Oh well, you can't win 'em all
As many of you already know, I did not win the New Yorker Caption Contest this week, though I did get many e-mails from folks saying they thought I should have. But the winning caption was very funny and I figured it might very well win when I first saw it in the finals, and it did. Was it because the author had more Twitter followers or Facebook fans than me? I don't know, but I bear him no malice because, well, his caption was quite brilliant and mine was, well, it's not for me to say, though I liked it. I can't recreate the actual cartoon drawing here -- it belongs to the New Yorker and they, naturally, want you to visit it on their site (I gave the link in my previous Peter's Blog a few weeks ago). But, for those who are wondering, it was a drawing of man in a restaurant, with a plate of fish in front of him, a whole fish, head on, mouth open, looking at him. My caption was: "Or, I could teach you how to fish."
The winning caption was, "Just water for me, thanks."
I hate losing at anything but, in this case, I can live with it because that other caption made me laugh out loud. And, hey, there's a new caption contest every week so I'll try again -- when the muse delivers something witty. But, next time, I'll try to make it something that causes me -- and everyone else -- to laugh out loud. Till then, I will take solace in the old balm, "It was such an honor just to be a nominee...."
The Challenge Pizza, The Big Reveal
So, if you've been following our webisode series, we've been building up to the moment when the pizza, created by Kelly Whitaker and Alan Henkin of Basta, along with me and the Pizza Quest team -- who came up with the Germainia Malted Dough -- finally meet the beer created by Patrick Rue and his Bruery team. In the previous segment, we showed the Bruery guys two different pizzas and they chose the white one, which you will see again in this segment. The brewers then went to work and came up with a one of a kind biere de garde, which they called Birra Basta (we love that name!), made with citrus peels, roasted zucchini, a secret blend of hops and malts and other spices. Finally, months later, we all met in Denver, a few blocks from the Great American Beer Festival, at the Summit Beer Garden for, what we've been calling, The Big Reveal. This is the moment when the beer and the pizza finally come face to face -- right into our faces, of course -- and we find out if, indeed, a beer can be inspired by food in the same manner as food is often inspired by beer. As you will see, the answer is a resounding YES.
As you watch, make note of the incredibly beautiful amber luster of the beer -- it seems to glow and to scream out "Drink me!" And note, of course, the wonderful burrata cheese, white anchovies, squash blossoms, and Meyer lemon puree on the pizza, topped by dressed arugula and fennel pollen salt. What you can't experience through the video, sadly, is the unique, rich, toasty flavor of the beer -- the grilled zucchini in the wort provided a deep bass note that, in my opinion, forged a unique bridge between the pizza and the beer. At one point, as you will see, it seemed hard to tell where the beer ended and the pizza began, as their flavors merged seamlessly. Also, you will want to one day make that Germainia Malt dough that, from the pizza side, provided the same bass note that the zucchini did for the beer. I love this dough! I will re-post the recipe for it in a few weeks but, just to tease things a little, be on the look out here for an announcement that our friends at Central Milling will be packaging and making available, in the near future, a kit with all the ingredients for this dough (along with a few other signature Pizza Quest dough mixes too). We will announce it right here on the home page as soon as we have all the details worked out.
While we wish all of you could have been there to taste this once in a lifetime combination (the Bruery has told us this beer was a one time thing, so, as the saying goes, you had to be there -- sorry!), at least enjoy it vicariously through this webisode segment, The Big Reveal, and let it inspire you to challenge your local micro-breweries to a similar throw-down or, at least, to stage your own inventive pizza/beer tastings.
Note: We have one bonus segment left to show you in this Beer Challenge series, coming up in a few weeks. As you will see here, we decided to tweak the pizza with pork belly, so we want you to see how that one turned out too. Still to come, so check back....
Grill Smoked Yellowtail Pizza
The perfect piece of fish!
Fresh piece of Yellowtail
A little Pepper
Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
Perfection is not easy and once achieved is no longer perfection because it seems there is always something better coming. That's interesting to think about. Have you ever seen the most beautiful girl you thought you had ever seen in your life? How many times? Funny isn't it.
If I want that perfect piece of fish I will take out my Weber Smokey Mountain Bullet and use it as a base for setting up a fire over lump charcoal and then add in some wood chips before laying the fish on the grill. I just think a gas grill can't get you there. The open fire, the coals, the smoking wood just bring something more basic, or raw to the cooking experience. To me, this is something I notice more with fish than with meat or chicken. I think fish is simply more delicate than our other favorite proteins. The timing has to be just right to get it off the grill so it can ease itself to the finish line on the plate. The flavors are more subtle also, which is perhaps why I notice the wood and smoke flavors so much more. A perfectly cooked piece of fish is about balance.
I didn't have time to do this one on the Weber though. So, as a substitute I used my gas grill and accompanied it with a lot of wood chips in my smoke box. This baby was thick. I wasn't timing it, but I was nervously watching it because I was going to take this piece of fish and use some of it on a pizza. I definitely didn't want it to go past that critical moment, and I actually wanted to pull it off the grill before that moment to make sure it was moist.
I usually test my fish by pressing on the thickest part with a finger to sense the resistance. It's a guessing game, but you can get a good sense of when it's done this way with practice.
I laid this thick, beautiful piece of fish down and closed the lid. I did some more prep for what seemed like moments. I was nervous about this thing for some reason. I felt an urge to get out and turn it. But, I waited. I cut up some tomatoes. "You should let it sit there. Wait for it," I kept saying to myself. I looked at the tomatoes and decided how many I would slice before I went back to check. Finally! I opened the lid and turned the fish. It was looking good! So, I put the lid back down to keep the smoke rolling around.
After a few more minutes, I did my finger test and decided that this piece of fish was done. It was time to rest it on the plate, covered in foil, as it finished cooking.
Grilled Smoked Yellowtail Pizza with Fresh Cherry Tomatoes and Ricotta
A "Brew in Germania" Pizza Dough - or any favorite dough!
Halved Cherry Tomatoes
Lemon Garlic Aioli Sauce *See below
Grill it (see above) and set it aside. This can even be cooled when you put it on the pizza after the pizza has baked.
The Lemon Garlic Aioli:
I found an aioli recipe that looked good. There are tons of them online. Here is a link to the one I used from About.com Culinary Arts: *Link but you can use your favorite version Make this beforehand and it can sit in the fridge.
Spread your dough
Drizzle with Olive Oil.
Place pinches of the ricotta cheese around the dough. Follow with enough tomatoes to make sure you balance their function as a sauce and topping. When you do bite into them, you get that explosion of flavor. *See photos and then feel free to ignore what I just wrote and add as many as you want! I try to place as many as I can cut side down, because they steam and really hold in the moisture in the oven and are extra juicy when you bite into them.
Add the torn up, or chopped basil leaves.
I was firing this pizza on my grill also. I used the Baking Steel as the base and my Forno Bravo Stone elevated above it as a refractory element to help hold the heat in when I opened the grill lid. I also set a fresh fire box of wood chips ablaze to add some real fire and smoke to the cooking set up.
Into the pizza grill it went.
I had to pull this out quickly because the steel bottom was so hot, it would have burnt the bottom. So, the dough didn't quite get the rise I was hoping for.
The Finishing Touches:
Pull off flakes of the yellowtail and spread around the pizza. Drip the aioli on top. In a sense, this pizza is upside down. The sauce is on top!
Stop the presses! OMG! TPII!!! Owen! Get over here and try this. In fact, it was so good, I wanted to make another. The dough was a little too burnt on the bottom. So, I wanted to give it another shot. I started the next on the top deck, the FB Baking Stone, and then moved it down to the steel to finish. This helped the crust situation and confirmed that This Pizza Is Insane (TPII)!!! I hope you were wondering what the heck that meant. If not, I feel sorry for you, but I'm impressed at the same time.
The only issue with this pizza was the imperfect grill set up I had to bake it. I will be visiting this one again and working further toward pushing this toward perfection - which can never be achieved and will therefore allow me to enjoy this pizza over and over again on the journey.
When trying to pick the great pizza cities of the world there are a few places that I call the “usual suspects." Naples, for many reasons, is often considered number 1, followed by a chorus of voices shouting about New York, Chicago and, for the real pizza fans, New Haven. All of these places can make a legitimate claim to pizza supremacy but if you are serious about pizza you should consider adding another city to your bucket list. Sure, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Phoenix have become great pizza destinations but I’m thinking of a place a bit further south.
