Guest Bloggers
Montanara Starita
Brad English

 

This is not a restaurant review!

This is a selfish blog posting about being on my own little pizza quest and running into one of the masters in the world of artisan pizza.  I had been trying all week, while I was working in NYC a while back, to fit in some pizza questing and I had the opportunity to visit one of New York's newest ventures.

Don Antonio by Starita opened recently and is getting some rave reviews and, now I know, that's for good reason.  It's a new venture by Pizzeria Keste owner, Roberto Caporuscio, and Antonio Starita, who owns one of Naples' most famous pizzerias, called Pizzeria Starita, which is 110 years old (the pizzeria, not Antonio).  I have been a personal fan of Roberto's for some time having visited Keste on nearly every one of my visits to New York since it opened.  His pizzas have not only pushed beyond good to great, but very well may have reached a new level in my book.  They are what Peter Reinhart calls "Memorable," here at Pizza Quest.  Memorable is something more than just "great".  If you remember a very good pizza you had, you can describe it and even imagine the taste.  But, a memorable pizza is one that goes one or more steps further and makes sort of a time stamp in your mind and is experienced and remembered on a totally different level.  You can seemingly taste and almost experience it again as you recall it.  I don't mean to gush, but that's just what I feel about Keste.  Roberto's dough and crust is that good.

Now back to me…my window opened and opportunity called!  I had time to escape the office for lunch; I bolted for the door.  I took the subway, which popped me up only a block or so from Don Antonio. I went in and sat at the bar for lunch.  I had a limited amount of time and knew that, while here, I had to try the signature pizza called the "Montanara Starita" which is made with a lightly fried pizza dough.  Scott Weiner, of Scott's Pizza Tours, had told me that if I only had time for one pizza there that I had to try that one.

I asked the bartender if Roberto happened to be in today.  Unfortunately, he wasn't.  I ordered a salad and my Monatanara. As I ate my salad, I overheard someone say "Roberto!"  After a few minutes I asked the bartender again and as it turns out Roberto was there (what am I, chopped liver?).  When his conversation wrapped up behind me, I introduced myself and was lucky enough that either Pizza Quest, or Peter Reinhart's name got me into a conversation and,, later, back into the kitchen!  I was about halfway through my Montanara when Roberto came to sit with me.  We talked about, what else, pizza.  I went on a bit about how much I liked Keste and enjoyed the fact that I was eating a pizza with him.

He asked me back to the kitchen to meet his daughter Georgia, who was the pizzaiola working the oven.  We talked bit more back there with his staff and Georgia took me over to watch her make a Montanara pizza.  It's simple.  Spread the dough and drop it in the fryer.  It sits in there for a few minutes.  She would touch it here and there, pushing one side, or the other under the oil as it floated to the top and turned it a couple of times before pulling it out to drain a little before she topped it.  At this point it's prepped like any other pizza.  Add the sauce.  Add the Cheese and some basil and it goes into the oven.

As I was about to leave Roberto asked me how I found the Montanara. As I began to tell him, I referenced how I first found Keste's dough, he misunderstood me and thought I was trying to tell him how I got to Don Antonio!  I said, "No, no! I understand!"  We then discussed the pizza.  I had the feeling he was really interested to know what I thought about it, not because I was an expert or anything, but because it was something "new".  When I was at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas months earlier, there was all sorts of chatter about fried dough being the next rage.  I think Roberto was, and is, curious about this new trend, one that is apparently not new at all.  It's just newly in fashion.

So, how did I find the Montanara - fried pizza?  It was my first fried pizza, to be certain, and I honestly didn't know what to expect.  I found the Montanara to be a unique pizza experience.  The dough was lighter than I thought it would be.  It was puffy and crunchy, but still soft.  The tomatoes were bright and the sweet acidity worked well with and against the dough, which had a buttery quality to it due to the frying.  The pizza was rich, but balanced. The smoked buffalo mozzarella was delicious and there to be tasted, but wasn't overwhelming or in a competition with the tomatoes and dough. Then there was the fresh basil which came in with a nice aromatic finish to this ensemble.

