Peter's Blog, Oct. 26th, SF
Peter Reinhart

Wed. We're halfway through the photo shoot and have come with some great shots and lots of product to bring to Omnivore tonight at 6 PM. There's always something going into or coming out of the oven, eventually being styled by Karen Shinto into a composition that Leo can assess and light for the camera. The rest of us gather around and offer suggestions or ooohhs and aahhh's and then Leo pulls the trigger and a number of variations of the original shot show up a video monitor until we have some that everyone likes. We've been very happy, and the collaborative process seems to be working.

I'm writing this now on Thursday, the day after the Omnivore event and after an exciting evening of pizza at -- here it comes....Una Pizza Napoletana, the one-of-a-kind pizzeria helmed by the now legendary Anthony Mangiere. I'll come back to that in a bit but first, a quick recap of Omnivore. Omnivore Books is owned by Celia Sack, and has, in the few years since I've been dropping in, established itself as a serious destination cook book store (and also a sweet pet supply store in the adjoining location next door), despite the small space located way out in Noe Valley. Celia runs a fine author program too, bringing in many A-list writers as well lesser known niche writers like me. Last evening she was able to draw about 30 people, some who had traveled from as far as Monterey and the East Bay. Denene had a chance to tell them her story, of creating the gluten-free, sugar free recipes that the book is based upon, as a way to heal her body and reverse her type-2 diabetes. The crowd, which mainly came to hear about pizza, seemed really interested in the gluten free phenomenon and they all got a chance for a sneak-peek taste of some of the products that we brought from the photo shoot.

Afterwards, a few of us headed over to 11th and Howard St., a rough looking neighborhood with and lots of locked doors, and nearly walked right past Una Pizza Napoletana until we caught the reddish glow emanating from a blue mosaic tiled domed oven and then saw a dining room full of happy pizza freaks. Once inside, I saw Anthony Mangieri woking at a small, spare pizza table, his back to the oven, which he would then face, pivoting around with a loaded peel as he slid another pizza through the open door. Two minutes later a beautiful, puffily charred pizza emerged, landed on a plate, which was then quickly escorted by one of the servers to whoever ordered it. Anthony was so focused on filling the steady stream of tickets that he hardly noticed me clicking away on my Leica Lumix while we waited for a table to clear for our group of eight (it was about a 20 minute wait). We ordered 6 pizzas among us, as they were running low on dough balls and a few people came in after us, but we could easily have consumed a whole pizza per person. They were wonderful--both traditional in appearance and balance of ingredients but also distinct and uniquely unlike anyone else's Napoletana pizzas.

I loved the slight tang of his naturally fermented dough-- perfect in San Francisco, which made me wonder why more pizzerias didn't capitalize on the ambient, only-in-San Francisco sourdough cultures. The crust was light and tender, but full of the ciabatta-like structure that I crave in pizza. We were all happy campers, whether we ordered the Margherita, or two variations -- one with smoked mozzarella and arugula, and the other with sliced cherry tomatoes and garlic as well as fresh mozzarella. So I waited till the dough had run out and Anthony was able to decompress a bit from his lazer-like focus and introduced myself. I instantly liked him and his earnestness, and introduced him to Melissa (my editor from Ten Speed Press) and Leo, our photographer and asked him if he'd be willing to let us come back with the Pizza Quest crew someday. He said yes, so I decided not to push into interview mode but to allow him his well deserved after-performance wind-down. There's so much I want to talk with him about -- I think there's a lot going on below the surface that contributes to the depth of our collective experience. Leo and I discussed, as we left, how much it seemed like Anthony's make-up station was like an altar, and how he was like the high priest as he placed his pizzas into the consuming fire of the domed oven that looked like a miniature Byzantine church. It was like a laicized iteration of a sacred ritual, a sacramentalizing of an otherwise ordinary mundane event. In other words, a manifestation of everything I've been writing about for twenty years -- that every meal has the potential to be a Last Supper, a bringing together of heaven and earth -- or not. It all depends on the eyes of those doing the looking (or eating), and also those doing the cooking. I could go on and on about this but want to wait till I get back to have a real sit-down with Anthony and see how much of this is conscious on his part and how much just unintended grace. Should be a lively discussion. I'll be back one more time this week with a wrap up of our SF adventure. We now have only four more beauty shots to take on Friday, as well as the author shots (Denene and I are already planning our wardrobes!). Brad has promised to insert a few of the photos I'm sending him tonight (he's the only one on our team who knows how to load photos into the blogs--something I still have to learn), so keep checking back. More to come from San Francisco....

 
Tony Gemignani's Original Tomato Pie w/Cheese
Brad English

How do you celebrate, or explore a new ingredient you are looking to use?  If your ingredient is a can of Bianco DiNapoli Organic Tomatoes you got your hands on, you don't need to look too much further than Tony Gemignani's Orginal Tomato Pie with Cheese.  I remembered this pizza and thought it would be the perfect platform for these tomatoes to shine.  I was on a tomato quest after all.  This pizza is simply a celebration of the tomato.  Tony's Pizzeria Napoletana even offers a limited number of pies per day be made with the Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes for an additional charge.  It's worth it!

Tony has a couple versions of this pizza: The Original Tomato Pie, Original Tomato Pie with Cheese, and Jersey's Original Tomato Pie. The basic concept is Tomato - hand crushed tomatoes spread on the dough.  It is finished with a little pinched italian sausage, fresh oregano, olive oil and sea salt.  The Jersey version uses sliced mozzarella and adds some parmigiano as well.  They all deliver tomatoes to you on a platter, or pizza crust.  Delicious!

I mention this in some of my other recipes from this day, but it is worth repeating.  My son was eating one of the pizzas I had been making that day.  For all of the pizzas I was making, I was only using these tomatoes hand crushed - nothing added.  He sat at the table as I made this pizza and out of nowhere he said, "Dad.  Great sauce!"  He had no idea what I was doing.  The sauce stood out that much. That's impressive.

You can see that for this pizza, I used a lot of sauce.  I wanted the tomatoes to melt into the cheese base, but not loose their juicy tomatoey-ness after baking in my oven for 8-10 minutes.  It came out just right.  Because the tomatoes were hand crushed, they still had some thickness, which was nice to bite into as they held their moisture.  You sort of got explosions of tomato flavor in every bite.  The sauce in this pizza - the way you lay it out and top it - becomes the key note of the whole thing.  With a little mozzarella underneath, you still get that cheese fix, which I think helps set the tomatoes up for your enjoyment even more.  And, with a little spicy italian sausage you have the perfect accent for enjoying the tomato pie.

Tony Gemignani's Original Tomato Pie with Cheese:

Pizza Dough
*I was using a Central Mills Germania Flour Dough (any dough will work)
Grated Mozzarella
Bianco DiNapoli Organic Tomatoes
Pinched Italian Sausage
Fresh Oregano
Olive Oil
Sea Salt

Sprinkle a little mozzarella on the dough.
You don't want this pizza to be about the cheese.  It's there on the bottom layer for a reason.  It's performing a supporting role.

Add a good amount of your hand crushed tomatoes.
*Note:  I didn't add anything to the tomatoes, just some fingers and some squeezing.  You want enough tomatoes to make sure it stays moist after cooking for 8-10 minutes.

Pinched Italian Sausage
The pinching creates a thin piece of sausage that will fully cook in the oven.  Since I'm making this at home and my oven only hits 550 degrees, I saute my sausage first leaving it a little pink in the middle so it will finish in the oven.

I put a little oregano on prior to cooking the pizza and then more after - just so I could get a little cooked into the sauce and then some fresh leaves as a finishing accent after.

After snapping a few pictures, the pizza went into the oven.

Give it about 8-10 minutes and out she comes.

I drizzled a little olive oil and dropped a little more fresh oregano on top and got this one to the table, where the family was waiting in line (behind Owen, who had by now identified a new favorite sauce and was using his muscle to make sure he was first in line).  I didn't add any sea salt and found that it was perfect without it. 

This is a great pizza. Thanks Tony!


Enjoy

 

 
Peter's Blog, Oct. 25th, SF Dateline!
Peter Reinhart

Here I am in San Francisco, shooting the photos for the upcoming book on Gluten-Free baking. I took a few photos of our team, hard at work, baking, shooting and tweaking the book photos (the "beauty shots" as they're called), and matching the copy to the photos. We're having a ball! Last night we had dinner at one of my favorite SF attractions, The Ferry Terminal Market (more on that later) and we're planning to visit a pizzeria tomorrow or Thursday night, but I won't say which one until I have something to report. The shoot will take all week and then Susan will fly in and we'll be doing a quick swing through Sonoma County, our old stomping grounds, on Saturday before flying home. My co-author, Denene Wallace, is here with her mom, Dot, and they're doing most of the baking while I get to, well, blog and schmooze -- a great gig! Leo Gong, who did such a fabulous job with my last book, "Artisan Breads Everyday," is once again behind the lens. Our editor, Melissa Moore and art director, Katy Brown, are also here, and our food styllist Karen Shinto, along with Leo's wife, Harumi, and their adorable mini-dachshund Samantha, the team mascot (last time I was here, three years ago, Samantha was only about about 2 pounds and 10 inches long; now she's an enormous foot long, and a whopping 9 pounds -- and is fully grown. She runs the show and everyone adores her. Anyway, I'll keep adding to this blog as the week progresses but want to get something off to you today (Tuesday). I'll send photos to Brad and he'll add them in as they come--I'll let the photos do most of the telling this week and next week, when I'm home and have a chance to reflect on the experience, I'll post a more reflective piece. So, for now, here's the team, and I'll keep adding to this posting throughout the week, so keep checking back. Also, be on the lookout for a recipe on Wed., a new video on Thursday, and more photos as I get them.

SPECIAL ALERT! Last week I erroneously stated I'd be at Omnivore Books at 7 PM on Wednesday but it is actually at 6 PM. I hope this doesn't screw up anyone's plans and I do hope to see you at 6 PM at Omnivore!