There is a city that most pizza fans don’t even think of that can make a strong case for being the Pizza World Headquarters and that place is (drum-roll)…Sao Paulo, Brazil. Wait New Yorkers, stop gnashing your teeth and keep reading. Think about it; first off, Sao Paulo has a multi- cultural population of 32 million people! The economy in Brazil is very strong, with a vibrant middle class that eats out often. And here’s the key part: Sao Paulo is full of Italians or, more accurately, people of Italian descent. That’s right, a recent survey showed that 30% of the college students in Sao Paulo claimed Italian heritage. In the early 1900’s, at the same time that Italians were pouring into the U.S., a huge number of paesani were headed to the warmer climate of Brazil, seeking work and opportunity. So, for many of the same reasons that pizza found its way to Brooklyn it also ended up in Brazil, and believe me it is thriving. There are 7,000 pizzerias in Sao Paulo alone. We’re not talking about low quality chain places either. The vast majority of these restaurants are wood-fired, artisan pizzerias offering hand crafted pizzas with unique toppings that reflect the abundance and diversity of Brazil’s food culture.
A few weeks ago I travelled with legendary pizzaiolo, Jonathon Goldsmith, of Chicago’s famed Spaccanapoli Pizzeria. I was invited to Sao Paulo to speak at "ConPizza," a gathering of 500 innovative and dedicated pizza makers from all over Brazil. I was brought in to teach, but the truth is the teacher became the student because the Brazilian pizza makers have a lot to offer and can hold their own with pizza exponents anywhere in the world. From delicious Pizza Ripieno (stuffed crust pizza) filled with the creamy Catupiry, a local cheese that’s great on just about anything, to the gorgeous Pepperoni Bread offered at my friend Carlos Zoppetti’s Pizzeria Bari, Brazilians are creating their own spin on pizza that is as much a reflection of their unique influences as Deep Dish is to Chicago.
Pizzerias in Brazil range from beautiful rustic places like Pizza No Roca, a multi award winning restaurant where they lovingly create world class pizzas using meats and produce raised on their own farm, to Veridianna, an opulent multi-level pizza palace that features a tuxedoed musician playing a grand piano on a glass stage. It would take a lifetime to visit all of the great pizzerias of Sao Paulo but it would be a life well spent. The passion and pride of pizza makers like Andre Cotta of Pizza Presto will make a believer out of you.
With the World Cup coming to Brazil, and fantastic espresso available on every corner, it’s a great time for every pizza explorer to head south.
I'm taking shameless advantage of this platform to let you know that a caption I submitted was chosen as a finalist in the weekly New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. It is only the second time I've ever tried entering and, frankly, I usually find it hard to come up with anything funny or clever, so I often pass. But this time it came to me in a flash, so I guess that's the secret!
You do not have to be a subscriber to vote but you do have to follow this link to register to vote, unless you already are registered. You don't have to choose mine unless you really think it is the best of the three finalists, but take a peek and let me know, right here in the Comments section, if it worked for you (or not). The voting ends Aug. 18th.
BTW, the prize is a full size version of the cartoon, signed by the artist, along with the winning caption. Now that seems like a mighty fine (and unique) prize to hang on the wall. Here's the link:
A brew in Germania Dough
Quite literally, this dough truly is a brew in Germania! I'm "working on" a keg of Firestone Double Barrel Ale. I've had it a while and been too busy to use it up! No time for friends to come help me get to the bottom of this keg. So, I thought I'd draw a pint or two and also use it in my Germania Flour blend from Central Milling.
I first tried this flour, which is officially called, Organic Germania Pizza Flour, when Peter decided to use it to make our Pizza Quest Signature Bruery Dough (as shown in a recent webisode); it is still one of my favorite pizza doughs. It's a little more difficult to acquire the malted barley crystal, which Peter used in the place of an actual beer, so I am using an actual beer as a substitute for my lack of malted barley crystal. Also, it's a fun way to make a pizza dough. What goes better with a pizza than a cold beer? It's a nice way to introduce the beer to the pizza before it comes out of the oven.
Central Milling's simple description for their Organic Germania Pizza Flour is: "Italian-German inspired rustic blend for pizza and flatbreads." I emailed Nicky Giusto of Central Milling and he told me the blend uses three types of flour: 00 Normal, Type 85 (T-85), and Pumpernickel. The mix of 00 Normal and T-85 is the rustic Italian "bit" because Nicky uses that blend for his ciabatta; the Pumpernickel is the German "bit," which makes it Germania (the word "German" in Italian). I love it!
There is definitely a rustic, country quality to this dough. I added some whole wheat flour to the pictured batch to enhance that even more. On top of that, if you've tasted the Firestone Double Barrel Ale, you will find the same flavor tones in the beer. So, I'm interested to see how this all comes out. As a sort of contro batch, I also am making the dough without the whole wheat to see the difference.
The dough is based on Peter's Country Pizza Dough, which is another great home pizza dough! If you saw my previous post, where I made a similar dough with the addition of some mesquite flour, you'll see I've adjusted my liquids a little. This time the dough handled more easily. I did a couple of stretch and folds after mixing, and popped the doughs into the fridge to allow them their own sweet time to get ready for some baking action.
I reduced the oil to 1 tbsp instead of 2, because the dough absorbs plenty more oil from the counter as I rolled it and stretched it and folded it. I also wanted to manage the stickiness of these doughs for ease. It's a little easier for me to add more liquid, if needed, than it is to add more flour to find the right balance (though Peter says he finds it easier to add flour to a sticky dough than water to a stiff dough, so I guess you'll have to decide for yourself) .
A Brew in Germania - The Pizza Dough
- 20 Oz of Central Milling's Germania Flour
- 4 Oz Whole Wheat Flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (0.18 oz.) instant yeast
(or 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast dissolved in the water)
- 2 teaspoons (0.5 oz.) kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz.) olive oil (optional)
- 1 tablespoon (0.75 oz.) honey (optional)
- 2 1/8 Cups (17 Oz) Beer - (A Firestone Double Barrel Ale if you have it or any malty ale)
*Alternatively, I made a second batch and only used the Germania Flour (24 oz). *See photos for the two examples.
Combine the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl and mix with a spoon. I like to do this to make sure the ingredients are well distributed before adding the liquid.
Add the olive oil and honey, if using, followed by the beer. (Note: At about 10AM it was too early to have a beer during my dough-making session, but I would be lying if I didn't say I did taste the beer a few times as the doughs came together. Again, it's an interesting connection when you taste how similar the flavor profiles of the beer and the dough are. There is a distinct yeasty nuttiness that comes across your tastebuds, once with a pinch of the newly formed dough and then again as the liquid beer washes through the scene. After all, beer is liquid bread -- as they say.)
Mix for about 1 minute to get the ingredients to come together. Let the dough rest for about 5 minutes and mix again for another minute until it's a relatively smooth ball that has come together.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled surface/counter. With a little oil on both the counter and on your hands, stretch and fold the dough into a ball and let it rest for another 5 minutes.
Then, stretch the dough again and fold it. Stretch it another direction and fold it onto itself again. Do this a few times and form the dough into a ball again. Place a bowl over it and let it rest for another 5 minutes on the counter.
Repeat this process 1 more times, maybe 2 depending on how it's setting up. It will become more firm and bouncy each time as the gluten begins to form.
Finally, form the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put the covered bowl in the fridge overnight for best results. Make sure to take the dough out of the fridge about 2 hours before you want to bake and form it into dough balls. In a rush, I will set a cold dough by my oven and try to get it to warm up a little quicker, but it's best to just let it come to room temperature on it's own.
Note: If you prefer, divide the dough as soon it is finished the last stretch and fold it into about 4 or 5 dough balls and place each ball into an oiled zip-lock bag, and they can go in the freezer for a few months. To use these later, pull them out of the freezer the day before you want to make pizza and place in the fridge. If making pizza that same day, you can, instead, place the frozen dough in the zip lock on the counter and allow a few hours to thaw. I would guess about 4 hours would get you close.
The Challenge Pizza, Final Selection
In our previous webisode we made two different pizzas for Patrick Rue and his team and challenged them to create a beer inspired by one of them. In this segment, you will see the choice that Patrick and his head brewer Tyler made, as well as an interesting discussion on the thinking behind all the choices. The red pizza was made with spiced pork jowl (guanciale), local pistachios, Mimolette cheese, fresh local mozzarella (Gioa brand), and Bianco-DiNapoli tomato sauce. The white pizza was made with buratta cheese (Bel Gioioso brand), squash blossoms, preserved lemons, white anchovies (baccarones), then topped with arugula that had been dressed with olive oil. It was then garnished with fennel pollen salt. Both pizzas were made on a malted "Germainia" dough (Germania is a unique flour blend, from our friends at Central Milling, that includes pumpernickel flour).
