Oven Roasted Rack o' Pork!
I just found the pizza and sandwich topping of the year! You heard it here first. In this post I'll tell you how to make it and, in future posts, how to use it on pizzas and also how to make the King of all Cheese-(Pork) Steak sandwiches, with the left overs.
Here's the background story: I was looking to play with my Primavera one weekend not long ago. I was bored and wanted to try something new. I've had it now for almost 6 months and it still feels new and, I'm still either learning to drive it, or thinking about ways to drive it. That may be half the fun of it. Like any hobby, the fun and rewarding part is often as much about the journey and not the destination. I was "feeling" pork that weekend. I reviewed some of the great recipes on the Forno Bravo Forum, and put in some time searching on the internet, when something caught my eye.
Oven Roasted Rack of Pork.
Rack of Pork?!!! Now that just sounded too good. Rack of lamb is one of my favorite things to make and maybe that will be next to hit the fire dome, but a rack of pork -- that sounded perfect! I don't think I have ever had a whole rack of pork cooked for me before. Pork chops, roast pork loin, smoked pork, barbecued pork, on and on, but never before had a full rack of pork been presented to me. I found a gigantic 8-bone specimen at the store. Beautiful!
So, back to my weekend...
It was a slow weekend and I had some time to just hang out with my family. We had a break in our usually crazy schedule of running the kids from one sport to another, or to one friend's house, or a movie. When a calm window opens up like this I often feel like cooking. I do some of my best meals when it's just the family. I enjoy cooking for and with friends, but there is also something about hanging out and making something amazing when it would be just as easy to order a pizza or to throw some burgers on the grill. After all, do the kids really appreciate a good meal? The truth is, even my kids don't! I can admit it. You get the occasional, "That was really good!" but on weekends like this it's more about the time you spend with each other. I think gathering around a big meal, or a special meal means something more than just the food. With the way the world is these days, this type of time spent together is more and more important.
By the way, that said, a burger on the grill is almost always a good idea! I'm just saying…
Back to the rack!
I can't take credit for this Rack of Pork creation. I found it on a website called Ask Chef Dennis - www.askchefdennis.com. Just click on the *LINK to his recipe and I could stop here and pass you on. Trust me, you have to make this!
I won't stop though. I did add something to this which I think our pizza making, wood fired oven lovin' community will appreciate. I made this in my WFO. I think it was Newman on one of the Seinfeld episodes that proclaimed about the Kenny Roger's chicken: "It's the wood that makes it good!" You gotta love Newman as he munched through a chicken leg, mouth half full enjoying his chicken while spewing those words. The wood does make it good, right? It certainly makes it fun. And, it makes it more primal. We like primal.
I followed Ask Chef Dennis' basic recipe. It's simple, as so much of great cooking is.
- 8 bone center cut rack of pork *Take the pork out of the fridge for 30-60 minutes before cooking.
- olive oil
- sea salt
- black pepper
- Montreal Steak Seasoning
- 2 carrots - rough cut
- 1 small onion cut with skins
- 2 stalks of celery - rough cut
- 6 cloves garlic peeled
Since you are on Pizza Quest, it's time to build a fire! The recipe calls for 450 Degrees for 15 minutes and then turning it down to 325 degrees for 2 hours in the oven. As we all know, there is no turning a wood fired oven down after 15 minutes. There's more of a dance to be played out in order to do what Chef Dennis is trying to do here.
So, this is not going to be a pizza hot fire. I got a small-medium fire going and let it saturate the oven for a little more than an hour or so. I got the walls up to around the 400's and let the fire settle down. I wanted to get the oven interior temp to be holding in the low 300's and hold that for about 2 hours without loosing too much. I also wanted to try to sear the pork with a higher heat. So, I added some small logs to the fire and let it flare up when I put the pork in. After about 15 minutes, I decided to close the door to capture some smoke and to kill the fire a bit and hopefully, get this thing to ride in the low 300's. You'll see I did pretty well.
Now that the fire is rolling, go set up the rack of pork:
- In a roasting pan add the cut veggies *We'll use these and the drippings for some pan gravy.
- Rinse the pork and pat dry
- Place pork fat side up on top of the bed of veggies
- Rub the olive oil all over the pork
- Sprinkle the entire rack with sea salt, pepper and then with a good coating of Montreal Steak Seasoning. *Use a good amount of the Montreal Seasoning to form a crust.
- Place the roast into the oven. *See my notes above if using a wood burning oven.
- Use a remote thermometer to get the outside of the racks to reach 160 degrees. This will make sure that the thicker center is not as cooked as much. This should take about 2 - 2 1/2 hours, but because you are in a wood oven with less consistent temps, make sure to monitor it.
- Pull the rack of pork out and let it rest at least 10 minutes.
- While the rack is resting, place the roasting pan on your stove top. Add 2 cups of water and, with a wooden spoon, loosen the scraps and veggies in the pan. Add a little flour, or pre-make a roux to thicken the gravy. Strain the chunks and bits and you have a delicious gravy!
Back to the pork:
- Cut the rack along the bones. Serve with the pan gravy.
I served this with mashed potatoes and some roasted carrots. So simple and so good! What a great meal!
Ask Chef Dennis was right! The Montreal Seasoning and the pork go so well together. It's not fair to other cuts of meat and spice combinations. It really isn't. I hope you enjoy this amazing meal. Check out the original recipe on the link above if cooking in your home oven, or if you are lucky enough to have a WFO, then get to this recipe and do it soon. It's a winner and it keeps on giving.
I'll be back with some pizzas made with left over Rack o' Pork with Montreal Seasoning. This is an amazing pizza topping and worth the effort to make and use for pizza alone! And, as I said, I later made a cheesy rack-o-pork, Philly Cheese Pork sandwich that may have put the original to shame.
Asheville Bread Festival This Weekend
This Saturday, April 12th, I will once again be at the annual Asheville Bread Festival (this year marks the 10th anniversary). Harry Peemoeller, Lionel Vatinet, and many other great bakers will also be teaching classes and, as usual, every bread baker within at least 100 miles will be there showcasing their beautiful products. It all takes place at the culinary center of A-B Tech, Magnolia Building and I advise you to arrive by 10 AM when the doors open because the breads (and cheeses and other crafted foods) go fast. I'll be there with some of our Johnson & Wales students, so look for us and come to my demo at 2 PM on sprouted grain flours. It will be a nice sneak preview of my upcoming book, "Bread Revolution," due out in October. Let me know if you're a PizzaQuest follower too -- it's always great to meet our fellow pizza freaks! See you there.
For more details go to:
Also, check back here in a few days for Bob Radcliffe's next installment of his relentless Tomato Pie quest. Based on the number of responses we've gotten, this story is touching a nerve. I first met Bob at the Asheville Bread Festival a few year ago, so the timing is perfect. Onward….
Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, Part 2
Note From Peter: Bob's first installment has drawn a record number of great responses, so I'm excited to offer you Part Two in his ongoing saga. We'll keep Bob's story going for as long as he keeps sending us his terrific writing. Enjoy!!
PART TWO. A GOOD PIE NEEDS A GOOD CRUST.
So, “what the heck is a Tomato Pie?” you ask. My seasoned reply is simply that “pizza is like a Tomato Pie on steroids.” A strange way to answer? To that, I quietly say “Tomato Pie is not a lot of things.” Do you get it? Tomato Pie is, and always has been, about the bread and tomatoes!
The bread is thin and crisp enough to be picked-up without folding. No seasoned tomato sauce is used, only pieces of tomato cooked on the pie. Cheese and other toppings are used sparingly to enhance, not overwhelm, these ingredients. You may have read that Tomato Pies are built upside down – meaning the cheese goes on first – that is true. But do you know why?
In the early days at DeLorenzo’s, there was no menu. You could have a plain pie, or one with just a few pieces of sweet Italian sausage. As I recall, extra cheese, mushrooms, pepperoni, and so on, were either frowned upon, or suspiciously 86-ed. My pies adhere to these principles, with the substitution of a few toppings – homemade sweet basil sausage, sautéed shitake mushrooms or spinach - and yes, begrudgingly, pepperoni (if I have any).
Well, I can hear you saying, “That’s an easy pie to make.” To which I reply, “Dream on” (or worse). It’s the simplicity of these few ingredients that have made my quest (and yours) such a challenge.
Keep reading as I guide you through the ingredient landscape and tell you about the choices I have made, and the techniques I now employ to build my Tomato Pie. Compare this with your present approach. Steal my best tips, but most of all along the way, try to think with the “Mind of a Chef.” Sean Brock laughs a lot on TV, but I just know he would say, “Don’t ever stop thinking critically when preparing food.” Keep asking yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish?” and “Is this the best way to achieve that objective?”