Wed: I said I'd keep adding on to this blog posting but instead, I'm going to post a new one and date it Oct. 26th. It will post later today. That way, for those who have been keeping up, you don't have to re-read all the earlier postings, and it will serve more as a progression. More soon....

 
The Best Way to Improve Your Skills? Teach!
John Arena

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about the student teacher relationship. For the past few weeks I have been training a friend who wants to open an authentic New York style pizzeria in Seoul.

James Yu is not your average pizza guy. A native of South Korea, he graduated from Auburn with a degree in Chemical Engineering and worked in the US for several years. Along the way James fell in love with crispy thin crust New York style pizza. Did I say James loves pizza? That’s not quite accurate. James is absolutely obsessed with pizza. James is so dedicated that after attending Tony Gemignani’s great pizza school in San Francisco he came back to the US to spend time with me in Las Vegas. He has attended Pizza Expo and thrown in Scott Wiener’s New York City pizza tour for good measure. I have had an opportunity to guide thousands of aspiring pizza makers over the years, but none have come close to matching his uncompromising, analytical approach to the subject. Perhaps because of his background, James always wants to know “why” and it is the answer to that unrelenting question that can lead to growth for both the student and the teacher.

The truth is after nearly 3 weeks of 16 hour days and literally hundreds of “whys” from James I think I emerged as a better pizza maker.

Use a California vine ripened tomato- “Why?”

Extend dough from the middle out towards the cornicione-“Why?”

62% Water in your dough formula- “Why?”

Never turn your gas oven off- “Why?”

Longer fermentation results in more flavor depth- “Why?”

On September 7th I celebrated my 44th year of making pizza. I may be slowing down but I still make a few hundred pies every day out of sheer joy in the process. But here is the thing: no matter how much you love something, over time repetition can become mechanical. You stop thinking about the “whys”. In many cases “old school” pizza makers learned by rote and could work their entire careers without knowing or considering why they did things the way that they did. That may be OK if you are happy with the result and have no desire to improve.

My guess is that if you follow this site you are the type of pizza maker that is never satisfied, no matter how great your pizza may be. Like James, you have a pizza ideal in your head and the quest toward mythological perfection may be just as important to you as the end result.

So, how do you keep everything fresh and continue to challenge yourself over years or even decades of pizza making? Teach. Whether you are a professional pizzaiolo or a dedicated amateur share what you know. No matter what your level of expertise is, there is someone out there who would like to be able to do what you do and can benefit from your experience.

Ultimately you will gain the satisfaction of sharing your passion and I guarantee you will also improve your own skills. James and I developed 16 different dough formulas using 4 different types of flour during his visit. He finally settled on one that he was happy with but every one was a success in that it gave me new insight into my own methods.

Certainly many of the techniques and recipes we worked on simply reinforced my existing beliefs, but in some cases I was surprised by the success of things that James wanted to try. If truth be told I have also found by objective research that a few of the widely accepted “truisms” of our craft don’t really create the result that we think (sorry fellow New Yorkers, All Trumps is not the only flour that can produce a crispy pizza) So… teach, share, pass it on. The result will be good for the student, the teacher and our craft.

 

 
Joseph's Provolone Pizza
Peter Reinhart

As a special welcome to The Fire Within, our newest sponsor, here is a video we shot last October at an oven owners conference hosted by Joseph Pergolizzi, the owner and founder of The Fire Within.  We shot a number of these instructional videos at the end of the conference with various attendees, asking each of the oven owners what kind of pizza they wanted to make, and Joseph chose this one and a couple of others, including a killer clam pizza. In this video, though, we not only get to make a simple yet beautiful pizza with pesto, two kinds of cheese (with a special tribute to Provolone, which both of us love), and local cherry tomatoes, but also talk about the oven rigs themselves.

Note that the crust is a little puffy in this version, almost like a round Sicilian or focaccia style dough, but you can always make the crust as thin or thick as you like when you do it. The dough was so delicious (recipe in the PQ Instructional archives), and the combo of fresh tomatoes, pesto, and cheeses are so perfect that, when the cameras stopped running, we devoured this little pie in about 30 seconds.

For more details on these oven rigs, click through to The Fire Within website on our home page. Joseph and I are already talking about doing another conference in Boulder next autumn and would love to have you there.

 
Cold Fermented Natural Levain Dough
Teresa Greenway

For those of you who like to bake with sourdough, I have a pizza crust that you will find intriguing.  It is handy to use dough which is already fermenting in your refrigerator, and to whip up a pizza for dinner.  Big Bear’s Bread (BBB) is such dough. It is a popular, long fermented type of sourdough bread and is a good choice for pizza dough. The formula for BBB is enough for two large loaves of bread or several large pizzas (about four pounds total).  The dough is made up and then ferments in the refrigerator for several days.  This past week I had a batch of it going and baked up a loaf of bread. It makes a really nice loaf of bread; the dough is higher hydration dough than standard bread and produces a moist open crumb. Since I only baked up one loaf, I had plenty of dough left and decided to make up a pizza for dinner to see how the dough performed for pizza.  It performed really well. The crust came out chewy with an open holey crumb. You can find the formula and technique for Big Bear’s Bread here: http://www.northwestsourdough.com/discover/?p=1870

To get the dough ready for pizza, take it out three to four hours before baking time. I had the dough made up into a round while it was under refrigeration. I took out the round and pulled it out somewhat flat so it could warm up to room temperature more easily. After an hour I pulled the dough out into a large round, about 16” in diameter ( I have a large pizza peel).

You can easily make two or even four smaller pizzas with this amount of dough (about two pounds of dough).  Once you finish pulling out the dough, the gluten is somewhat tightened so you need to place the dough onto a baking parchment paper or some foil at this time. If you wait to move your dough until later, it will relax and, being high hydration dough, it will be very hard to move.  Spray your dough with oil, cover with some plastic wrap and allow it to set for two to three more hours. It will not look very bubbly, but cold fermented dough is like that and will surprise you once it comes into contact with the intense heat of the baking stone.  When your dough is ready and your oven/baking stone are preheated for an hour as high as it will go (550F for my oven), spread on your sauce and toppings ( I used basil sauce, chicken, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese) and then using your pizza peel, transfer the pizza to the hot baking stone. Bake until done about 10 – 12 minutes.
For dough that is cold fermented, using a similar technique Peter Reinhart made famous with his Pain a la ‘Ancienne bread (Bread Baker’s Apprentice), the Co2 is absorbed into the cell structure of the dough and does not always show large bubbles in the dough while it is rising. However, once the dough is subjected to intense heat, the Co2 is liberated and forms many bubbles as it expands. So don’t be surprised if your dough, which can seem a bit inactive, looks great once it exits the oven. This long fermented dough probably isn’t practical for many folks, but for those that like to have fermenting natural levain dough setting around in their refrigerator anyway, it is a versatile way of using up the extra bread dough.  I would recommend adding an ounce of oil to the formula if you know you are going to use it for pizza dough.












 
Peter's Blog, October 18th
Peter Reinhart

I've been getting a lot of e-mails recently asking when I'll be back on the road doing what is called "travel teaching." It is something I love to do, teaching short classes at small cooking schools, and look forward to the next chance to do more classes on pizza and bread. I get requests to come to Mexico, Brazil, Panama, and even India, Korea, and China, though it's tricky for me to go too far from home for these classes, partly because of the costs, partly because it means extended time away from home, and partly because, well, as I get older it's not as easy to bounce back from crossing too many time zones. But I love traveling and experiencing new places so I would never rule out any possibility.

That said, I've cut way back in the past year for two reasons. One is that Pizza Quest has been an exciting new adventure and it has consumed a lot of time. Just managing the new postings each week has taken enormous time and energy for both me and Brad English, as well Jeff Michael, our more behind-the-scenes partner and co-producer. And, as you saw in our Big Reveal series, we're still filming and have many months of segments to share with you. The second reason is that I have been working on a new book on gluten-free, sugar-free baking, scheduled for release next summer. I'll write more about this later, especially the process of writing a book because I know that many of you may be also thinking of writing one. So, in a future Peter's Blog I'll dedicate some space to what it takes and how to start the process, and even on how to make a pitch to a publisher.

I mention this because I'll be in San Francisco all next week, with my co-author Denene Wallace, shooting the photos for the new book. For anyone in the area who would like to hear about it, we'll be at Omnivore Books in Noe Valley, San Francisco on Wednesday evening at 7 PM. The address is 3885a Cesar Chavez St. For details, call the store at (415) 282-4712. We plan to bring samples from the photo shoot so you can get a sneak peek. (Of course, I'll also be slipping away to go on a few pizza quests but I can't divulge where yet; since I was last in SF there seems to be at least half a dozen new, exciting places to check out).

The new book, after it comes out next year, will be the catalyst for my next round of travel teaching, so keep checking here for details. Anytime I do schedule an appearance somewhere, such as at The Asheville Bread Festival on March 24th, I'll post it here in the Peter's Blog section. But next year I'll be making the rounds and look forward to meeting many of you.

Final note: I want to welcome our newest sponsor, The Fire Within. We've been writing about Joseph Pergolizzi and showing instructional videos featuring his mobile wood fired oven rigs ever since we launched, so we're especially pleased to have him aboard as an official sponsor. There is a banner ad, rotating in with other sponsors, at the top of this page that provides you a click through to The Fire Within website. Even if you have no plans of buying a rig (and Joseph tells me he's working on some new designs and even rigs featuring other products besides wood fired ovens) do check out his website and enjoy the ride. We'll have more new sponsor news soon....

Coming up later this week: on Wednesday we'll be featuring a new sourdough pizza recipe from Teresa Greenway, our sourdough expert; an instructional video on Thursday (next week we get back to the Tony Gemignani webisode series); and Brad tells me he's working on a pizza contest for you and will soon have details.

 
Flying Pizza with Tony Gemignani
Peter Reinhart

You're going to love this one! Tony schools me on the art of dough tossing, both for function and for acrobatics.

