Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, part 6
Part Six – A “Field of Dreams”
When we bought our Rocky Ford farm property in 1997, it was the culmination of a lifelong dream. We had previously restored an 1858 row house in the historic Spring Garden neighborhood of Philadelphia, but this was different -- nearly 55 acres with a stream along side. We named our farm property Lynch Creek, after the stream that I found had more history associated with it than I ever could have imagined. That discovery led me to create the non-profit Ben Franklin Society in 2008 honoring the forgotten Yankee namesake of our county, and then hold fund-raising events through the associated Franklin BreadWorks private dining and entertainment club.
Even though I spend a lot of time indoors cooking, my days include many hours managing the farm using sustainable practices. This outdoors work is a labor of love. Indeed, all my life I’ve been an outdoors type. As a kid, I would fish all day at Gropp’s Lake in Yardville, N.J., riding a bike to the lake from my home. After college, I lived in a Dutch Colonial farmhouse in Middlebush, NJ and played hooky from work to go trout fishing alone in the Delaware Water Gap. It seemed natural to me in 2000 to begin the work necessary to place our farm in permanent conservation easement. Our legal agreement with the local Tar River Land Conservancy was finalized in December 2007. By deed, our property will remain a farm forever, may not be subdivided or developed beyond the needs of a farm, and has a restricted 12-acre stream buffer zone along Lynch Creek.
In the same time period I began working to secure organic farm certification, which you may imagine was the butt of many jokes in a very traditional Southern farming area in North Carolina’s tobacco country. I vividly recall baffled local farmers scratching their heads with hat in hand as they stopped roadside by my 15- acre field of buckwheat in white blossom. They had never before seen such a cover crop – buckwheat, peas and clover!
Over the years I have fixed fencing, plumbing and electrical problems; built a front pasture storage barn, stream pump and spring house, a woodshop, a chicken coop, a heated greenhouse and unheated high-tunnel, a produce workshop with walk-in cooler, and a vehicle maintenance barn; built our Log Cabin from 100 year old pine logs salvaged from two dismantled tobacco pack houses in Elmo, Va.; and finally, built my wood-fired Pompeii-style brick oven. Only a smokehouse renovation project remains on my to-do list.
Our Log Cabin was initially to be an antique showroom for my wife, Kerry. It morphed into an artist’s studio, and finally into a business meeting event center when we finally completed construction in December 2012. Construction continued over ten years with many obstacles. If you’re interested, our website, www.lynchcreek.com has posted a month-by-month chronology and photographs of the last four years of my construction work.
The site plan we designed (with help from Tim Hanauer of Earth Graphics, Greensboro, NC) around the cabin to control erosion provided the opening I needed to add an outdoor, wood-fired oven. At the time, no one, not even Kerry, comprehended why I was doing this. To me it was simple – not to cook traditional Southern BBQ, but rather to bake Tomato Pie and artisan breads, of course!
I began building my oven in 2008. The Forno Bravo guideline Pompeii Oven plans were my reference. It was an incredible challenge to build. Its sheer size (56” inside diameter) dwarfs most residential and commercial models. I needed to be sure I could bake two standard sheet trays (18” x 26”) at a time. When I bake breads, I always start my loaves on sheet trays and then transfer them to the oven floor (it’s just too difficult to do otherwise). I use my oven door when I bake breads. It was made by our Pennsylvania friend and expert blacksmith, Ray Mathis (www.tuttometaldesign.com), The Forno Bravo Forum was an incredible resource along the way, but my Yankee ingenuity was required to overcome a few key construction dilemmas:
· Oven entranceway: I chose to use formwork, not brickwork, to build an arched opening. I also used laminated chimney flue pipe to create the precise, arched door reveal. Special high-temperature concrete mix was required – like that used in pottery kilns.
· Chimney flue transition: I again built a custom form to transition from my rectangular flue opening to my circular double-insulated stainless steel chimney pipe. I used carved Styrofoam that could be chipped-out after the high-temperature concrete cured to expose the flue geometry.
If interested, you can view a slide-show of how I built my wood-fired oven using the web link provided on my Biography page here: http://www.fornobravo.com/pizzaquest/contributor-profiles/54-contributor-profiles/506-bobradcliffe.html.
I finally cooked my first Tomato Pie in the Oven on Oct. 24, 2011. We prototyped a handful of BreadWorks events in 2012, and began scheduling monthly BreadWorks Dining and Entertainment events in 2013 at the showplace we have today. To understand how some of the more than 400 Ben Franklin Society BreadWorks community members feel about their headquarters, you can read the comments posted for the articles of this series. We are humbled by the success and support we have received.
Indeed our “Field of Dreams” had become a reality – even more than we had envisioned. Kerry often reminds me to “watch what you pray for.” Our property also represents a new sustainable farm model – one integrated with a non-profit entity committed to educational, literary and scientific endeavors. Remarkably, what makes it all work, is food and entertainment - with a blend of farm and public service. Rather than growing food for market, I now grow menu ingredients.
