A Pairing of Beer and Cheese at Basta
Peter Reinhart

As our story progresses, we've already introduced you to Kelly Whitaker in the previous two segments and now we meet Alan Henkin, the co-owner (with Kelly) and also the Beverage Director of Basta, in Boulder CO.  In this webisode segment, Alan and Kelly take us through a virtual master class of beer and cheese pairing, as well as showing how it compares to more familiar wine and cheese pairings. In essence, they touch on the major principles of food pairing in general. In these brief six minutes you will go through the same process they and other chefs and beverage directors go through on a daily basis when determining what to match with what.  I love the moment when Alan explains that the Roquefort, "… brings out the fruit in this beer that I wouldn't have found before." Fruit? Who knew?

By the way, the cheese close-ups are luscious -- I wanted cheese so badly after watching this footage again and it brought me back to the day we filmed there. Not many people know this, but before I was a bread baker I was a cheese maker -- I think cheese is the most magical of foods and, like bread, a powerful symbol of transformation. Simple milk turned into so many delicious manifestations! Notice also how Alan, before tasting his beer or wine, sniffs it (I also sniff cheese in the same way).  It has been said that we experience flavor by 80% through aroma and the olfactory senses and only 20% on the tongue.  Many of you probably already know this, but watching Alan savor his beverages in this way reminded me of how much flavor I often leave unexperienced (and thus unappreciated) as I rush through my food. It's like leaving money on the table.

This segment is a terrific stand-alone episode that, for many of us, will elevate our understanding of this creative and gastronomical process but, in addition, it serves as an important appetizer for the segments that will follow over the next few months. As we follow this lesson in beer and cheese pairing it will lead us into the main course, the pizza/beer challenge between the fabulous craft brewery called The Bruery, owned by Patrick Rue, who briefly appears in this segment (he's the one who looks like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys), and Kelly, Alan, and our Pizza Quest team. It all culminates many months later, in the shadow of The Great American Beer Festival in Denver. It's a long story, and we'll bring it to you in short bites, so, savor this one as a prelude and know that we will be building upon it in the segments still to come.


Roberta's - Mini Quest Part 2
Brad English

Note: For a recap, scroll down the homepage past the halfway point, to read about Dave's and my visit to Di Faro's, which is Part One of our NYC Mini-Quest:

Dave and I had to force ourselves to stop eating pizza at Di Fara's.  This was no easy task.  You're sitting there in front of what is a "perfect" pizza in a "perfect" place and you have to stop eating so that you can eat more somewhere else.  We had a plan though, so we put the brakes on in order to make this a quest and not just lunch.

We left Brooklyn to get to Brooklyn.  As I mentioned, there was just no getting a cab from Di Fara. We walked around looking for about 20-30 minutes.  So, we jumped back on the train and headed back to Manhattan to grab a train to come back out to Brooklyn to hit Roberta's for our second stop on our mini pizza quest.  Perhaps there should be a Pizza Quest train line put in that better connects some of New York's best pizzerias?  Am I the first to come up with this?  There is one pizza maniac that comes to mind who has made a living making these connections, but more on that later.

It really is too bad we didn't have Peter, Jeff and the rest of the crew with us.  We were having a ball.  Di Fara's left us completely satisfied -- and, in reality, a little too satisfied.  We had started out with a plan to taste the pizza at Di Fara, but as it ended up, it became more of us eating the pizza.  I'm sure you can imagine.  When we left we couldn't just leave the rest of it there or, God forbid, throw it away!  So, with our foil-wrapped leftovers we moved on.


Another train ride, a change of lines in Manhattan and we were headed back to Brooklyn.  We popped up from under the streets not far from Roberta's and into what seemed like a set from the film The Warriors at first. Robertas is in an old warehouse district neighborhood called Bushwick,  that had seen better days, but is coming back with a young artist scene moving in and transforming this into a trendy neighborhood. I was telling Dave what Peter told me before we came to NYC.  He said Roberta's was like walking into the TV show Portlandia.  He didn't say it was like visiting Portland.  His point was far more metaphorical. There was a coming transformation from the "real" world to the two dimensional surreal world of Portlandia.  If you haven't seen it, you should.  My favorite episode is when the main character discovers Portland and describes it to a friend in LA as if it's a place you must enter through a portal in time!  Our first steps onto the street and I was starting to see what he meant.  When we turned the corner and almost walked right by Roberta's it again made more sense.

Here we were.  There's a sign that says Roberta's right there.  The exterior of the building looks more like a set from Gotham City with graffiti all over it and a sign that almost seems like they are hiding it.  It was time to go in, but we still had our leftover pizza from Di Fara's that we had hoped to give to someone along the way, but never ran into anyone who seemed interested.  We couldn't bring our Di Fara's into Roberta's!  So, we left it on a mailbox, hoping someone would pick it up.  We found out later that night that someone did indeed pick it up and our offering did not go to waste, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself here.

Having spent plenty of time in Portland, we had another laugh about Peter's description as we took our seat at one of the picnic tables inside.  (We love Portland, by the way.  We have some serious questing to do up there eventually.)  We all want a great place to sit and have a beer a great pizza and maybe, more importantly, just hang out with friends.  Roberta's is that place.  They are getting rave reviews about their pizza and food, but I think a major aspect of this place's success (being fairly off the beaten path), is it's qualities as a place where you can come and spend some time.  It doesn't feel like home -- it feels like Portlandia -- but it has a certain comfort factor as if you've come into this special place and found a hidden secret.  It feels local and full of regulars.  It was Saturday afternoon and it was busy and continued to get more busy.

Our first order of business after all this travel was to order a couple of beers.  When you're in Portland, I mean Brooklyn, do as they do.  We then ordered a couple of pies to "try" -- you know, we were there to do some tasting now in the second part of our three part mini pizza quest.  We chose the "Bee Sting" with Tomato, Mozz, Sopressata, chili, basil, honey, and another with Tomato, Mozz, Speck, and a sunny side up egg.  I think that was a special.

Delicious!  The dough is terrific and their ingredients balanced.  I loved the touch of honey on our Bee Sting and if there's an egg on a pizza on the menu, I'm going to order it.  It was "done to a turn!"  Two more beers.  Too much pizza now.  Did we have a third Beer?  I don't think so.  We were drunk -- pizza drunk!  We thought we may have gone too far and ended our quest a little early.  How could we make it back to Manhattan and get to Keste and order more pizza after all of this?!

It was time to go.  We managed to leave some pizza on the platters.  As we were walking out the door, I was looking back over my shoulder to grab a last look at the place.  We were, after all, about to leave Portlandia and step through the front door and back to our three dimensional selves.  I hadn't left yet and didn't want to leave the memories behind.  As I turned I heard a voice I recognized.  We passed each other but my back was turned.  I had only met this voice a few weeks ago, but it had to be him.


