Guest Columns
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

 
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.


 
Is There Really a Perfect Pizza?
Michael Hanson

Recently I returned from a “pizza quest” to Southern Italy and would like to share my thoughts on where and what I think is the perfect or best pizza. I have been making dough for over forty years and pizzas for over twenty; it was only after a spell working at London’s most famous pizzeria, Franco Manca, that I felt capable of making a real pizza. The owner, Guisseppe Mascoli, wanted to create the best pizza in London and, with the help of “pizza consultant” Marco Parente, he set about this task. I believe they achieved their goal; but now my goal was to see if I could find an even better pizza in Italy.

My obsessive quest took me to only two cities, Rome and Naples, and only a handful of pizzerias. I purposely excluded restaurants, even those serving pasta. I wanted the real deal and thought a pizza-only pizzeria would deliver the best pizzas. My survey was in no way accurate, impartial, rigorous, or independent, and my research consisted solely of reading some great posts on the Forno Bravo Forum.

I read of a pizzeria, near my Rome hotel, called Dar Poeta . At first sight the pizzas looked good. I obtained permission to check out the oven. It was old and very hot; the dough soft and very cold. In my experience, one of the crucial factors is the intense heat on a cold, barely fermented disc of hand formed dough, creating the puffed up chewy, crispy cornicione full of holes. In artisan bread baking the quest, or holy grail is, as was pointed out in the Tartine video on Pizza Quest, a dough with irregular holes (or, as the French would say, beaucoup de trop). This is a combination of many factors, primarily a low final dough temperature, long bulk proof, and a hot hearth. Which is, as we saw in the video, why the Tartine bread dough makes a great pizza dough!

But back to Dar Poeta pizzeria. I always choose the pizza with the least toppings, so I chose a simple olive, anchovie pie. It was very disappointing;

 
A few thoughts on Family and Pizza
Brad English

Family, Food and Friends

Why is pizza such a popular food all across the world?  One reason may be that it is the perfect food to share. 

As I was recently writing and posting photos for my Mother's Day Pizza pictorial, I had to search back through some old photos from a trip I took with my family to Vancouver, BC. I remembered taking some pictures in the Creperie that I was referring to and thought they would be fun to add to the story.  I had started out writing what I thought was a recipe pictorial recap of my Mother's Day Surprise Pizzas.  My kids were all excited to make mommy breakfast for Mother's Day.  So, I pulled some dough from the freezer and set the alarm to get up early to get the dough out and start the oven.  It turns out the kids were less interested in the "making" of the breakfast than just being there to eat it.

Whenever I think of a breakfast pizza, I think back to this trip we took to Victoria, BC.  It's amazing how strong a smell or a taste memory is.  I have many that will trigger not only a memory, but a feeling.  The feeling can be so strong that it seems as if for a moment I have been literally transported through time and space.  I love this experience.  It is far more intense than a

 
Tradition--Really?
John Arena

Lately I’ve been thinking about Roger Bannister. No, Bannister is not the latest hot shot artisan pizza maker. For those of you too young to remember, Roger Bannister was a British track & field athlete who on May 6, 1954 became the first person to run a sub 4 minute mile. Roger, who was later knighted for his efforts, broke what was considered by the general public to be an unbreakable barrier. What is interesting is that, to serious athletes of the day, shattering the 4 minute obstacle was considered not impossible but inevitable. The fact is they were correct, and the current US High School record stands at a full 6 seconds faster than Sir Roger Bannister’s World Record achievement of just 57 years ago!

So what has this got to do with pizza? Well, last week I came across an article in a pizza trade publication about a certain well established pizza chain that proudly stated that their pizza has not

 
Pizza and Mythology
John Arena

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about pizza and mythology. Certainly the history of Italy is punctuated by myths and legends, from the time of the Etruscans right up to the exploits of the current Prime Minister. So why wouldn't the subject of pizza be any different?

The plain fact is there are a lot of myths and fables (some true and some not so much), but also misinformation, and even outright deception in the world of pizza. Starting with what I call the “Big Three Myths” , specifically, New York “holy water”, “heirloom” Chicago pizza pans, and “magic” Italian-made wood burning ovens. While all three of these prevailing fables of pizza making are easily debunked by any rational pizza maker, there is one area of our craft that I think merits some consideration. I am referring to what could be considered the three "schools" of pizza making.

School number one consists of the ingredient devotees. Their focus is on the fact that only the very best (usually imported) ingredients must be selected for their pizzas. Their mantra is “Use the best stuff and get out of the way”. What they mean is that the pizza maker must let every ingredient speak for itself. The belief is that great ingredients result in great pizza.

School number two is made up of equipment disciples. These pizza makers dedicate time and considerable expense to finding the right tools of the trade. The major object of their attention is usually the oven. They will spare no expense in importing ovens from Naples or, in some cases, bringing in artisan oven builders to hand craft an “authentic” pizza oven on-site. The thinking is that great pizza can only come out of a great oven.

The third major school of pizza making is dedicated to technique. The premise is that skilled hands

 

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