Let’s start with the bread
I always remember the axiom, you eat first with your eyes. So, how can we make each pie more attractive - like a piece of art? It’s obvious to me - stop making them industrially round or rectangular in shape! My pies are irregularly shaped – by design – and only coincidentally round. It dawned on me one day that my pies weren’t “perfect” as I eyeballed a vendor cooking pies with a new wood-fired oven trailer. His were perfectly round, matching exactly the outline of the cardboard serving tray he was using – incredible! Either I couldn’t toss a dough ball into a round, or it just wasn’t that important to me!
No. I have concluded my irregular shape alters the thickness of the crust and the topping distribution to help make each bite taste different – exactly what I remember about eating DeLorenzo’s Pie. Uniformity is a golden rule of cooking, but one that must be broken at times. I believe this is one of those times. Also, I cut my pies differently. Not into familiar pie-shaped pieces, but rectangular-like shapes that don’t fold when you pick them up. Cut across the widest dimension first, and then perpendicularly into 6-8 pieces.
I am sure that DeLorenzo’s didn’t make long-fermentation (artisan) dough. But after trying a slew of dough recipes over the years with mediocre results, I finally concluded (with help from Peter’s books) it was time to try using an artisan-like crust approach. I read everything I could find, attended the Asheville Artisan Bread Bakers Festival (coming up again this year April 12th) and seminars by Peter Reinhart and Lionel Vatinet – and voila - I was on my way.
At the same time, I had begun constructing my wood-fired oven using the Forno Bravo Pompeii Oven guideline plans, and the resources of the Forno Bravo Forum (more about my oven later). I had already decided that my gas and electric ovens were never going to cut-it if I was to bake the Tomato Pie and crusty breads I so dearly missed now that I lived in North Carolina.
Finding vendors of ingredients was another big obstacle. I needed hard (high protein) wheat flour – like King Arthur Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad and other Unbleached Bread Flours – you know, but not in 5-pound grocery store bags, but in 50-pound sacks. Soft (low protein) biscuit flour is everywhere down here in the south because they can grow soft wheat (and it’s cheaper), and only recently have scientists begun developing winter wheat varieties that will grow in the southern climate. David Bissette at The Grain Mill in nearby Wake Forest solved this problem for me.
Experimentation led me to understand how to adjust recipes using the baker’s percentage. Remember that most published recipes assume you are using off-the-shelf bread flour. The harder the flour, the more liquid you need. My restaurant apprenticeship years ago with Chef Jack McDavid in Philadelphia taught me, first and foremost, never serve what doesn’t look or taste right. I just had to make outstanding bread! So I mixed, and I baked, and I threw a lot away (fed it to the chickens). Sounds a lot like I huffed, and I puffed, and I blew the house down – but that was a fairytale. I must confess. I cussed a lot (please forgive me).
My dough recipe today uses King Arthur Sir Lancelot (high gluten) flour, water, yeast and salt - no sugar or oils added. I prefer pies no larger than 12” across because they are easier to manage in the oven. I cut about 250 grams of dough and refrigerate each in sealed plastic containers to develop flavor. I flour my room-temperature, wet-doughs on the counter, stretch them, and then “throw” the dough onto a short handled wooden peel with a thin coating of semolina flour. I like semolina, rather that corn meal or regular flour, because it doesn’t burn as quickly in the oven and ruin the flavor of the crisp crust.
I am proud to say that I think my crust is spot-on. Chick would be proud too. I’m not done talking about making and baking Tomato Pies yet, but need to check on my baby calves. It’s been a long winter feeding and watering through the wet and freezing weather. My back-pasture slopes south and grass sprouts sooner there. Above freezing temperatures and growing grass are signs of spring and the prospect of fewer demands on me to care for my herd and recent newborns.
Understand that there is more to life on a farm than baking Tomato Pies. I’ll be back soon to continue describing my odyssey. My cows are lowing.
Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, Part One
Note from Peter: Bob Radcliffe is, like me, a North Carolina transplant from Philadelphia and, as you will see, also from Trenton, New Jersey, where at least two things of great historical import have occurred. The first was George Washington crossing the Delaware and turning the tide of the Revolutionary War (not an inconsequential thing). The other is the existence of DeLorenzo's Pizzeria. Bob has regaled me with stories of his relentless quest to re-create the fabled Tomato Pies of DeLorenzo's, so I asked him to share his stories with you, which he has agreed to do over the next few weeks. Here is Part One, just a short intro, but it speaks to the same fire-in-your-belly passion that Pizza Quest is all about. Thanks Bob and, to all, enjoy:
I know this is Pizza Quest, but I’m hooked on Tomato Pie. No, this isn’t my latest food-fetish, but something I always craved for since I was old enough to chew. I grew up on the outskirts of Trenton, NJ and until college always ate Tomato Pie at DeLorenzo’s on Hudson Street in the “Berg” (opposite the old Roebling Steel plant that made the cables for the Brooklyn Bridge). After college I commuted by train for a few years from the Trenton Rail Station and stopped in as the last customer on my way home after evening graduate school classes for a late night snack. Years of professional travel took me to all of the “best” pizza shops across the country so I could check them out.
DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pie was simply the best! Sadly the old haunt closed in 2012 and relocated to the suburbs. I understand it’s still good, but certainly will never match those pies made in the tiny Hudson Street shop on the coal-fired oven I remember so vividly from the early 1950’s. The sight of carrying shovel-full’s of glowing coals into the shop and spreading them under the oven floor is mindful today of how they slow cook barbecue with glowing wood embers in North Carolina today.
It’s been fifteen years since I left Philadelphia and relocated to Rocky Ford in rural Franklin County, North Carolina, and well over twenty years since I last ate a Tomato Pie at DeLorenzo’s. Frankly, over the years I have made several attempts to replicate that now mythical Tomato Pie. I struggled with the dough recipe and the ovens I had - whether gas or electric. Something was terribly missing. Could it be that hard to make a "Pie"? For heaven’s sake I was an engineer with advanced degrees – the kind of guys that put men-on-the-moon. I finally just decided to bite the bullet and do whatever it took to make that Pie. Adding insult to injury, I was from Trenton where, if you don’t already know, the bridge over the Delaware River boldly states: “Trenton Makes, the World Takes”. And for me, not to be able to make a Pie, would certainly be a huge embarrassment.
Well I know that Peter and many others have made testament to their lifelong Pizza Quest, but I believe my story needs to be told. So here I am, and this is my story. I hope that you pick-up a few helpful tips along the way. I am sure you won’t want to replicate everything I have done, so just steal the best stuff for yourself.
I don’t pretend to have cloned DeLorenzo’s Pie, or gotten the secret from Chick, but what started as a recipe problem blossomed into my need to build an organic farm, perform tomato trials, grow garlic and basil, build a wood-fired oven, and create a private dining venue (the Franklin BreadWorks) so I could introduce and validate my creation to North Carolinians who, I soon discovered, have never heard of my Tomato Pie. Here, it is usually confused with a tomato dish in a pie pan with some cheese and mayonnaise! But what the hell was one more obstacle to overcome; I was on a mission probably as crazy as the Blues Brothers.
In upcoming postings I am going to take you along on my odyssey. I have to tell you that my favorite cooking show (on PBS) is “Mind of a Chef”. That may help you understand what to expect along the way. What may seem crazy at times has helped me find my way to a clearer understanding of rather simple ingredients and to refine my technique for building the layers of flavor we all seek when we cook.
Bookmark this page now, and plan to come back in a couple of weeks for my next installment. I promise it won’t be a bore! My golden rule at the BreadWorks is, “Did you have a great time?” Great food, coupled with friends and music, seem the perfect combo to me.
More to come, for sure...
This is mainly for our followers in the Charlotte area where, aside from the national scandal of our mayor resigning over corruption charges (how embarrassing for us all here in this most aspirational of cities, the worst news since the days of Jim and Tammy Fay Baker at the nearby PTL Club and "theme park" -- but don't get me start), tonight we offer a more positive opportunity: Pure Pizza is hosting a food truck rally at our new, still under construction, location in the part of town called Area 15 (between NODA and Plaza Midwood). It is located at 16th St, between N. Davidson and N. Caldwell Streets, and you are all invited. We'll have beverages and, who knows, maybe some pizza from our original location, and you can see where the new operation will be when we open it in a couple of months, plus, some great food truck food and music. It all happens from 5-8 PM tonight. I'll be there for the first hour if you want to swing by and say hello, or come when you can and get some great food and see how Area 15 is in the process of revitalizing and repurposing an old mill section of town into the next "hot spot" in this still most aspirational of cities, despite the bleak breaking news this very morning about the (now former) mayor -- we'll get over it and what better way than by celebrating with food, music, and, of course, pizza. Hope to see you there!