As those who have made my recipes know, my doughs tend to be too wet and fragile for tossing so I always use flour on the back of my hands, with my thumbs on the edges, to rotate it around. Tony's dough, which is firmer and not sticky, was easy to toss around and, after a few minutes of lessons from the master I was not embarrassing myself too much (we had gathered a nice crowd round us, there in the middle of North Beach, SF, where Tony's Pizza Napoletana is located). This webisode should prove instructive for any of you who want to toss your dough the way the professionals do and, in these few simple instructions, Tony really does give us a lot information and technique. Enjoy the short tease at the end of Tony spinning dough for us--it is but a small sample of what he can do when he gets going. There are other videos of Tony on YouTube doing competitions and exhibitions and, for those who have never seen him or heard of him before now, you should know that for about ten years he was pretty much unbeatable and a many time world champion before then winning the world championship for his Margherita pizza. Sit back and enjoy--this one is pure fun!

 

 
Life After "The Big Reveal"
Peter Reinhart

On Saturday morning I awoke with a deep sense of satisfaction and appreciation. "The Big Reveal" had gone about as perfectly as possible, albeit with a few mini-dramas such as "Will the dough show up in time?" or "Will I be arrested for taking my glass of Birra Basta outside the Beer Garden and onto the sidewalk?" Of course, as I mentioned in my previous posting, everything just fell into place due to the diligent oversight provided by our producer, Brad English, and our terrific film crew, led by David Wilson, our Director of Photography and, of course, the folks at The Bruery and at Pizzeria Basta. As much beer as I'd consumed the night before, it really wasn't all that much, spread out over five hours; no hangovers, or "The Hangover" moments, to worry about (how did I get that tattoo or that signed photo of Mike Tyson--none of that). The pizza, from dough to topping, had been pitch perfect. It was a night to savor. So, what to do for an encore on Saturday?

My hosts, long time friends from my days in San Francisco, Fr. David and Elaine Lowell, who now pastor an Eastern Orthodox church in Denver, suggested we take a drive down to Colorado Springs, and so we did, to walk through The Garden of the Gods, a majestic park full of hiking trails, vertical rock climbs, and spectacular red sandstone boulders, including one of the most famous rocks in the country: "The Balanced Rock," which, true to its name, balances magically on a small base made of what looks like mud. Hey, I just realized that Colorado actually means "red," so I guess it all makes sense now.

The park, which did literally take my breath away (how much of that was the altitude and how much the beauty is hard to say), has an interesting history. Here's something I got off the www.destination360.com website about it:
…Many people automatically assume that the Native Americans named the Garden of the Gods. However, in this case, they are mistaken. In August of 1859, two surveyors started out from Denver City to begin a town site, which would soon be called Colorado City. As they explored the nearby locations, they came upon an intriguing area of sandstone formations. One of the men suggested that it would be a "capital place for a beer garden" when the country grew up. His companion exclaimed, "Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods". The rest, as they say, is history…

Aha--a beer garden! So it all comes full circle. But, really, the second surveyor got it right, it is a place fit for the Gods, and a place where, in my opinion, one can really sense the divine expressing Itself through nature. Beer garden indeed, though the irony was not considering all the adventures of the previous day! Check out the incredibleness by going to Google images and typing in Garden of the God (yes, I neglected to bring my camera- mea culpa!).

So, after a meditative walk, watching some pretty skilled technical climbers hanging on and in the crevices of the tall formations at various heights and angles, we decided to drive into town, Old Colorado Springs, for lunch at one of my favorite places, Pizzeria Rustica, where David Brackett has created a homage to his favorite Italian flavors discovered during his years as an Air Force fighter pilot. As with many of the artisan pizzerias we've covered here on Pizza Quest, Dave's dough formula is a proprietary blend of both soft Italian flour and North American high protein flour. He explained to us, as we enjoyed our salsicca and salumi pizzas (both made with carefully sourced meats), that he believes the altitude in his area necessitates the use of stronger protein flour to achieve the puff he desires. I can't say I totally understand the science behind that, as we did have some nicely puffed pizzas made with 100% Caputo Double Zero flour the day before at Marco's, but, really, for me that's not the point. What is the point, and I've experienced this at all the great places we've visited, so that it has almost become the defining quality of artisan pizzerias, is the joy the owners and pizzaiolos (and 'ola's) take in the choices they make. The sourcing is, for folks like Dave who don't actually make the pizzas (or Nancy Silverton and Craig Stoll, for example, who we've featured here before), where so much of the passion and artistry resides. Yes, it all gets completed by the pizzaiolo, but it all begins well before that dough with toppings ever hits the heat.  When I first met Dave four years ago, shortly after he opened Pizzeria Rustica, he had that same glint in his eye when he talked about the selection process, the producers he is relationship with, the reason why this olive or that cured ham is better than another brand -- it's the same fire in the belly we've been tracking all across the country. Well, don't get me started on all this but I will say that, before we left town, Dave walked us over to his latest restaurant, half a block away, called Tapateria, a Spanish tapas cafe filled to the brim with amazing meats, cheeses, olives, and seafood, all beautifully presented in small plate delights. Tapas restaurants are no longer the new trend, we see them popping up everywhere but, like pizza, there is tapas and there is tapas. As long as that gleeful light keeps glinting in Dave's eyes when he describes his choice of ingredients to those who come by, I'll be confident that his tapas, like his pizza, will be worth the trip. (Check them both out at www.pizzeria rustica.com and www.tapateria.com )

Let me wrap up this week's Blog entry, as well as my trip to Denver, with a final adventure I had on Saturday night with our friend (and Friday dough driver and savior), Joseph Pergolizzi. First, there were some desperate push-ups and sit-ups to try to work off the massive lunch we had Rustica, and some evening vespers prayers at Fr. David's parish, where I prayed for enough energy to get me through one more meal before I had to hop on an early plane the following morning. We met at 8:30, way beyond my usual dinner hour but I was buying time to empty out a bit, at the Vine St. Pub, in an area of Denver called Uptown (very different from Downtown, I would say). This brew pub is owned and operated by the Mountain Sun Brewery, also known as The Southern Sun Brewery -- I haven't figured it all out yet but after a few flights of their unique and creative beers, such as the Belgian Dip Chocolate Stout and their Quinn's Golden Ale and their Raspberry Wheat, I didn't really care what they called themselves as long as they kept doing what they're doing. Joseph and I split a big order of their famous spicy chicken wings and huge nachos plate loaded with chicken and cheese, and we talked for hours about a lot of things, including the growth of his mobile oven business, The Fire Within, and some of his new designs for other types of mobile food businesses. We talked about creating a line of Pizza Quest food products, new book ideas, the unlimited number of ways to use beer malt to create an infinite number of different kinds of pizza doughs, and about how to find balance in ones life between doing good things for the world and staying healthy -- not always an easy tightrope to walk. In other words, as we downed our Mountain Sun Brewery Illusion Dweller IPA, to wash down the last burning vestiges of those wonderful crispy wings, we did beer talk and dreamed big dreams. How much we'll actually do, how much we'll actually remember, who knows. But as one of the Vine St. Pub managers gave us a tour of the new brewery they are almost finished building behind the pub, having outgrown their Boulder location, we saw big dreams manifesting in front of us and were very impressed, and it made us less afraid to dream our own dreams. There is nothing more intoxicating than being in the presence of a big dream about to enter the world of manifestation. (Check them out at www.mountainsunpub.com)

The next day, Sunday, as I flew home, I thought about those dreams and realized how Pizza Quest, and the people we meet because of Pizza Quest like David Brackett and Joseph Pergolizzi, the folks at The Bruery and Mountain Sun Brewery, Kelly and Al at Pizzeria Basta, and even our own production team -- we're all dreaming dreams, big and small, and they're all gradually coming into focus, into manifestation. It was, for me, a new understanding of what a Rocky Mountain high really is.

 
The Big Reveal, Part Four (finale)
Peter Reinhart

Reminder Note: The blog text is by Peter and the photos and captions are Brad's. Enjoy!


Yes, the pizza and the beer were each, individually, everything we had hoped for; unique, delicious, memorable, and even the difficult logistics were falling into place. The mobile wood-fired oven just barely fit into the small space at the curb by the stage door of the Summit Beer Garden, a polka music band was playing in the background on the Beer Garden stage (well, depending on where you were standing, we may have been the background for the band to those who came to see and hear them but, to us, they were our back drop, a nice, atmospheric touch, whose enjoyable sounds you may hear when we show the videos); the dough balls, with their sweet, malty finish, showed up just in the nick of time; the beer was a one of a kinder, not just a variation of something familiar, but way beyond the realm of familiarity. Yet how would it taste with the pizza and how would the pizza taste with the beer? After all, this whole crazy challenge, dreamed up by Brad six months ago, was to see if a beer could be created specifically to match with a special, signature pizza and that meant, could a brewery, even The Bruery, craft a beer that would make the pizza taste even better, and would our pizza heighten the flavors of the beer?

From the first taste of the Birra Basta we all sensed that this was a beer meant for drinking along with food. The wort, brewed weeks ago, contained ingredients purposefully matched to the signature pizza, including flame grilled zucchini inspired by the squash blossoms nestled in the creamy, oozy burrata cheese, fennel seed to match the fennel pollen salt sprinkled on the topping ingredients, lemon peel to pair with Kelly's preserved lemons, and an array of hops and malts to stand up to the silver anchovies (these weren't salty anchovies, like those found in the little flat cans, but sweet, plump, sardine-like white anchovies marinated in a touch of vinegar). But, just because the ingredients matched on paper, mightn't they cancel each other out rather than magnify each other in the synergistic display we all desired? No one could predict until this very moment when, at last, all theory would meet the test of taste bud and olfactory reality.

The moment seemed pretty dramatic to me, but that might have been a result of the multiple flights of Birra Basta I'd already consumed. But here's how I experienced the flavors when I had them all together: they worked! What I mean, and I'll try to describe this without hyperbole or fake gastronomic melodrama, the beer really did change, and so did the pizza, when we had them together. The best way I can describe it is that they both took on a new degree of depth, as if the flavors of one filled in the blanks of the other and a wholly new level of completeness revealed itself. It really was the Big Reveal, though I see that only now, as I write these words.