It was!  The Scott Wiener of New York's -- Scott's Pizza Tours (www.scottspizzatours.com) had just walked in as we were walking out.  He's the pizza maniac I mentioned above.  I met Scott in Las Vegas at the Pizza Expo and had traded emails here and there.  If I'm a pizza nut, he is the tree.  He's off the charts pizza crazy.  Well, I turned Dave around and we went back to Portlandia to have another beer with Scott and his friends.  I think we may have had two.  Dave was ready to go get his camera and come back and start filming as Scott regaled us with Pizza lore. I think our favorite part was how he wrestled with having a slice of our left overs.  You see, he has a pizza slice log on his phone to track how many slices he eats in a week.  He gives pizza tours daily (Scott's Pizza Tours) after all, and without that log he would not be able to walk!  He took the slice anyway even though he was already over his weekly slice limit! Not only that, where is he hanging out in his free time?  Roberta's -- love it!!



This should have ended here.  We enjoyed another beer and some good conversation with Scott and his friends in the outside bar of Roberta's.  This should be part 2 and 3 of our mini pizza quest.  We started hours ago and had been eating great pizza and now had a few drinks in us.






It wasn't.  We said our good byes and walked a little slower out the door this time heading back to the city to visit Keste Pizzeria on Bleecker Street.  Dave hadn't been and this looked like our only chance.  As we left we saw that our offering of Di Fara slices still sat on the mail box.  We smiled and walked down the street thinking back on the two pizza stops we made in the last few hours.  We felt like time had stopped in Di Fara's Pizza World and we transcended space and time visiting Roberta's world.

This had been quite a day already.

But, it wasn't over.  In fact, it wouldn't really be over for some time, not until after we got back from our next stop - Keste Pizzeria.  I was just getting to my hotel room and I got a text.  It turns out that our offering had finally found it's proper home! See final photo, below -- ahh, Portlandia....




Peter's Blog, Dec. 22nd, 2012
Peter Reinhart

I'll be back in a day or so with the steps for making that amazing 4-minute rib eye in a wood fired oven (as promised), but wanted to get this up asap to let you know that Craftsy just opened their final sale of the year on all courses, including mine on Artisan Bread, but it ends Monday night, so it's just a two day affair.  The pizza course that I wrote about last week is almost ready but, as you already know, it will be a freebie (!!), so I'll let you know when it launches in January.  But for bargain prices on all their other courses, follow this link: www.craftsy.com/ext/PeterReinhart_holiday

Now, back to final Christmas shopping, baking, and wrapping.  I'll return in a day or so, right here on this same blog post, with the steak method. See you then.

Okay, I'm back and here's the steak technique. I'm sure this can be done in a regular oven, but not sure yet how to get one as hot a WFO. I'm thinking of trying this with my new Baking Steel, on the top shelf in my oven, just under the broiler, but that will be for another day and another posting. Here's how I do it in my Primavera 60 (sorry, no photos this round, but the next time I make these steaks I'll shoot the sequence and post them):

Fire up the oven so that it is as hot as I can get it -- at least 1,000 degrees everywhere.  I put a cast iron skillet in the oven at least  10 minutes before cooking the steaks, and let the pan get white hot -- yes, white. Meanwhile, I season 2"-thick rib eye steaks (I usually can fit two medium size or three small steaks in the pan, but they cook so fast that's it's okay to cook them one at a time if you prefer using a large piece). Use a liberal amount of freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt, and sprinkle both sides. After the salt and pepper goes on, mist both sides of the steak with olive oil spray (or brush the steaks with olive oil), and leave them on a plate, covered, for about 30 minutes to take off the chill.

When the time comes to cook, be sure to have thick oven mitts or pads on hand, a metal table to land the pan on (you can also use the oven ledge), tongs, and a timer set to two minutes. Pull the pan out of the oven to the ledge and drop in the steaks so that they lay flat and do not overlap each other.  Slide the pan back into the oven and turn on the timer. After two minutes, pull out the pan to the ledge, turn the steaks over with the tongs (they will be sizzling and already caramelizing) and return the pan to the oven. Re-set the timer for another 2 minutes, and put the pan back into the oven.  After these 2 minutes the steaks will be a perfect medium rare in the center so, if you want them more done that add an extra 30 seconds on each side (2 1/2 minutes per side instead of 2). Remove the steaks from the pan and place on serving plates. Let them sit for 8 to 10 minutes before serving to allow the juices to redistribute. In the meantime, you can use the same pan, even with the steak fat from the previous round, to cook another round.

By the way, you can cook burgers in the same manner -- but just one minute per side -- yes, one minute!

The steaks and burgers I've cooked in this manner are, without question, the best I've ever made or had --like buddder.  I'd love to hear from you if you've ever tried this or, perhaps, have a method you prefer. It will take some convincing to move me off of this method but I'm sure some of you have a few magical techniques of your own. When the weather gets nicer here, I'll fire up the Primavera and shoot some photos, but I have a feeling you can already visualize what these sizzling steaks will look like.

Are You Ready to Turn Pro, Part 4
John Arena

Note from Peter: We've had great response to this series by John Arena, which has been a true reality check for all of us. For those who haven't seen the previous three installments, or who may want to review them, they are all still here on the homepage (scroll down a bit), and also in the Guest Columns section. Thank you so much, John, for sharing your lifetime worth of experience!

Before we move on to the fun stuff, let’s take a look at just a bit more pizza math. Remember that in our hypothetical pizzeria we determined that we needed to make $2100 per day to succeed.  That doesn’t sound hard does it? Well, here’s the tricky part. The bulk of your sales are going to be concentrated in a 3-4 hour span. You will take in 75% of your money between 11:30 AM and 1 PM and from 6 PM to 8:30PM. That works out to about $400 per hour. Let’s say that you are making artisanal pizzas that sell for $13 each on average. You will have to make 30 pizzas every hour during peak times to get to $400 per hour. That means a pizza will have to go in to and come out of the oven every 2 minutes for 4 solid hours. This is why I stress the need for speed.
I know we have all heard the stories about old school pizza makers who were famous for making their customers wait, limited the numbers of pies they made each day, and would throw anyone who complained into the street.

Sorry folks, those days are over and here’s why: Many of the legendary pizza makers used old math to run their businesses. Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone does these things today, but here’s the way it used to work. First off most of the immigrants from Southern Italy came here to escape feudal conditions at home. Let’s just say that they had a healthy distrust of the government. They ran cash only businesses. Many of these places employed only family members or friends from the old country. This meant they paid little or no taxes and had no insurance costs. They paid their vendors out of pocket and kept two sets of books, or none at all. Their restaurants were built with no permits or plans, and most of their equipment was scavenged from the neighborhood or brought from their home kitchens.

You may be thinking, “How much difference could that possibly make?” Well, here is a small example: If sales tax in your area is 8% and you take in $500,000 but only declare $250,000 you are holding back $20,000 tax-free that goes right to your pocket. Many if not most, old time pizzerias worked that way, enabling owners to keep their prices down and still make a healthy profit: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!!!