I'll let the video take it from here as we leave the Bruery team to create a beer inspired by their pizza choice. Next stop, Denver, and The Great American Beer Festival for what we are calling The Big Reveal. Enjoy!
Redondo Marinara Pizza with Clams
I decided to make up some clams for a friend's going away party. Mike is leaving again to go back to work on the TV show Grimm up in Portland, Oregon. I don't think of clams when I think of Mike. I don't think of food much either! Let's say he's a little less adventurous than some of us. But, since we're all gathering for a party, I decided that my contribution would be steamed clams with some great crusty bread. Maybe Mikey will try it and like it after all?!
I was up early, thinking about what to do. I browsed the internet for some ideas and remembered the clams we did at the Fire Within Pizza Conference using beer to steam the clams. My wheels were turning as I made my plan to head down to Quality Seafood Market, one of my favorite seafood places, down at the pier in Redondo Beach. What I like is that clams remind me of the East Coast or perhaps even something you'd find in the Pacific Northwest -- both with far more robust seafood cultures than here in Los Angeles. We do love our fish tacos here, but the "get your hands in there and tear apart your fresh steamed seafoods" just aren't as popular here. We have plenty of ocean, and great seafood, but culturally, it's just not as abundant and revered. Luckily, there are some cultures in our melting pot community that do love their seafood, and so, at least, you can find some great places like Quality Seafood.
I decided to not waste this opportunity to make a pizza for lunch before the party. I was just up in San Francisco and had an incredibly awesome spicy clam pizza at Pizzeria Delfina. Why not kill two birds with one bag of clams? As we sat having our morning coffee I talked my wife and daughter into joining me for a late morning trip to the pier. Clams baby! Clams!!
I got there around 10:30AM to find a relatively quiet scene at the fish market. It was before the lunch rush and, though open, the fish market was still in set-up mode. Some people were already tearing their fresh steamed delights apart and washing it all down with a variety of beverages as the marine layer fought for control over the harbor.
It took me a while to get served. Quality Seafood does a good amount of business selling their food to go as well as taking it out of the fresh tanks and steaming it or preparing it right there for you. I was only behind one gentleman, but he was ordering up a gargantuan feast of steamed shellfish and fresh sea urchin. He walked down the line selecting clams and muscles to add to his plates and, since it was early, the other guys were all busy getting other things done. No worries, I wasn't in a hurry. I took pictures and started eyeballing the oysters. While waiting, I ordered up a half dozen oysters and a beer - it was now approaching 11 AM, why not? It seemed fitting and would make for a better story, right?
I got my clams, enough for the party, and a pizza, and walked over to enjoy my oysters before we headed back. My wife and daughter don't eat that kind of seafood, so they were all mine and so we just sat and talked and enjoyed the morning. The pier would soon grow crowded as the sun began to win the battle over the misty marine layer. This time of year it's hard to find a time when the crowds haven't overrun our town, so it's nice to have a moment like this in the summer. It feels like home rather than a bustling tourist spot.
The oysters were fresh, cool, and with some Cholula Hot Sauce, and even a drizzle of beer over them -- they tasted fantastic! This was a great start to the day.
Off to make the pizza....
As I mentioned, I was up in San Francisco recently and made it to Pizzeria Delfina one night, where I had their Clam Pie. They used cherrystone clams out of the shell, tomato sauce, oregano, a little pecorino Romano and hot peppers. This was my inspiration for my claim pie. It was a bright, spicy tomato pie with a delicious crust and the perfect amount of clams. In a way, it's a perfect Marinara pizza -- a celebration of the sea.
Littleneck Clams with Chorizo and Jalapeño Pizza
- Dough - Drunken Mesquite Dough *Edit: I checked my notes while posting a new recipe demo and realized that this pizza was actually made with my Brew in Germania Dough. With any dough this pizza is a winner and I will be playing with this one for a while!
- Bianco DiNapoli Hand Crushed Organic Tomatoes
- Steamed Chorizo and Jalepeno Clams
- Fresh Italian Parsley
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Grated Parmesan
- Littleneck, or other suitable fresh clams
- Purple Onion chopped
- Jalapeño chopped
- Spicy Spanish Chorizo sliced
- Chopped Garlic (to taste)
- Chopped Italian Parsley
- Hand crushed tomatoes (Bianco Dinapoli if you are lucky enough to find any)
- Favorite beer (In this case, my keg was putting out a Firestone Double Barrel Ale)
- Fresh Squeezed Lemon
This is going to make the topping and the sauce for the pizza! It's pretty darn delish!
Saute the chopped garlic, onions and jalapeños until just soft -- about 3 minutes.
Add in the sliced chorizo and continue to sauté for another few minutes. You'll see the ingredients all start to become one tasty looking base for the clams.
Add the clams (in the shell).
Add some hand crushed tomatoes.
Pour in some beer. *Note: I poured in enough to cover about 1/2 way up the clams. Once we remove the clams, we'll let this sauce continue to cook down to concentrate the flavors for the sauce.
Add fresh squeezed lemon juice to taste.
Once the liquid is boiling, cover the pot for about 5-6 minutes or until the clams open up. Once this happens, add some more fresh chopped parsley and spoon the clams out into a separate bowl to cool. Don't overcook them, they are going into the oven as well!
Continue to boil the sauce with the lid off the pot. You can use less beer to make this faster if you prefer. The clams will steam with less. You can also add more tomatoes to make a thicker sauce, but I was going for a combination of a pizza sauce and a clam sauce.
Spread your dough.
Spoon out some of your Clam/Beer/Chorizo/Jalapeno Sauce/topping onto the pizza dough.
Add your clams (pulled from their shells) onto the pizza
Sprinkle with a little Parmesan Cheese
Drizzle with a little EVO
Slide her into the oven!
Add some more fresh chopped parsley.
Drizzle with a little EVO and squeezed lemon juice and serve!
The take away:
It's a nice day when you start it off with your wife and daughter (my son was sleeping at home) with a walk on the pier. It's nicer still when you have some fresh oysters and a light crisp beer while there. And, it is even better when you come home and whip a pizza this good out of your home oven!
Let's just think about this sauce. You may say there's some stuff going on here. I was lucky to start with the best tomatoes you can find (Bianco Dinapoli), but we added purple onion, garlic, a relatively spicy, salty, cured spanish chorizo, jalapeño, beer and clams to it! Let's just say it was good! Notice I didn't "season" the sauce. No need. There are flavors and seasoning coming from all angles here.
The tips/edges of the clams even charred, which was a nice textural note. With a final drizzle of lemon this pizza rocked!
This story doesn't take us into the night when I steamed up a huge batch of the clams and served them with some toasted bread for delivery and "mop up" purposes. I will however tell you that Mike did try the clams and guess what? He liked them! He liked them! Mikey likes them!
I think I'll call this the Redondo Marinara Pizza!
*I had a few clams left over and made a second pizza. My son Owen and I devoured them. My wife and daughter watched.
Enjoy...I took lots of pictures for this one!
Peter's Blog, My Four Minute Steaks!
Here it is, as promised, a pictorial guide to the best steaks I've ever had, for a fraction of the cost of Morton's, Peter Luger, Ruth's Chris, and all the others. Of course, you need the super high heat of a wood-fired oven, such as this sweet little Primavera 60 in my back driveway next to the garden. I made these for a dinner party for my wife Susan's birthday; we served a total of twelve people (including ourselves), and I could only fit in two steaks at a time, but it was no problem getting everyone their own steak within a few minutes of each other.
My friend, Patrick Taylor, took these photos of me in action so, of course, we made our steaks last. As a result, I really only had to get the first ten up to the dinner table to get everyone else started. By the time they had filled their plates with the steaks, salad, and Susan's crispy rosemary garlic potatoes (a house specialty, served at almost every party we have), Patrick and I were on our way to the table with our own medium rare rib eyes. They cooked perfectly in one minute on each side!
I use to call this method my "four minute steaks," because they usually take two minutes per side when the steaks are cut to a 1 1/4-inch thickness. But, for this event, I had them cut to just under an inch thick, so they cooked much faster. A couple of people asked for theirs to be well done (God only knows why, but this was no time to be judgmental), so I did theirs first. Two minutes on each side. Then the rest were mediums or medium rares, so we rolled back to 90 seconds on each side for the mediums. For the medium rares, yes, one minute per side!!