 

 

I found this pizza interesting.  Okay, I found this pizza to be delicious!  But most importantly, I found this experience of getting to eat this pizza with Roberto, and watch Georgia making one while standing with us in the kitchen by the wood burning oven, well, I found it memorable. Maybe "memorable" is about more than just great food.  Maybe memorable is about great food, plus good people, a unique experience, and maybe even simply great timing!

 

 

 

I'm still haunted by Roberto's traditional wood oven baked doughs, but was happily surprised by this "new" variation of an old deep-fried classic!

 
Kneading Conference West 2012
Teresa Greenway

I just finished attending the amazing Kneading Conference West 2012 here in the Northwest. It was the second annual Kneading Conference West and was held on September 13, 14 and 15 at the WSU Research and Extension Center in Mt. Vernon, WA. I was fortunate to be able to attend the class, “Pizza in the Wood – Fired Oven,” given by Mike Dash of www.rollingfire.com. He had his trailered Forno Bravo oven on site. Mike’s class was very informative and I think I learned more about pizza baking and wood fired ovens than I ever imagined I would. Some of the information available at the class was:

 

Heating the wood fired oven:

There are three kinds of heat used to bake a wood fired pizza: bottom heat, convection heat and broiler heat. Mike had a fire going in the oven when the class arrived. Once we started the class and began to shape the pizza dough, Mike moved the fire to the other side of the oven and we placed the pizzas right on the floor of the oven where the initial fire had been. The fire was right next to the pizza on the right hand side and was the source of the “broiler” heat which, with the bottom heat and convection of the all-around heat, very quickly baked the pizza to perfection. It was astonishing how quickly the pizza was done. A wood fired pizza bakes at temperatures from 700 – 900F, those kinds of temperatures are not obtainable for a home baker with a standard oven. Mike said some of the best wood to use for a pizza oven fire are oak and apple wood, and to stay away from soft wood and wood with a lot of resin.

The pizza dough:

Mike had containers filled with pizza dough rounds which had sat overnight proofing. He highly recommends the “Caputo” flour, which is available from Forno Bravo here: http://www.fornobravo.com/pizza-ingredients/index.html .

(Note from Peter: Caputo truly is wonderful flour but you might also want to try the Central Milling "00" Classico Flour, an American, organically grown version inspired by the Italian brands, that I totally love (and, of course, Central Milling is one of our Pizza Quest sponsors too!). Click through to their site on the banner ad at the top of the page -- it rotates in periodically -- or click *HERE for more details.)

The “hands on“ feel of the dough is incentive enough for me to try the Caputo flour. I think the dough was the one thing that surprised me more than anything else; it stretched easily and flowed like something alive… which of course it was. The handouts for the class included recipes for Neapolitan dough available on the Forno Bravo site and New York Style dough, available from Peter Reinhart’s book, “American Pie.” Mike did a great job explaining how to stretch and shape the dough, it was a really fun part of the class, especially when the participants had a go at trying it on their own.

Every participant who wished to, not only had the chance to stretch out their own pizza dough, they then topped it and baked it themselves. Mike stood by to give advice, answer questions and offer a helping hand when necessary. The pizzas produced by Mike’s method and the Forno Bravo wood fired oven were superb! I really had a wonderful time being able to take the class, make my own pizza and enjoy the dinner pizzas made by Mike’s staff the evening before. If you wish to set up classes in your area, you can visit Mike online at http://www.rollingfire.com. Hopefully Mike will be available next year at the third annual Kneading Conference West for more Pizza in a Wood Fired Oven classes. If you want more information about the Kneading conference visit: http://www.kneadingconferencewest.com . If you want to learn how to bake your own pizza, well, you are already at the best site!