Let’s say you have your kids working for you “under the table.”  You pay no payroll taxes, workman's comp, overtime, or social security. You didn’t pay an architect and engineer to design your pizzeria. You are using non-commercial grade equipment that is cheaper to purchase. All of this sub-rosa activity is going to save you some money and enable you to sell your products for less than the legitimate operators, but, you won’t be able to sleep at night and you will get caught.
First off, in the modern era, 70% of your sales will be debit or credit cards that leave an electronic trail a mile wide. Your guests don’t carry cash anymore so you will lose them if you don’t accept cards. Second, your suppliers use easily audited invoices, the government can track your purchases and they know how that translates into sales. Third, Uncle Sam doesn’t trust restaurants; you will get audited at some point and it is simple to place an auditor in your restaurant to track sales for a day. They will then multiply that by the number of days you are open and assume that is your annual sales. Guess what? They will pick the busiest day of the week and calculate your back taxes based on that number. If you can’t pay, they will lock your doors, auction off your equipment, and you will owe them the balance. You will lose everything and could even go to jail.

There are many other ways that old time operators made the math work for them, not the least of which is that they overcame obstacles with an unbelievable work ethic. They often sacrificed to buy the buildings they were located in and their descendants are benefiting from to this day. In addition these landmark places paid off their investment decades ago so their financial picture is quite different from what yours will be. They rarely upgrade their facilities and invest little more than what it takes to keep the equipment running each year.

Of course there are still some artisans who seem to be uncompromising and are held up as role models of what we would like our lives as pizza entrepreneurs to be. So, let me make this clear: YOU ARE NOT DOM DEMARCO! The truth is even Dom DeMarco wasn’t Dom DeMarco for the first 40 years that he was in business. Until Dom was discovered by some powerhouse food journalists, DiFara’s was a simple neighborhood pizzeria and Dom was no more famous or highly regarded than any number of hard working Brooklyn pizza guys who labored in anonymity banging out great pies all day long. After decades of back breaking work Dom has finally reached a point where his talent is recognized. The plain truth is that, unlike DiFara’s, you will not be able to charge $5 for a slice of cheese pizza and that makes all of the difference in the world. At that price an 18-inch cheese pie is bringing in $40! With a food cost that is probably around 12% and, doing much of the work himself, Dom and a few others like him are not subject to the same economic realities that you will face as a start up operator.

Now that we have some of the basic mathematical realities out of the way we can begin to explore the development of your pizzeria. But that will be in the next installment.

Peter's Blog, December 14th, 2012
Peter Reinhart

I  just got back from Denver where I had the great joy and privilege to film a mini pizza course for Craftsy called, "Perfect Pizza at Home."  As I mentioned in a previous post, this is going to be offered in January, by Craftsy, to the world for free!! (My bread course, on the other hand, sells for $39.95 -- or $19.95 if you sign up via the special link they gave me for our PQ followers: www.craftsy.com/artisanbread -- so the pizza course giveaway is quite a deal, a steal actually; steal, or steel, is today's motif, as you will soon see.)  Anyway, I'll have a lot more on the pizza course and on Craftsy next month, when I get the word that it's available.

At the wrap party afterwards, we gathered at Basta, in Boulder, for a nice reunion with Kelly Whitaker and his whole team of pizzaiolos and talented cooks. As you you have seen, and will continue to see over the next few months in the Basta webisodes, this is a very special place and I was pleased to be able to to bring my new friends from Craftsy over to meet Kelly, as well as to meet Joseph Pergolizzi (founder of The Fire Within, whose mobile wood fired ovens you've seen featured on many of our instructional videos), and my friend and artisan bread baker extraordinaire, Andy Clark, of Udi's Breads, who joined us for the celebration. (I will post some photos as soon as I gather them.)

But, as I said, I'm home again and I promised to comment on the new Baking Steel, which arrived just before I left for Denver and which I tested with a dough ball from my freezer stash a few hours before I flew out. As you may recall, Adam A. wrote in a "comment" to a previous Peter's Blog, raving about his Baking Steel, so I called the foundry where it's made, Stoughton Steel, and spoke with Andris Lagsdin's dad (and the owner of the steel mill and the proud papa of the inventor of this new, innovative tool). He said, "What can I tell you, I'm no cook but my son is and ever since he came up with this they're selling like crazy!"  An hour later, Andris, the inventor himself, called me and we had a great chat about the Steel, which was inspired by his love of cooking, both professional and at home, and his interest in the new "modernist cuisine" as described in the recent amazing books by Nathan Myhrvold as well as all the molecular gastronomy chefs like Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, Grant Achatz, and others. He combined his food and his steel knowledge and fabricated this simple, but beautiful, slab of steel that is now destined to be the next big thing among pizza freaks as well as serious cooks of all types.

My oven typically takes about seven minutes to bake a pizza, using a one-inch thick ceramic baking stone. With the steel, the pizza was ready in five minutes and, just like Adam A. reported, perfectly baked, top and bottom, with superb caramelization. The faster bake time allowed the dough to be both crisp and moist, just the way I (and most of us) like it. I have to admit, I was totally impressed and the Steel now sits proudly in my oven, waiting for me to test it out on other foods. I'm particularly curious to see how it will do with a rib eye steak, ever since the benchmark of my "four minute steak," cooked in my Primavera 60 wood-fired oven (yes, a shameless plug for our friends at Forno Bravo) -- the best steak I ever made. I posted about this last year -- it's somewhere in the Peter's Blog archives but, if anyone wants me to repeat the method I'll post it again over the holidays -- just let me know in the Comments section below.  If the Steel can get me close to that in a home oven I'll do back flips, so stay tuned.

When mine arrived, it came with a very cool carrying case, which I suggest you also purchase, for both it's functionality and its sweet design. (Ever since I read Walter Isaacson's bio on Steve Jobs I've become obsessed with Job's brilliant insight and execution of the merging of these two aspects, form and function; the Baking Steel and it's case is kind of like the I-Pad of baking platforms -- very Apple-like.) Here's an excerpt from an e-mail I received from Andris for those of you who want to check this out.

Currently, our website has the Baking Steel listed at $72 and you can purchase the case and steel together for $102. These are both introductory prices.  After the first of the year the price may tweak up a little bit.  Likely to $79 & $109. This price includes delivery anywhere in the U.S. We charge a flat rate of $15.00 to Canada.  Anywhere else in the world we are charging freight.  Our website is www.bakingsteel.com and orders can be placed online. 

The material used to make the Steel is A36 low carbon.  This is the same material you see your local diners use on their griddles for eggs, pancakes etc.  So yes, the options are plentiful.  Likely a nice searing steel for outdoor grills as well.  We also sell a cleaning brick for the Baking Steel -- it is a nice way to keep the steel clean.


I'll try to get some photos up soon -- after all, I just got home but wanted to get this news out asap. If any of you already have a Baking Steel and want to send us your own reviews, that would be wonderful.  Congratulations to Andris Lagsdin (and his dad!) for coming up with what may be a game-changing tool for many of us. Hey, it may not be too late for some of you to get one, or give one, for Christmas!!

More soon....