Many have asked me “If you had known how much time and effort it was going to take, would you have begun?” In reply, “I just decide what I want to do, and go do it.” I’ve concluded over the years that I am just wired differently than most. Few contemporaries of mine have ever understood my choices and timing. That’s okay.
Now you understand how long it took, and how difficult it was, before I cooked my first Tomato Pie in Rocky Ford. Let me pass some tips along to you about using such an oven:
First, let’s talk about firing the oven. As you know, everything passes in-and-out of the oven entrance. With larger diameter ovens like mine, you need a bigger fire. To do that, I start small “Lincoln” log fires (on wooden rails) with a propane torch just under the flue opening in the entranceway, and then slide the log rails into the oven with my metal peel. I usually make at least two, if not three, such fires. I then begin adding split oak wood to gradually create a large fire at the middle of the oven. I burn a vigorous fire for about three hours (until the oven is white hot). I always use oak (hardwood) for what I call the furnace fire that’s solely responsible for heating the oven.
Next, I use a metal hoe to split the fire and push the coals and remaining wood equally to each side creating a center cooking platform. From this point on, I consider these side-fires - flavoring-fires. I optionally use seasoning woods such as hickory, apple, pecan, and even coal, to add another hidden layer of flavor. These fires use smaller pieces of wood, but are essential as you bake Tomato Pie as I do, over several hours, to keep the hot air circulating from the dome above, to the floor below. I continue to experiment with variations of fuel whose smoke flavors my Tomato Pie.
Then, I bake what I call my “sacrificial” pie.
More about that in my next installment - “Philadelphia Style with Carolina Character.” I’ll have more tips about baking, plating, and presenting Tomato Pie and how to deal with leftovers (if any). And yes, gently wind my story down -- for now.
Modernist Breads, the announcement
As promised, here is the announcement of the new book project I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, "Modernist Breads." I've copied the text below but, for photos and a link to the Modernist website, see it in full at:
(The text below is copied from the link above, written by the folks at Modernist Cuisine. Enjoy! I'll keep you all posted as we get deeper into the project but my recent trip to headquarters in Bellevue, WA, working with Francisco Migoya and his baking team, was very exciting and I expect this book will be like an encyclopedia of bread when it comes out in a couple of years. Anyone who has seen "Modernist Cuisine" already knows how spectacular the photography and content was, so we have a lot to live up to.)
The Art and Science of Bread
We are frequently asked what our next big project will be, and for almost a year we’ve alluded to “having something in the works.” In actuality, our culinary team has been working overtime baking and learning about bread. From crust to crumb, we are excited to finally reveal that our next book will be entirely devoted to the art and science of bread.
Why bread? Because it’s so ubiquitous that we now have vast, daunting selections of breads to choose from at most grocery chains. Many of us have started taking the bread course for granted when dining out. But bread shouldn’t be an afterthought on the table or simply a building block for sandwiches—breaking open a good loaf of bread, fresh from the oven, is an experience that can evoke nostalgia for years to follow. For many of us, however, baking bread at home is intimidating and shrouded in mystery. Unlike cooking, most breads are made by varying the amounts of four simple ingredients: flour, water, salt, and, of course, yeast. Yet the simplicity of these ingredients is complicated by the intricate science of the bread-baking process and by the fact that bakers must contend with an ingredient that is alive and sensitive to its environment.
With thousands of years of wisdom that inform techniques still used today, the art of baking bread is steeped in tradition. As such, we are researching bread’s rich past and studying the science therein. We have been fortunate to meet a number of talented bakers and chefs who are sharing their expertise and knowledge with us, and we remain on the lookout for new experts and resources.
This project comes with another exciting announcement as we welcome to our team Francisco Migoya as head chef and Peter Reinhart as assignments editor. We are incredibly lucky to have recruited two individuals whose contributions to pastry and baking have already set the bar high.
Under the leadership of head chef Migoya, our bread program has blossomed in a relatively short time. His passion has led him to push the boundaries of pastry arts in savory, pastry, viennoiserie, and bread. Chef Migoya pairs sublime flavors with Modernist techniques to create exquisite, avant-garde pastries and chocolates that are almost too stunning to eat. Having worked as executive pastry chef at The French Laundry, and most recently as a professor at The Culinary Institute of America, his work has earned him recognition as one of the top pastry chefs in the country by both the Huffington Post and Dessert Professional, and he has been imparted Medal of Master Artisan Pastry Chef by Gremi de Pastisseria de Barcelona. Chef Migoya has authored three pastry books, winning a 2014 award for The Elements of Dessert from International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
One of the leading authorities on bread, Peter Reinhart will lend his extensive expertise to this project. As a full-time chef on assignment at Johnson & Wales University, Peter teaches courses on baking and the juncture of food and culture. A best-selling author of nine books, his approachable methodologies and techniques have been embraced by home bakers and earned him numerous awards, including Book of the Year (2002) for The Bread Baker’s Apprentice from both IACP and the James Beard Foundation. Additionally, he won James Beard Foundation awards for Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads (2008) and Crust and Crumb (1997), with a nomination for Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day. His newest book, Bread Revolution, will be released in the fall of 2014.