 
How the Internet Changed Pizza History
Albert Grande

Pizza has always been America’s favorite food. It’s been the subject of movies, books, and songs. Pizza is not only a food of sustenance, but for some has become an obsessive delight. And for many fans, pizza is a sheer and utter passion. Pizza debate brings on an endless thirst for argument that cannot be easily quenched with just a slice or two.

People discuss their favorite pizzerias with the same emotionally charged energy as they would discuss politics or their favorite sports team. Pizza has become so entrenched into the culture that it is easy to forget that it was once simply peasant food. Pizza was, for many years, enjoyed by the lower echelons of society who could afford little else.

For most of pizza’s long and romantic history it was a regional dish. The great pizza in New York stayed in New York. The inside secrets of the best New York pizzas remained in the boroughs and neighborhoods where it was created. There would be an occasional newspaper or magazine article. Television and radio reporters would sporadically discuss pizza on regional and local venues. However, unless you visited New York, these insider pizza secrets remained mysteries to the rest of the country.

The pizza in New Haven stayed in New Haven.  Frank Pepe began making pizza in 1925. Sally’s founded by Frank Pepe's, nephew, Salvatore Consiglio, came into being a decade later. Modern Apizza, also in New Haven developed their own brick oven masterpieces. Up the road in Derby, Connecticut, Roseland Apizza had created their own brand of

 
Finding Your Inner Pizza Maker
John Arena


OK, let’s play fill in the blank: A pizza is supposed to________.
Take your time with the answer because this is not a simple question. In fact you can think of it as the fundamental jumping off point for your own personal pizza quest, a sort of Zen koan that can move you towards pizza enlightenment. The late great pizza maker, Ed Ladou, described his pizza crust as an edible plate and his insight opened the floodgates of creativity for hundreds of pizza makers, some inspired and some eh, perhaps not so much. But let’s take it a step further. If pizza crust is an edible plate, the pizza itself is much more. I believe that we should think of our pizza, how we construct it, and how we eat it as an edible Rorschach test. Most of us have heard of this test, a psychological tool used to evaluate a subject's personality by analyzing perceptions about ink blots. Well, I think it is just as useful and a lot more fun to learn about people through the pizzas that they like and the pizzas that they make.

So let’s get back to the original question. What was your first unfiltered response? Did you answer “A pizza is supposed to be cooked in a wood burning oven”? How about Dom DeMarco of DiFara’s? He uses a Bakers Pride gas oven cranked up to nearly 600 degrees. How about: “A pizza is supposed to be topped with San Marzano tomatoes” right? Chris Bianco, one of our nations best pizza makers uses delicious California Tomatoes packed by Rob DiNapoli. Certainly, “A Pizza is supposed be made with Italian 00 flour.”  Except that when I asked the fantastic pizza makers at Volpetti in Rome they spoke lovingly of North American High Gluten Manitoba as their flour of choice.  One thing we can all agree on is: “A pizza is supposed to be extended by hand.”  Well somebody forgot to tell Al Santillo and his family who, for 3 generations, have followed their bread baking tradition and made incredible pizza using an old dough sheeter.

So, I think it is safe to say that for just about every “supposed to” there is an equally valid alternative response. Perhaps that means that our answers reveal more about us than they do about pizza itself. Let’s compare our pizza quest with another popular obsession, automobiles.  Some car enthusiasts will spend countless hours and huge sums of money to restore a vintage auto to showroom perfection. In a similar way, you may be drawn to pizza makers like Anthony Mangieri who insists that the only true expression of his art can be found in the four pizzas that he calls “true Neapolitan pizza”.  Think of him as a preservationist.  Other auto enthusiasts enjoy taking the same vintage autos and modernizing them. They are hot-rodders, linked to the past but customizing each creation with new innovations. A pizza maker like Roberto Caporuscio is doing just that in New York City, where his pies are clearly Neapolitan but include creations such as Noci e Zucchini, a delicious pizza made with smoked mozzarella, zucchini and cream of walnut. Surely this is not a pie that would have been made in Naples 50 years ago or even in Anthony Mangieri’s pizzeria today. So what about those automobile fanatics that don’t give a hoot about tradition and are driven by a desire to innovate? Well pizza fans have a few of those types too. These folks may be informed by what has come before, but they refuse to be enslaved by any standards but their own. In Italy the foremost name in this movement is Gabriele Bonci, Rome’s rock star pizza maker. If you want to experience "No-Holds Barred" pizza making visit Pizzarium or at least check out Bonci’s new book Il Gioco Della Pizza.