PS I nearly forgot to mention that when you receive your Steel, it comes with a recipe for NY-Style Pizza Dough by noted food blogger Kenji Lopez-Alt.  I thought the recipe looked familiar so I was pleased to discover that on his blog, Kenji was generous in sharing the credit (he also dd a nice job of tweaking the original, to make it his own, as I advise you all to do as you zero in on your own recipes). Thanks Kenji!  Here's what he wrote: Luckily for me, there's already a pretty fantastic recipe for New York style pizza dough out there in Peter Reinhart's American Pie, a new classic on pizza, which if you don't already own, you should. His method is to mix together the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, olive oil, and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer, knead it slowly for a couple minutes, then allow it to rest for a few minutes in a step called an autolyse.  Autolysis allows time for flour to absorb water, and for the gluten-forming proteins to shorten themselves through enzymatic action, allowing them to be more easily aligned and stretched with subsequent mixing.

Are You Ready to Turn Pro? Part 3
John Arena

OK, so you have considered the physical challenges and demands of becoming a pizza professional. You are confident that you want to transition from being a great amateur to becoming a successful pizza operator. Allow me to introduce you to your new best friend…MATH!
I know that many of you have a dream of escaping from the mundane business world and earning a living as a pizza artisan. Math may not be why you want to open a pizzeria, but my mission is to keep your pizza dream from becoming a nightmare. If you intend to stay in business math is what’s going to keep the doors open and the lights turned on. Math is the spot where art and commerce meet. Having numbers that work is just as important as having the right equipment and recipes.

So let’s get started with some basics. Please keep in mind that although the numbers may change slightly from place to place, this is information based on what is common in our industry, so please don’t make the fatal mistake of thinking you are going to circumvent the economic realities.
Rule number 1: Everything starts with the rent. No matter how much money you take in you cannot overcome a bad real estate deal. To be safe, your rent should not be higher than about 8% of your projected sales. That means that if your rent is $5,000 per month you would have to take in about $63,000 per month to make a decent profit in your pizzeria.  At that rate you are going to have to ring up about $2100 per day.  It also means you will have to be open 7 days per week. My motto is “Every day that you pay rent you should be generating sales”. If you closed 4 days per month you would have to make up that $8400 in the remaining 26 days and there are no guarantees.  I know a lot of the old timers closed on Mondays, but the fact is they did a lot of things that you will not be able to do in the modern world (we will get into that in the next installment).

Rule number 2: If you are starting with a raw space you should plan on spending about $200 per square foot on your build out. Sure you can try to get by cheaper but factoring in fixtures, furniture, equipment and signage this is about right. Remember that a pizzeria is a special use project that requires costly plumbing, venting and electrical work that is usually not provided by the landlord. The days of having your brother-in- law “who’s a pretty handy guy” building your restaurant are over. Local health and building codes are getting stricter as municipalities run out of money and seek revenue from licensing and fines.

Let’s review our math:
Rent is $5000 per month
Construction investment is $200 per foot. Let’s say that your restaurant is 2000 sq ft. That means it costs $400,000 to build.
Assuming that you are getting that 63k per month in sales you are at about 750k in annual sales. $100,000 per year in profit will give you a 25% return on investment. You would need a 13% bottom line to make $100,000 on $750,000 in sales. Can you do that? Under the right circumstances the answers is yes, but it won’t be as easy as you think, so here is the most important lesson of the day and it addresses the most common mistake that I see beginning entrepreneurs make: Never base your price structure on what your competitors are selling their products for! Their costs and financial considerations have nothing to do with your business.  Your prices must be based on what it costs to make your pizza, including food cost, labor, rent, utilities, insurance, taxes, legal expenses, and that 13% you need at the bottom. Always keep in mind that your goal is to have a business, not just buy yourself a job.

This math stuff may not be what is calling you to a career in pizza, but understanding it and preparing yourself will make it a lot easier for you to experience and enjoy the more artisanal aspects of the journey.
Stay tuned for Part 4....

Garden Cherry Tomato Pizza
Brad English

I was working in New York City this summer and went on some great little pizza quests.  When I got home, I found that a group of volunteer cherry tomato plants were about ready to burst in my back yard. I decided that things had gotten out of control, as the plants were crawling across my patio and it was time to clean things up. First, I had to pluck all of this juicy fruit from the vines --  it was quite a gift!  The seeds for these these plants must have drifted over from the neighbors and didn't get much help from me but, apparently, where they landed, in a little planter cut out of my patio, was a near perfect environment for them.  I can't wait to replant, or watch these volunteers show up again.

But what to do with all of these tomatoes?  Well, I would certainly make a salad.  What else could I possibly do?  Ah, pizza time!

When I decide to make pizza, I generally think of what I want to do and then often go wander around the grocery store to see if anything inspires me.  Just looking at these tomatoes, I realized that my inspiration for making pizza this day was right here in my backyard.  As you can see from the photos, my guest tomato plants gave up quite a bit of gorgeous fruit.

I decided that my first pizza of the day would be totally about the tomatoes.  In fact, it was going to be a tomato pizza -- with no meat products! This was going to be a simple celebration of what the garden offered to me.


Garden Tomato Pizza

- Peter's Classic Neo-Neopolitan Dough *Link

- Peter's Herbed Oil *Link

- Cherry tomatoes -- cut in half

- Ball of Burrata, or Fresh Mozzarella

- Green Onions - Grilled

- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

- Balsamic Vinegar



The Prep:

Make the Herb Oil ahead of time - link to recipe above

Drizzle a little of the Herb Oil onto your green onions and throw them on the grill.  Once they are softened and a little charred pull them off.  Let them cool a little and chop them up and set aside.




The Pizza:

Preheat your oven to the highest temperature, about 550 degrees if possible, for at least an hour prior to cooking to make sure to get your pizza stone up to temperature.

Stretch out your dough and drizzle a little of the Herb Oil over the top.

Place the cherry tomatoes around the dough - mostly cut side down.  I feel like they steam and hold more of their moisture this way.  Some will roll over when you slide it in the oven, and as you can see, I also threw a few on that sit cut side up as well.  This is not science!

Tear up pieces of the cheese and place them around the pizza.  Try to imagine how the cheese will melt and blend together with the other ingredients to gauge how much and where you want to place the pieces.


Time for some heat, so, into the oven….

My oven was as hot as it could get.  You can see the charred tomatoes.  This pizza looked good going in but, hey, it looks good right out of the oven too.

Add the shredded Parmesan, to taste.

Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.


This pizza looks good enough to eat cold.  It was a great way to celebrate the gift of my fresh tomatoes, this inadvertent gift from my neighbors.  The sweet bursts of flavor from the tomatoes, along with the more earthy onions and amazingly creamy burrata cheese really hit the spot.  This pizza was balanced, fresh, and delicious!  And, then, as a topper, you also get that sweet twang from the balsamic vinegar, which perfectly ties all the flavors together -- Delish!!





More About Coffee and Obsession at Basta
Peter Reinhart

In this, the second in our newest webisode series, we continue our conversation with Kelly Whitaker, chef/partner at Basta in Boulder, CO.  You'll notice a few breakaway shots to some of his menu items, such as a sous vide short rib dish that is phenomenal, cooked under pressure at a precise temperature for 48 to 72 hours, and then fire-charred just before serving. We will have a whole episode on this dish in the future, but I mention it because, as you can see here, beginning with our initial discussion on coffee and then beyond, what we are exploring with Kelly is his whole food sensibility, his ethic and culinary worldview, and how his attention to detail carries over into all aspects of the Basta experience.