Before you view all the photos, here are a few tips that make all the difference:
--Use rib eyes, cut to the thickness you prefer. I think the marbling and flavor is ideal, even better than NY Strips or Porter Houses (but that's up to you if you prefer a different cut). Grass fed steaks, though a healthier option, tend to have less marbling and, so, come out tougher -- use a well marbled piece of meat from a reputable source. You don't need "prime" beef but don't go for the cheap grades either. "Choice," beef, from a quality meat market or butcher, will be great
--Get the oven roaring hot and then push back the coals and clear a space for your cast iron pan or pans (my little oven can only accommodate one pan but yours might handle two). Let the pan get white hot, at least five minutes or longer in the oven.
--Be sure to have heavy duty oven mitts and gloves. I wore a pottery kiln glove and then slipped that same hand into an oven mitt, and that just barely gave me enough protection to grip the hot pan.
--Have a metal table standing by to receive the hot pan when you set it down (or set it into another cast iron pan, not hot, to protect your table). I surround my work area with portable metal and wooden tables so that I have plenty of surfaces to work with, but only a metal table for the hot pan.
--Use a timer to keep track. A few seconds of distraction can turn a rare steak into an ember.
--To prep the steaks, brush both side with olive oil (not butter, which will burn) and then generously season both sides with kosher or sea salt, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. You really don't need anything else (fresh garlic will burn). You won't need A-1 or Worcestershire Sauce, but we always put it on the table for those who absolutely must have it (but no ketchup!!). I can't overstate this: be generous with the salt and pepper -- it will make a fabulous crust when it gets seared into the meat.
--Once out of the oven, let the steaks sit for at least five minutes before serving, and for even up to fifteen for thicker cuts, in order for the juices to redistribute back into the meat . If you like the Ruth's Chris trick of melting a pad of seasoned butter on the top of the piping hot steak, feel free, but we found no need for it.
--We served 8 ounce steaks, which is why they came out thinner than my usual 1 1/4 inches. If you like thick, juicy steaks, have them cut into one pound units (about 1 1/4 inches thick) and cook for the full two minutes on each side (maybe add 15 to 30 seconds per side if you prefer well done or medium well). But, for large groups like ours, the thinner, faster cooking cuts worked out well.
If you have your own method or tricks, please feel free to share them with us right here in the Comments section. If you want to send photos, write to me at
and include your shots.
Now, on to the photos….
Peter's Blog July 5th, 2013
Welcome back and I hope you all had a wonderful Fourth of July!
I've been getting requests to describe again how I do the 4 minute steaks in my Forno Bravo Primavera 60 wood-fired oven (of course, these can be made in any size W-F oven but I happen to have the 60). We are just a couple of days from putting on a steak dinner for my wife's birthday so I'm going to ask one of the guests to take some photos of me in the process, which I will post next week along with explanations of the steps. As you may recall, I have called these steaks the best I've ever had and attribute it mainly to the intensely blazing 1,000 degree F. oven heat (and, of course, reasonably high quality rib eyes). This promises to be a lot of fun! Stay tuned....
Also, we have new recipes and guest columns coming over the next few weeks, as well as the ongoing video saga of our pizza challenge with The Bruery. We've been posting these webisodes gradually, to stretch out the suspense, so check back from time to time for the next installment, which should be soon.
One other request: I've noticed that there a number of "fast casual" pizzerias opening up around the country, such as Blaze, 800 Degrees, Pizza Pizzeria, Uncle Maddio's, and many others. Most of them are modeled on the Chipotle concept, working yourself down a line to build your own pizza and, then, they bake them in a wood-fired or other oven and deliver it to your table. If you have been to any of these new concepts I would love to hear your thoughts on the quality and your overall experience. The "fast casual" model is sweeping the restaurant world and the big question for many of us is what impact they will have on the artisan pizza world that they aspire to emulate. Will this be the beginning of a new surge in high quality pizzas or is it a lowering of the bar? Your thoughts are welcome, right here in the "comments" section. Thanks! (Note: If anyone wants to write a more extensive "Guest Column" on this subject please write to me directly at
Finally, for those who may be new here, you can still sign up for my free video course on making artisan pizza in a home oven. The course also includes free downloadable recipes that you can print out. If you haven't already subscribed, go to www.craftsy.com/pizza . It even includes a gluten-free recipe. We're up to nearly 43,000 subscribers already, and I think nearly every question that can be asked has been asked, in the Q&A section (though you may think of a new one), so it really is a wealth of useable knowledge and a great connection to a growing community of fellow pizza freaks.
I'll be back in a few days with the steak report!
Drunken Mesquite Dough
What do you do with some Firestone Double Barrel Ale, Fire Roasted Western Honey-Mesquite Flour and a need for pizza? Well the answer is simple: you make some of my desert-inspired Mesquite Dough. However, you not only sip on your beer while making it, but you make the dough with some of your beer!
I set out to just make the dough, and took some pictures of the set-up because it just seemed like a "cool" thing to do. Or, maybe it's because I often take pictures and blog about what I do around the kitchen? You decide. Anyway, as this dough came together it turned out to be a wet one. So, I started taking some more pictures as I went along. Here at Pizza Quest we see a lot of comments and I also get a lot of personal questions about making dough, and one recurring question is how to handle a sticky wet dough? And this one was definitely sticky and not just tacky. I must have simply added too much beer.
I remember when I first started making my own pizza dough how it scared the heck out of me when I encountered a really wet/sticky dough. If you haven't handled much dough, the sticky dough syndrome can intimidate you enough to stay away from the whole dough-making thing for years. Years!! If you're hungry and determined, then maybe you will fight through it. You'll see in the photos that I added flour and kept stretching and folding this dough to get it to the right consistency. I tried to do so as little adjusting as possible, but it was a pretty wet, beer soaked blob of flour. Each time I performed the "Stretch and Fold" it got a little firmer.
This dough is based on Peter's Neo-Neopolitan Dough, which is a great home pizza dough! It's truly the easiest, and I always get great results with it in my home oven. So, when I tweaked it for my original Mesquite Dough, Peter had suggested using about 10% Mesquite flour in my quest to create a desert-inspired pizza. That dough came out amazingly well and was a perfect platform for that particular pizza, which I blogged about awhile back. The mesquite flour gives the dough an earthy, nutty flavor, but it's also very light and smooth tasting. The mesquite flour actually makes the whole dough a little more velvety, if that makes sense. So here's the latest version, with me pushing the envelope as far as I could to see where it would take me.
For more information and fun here are the links to my original Mesquite Dough Pizzas.
The Hwy 15 Pizza: *Link
A Wandering Desert Road Pizza: *Link
Drunken Mesquite Dough
- 22.6 Oz (just short of 4 3/4 cups) of Unbleached Bread Flour
- 2.4 Oz (about a mesquite twig tip over - half a cup) of Fire Roasted Western Honey Flour
- 1 1/4 teaspoons (0.14 oz.) instant yeast
(or 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast dissolved in the water)
- 2 teaspoons (0.5 oz.) kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz.) olive oil (optional)
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 oz.) honey (optional)
- 2 1/4 Cups (18 Oz) Beer - A Firestone Double Barrel Ale in this case
(A little less if using the honey and, or oil)
Combine the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl first and mix with a spoon.
Add the olive oil and honey if using followed by the beer.
Mix for about 1 minute to get the ingredients to come together. Let the dough rest for about 5 minutes and mix again for another minute until it's a relatively smooth ball that has come together.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled surface/counter. With a little oil on your hands fold the dough into a ball and let it rest for another 5 minutes.
Here's where my dough pictorial goes off the tracks! You can see that this initial dough is super sticky! It's impossible to roll/fold this dough with my hands. I had to use an oiled dough scraper to get it off the counter and try to make it into a ball. You'll also see in the photos that the ball was flat and just kept spreading out under it's own weight. It didn't sit up like a standard dough ball because it was so moist.
To handle a dough this wet, I had to add a generous sprinkle of flour to the work surface and, thus, to the dough. Once added, I performed another series of stretching and folding and let it rest again. It took more than the couple stretch and folds to get this dough to a place where it could be handled. You can see it sticking to the counter. After the dry flour gets incorporated and sucked up by the wetness, the moisture still comes forth and takes over. So, you just have to keep at it. Add a little more flour. Stretch and fold and let it rest.