Well then, are you a preservationist, a hot-rodder or an innovator?  My hope is that at various points in your quest you will step deeply into each role, exploring what every facet of our art has to offer and, eventually, transcend labels, dogma, and rules to simply be at peace with the creation  and sharing of your pizza with the people that you love. To do that it is important to shed the notion of what your pizza is “supposed to be” and open your heart to everything that your pizza can be.

 
The Farmer Across the Road
Bruce Vetter

Note from Peter:  I've been corresponding recently with a fascinating guy name Bruce Vetter, a retired motorcycle builder who is now a passionate whole grain bread baker. I asked him if he'd be willing to share some of his unique personal story with our viewers and he sent me this photo essay. I'm hoping he'll keep sending us contributions like this -- he represents a rare breed of good old fashioned non-conformists who make life interesting for everyone around them. Enjoy!

 

When I was 14 I began to lead my life with a process of continual learning.  I've always had great passion for whatever I may be learning and being 68 now I have a lifetime of learning under my belt.  These last 2-3 years I've turned my attention to learning to bake whole wheat bread, which is far more difficult than I expected.  I have 6 grand children and I want them to understand that processed food is not normal.  I want them to know there is a better way to eat.

My goal is to bake 100% whole wheat bread that would be the bread of choice of my entire family.  Using store bought whole wheat flour was a convenient option but I wanted more control over the type of wheat used, the methods of farming and processing, and the length of storage before I get it.

Initially I started ordering winter hard white and red wheat berries from Idaho, shipped in on pallets. The wheat was packaged for the long term in 6 gallon buckets.  I also needed to be able to grind my own grain in large volume while limiting the amount of heat imparted to the flour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above 2 grinding mills operate either independently, or, the top one delivers it’s coarse product through the maroon conduit to the lower mill for final milling.  This limits and controls the amount of heat delivered to the final flour.  Each mill will produce 6-8 lbs of flour per hour.  (shown with belt guards removed)

The farmer across the road grows wheat and I asked him if I could purchase a full grain wagon. This amounted to 200 bushels (the product of 5 acres) weighing 14,000 lbs.  The cost was $0.10/pound or $1,400.  It was a lot of wheat and I was excited.  I wanted to get my grain from as close to the grower as possible.  The wheat from Idaho, by the way, cost $0.75/lb counting shipping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have  several local friends that think like me, so we shared this wheat by packaging it in my shop purged with Nitrogen and sealed in Mylar bags with Oxygen absorbers all within 5-6 gallon plastic buckets.  In total we packed 344 buckets of wheat .

To test if there is sufficient Nitrogen, we use a flame over the bag.  If the flame goes out we have enough Nitrogen and the bag is sealed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Counting everything but my labor, the cost of a bucket full of wheat is 8-9 dollars.  This is 1/3 of what I kept, the rest being distributed among other local home bakers.  Each bucket will take me 1-2 weeks to use up, from baking bread to rolling wheat for cereal and pancakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until I read Peter's book "Whole Grain Breads" every loaf I would bake was like a dense brick.  Using his pre-fermenting process of soakers and bigas, now it looks the way proper bread should look: And the flavor and taste is my families favorite.