Sprouted Flour, the Next "Bread Revolution"
I'm finally back from two exciting adventures and hope to start a new series of postings, reporting from the new frontier of sprouted grain. This is just a brief one, which I will follow over the next few weeks with photos and more details. As mentioned in my last Peter's Blog, I spent a week shooting the photos for my new book, The Bread Revolution. We did this at Central Milling in Petaluma, CA, where Nicky and Keith Giusto allowed us to use their bakeshop and facility to bake and to also set up an area to use as our photo "studio." Paige Greene, our photographer, and her team of prop stylists and assistants, handled that side, while I baked 100 feet away with my assistant bakers and food stylists, Karen Shinto and Jeffrey Larsen. It was fun and also exhausting but my editor Melissa Moore, and art director, Katy Brown, were really pleased with the results. I'll write more about the book and the photo shoot in upcoming posts.
When I got home I had a quick turnaround before heading to Atlanta for a two day workshop for the Bread Baker's Guild of America (BBGA) on these very same breads. It was the first hands-on class featuring these new breads and it went really well, as 12 Guild members from all over the country and Canada gathered at Alon's Bakery where Alon Balshon graciously allowed us to work in his bakeshop while still having to operate his very busy bakery cafe. I was beyond impressed with Alon's, which is way more than a bakery. It's more like a Dean & DeLuca on steroids, with a fabulous patisserie, chocolate shop, a large cheese and wine section, a coffee and espresso bar, prepared food and dining areas featuring soups, sandwiches, very impressive pizzas, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner -- and also great bread! The place was packed with customers all day. Like I said, it was impressive and I'm amazed that Alon was able to also host our workshop while still running such a seamless operation. His head bread baker, Abdul Ousman, assisted us and the two day workshop went very smoothly. I'll have more on this, also, in a future posting but I wanted to take this moment to thank Alon and Adbul for taking such good care of us. We produced a lot of sprouted breads, crackers, pizzas, and even pancakes (10 different products from the book) over the two days and sent everyone home with bags of these unique breads that everyone got to make.
So now I'm back home and immersed in the final editing stages of the book, which will take another 8 weeks of back and forth tweaks, caption writing, revisions, and fine tuning with my editor Melissa as we head to the finish line. I'll continue to post here, as I come up for air, to explain more about the sprouted grain revolution, so check back from time to time. It never gets boring around here, that's for sure.
Spicy Roasted Pistachio Pizza
I was shooting a scene for a commercial recently on a sidewalk in Beverly Hills. Between set ups, I wandered into a juice bar and found a little jar of spicy Mediterranean pistachios sitting on the counter. I bought them as a snack, but as soon as I tasted them, I thought "Pizza"! These would make a great option for a pepperoni-like vegetarian pizza. Pistachios add a nice crunch that can almost be "meaty" in their nuttiness and with these spicy ones, I was thinking it would be as interesting as using a spicy salty porky product that I love so much!
Let's get to the pizza. This one came out great! I ended up making 2 variations of this pizza. For the second variation I added some sautéed broccolini, which was a great addition.
The Spicy Pistachio Pizza
Peter's Country Dough
Herb Oil - for the tomatoes and to drizzle on the dough
Halved Garden Cherry Tomatoes
Chopped Italian Parsley
*2nd Pizza options:
Sauteed Broccolini with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper
Peter's Neo-Neopolitan Dough
The cherry tomatoes will become an ingredient in this pizza, but also function as the sauce. Slice them in half and cover with Herb Oil to coat and marinade. You can do this in advance. For this pizza, I just laid out the tomatoes for this pizza and drizzled some olive oil and sprinkled a little dried basil over the top before baking.
Add the grated mozz and pinches of goat cheese.
Lay some sliced shallots around the pizza and sprinkle on the pistachios.
That's it. Into the oven.
*An interesting thing happened to my pizza on the way to the oven...
I pre-heated the wrong oven! My pizza stones, steel and pizza grate are all stored in my lower oven. I accidentally pre-heated the top oven. Uh oh! I was sitting there with a pizza on the peel ready to go. By the time I could get one of the stone/steels into the upper oven and got it up to temperature, my pizza would be wet and stuck to the peel. Besides, I didn't have all day.
It was then that a lightbulb went off.
I took the cold Baking Steel out of the lower oven and placed it on the stovetop. I turned the two burners to high and it got really hot in just a few minutes. With some hot hands, I then placed the hot steel into the hot oven and in went the pizza.
This is one great reason to have a metal pizza surface around like the Pizza - Baking Steel or the new cast aluminum Pizza Grate. i love cooking on my Forno Bravo extra thick pizza stone, but these other products offer some options to play with.
In about 7 minutes I pulled the pizza. Success! Nicely done. I sprinkled some chopped Italian Parsley over the top and added some of my favorite Chili Sauce from 800 Degrees Pizzeria. Delicious! The pistachios were like little toasted pepperoni nuts! Awesome.
For my second version of this I used Peter's Neo-Neopolitan dough and added some sautéed broccolini. Again, delicious.
Two great vegetarian pizzas with some "chops" to stand up and be counted amongst the saltiest and spicy meaty of meatiest pies!
*There are additional photos of the 2nd pizza in the gallery. The broccolini added a nice juicy texture and flavor to this pizza.
Wood Fired Bo Ssam Miracle
Happy New Year!
This is my first belated post in this calendar year we've now entered. 2014! It can be a wonderful thing to start into a new year. There are all of our hopes and dreams before us. Yet it's also bittersweet because we are leaving behind yet another moment of our lives, or a measure of time. Time seems to move faster and faster as we get older. Ever since my wife and I had children things have really seemed to speed up. I feel like Snake Plissken in Escape from New York sometimes. It's as if I'm being forced to watch a giant red digital timer on my wrist counting off each second, each minute of my life! Tick tock, tick tock...
When we're younger we think our life clock is counting forward. Life is ahead of us. A big realization for my wife and I came when our second child came along. Upon closer inspection, we realized this giant obnoxious wrist timer was actually tick-tocking backwards! The thing was counting down not forward! We realized these kids, even this newest little baby, were working their way out the door to leave us. This changed things! Our baby, our daughter was now looked at with a little more suspicion! She actually wants to leave us because she thinks her clock is ticking forward.
It's really unfair!
That's the cycle of life I suppose. We all go through it, experiencing time differently throughout our lives. We seem to be always trying to get somewhere or too something and then at some point when things change, or come to an end we wish we had not rushed through them. Perhaps it's impossible to not do that ultimately, but because these measured moments in time come and then go, I try to remember to focus on not only being where I am at that moment, but also at least as much as where I've been and where I'm going.
"Ok pizza guy, get to the point!" You're off the rails!" Ok, ok! What about this Bo Ssam Miracle?
Where does my Wood Fired Bo Ssam Pork fit into this? It's funny how that works. I couldn't possibly have pre-planned this introduction to my latest attempt at "perfecting" David Chang's Bo Ssam pork. I just woke up early this morning after a busy holiday and the beginning of another new January and made myself a cup of coffee and sat down to write. I realized what this meal meant to me as I looked at the photos and thought about our friends Kurt, Kim, Ryan and Mitchell that we shared this feast with. It was a moment in time we shared with good friends and our families that was now gone.
To my mind, the best meals aren't the ones made by a master chef, or the best cooks in the best restaurants -- though they can be. Great meals are the ones that become memorable because they were part of a moment in time where you shared it all with a connection with your family or friends. It's about good food for sure, but it's also about the people and even the place. It's the overall experience that makes food and meals memorable. The first time I made David Chang's version of Bo Ssam pork was one of those perfect nights with good friends, good food, and some good beer that combined became a memorable stamp in time! Perhaps a miracle?! I've had quite a few of these moments around David Chang's cooking. While in NY on various trips, I've been lucky enough to find myself sitting in Momofuku Noodle Bar, or the Ssam Bar with friends and being blown away by how simple and good the food was.
I am not going to go deep into the recipe here because you can find it online, or in one of David Chang's books - which if you buy it at one of his restaurants comes signed, which I think is a nice touch! Here is a link to a New York Times article called "The Bo Ssam Miracle". The recipe is simple - it just takes some time in the oven.
My wood fired Bo Ssam Pork...
For this attempt at finding this "miracle", I decided I would try to cook the pork in my Primavera - Wood Fired Oven. The original recipe calls for 6 hours in the oven at 300 degrees. As I learn to take create different meals in my Primavera, I figured this 6 hour roast would be perfect to take this long road trip with my oven and work to keep it at a relatively low temperature for a long time. I fired the oven with a small fire and let it go for about an hour. At that point the oven was getting pretty hot, but I figured it was still absorbing heat and once I cut it down, I wanted enough residual heat stored in the walls to keep the process going for the duration. After the temps were approaching pizza temps, getting up to over 700 degrees in the dome, I put the door on to kill the fire and see where the ambient temperature was. I then pulled a lot of the coals out to allow it to cool down a bit more. I tinkered with it for about another hour or so while going back and forth and getting the pork ready in the pan.