This dough took about 4 rotations to get it to where I could stop and the dough still remained super supple, but now I could handle it (of course, if I had cut back on the water -- or the beer -- by about 1/4 cup I might not have had to make all these adjustments).
But the point of this post is to demonstrate how to work through an issue that can easily come up if you incorrectly measure ingredients, or are dealing with a wet dough.
So, if decide to make this dough, you may want to cut back the liquid just a little and you won't have quite the wet experience I had, but will still come out with an amazing tasting dough. The flavor is nutty and light and, I want to add, the Double Barrel Ale brought out a maltiness that was terrific.
You can see below in the gallery how I had to keep adding a little flour and working the dough until it finally found the right balance. It still remained a "wet" dough and baked up nicely in my home oven. I hope this helps some of you get through one of these experiences. A little music in the background and a beer in your left hand helps!
"Another Breakfast Pizza" recipe: *Link
The Signature Challenge Pizza
When Kelly Whitaker and Al Henkin, of Boulder's wonderful brick oven restaurant, Basta, collaborated with me and our Pizza Quest team to create two pizzas, one red and one white, to challenge Patrick Rue and his Bruery team, we came up with a couple of very strong contenders. You can hear, as they explain the rationale and sourcing they put into each of their ingredients, how much thought went into these pizzas. You'll see guanciale (specially cured but not smoked bacon), squash blossoms, local pistachios, white anchovies, lemon preserve, fresh pollen dust, great cheeses, Bianco-DiNaoli tomato sauce (and notice how bright that sauce is -- awesome stuff!), and our special, signature dough made with Central Milling -00- flour, bumped up a notch with a nice shot of crystal malt. (Note, we are currently in discussions with the folks at Central Milling to package up a blended dry mix for this dough that you can buy -- stay tuned, we'll announce it here when it's ready to ship).
More importantly, as we've tried to do in many of our webisodes, our goal is to bring you with us into the creative process and, hopefully, stimulate your own creative juices. This segment takes us up to the moment when we let Patrick and his brewers taste the pizzas and choose which one they will use as the inspiration for a totally new and original beer, to be paired with the pizza at the Great American Beer Festival a few months later. In other words, things are heating up as we get closer to the moment of truth. Stay tuned....
(Note from Peter: John O'Hanlon, a serious home baker and long time correspondent, sent me this story of his recent quest to make a killer vollkornbrot (translation: 100% whole grain, German style rye bread). His passion and determination inspired me to ask his permission to share his story and his recipe with you, so here it is. Let us know if you try making this bread -- we'd love to hear your results.)
Each morning during a recent stay in Salzburg, we enjoyed our hotel’s dazzling displays of fresh breads at the buffet. A special favorite was a whole grain loaf; hearty, moist, dense, seed filled and topped that was baked in long, narrow pans.
On return, we searched in vain for a recipe. Our waitress had called it “Kornspitz,” which we discovered, was a proprietary grain mix sold by an Austrian baker’s supplier that is used in several breads; its brief description mentioned rye and wheat flour, as well as bruised rye, wheat, and soy grain, wheat malt, linseed, and salt. Armed with this information and our observations, we began to reverse engineer a suitable approximation.
The original was clearly a rye-based sourdough, dark in color, and filled with pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds, as well as shredded carrots, chopped soybeans, chopped rye and wheat grains, and then topped with pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, and brown flax seeds. This amateur baker (me) asked Peter Reinhart for advice, since I had never made rye sourdough and was unfamiliar with German and Austrian constructions. Peter directed me to his pineapple juice rye sourdough, as well as some excellent books filled with European whole grain formulas. Off to our local library!
A three-part construction was the starting point: wild yeast rye sourdough, soaker, and wheat dough. We used a firm, or stiff, rye mother starter sourdough; Roggenstursauerteig in German, a commonly used Austrian rye starter.
Soaker ingredients were initially scaled in equal portions, but first the grains must be pulverized. Austrian breads use the term schrot, meaning cut with knives, like steel cut oats, rather than ground like coffee. That is not easily accomplished. Brew suppliers use burr grinders. The oily nature of soybeans makes them an unwelcome guest in a grinder. Since small quantities are required, a blender was used. Briefly pulse, then remove dust with a fine wire strainer, and finally collect chops that pass a coarse (~5/32”) pasta strainer. Two more cycles, for those that did not pass the coarse strainer, yielded uniformly chopped soybeans with little dust loss.
The final dough contained wheat and white bread flour, grated carrots, wheat malt extract, and yeast.
After several months devoted to myriad failed attempts, we formulated a version that looks and tastes like the original. Peter helped me solve a major problem—loaves were falling during baking. Baking books suggested tightly covered overnight hot water soaking. Peter explained how hot water can over-activate some enzymes that digest the rye starch structure. His suggestion of cold water solved the problem. Finding a suitable pan proved difficult. The style I remember from my youth is no more. Ultimately, we found the "Lasagna Trio" (Chicago Metallic) made for a different dish! Each pan is 2–3/4”W × 11”L; perfect! If you cannot find such a pan, scale the dough in 125-g portions and make weckerl (small rolls).
While in the brew supply store, we purchased a pound of Black Emmer wheat and had it ground. Why? Curiosity. German and Russian immigrants brought Black Emmer winter wheat to the Dakotas in the late 1800’s from Southern Russia, where it grew well in poor soil. It is now used mainly in brewing. We substituted this for the regular wheat in the soaker as an experiment. The result was coal black soaker water that colored the dough dark brown without the use of molasses, cocoa, or coffee, which add either sugar or caffeine!
The resulting bread is now a favorite that we share with friends. It has over 7% dietary fiber, 11% protein, and a reasonable balance of essential amino acids. The original is not available for comparison, but we think we have nailed it. We are happy campers!
35 g Rye grain, #2–1/2 grind
35 g Black Emmer Wheat grain, #2–1/2 grind
35 g Dry Soybeans, coarsely chopped
35 g Sunflower Seeds, roasted, unsalted
35 g Pumpkin Seeds, roasted, unsalted
12 g Flax Seeds, brown, raw
11 g Kosher Salt
234 g Water, room temperature
Soak at room temperature overnight in tightly sealed container.
165 g Dark Rye Flour
135 g Water at room temperature
50 g Mature Sourdough culture
Ferment at room temperature overnight until it crests, but not beyond.
340 g White bread flour
60 g Whole Wheat bread flour
23 g Malted wheat powder
12 g Instant dry yeast
60 g Carrots, finely shredded
110 g Water, room temperature
432 g Soaker
300 g Sourdough (all, less 50g returned to culture)
(White-to-whole-wheat ratio can be changed to suit taste as long as total = 400 g. The amount of water may need adjustment to suit your flour hydration and percent whole wheat.)
TOPPING: Pumpkin, Sunflower, Flax and Sesame seeds
Mix the final dough dry ingredients in an electric mixer, and then add shredded carrots, water, soaker, and sourdough. Mix and knead in mixer, or knead on oiled surface until elastic. Divide dough into two 625-g portions; ferment at room temperature in oiled and covered bowl no more than 50–60 min. Don’t over proof.
For Loaves: Stretch and roll each portion into a 10” × 10” sheet and then roll into a ‘log’ the length of the pan. Roll the logs onto a parchment to aid in transferring dough to spray-oiled baking pans. Brush tops with egg white and sprinkle with topping seeds. Using parchment, press the seeds lightly into the dough.
For Rolls: Scale dough into ten (125-g) portions. Shape into elongated rolls, brush tops with egg white and dip topsides in a plate of seeds. Transfer to two parchment covered quarter sheets.
Cover with plastic film and proof loaves and rolls for 50–60 min at room temp. Do not over proof.
Bake at 350°F; rolls ~15 min., loaves ~30 min. or till done (internal temp. should be above 190 degrees F.)
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New Pizza App Campaign
There is a new app in development that will help any traveler track down the best artisan pizzerias wherever they go, at least in the USA (for now -- maybe they'll cover the whole world if it succeeds). The developers have just launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds they need to complete the project. They have figured out a method to limit the recommendations to only highly rated pizzerias, artisan quality, so I hope they succeed. Here's the link to the campaign and I hope our viewership can help them succeed: www.indiegogo.com/projects/iphone-app-that-locates-the-best-pizza-places-in-america. We'll let you know, as we hear more, as to when the app will launch and how to get it.