Our hope for this project is that, by revealing the history, science, and techniques of baking bread, we will create an in-depth multivolume set of books that will be useful and accessible to amateur home bakers, passionate bread enthusiasts, restaurants, and small-scale bakeries alike. But because we are in the beginning stages of this book, we do not know how many volumes it will be or when it will go on sale. There is a lot for us to decide, but we will stay true to the approaches used for Modernist Cuisine, so readers can expect the same level of rigor and detail in our writing, illustrations, and photography as we attempt to showcase bread in a new light.
If you have a burning question about this project, or would like to contribute your expertise, we would love to hear from you. Please contact
Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, Part 5
PART FIVE – LAYERS OF FLAVOR
My experiences working at Jack’s Firehouse were the most memorable of my 20 years living in Philadelphia. The deal I made with Chef Jack McDavid was simple – I would work one day a week without pay, if he would teach me three new things each shift. When I left and moved to Rocky Ford, he told me, “If you put your mind to it, you could run a restaurant one day.” I took that as a compliment and confidence builder that to this day, steadies me when confronted with the demands of managing a 55-acre working farm.
My analytical background served me well in the past. As I began adventuring into the culinary world it became clear to me from everything I read, the professionals I observed, and the impressions I got from a proliferation of TV shows that it was all about “layers of flavor.” More important, about being willing to do whatever it takes to develop those flavors.
Let me explain how I think about building the “layers of flavor” into my Tomato Pie:
--It was paramount to remain true to what a Delorenzo’s Tomato Pie meant to me. It’s all about the bread and tomatoes. The crisp (almost burned) artisan crust becomes the foundation layer of flavor to the extent that I do everything possible to ensure it remains crisp. That means isolating the dough from the juicy tomatoes with a thin layer of cheese, for instance, or not using even a drop of olive oil either in or on the dough until after it has been cooked.
--I prominently display the tomatoes in visible chunks, not in an indiscriminate layer of sauce, to visibly convey their importance.
--Many patrons in the South tell me “No garlic, please.” I nod affirmatively, but always proceed to spread a large clove of freshly crushed garlic on every dough I prepare for the oven. I follow this with a generous array of freshly ground black pepper. Never a complaint so far!
--Thin slices of cheese follow to seal the dough from the moisture of the tomatoes and meat toppings that follow. Meats, if any, are selectively placed, and then, always last, come the tomatoes. Then I quickly slide the pie into the awaiting oven. That’s it!
--Noticeably missing are the olive oil, mushrooms and spinach. I never apply olive oil while the dough is cooking (in the oven). No one wants a “burned” mushroom or spinach flavor from the extreme heat of a wood-fired oven, nor be the reason to remove a pie before the crust is perfectly cooked. I sauté and season the mushrooms and spinach to taste, ahead of time, to perfection! They are warmed by the pie as it cools down. (Again, I credit Jack for teaching me that all temperatures cook – both low and high ones. Whether I was cleaning squid in an ice-water bath to keep it from cooking, or recalling his story about how Japanese tuna fisherman quickly pull live tuna in with hand lines and then ceremoniously cut and bleed them, force a rod down their spine to immobilize them, and then flash freeze them at sea – all to preserve the essence of the tuna flesh – a most highly prized and costly product. All fish start to "cook," even at sea water temperatures, as soon as they die).
From this experience I concluded, “Why waste the heat of a cooling Tomato Pie? Let it warm the oil, mushrooms and spinach.”
--I generously apply olive oil with a squeeze bottle to the cornicione (edge of the crust) immediately after I remove the pie from the oven. An added benefit of this approach is that you never burn the roof of your mouth and ruin the pleasure of eating the rest of your pie. If desired, I sparingly add the mushrooms and spinach. Then I apply the salt, grated Parmesan, and (always last) torn basil. Done!
Simple but thoughtful steps mean that we are always building layers of flavor as we go. Oh, yes, one last hidden flavor: the delicious one that comes from the wood-fired oven itself!
Don’t think I was born knowing how to do this type of cooking. It took years of trial and error to decipher this culinary puzzle. Don’t be constrained by tradition and consensus thinking. Leap outside the box (a learned, but uncanny ability I have had through all of my life’s endeavors). Maybe this is why I became so attracted to the TV show “Mind of a Chef.” It helped me more clearly understand what food was really about – a metaphor for life itself. Without food there is no life. The quality of our food is integral to the quality of our lives.