As you see, I had a lot of pork in that pan! It was about 14 pounds and just barely fit.
With the door closed the temperature gauge on the door read exactly 300 degrees which is right where the recipe calls for it to be in a regular oven. I added a small piece of wood to the coals and got it to catch fire. Since I was using the WFO I figured I may as well let it do what it does -- adding some fire and smoke to the process. In went the pork. After about 15 minutes I closed the door to extinguish the fire and create some smoke.
After an hour I checked the roast and turned it. I then left for my daughter's soccer game! My pork was important, but well, you know how I said the whole family and friend thing is at least equally important with time and life ticking away -- so, off to soccer! Besides, the oven was doing all the work, I would just be pacing back and forth trying to look busy.
I came back almost 2 hours later and rotated the pork again and basted it. The temp was still holding and it hadn't burnt to a crisp! I let this baby run the full 6 hours since the temp was ever so slowly falling from 300. At the 6 hour mark, I pulled it and covered with foil. Since we were having dinner at our friend's house, we wrapped the package and hit the road.
Luckily we live in an area with great Korean and Asian markets! Kim did the shopping for the sides and ingredients for the Bo Ssam Sauces while I attempted to coax the Primavera into delivering the perfect roasted Bo Ssam Pork ever made…again!
When we got there with our package we made the Ginger Scallion Sauce and the Ssam Sauce as well as a spicy brewed fish sauce with Thai chillies. Kim picked up some great stuff at the market for sides: kimchee, seaweed salad and a few other Korean side dishes like a Seasoned Omasum (tripe) and some other spicy pickled veggies as well.
The pork was finished in Kim's home oven where we caramelized the brown sugar and salt mixture on it and then pulled the pork apart and plated it and the feast began! The thing I love about this meal besides the juicy salty-sweet pulled pork and the tangy pickled kimchee and side dishes and the warm rice in the cool lettuce that cups and the insane spicy and earthy sauces is that it is a meal that is meant to eat in a free for all style! It's a family style meal. It's a shared meal. It's a working meal - with everyone talking and passing plates and ingredients and eating with their hands and laughing and drinking and just having a good time with each other and with their food! I'd call that a miracle for sure.
We sat and began eating and continued drinking some wine and beer and after a short period the smells and our laughter began to draw the kids from their various activities around the house. As I sat there, I couldn't help but smile as I realized we were having another one of those moments…a moment that would remain with us, but was quickly going to pass into time.
Kim's Family Brewed Fish Sauce Recipe:
- Fish Sauce
- Thai Chillies
- Chopped Garlic
In a saucepan over medium heat add equal parts Fish Sauce, Water, Vinegar and Sugar. Add some chopped garlic and chopped Thai Chillies and stir until sugar melts. Be careful not to let it boil over!
Serve at room temperature. May be stored in a covered jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
*Note: For those cooking in a Wood Fired Oven, I suggest using a remote thermometer for this. I think I got comfortable because my temperature gauge was exactly 300 degrees for hours. With my diversion to a soccer game and the temp being right on the money, I let this ride. The top of the pork was a little dry (not ruined), but the middle, sides and bottom were perfectly juicy. That is part of the fun cooking with a wood oven, or over a fire on a grill. Isn't it?!! You have an added challenge which requires experience, skill, and the use of your instinct a little more than punching the keys BAKE - 3 - 0 - 0 - START. Love it!
I hope you all try this amazing recipe. I realize that though I've eaten at several of David Chang's restaurants numerous times, I have not had a chance to try his own version of this! I can't wait. It's now on my official list of things to do. We'll see how he does compared to us! Haha
In the meantime though…it's only a matter of time before I fire up the oven again and gather some friends.
The next miracle is waiting!
*I keep meaning to make this recipe and save some of it to make a pizza with. Once again, I have failed in my attempt to keep anything left over. I guess we'll have to try it again!
It's been a busy time for all of us here at Pizza Quest so I wanted to fill you in on what I've been up to and what will be coming in the next few months. I've been working on the final stages of my new book for Ten Speed Press, all about coming developments in the world of bread and flour, and will be soon shooting the photos with the Ten Speed creative team. The book is due for publication in October, but what I'd like to do in the coming blogs is to give you some sneak previews of what the book will cover -- not the recipes (I have to save them till publication), but the flour developments and fascinating stories and people that I've been discovering during my research.
What has this to do with pizza and Pizza Quest? By now, you should know how I feel: anything that affects dough automatically has implications in the pizza world (remember, for me pizza is 90% about the crust and only 10% about the toppings, though others might disagree). In the new book there will, of course, be some new pizza and focaccia dough recipes.
But that's enough of a teaser for now. I just wanted to share with you what's been happening and why I haven't been posting as often as I'd like. I want to thank Brad English for all the amazing posts he's done in the meantime, creating new pizzas and exploring wherever his own pizza muse has taken him. If I were a pizzeria operator I'd be writing down some of his ideas and using them. (Hey, wait, I am a pizzeria operator -- Brad, thanks for all the great ideas. Mind if I steal them?). I know he has a new post coming in a few days that will rock your socks, so check back soon. Also, I apologize to some of the guest columnists who sent me columns that I just haven't had a chance to edit and post. I promise to get back to those as soon as I put this book to bed.
I'll start my own blog reports after I return from the photo shoot at the end of February, and will share the highlights of that adventure, where I'll be making breads for the camera with some of the best bakers in America. I'll be in the SF Bay Area so you know I'll be checking out some of the new food developments there, such as Tony Gemignani's new pizzeria in Sonoma County, my old stomping grounds, and just a few miles down the road from my former bakery, Brother Juniper's.
More news soon, but be on the lookout for some fun posts in the coming days and weeks.
Ciao for now!
Don Antonio by Starita opening in Atlanta
I haven't been to Atlanta, where my brother lives, for quite awhile. But, I just got word that Roberto Caporuscio is opening a new Don Antonio by Starita there. I have been lucky enough to meet Roberto and even luckier to have eaten a number of his pizzas in NYC! I think I now have a new excuse to go visit my family in Atlanta.
I thought I would spread the word as Roberto helps spread artisan pizza around the world!
Below is link to the article I wrote about visiting Don Antonio in New York, where I enjoyed their famous Montanara Starita, which is a lightly fried dough topped with tomato sauce, smoked buffalo mozzarella, and finished in the wood fired oven. If you haven't tried a fried dough, you will be pleasantly surprised by it's lightness, it's crisp crust, and warm soft interior. If any of you have a chance to check it out, let us know here in the comments section how you liked it!
Don Antonio by Starita
102 West Paces Ferry Road NW
Here's a link to my visit to the New York pizzeria…enjoy!
Happy New Year Everyone!
Yes, another year has flown by, full of adventures, trials and tribulations, and, of course, great pizza! Brad and I will back with new postings throughout the coming year and plan to keep this journey alive (the quest never ends...). I have no photos to share with you today, as we approach the dropping of the big ball in a few hours, just a few year end thoughts and thanks.
First, a few shout outs: I've heard that our friend Tony Gemignani, whose terrific videos are alive and well in our Webisodes section, has expanded his pizza empire to include appearances on TV's Bar Rescue and opening a whole bunch of new pizzerias including in my old back yard, Sonoma County, where I will be checking it out in February when I'm back out there. If I still lived there I'd probably be hanging out regularly at the newest Tony's -- if any of you have been there yet (it's in a new casino in, I believe, Cotati or Rohnert Park), please comment below and let us know how it compares to the original in North Beach SF. Congrats to you, Tony -- keep them coming! (Many of you know that I enjoy analogies and I've often referred to Tony as the "Mozart of pizza" since he works at such a high level in so many styles, not to mention his acrobatic dough tossing awards and, now, TV. He was a star before I ever met him and his light keeps getting brighter. I can only assume that the next step for him will be his own TV show.
A special tip of the hat to our Johnson & Wales students here in Charlotte, a number of whom recently prepared all the food for our JWU 10th Anniversary event in Charlotte which was also, simultaneously, the University's 100 Birthday. The food was amazing, including some seriously
Wild Spicy Venison Sausage Pizza
My father-in-law is a hunter and I'm lucky enough that on our last trip up to his place for Thanksgiving he sent me home with some "fresh" Spicy Italian Venison Sausage he and a friend made up after a recently successful hunt.
