Peter's Blog, February 24th

Hi again.  We've kept a lot of recent postings on the home page because we've been getting a number of new viewers and one thing I've noticed is that most people tend to stay on the home page rather than explore the archives or section categories (I know this thanks to Google Analytics!!). So, we're going to leave things up as long as we can before they automatically default to the archive section to allow as many of you as possible to catch up to some of the ongoing topic points. But I do encourage you to visit the various sections, as you will find lots of golden oldies there and, to our great surprise, we've been astonished to see how much material we managed to post in just over a year. If I didn't have a conflict of interest I'd say, "Quite impressive!"  Oh look, I said it anyway.

One of the recurring themes that you will see in these past (and future) postings is the celebration of the artisan spirit and what we think is their expression of greatness, whether in pizza or in any pursuit.  Chris Bianco once told me that he's tired of hearing the word "passion" bandied about so frequently when it comes to greatness because he doesn't think it is the vital defining quality that everyone else thinks it is. I believe I know what he means and, perhaps, a better way to utilize that passion word is to frame it within a larger definition of greatness. Passion probably is, as Philosophy 101 would term it, a necessary but not sufficient cause. Passion, as many of us might also say, has become a cliche. And here on Pizza Quest one of the things we strive to get beyond is cliche. So the question still stands: what is the defining quality of greatness?

We've focused in these articles and webisodes on technique, method, ingredient quality, the virtues of local, organic, wholeness (as in whole grain), authenticity, tradition, and, of course, on passion. I've cited another quote of Chris's that he gave me when I was writing "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza," when I asked him what was the secret to his amazing pizzas; his response was (after citing the quality of the ingredients and the dedication of his growers and suppliers as necessary but not sufficient causes), "It's me, I'm the secret. I can teach people my tricks and techniques but I can't teach them to care as much as I care," and this drills down a bit closer to the core of the matter. But we're still always drilling even deeper, trying to capture that elusive something that would answer, once and for all, "What is the secret to greatness?" Yes, caring more than anyone else is yet another necessary but not sufficient cause, but even that doesn't scratch the itch beneath the itch. So what is it then?  Do you see why we call it a quest?

I'm a firm believer that the most important things we strive for are ordained to be elusive, like a carrot on a stick and even when we find what we're looking for we rarely recognize it in the moment, and then we realize, later, that now it's just behind us, a memory. That's what most people refer to as nostalgia, looking back to happier or significant times with a kind of regretful longing, as if things will never be quite that good again. But a truer, deeper, and more literal meaning of the word nostalgia (and I've written about this in earlier blog postings) means, "A longing for one's true home, yet to come."  C.S. Lewis is my go to guy for this one and he believed that this longing is more a forward thrusting, not a backwards glance to the past, though the emotions this longing evokes are often similar. Whether it touches upon a distant memory or is an intuition of a memory not yet experienced, outside the realm of time but nevertheless a future reality -- well, those are two sides of the same coin, and another vague and ambiguous way of defining that coin is "soulful."  Yet even as I write these words I'm reminded, again, that the more we try to define it in words the more elusive it becomes. But an encounter with it somehow rings within our own beings, our souls, and whether in the moment or after the fact, we recognize it when we see it.  We've been defining this encounter as "memorable," as a way to distinguish it from other experiences that are merely good, status quo, or expected. An "abnormal, memorable moment that opens a door into a longing for something true, something lasting, maybe even eternal, maybe home...,"  and then it's just out of reach again, and it becomes an inconsolable longing.

And that's why the search for the perfect pizza is both a great metaphor and also an earthly delight. Because, fortunately for us, in this quest we do have a chance from time to time to encounter a real, literal slice of nearly heavenly joy and to establish new reference points and new memories for greatness, even if we can't quite put our finger on the words. And then we get to start again....



#1 Hooplehead 2012-02-24 20:22
Admittedly, I'm new to the site, but for all the looking I've done your archive continues to elude me. Where? Home - Webisodes - Peter's Blog - Guest Columns - Gallery - Instructionals - PQ Forums - News.... Why no home page link?
#2 Peter Reinhart 2012-02-24 20:37
I've been calling all of the section buttons at the top of the page our "archives" though it may be an inaccurate use of the term. Sorry for the confusion, but once something falls off the home page it resides in those sections (the section each posting belongs to is indicated just under the headline). Not sure what you mean by home page link, though? Can you explain what you mean? Thanks!
#3 Brad English 2012-02-24 21:52

Great blog! I was just reminded again why I searched you out, found you and was lucky enough to join you on this quest!
#4 Jay Lundgreen 2012-02-24 22:40
Hi Peter,

I am attempting Pugliese from BBA for the first time and can't find "fancy" or "extra fancy" durum flour. I live in Portland, OR and within a few minutes of Bob's Red Mill. He has a product called "No. 1 Durum Wheat Semolina Flour" Will this be OK to use? It is definitely finer grain than just regular semolina, but it isn't as soft as white flour.

Any help would be great. I did a few hours of reading on The Fresh Loaf and found discussions, but no answers.
#5 Peter Reinhart 2012-02-25 04:19
Hi Jay,
I don't know if Bob's version is the same as Fancy Durum but you should try it anyway. The Fancy version that bakeries can get is soft like regular flour, not sandy or gritty, and the gluten bonds better than the sandy stuff (usually called semolina). However, if you soak it overnight in the water called for in the recipe and then mix the whole dough the following day it should perform quite well. Let us know how it turns out. (BTW, if there's a bakery near you that makes bread with Fancy Durum maybe they will let you buy some from their stash.) Perhaps Grand Central, Pearl, Ken's Artisan or Little 't's -- Portland has some of the best and most creative bread bakeries in the country so someone is bound to have access to it in bulk.
#6 Mark Feldman 2012-02-25 06:19
Hi Peter,
Just found your Pizza Quest blog this morning - although I have been enjoying your books for some time now. My personal pizza quest is to find eggplant pizza like I had at Vinnie's in Ithaca, NY in the early 1980's - almost like Eggplant parmigiano with mushrooms, on a New York "John's" style crust. Searched the blog, but didn't find anything - in fact not many eggplant lovers out there it seems. I've come close, at places that serve both, after some convincing to combine the two, but not quite the pizza of memory.
Anyone have any ideas (or know where Vinnie ended up?).
#7 Peter Reinhart 2012-02-25 07:53
I love eggplant and it's so hard to find people who know how to do it right (when it's not cooked all the way through it's like leather and can be a total buzz kill). Sounds like Vinnie's had it down -- wish I'd been there. Let's hope one of our followers knows about Vinnie and also where to find other killer eggplant pizzas. Also, check with our friends Cary and Lillian at: They might know.
#8 Jay Lundgreen 2012-02-25 10:55
Thanks Peter,

I wasn't able to soak it overnight and just decided to do a 50/50 blend of KA bread flour and the BRM semolina flour. The dough was nice. Smooth and sticky. I will let you know how the Pugliese loaves turn out.
#9 Cary & Lillian Steiner 2012-02-25 12:49
Peter, we love this blog post! If only passion were enough... but we keep building on it as best we can!

@Mark F: Unfortunately, we don't know Ithaca very well (we did have a delightful meal at the Moosewood once), so we don't know what Vinnie's egglplant pizza was like. Was it coal-oven (you refer to the crust at John's)? Whereabouts are you? Maybe we can help each other find it!
#10 Jay Lundgreen 2012-02-25 19:36
Reporting back in about my first attempt at Pugliese bread. It turned out wonderful! Amazingly tender crumb. Perfect crunch in the crust. I wish I could post pics.

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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.

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