Like most food professionals, I'm always in search for a "greater than the sum of its parts" experience when tasting foods paired with beverages or even with other foods. The blending and transforming of ingredients is at the heart of all cooking, which means that if you're going to combine ingredients the only reason to do so is to create something that surpasses what each ingredient individually brings to the dish -- otherwise, we might as well just eat each ingredient in its most ripe and perfect form by itself, the way that Alice Waters sometimes ends a meal at Chez Panisse with a simple peach or nectarine, picked at its peak of ripeness, knowing that it's already perfect and needs no further transforming. But, once we introduce the notion of cooking or baking, it's always about creating something that works in concert and goes beyond the ingredients, or at least showcases them in a way in which they could never be experienced as soloists. This is why, in my opinion, pizza really is the most perfect of all foods, because it signifies this very act of transformational art on an edible canvas.

So, as I quaffed and chewed I noticed that while the flavor palettes of both the beer and the pizza were similar and evoked each other, when taken together they kind of rounded out and took on another level of dimensionality. Neither product, the pizza nor the beer, was simple and one or even two dimensional -- each was totally satisfying in its own right and fully three dimensional. But taken together they seemed to unfold another layer (not a fourth dimension, which would take us into the realm of time or timelessness) but rather an umami, a richness, that neither completely possessed on its own. I'm writing this in recall, you must understand, trying to find words to describe a fleeting ephemeralness that existed within an evening flush with many pints of beer, in an oompah driven music hall, during the largest beer festival in the USA, surrounded by many lit up, happy people reaching in for a slice of a very special pizza and a tulip glass of a one of a kind farmhouse ale. All these flavor descriptors are working their way to the surface of my brain only after a week of reflection and remembrance, which means there may be a wee bit of impressionistic soft focus and romance involved. But I think not totally, because I remember having these very impressions in the actual moment of the tasting, but had no idea how I would express them when the time came to attach words to the impressions. So this is my best shot, and I hope I did the night justice. We set out to create and document a creative collaboration, a super session so to speak. Sometimes such sessions don't live up to the hype and sometimes something extraordinary happens. Was this the greatest pizza or the greatest beer ever created? That's not a question that could ever be answered and really shouldn't even be asked, as it wasn't our goal. But, did the effort to push ourselves into a new frontier, to challenge ourselves and our fellow artisans to go beyond our previous limits, bear any fruit? Time will tell, but the fact that I can actually ask the question, or that each of us present at The Big Reveal were driven deeper into our own self reflection, well, maybe that's what this was really about, maybe that's what, in the end, was revealed, and maybe it was, in fact, big.

Perhaps it will be easier to tell when we look at the videos in a few months with the benefit of time, space, and distance -- ah, the fourth dimension....

 
The Big Reveal, Part Three
Peter Reinhart

Note: Blog text by Peter Reinhart; Photos and captions by Brad English

Okay, so we were already full of great Denver pizza from both Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria, and also Brava Pizzeria della Strada. Now it was our turn to make pizza, out on the sidewalk of 19th St., by the stage door of The Summit Beer Garden, a music hall that was hosting number of bands and events in the shadows of The Great American Beer Festival. As Brad English and our Director of Photography, David Wilson were running around figuring out how to shoot the event at this dark, noisy music hall, Kelly and Erika Whitaker, along with Alan Henkin and Kelly's young pizza protege named Ben, pulled up with their mobile wood-fired oven hooked to the back of their car (yes, another beauty from The Fire Within). Within minutes, the wood went in and the oven began its 90 minute fire-up. Joseph Pergolizzi, the owner of The Fire Within, offered to pick up and bring us the Challenge pizza dough, mixed and balled for us the previous day at The Whole Foods Bake House in Aurora (near the Denver airport). We wanted to bake the first couple of pizzas, the test pies, at around 5 PM, as the official party and "Big Reveal" was to begin at 6. But as 5 PM approached, I got a call from Joseph, who had gotten caught in a major construction jam near the bake house. By this time the day had already been so magical and full of unexpected delights that we all felt kind of protected and unworried (well, maybe not Brad since he is the producer of Pizza Quest which makes him the designated worrier, so I just told him the doughs were on their way).

Fortunately, the pressurized keg of Birra Basta was waiting in the VIP Lounge of The Summit Beer Garden. The Bruery folks had not yet arrived, but Brad "produced" us into tapping the keg and got the cameras rolling. Besides, we decided we couldn't wait for Patrick and just had to try it, so someone turned the key, released the pressure, and a few seconds later we each had a creamy mug of rich golden ale, cloudy with foam (normal for the first pull, soon to clarify as we watched it settle-out in the glass). I took a swig and, really, it was the most unusual beer I've ever tasted, but I wasn't sure if it was just me, a relatively unsophisticated drinker, or whether the others were equally stunned. Alan, who knows his stuff (he's the sommelier and beverage director at Pizzeria Basta), finally broke the ice and said, "This is amazing -- I love it!"

I said, "It tastes thick, almost like soup, like pea soup with a ham bone in it, but yet it's refreshing--my mind is sort of boggled by the complexity."  Usually, when I think of complexity in a beer I ascribe it to the hops and, to a lesser degree, to the malts, but this time there was only an undertone of hoppiness, very subtle, and the five malts (refer to my previous post last week about their names) were totally smooth and in support of some other flavor I've never experienced in a beer before. It was the fire roasted zucchini, I'm sure, with just a hint of lemon peel and fennel seed, and maybe a mist of cedar chips breathing through it. No, it was definitely the zucchini, for sure, a flavor I've never associated with beer (this was, of course, a biere de garde, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale, so why not some roasted zukes?), that, for me, evoked the split pea/ham bone image. No one else used that analogy so maybe it was just my own associations, but it made me feel quenched and fed at the same time -- this beer was a meal unto itself. The more I drank, the more I wanted. I couldn't wait to try it with our pizza.

Just then, Patrick Rue showed up and joined us, and we all tapped glasses in a toast and, pretty soon, the cameras were rolling again and we caught a lot of the ensuing conversation on tape, which you will eventually see. I think all of us (though maybe not Patrick, since he's tasted more types of beer than most people who ever lived) were still trying to find the right words, the language, to place this flavor within the context of our taste memories, but we all agreed that we loved it. So we went outside to the oven and, as if on cue, Joseph pulled up with the boxes of dough balls, having sweated bullets and dodged traffic to get it to us. Yes, the day was still magic.

The dough was made for us, to the specs of the same recipe that we used at The Bruery when we issued the original challenge three and a half months earlier, by Safa Hamze and his baking team at Whole Foods under the direction of head baker Andy Clark (a founding member of "Boulder's Secret Pizza Society" and an experienced appreciator of serious beer who was, regrettably, out of town at a Bread Baker's Guild of America Board meeting -- I know he would have totally flipped out at what was about to happen and, naturally, I'll never let him forget that he missed this night). The dough had a pleasant light caramel tone, maybe cafe au lais-ish, because it was infused with barley malt crystal (4% ratio to the flour; the recipe is in an earlier posting). The Germania flour from Central Milling, with its touch of pumpernickel, was the perfect choice, an American flour blend that performed like a cross between the Italian Double Zero flour we'd had earlier that day at Marco's, and the Colorado grown high-protein flour we'd had in the pizzas that morning at Brava Pizzeria della Strada. We were ready to roll.

Kelly started assembling the first pizza, the "hero" as it's called in photo sessions, the one for the camera, and for our first combined taste with the Birra Basta. The dough was then baked in the now 800 degree owood-fired oven, with freshly made, super creamy burrata cheese from the legendary Gioia Cheese Company in Los Angeles, and also with beautiful yellow squash blossoms, sliced chiffonnade style into slivers. Ninety seconds later, when it emerged from the oven, Kelly finished it off with a topping of baby arugula, sweet and tangy silver anchovies, lemon preserves (slow cooked in Kelly's sous vide water bath cooker), and a dusting of fennel pollen salt.  We brought the pizza to a table just inside the stage door of the Beer Garden because we were told the Denver police would arrest us if we drank our beers out on the sidewalk (probably a necessary law in beer-crazed Denver). There, Patrick, Alan, Kelly, me, and eventually our whole crew and growing entourage, with cameras rolling, put the birra and the pizza together for the first time.

I hate to do this to you, but I'll pick up the story tomorrow and do my best to describe how the flavors took on a whole new direction when they all came together....

 
The Big Reveal, Part Two
Peter Reinhart

In my last post I wrote of our visits to Brava Pizzeria Della Strada, and also to Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria, both very near to where The Big Reveal took place. Even without the Big Reveal, though, the trip would have been successful because of these other two places. We were able to capture some great footage at both and will, eventually, be able to post it here as webisodes but, for now, I'll give a thumbnail sketch of how it went:

Dave Bravdica is another one of those guys -- we all seem to know such people now -- who left a successful professional career to pursue his true passion, feeding people. He became a caterer for a few years and then, having fallen under the magic spell of fire, became a pizzaiolo and also a wood-fired oven maestro. Somehow, he nailed down a primo spot on Denver's hip 16th St. Mall, parking his mobile oven on a terrace just above an underground cabaret. His pizzas are Napoletana inspired but tweaked with his own touches: Colorado grown and milled flour, locally sourced mushrooms, chili peppers, greens, and herbs. His meats are all cured or prepared within a few miles of the oven, exemplifying all the green values we've been learning to honor and love.