As an educator, it was important to me to convey knowledge to the next generation, but it was even more important to give them the confidence they needed to succeed. “The answers are all there; learn to ask the right sequence of questions,” they told me in engineering school at Rutgers University in 1964. I credit the leaders, educators and friends I had along the way for shaping my “can-do” mindset.
Jack McDavid was the only chef I ever worked for, and to this day, I feel grateful to have had that experience. Thanks again Jack. You done good!
In my next posting I will discuss the wood-fired oven that I built so I could achieve the high temperatures needed to cook my ideal Tomato Pie, adding that "invisible layer of flavor."
It is aptly named, “A Field of Dreams.” Still lots to discuss, so see you again soon.
A Couple Tomato Pies
I have been drooling and laughing and hoping to meet Bob Radcliffe some day as we've been posting and reading the wonderful articles about his Tomato Pie journey here on Pizza Quest. Keep them coming Bob! Don't stop when you've run out of things to say about your Tomato Pies -- let's see about getting you into some cheese making next! Or, perhaps let us in on some of your other wood burning oven activities out there on your farm. I can smell the wood smoke coming from your chimney now.
Bob has taken things to another level. He is the type of true artisan we're all so lucky exists! He takes that unprecedented time and focus that it takes to move things beyond good and into the category of being great, or perhaps insane. Of course, I use the term "insane" more as a form of praise for his drive rather than one to declare his true levels of sanity. Lucky for us, he is also sharing his passions.
My brother was just out for the weekend, and he hadn't ever had one of the pizzas from my new Primavera 60 Wood-Fired baby…I mean oven! We had plans to go out to dinner his last night here, but he kept looking at the oven sitting on the patio and asking questions about it or, as it turns out, hinting questions that would lead to the obvious change of our plans. When I clued in, the plans changed. I "decided" to make a couple of pizzas for him that night. With Bob's stories running through my head, I thought I would play ball…take the plunge and pull a few of my own attempts at the Tomato Pie game.
I didn't do it by the "book", but the results were so good I will definitely continue to bring this pie into the line up when I make pizzas. In a way, this could be the starting point for any pizza night. It's the simplest ingredients that often come together to define a dish. For pizza the basics are: great dough, great tomatoes, great cheese and a few other ingredients as you wish.
A Couple Tomato Pies:
- Peter's Neo-Neopolitan Dough
- Canned San Marzano peeled tomatoes (*I had a #10 can of the Bianco Dinapoli Peeled California Plum Tomatoes!)
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Chili Oil (Just assume this is around if I ever forget it in a recipe. It's really not part of the recipe, but at the same time, it is part of THE Recipe!)
So, I opened my Bianco Dinapoli can - after refrigerating it because Bob tells us that's what he's found works best for him. Hello tomatoes! I have to confess, sitting over the counter and sink as I cut the tomatoes I started drooling. This was a lucky circumstance because the object of my desire was right there in front of me. I picked up one of these "plums" and leaned over the sink, tilted my head and dropped the fruit/vegetable into my mouth like a servant feeding Ceasar. I took most of it in my mouth and bit holding the top of the tomato. It oozed a little out of my mouth -- since I was over the sink and I was feeling a little decadent I let it drip down my chin as I savored the tomato. Holy Moley -- so simply good it was amazing!
Back to cutting the tomatoes after I digressed for a taste. Ok, I digressed two more times as I made the pizzas. What? It was a #10 can! There were a lot of tomatoes.
The Tomato Pies:
You'll see two versions of my Tomato Pies in the photos. The first was the basic: Dough - Tomatoes - Cheese - Basil - Oven. It was great! As I went to make the next one I thought I could use a few more tomatoes. I varied my construction: Dough - Cheese - Tomatoes - Cheese - Tomatoes - Basil. A double double as it turns out is good for a pizza as it is for a fast food hamburger. Come on! You know those are good! How about Animal Style? The secret menu at my house is developing.
These were amazing pies. Peter's Neo-Neopolitan Dough is always a great performer. It's always light and puffy and allows the ingredients to shine. They shined! I'm sure I'm way off the mark of where Bob is when pulling pies out of his oven, but I'm here to tell you to jump on board Bob's Tomato Pie Express. Delicious!
I'll be playing with this for awhile.
Enjoy the photos...
Tomato Pie #1:
Tomato Pie #2 - The Double Tomato Pie:
Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, Part 4
PART FOUR – A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
I’m known for more than making Tomato Pie on my Franklin County Farm. I’ve also made an appearance of sorts on the front page of the Times – the Franklin Times that is – and the cover of Back Home Magazine (thanks to friend and writer Donna Campbell Smith).