 

 

 

My grand children are being taught what’s required to bake the loaf of bread they eat for dinner. They grind the grain too and when they do I call them my “Grain Children”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I bake bread in a wood burning oven during the winters and a gas oven when the weather is warm.  I store about 13 cords of sawmill sawed deciduous wood, mostly oak measuring 6" X 8", stored in 40 large stackable wire metal baskets; each basket holds 800-1,000 lbs of wood with a volume of 1/3 cord.  Each basket is color coded with a tag delineating the harvest date so I can better judge the seasoning.  I have found that from when it is green until it is seasoned the wood will loose 17% of it's mass through moisture loss.   I like this method of storage because the wood continues to air dry, does not rot, and with a forklift I can "plug" a basket into a slot right next to my stove just like an audio cassette.  I have limited handling, the biggest chore involving

 
Uncrowned Champions
John Arena

Most of you have probably read Brad English’s superb coverage of this years Pizza Expo. The Expo is certainly the premier event for pizza pros and is, quite simply, the “must see” event for anyone who is serious about a career in pizza. With that being said, this year I overheard something that at once disturbed me and got me thinking about where pizza is headed. While standing at the entrance to Expo on the first morning I overheard two executives from one of the "Big Three" chains chatting about their product. One of them asked: “ How do you like the new Original Recipe Dough?”   The other replied without a trace of irony “Oh, I like it much better than the old Original Recipe Dough”

Well, this may sound funny at first but to old school pizza makers it’s really kind of sad and here’s why: You could tell that neither of these guys had any sense of pride in what they sell. For them pizza was just a product. Next year they may be selling shoes.

So here is the thing: before we were business men, or restaurateurs, or executives, or chefs, or celebrities we called ourselves Pie Men. I don’t mean that to be sexist, there just weren’t many women making pizzas in the old days. We were Pie Men and we earned the right to be a part of that group by standing in front of a hot oven for 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, year after year. We told the world who we were by staying true to the craft that was gifted to us by those who came before. Everything that a Pie Man wanted to say was communicated through the pie. That’s why every classic pizzeria is named after the founding Pie Man. In a famous interview, Genarro Lombardi patted his coal fired oven and stated, “This is what made me a man.”  No one had a certificate, no one had won any medals, we didn’t insist on being called “Chef” or any other title. In fact no self respecting Pie Man would be caught dead wearing a chefs coat.  Joe Timpone the great Pie Man at Santarpios in Boston famously wore a brown paper bag for a hat while he tended the oven in an undershirt. Most Pie Men probably didn’t own a pair of shoes that weren’t caked with flour.

To have your peers refer to you as a “good Pie Man” was the ultimate compliment. Sure we were competitors, but there was a code of honor that can only be understood by people who are connected through a common struggle. To become a Pie Man was hard work, forged through a long and sometimes painful apprenticeship. Words like “artisan” “authentic” “certified” or the collection of high sounding initials that we now attach to products and methods would mean nothing to a Pie Man. For a Pie Man only two things were important, does it taste good and am I proud of it?  The two chain guys discussing their “Original Recipe” dough that was probably created by a focus group in a lab would most likely be thrown onto the street if they ventured into Totonno’s 50 years ago.

So are there any Pie Men left out there? Yes, and some great Pie Women too. You can find them if you search hard enough. I promise you, it’s worth the effort.  Al Santillo, in Elizabeth New Jersey, is a Pie Man; so is Lou Abatte in New Haven. These kind of people usually live near or above their pizzeria. They’re covered in flour. They have old burn stripes on their arms. They look very tired, but you will see something else too…Pride.

 

 

 

StartPrev12345678910NextEnd

 

Login Form

Who's Online

We have 39 guests online

Peter's Books

American Pie Artisan Breads Every Day Bread Baker's Apprentice Brother Juniper's Bread Book Crust and Crumb Whole Grain Breads

… and other books by Peter Reinhart, available on Amazon.com

Home Guest Columns Guest Bloggers