His own passion and ethic was fired in Italy, in much the same way Kelly Whitaker and, as we've all read, Mario Batali, found their culinary voices. The pizzas, he told us as we filmed away while tasting his Sonny Pizza (with Mondo Vecchia Sausage), his Fun Guy (yes, pun intended, laden with local shiitake mushrooms), and his Queen (of course, a Margherita), were just the beginning of his long range plans for the oven. For example, we got to taste his very popular porchetta sandwich on folded pizza dough, made with long, slow roasted tender as butter pork shoulder served with a couple of fun sauces. I'd like to go into more detail but we'll revisit all of this in a few months when we run the webisodes. Needless to say, by 11 AM, when Dave opened to the public, to whom he typically sells about 100 pizzas for lunch and then many more throughout the day, he had fed our whole crew and, so sated, we headed off to our next stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After an eight block walk, which included a stop at the Summit Beer Garden to see if we could get an early start setting up for the Big Reveal (the place was locked up tight and someone said to come back around 3 PM), we soon found ourselves at Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza at 21st and Larimer St. I'd heard about this place recently but wasn't prepared for how good it was, and how dedicated they were to authentic, VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) pizza. They actually have two ovens, one fired with coal and used to bake their wonderful lemoncello chicken wings as well as a quite decent gluten-free pizza (!!). The other oven is fired with local hard wood, and dedicated to the VPN pizzas, their pizzaiolos trained by the brilliant Roberto Caporuscio of New York City's Keste Pizzeria. I guess the locals have discovered Marco's because Marco Dym, the owner, has recently opened a second location in Englewood, Colorado, leaving the Larimer location in the capable hands of his daughter Samantha Monterosso, who served as our host when we pulled out the cameras and hung out with the pizza team. Again, we'll go deeper into this when we put up the videos, but I have to say, Marco's is the real deal and, along with some of the other Denver places that we didn't get to that are on my list, such as The Buenos Aires Pizzeria, which has an equally fanatical following, it looks like Denver is starting to make its case for becoming a great pizza city.

But this was all fun and delicious bonus material, a prelude to our real purpose for being in Denver. So, stuffed to the gills, we returned to The Summit Beer Garden, whose doors were now opened, bands starting to set up, and prepared to bake our own, original Challenge Pizzas and experience, for the first time, the Birra Basta created for us by The Bruery. How did that go? I'll focus on this in tomorrow's post….

 
The Big Reveal, Part One
Peter Reinhart

 

We'd been building up to this moment for so long it seemed surreal when it actually all came together. It all started when a flash went off in Brad's head a year ago while we were filming a segment with Kelly Whitaker in Boulder, at his Pizzeria Basta, and Alan Henkin, Kelly's business partner and the beverage director at Basta, turned us on to some amazing beer from a place called The Bruery. I thought it was ironic that they'd be serving beer from Southern California since Boulder, and the Denver area, is one of the true beer centers of the world, but that's how impressed they were with it. Brad, who lives only about thirty minutes from The Bruery, decided to follow-up when he got home and developed his own relationship with the brewery/Bruery. Then, we heard that Basta was going to do a beer and food pairing in May built totally around The Bruery's brews and it coincided with a Denver trip I was already planning and, voila, Brad got the Pizza Quest team assembled and back "on the bus" and there we were, at Pizzeria Basta, sitting at a table with Patrick Rue, the owner of The Bruery, issuing a challenge. We reversed the typical beer/food pairing, where the chef has to create a menu to match the beer (or more typically, wine), and instead asked Patrick if he could create a beer to match a pizza that Kelly, Alan, and I would create. He accepted the throw-down and we were off and running. For those who have been following this from the beginning, I won't recap it all and, for all newcomers to this saga I refer you back to my various Peter's Blogs as well as Brad's gallery to catch up.

So now, to bring it to the present, I must first address one question that keeps getting asked of me: when will we show the videos of this months long Quest? The answer is, I don't know, but it will take a while, which is why I'm writing about it now, while it's still fresh in my mind and the flavors are still tingling my palate.  It takes months of careful editing to get any of our webisodes ready to show because, as many of you know, we are preparing them to eventually be part of a television series; the webisodes are shorter versions of thirty minute television episodes.  So it isn't easy, especially on our budget, to get all the editing and post-filming work done quickly (much of which is done by our wonderful editor, Annette Aryanpour).  So, yes, eventually you will get to see the whole thing on screen, but we have other things to show first and there is a lot of footage that has to be sorted, culled, and cut into a cohesive series of webisodes.  But it will happen.  In the meantime, I'll spend the next few days writing about it here on the Peter's Blog section of Pizza Quest, and Brad will add some of the photos he took.

The culmination of the pizza/beer challenge occurred on Friday, September 30th, a few blocks from the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver. We started out calling it the Challenge but, as we neared the finish line, I've taken to calling it The Big Reveal, since none of us had any idea how the new Challenge beer would taste and how it would pair with the Challenge pizza. One thing we did know is that, in anticipation of the beer being fabulous, and already knowing how tasty the pizza was, The Bruery folks created a very cool label for the beer and gave it a great name, Birra Basta.  Kelly's wife, Erika, had terrific tee-shirts made and I proudly wore mine when we filmed.

But now I have to back up yet again and tell you about a couple of special Quests we squeezed in earlier that day, prior to the Big Reveal. Denver has become, like many cities, quite the foodie mecca. Personally, I think in Denver's case it all starts with the local micro breweries, of which there are so many, all of mind blowing quality, as well as having access to great locally grown and produced foods, and, of course, a "green" ethic that is inspiring and, in some respects, leads the national sustainability stampede. Every time I go there I become more of a fan and consider it almost my second home now (by Denver, I mean the whole area including Boulder, Colorado Springs, and all the other surrounding towns, red rock formations, mountains, crisp clean air, tasty water -- the whole Rocky Mountain high ethic).

So, our good friend Joseph Pergolizzi (creator of The Fire Within, whose mobile oven rigs are featured here in many of our Instructional videos) told us about a friend of his, David Bravdica, who has a very popular street pizza business in the bustling 16th Street Pedestrian Mall, and, being the ardent pizza questers that we are, we decided to start the day there, at Brava Pizzeria Della Strada. The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky, temperature in the high '70's, and a beautiful mobile oven (yes, one of Joseph's, naturally) parked under the iconic D & F Clock Tower on the corner of 16th Street and Arapahoe. I'll write more details about this tomorrow, as well as of our second stop, lunch at Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria on Larimer St.  All of this was prior to our main event, the Big Reveal, held at the Summit Beer Garden on 19th St. at Blake -- all of these places are within a few block's walk of each other which, when you think of it, makes this part of Denver (near the Rockies baseball park, Coors Stadium, and dozens of brew pubs and also the wonderful Cook Street Culinary School) a kind of Gastro area not unlike the one we showed in San Francisco in the Pizzeria Delfina webisode series.  Maybe one of the new definitions of what makes a city a great city is that it must have a Gastro.

More about all of this as well as my post-Big Reveal adventures at The Vine Street Pub and also at one of my favorite places, Pizzeria Rustica in Colorado Springs, as The Big Reveal continues tomorrow and throughout the week.

 

 
A Notion of Sacramental Bread
Michael Hanson

Note from Peter: We welcome Michael Hanson back with another thought provoking and, maybe even, controversial guest column. I am very curious to hear what you think of his ideas; whether you understand his vision and if you agree or disagree with his world view. This is an open forum and we encourage dialogue with all of our readers. It's okay to voice your opinion as long as it's done in a respectful way; nothing touches a nerve quite like commentaries that refer to God and the sacred. Now, here's Michael:

 

“The Bread in your hand
Is the Body of the Cosmos”

Thich Nhat Hahn

Many times recently I have been asked to explain my idea of Sacred Baking in more detail. Many of you may have read my previous article about my life journey and my idea of baking an honest, holy or sacred loaf. Here I want to explain my practice in more depth and welcome your thoughts. I have moved beyond “artisan baking” for two reasons. First, the term artisan, as many people have noted, has been stolen by the mass retail marketing experts; most “food porn” perverts the language to such an extent that factory made food now often gets called “artisanal.” Second, my personal journey has brought me to a new place of understanding and connecting with the Divine, that which is bigger than ourselves.

Our ancestors had a direct and deep connection to the earth and the fruits of the earth: tilling, planting and harvesting in cycles to feed themselves. Around these tasks built up ceremonies, rituals , songs and dances which, in our culture have all but disappeared, the remnants of which exist in ancient folk customs, many of which were expropriated by the religious orthodoxy and institutions and transformed into “religious” ceremonies; that most fundamental to Christians being the Eucharistic bread proffered in the form of a blessed sacrament.

In existing older societies and cultures around the world there still exist ceremonies, songs, and dances in which the people honor and give thanks to the earth for its abundance. In the Christian west we have given over this role to the church. I believe that there is a need and desire to reconnect with the ancient ways of being, of living. In a small way, home bread making is filling this need. I believe that we can re-sacralise our lives through bread; by baking in a holy way we can create sacred bread.

As a third generation master baker and bread oven builder I have a deep understanding of bread and baking, and the important role of the village baker/bakery in the creating and sustaining of the village. One cannot have a village/community without a baker and an oven. Home is where the hearth is, and a sacred hearth can bake communion bread for the community without the need for priests and their process of transubstantiation.

As a ceremonialist I understand the importance of personal and communal ritual in thanksgiving for the food we eat. Grace is a state of being, of communion with the Holy, as well as a prayer said before a meal. Bread is perhaps the foundation of “modern” civilization, the staff of life, and for over seven thousand years societies have found ways to honor and give thanks for grain, whether it be wheat, maize, barley rice etc etc. Their connection to and respect of the earth allowed them to bake in a sacred way. My intention is to do the same.

If one is to bake sacred bread I feel one has to combine the ancient wisdom of ritual with artisanship. When baking I feel a deep connection with the earth and my ancestors; additionally one has to source raw materials in a respectful way, honoring and thanking everything and everyone who has contributed to the wood, clay, water and wheat. This develops a way of baking with intention that enables the Divine to manifest through one’s hands and heart, and hence one can bake a sacred loaf. In short, honoring creates empathy which in turn creates sacred bread.

I feel my life’s work is to re-sacralise the bread we eat, the bread we bake, and through this the life we live. There are many thousands of home bakers who in their own way are feeding this process. I want to help them move beyond their desire to become artisan bakers to become Sacred bakers. I see bread as a “ferment” for change, internally and universally. I would love to know how you feel; do you bake sacred bread? Or does this belong only in the “priestly realm”?