We're all seeing the appearance of more and more culinary artists, like Kelly, around the country (and world), and when you peel back the curtain, it becomes obvious that a lot more than cooking is taking place in their world. Years of training, mentoring and being mentored, paying ones dues, finding ingredients produced by kindred spirits -- the soul of a chef is a complex thing that we, as customers, usually only get to experience in the form of its final manifestation, the food. So, over the next few months, little by little, we will, in fact, be peeling back the curtain and take you inside the process, deeper into our shared quest to scratch the itch beneath the itch that burns within us all.


Peter's Blog: Happy Thanksgiving!
Peter Reinhart

Here it is, Thanksgiving week, which means everything will feel like one long weekend till Chanukah and Christmas. Scary how fast that time goes.  But, to help you enjoy the time, we'll post a few new pieces including the next installment in our Basta webisode series, which I hope to post on Thanksgiving Day.  Also, we'll soon be posting the next installment in John Arena's series on what it takes to go pizza professional. And Brad English has promised us more on his NYC pizza quest adventures as well as new variations of his latest fire roasted tomato pizza experiments. So keep checking back.

But, till then, let me address a few questions that came in after my last Peter's Blog (you can refer back to the comments section in that post, further down this page, for the actual questions):

--What about the new steel pizza plate compared to a baking stone? Yes, this is the latest rage, fueled by the modernist cuisine movement whose adherents, like us, are ever questing for the holy grail of everything culinary (I'll riff about this "Holy Grail" imagery in a future posting, but let me just say that I have a theory that every person has a deep, unconscious quest -- trying to become conscious which, when it happens we call "enlightenment" --  for the Holy Grail that exists inside us, which is why the whole concept of quest is so powerful -- but let's save that for sometime closer to Christmas). Anyway, the short answer to the question is, yes, I have heard great things about this steel plate but I haven't yet tried it. From a functional sense, anything that can serve as a thermal mass should work and, obviously, this new steel plate seems to gather and radiate heat even better, perhaps, than stone. Can we get some testimonials from those of you who have tried it? I'll chime in too as soon a I can get my hands on one, but I do have a lot of confidence in Nathan Myhrvold and his modernist friends so I'm guessing that this is going to be a winner of a tool.

--Pivetti -00- Flour vs. King Arthur bread flour: To each his own -- I'm partial to American bread flour rather than the super soft Italian Double Zero's, but that's only when I have a choice. I'm also happy when I can get a Vera Pizza Napoletana on any high quality -00- Italian flour dough when made with love and care and in a properly hot oven.  I take no sides and judge no one for their choices: there are many paths up the pizza mountain and the only goal is joy. Our work here is to help identify the tools and methods that increase the odds of a joyful, memorable outcome. We're heard from die-hard proponents of every style and I honor them all, when done in a way that respects the craft. As long as the flour is unbleached and milled by a reputable miller known for consistency, I think joy can be found when proper fermentation and technique are applied.

--Antico Forno at Campo de Fiori: Yes, I love that simple pizza, made in only two styles, red (sauce only) and white (olive oil, salt, and a sprinkle of herbs).  They are baked in long planks, about 7 feet long, and then you just hold your hands open to the size of the piece you want and the girl at the counter whacks off a chunk, weighs it, and charges accordingly. I wrote about this in "American Pie" and the best lesson for me in all of it was how utterly satisfying pizza is even when it's just crust, when it's made right. Again, to return to the theme above, it delivers great joy and is memorable. The hunk I bought never made it back it to my hotel room because I couldn't stop eating it as I walked (I did manage to save a small piece for my wife, but had to bring her back later for another to make up for having already eaten most of her portion). Anyone who goes to Rome should go there, and hold your hands very wide apart when you order.

--Wood-fired pizza classes on Craftsy: It was suggested that I film some videos on wood-fired baking as part of my Craftsy video instructionals. Well, there's good news and bad news regarding this.  First the bad news: The number of current owners of wood-fired ovens probably precludes doing this series in the near future for Craftsy, which requires a large audience to make the costs work. However, anything is possible so I wouldn't rule it out, especially in light of the following good news: I am going to film a mini-instructional course for Craftsy on "pizza making at home," and it should be available to the general public in just a few months.  And here's the best news: it's going to be free!  I will have more details when I return from our filming session in a few weeks but I'm very excited about this project and am extremely grateful to the folks at Craftsy for giving me the opportunity to put some of our techniques and recipes on video where everyone can access them. Who knows, if the response is strong, maybe they will consider doing another one on wood-fired baking.  But don't forget, we also have a number of videos right here at Pizza Quest on baking in a wood-fired oven, so just click into the Instructionals section for those. And don't forget to check out the Forno Bravo website for lots of useful wood-fired cooking information and videos.

Okay, enough for now. I have to go dry-brine my turkey. Have a joyful, memorable Thanksgiving and check back on Thursday for the next webisode installment. And keep those questions and comments coming in too! In gratitude,


DiNapoli Fire Roasted Tomato Pizza
Brad English

Living in Southern California, I use my grill more than I use my oven.  I love cooking with fire.  Fire roasting adds to the flavor complexity of almost anything you cook. There is something primal about it.  We're spoiled with gas grills -- mine is even connected to the house and is ever ready to be fired up with a simple turn of the dial, which is great and convenient, but there's still something missing there.  So, when I cook certain things, like a fresh piece of fish, I often choose to go the extra step and light up some lump charcoal and a little smoke wood on my Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker and use it like a charcoal grill.  The smoke and fire together bring even more flavor in a way that the gas grill just can't (of course, you can always add a little smoke and wood to the gas grill with a smoker box; I've had pretty good results doing my "Gas Grill, Wood Fired" pizzas this way).

And now, there is an explosion in the use of wood fired pizza ovens.  Sure you can make a great pizza in a gas-fired brick oven too - I do it all the time even in my brick-lined home oven, or on my grill.  There is a difference, though, when you get one out of a wood fired oven.  The heat can be the same, but the fire and the smoke, together, coax unique flavors out of a pizza that won't necessarily be there in a traditional oven.  The cooking speed is another aspect.  I love watching a pizzaiolo work the pie in a wood-fired oven.  Each oven has to be played like a musical instrument to bring out the pie properly charred on all sides - cooked evenly and, often, just in the nick of time!

Okay, I know this is a recipe post --  I got lost in rumination there for a minute -- but at least we were on subject talking about fire. This post is about Fire Roasted Tomatoes, so let's just say fire is good and move forward to the pizza.

I had been wanting to make a pizza sauce with the DiNapoli Fire Roasted Tomatoes for some time. I picked up a small can of the stuff at the Vegas Expo when I met Rob DiNapoli for the first time.  I had previously been lucky enough to receive a few cans of their Bianco DiNapoli Organic Tomato product  as well as some of their other amazing tomato products.  That's one nice perk having a pizza blog!

We had been fans of Rob a long time before he became an actual sponsor of our website.  He exemplifies the type of artisan we chronicle here on Pizza Quest. He is a third generation farmer and is dedicated to bringing the best product he can to his customers.  He, and others like him, are that first step in the process of bringing great food to our tables.  Serious chefs know their producers, or have an intimate working relationship with them. They rely on people like Rob to start the food chain with a top quality product in order to bring the best food to their tables.