Another Breakfast Pizza
Blog Post - Breakfast
I've been gone from these pages a while! I have been busy with my real life, not this fantasy pizza guy life. I've been working out of town a bit and when available, racing around to my kid's sporting events! I thought life was busy when they were little! It's funny how your perspective changes to catch up to reality. One day you look back and almost always laugh at what you were thinking while going through something. Remember worrying if your kid would ever stop sucking their thumb? Eventually that stuff all works itself out and you often only realize that after the time is gone and you are looking backwards wishing it was here again.
Anyway, I wanted to throw a quick post up about my first homemade pizza in a while! I was just in San Francisco and was lucky enough to find my way over to Tony Gemignani's and Delfina Pizzeria a couple of times. The stand out pizza for me was Tony's Detroit Style Red Top which we added sausage and caramelized onions to. Hold the presses, this is a must try pizza! The crust is a thick one, but it's puffy, light and delicious at the same time. I had it more than once while in town - taking some clients there, and circling back 2 other times! It was cooked to perfection with little crispy burnt tips of crust and cheese. At Delfina my favorite was the Clam Pie! It may not sound as exciting, but it was. It was a simple pizza with a superb crispy thin crust. The sauce had a little bite while being almost sweet and very fresh tasting. There were just enough clams and a sprinkle of grated parmesan. It was my friend Greg's first non cheese topped pizza that he's ever liked. It was delicious.
So, I'm back in town now. I had a dough ball in the freezer and took it out the night I got home.
In the morning, I turned on the oven and set the dough on the counter. Kids off to school -- it was now time to throw a breakfast pizza together. No eggs! Oh well, what to do. What did we have? I realized I hadn't thought this through the night before. I thought about putting the dough back and getting some ingredients and making the pizza later that day.
Ok, that's interesting - sounds like breakfast! We had mozzarella, but an aged white cheddar caught my interest. I was thinking that maybe I'd blend it with the Mozzarella, but decided to just go with the cheddar. Ok, this will be an herb oil base and I was off to the races.
My wife had to leave for some appointments and as I was moving to start my pizza making process I realized that my camera was in her car! Could I just make a pizza and not take pictures?! What if this was the one?! I know it's not really possible, because there's always another one, but it could be the temporary ONE I've been searching for - you never know. I did have my trusty iPhone! Someone told me that the iPhone is the camera that takes the most pictures of any other type of camera now. The pics didn't come out half bad.
Once you get in the habit of making dough and freezing it, it's not that difficult to throw a single pizza together. You do need to think ahead enough to get the dough out with enough time to thaw, but those steps don't take much effort at all - just a little planning.
Here's my impromptu Breakfast Pizza that I whipped up.
A Quick Breakfast Pizza
- Pizza Dough
*I had a Fire Roasted Mesquite Dough that I had made up a few weeks ago. I will post a demo of that next week.
- Peter's Herb Oil
- Grated Aged White Cheddar
- Canadian Bacon
- Sliced Red Onion
- Salt Packed Capers to finish
Getting things done:
Pre-heat the oven to 550 and before you start cooking the pizza, change it to convection bake.
Spread out the dough and layer with the herb oil, cheese and top with the Canadian Bacon and sliced onion.
While the pizza is cooking, rinse off some of the capers and chop them up. When the pizza comes out of the oven, sprinkle the capers over the pizza.
Slice and serve!
This pizza was surprisingly good. I say "surprisingly" because I just used what was in my fridge that seemed like they would taste good and satisfy my breakfast quest that morning and I was happily surprised! Had my wife made sure there was an egg in the house, this would have been a great addition to this pizza! *Insert smile here :)!!! Add that to your list if you make this one.
The ham and the cheese both had some deeper flavors. The richness of the cheddar pulled out the smokiness in this otherwise simple ham. The salty briny capers were also a terrific accent that brought a lighter brighter note to the taste profile!
My wife came home and snagged the last slice. She looked at me and said, "That's really good!" It was even better when hot!
Enjoy the Iphone photos!
The Bruery Tour
The story unfolds (and if you are just joining us, you can see all the segments leading up to this one by going to the Webisodes section -- see the button above -- and catch up):
So, here we are, the Basta team, our Pizza Quest team, and Patrick Rue, the owner and beermeister visionary of The Bruery, in Placentia, CA (Orange County). We threw down the gauntlet in our previous webisode and are leading up to Kelly, Al, and I making some pizzas for the Bruery team -- but that's coming up in a later segment. Before we get to that, though, we asked Patrick to take us through the brewing process, those transformational steps that draw out flavor from various grains, malts, hops, spices, and even fruits and vegetables to make a wort (like making tea or soup) that eventually ferments and carbonates. Many of you may already be home brewers or have seen the inside of a micro-brewery, but for the sake of those who haven't this should be a treat. As noted in the discussion you are about to see, beer making is very similar to bread baking (scholars have argued that beer existed before leavened bread, back in the days of the Pharaohs, and I tend to agree) and, because of all the exciting breweries popping up everywhere, it's probably safe to say that we are now living in the golden age of beer. This site could easily morph into Beer Quest instead of Pizza Quest (hmmnnn, Brad, is it too late to change the logo?).
Oh well, we're going to bring these two worlds together as we journey on, ultimately headed to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver where all this pizza and beer talk manifests into some amazing brewski and 'za. Onward....
Peter's Blog: Charlotte Mini-Quest Part Two
A few weeks ago I posted about the first part of a local mini pizza quest I went on here in Charlotte. In that post I focused on Wolfgang Puck's new Pizza Bar, but that was only the first stop of the day. From there, journalist and fellow pizza lover Michael Solender, along with photographer Tonya Russ Price and went to three other places, which I want to tell you about now and in upcoming posts. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get the photos up but I wanted to post this now since it's long overdue.
Luisa's Brick Oven Pizza
I've written about Luisa's Brick Oven Pizza in the past (there is a brief essay in Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, by Ed Levine, that tells of my discovery of Luisa's when I first moved to Charlotte as part of the requisite check-list of things anyone must do when they move to a new city: find a doctor, dentist, bank, Chinese restaurant, and a great pizzeria). And, even after nine years I still feel that it is my favorite New York Style pizzeria in Charlotte. I use the term New York Style loosely, though, because it such a big, all encompassing term that it really can mean anything or even nothing. I need for some of you hard-core NY pizza freaks to chime in here with your idea of what it means, whether narrowed to "by the slice" versions, or classic Neapolitan inspired coal-fired versions like John's, Lombardi's, or Totonno's, or just plain old Ray's and all the Ray's clones and doppelgängers.
For me, though, it's just a way to differentiate from Boston-style (thicker crust, sometimes referred to as Greek-style), Sicilian (focaccia-like, baked in pans), Americana-pizza that focuses on breadier crusts and heavy on the toppings, Detroit and St. Louis-styles with their cracker thin crusts and cross-cut servings, and of course, Napoletana-style pizzerias (attempts to recreate the VPN, or rival associations' pizzas) of Naples, of which only a few American pizzerias do a decent job. In other words, when I say New York pizza what I mean is pizza, round, thin to medium thin crust, nice tomato or other sauce and gooey cheese, aka "Neapolitan" pizza, which means, in my opinion, Naples-inspired pizzas as interpreted by the American pizzerias originally in New York City and thereabouts. Whew, does that make sense to anyone but me? It can be baked in any kind of oven; therefore, most pizza as we know and love it in America is, for the most part and with infinite nuanced permutations, New York-style pizza. But that's just a digressive rant.
My main point is that I love Luisa's because the crust is thin (but not cracker thin), and it's baked in a twenty year old combination wood-fired/gas forno, and I always eat all my crust "bones," and at least four slices more than I should. The owner, Jeffery Russell, had been the manager for a number of years when it was still owned by Luisa herself, and later, when she decided to focus on her wonderful neighborhood osteria Dolce, Jeffery bought it from her -- I think this was about seven or eight years ago -- and he has done a great job keeping the wheels spinning, the quality high, and continues building a very loyal clientele.