Let me explain how my ass gets on the front page! Molly, my donkey, is the guard animal for my herd of beef cattle, protecting them from predators. I bought her from a goat herder who was going out of business. Starting to sound strange? She was really pretty but had bad feet. “Would you buy a used car with four flat tires,” I ask? Probably not, but I did! I was confident I could fix her feet. Heck, I was already vetting my cattle, pulling calves and castrating bulls. Not too shabby for a city-slicker. But honestly, without Coy Duke’s help (rest his soul), I would be in deep, as they say.
Well, after two long years of research, vet consultations, medicines, help from farrier Joey Hite, and nearly getting kicked to death, Molly now has four sound feet and is a real beauty queen -- a cover girl – and, when pictured with me on the front page of the local newspaper, the cue for everyone to ask “Which one is the jackass?”
I take all this in stride because I’m a Yankee in the South who is on a mission to make Rocky Ford famous with my Tomato Pie. Can you hear the laughter getting louder down at the Biscuit Kitchen in nearby Louisburg?
Well, I tell everyone down here that I am no rabbit, but I sure am a fast turtle. I am confident I will live long enough to get the last laugh -- at least I sure hope so. If not, as they often remind me, I can always use my return bus ticket and find my way back to Philadelphia and points north.
I’ll get back on point – Tomato Pie – since that’s what you’re reading for! I’ve got some interesting tips about toppings. Once you’ve had a look, I would appreciate some emails from you with your recommendations.
Toppings cooked on my Tomato Pie
large fresh-crushed clove on the dough
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
on the dough
7-9 slices covering the surface of the dough
Sausage (and any other meats)
nominally one piece per slice
irregularly spaced pieces
· Each garlic variety tastes different. I am still experimenting with which variety to grow and use. I have raised both hard and soft-necks. I prefer hard-necks because they store longer. The soft-necks tasted great, but are too perishable. Do you have a garlic variety you could recommend?
· Replicating the sausage flavor I recall from DeLorenzo’s has been a real challenge. I finally gave-up on the prospect of simply buying it somewhere. I was really excited when I bought my commercial Bread Mixer because I could grind meat with it as well. When you make sausage, you can’t do it in tiny batches. So each experiment that doesn’t work out leaves you with at least 5-pounds of stuff. You’ve got to first select the cut of meat and target fat percentage, use the right die-size on the meat grinder, and get your seasonings and proportions right. Experiments like this get expensive and quickly consume a warehouse of freezers. I finally have honed-in on my own “secret” recipe after years of fiddling around. I just describe it as a sweet-basil Italian sausage. By the way, I also have developed a “secret” breakfast sausage recipe that I sometimes serve at my BreadWorks Sunday Brunches.
I am sure that in 1950 DeLorenzo had a butcher buddy that knocked this stuff out with simple ingredients. There were no supermarkets at the time, no TV Food Channel, no celebrity chefs, probably just Tony next door. But he made great Italian sausage; probably a hand me down family recipe from Sicily like the one I someday may pass along.
I always use free-form, “loose” sausage pieces on my pie, not neat slices with a casing. Maybe, that’s why I shy away from using pepperoni on my Tomato Pies. It just doesn’t look right, and in my opinion, overpowers the tomatoes.
Toppings added to my Tomato Pie (after it is removed from the oven)
immediately applied to the crust with a squeeze bottle – be generous – heated by the Pie
sparingly applied if so desired – heated by the Pie
sparingly applied if so desired – heated by the Pie
Coarse Kosher Salt
applied to taste
Fresh-grated Parmesan Cheese
for flavor and decoration
always last for aroma
· The olive oil should not be light, fragrant or aromatic, but rather a middle blend, to prevent the heat of the Pie from creating an unpleasant aroma. Think about focaccia when applying the oil. Be generous. It will be absorbed by the crust. You will never burn the roof of you mouth, like most pizzas do, that cook the oil on the pie in a hot oven! The oil is slowly warmed as the Tomato Pie cools down.
· Mushrooms are sautéed separately and seasoned as desired and simply added to the cooling pie. In this way they are never burned. I prefer the earthy flavor of the shitake, but crimini (small portabellas) work well also. Only at last resort do I use white button mushroom – they lack the flavor I prefer. What variety of mushrooms do you recommend?
· Spinach is also sautéed separately and seasoned as desired and simply added to the cooling pie. In this way it is never burned. I prefer fresh whole leaf spinach with garlic, but frozen spinach works fine if well drained.
· Course kosher salt is preferred, but specialty sea salts can be used. Do you have any such recommendations?
· Fresh-grated Parmesan – the better cheeses, although more expensive, are worth it. Do you have any recommendations?
· Fresh-torn basil adds that flash of aroma as you eat the first slices of your Tomato Pie. It burns easily, and a little goes a long way. I grow basil in season (above freezing), but prefer to have potted plants nearby the kitchen.