When I got home I started thinking about how to use some of the sausage to make some pizza. I wanted to make something that sort of celebrated where the venison came from. When an animal is hunted by you, or someone you know, I guess there's just more of a connection to it. I remembered an old Anthony Bourdain episode of "No Reservations" where he visits London and Endinburgh. In the show, he joins the famous Michelin 3 Star Chef, Marco Pierre White, who takes him on a hunt prior to landing at his latest restaurant called the Yew Tree Inn, where they eat and drink and pontificate about food and life together.
There's a beautiful moment (as Bourdain so often captures) when he and Marco are walking along a grass covered two track dirt road on their morning hunt in the English countryside. Bourdain asks him how often he does "this". Marco thinks for a second reflecting on his lifestyle and says "About 4-5 days a week. It allows me to clear my head." He talks about how this connects him to his childhood when life was simpler and he would spend time fishing and hunting.
As they walk the road Marco says something that stuck with me. I had to go back and rewatch the episode to capture the entire quote. He says:
"I don't know how many times I saw wood pigeons eating the elderberries here. And I thought, lets roast a pigeon with elderberries. It's delicious. I love wild apples. And, how many times do you see pheasants picking at them when they've dropped on the ground? It's like shooting a rabbit and then baking it in the hay. It works. It really works. What does a rabbit love to eat? Hay. Mother nature tells us everything. We're not the geniuses are we? We're just the technicians."
Anthony has an "Ah-ha!" moment. It makes sense! It's what all good cooking is about. It's about using the available fresh ingredients that are right there wherever you are. It's about connecting the food, our environment and our lives. It's really about quality of life. You only see it in a very brief quickly cut shot, but you see Bourdain's almost childlike smile. It's a smile that says I know this, but you just taught it to me again!
Another hour or so has passed as I re-watched the episode. Anthony Bourdain has done it again. He's inspired me. His passion to search and explore the world through food is what originally gave me the idea to reach out to Peter Reinhart in the first place and why you are reading this recipe post!
For my Venison sausage pizza, I tried to bring some ingredients together that were similar to some of those that the deer may have once eaten. I wasn't able to to go to the location and investigate it, but tried to think about what deer eat in various locations here in the Western US. I chose my Desert Dough because it was rustic and celebrates the western deserts where this deer came from. I chose to add some sage, pine nuts and berries to represent what the deer may have eaten.
There are some wonderful flavors coming together in this pizza. It was balanced with flavors ranging from earthy to sweet to spicy. The song they created makes sense.
- Brad's Desert Dough *Link
Alternately you could use Peter's Rustic Dough *Link
- Cherry Tomatoes sliced in half
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Gouda Cheese
- Spicy Venison Sausage Sliced
- Olive Oil
- A little Red Wine
- Dried Cranberries *Because this is what I could find! They work nicely!
- Pine Nuts
- Fresh Sage (Chop 3 leaves and pull and trim 4-6 others and leave whole)
- Fresh Thyme
- Large Spring Onion Chopped
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Chili Oil if you so desire as a finishing touch
Spicy Venison Sausage Preparation:
Pull the sausage out of it's casing and pinch it off in pieces that are thick enough to not dry out, but thin enough to cook and eat on the pizza.
Slice up the Spring Onion
Chop some Garlic
Add Olive Oil to the iron Iron Skillet.
Add the garlic, onions, chopped sage, fresh thyme to the pan and slide into the fire.
Saute for a few minutes to start softening the onions and blending the flavors.
Pull the pan out and add the sausage. After the sausage starts to brown, add some red wine to the pan. The red wine will deglaze some of the charred bits and create a "sauce" depending on how much you use. I wanted to also make sure my sausage didn't dry out.
Slide it back into the oven and sauté sausage to "almost done". You will want to make sure there's room for this to finish on the pizza. Venison can get dried out. The sausage should contain some pork fat to help keep it moist, but I still say leave some room for this to cook on the pizza.
Remove and set aside.
To the Pizza:
Spread your dough
Drizzle with a little olive oil. Sprinkle some herbs that go well with venison like: dried thyme and a little rosemary and I added some oregano as well.
Spread some grated gouda cheese and add a few pinches of the fresh mozzarella to blend with it which will also serve to smooth the gouda out as it melts.
Lay the venison sausage around the pizza and drizzle some of the sauce with the onions/garlic over the top.
Sprinkle on some pine nuts around the pizza.
Finish with 4 of the fresh sage leaves after soaking them in the sausage "sauce" and then sprinkle on a "few" dried cranberries. *I forgot the cranberries in the first pizza, but you can see photos of them in the 2nd. The cranberries add a nice sweet note that goes well with the more earthy venison and the slight spicy notes from the sausage mixture.
Into the oven!
What can I say here. We have about 90 - 120 seconds to wait. As soon as the dough sets up from the heat on the floor of the oven, it's time to slide the peel under it and turn it so it doesn't burn! I love cooking in fire, it's always more interactive.
Add a little Sea Salt and Pepper to taste.
Add chili oil if you have any, but first enjoy this in it's simplest form.
I hope you enjoy this one.
*As always send me your emails, comments on the site, and some pictures of your own pizzas!
The "Oh My!" Pizza
"Lions Tigers and Bears!"
Oh my, this turned out to be a great pizza! Take a walk with me down the wood fire brick road.
I had some Brussels sprouts sitting in a bowl on the counter that we hadn't gotten around to cooking and I figured I better do something with them before I had to send them on their way. I pulled a dough from the freezer and set about looking for some inspiration on the inter-webs.
I came across an interesting recipe on the Food Network site. I want to give full and due credit for the idea for this recipe. As usual, I often look around at recipes and see what I like and don't like and basically take some of the main ideas and adapt the rest for my purposes. I found this recipe for "Fried Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Capers," which was published in the Food Network Magazine excerpted from Michael Symon's book Live to Cook. Though I was making a pizza, that title caught my eye and, after a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe, I knew I saw starting point here that I could work with.
The next step was a mental run through of my assets. What did I have around? I had some slivered almonds, anchovies, salt-packed capers, and honey. I believed I could pull this thing off, but instead of frying, I was -- of course, going to run this all through my P-60 WFO! What else did I have on hand to take this from playing a role as a side dish to turning it into a pizza? I still had a cherry tomato plant that wouldn't stop producing and some chili plants that were going strong. Prosciutto... Fresh Mozzarella…ah!
This started sounding interesting and as the wheels were spinning, the train started to leave the station. They started spinning and then slowed down as the frozen dough took its time to thaw on the counter. A few hours later, though, that train was rolling again! There was a fire growing in the belly of my oven. I was trying to finalize my loose plan to take off from the launching pad of Michael Symon's inspired recipe and to create my own pizza.
This is the fun part of cooking for me.
Roasted Tangy-Sweet-Salty Brussels Sprouts Pizza
- Favorite Dough
- Brussels Sprouts
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Serrano Chili's - Chopped and Seeded
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Slivered Almonds
- 2 Tablespoons of Capers
- 2 Cloves of Garlic Chopped
- 2 Chopped Anchovies
- Olive Oil
I have a 10" iron skillet that I use in my Primavera. It's about the size of a pizza, so I just used it as a visual guide while prepping my ingredients. I like to cook without following any recipe too closely. I prefer to "feel" how much of anything should go into a recipe. I may have frustrated a few people here who prefer exact measurements, but I feel like that is one of the aspects of cooking that allows you to bring yourself to a recipe. Every time you make something it will be a little different.
Par boil the Brussels sprouts. When cool enough, slice them in half.
I grabbed enough cherry tomatoes from my garden to allow the tomatoes to become both part of the sauce and to act like an ingredient. So, I sliced some of them in half and threw some in whole. Cherry tomatoes are an amazing way to add a burst of flavor on a pizza!
If using salt packed capers, which seem to be the best, rinse a few times and set aside.
Chop up and seed the Serrano chili.
Into the pan:
Drizzle some olive oil into the pan. Start adding the ingredients.
- Slivered Almonds
- Chopped Serrano Chili
- Drizzle some more Olive Oil
Give it all a little toss, or mix to blend with the olive oil, and slide it into the oven. *Note: This would work fine in a home oven as well. I think it all roasted in about 10 minutes in the WFO at 800 degrees or so, so just give it more time in your home oven at 550 degrees. You want to roast it to the point where it's almost finished. You have to consider that it will finish roasting when it goes back into the oven on your pizza. In a way, this is par-roasting - just like par-boiling!
And now it becomes a pizza!
Spread your dough out and lay on a well floured peel.
Spread your roasted Brussels onto the pizza.
Add some pinches of your fresh mozzarella around the pie.
Tear some prosciutto and place it around the pizza.
*As I often say here, as you are placing all of these ingredients together on the pizza think about they balance with each other. In this case, I spread the roasted Brussels out on the pizza knowing that I was also going to add some mozzarella and prosciutto. This is important with cooking, but in a way it's even more important when making a pizza because these ingredients don't only have to blend together as they bake, but they also will be delivered to you on a bed of dough. Each bite will be what it is. You don't build a forkful from your plate to do your own blending of ingredients. With pizza you take a bite and that's what you get.