 
Tony's Ovens
Peter Reinhart

Okay, this is the webisode many of you have been waiting for, where Tony Gemignani shows us all four of his ovens and also, as a bonus, explains the difference between the various types of Double Zero flour -- it's a whirlwind of information and I think you will want to watch it more than once and take notes. One of the joys we've had in traveling and meeting all these pizza masters is seeing how deeply they look into all their choices, whether it be flour, tomatoes, cheese, or other ingredients, ovens, heat sources, etc. They all have their own reasons for the choices they, which is great for all of us pizza hunters, as this attention to detail is what distinguishes them as artisans, and that's why we celebrate them.

There's more Tony to come in future webisodes, but this one may be the most useful of them all. Enjoy!!

 

 
The Sonny Boy from Pizzeria Bianco
Brad English

I had my large #10 can of the new Organic Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes and I had some pizzas to make.  I started with one from Tony Gemignani, who uses the tomatoes, and thought I'd do a couple from Chris Bianco himself.  I haven't had the chance to make it to Phoenix yet to try Pizzeria Bianco, but I've read much about it.  It is high on my list of things to do, and you will all be the first to know about it, when I get there.

I found Chris' Sonny Boy Pizza on his website and that sounded like something I wanted to make.  It's a simple pizza, perhaps you could call it an artisan version of one of the more popular pizzas on earth: The Pepperoni Pizza.  We all grew up on pepperoni and, although I still love a good one today, I am happy to find that more and more pizzerias are experimenting with other salted pork products such as salami. 

Chris' Sonny Boy has tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salami and gaeta olives.  That's just pure and delicious, simple and straightforward.  That's good pizza!  I was at the store with my list; I tasted some salami's at the deli counter for this and came up with one called a Finocchiona Salami by Creminelli. I couldn't wait! When it came time to find the Gaeta olives they were not to be found!  It was hard to believe with size of the olive bar I was standing in front of.  But, I had to find an alternative. 

Smart Phone:  Google -- Substitute for Gaeta Olives = Kalamata Olives. Done. 

I love salted, brined olives almost as much as salted pork products.  I couldn't wait for this pizza.

 

 

My home version of The Sonny Boy Pizza from Pizzeria Bianco:

Pizza Dough
Hand Crushed Bianco DiNapoli Tomatoes
Fresh Mozzarella
Finocchiona Salami
Kalamata Olives

As you build any pizza, you sit there and have to find the balance of the flavors.  This is part of the performance art and fun of making pizza.  No recipe will properly tell you how much cheese, sauce, salami, olives, olive oil or salt to use.  You are given a list and it's up to you to blend it together and find the perfect balance on your own.  That's a pretty cool thing about making pizzas at home.  I always say it's fun (I think I've said it a few times here).  This is another reason why.  

You spread the sauce and think about how long it will bake, will it dry out, will it be runny?  You have to find a balance.

I was using these salty ingredients (salami and olives) so I didn't salt the tomatoes at all. 

You pinch off the fresh mozz and lay it around the pizza.  You have to imagine how it will melt into the sauce.  Looking for balance...

You lay down a layer of salami.  Sometimes you may want it wall to wall, or other times, just a hint here or there. 

Add the olives.  To me, these are there to provide bursts of flavor, so not too much.

Into the oven.

Wait.

The Reward!

Enjoy (and it's fun!).

 

 

 

 
Peter's Blog, Sept. 27th, 2011
Peter Reinhart

As I prepare to head out to Denver for what I referred to last week as "The Big Reveal," I want to share this week's Peter's Blog with our correspondent, Nick Birkby, a baker and beer maker in South Africa. The timing is perfect, as Nick has been doing a lot of experimentation lately with beer malts in pizza dough, which is one of the keys to our Challenge Pizza (the recipe for this dough was posted last week). Nick has pushed the envelope even further, as you will see below. For those who have been writing in asking for more details for how to work with malt in dough, Nick's report will be invaluable and, hopefully, spur you on. If so, please write to me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to share your own adventures. As Nick points out, it's all part of the quest.

Here's Nick:

Every good quest should include a few exciting detours. Beer, much like pizza, rewards the passion of it’s creator.  It allows the brewer experimentation, and is capable, at times, of layers of dizzying complexity. Beer and  pizza are similar in that, in skilled hands, they can both be crafted with subtle simplicity or audacious bravado. They make for perfect partners, not just at the table, but in spirit. Both are capable of inspiring.

This contribution to the Quest takes us into some exotic  territory.  It’s been fantastic keeping up each week with the developments in the beer and pizza pairing saga, and my offering is simply another slice to add to the already exciting picture,  .

What caught my imagination as a home brewer was the adding of brewing malt flavors,  as well as  colors, to a pizza dough intended to be paired with beer. I had been occasionally adding malt in small quantities to my loaves for some time with good results but, what i wanted to see was if I could get some of the colors of these tasty complex roasted malts into a pizza base. I love the beautiful rich colors that some beers have – golden copper through to amber and on to dark chocolate black. I envisioned a dark brown deep roasted malt pizza base to pair with an Irish Stout, and a reddish base for an Amber Ale.

Before I carry on, I should explain what role these specialty malts play in brewing.  A brewer works with a recipe that uses pale or ’base’ malt as the largest proportion of the brew. It is, quite literally, the basis. Then, the ‘specialty’ malts are added in smaller amounts for their flavoring and coloring quantities. These malts are roasted and kilned for a longer time under different conditions by the Maltster, to produce different qualities and flavors that will allow the brewer to craft, say, a deep caramel Amber Ale or a coffee-like dry and roasty Stout. There are many types of specialty malts and most brewers love to experiment with them!  Flavors can range from "bready" and toasty through to caramel, toffee and even fruity plum and raisin. Think of the base malt as the canvas, and the specialty malts (and hops of course ) as the paint!

Getting hold of these malts is very easy, as brewing is such a huge hobby and any home brewing shop will be able to help.

Using the fantastic Neo-Neapolitan dough  (listed on this site ) as my recipe, what I did was quite simple. I steeped the coarsely ground up malt in some hot water until it had completely infused and cooled and then, once I sieved it off from the spent grain, substituted that for the water in the recipe. Because these malts are so good at releasing their flavors and colors through infusion, it wasn’t necessary to add actual ground malt to the dough.  The results were quite exciting!  From a flavor point of view it made a huge difference.  Roasted malts add a lot of complexity, roundness and an unusually delicious flavor to the dough. It definitely augments the dough, but does not overpower it and, paired with the appropriate beers and toppings, it was really memorable!

Due to time constraints, I have not been able to pursue this ingredient and pairing concept as far as I would have liked, but perhaps that makes it all the more exciting. The idea is here, and now it’s up to the bold to venture forward!

The Neo-Neapolitan recipe was halved for these experiments. Simply double up it for more.

For the ‘Stout’ dough I used 30 grams of dark ‘chocolate’ malt to 300 mls of very hot water, infused and allowed to cool. Use it in place of the water in the recipe. The topping was brown mushrooms and bacon. I paired it with a sweetish English Stout

For the Amber dough, I used 50 grams of ‘Caramel 50’ ( Cara 50 ) with the same amount of water as above. The amber color was not as pronounced as I hoped but here is where I will experiment again.  The topping was a mild chorizo, which happened to be at hand, and also happened to be amber! I paired it with one of my own malty Amber Ales!

Thanks very much to Peter for the invitation to contribute. All the Best, Nick.

Thank you Nick -- this is fabulous information!  I can't wait to hear from our other brewer/baker/pizza makers out there. Meanwhile, anyone who will be in Denver this weekend for the Great American Beer Festival, or for any other reason, look for us at the Summit Beer Garden, 1902 Blake St., on Friday, from 6 PM till the coals die out (or till they throw us out). I'll try to post a follow-up on Saturday. Here we go.....

 

 

 

 
The Pizza Quest Challenge Pizza Dough
Peter Reinhart

This is a small batch recipe for making the Challenge Dough that is used in the pizza that we will be making for the public for the first time on September 30th in Denver at 7 PM at the Summit Beer Garden, just a few blocks from The Great American Beer Festival.  The ingredients that distinguish this from typical pizza crusts are the flour and crystal malt.  The flour that we are using is called Germania, milled by our friends at Central Milling (the actual mill is in Utah and the main office is in Petaluma, CA).  It is made in the Double Zero style, which means a super fine grind, but with protein levels near 12% (higher than its Italian counterpart and thus more absorbent of water).  In addition to two types of wheat flour in this blend, there is also a small amount of pumpernickel rye flour. The actual amount is a proprietary company secret but in our version, for those who can't get their hands on Germania -- which you would have to buy directly from Central Milling (see the end of the recipe) -- I will give some suggestions below for creating your own version.  The malt crystal is a non-diastatic powder, meaning that the diastase enzymes found in barley malt have been deactivated during heat treatment and thus it is used strictly for flavor and not for it's enzyme function. We use approx. 4% malt to flour, which is a generous amount. Three ways to obtain the malt is through beer making supply stores or to go to your favorite micro-brewery and ask to buy some from them, or, when you call Central Milling to buy this flour, ask them if you can buy a pound of the malt (that's where I got mine). OR, you can buy barley malt syrup from a natural foods market or from your local bagel store, where you can plead your case  -- some bagel shops will sell you some and others won't. The syrup is not exactly the same as the crystal but it still adds that nice malted barley flavor that evokes the flavors of malty beer and makes this an ideal pizza crust to enjoy while you're quaffing down your favorite brew.

Note: This is not a beer dough, that is, I don't use beer as the liquid. You can always do that but I think it is a waste of good beer. Dough is solid beer--you are fermenting the grain in a dough form not a liquid form as you would with beer. So, while beer can work as a hydrating liquid it is somewhat redundant if you have the malt instead. Of course that's up to you and, if you want to sacrifice a pint in the dough to see how it affects the flavor, go for it. As for me, I'll be taking mine from a cold mug.

 

 

 

The Pizza Quest Challenge Dough (makes five 8 ounce/227 g dough balls)

For best results, this dough should be made at least one day in advance--it will also hold in the refrigerator for up to 3 days with good results. Any longer than 3 days and the dough will weaken (start to break down), though it can last for months if shaped into dough balls and frozen in small freezer zip bags.

