certain that splitting an atom was possible then all he had to do was reverse engineer it. But if you don't know that it is possible, then building an atomic bomb may be as easy as understanding inter-dimensional travel, string theory, the size of the universe, or the female mind. Impossible!
    Tony wasn't the first to construct a clam & garlic  pizza, but he sure knows how to do it over and over, and to do it right each time. I think maybe, that instead of trying to determine which dough and sauce make the best New York pizza, I could be attempting to replicate each of Tony's pizza recipes. It sort of sounds like a movie and a blog a while back called Julie & Julia or the Russians stealing the plans to the atomic bomb.

  I can't begin to tell you how good this clam & garlic pizza is! Not only does it taste amazing, but the presentation with the clams on top gives it that, "Oh this is going to be special" pizza. 
   Let's see Round Table, Papa Murphy, or Einstein & Oppenheimer do that!                      

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New York Pizza Rocks!

   Round one, pizza number one and the vote goes to Francesco.  Francesco is the one who wrote the book called Making the Ultimate Pizza. I followed it to the letter and the results were amazing. I had instant memories of eating pizza in New York some 16 years ago with a bus load of school kids Sheri and I were chaperoning.  The dough is flattened out by hand after it had its second resurrection of a couple hours. It's placed on a screen and baked at only 475º for 10-12 minutes minus the pizza stone. The cheese bubbled and boiled as I watched through the oven door. Upon pulling it out, it sets for about 30 seconds then you cut it and serve.  No crunch whatsoever when I cut it and a little flimsy up front probably from leveling the dough a bit too thin. (My fault).
  In assembling it, I scooped on about 4 large spoons full of Francesco's sauce and covered it with shredded mozzarella on one half. The other half I loaded up with precooked NY sausage, a few pepperoni and some sliced red onion. Then I covered it all with sliced Provolone cheese. The Provolone helps to make a smoother and creamier cheese sensation, which it did. My first bite was cautious as I didn't want to burn my lips but there it was, the OMG factor! That was the cheese side! The dough was surprisingly light, airy, almost sweet and quite soft like bread. I would have eaten every bite but Presley was just as interested in it as I was. He gets a bite of the end crust and he knows it. The sauce was barely noticeable and certainly didn't dominate but played a perfect harmony to the lead performance of the dough.
   The next slice was the side with the goodies. People, you don't understand. If you're sitting here reading this and not looking up an authentic New York pizza place right now then there is something wrong with you! Just do it! Words can't express how perfect this combination of flavors really is. 
   My last dog, named Solvang, that passed away 2 years ago was my buddy and cookie connoisseur. He was a Golden through and through with a wicked taste for cookies. He could sniff one out of your upper pocket or chew one out of your coat left on a bed. He was very trainable because he loved cookies so much. He would stop in the hall where the coats were hung and sniff out the coat with a cookie in the pocket then bark. His very existence, we believe, was to consume cookies. You didn't tease him with cookies because he took cookies very seriously. Once a vendor at a pet store gave him a vegetarian cookie and he spit it out. We tried to feed it to him again and again it came out. It was a bit embarrassing for us but Solvang had spoken. He knew his cookies! We used to joke that he'd sell his mother for a cookie. Mom, if you are reading this, it's a darn good thing I can make this New York pizza myself and don't have to sell you for an authentic tasting New York Pizza. 
   However, we are only partially through this taste test as we have two more pizza recipes to test before the final verdict is in. As for right now, if a New Yorker walks up to you and tells you New York has the best pizza on earth, just smile and say, "So I am told." Then give him a dog cookie and say, "good boy."