Into the oven it goes. My Primavera delivered it back to me in about 2 minutes. It's so giving! So selfless! In a way it would be nice if it took more time, because I love feeling the heat of the fire on my face as I lean down and watch the pizza rise to the occasion.
Lions, Tigers and Bears!
When I took my first bite, I actually said, "Oh my!". This pizza has it all going on! It's got it all. Lion's, Tiger's and Bears!
It hit the mark! As I write this, I'm still thinking about it. There's really more going on in this pizza than I originally thought. The roasted charred Brussels give that almost subtle
bitter base that allows the other ingredients to pop even more. The saltiness of the prosciutto and capers pops in your mouth. The sweetness of the honey dances around the spicy notes of the Serrano. The soft milkiness of the mozzarella plays with the juices given out by the tomatoes as they collapse and give up their liquid to create a sauce as well as their explosive pop of sweetness. Oh, but wait, this isn't over. The almonds then bring another textural experience to the whole thing. They softly crunch as you chew up their toasty-roastiness!
Don't forget the delivery system. The crisp, charred dough with it's soft warm center delivers this package wonderfully. My mouth is literally watering. Oh my....
I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at Pizza Quest.
I just had another round of left-overs for lunch. We did our Thanksgiving up north with our in-laws on Wednesday because we had to be back in town this weekend for our daughter's Softball Tournament. It turns out that the rains came and today's games were cancelled. So, instead of being out in the cold watching our daughter play ball, I just re-heated yet another plate of the good stuff.
So, as I sit here wishing I ate a little bit less again, I thought I'd leave you with a teaser photo of my next pizza that I'll hopefully get posted up next week. This one surprised me. I intend to remake this again this week because I want to make sure it was as good as I thought it was -- sort of a pinch myself moment, but with a wood fired oven! Stay tuned...
Crab Stuffed Mushroom Pizza
I've made a number of pizzas over the years with seafood. I like the uniqueness of how seafood blends and stands out as a topping on a pizza. When you do it right, shrimps on a pizza literally snap when you bite them, and that's a good thing! Clams are right at home on a pizza. After all, what do you do when eating steamers? You sop up the sauce with bread. On a pizza, it's already done. The clams mix with the toppings and become part of the sauce and the crust is already there baking in all that glory.
Crab is another fun one. Crab all by itself, has a sweet and subtle taste. I love drizzling it with lemon, or a little Vietnamese Fish Sauce mixed with chilies and just eating it on it's own - warm or cold! Another great way to enjoy crab is in a crab dip which is just cheesy goodness! The cheese and crab combo just goes so well together, which is why crab dip and crab stuffed mushrooms and crab on a pizza makes total sense to me. Here's one of my Crab Dip Pizzas: *Link
While I was making up some Crab Stuffed Mushrooms I decided to just make myself a Crab Stuffed Mushroom inspired pizza. One idea I had was to bake the stuffed mushrooms and slice them up and use them as a topping. I had that idea after I made a different pizza, where I went with a more traditional approach -- just using the basic crab ingredients, but putting them on a pizza instead of stuffing the mushrooms. Crab Stuffed Mushroom Recipe: *Link
I have been using an English White Cheddar for my stuffed mushrooms. There is a boldness to a good cheddar, a sharpness. What I like about a good cheddar cheese is that while it's bold it is also sweet. As I write this, I actually have the sensation of tasting this cheese starting at the front roof of my mouth and then having it wash across the top of my mouth and down my throat! You feel the sharpness up front and it finishes smoother and sweeter. I never knew this, but Cheddar Cheese comes originally from England and was said to have first been produced as early as the 1100's in a village called - you guessed it, CHEDDAR! There were caves in the area that provided the consistently ideal temperatures for producing this cheese. Lucky for us.
Cheddar goes really well with the stuffed mushrooms as well as with this pizza.
Crab Stuffed Mushroom Pizza
- Favorite Pizza Dough like Peter's Country Dough
- Grated English White Cheddar
- Lump Crab meat
- Roasted Onions
- Roasted Leeks
- Roasted Red Peppers
*You could also add some chilies to give a little more heat.
- Roasted Mushrooms
- Olive Oil
* Chili Oil to finish
This is a no "sauce" pizza. I drizzled olive oil on the crust which blends with the cheese and other ingredients to keep things moist.
After the olive oil, add the grated cheddar. Don't put on too much because you want the cheese to blend with everything, not overpower it.
Add the crab, onions, peppers mushrooms and place some basil leaves on top.
Drizzle with a little more Olive Oil and slide her into the oven.
You can see that there is plenty of "sauce". If you wanted more, you could add some cherry tomatoes cut in half and allow them to add to the moisture content as they bake in the oven, emitting more of their juices.
Just like the Crab Stuffed Mushrooms I've been playing with, this pizza nails it! The cheddar really goes well with the crab, and the other ingredients add texture and sweetness that also works well with the crab.
Slice it up and make sure to have some good chili oil around. The spice is a nice finishing touch!
Peter's Blog, News Flash!
PizzaQuest follower John Daniels has been working on a really interesting baking platform, he actually calls it a Pizza Grate, that was designed to wick away any moisture from the underskirt of your crust via a series of strategically drilled holes in the plate. He sent both Brad and me an early prototype and Brad is currently testing it out and will report on it in an upcoming posting. In the meantime, though, you can help John get this to the next stage and also see a terrific video that he made showing the Pizza Grate in action (by the way, it does a lot more than make pizzas, as you will see in the video). Here's the link to his just posted Kickstarter launch. Take a look -- this could be a game changer of a product. Consider giving him some support so you can say that you were there in the beginning:
Check back here soon for Brad's report -- I expect it will be excellent.
Till then, may your pizzas all be perfect!
Peter's Blog, A Visit with Michael Pollan
A few weeks ago author Michael Pollan came to Charlotte to speak at a local university. Earlier that day I was fortunate to be able to appear with him for an hour on our local NPR radio program, Charlotte Talks, where we discussed many of his favorite themes. Most of you already know who Michael Pollan is, but in case you don't, he is the author of a number of best selling books on food and culture including The Omnivore's Dilemma which is, arguably, the most influential book on our relationship with food since Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring. He has a new book out called Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, a book that I think every serious food lover should own and read, especially the many pizza freaks who follow us here on our "journey of self-discovery through pizza" and who intuitively grasp the notion of cooking as a transformational act. The Omnivore's Dilemma is one of those rare, but painful to read books (because of the subject matter, not the writing, which is brilliant) that has often been called a true game-changer in terms of its impact on so many of us. Cooked, on the other hand, is like sitting down to a great meal that you never want to end.
Regardless of which Pollan books you've read or not read, his message is clear (and I'm not referring to his now classic "Food Rules: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants," which makes for a great sound bite as well as good guidance). No, his deeper message, I believe, has to do with connectivity and consciousness. His books help us connect with the whole lineage of sources -- from seed, to soil, to farmer, miller, merchant, consumer, and cook -- that transform things of the earth into things of nourishment and joy. He quotes Emerson and Wendell Berry with abandon, and in so doing connects us with them and all they stand for. He reveals our inevitable complicity in the taking of life for the sake of our own, and also the priestly (or, if you prefer, the shamanistic) dimension inherent within each of us to effect the transformation of raw ingredients into something totally other. In fact, what I love about this new book is spelled out in its sub-title, A Natural History of Transformation. I think it is this word, transformation, that transfixes me; it as akin to transubstantiation, or transmutation -- lots of "trans" words! It is the power to change one thing into something else, whether through skill, talent, training, artisanship, or simply through seeing and knowing -- knowing that everything exists on many levels and is never only what we think it is. It is knowing that everything, ultimately, emanates from something, or from some Thing, or, as I believe, from some Being -- if only we had the eyes to see it as so; or if we knew how to perform a series of actions that reveals it as so. Because, when you think about it, transformation isn't only about changing something from one thing into something else, but in the ability to see that the "something else" was there all along, hidden behind the veil of the thing we think we see. When Michaelangelo turned a slab of marble into a David he said that he just revealed the David that was always hidden in the slab. Transformation is, in this sense, a kind of revelation, a revealing of what already is.
Now, Michael Pollan didn't say all that I just wrote above, but he writes about things that make me think of things like this. When I say, as I have in many of my own books, that the mission of the baker is "to evoke the full potential of flavor trapped in the grain," it touches on this notion of connectivity as an act of transformation. In Cooked, Pollan shows how, throughout human history, we have learned to harness fire, water, air, and earth into tools that allow us to transform (or perhaps "evoke" or "reveal" are just as accurate here), the full potential of an ingredient, whether it be animal, vegetable, fruit, or grain, into something tasty, and also digestible and nourishing, and even more important, something other than what we thought it was while revealing what it actually could be.