Before winding this installment down however, I want to let you in on a secret. I have been experimenting with a new topping – beyond what DeLorenzo’s (past or present) ever imagined. Fingerling potatoes - like the size and shape of your small finger.
The idea of using fingerlings on Tomato Pie actually comes from Tacconnelli’s Pizza, another famous haunt of mine in Philadelphia. I remember having Vince make a special Potato Pie for my 40th birthday celebration. It was delicious, but sadly the first and last Potato Pie I’ve ever eaten – but not forgotten. When fingerling potatoes are roasted properly, they are as addictive as peanuts!
Coincidentally, I have specialized in growing fingerling potatoes for years. As by now you can probably imagine, I grew a test potato garden (in 2006) of a dozen varieties to find the best one for my soil and environment and settled on Austrian Crescent’s – and they do have great Rocky Ford terroir!
When I perfect my recipe and technique, I believe Potato Pies could be hugely popular in the South, and my “ace-in-the-hole” to make Rocky Ford famous (if my Tomato Pies should stumble). Maybe I’ll be the only Tomato and Potato Pie baker in North Carolina – perhaps the whole country – maybe the world!
I started this column today with a story about Molly so by the time you got to the end of the article you could catch your breath from laughing so hard. But I’m afraid my latest idea – Potato Pie – may have you howling again. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Catch your breath, as there’s still more to come about “Layers of Flavor.” The tables included above establish a framework for that discussion. Please remember to send your suggestions by email to
(as well as commenting below).
Peter's Blog, quick update
In a day or two we will be posting Part 4 of Bob Radcliffe's entertaining series on his quest for the perfect "tomato pie." We've been getting great comments on this, especially from people who have been to his Franklin Society events and have had Bob's pies and have now deified him (read the comments if you don't believe me). I can't wait to get to eastern Carolina and experience one of his Saturday night events.
In the meantime, I wanted to bring up something I've noticed in our comments sections: we're starting to get a lot of spam and phishing stuff in there so I will start going back through some of the older ones and delete them out. We've accumulated such a large archive over these past three years that most people don't go back into the older posts, but lately I've seen some legitimate questions coming through them with pizza questions, such as whether it's okay to use baking parchment in the wood-fire oven (yes, but it will burn up pretty quickly, so I advise against it), and how to add sourdough starters to traditional pizza doughs, and the like. Since I don't often get to go back through the posts that we've taken off the front page (but keep in our archives so that you can access them by using the buttons on the top of the home page), I suggest that if you have a question for me, rather than for the group or a particular author of a post, write to me at
(likewise, you can write to Brad at
, or to us in general at
). Please allow time for a reply, though, as I am on the road a lot, as is Brad, so we don't check our mailboxes everyday. Also, for those interested in sourdough, I advise you to take a look at Richard Miscovich's new sourdough video course at www.craftsy.com and also to avail yourself of Pizza Quest contributor Teresa Greenway's website, www.northwestsourdough.com
Finally, some personal news: I should soon have a press release to share here on a new book project I'll be starting this week that will keep me quite occupied for the next 2 to 3 years. Can't say more than that until the release is approved, but be on the look out. Also, this week marks the final stage of the editorial process for my upcoming book, Bread Revolution, before it goes off to the printer in two weeks. The book will be out in October. You can read more details on Amazon and the B&N sites, as they've already started taking pre-orders. In other words, lots going on, but we promise to keep posting new things for you here too -- Brad's recipes, Bob's ongoing saga, hopefully some new posts on going pro by John Arena and other guest columnists, and my own posts about the sprouted flour movement that is chronicled in Bread Revolution (yes, you will get sneak previews right here even before it hits the stands).
So keep checking back and thank you for all your support. Our readership numbers keep going up and we love having you on the journey with us. More soon....
Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, Part 3
PART THREE: TRY IT, YOU’LL LIKE IT
Let’s talk tomatoes:
Like Mikey in the old cereal TV commercial, here in the South, when it comes to tomatoes it’s often a pleading, “Try it, you’ll like it.” That’s because down South, leafy greens and butter beans take center stage, leaving tomatoes relegated to salads and canned spaghetti sauce. I first had to decide which tomatoes to buy. Heck, why would you buy them, when you can grow them -– right? I’m sure most of you aren’t looking to hold a tomato taste test, but that’s what I did.
In 2004, I ordered 18 different plum and paste tomato varieties of seed, with enticing names like Cour di Bue, Costuluto Fiorentino, Opalka, Polish Linguisa and Viva Italia. Can’t you just taste those beauties? I planted the seeds, transplanted and secretly labeled the rows and, about three months later, sand-bagged Nick Thomas, a food writer at the time for the Raleigh News and Observer, into a blind taste testing of the lot by promising him exclusive rights to the story. I also arranged to take several baskets to a local Italian restaurant (since closed) to make tomato sauce.