So I made a couple of pizzas to see how I liked these fire roasted tomatoes.  I did!  I do.  Here's the first...


Fire Roasted Tomato Pizza:

Peter's Classic Dough

Can of DiNapoli Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (14.5 Oz)

Fresh Mozzarella

Thinly sliced Pancetta

Fresh Wild Arugula


To do:

Shape your dough.

Build the pizza by placing fire roasted tomato solids on the dough.  I left the juice in the can.

Drizzle with a little olive oil.

Tear the mozzarella into pieces and place them around the pizza.

Cover with slices of the pancetta


Into the oven…



Special touch: When it came out of the oven, I took some more tomatoes and the juice from the can and crushed them in my hands and sort of drizzled them over the pizza.  I wanted to really taste the flavors of these tomatoes and loved the idea that the first layer is baked and the second is cool. The cool tomatoes will begin to warm right away, but the varying temperature of the first and second layers of tomatoes present slight nuances in flavor.

Top with chopped fresh arugula

Cut and dig in!


That looks pretty good - and it tasted amazing.

The fire roasted tomatoes were sweet and delicious, but had another element participating in the flavor dance.  The charred bits can be seen right when you open the can and the charred flavor is just a little bit of a deeper note on top of the otherwise sweet and juicy tomato.  There is an earthy burnt flavor that almost comes off as "meaty".  It's interesting.

Oh, and the salty pancetta with it's own crispy bits from baking, and the somewhat peppery arugula, goes so well with the sauce!


Stay tuned for my next Fire Roasted Tomato pizza - I did a few variations!


*To purchase DiNapoli Fire Roasted Tomatoes online, you can go to Gourmet Sleuth - *Link


Basta -- A Beginning
Peter Reinhart

We are beginning with this posting of a new webisode story arc featuring our friends at Basta, the wonderful wood-fired restaurant in Boulder that we've featured here in the past. This short opening segment re-introduces you to Kelly Whitaker, the visionary chef/owner of Basta and, in later segments we'll meet other members of his team and then, over time, we'll follow his trail all the way to Southern California and back again to Denver at the Great American Beer Festival where Kelly and I teamed up to make an original, unique pizza, matched in kind by Patrick Rue and his Bruery team making a one of kind beer brewed to pair with our pizza.

It all begins with a cup of espresso, as Kelly starts each day with his morning ritual and, as you will see over the next number of months, leads us into all sorts of wonderful culinary adventures. Basta (and, in later segments, the Bruery) are featured here not because they are the only great restaurants and breweries doing amazing things but because they both represent and are signifiers of a growing movement of artisans who are pushing the envelope in search of great flavors.  I often refer to pizza as "the perfect flavor delivery system" but beer makers, cheese makers, bakers and chefs working in every medium feel that way about their own products. It's always about delivering flavor and, with that flavor, comes something else, an opening up of our minds, hearts, and souls into a larger, greater world of possibility. Pizza Quest is, as we say at the top of the page, "a journey of self-discovery through pizza" and we don't take that promise lightly. Our video webisodes set out to explore that journey, often starting with pizza, because it is such a perfect flavor delivery system as well as the perfect metaphor, and then we follow it, like breadcrumbs (yet another metaphor -- forgive me!!) wherever it leads. That's how we end up meeting so many visionaries, people like Kelly, who many of you already know from earlier webisodes we've posted. But you will now get to know him in a new and deeper way as we explore, with him and his colleagues, the fire that burns in their bellies, the compelling vision that drives them to do extraordinary things.  In so doing, we hope to inspire all of our viewers to tap into their own vision, or at least to vicariously share our vision as it leads to and connects with your own. For Kelly (as for so many of us), it begins with his morning Joe-spresso -- but the fun really starts when we follow the bread crumb trail from the coffee, through the pizza and beer, and then into the deeper vision that drives it all.


Peter's Blog, Nov. 1 2012
Peter Reinhart

Just a few quick notes this week:

--We've had some great response to John Arena's new series on what it takes to open your own pizza restaurant. A very valid question has been raised: how can he tell us to get fast while he (and Brad English, our intrepid pizza quester) also extoll the virtues of super slow pizzaiolo Dom DeMarco of Brooklyn (see Brad's recent journey, further down the page, on his visit to Pizzeria Di Fara). John, I'm sure, will address this but for those of you who have recently joined us, look back in the archives of our Guest Columns and read John's earlier pieces in which he defines three categories of pizza makers, including the "artistes" such as Dom, Anthony Mangieri, Chris Bianco, and others. Some great stuff there...

--I've been asked by many of you, "When are we going to see more video webisodes?'  The answer is NEXT WEEK!!  It's a slow and costly process to edit our hours of footage into coherent, quality short films (remember, we shot this originally for long format, PBS-style shows -- a dream we still hope to fulfill), but Brad, who produces these webisodes for you, just informed me that we have a few almost ready to post. This new story arc refers back to last year's hugely fun pizza/beer challenge that I wrote about in previous Peter's Blogs, culminating in the Big Reveal at last year's Great American Beer Festival in Denver. It all began at Pizzeria Basta, in Boulder, two years ago, so we have a long story to tell. The first installment should post next week, and then we'll bring out the others from time to time, as we get them edited. Anyway, check back soon -- it's really going to happen!

--We have had some response threads to your pizza and dough questions. Time to start another. Does anyone have a pressing question or want to resolve an ongoing pizza controversy? Post to the comment section on this post and I'll choose one for the next round. How about something along the lines of "What makes a pizza memorable?"  Remember, we define great pizza as being memorable, so what makes it so?  I'll riff on it again, as I've done in the past, but what about your riffs? I know there are some strong opinions about this out there, so now's your chance. If you decide to cite a particular place (and not one that you own), then at least give us the reasons why, what makes it memorable? As I tell my Johnson & Wales students, it's okay to have a strong opinion but you have to be prepared to defend it with valid criteria. (OR, you can also suggest a different topic or question that we could also grapple with.)

--I'll be in Chapel Hill in a few weeks, teaching at A Southern Season with my co-author Denene Wallace on Saturday, Nov. 17th on  "The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking." Not sure if they're sold out yet, so contact them directly if you want to come.

--Should have some other good news to share in a week or two about, well, I can't say yet but I think you'll be happy to hear about it (this isn't a false tease, I'm really excited about this, but I  have to wait till it's all confirmed before spilling the cheese). Soon, though, I promise....

Di Fara Pizza
Brad English

Di Fara Pizza - Part I of a 3 stop pizza quest:

Dave Wilson (our very own Pizza Quest Director of Photography and Co-Director on our various webisodes) and I were working in New York together and realized that it looked like we were going to actually have a Saturday afternoon off.  Time for ourselves!  The wheels were spinning.  What to do?  Where to go?  NY is limitless after all!  With this much time off we quickly came up with a small "p" pizza quest to keep ourselves busy and fed.