So the best part of Michael Pollan's visit is that I not only got to talk about things like this with him on the radio, and then had the chance to introduce him to some of our young culinary students at Johnson & Wales, where he encouraged them to realize how much power and responsibility was within their grasp to change the world, but then, after all that, and before he spoke to a thousand people that evening at Queens University, where he continued building verbal bridges of connectivity for all in attendance -- in the midst of all of that, Michael and I broke away for lunch at Pure Pizza, where we spoke for awhile about, well, about how much we love pizza. And, of course, we spoke about a few other things too....
PS You can listen to the podcast of our radio interview by going to http://wfae.org/programs/charlotte-talks-wfae?page=1 Scroll down the page till you find our podcast, dated Oct. 10th, and click "listen."
Fire Roasted Brussels
Oh my god! I found the most amazing vegetable! I don't think anyone knows about it. They are these little bulbs called Brussels Sprouts and I'm the first one to ever think of cooking them and eating them.
Ok, maybe not the first.
Boy are these things the hot item these days. I bet they run out of favor soon because they seem to have exploded so big as THE gourmet side dish. I enjoy them, so I fear they may slide back into history and slowly emerge as that strange vegetable that is force-fed to children across the land.
I remember as a kid I wasn't supposed to like them. That probably has a lot to do with how they were served by my parents. I called my mother to see how she served them to us and the phone went silent. She finally said, "I don't think I ever served them to you kids. Maybe it was your grandmother. We didn't eat Brussels sprouts." Well, I know I ate them somewhere, so let's blame Grandma! We decided they were probably steamed. I would probably like that today, and as I said, I sort of did back then. I felt like I was a giant eating a whole head of cabbage or something. Pretty funny!
But today is a different story. We don't steam them anymore. We roast them, or pan fry them to the point where they are both moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. In fact, we treat them more like a pizza than a vegetable. I always nail them with high heat and give them the business and they are so thick that they can withstand it all and still give something great back to you.
What better way to cook these little babies than in a 900 degree wood fired oven? Let's see what we can do here.
Wood Fired Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Brussels Sprouts
- Bacon or Pancetta
- Chopped Red Onion
- Olive Oil
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Salt and Pepper
Clean the sprouts by trimming off any browned bits at the base and pull off any browned leaves. I par-boil them for a minute to get them soft, but not done. Let them cool and then cut them in half. This allows you to brown more of them up when cooking.
The bacon and onions:
Separately, chop up some bacon and red onion, or shallots, and sauté them until they are only "mostly done," that is, till they wilt and the bacon renders off a lot of fat but has not yet crisped . They too will finish in the oven.
In a bowl, combine the sprout halves and bacon/onion mixture and drizzle with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper to taste and toss.
Put the sprout mixture back into the iron skillet and slide it into the WFO. 900 degrees F. gets the pan hot and these things cooking pretty fast. Don't worry, there's time to sip your beer. You did open a beer, right? Do I have to include that in the ingredient list?
Brown them. Char them. Toss. Back into the fire.
Make sure to get the enough of them charred up. The burnt tips/edges provide a ton of flavor as well as a crisp texture to contrast with the softer interior.
These make a great pizza topping. I even created a pepperoni seasoning that I sprinkled onto my sprouts once and created my own vegi-pepperoni - *LINK. The slight bitterness of the sprout gives it some bite and stands out against the sweet balsamic and saltiness of the bacon and seasonings.
Wood Fired Pizza Rolls
What's a pizza roll?
If you fold a pizza it's called a calzone. If you roll it up, it's a stromboli. I've seen something in between simply called a sausage roll. I found out recently when breaking in my new wood fired oven and learning to use a metal pizza peel that what starts out as a pizza may end up flipping over while going in and end up coming out of the oven something more like a calzone! When this first happened to me a light bulb went off and I said to myself "So that's where the CALZONE comes from!" Or, maybe they made Calzones first and one unfolded as it was slid into some ancient wood burning oven and the poor guy slinging it in said to himself "Atsa da pizza!"
My local "Brooklyn-style" pizzeria, Valentino's sells a nice sausage roll. Whenever we order pizza from them, we throw a couple of these babies on the order. We cut them up and snack on them as a necessary warm-up act while getting ready to hit the pizza. I was getting some ingredients to toss onto some dough and, when I browsed the pork products, my minds-eye drifted off to those sausage rolls and I decided I would be trying something new when I got home.
Should I fold? Should I roll? I ended up sort of doing both. They came out great in the wood fired oven. I'll have to try this in the home oven next. The high heat of the wood oven melted everything nicely inside and set up a great crispy charred crust all around. I think it will be tough for my home oven to equal it but I'll let you know....
The Pizza Rolls
- Pizza Dough, your favorite recipe
- Sliced Cherry Tomatoes
- Chopped Red Onion
- Hot Italian Sausage
- Olive Oil
- Pizza Dough
- Sliced Cherry Tomatoes
- Chopped Red Onion
- Hot Italian Sausage
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Olive Oil
I'll post a recipe that I like to use for the roasted Brussels Sprouts soon. I have been popping things in the oven when I make pizza to keep expanding my experience working with the wood and fire rather than my home oven. These came out great! I was in Boulder Co. a couple months ago and Kelly Whitaker did a great Market Pizza with Brussels. They seem to be the "it" topping and side dish these days. Good for us. I love that slight bitterness, and you can really impart other flavors into them when you prepare them.
Back to the rolls...
I made the first roll like a pizza. After I spread the dough I just started topping it and I realized that I made a pizza! So, I just sort of lifted the sides and joined them and then folded the whole thing into a roll. What was nice, was where the dough was pinched together it was clumpy and doughy and gave the roll some more texture and a real rustic look. When I made the second one, I wised up and put the toppings in one place anticipating the end result! Either way works! In fact, my first accidental calzone looked like a disaster, but tasted amazing. It was more of a Pizza-Roll-Over.
Can I coin that term?
The great thing about these is that they not only tasted great but they also saved really well. When we were done eating, we sliced up the rolls into snack sized slices and tossed them into a baggie. The next day they came out, went into the oven and baked up to near perfection again. Since I eat my leftover pizza as a cold slice in the morning, while going out the door, these rolls make a great breakfast-to-go alternative.
What's my second favorite food? You guessed it -- cold pizza.
Enjoy the pics and let us know if you have any favorite calzone/stromboli/pizza roll ideas!
Crab Stuffed Mushrooms!
I'm in the middle of the beginning of a journey that started quite a while ago. That's a mouthful, but believe it or not it's true! I just got a Primavera 60 from Forno Bravo and I am beginning to chronicle my tales of learning how to drive this new oven. I recently posted Part I of my wood fired oven journey (see a few posts below). But....
"Stop the presses!"
I must interrupt this introduction to bring you a new recipe!
As I've been learning to fire up the Primavera and get my pizzas in and out of the oven, I have also been experimenting with other dishes -- sides and entrees that use the oven in different ways. There is hot and there is Pizza HOT! On the way to pizza hot, I'm finding out that it can be a good time to throw some other things into the fire. I've been roasting lots of vegetables -- so easy and so delicious. At the lower temps they don't char as much as on a grill, but when you do them at Pizza Hot temps, they char up just fine! I've thrown fish in this baby and then used the fish as a topping on my pizza, and roasted some chicken, and also flash fired some shrimp!
But, what have we stopped the presses for?
I find myself stuffing a lot of mushrooms! I mean, pizza and mushrooms go together right? You can never go wrong having mushrooms around when you are making pizza. I love stuffed mushroom caps. In fact, one of my first "foodie" experiences may well have been about stuffed mushrooms. My first job in high school was as a bus boy in a little family run restaurant. I remember two things about that job. The first was the negative! The sons, who were the waiters never shared their tips with me! The second is that the chef gave me one of their stuffed mushrooms one day back in the kitchen. Oh my god! I was hooked. I'm almost certain they were crab stuffed. They were moist and cheesy and crabby -- just delicious! This was the highlight of that job; once the chef knew I liked them, he would slip me an extra here and there. He probably knew I was getting screwed by the brothers!
I figured that stuffed mushrooms would be perfect to try at various temperatures to help me learn how to work with the oven and understand how it gives off it's heat. Man, was I right! I started with some Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms and then started playing more with crab versions. I nailed it the other day and thought I needed to interrupt my intro to the Primavera with my Crab Stuffed Mushroom celebration!
What's in em?
*Remove stems and chop to add into crab mixture
Panko Bread Crumbs
Chopped Serrano Chilies from my garden! Go a little easy on this -- per your taste for "the heat"
A little Chopped Garlic
Chopped Red Pepper
Chopped Red Onion
Grated English White Cheddar! I can't say enough about this combination...