Well, what do you think happened? Nick concluded that San Marzano’s were the best. Yet, although he loved those varietals, the restaurateur found it was too much trouble to cook them down.
Subsequently, I experimented by growing different strains of San Marzano’s, but just wasn’t happy with the taste. I grew them outdoors; I grew them in a greenhouse; I tried different organic approaches with fertilizers and irrigation schemes for watering. Forgive me, again, but I cussed a lot – thankfully, no one was nearby (well maybe Kerry, my wife).
I can grow tomatoes, but the soil and climate here just isn’t their favorite. Then I realized, “Wouldn’t an agricultural state like North Carolina be growing tomatoes instead of tobacco, cotton, soy beans, wheat, sweet potatoes and collards if it could?” Dah!
Alas, I finally understood what terroir meant. It certainly has nothing to do with North Carolina being an English Colony instead of a French one. Terroir is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology, and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products. Wine connoisseurs know it permeates the grapes. It’s simple: Italian tomatoes have terroir, and my Rocky Ford tomatoes do not! Italy’s San Marzano tomatoes simply taste better!
It’s embarrassing for me to admit how much time and effort I wasted trying to grow this crucial ingredient for my Tomato Pie. What had seemed like a sensible idea was,in fact, a big bust! But you only learn from your mistakes. Chef Sean Brock on the “Taste of a Chef” would have been proud of me, but I can see the tears of laughter coming down his face, and hear him howling as he reaches for another brew. Always use the food ingredients that taste the best.
So, we now buy imported San Marzano Tomatoes from Italy by the case each month, from Philadelphia of course, when Kerry travels there for work. The Rosa brand we use are imported into Philadelphia and Baltimore, while the Cento brand is available in Camden, N.J., just over the Ben Franklin Bridge. They are always intrigued when Kerry arrives at the warehouse as their only North Carolina customer yet who always gets their “best” cash discount price (of course). By the way, I also have to admit that these imported tomatoes cost less to buy than if I were to grow them. (Wow, will I be happy to finish telling you my tomato story.)
Each can is opened, the fruits individually cleaned and broken into pieces, and then adjusted with sugar (if need be). Every can tastes different – I adjust each can separately and then combine the tomatoes together. Handling and cleaning each fruit is usually deemed unnecessary by everyone else. Yet I always do this! (Maybe it’s just the training I received at Jack’s Firehouse, the many hours I spent picking crab, cleaning squid, and de-boning salmon.) No other spices or seasoning are added; no salt or pepper nor any olive oil. I like to prepare my tomatoes a day ahead and refrigerate them overnight. They simply taste better this way. “Last-minute” tomatoes just lack the flavor I want. I always return the tomatoes to room temperature before using them.
Yes, this is a Tomato Pie: it’s all about the bread and the tomatoes. The care I take with the tomatoes seems in keeping with their overall importance. What do you think?
Now, let’s talk about cheese. I was going to discuss cheese later, but after my tomato-growing debacle, I decided to continue my confessional and get my embarrassing stuff out of the way. Does this introduction sound familiar? Heck, why would you buy cheese when you can make it – right? Try to contain your laughter, as it can become contagious.
Before setting out to make cheese, I had to decide exactly what type of cheese I would use. Obviously mozzarella, but low-fat, skim, part-skim, whole milk or what? After cooking pies with them all, I found that whole milk was the only one that did not separate on the pie. Hands down, always buy whole milk mozzarella! I have made pies with both fresh cow's milk and buffalo mozzarella but the cost and softness usually rule them out for me because I am typically making about 40 pies at a BreadWorks Event. For a small family affair, though, cost is not a factor. Since I always slice my cheese and never grate it, I buy 1-pound blocks, the firmer the better. I always keep it refrigerated and cut it while it's cold into thin (less than 1/8”) slices. I usually find that I can prepare about 5 pies per package.
I want you to know, though, that it really is easy to make your own mozzarella cheese. For a modest investment of $25, you can buy a kit that includes a dairy thermometer, muslin, citric acid, vegetable rennet tablets and cheese salt – and you are ready to go. (I like to shop online at the New England Cheese making Supply Company www.cheesemaking.com.)
A gallon of milk will make about a pound of mozzarella. The big problem is finding and buying good whole milk. I own beef, not dairy cattle, so no advantage there. I am not about to get a dairy cow and have one more thing I have to do every day (milk the cow). The sale of raw, unprocessed milk is illegal in most states. Folks get around this by owning a share of a milk cow, and therefore technically are not selling the milk, but own it.
When I was a kid, we still had milk delivered in glass jugs to a milk box on our side porch. The jugs were sealed with a paper disk. When it was below freezing outside, the cream would rise to the top and push the lid off. When it was spring you could taste the field “onions” the cows were eating in the milk. The milk was rich (high butter fat content) and the kind that you wish you could find today to make cheese – but good luck! Buy the least homogenized and pasteurized milk you can find; it works better for cheese making.