 

 

 

22 ounces (624 grams) Germania flour or a blend of 20 oz./567 g of your favorite bread or Double Zero flour and 2 oz./56 g of pumpernickel or coarse rye flour or rye meal).  If you don't have a scale, this will be approx. 4 3/4 cups of flour.

0.5 oz/14 g. salt (a scant 2 teaspoons or 2 1/2 teaspoons if using coarse kosher or coarse sea salt)

1 oz./28 g crystal beer malt (light or dark--I use amber) or 1 1/2 tablespoons barley malt syrup

0.11 oz/3 g instant yeast (1 teaspoon)  OR, 1 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast dissolved in 4 ounces of the water for about 3 to 5 minutes

16 oz/452 g  water, room temp. (if using Caputo or another Italian Double Zero, reduce the water to 14 oz/399 g)

--In an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, or in a mixing bowl with a large spoon, mix the dough on slow speed for 1 minute, or until the dough is fully hydrated and all the ingredients are evenly distributed (instant yeast goes right into the flour--it does not need to be bloomed in water, while active dry yeast does need dissolving, as described above, by pulling 4 oz. of water from the total). The dough will be coarse and shaggy at this point, and all the ingredients need to be hydrated.

--Let the dough rest for 5 minutes and then mix again on medium speed for 1 additional minute (or knead by hand on a clean, lightly oiled work surface), until the dough is fully developed (you can stretch a small piece very thin without it tearing to make translucent membrane). Adjust the water or flour as needed to make a very soft and supple, very tacky, almost sticky dough. If the dough is too weak to hold together, mix for an additional minute or so. If too sticky to work, sprinkle in more flour as needed. If too stiff, drizzle in a little water, one teaspoon at a time.

--Form the dough into a ball by stretching and folding it, place it into a lightly oiled bowl large enough to accommodate it if it doubles in size, mist the top with spray oil or brush a small amount of oil on the surface, cover with plastic wrap (the whole bowl, not the dough), and let the dough sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough again (either in the bowl or on the counter) and return it to the bowl, mist with spray oil, and cover the bowl again with the plastic wrap. Then, place the bowl into the refrigerator where it will continue to rise overnight before going dormant. As noted above, you can use it anytime for up to 3 days or you can divide it immediately into dough balls and freeze them; they will keep for at least 3 months in the freezer where, when ready to use again, you transfer the frozen dough balls to the refrigerator the day before you plan to bake the pizzas and then treat as you would freshly made dough.

--Remove the bowl of dough 2 hours before you plan to make the pizzas and divide the dough into 5 equal (approx. eight oz.) dough balls. Place the dough balls on a sheet pan or tray that has been lightly misted with spray oil. Keep them as separated as possible. Mist the top of the dough balls with spray oil and cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap, or place it into a can liner, to keep the dough from forming a skin. The dough will slowly wake up and start to swell. If the room is very warm, reduce the wake-up time to 60 or 90 minutes instead of 2 hours.


--Prepare your ingredients and oven for pizza making. A baking stone is recommended. Set your home oven as high as it will go (convection is fine); if using a wood-fired oven, the deck should be about 550 degrees F/288 C, and the ambient ceiling temperature should be at least 800 degrees F/427 C.  The pizzas will take 5 to 8 minutes to bake in a home oven and about 2 to 3 minutes in a wood fired oven.  If using a pizza stone in a home oven, let it preheat for at least 45 minutes.


For more specific details on how to shape or make a pizza, toppings, and sauces refer to our Instructional videos, photos, and recipes, or obtain a copy of "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza."

To buy Germania Flour and malt crystal, contact Central Milling at (707) 778-1073, or visit their website at www.centralmilling.com/

 

 
Tony Gemignani's Coney Island Pizza
Brad English

As many of you know, Chris Bianco has joined forces with Rob DiNapoli of DiNapoli Specialty Foods.  They have come up with a new product that Chris had been nudging Rob to create for some time.  There has been a limited supply of their new Bianco DiNapoli Organic Tomatoes available at some select pizzerias and restaurants and we have been lucky enough to be "in the loop!"  I happen to be sitting on a small supply.  So, I recently decided to use them here at home and make some pizzas to play with that set the tomatoes up as the star.  Since we are running a series on Tony Gemignani and I know he's one of the other lucky ones to have a supply of these tomatoes, I thought I would pick a few of his pizzas to re-make here at home.

The first one I started with was his Coney Island Pizza.  This is one of his creations that features the Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes that are simply hand crushed and placed on the pie with a little added sea salt.  It also has a number of other ingredients that sing that siren song to me: hot peppers, spicy pork products, roasted yellow peppers, and a blend of cheeses.

I had some of our Signature Bruery Beer Dough on hand (hidden in my freezer) from our last filming event down at the Bruery, so I used that.  Following is the recipe and photos.


But, there's a big "aha moment" I'd like to share.  As I was making this pizza, and setting up to make a few more afterward, my son Owen was circling the kitchen like a Great White waiting for the pizza to come out of the oven.  "Dad, when's the pizza going to be ready?"  You all know how that goes.  I'm covered in flour, sauce, taking pictures, chopping vegetables, laying out the next set of ingredients, and I keep getting the occasional bump from my growing little Great White.  Anyway, I finished the first pizza, and he came in for his feeding, taking a slice and going to the table. 

My wife, was helping me, as I worked on the next pizza.  Out of nowhere Owen says: "Dad -- this sauce is awesome!"  I looked at Shanna, who knew that I was making all of these pizzas to play with Chris and Rob's new tomatoes, but Owen (age 12) had no idea.  This really hit me.  The sauce was just the tomatoes processed through my fingers into a bowl.  That's it.  I didn't even add any sea salt, because I figured there was plenty of other things going on with the salted pork and peppers.  Maybe Rob and Chris got to Owen in a plot to make their sauce really stand out?  I don't know.  He hasn't purchased anything new with a secret source of income recently.  So, I'll just say, "Wow!"  And, it was good.  Each of the tomato pies I made that day were really good.  I'll post the rest of them in the coming weeks….

Tony Gemignani's Coney Island Pizza (Brad's Version)

Pizza Quest Signature Beer Dough (or use your favorite pizza dough)
Mozzarella (low moisture, full fat)
Hand Crushed Bianco DiNapoli Tomatoes (the secret ingredient -- but try it with your favorite  brand or canned plum tomatoes until they make it available to the public, whenever that may be)
Spicy Coppa
Calabrese Peppers
Roasted Yellow Peppers
Serrano Chiles
Provolone

I went to my local Whole Foods to get some of the ingredients.  I really wanted to find good quality ingredients to put together with these tomatoes.  I had to make some substitutions while at the store, because certain things in Tony's original version were not available.  That is part of the fun -- trying something new, or finding an exciting option.  I couldn't find any Calabrese Peppers so I picked up some Hatch Peppers.  Apparently, these are the "hot" item these days when they're available (only this time of the year).  I now see why!  They are spicy -- very hot when raw, but I noticed that they became almost sweet when baked into my pizza. They're still hot, but not overpowering.  I also found a great Spicy Coppa Piccante from La Quercia that was perfect for this pizza.

--Shape your Dough
--Add grated Mozzarella on top of the dough
--Top with Hand Crushed Bianco DiNapoli Tomatoes (or, any other high quality tomato)
--Add the Coppa Piccante slices
--Add sliced Hatch Peppers and Roasted Yellow Peppers
--Add Chopped Serrano Chili
--Top with Grated Provolone

Into the pre-heated oven it goes, on a preheated baking stone if possible (make it as hot as your oven allows). Nobody knows for how long.  Ok, maybe we know - about 8-10 minutes for me, maybe less if your oven is hotter than mine.

I mucked up my dough on this pie in the photo -- having it a little too thin in the middle and it ripped somewhat and the pizza wasn't perfect.  So much effort, shopping, chopping, grating, hand crushing down the drain?  But, that's only if we were just talking about the photos.  This pizza rocked!  As Owen said, the sauce was incredible.  The blend of ingredients makes this one of my favorite pizzas in a while (I say that a lot, I guess).  But it will become a regular in my house for sure -- at least as long as those tomatoes hold out.  The hatch peppers were great, you can see I didn't add too many after tasting them raw, but next time I won't be so shy. 

Take a whirl at this one, and let us know what you come up with…

Enjoy!

 

 
The Big Reveal: Part One
Peter Reinhart

The following is an article I wrote, with Brad's help, to be sent to various beer blogs to alert them to the big event next week in Denver. We've been writing about here for a number of weeks, and on Thursday I'll post the Challenge Pizza dough recipe, but I thought I'd share the article with all you as a way of recapping the past few posts and to give you the info as to where to find us if you happen to be in Denver next week. The location is given toward the end of the article. Hope to see you there and we'll be telling you all about it and, eventually, sharing the videos as well. Feel free to send this post to anyone you think might be interested, or to beer blogs that you may know. So, here's the article which I call...

The Big Reveal:

I'm a bread baker, not a brewer, but in a way, that's just a matter of thickness, viscosity, and a different approach to manipulating the three major points of the food triangle: time, temperature, and ingredients.  Bread is solid beer and it's a whole lot more tolerant of human imprecision than beer, which is probably why I took the bread path when choosing careers.  Pizza is an extension of bread -- it's dough with something on it, whatever name you call it by, and it's been called by a lot of other names than pizza (focaccia, schiacciatta, sfingiuni, naan, American flatbread, quesadilla, and grilled cheese all come to mind for starters).  So, when the folks at our website, PizzaQuest.com discovered the unusually complex beers from Orange County's The Bruery, at the equally dynamic Pizzeria Basta in Boulder, it seemed like the time had come to meld the beer/bread tributaries into one seamless river.

After visiting The Bruery in person, Brad English and Jeff Michael saw the same passion for making great beer that we’ve seen at so many great pizzerias and other food establishments. So, we challenged Patrick Rue, owner of The Bruery, to make a beer inspired by a pizza, and not just an ordinary pizza but one that we would create for them, a very special Challenge Pizza.  This would be a pizza and beer pairing but, instead of the more conventional pairing of food to an existing beer or wine, we created the food first and challenged the brewers to create the perfect beer to pair with that pizza! 