Monday, June 7, 2010

New York Pizza Showdown

    We have all heard of New York style pizza. Some pizza places around every town advertise real New York style pizza. We, as west coasters don't know what that means but it sounds good. I like almost anything that says it's authentic, original or genuine. But, as we all know, what truth is there in advertising?  When an appliances advertises it has genuine plastic parts or that it was imported does that make it better? If an older car advertisement says it has the original paint, do I want that? If a restaurant that advertises all you can eat for $2.95 including loobster sound like a bargain? Yes, I said loobster as I wasn't supposed to notice that the extra "o" in lobster makes it apparent that the shell fish is made from fish parts and tainted to resemble lobster thus fooling us into thinking we got a bargain! So when a pizza  place says New York style, is it for real? Not necessarily, but when it comes to searching for the Holy Grail do I want style or genuine? I think we all agree that we want what is genuine. There is a place for fake, faux, pretend, artificial and imitation in the world but what about pizza? If we were to go shopping for a dog would we settle for something just like a dog? Probably not.
    That is where this next sojourn is about to take me. My quest, once I began to understand what advertisement means is, that it resembles a New York style but it isn't original. I think about the same thing when it comes to the world of art. Questions that I have, such as, can a man of Scandinavian descent do Native American art? Is he qualified? Take it one step further, can a Caucasian do art reflecting the plight of African Americans? Again, is he qualified or disqualified? So, my question has to be, can a pizza made in California be a New York Pizza? If I was born in Canada but raised in the U.S. am I Canadian or American? If I had a brother who might be born in Mexico, be of Scandinavian descent but raised in the U.S. be Mexican, Scandinavian or American? So, being born and raised in California, am I qualified or disqualified to make a genuine New York Pizza? I think we better call up Voltaire, Jefferson and the gang to sort that one out. Maybe none of that even matters. Maybe just good quality, authentic, and genuine east coast ingredients put together in a typical New York way makes it a New York Pizza. This could end up being another Philosophical Pizza ( see prior blog) questions that needs to be addressed or maybe just left alone.
    One of the books I bought online was called: The Ultimate Pizza Manual. The author and long time New Yorker, Francesco Brunaldo claims that the pizzerias of old are disappearing. By that he means that the methods and even some of the products are disappearing. Typical New York Pizza just isn't what it used to be he says. In a valiant effort to save the original style pizza from obscurity he has written this book to save this art form. I followed his recipe to the letter except where east coast brand names are not available here, so in several cases, I had to substitute. What I am hoping to achieve is what Francesco is seeing slipping away in New York City. I made the dough for an 18" pie. His ingredients are slightly different than what I was expecting as he includes some semolina flour with his high gluten flour. The procedure is what is typically different. Following them to exact detail can make or break it from what I have learned.
   Today, I set out to determine which, of the three books I have by experts, makes the best New York Pizza. I made one of Francesco's doughs. I made one of Tony Gemignani's New York doughs from his book called Pizza and I made one of Peter Reinhart's dough's from his book called American Pie. To take it a step further I have also made Francesco's pizza sauce and Tony's sauce for the big pizza showdown happening right here in my kitchen this week. Peter Reinhart didn't have a sauce recipe so it will be between these two. I have tasted them both and they both are excellent. Tony chills his where as Francesco brings to a boil then simmers his for a mere 15 minutes.
Now a true New York pizzaiolo won't roll his pizza with a rolling pin. He will work it by hand to stretch and toss the dough until it's of the right size, and thickness. He will build a berm like border shaped into the edges then add the sauce and mixture of cheeses. Every pizzaiolo will have his own blend but typically there will be mozzarella, provolone, romano, parmesan and asiago in there somewhere. Of course the pizza will be fire-baked either by wood or coal and when removed from the oven cut into large slices. The tip should sag just  a tad and the consumer will fold the tip up, bend the 2 back corners together and indulge. Unfortunately I won't have genuine fire, just my pretend fire gas oven but I hope that won't detract too much from the authenticity. This competition will be going on all week as I bake and rate each one. In the last photo I have 7 dough balls labeled and sealed to rise slowly in the fridge until the day of baking. I can't wait for the competition to begin!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Green beans for dinner or Pizza? Nope, Sausage Calzones?

     A friend just asked me if I ever tire of pizza. In short, I told him  "No, I love it." As a 20-something I ate pizza every night on every shift at the pizza place I worked and never tired of it. Later, I went to work for only 3 weeks at a cannery in Oregon picking the stems out of green beans on a conveyor belt. Honestly, I couldn't eat green beans again for 20 years (even if disguised). 
I had just bought a couple of pizza books online from Amazon and started reading some pizza recipes. One of them sounded like a Cornish Pasty made in pizza form. I love peasant food and started out to make that tonight along with potatoes and green peas on a pizza crust. I wasn't sure whether to seal it up or leave it open face. As I started to make it I had pulled out one of my Margherita doughs made from 00 Caputo flour. I make a batch, subdivide them into 6 doughballs and refrigerate them. Near dinner time I will pull one out to rise and warm up for  couple of hours. Part way through the conceptual stage I decide not to go Cornish, but Calzone instead. Frozen peas back into
the freezer, potatoes in the microwave become breakfast for tomorrow and hot Italian sausage from Nugget goes into the frying pan. Out of green peppers, so I substituted jalapenos after clearing the seeds and veins, add some white onion and simmer along with garlic pepper and garlic salt. Pour in some milk and reduce on a low heat until it thickens with a little corn starch. With some gourmet Volpi pepperoni I scooped up the sausage and gravy slurry and place it onto the rolled out Caputo dough, seal it with water after folding it over and crimp. I baked it at 450º for roughly 12-15 minutes basting after about 8 minutes with olive oil and let it do it's thing on the pizza stone. I had made a little Italian style salad with a fresh cut up tomato and some mozzarella di bufala, salt & pepper and a basil leaf plus a sprinkle of Parmesan. It looked healthy and colorful enough. The calzones were ready to come out of the oven. I slid them out on the pizza peel and placed them next to the salad. I had created what looked to me like a very Italian complete meal! If it hadn't been on my plates I think I wouldn't have recognized it as my cooking.  I immediately took pictures just to document this meal. The dough was light and crispy, flaky and perfect for this meal. Each bite turned into a Wow sensation. The hot Italian sausage left it's mark on the back of my throat. That's when this stuff gets exciting! I will be doing this often in the future and it's sure to become a regular on our home menu.