Actually, I was quite successful making mozzarella and would recommend you try it. I just found that the cheese I could buy saved me a lot of time without sacrificing taste. I do however sometimes make special flavored mozzarella with basil and assorted herbs which add a unique layer of flavor to the Pie.
So maybe I was being a bit paranoid, dreading the discussion of my experiences with cheese. I just so much wanted to be able to tell you to “make your own bread and cheese, and grow your own tomatoes.” Is that so weird?
Oddly enough, my best old Confederate friend, Joe Elmore, recently gave me a book titled “Weird New Jersey.” The thought of it makes him laugh out loud every time. I know he’s really laughing at me, but that’s OK, I find him pretty funny too. I haven’t found the “Weird North Carolina” book yet, but it’s got to be out there somewhere!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this posting. Come back for my next installment, “A Match Made in Heaven,” where I’ll discuss toppings. Get ready to laugh and hear about my “ace-in-the-whole”.
I hope you had a chance to look at my Rack o' Pork recipe. If not, I'll wait a second to continue here.
Go on, go back and read it. I won't wait for you to make it, but I hope after reading that recipe and this pizza recipe that you'll be making plans to pick up a rack this weekend.
It isn't easy coming up with pizza recipes to make and write about. Actually, it's probably easier to come up with the recipes to make and eat than to write about them. Actually, as I am writing this, my mind wandered and I just stumbled on an idea for the next firing of my Primavera oven. That part is easy. The ideas pop into my head. I imagine the sum of the parts, the hot pizza, and that first taste of crusty cheesy goodness and know the pieces will come together nicely. I then have to force myself to sit down and ramble on about my successful pie. Fun stuff.
So, back to this baby. I had found that recipe for the Roasted Rack of Pork on a website called Chef Dennis and thought that it would be an interesting meal and mostly a new challenge to cook in my wood burning oven. *Link to Recipe. Pizzas are relatively easy. Get the fire really freakin' hot and slide the pizza in and keep a close eye on it - turn it a couple of times over about 90-120 seconds and you're a genius. It's not that simple to come out with a great pizza in the end, but falling off those rails of perfection starts when you make the dough and continue right up until you pull it out of the oven. Pizza is simple, but because it's so simple I think that's what makes it so hard to perfect. I've been at this a while and whenever I get one that rises above the others approaching "better than normal", I am amazed. It's not that I did anything different - at least not anything I can really nail down as the moment that made the difference. It's just a lot of little things that went right.
Anyway, I opened my fridge a couple of days after making the rack of pork and saw the left overs. The light bulb went off. Why not? Let's see how this stuff will groove on a pizza. I've got dough. How about some herb oil and some of my ever-growing and ready garden cherry tomatoes for the sauce. I've got some English White Cheddar and some soft "fresh" mozzarella and even some fresh basil on hand. When making one pizza, there is almost always a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th on it's heels.
This first rack of pork pizza is going into the regular oven. The next into the Primavera WFO. Don't even begin to think I have too much time on my hands! It's just about taking advantage of small windows of time!
- Peter's Neo-Neopalitan Dough
- Peter's Herb Oil
- Brad's Garden Cherry Tomatoes sliced in half
- Grated English White Cheddar
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Left over Rack-o-Pork with Montreal Seasoning - thinly sliced *Recipe Link
- Chopped fresh basil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Chili Oil if you so desire as a finishing touch
To the Pizza:
Spread your dough
Drizzle with a little herb oil and add the halved cherries. If you haven't noticed this combination appears on a lot of my pizzas. It's become a favorite for a couple of reasons. First, I have these two tomato plants that won't stop producing these beautiful little tomatoes. Second, they are fresh and as "local" as I can get - being only a few steps from my kitchen. Last, but not least, the tomatoes are a great topping, but also become essentially a sauce with the herb oil as well. Delicious!
Spread some grated cheddar and add a few pinches of the fresh mozzarella to blend with it, which also serves to smooth the cheddar out as it melts. The cheddar is not as smooth when melts as grated mozzarella, so the creamier texture and milkiness of the fresh soft mozzarella is a nice addition to the cheese blend.
Lay the sliced pork around the pizza.
Into the oven!
I have my oven producing well browned pizzas in about 6 minutes. I have a few pizza stones and a pizza steel sitting in there, which I think helps concentrate the heat around the pizza (along with the convection function of the oven). This crust came out nice and even and almost starting to char in a few places.
Time to go...
Add a little Sea Salt and Pepper to taste and sprinkle on the chopped basil.
Drizzle some chili oil on the pizza and enjoy!
*As always send me your emails, comments on the site, and some pictures of your own pizzas!
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...
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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.