Generally, I'm not a big fan of pizza buffets, but the weekday lunch at Luisa's is one of the greatest bargains in town: all the pizza, salad, and soft drinks you want for $8.00. The day we went there on our mini-quest (I wanted Michael to experience it for himself, and for the article he was writing -- God knows, I'd been there many times already) the line was the longest I've ever seen it there and the pizzas were flying out of the oven to keep up, and the giant salad bowl kept getting replenished with more lettuce and fixings. My favorite "specialty" pizza on their menu, The Luisa (made with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and ricotta cheese, pesto, and garlic) is prominent in the buffet rotation, so I was in heaven. When I go for dinner with a small group of people, I often recommend that they also order the Fiorentino, which has spinach, garlic, mozzarella, Parmesan, and Fontina. But the specialty toppings are not the point here and not the reason Luisa's is about the only local pizzeria I go to frequently (other than my own, Pure Pizza, which we'll get to in a future posting). There are a few other reasons: Lori Flanigan has been our server for ten years (and there are other servers too, of course, but Lori is always there for lunch service) and you can't underestimate the value of a consistent and friendly face when it comes to establishing customer loyalty (refer to John Arena's Guest Column series on "going pro" for other such difference makers). Until recently, the pizzas were always made by the same guy, Ray, who said very little but always knew just how much char I liked -- he recently got a better paying non-restaurant job that he couldn't turn down, but his sidekicks, Oro and Marco, provide a seamless transition. As we've often cited, a memorable pizza is in the hands of the pizzaiolo and it bodes well for a place, at least in my estimation, when the employees stay and the turnover, whether front or back of the house, is minimal. While the most important thing at a pizzeria is the quality of the pizzas, they are not the only factor in making a place memorable. In the end, it's more about the connectedness we feel that reels us back in, and connectedness works on many levels. So, for all these reasons, Luisa's keeps reeling me back.
Which brings me to another successful operation, just a few blocks from Luisa's, that has figured out a formula for success using a trifecta of compelling lures. Mellow Mushroom, a small franchise concept that began in Atlanta about thirty years ago has developed a brand loyalty among its regulars that is as passionate as Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix even though the two concepts are as different as night and day. We'll explore that in my next Peter's Blog.
You may think I've gone off the rails here with my pepperoni-ing of everything, but realize this isn't all I eat! I sit around and come up with an idea and make a bunch of pizzas to try something out. As you can see from the last few weeks, it takes some time to get these postings together. It doesn't take nearly the time to make and devour the actual pizzas!
I have always been a fan of Brussel Sprouts. Fortunately, these strange tasting little bulbs have become quite popular lately. I was at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York not long ago and had some amazing Brussel Sprouts and also swung through Boulder recently and had an amazing pizza that Kelly Whitaker adorned with clusters of brussels as a topping. My favorite way to eat them is roasted with some olive oil, salt and pepper and then, sometimes, slicing them in half and finishing them in a pan with some shallots and pancetta. There are tons of great recipes out there for these babies.
While I was thinking of my pepperon-ification of everything, Kelly's pizza popped into my mind. What if I roasted them 80% of the way and then sliced them into thick discs and seasoned them to taste a bit like pepperoni? That could be interesting. There is a little bite in a brussel. That slight bitterness may be interesting with the spicy pepperoni flavors.
I looked up Momofuku Roasted Brussels Sprouts and found this recipe online - which I will now have to try! Of course David Chang uses fish sauce which adds such an amazing flavor to almost everything. My friend Kim, who runs my favorite home kitchen (I've featured her here, along with her mom, making "Mom's Soy Pickled Jalapeños" along with her sister, who came down to help us make some amazing Vietnamese inspired pizzas) says she adds fish sauce to almost everything. "It just intensifies the flavors and tastes so good!" When I made my first pepperoni vegetable with broccoli stalks, I used a liquid pepperoni sauce that used fish sauce and it came out great. But, lately I have just been using dry ingredients because some of my family don't like that flavor as much.
Here is the link the the recipe for the Momofuku Roasted Brussels on a food blog called Food52: *LINK
I would recommend blending this or maybe sprinkling some fish sauce into my brussels-pepperoni sprouts as an option!
Roasted Brussels-eroni Sprouts Pizza
- Favorite Dough
*I made up my "desert dough" with 10% Fire Roasted Mesquite Flour! *Link
- Peter's Basic Tomato Sauce
*I had a #10 Can of Bianco Dinapoli Tomatoes and I wasn't afraid to use it!
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Brads Brussels-eroni *Recipe below
- Pepperoni Seasoning *Recipe below
Here we go:
Roast your brussels. Clean off any dirty tips and wash the brussel bulbs. Place them in a bowl and drizzle some olive oil over them and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them into the oven to roast until just done, or maybe just a little underdone - so you can cut them into slices and have them hold together. Most recipes call for about 30-40 minutes in an oven at 400 degrees. But, I had my oven cranked to 550, so I checked them at 20 minutes and pulled them a little bit after that when the tips were turning brown and they were soft enough. You could do this earlier as well and let them cool. Mine were still hot when I was cutting them, which makes that dance a little more entertaining for your fingers.
After slicing them up, sprinkle them with your pepperoni seasoning.
- Salt - 1 Tbsp
- Pepper - 1 Tbsp
- Paprika - 1 Tbsp
- Ground Mustard Seed - 1 Tbsp
- Ground Fennel Seed - 1 Tbsp
- Crushed Red Pepper - 1.5 Tbsp
- Garlic Powder - 1/2 Tbsp
This is where I started. After I mixed it up, I added a little more paprika and played with it a little. My next run with the Brussel Sprouts will see some fish sauce added into the mix.
Season the sprouts on both sides!
- Spread the dough
- Spread the sauce
- Sip your beer
- Place some of your fresh mozzarella around the pizza
- Lay out your sprouts
Into the oven.
So, here we go into the oven. In these photos you will see a new item in my oven. I recently acquired a new pizza cooking surface - called The Baking Steel. I've been using this for the past few pizza making sessions in my oven set up. I've placed this in the center of my oven and used my thick Forno Bravo Pizza Stone on top of this because I like the idea that the heat retained in the top stone would radiate back down onto my pizza. (My other theory is that having a couple stones in the oven, helps maintain the temperature when making multiple pizzas. You can also rotate which stone you use as the pizzas take heat out of one stone you can cook the next one on the other stone etc.)
Anyway, there's something interesting going on here with this Baking Steel product. I'm getting 6 minute pizzas consistently. My stone-only set-up may come close to that for the first pizza, but usually is in the 8-9 minute range. There seems to be a very good heat distribution going on with the steel.
The other nice thing is that it comes with a carrying case and since it's steel, it's easily transported without fear of it cracking. I'm still a huge fan of my thick stone, but this new product is a great addition to the potential tools we have for cooking pizza in our home ovens!
6 Minutes Later:
I pulled the pizza and steel out on the rack to take a picture of the pizza before it came out of the oven. Looks great! Nice crust. If you haven't tried this "desert pizza crust" I came up with, I highly recommend it. The mesquite flour makes the whole dough smooth and almost velvety. Very interesting.
Look at this oozy pile of brussels-eroni and melted fresh mozz swimming in a sea of Bianco Dinapoli goodness. I'd call this pizza a success. Give it a whirl and let us know how it comes out for you.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Isaac Newton has long been one of my science heroes—my earliest life journey was as a science and math geek. Now he is my newest baking hero.
Most everyone knows that Newton developed his theory of gravity after seeing an apple fall from a tree. Every high school physics student learns of his three laws of motion. He built the first practical reflecting telescope, confirmed the accuracy of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, and developed differential and integral calculus.
In consideration of his early work, Newton was appointed a fellow of Cambridge and then to the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematicks. His first lectures as Lucasian Chair were on optics. In them, he demonstrated his “celebrated phenomenon of colors,” proving that prisms don’t color light but separate colors already within light, and providing us a classic example of the craft of the scientific method.
Newton’s work on optics continued the work of others, particularly that of Descartes and Hooke. Though he rejected their theories, he built on their craft as scientists, as he explained in a letter to Hooke: "What Des-Cartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, & especially in taking ye colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants." [spelling original]
This is why Newton is my newest baking hero. Baking, as much as science, depends on the craft of the baker. And though I am no Newton of the baking world, I now see further than before because I too stand on the " shoulders of Giants."
The first breads I baked were from a Dell Purse Book called, Breads, that I found on the checkout line of a grocery store. I baked from that pamphlet for years, creating loaves which were better than store-bought, and brought friends running for a taste. Never, though, did they rise to be exceptional.
I met my first giant when I bought Peter Reinhart’s, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. Through that book, I learned much about coaxing the full flavor stored deep within wheat’s kernel into the bread. Preferments, slow fermentation, and overnight retardation are techniques that are now part of my craft. I met my second giant when I attended a workshop at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center. There I learned from Jeffrey Hamelman how to make baguettes six ways. Now my craft includes the knowledge that there is always more than one way to create exceptional bread and the passion for experimentation. I met my third giant, Richard Miscovich, at two workshops, one on shaping and scoring and another on operating a wood-fired micro-bakery. Now my craft includes mixing and kneading larger batches by hand, more careful shaping and scoring techniques, wood-firing a brick oven, and loading, steaming and baking in that oven.