Our first stop was Di Fara.  We had heard so much about it, but neither of us had ever been.  We figured we would go try some pizza there and make our way over to Roberta's while still in Brooklyn and then come back to the city and end our quest at Keste -- because Dave had never been there either and I insisted that he would have to try it.

Armed with iPhones and subway apps we hit the rails.  Our destination was in an out of the way place in Brooklyn.  We didn't know how "out of the way" it was until later when we were trying to find a cab to take us "up" to Roberta's.  The road trip was happening.  Too bad, we thought, that Peter, Jeff and the rest of the crew and equipment weren't all piling into the subway car with us.


Brooklyn, here we come!

The stop at Avenue J is only steps from Di Fara's.  You notice right away that this area is different. It's more run down, or less developed depending on how you look at it.  Not knowing the area, you have to wonder if it's safe.  Since we were on a quest, we knew it was safe.  Nothing happens to you when you are actually on a quest, right?!  (Well, miracles happen, but nothing bad.)

There was something else different about this stop, these streets, and this pizza place.  The Di Fara Pizza sign is original to say the least.  It's a classic to be sure. The street and the pizzeria seem suspended in time.  This place is the same pizzeria you would have visited 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15, 20 etc.



As we walked up to the pizzeria, we could see Dom DeMarco through what may have been an old ordering window open onto the street.  We snapped this picture on one of our iPhones.  The funny thing is that there is a artist rendering inside that is of Dom in almost the same position as we found him - how old was that?  How old is this place?  How much time has Dom stood there, making pizza after pizza over the years?

The place wasn't as crowded as I expected.  We were there a little after the lunch rush around 1:30Pm I think.  There was one guy taking orders and Mr. DeMarco was making pizza.  I think there was another kid in the back kitchen, but didn't see him.  We placed our order for the classic Regular Pie with Fresh Basil.  The guy said it would be about an hour.  Really?  There were not that many people around.  Ok?!  We'll wait.



I couldn't wait.  It all smelled so good.  An hour?  I found a way to let go and embrace the experience.  I decided to visit this place in this warp of arrested time and allow it to unfold around me.

Mr. DeMarco made a pizza.  We watched.  We walked outside again and watched through the window. We took a few more pictures of the sign.  Time passed quickly, but not because it seemed like all of a sudden our pizza was ready, but because time acted differently.  I'll admit that our quest may well have been the main reason we seemed to pass our time so effortlessly, but it was something I not only noticed, but felt.

We wanted to get a table to experience the place instead of eating our pizza on the street.  There are only about 6 tables, so after our hour or so, we waited inside and got some sodas and sat down.  I think we waited almost 2 hours for our pizza in the end.  Mr. DeMarco made pizza after pizza after pizza by himself.  He wasn't rushed, and wasn't necessarily taking his time either.  He was making each pizza with as much time as each pizza needed to be made with - as if time was actually one of the ingredients.  I have never seen this before and didn't really think about that until just now as I am writing this blog post.  That's an interesting concept.

Our waiting time was up.  Mr. DeMarco held the basil over our pie and snipped away at it with his shears.  I broke the time space continuum here, and moved quickly through this stalled timeless place and snapped a photo of my pizza.  It was still Mr. DeMarco's pizza though, as it hadn't been passed off yet, but Dave and I were soon to become it's new owners.

Dave and I were dying to speak to Mr. DeMarco.  I knew that Peter has met him before and I could have easily said hello.  Instead we wanted to visit this place and experience it for what it was.  I'm glad we did.  I have often thought about watching Mr. DeMarco make his pizzas.  It's almost surreal. He gave each pizza his undivided attention.  Would he have done so if we told him we would likely be posting pictures and writing an article?  Based on everything we saw, it probably wouldn't have phased him one bit!

We ate.  We smiled.  We enjoyed.  We watched everyone around us doing the same.  For the record, Dave ate one more slice than I did and he's half my size!  We had to stop though, because this was stop 1 of 3 on our small "p" pizza quest.  But wait, I didn't say enough about the pizza.




Oh my god!  So good!!





What makes great/memorable pizza?  Is it the dough?  Is it the tomato sauce?  The cheese?  Is it super fresh basil?  Is it the oven temperature, or type of oven?  I think the answer in part to all of these is yes, certainly, but there is something beyond that.  Perhaps another important aspect is, in fact, time.  It's the time the pizzaiolo has spent perfecting his craft.  It's the time he spends focusing on each ingredient.  it's the time he gives to each pizza, which is really being given to each customer.  You could call it love, dedication, or passion, but it's all about the connection of the food to the customer through the time given to sharing the experience.

I'm glad I spent the first part of my day off in Di Fara's time-less zone.  I thought time had stopped, but it was, instead, shared.


Are You Ready to Turn Pro, Part Two
John Arena

Note from Peter: Don't forget to scroll down the home page for Part One of this new series from our friend John Arena, owner of the hugely popular Metro Pizza in Las Vegas. We've been getting some great response to this. Thanks John!!)

There are many components to opening and sustaining a successful pizzeria, but for now let’s focus on essential pizza making skills.  So here is lesson number one:

From now on, every time you make a pizza, or any element of a pizza make it as fast as you can. It doesn’t matter if you are making one pizza for your family or 100 pies for a lunch crowd on a tight schedule. Work fast. You cannot make a living in the pizza business if you are slow. Speed is both a skill and a habit.
--Dividing and rounding dough balls? Do it at top speed.

--Extending dough? Work fast. You need the practice.

--How fast is fast enough? Of course that’s a matter of opinion, but for starters, 2 people should be able to divide and round an 80 pound batch of dough in the time it takes to mix a second batch so there is no idle time in production. The most crucial task in your pizzeria is dough management-making dough, fermenting dough and using it at exactly the right time regardless of ever changing conditions.

--When it comes to making pizzas, you should be able to fill your ovens before the first pizza is ready to come out. So, if you are making large pizzas in a standard 2 deck gas oven you have to extend (stretch), top, and insert 8 pizzas in the oven in about 9 minutes, while taking the time to rotate the pies if necessary. In a wood burning oven the same rules apply. You must be able to fill the oven and move pies around to get the desired bake, take them out without burning or dropping anything or having any down time where the oven is empty. Now cut and plate the pies and keep moving.

--Sorry, but if you intend to be a pro there will be no more painstaking placement of every single mushroom. Yes, your pies have to look beautiful but the next hungry guest is waiting. Now here is the hard part- Once you can fill the ovens…do it again. OK, now do it again… and now again. Keep doing it for at least 3 hours without a break or slow down, because that is how long the average dinner rush will last. Speed is important but it is useless without endurance.

--Now, let’s not forget that all of these top speed pizzas must also resemble each other. Even if you are making artisan pies your guests are going to expect that there is a basic defining look and consistency to your pizzas. So like it or not, pizza making is repetitive work. What you do right now is what you are going to do again in 60 seconds and what you do today is going to have to be done again tomorrow.

--You are going to find that there is a rhythm and spirit to each part of your day. Throw away your clock -- and your calendar-- because from now on you are living on pizza time. You’re a football fan? So are your customers. From now on you will be using your DVR. You like to spend holidays with your family? Give them a job, so you can build the business together.