Fresh squeezed Lemon
Tab of butter - to place on top of each cap before placing into the fire
I am playing with this recipe. It's sort of an everything but the kitchen sink celebration of a crab roll in a mushroom cap kind of thing! It's pretty versatile as you'll see. While I had the ingredients, I made a version of a crab pizza that night with some crab, mushrooms, roasted red onions, red Fresno chilis, basil, and, of course, grated English White Cheddar! You'll see in the pictures, that I also ended up making plenty extra -- to save it in the fridge to use on a sandwich in the form of a delicious "Crab Roll" the next day! No I was not "over" the crab the next day. You don't have to go so crazy though.
I won't give you amounts on this one. Just find the balance. Pick a bowl and just start building it and consider balance as you go. Start with the crab and work your way down the list. Taste it when you get it all mixed together and see what you may want to add more of to find that point where it's still about the crab, but it's also about the bread crumbs and the white cheddar, and the slight heat from the Serrano's, and the crisp snap of the red peppers and the depth of the onions, or a hint of the parsley…and definitely allowing room for the butter and garlic! You get my drift?
Scoop the crab mixture into each mushroom cap and place them in the oiled pan. Add a "pat" of butter on top and drizzle some more olive oil. I also STRONGLY suggest that you spoon the extra crab mixture into the pan and toss a butter pat or two in there for good measure. This extra stuff will sit and bubble into a crispy edged bit of perfection that you can scoop onto a bit of bread.
Finally drizzle everything with some lemon and then drop the lemon halves in the pan to cook with the mushrooms.
Into the fire! Watch them. Turn them. Brown them. I cooked this batch in a relatively low temperature fire - 550-600 degrees. I have also done them at pizza temps and they just cook faster and you have to watch them, turn them, and move them a little more. It's an interactive thing, so just stick with them. Sip a beer. Talk and adjust the pan as it cooks.
Once browned, I pull them out and cover with foil so they can finish up. This will continue to steam them and make the 'shrooms very moist when you are ready to eat them. They are good to go in a couple of minutes, or as they cool down and need only be lukewarm when serving with your main entree.
Squeeze a little more of the lemon over the top before you serve.
These are a great appetizer or side dish. Don't forget to spoon the extra mixture that you cooked in the pan onto your plate too!
The Gallery - more pics to enjoy!
Birra Basta - The Finale
So we come to the end of the story, at least this story that began with Kelly Whitaker and I challenging Patrick Rue to make a beer inspired by a pizza. If you've been following it from the start this finale segment is kind of a denouement, as we, sated and satisfied, drift off into the Denver sunset, having our own Pizza Quest version of a Rocky Mountain high. If you are just joining us, please go back, via the Webisodes button above, and catch up -- it will quite enjoyable, I promise.
In this final segment, Kelly decided to tweak the "Challenge Pizza" by replacing the white anchovies with house cured pork belly. In retrospect, I wish we could have done one more version, with both the bacon and the anchovies but, hey, the sun was going down, we were were running out of ingredients, that amazing Birra Basta was waiting for us, and the keg was getting quickly drained by the rest of our thirsty crew. Besides, the switch to pork belly gave us a chance, after doing dozens of these webisodes, to get one of my all-time favorite sound bites, as you will hear, this one from beer maker extraordinaire, Patrick Rue: "Bacon is my favorite vegetable."
Wood + Fire
What is it that makes a great pizza?
I've been on a personal quest searching for the answers to this question for some time. I've traveled and eaten more than my share of pizza. I've also spent many hours slinging my own pies in and out of my home oven in all in an attempt to further understand and expand this quest. I'd say I've even gotten pretty good at it! I've made some of the best pizzas I've ever had right here in my electric oven baking pies at 550 degrees. At least you'll have to trust me on that because the pictures look like they are good tasting pies!
Every once in a while I end up being "wowed!" When that happens, it usually means I'm sitting in a pizzeria with a wood fired oven. There is something different that the intense heat, fire and smoke bring to a pizza. My crust is getting better all the time. I get good puff, some bubbles, and I even manage to get some decent char in my home oven. But, it's not the same as when Tony Gemignani, Kelly Whitaker, or so many other amazing pizza makers pull a piping hot pie out of their oven.
So, one can wish. One can ponder. One might even go as far as I have and try to build a wood burning gas grill oven out of my existing grill!
I am happy and sad that a new chapter has begun in that journey. Wood and fire and oven has come to the English household! I'm happy because I've wanted one for so long! I'm sad because now I have no excuses in my quest to be the one to make that perfect pizza!
Yes, I got a new tool, or toy to play with. A rather large crate came to my door a couple of weeks ago. It had the words "Forno Bravo Primavera 60" stenciled on the side! It took some doing, which I'll probably chronicle in the forum, but I can report that it is indeed now up and running!
I was champing at the bit, or chomping. I champed and chomped as a few loyal and brave friends came over to help me set this oven on it's stand. Let's get this baby set up, fire it up, and make some pizza! Well, maybe not so fast. I have made some pretty amazing pizzas in my home oven. I figured I could now just slide my pizzas into the Primavera and out would come my best pizzas ever.
Well, yes and no.
First I had to learn patience. It takes 5 days of building "low" temperature fires to finish curing the oven. As I began the process I remembered filming with Chef Jensen Lorenzen at The Cass House Inn in Cayucos, CA. Jensen and Peter were talking about his new oven that Jensen and his wife had recently installed. I remember Peter saying to him, "Over time, you'll figure out how to drive this thing." As they talked further he discussed how each oven cooks differently and, as it cures and ages, it will continue to evolve in its performance. I always thought that was interesting. I recall how much respect he seemed to have for the oven as a sort of participant in the pizza making process -- like it was an ingredient rather than a tool. It was similar to so many conversations I have heard over the years when a winemaker talks about coaxing the full flavor potential from the land and elements out of their grapes. It's not just having a good grape, but how and where it's grown. What soil is helping to feed the vines and how the weather and climate conditions stress the grapes, which creates a better grape. In both instances, the artisans learn to work with the elemental factors to coax "perfection" into their finished product.
Cooking with fire is definitely a challenge. Fire is not just heat, it is alive and moving and unpredictable. It breathes air and exhales smoke and heat. There is something primal about cooking with fire. It's never the same - you are always involved and adjusting things when cooking with open fire. A home oven is a highly controlled heat box. There are variations in how things cook, how each oven cooks, but in general the home oven is a relatively predictable platform to cook with. You set the exact temperature and it hits it. Try building a 300 degree curing fire and keep it in that range for 8 hours! Now, that's a dance!
I have always been driven to cook with fire. I think it's about being interactive with the food I'm cooking. I have a gas grill, which is the easiest application of that desire and also somewhat predictable, but I also pull out my Weber Smokey Mountain cooker to patiently smoke my ribs, fish or other things that need that kind of slow time and attention. When I want to cook a perfect piece of fish I pass up my oven and gas grill and use the bottom half of my Weber smoker to fire up some lump charcoal and, with added wood chips, try to dance a little with flames and smoke to bring that piece of fish as close to perfection as possible. I think there's no better way to cook fish! We'll see how the WFO does!
Hey, I have a Wood Fired Oven, baby!
After 5 days of firing for about 8 hours, at low and rising temperatures each day, I was now ready to take this oven out on the open road. It's like breaking in a new engine -- you have to drive it slowly for some time before letting it open up. In this case, it's just to get the water out of the mortar and make sure that it doesn't blow up on you from intense heat creating expanding steam pressure within the structure.
It was time! Today, more wood; more fire! The temps were rising! There's a point at around 800 degrees F. when the black carbon from the fire burns off the inside of the dome. That's one way to know when you are finally pizza hot. I'm only a few weeks into driving this oven, but let me tell you it was quest-worthy just seeing that! I knew it was supposed to happen. I was looking for it to happen, but when it did, I had a lump in my throat. I was officially speeding down the highway!
OMG I have a pizza oven right here in my backyard!
I'm going to cut this "I got a Primavera 60" chronicle off here and call this Part I. I will continue to tell the next part of my story as I figure out how to control this baby! Many of you reading here already have a wood fired oven and can probably relate and hopefully look back with pride and remember how you felt your first time. For those of you who haven't I hope my journey continues to motivate you to pursue and push your own quests forward.
Thanks to a few of my brave buddies who came over to help me install this thing. I had a plan and they followed me -- though skeptical at times, we continued our march forward. Nobody was injured and no backs were hurt during the process! A few weeks in, they still haven't made it back to try some of my initial test drives!
Stay tuned for some more to come as I venture into this new arena. I can tell you now that an already difficult task of making pizza and simultaneously taking pictures will now be even more difficult! I may have to innovate!
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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.