Beyond all of this, though, these three giants taught me that to be an artisan is to passionately seek to become better with each batch pulled from the oven. So this is my quest. And from them I know, too, that if I am true to this quest, my bread will be better for it. How much better, as Isaac Newton has taught me, depends on how many giants’ shoulders I climb onto.
Now, where is the next pair of shoulders?
Bruery-Basta Dinner Pairing and Pizza Throw-Down
After all the prelude webisodes you've been watching, things are starting to heat up as we now head into the main story. This segment contains the moment when we threw down the gauntlet and asked Patrick Rue, world famous brewmeister and owner of The Bruery, not knowing if he'd go for it, if he would be willing to create a beer inspired by a pizza that we would make. But there's a terrific discussion that happened first, as you will see, in which Kelly Whitaker and Al Henkin, of Basta, share their thoughts on pairings for the big Beer Dinner they were hosting, featuring six different Bruery beers. You'll hear terms like "unfiltered bottle conditioned beer," "Orchard White with Lavender," and such. I have to say, it was exciting just being in the middle of it all.
We'll have more webisodes to follow that continue the unfolding story, and you'll see little teases in this one of our subsequent trip to the Bruery in Southern California, so sit back and enjoy the throw-down!
Keste - Mini Quest Part 3
Dave Wilson and I set out about 7-8 hours earlier on a mini pizza quest, where we started at Di Fara Pizza and were now just leaving Roberta's -- both in Brooklyn, NY. You can read about these stops in Part I and Part II of this series. Links: Part I, Part II
As we staggered out of Roberta's for the second time that night, after running into the god of pizza fanatics - New York's own Scott Weiner -- we walked in silence. And we walked in the dark. But the area, which had at first seemed formidable and perhaps even dangerous, now seemed like a friendlier place -- a cool, artsy neighborhood. We both wore smiles, but our eyes must have been a bit more realistic, perhaps betraying our satisfaction as we began to really consider if we could continue on with this madness of a mini-quest that had become a big "P and Q" Pizza Quest.
We dropped down into the subway to head back to Manhattan.
I broke the silence. "Keste?" Were we going to make it in time? Dave struggled, but I knew his answer. His slight hesitation and doubt suddenly brought me back to life. I realized again what we had set out to do, what we must do, what we were going to do. Dave had never been to Keste. He knew what his answer was though he made a veiled attempt at pretending we could cut this quest short. Scott had reinforced us with his recommendations and stories of Roberto's pizzas at Keste. I had told Dave numerous times about his crust that was unparalleled.
"Keste!" Dave agreed. We didn't have to eat a lot. Right? Of course not. We were not hungry, we were on a mission.
Wherever we got off the subway we ended up having to walk quite a bit to get over to Bleecker Street where Keste sits. I think that probably saved us, or at least emptied our guts a wee bit. It was a beautiful night out in New York City and even though we had been eating epic pizza all day, we were headed to yet more epic pizza. What else were we to do, go sulk in our hotel rooms? I don't think so. The walk was good. It helped the mind, the eyes and, for sure, the stomach all get themselves back in line to finish this task, this journey.
It was pretty late by the time we got to Keste. To my surprise there were a few tables still available. We sat down and saw Roberto Coporuscio, who recognized me from visiting a few times before, as well as when I stopped by his new place, Don Antonio by Starita. We chatted a bit and I got back to telling Dave about Roberto's crust. I remember the first time I had it. I was staying at a hotel and brought back a couple of slices and when I walked in the room, I couldn't stop myself from opening the box of leftovers and pulling another slice to see if what I was remembering was true. It was. The crust is as good as, and probably better than any I've had. It's soft with a slight crispness and is almost as good an hour later, out of the box at room temperature.
Prosciutto and Arugula
This is always one of my favorite pizzas. The balance of a great prosciutto like this, with hints of salty soft ham-iness, along with the cool, peppery bright arugula is hard to beat. I've devoured this pie here before. Tonight we picked away. It was really good, but by this point we were tasting the pizza more than eating it! There was just no room in our pizza processing facilities left! It felt like we were committing a crime leaving so much pizza untouched, but this was for the cause and we were on a mission. The mission was slowly coming to an end and our bodies were waking us up to the reality of survival now!
Pizza Del Pappa
Oh, then the second pizza arrived. Scott Weiner had insisted we order the Pizza Del Papa. Another sip of a beer, and the show went on! Our eyes and mouths and slouching postures were all lining up now! The pizza was, of course, delicious and brought us back to life. The smoked buffalo mozzarella was a nice touch under the soft red and yellow peppers, zucchini, and it balanced well with the butternut squash cream! I love playing with the concept of sauces. Nothing beats tomato sauce, actually, but then again when something works it works.
We left more pizza on the plate than one would ever consider if they had come for dinner. Dave said it was as good, or better than Scott and I had described. It was well worth the journey, and we left satisfied, on many levels, because of the extra effort that elevated the whole night into mythic epicness!
On this mini-pizza quest I discovered that three small pizzerias in New York and Brooklyn could take me on a journey through time and space in a way I never thought possible. At Di Fara's it felt like everything was frozen in a time long gone by. The experience was like stepping back into the exact same space but in a different era, the sixties. At Roberta's time was affected, but in a different way. Roberta's was like stepping over into a time and space warp where we experienced being in Brooklyn, Portland and the TV show Portlandia all at the same time. At Keste there was a whole different experience. Keste is perhaps timeless. It is both old and new. You can taste history and the future at the same time.
Life is good when you can come up with a crazy plan for the day and just let go and let it happen. As our small "p" pizza quest came to an end, I realized what our big picture Pizza Quest was all about again. It's about the chase. It's about exploring and being open to finding what life will bring you, celebrating the passions of others and enjoying their gifts and sharing yours. It's about finding that ever elusive something called quality. Our search here on Pizza Quest for the perfect pizza is really just an excuse to discover something new about ourselves and our friends, but also about discovering all the possibilities that life has to offer.
Postscript: Keste translated means "This is it!" Well, this is surely it for this pizza quest journey...unless you want to know about how well I slept that night.
Like a baby with a pacifier!!!
Neo Neapolitan Sourdough Pizza Dough
This pizza dough is a sourdough variation of Peter Reinhart’s Neo Neapolitan Pizza dough. The dough uses a small amount of commercial yeast and sourdough starter at 100% hydration. The result of this high hydration dough is a bubbly crisp pizza crust, which is easy to stretch out once you allow it to proof long enough.
1 teaspoon active dry yeast (or 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast)
1 oz/28g hot water, about 115F degrees.
--Add the yeast to the hot water in a small container and stir. Allow the yeast to proof for about 15-20 minutes.
Next, in a large proofing container or mixing bowl add together:
8 oz/226g of ripe and vigorous 100% hydration starter (ie, wet sponge starter as opposed to a firm starter)
13 oz/368g warm water, around 110F degrees
1 oz/28g olive or vegetable oil
.5 oz/14g brown sugar
.5 oz sea salt
--Mix all if the above ingredients by hand or mixer until incorporated and then add:
The yeast mixture
20 oz/567g bread flour
--Mix in the flour for about 1 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture forms a sticky dough ball. Allow the dough to proof in a lightly oiled, covered container for four hours. Fold the dough every half hour during the four hours for a total of six folds. It will firm up slightly and be less sticky.
--Once the dough is proofed, divide it into four or five pieces and form dough balls. Mist or brush the dough balls with oil, place them in a covered container, and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Before using, allow the dough to warm up, uncovered, but well oiled, at room temperature for at least two hours. One-half-hour before baking, stretch or roll dough out and allow it to set for a while until baking time. (I stretch my dough and place it on parchment paper.)
--Then cover the dough with more oil (preferably olive oil), spread on your sauce and toppings and bake (baking time varies) in your very hottest oven. (Start with your oven rack and stone on the very bottom shelf preheat for at least an hour. Every oven is different so, if the pizzas bake too dark on the underside, move the stone up a shelf or two till you achieve an evenly baked pizza).
Note: The pizzas in the photos were made by Alexandra Jean and Teresa Greenway. For more information on baking with sourdough, my website is: www.northwestsourdough.com
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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.