Here is my recipe if you want to give it a try:
Make a thin dough from this recipe and roll it out flat. Cut it with a pan lid to get the round shape as if you were making a pizza.

1 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
1lb 14oz 00 Caputo flour (6 Cups)
3 Tbsp Kosher salt (yes, T. not tsp.)

Mix yeast with 2 cups cold water and mix then let stand 5 minutes.
Add flour slowly while mixing with a dough hook on low speed about 5 min.
Cover bowl with damp towel and let rise 20 min. Add salt and mix about 5-7 min.
Cut dough into about 5-6 sections, form into balls, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in fridge.
When ready to use, take as many as you might need (Figure 1 dough ball makes 2 medium calzones.)
out of fridge and let rise on counter for 2 hours prior to rolling out.

1/2 lb NY style Italian bulk sausage, fried and drained and about 10-20 slices of pepperoni;
add a sprinkle of garlic salt & garlic pepper
Cut up 1/2 of a small white onion &
cut up 1/4 green pepper without seeds and add to pan and simmer.
Pour in 1/2 Cup of milk and simmer a couple of more minutes.
Add Tbsp cornstarch to 1 oz milk, mix and add to milk & sausage in pan stir until it thickens.
Turn off fire under pan.

Roll dough thin and cut into 8 to 10"circles. Add your cooked ingredients, add cheese if desired and seal edges with wet fork.
Bake for approx. 8 min. at 450º in preheated oven preferably on a preheated pizza stone .
Baste with oil or butter or egg whites then return to oven another 3-5 min. Remove when golden brown and let stand a couple of minutes. Take pictures and go ooohhhh and ahhhh. Then eat them all by yourself, why not? You did all the work. Yummmm.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Philosophical Pizza

 I have a question. What  makes a pizza a pizza? Obviously there are about as many types of pizzas as there are people. Change one thing and is it still a pizza? Change the dough and is it still a pizza? Change the sauce and is it still a pizza? Change the shape, the thickness, the density, the toppings,  the cheeses and is it still a pizza? I once asked a bartender on a cruise ship while sailing around Tahiti, what makes it a martini? This bartender was having a martini night and although we don't drink martini's we showed up because he boasted of knowing a 164 different martini recipes! Some of these recipes were so exotic using chocolate syrup, whip cream, strawberries, fruity mixers in tropical colors and on and on. So when his answer came back to me that, what makes a martini a martini is: (drum roll please) the martini glass. (End of drumroll). I was a little disappointed that he could make that claim when all he was doing was making any drink imaginable and pouring it in a standard martini glass. It reminds me of a story I had read in college by an unknown author. His book was titled The Profit by Kellogg Allbran. Now, I know you're all thinking. "Who? You mean The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran!" No, I mean The Profit. The story went like this: A crowd had gathered around the feet of the Master and they called to him. "Speak to us Master, tell us some truths." The Master replied,  "What would you like to know? A man who was a glass blower spoke out, "Master, speak to us of glass." And the Master took a deep breath and said as the crowd hushed. "Glass is an amazing thing. It is very strong  yet  very fragile. Glass is solid yet it is clear. It is malleable yet firm. It is simple yet complex. Remove only one ingredient from it and you would not have glass. If you removed the lime and replaced it with lemon, you would not have glass. If you removed the sand and replaced it with sugar, you would not have glass. If you replaced its solidness with water, you would not have glass." The master paused and a man spoke out, "What would you have Master?" And the Master winked and said to the crowd, "Lemonade. "
So should it go with pizza? If you remove one item and replace it with another, do we still have pizza? Many have suggested and done so approvingly or not, that if you change pizza from a meal to a dessert item, is it still a pizza? What makes it a pizza? If we were to put sweet dessert type toppings on it and chilled it, would it still be a pizza? This could be one of those dilemma questions that doesn't have an answer– like the tree falling in the forest.
   Well, we did it. Sheri did it actually, and with pretty good results. She didn't concoct it out of thin air but from author and master pizza maker Tony Gemignani's book called Pizza. Using similar products for the dough, but with an infusion of sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon, and baked it on the pizza stone at a lower temperature. After that it's anything goes. Marscopone cheese mixed with vanilla, sugar and ricotta, then topped with strawberries and a drizzle of fudge sauce.  
    The second pizza had  a par-baked crust and then was topped with crushed gingersnaps, caramel sauce, pecans, and peaches artfully arranged and baked again until sizzling. Tasted great! Less filling... But was it Pizza? My thought on that is the image that we all have of what a pizza should look like, smell like and taste like predetermines it in our heads what a pizza is. Just change the name from pizza to something else and suddenly it sounds like a great dessert. This may be one of those philosophical questions that people like Voltaire, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Carl Jung and others could have and should have debated. People like Einstein, Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking could have really racked up some awards for solving that universal question. I say, leave it to minds greater than mine to determine. I think that's what the Master would've said.