Patrick and his team accepted the “throw-down” and then Kelly Whitaker and Alan Henkin, owners of Pizzeria Basta, went to work on some topping ideas for the Challenge Pizza and I focused on the dough.  Basta is using a new line of flour from Central Milling, a mill that I know well, as the owner, Keith Giusto, has been supplying me with flour for over twenty years.  Lately, he's developed four new specialty pizza flour blends designed to compete with the famous Italian Double Zero brands such as Caputo and San Felice.  One of the blends contains three different types of flour, including some coarse pumpernickel rye. I zeroed in on this one for The Bruery Challenge Pizza because of that rye, but also wanted to turn my pizza dough into something even more like solid beer so, after some experimentation, added in a fair amount of amber malt crystal to evoke a hint of the alehouse brew that Patrick’s team was creating.

Kelly and Alan came up with two distinct pizza topping concepts, one red and one white, and we assembled and baked them in a 900 degree mobile wood-fired oven that a friend of ours, Tim Gonzalez, drove to The Bruery.  We asked Patrick and his head brewer, Tyler King, to taste and choose the pizza that they would use as the inspiration for their beer as it’s perfect pairing partner.  They went for the white pizza, which we thought they might, since it was a thing of beauty (the red pizza wasn't too shabby either, loaded with organic tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and killer guanciale bacon -- made from the jowl, not the belly of the beast -- kind of the Rolls Royce of bacon).  But the white pizza was really out of the box, just the way The Bruery makes their beers.  It was topped with fresh burrata cheese (a blend of fresh mozzarella wrapped around creme fraiche -- what an oozey delight!), sweet white sardines, preserved lemon, squash blossoms, fresh arugula sprouts, and a sprinkle of fennel salt at the end.  It was a wowzer!

The Bruery team then went to work.  They fashioned a brew inspired by the flavors of the pizza, and Birra Basta was born.  This was a Biere de Garde style ale using six malts (Pilsner, Six-Row, Munich, Biscuit, Kiln Amber, Aromatic), two types of hops (Columbus, Strisselspalt) and a variety of other spices and flavorings (roasted zucchini used in the mash, and fennel seeds, lemon peel, and Spanish cedar in the fermentor), and finally they fermented it with their proprietary Belgian House Yeast.  Biere de Garde is translated as “a beer for keeping” and is similar in style to a Saison, or farmhouse ale although it is less hoppy and has similar malty and earthy flavors.

Pizza Quest Creator/Producer Brad English, who is the guy that put this whole Pizza/Beer Challenge in motion, and who lives near The Bruery, got a call to come down and taste the early, unfermented “soup.”  He was suitably impressed, to put it mildly, and has been hard at work ever since coordinating what I'm calling "The Big Reveal" on Friday, September 30th, at the Summit Beer Garden (www.summitbeergarden.com), which is an event open to the public, put together by Rueben’s Burger Bistro of Boulder and Denver’s Summit Music Hall, not far from where the Great American Beer Festival is taking place.  Kelly, Alan, and I will be cranking out the Challenge Pizzas in Kelly's mobile wood-fired oven, while Patrick and his team will pull pints of their original, hand crafted ale – Birra Basta.  Once and for all we'll find out if we've made a heavenly, synergistic match – a perfect pairing - with the sums even greater than the already wonderful parts.  Based on the players involved, I'm pretty jazzed about the moment when it all comes together.   After the event, Birra Basta will only be found at Pizzeria Basta, until it runs out.

Come join us at “The Big Reveal” at 6 PM on September 30th.

 
A Championship Margherita by Tony Gemignani, part 2
Peter Reinhart

I was mistaken last week when I said the Margherita that Tony made was his World Championship version. Actually, this week is the version that won it all. As it turns out, last week's pizza was made with Caputo flour and this week's is made with San Felice flour. When Tony won the World Championship in Naples, which he'll talk about a little in this week's segment, he used the San Felice flour so that's the one he reserves this flour for at his restaurant. He uses Caputo on all his other Napoletana pizzas and, as he indicates here, it's almost impossible to tell them apart and he loves both brands. But, because he won the title with the San Felice, that's the one you get if you order the Championship pie, served on the special pedestal platter. Tony told us that he tries to replicate the Margherita exactly as he did it for the judges, and he only makes 73 each day and when the dough runs out he stops taking orders for it. The number has special meaning for him but now I can't recall what it signifies so be sure to ask when you eat there.

Another surprise for all of us (and even for one of the judges, it so happens) is that the traditional competition Margherita is not required to be made with Mozzarella di Bufala but should actually be made with Fior di Latte (cow's milk mozzarella). Now we know. Hey, you'll learn all sorts of new things from hanging out with the Masters, which is why we go on these crazy quests. So sit back and enjoy or, as the saying goes, watch and learn....

 

 
Hens, Mussels, Devils, and Ears
Brad English

New York.

I grew up in New Jersey.  New York was the big beast that my dad went off to on a hot -- or cold -- bus for the day, depending on the time of year.  Unfortunately, the bus wasn't cold in the summer and it wasn't hot in the winter  the way you would like it to be (as he tells it).  Either way, it was a long trek from our small coastal town on the Jersey Shore to the big city.  

The Jersey Shore was an ideal place to be growing up in America in the 1970's.  I was free to ride my bike to school, walk all over town, and play hide and seek on the roofs of the empty summer homes that were only inhabited 3-4 months a year.

While visiting back here, I think about the freedom I had compared to my own kids, now growing up on the west coast in Southern California in a different time and place altogether.  We rode our bikes everywhere.  Now, my kids ride bikes, but I take them to the beach, or the park to do so.  Things sure are different.   

I have been working back here in NYC and staying with some friends and family, commuting into the city and passing many landmarks that bring back all sorts of memories.  There's the railroad bridge that crosses Sea Girt Lake, where I remember playing endlessly on these very railroad tracks, on the bridge, and under the bridge.  We would lay pennies on the tracks, throw rocks into the lake, try to set crab traps, build rock walkways, fish, build forts, etc.  As I roll over the same bridge now, in my adulthood, I remembered as clear as if I were that ten year old boy lowering a fishing pole, or laying a crab trap down from between the railroad tracks into the water.  My friend Richard and I once were startled when the sound of a train horn came bearing down on us.  You never saw two kids drop what they were doing so fast and escape to the "safety" of the rocky slope just off the edge of the bridge.  Our trap had fallen into the water -- gone.  As we settled into our safe position, panting, we peered down the tracks awaiting the rushing train, and watched as a fire truck rolled across the railroad tracks and continued down the road.  No train.  No dramatic swooshing rumbling rush. What a let down! And now, we didn't have our crab trap.  I wonder what we would have done with any crab if we had even caught one? (End of memory riff...)

Now I'm back in New York.  What a great city.  I can hardly process it all.  Imagine what we could do here on a Pizza Quest?!  We could literally set up shop and start questing and likely never leave this town.  The pizza is spectacular.  The food is amazing.  The variety and flow of it all is breathtaking.  To refer back to an article I wrote recently, I guess I can't help but to keep my eyes out for those "chalkboard" signs that will lead me to something new, amazing, or different.  There are so many here, literally, on every corner.

One of my favorite new joints in New York has to be The Spotted Pig.  I was meeting a friend for dinner and got there a little early to be seated, but the downstairs bar was full.  So, I wandered upstairs and found a couple of seats at the bar. I ordered my first Old Speckled Hen and asked for a menu while I waited for my friend to show up.  The bartender said, "As soon as I get it, it's yours!"  He was waiting for the daily printing of the menu.  This is evidence of part of the magic of this place.  I've been here multiple times during my trips to NY.  The menu is always changing.  I love that they are literally waiting for the final menu as they are already opening service for dinner. 

Everything on the menu is familiar, comforting, but also challenging and slightly different.  The dishes are simple, but explosive with flavor.  I sent a text to a friend (Dave Wilson - who has shot most of our videos on Pizza Quest and is a fellow foodie), who I knew would be thoroughly jealous that I was here.  He shot a text back saying, "Get the Deviled Egg, the Mussels, and the Crispy Pigs Ear!"  I snapped a photo of my Old Speckled Hen, knowing this back-lit glistening beer would really set him over the top, and sent that off.  Just then, I got another text, "I was just going to tell you to have an Old Speckled Hen for me!" 

My friend Steve got there and by now there was no way I was leaving this bar stool -- no need to get a table.  There's something about this place that makes me really feel at home.  It's more like having a beer and some great food in your friend's basement bar, than being out at a restaurant.  The only caveat to that is that there is one MAD Chef in this kitchen pushing the experience beyond sustenance and into the realm of experiential and memorable. 

So, in Dave's honor, having never had a fried crispy pig's ear in my life, I decided that if it was on this menu it was not only going to be good, but great.  My friend looked on in horror as I continued my order. I added the Steamed Mussels with Prosciutto, Cava and Samphire.  The pig's ear was accompanied by a small endive salad with a lemon caper dressing.  Now Steve felt pressured; he's not the most adventurous eater.  So, he took a leap and ordered the Char Grilled Burger with Roquefort and Shoestrings!  I've had it before -- it's really good.  We shared the Deviled Egg appetizer followed by another round of Hens and, as a follow up, because we didn't get enough Deviled Egg the first round, we went for round two. 

This isn't a review of the food, or this restaurant.  I am just sharing the experience as a way to further explore our journey here on Pizza Quest.  We are intrigued by the passion it takes to bring memorable food to the table.  Our focus is on pizza, but the elements are similar across the board.  It requires a balance of passion, dedication, taste, vision, with perhaps a dash of insanity. 

As I write this, I can sort back through my visits here and recall the welcoming feeling and satisfaction I have experienced every time I come here.  This sometimes comes accompanied by great food.  It can also come from experiencing great food with great people.  Or, perhaps we can have fond memories because of the place, or the timing, or so many other aspects that add value or meaning to our lives.   But, in far fewer circumstances, you will find all or many of these aspects of enjoyment coming together at once.  For me, I found the spot -- or, should I say I found the Spotted Pig?!

 

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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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