Is this starting to sound daunting? Be fearless, because here is the great part. You are going to take flour, water, and yeast and, using your own hands and some fire, create the world’s greatest communal food. You are going to join the ranks of a time honored profession and your pizzeria will become a vital part of your community.

In the next installment we will explore the common pitfalls of creating a pizzeria and teach you how to avoid them.

A Wandering Desert Road Pizza
Brad English

I was walking through one of my local markets and, in the produce section, a large oval green shape caught my eye.  As I turned to look closer and my eyes focused on what I was seeing, my smile grew at the same time.  My market had fresh cactus!  I had literally made my pickled cactus sauce, ode to the Nevada desert pizza, "The Hwy 15 Pizza," a couple days ago.  I was going to order some cactus online until this fortunate meeting of me and the spiked Napolea Grande leaf.  If you can't find it in your local store, I found this informative site that grows and sells Organic Cactus called RivenRock.com.  They have videos and recipes on using their products, which I relied on when I brought my "leaf" home from the store.

I continued to shop, but now I was on another mission -- to do another version of my Hwy 15 Pizza that featured a sauce made from pickled cactus.  Lets see, what other desert ingredients can I bring to this pizza party?  I figured I would keep this in the same vein as the original Hwy 15, but add something to it here and there to see where this experiment might lead.  I found some Queso Fresco, which is a light, fresh Mexican cheese that can substitute for goat or feta cheese as a lighter fresher cheese option.  I thought this might work well, allowing the other ingredients to shine.  I figured I would once again use the pickled cactus sauce as the base, but add some fresh jalapeños into the mix.

After wandering around, I figured I had enough new items to create something that started on Hwy 15, but maybe ended up out on a deserted dirt road that wandered across the Nevada desert.


A Wandering Desert Road Pizza

Mesquite Pizza Dough

Pickled Cactus and Jalapeño Sauce

Queso Fresco

Fresh Cactus Leaf

Thin sliced Pancetta

Whole Sage Leaves - chopped, or torn

Fresh Jalapeños - sliced



Mesquite Pizza Dough

I had come up with the idea of creating a new dough for my original desert-themed pizza.  While researching ideas for this pizza, I inevitably came across mesquite, which many know as a "flavor" associated with grilling.  This could be an interesting thing to add to the wood mixture in a WFO. Though it's not necessarily associated with Nevada, I felt that it did embody desert life and was heavily used by Native Americans as a staple food source.  They create a mesquite flour by grinding down the dried mesquite pods in a mill.  It lacks any gluten and has a very intense flavoring - which changes when cooked/baked.  It can become bitter.  The website where I purchased my mesquite generally recommends blending the mesquite flour at 1/3 of the volume of what you are making.

I chose a Fire-Roasted Western Honey Mesquite Flour.  Peter suggested I start with my first batch at 10% mesquite to total flour.  I used the basic Neo-Neopolitan Pizza dough and added in my mesquite.  (Note: If you've read my blogging much, you'll have heard a few comments by my son Owen, or other family members.  Owen may have a knack or a finely tuned palate.  I once was making a few pizzas with some Bianco DiNapoli Tomatoes, used straight, as the sauce to see how good they were.  Owen said, "Dad, this is the best sauce you've ever made!"  Well, all I did was open the can.  Thanks Owen!  He did it again with this Mesquite Dough.  He said, "Dad, this is the best crust you've ever made!"  He had no idea I made this with the mesquite flour.  He just showed up for some testing of the finished product.  Anyway, as Owen can vouch, it's good!)

Here's a link to The Mesquitery where I got the Fire-Roasted Western Honey Mesquite Flour:  www.mesquiteflour.com


Neo-Neopolitan Dough Recipe: *Link


Pickled Cactus and Jalapeños Sauce:

The idea for this "sauce" comes right from Jersey's own Mossuto's Pizzeria.  Here's the link to my version of their Fat Lip Pizza - *Link.  I wanted to incorporate cactus into the pizza for obvious reasons.  When you think of the desert cactus is likely one of the first iconic images that you think of.  I picked up a jar of Pickled Nopalitos (Cactus) and had a jar of my Mom's Soy Pickled Jalapeños around and went from there.

- Pickled Nopalitos (Cactus)

- Pickled Jalapeños

- Garlic

- Olive Oil

- Fresh Ground Pepper

Chop the cactus and jalapeños and some garlic to taste and place in a bowl.

Add olive oil and freshly ground pepper.

Measure and add ingredients to taste.  The cactus is somewhat sweet with a nice tang from the pickling.  The jalapeños add some heat and a little salt - because I am using my soy pickled jalapeños.  Pull the solids from the sauce onto your pizza, being careful to manage how much oil you get on the pizza. You don't want it to be too runny.  Mix the ingredients and let sit to marinade for as long as you can for the flavors to come together.


Fresh Cactus Leaf

To prepare your cactus leaf check out this simple video demonstration at RivenRock.com.  *Link

It's really simple.  You use the scrubber side of a sponge to lightly remove the spines.  Then you simply trim the edges and slice your cactus into the shape you want to use.


A Wandering Desert Road Pizza

Spread the dough

Add a scoop of the sauce and spread across the dough.  Add more as desired, or place on top of the pizza before, or after cooking.

Break off chunks of the Queso Fresco to cover the pizza.

*Prior to assembling the pizza:

Lightly fry up the chopped sage leaves and sliced jalapeños until just tender.  They will cook more in the oven.  I used a little of the Pickled Cactus Sauce as the oil.

Add pancetta over the cheese.

Add your sliced fresh cactus

Top with some of the sautéed jalapeños and sage.

Into the oven it goes.


When the pizza comes out of the oven, you might drizzle a little of the Pickled Cactus/Jalapeno sauce, or just dig in.

Layers!  What struck me here was the layers of flavors/textures created using fresh cactus and pickled cactus. I am now a born again cactus fan!  I have since made some of my favorite homemade salsa using chopped fresh cactus.  It has a really fresh flavor.  I sliced the cactus thick enough so that it retained it's moisture.  It was like the oasis of moisture on my pizza, just like the cactus is in the desert.  The pickled cactus added a vinegary accent, while the fresh cactus gave a soft fresh juicy note as you bit into it.

I will definitely keep playing with this new ingredient while exploring my desert pizza experiment as well as on other foods I enjoy like: tacos, burgers, salsas, salads and maybe more?!



Are You Ready to Turn Pro?
John Arena

Part I

OK, you’ve been making pizzas at home now for years. You invested in a great oven. You source the best ingredients. You stay up all night arguing on the internet about water sources and fermentation times. You obsess over every detail.  Everyone tells you that your pizza is better than what they can get in any pizzeria. Well… even if no one else says it, you know that you make the greatest pizza in the world.  Certainly you can do better than those hacks at your neighborhood pizzeria (how have those guys stayed in business for so long?). Admit it, you want to turn your pizza avocation into a vocation. You want to own a pizzeria. The question is, how do you know when you are truly ready?

I speak to ambitious amateur pizza makers all the time. Many of them have amazing passion and talent. Those qualities are an important start, but there’s more to it if you want to succeed. Allow me to explain: I’m sure you can all remember the incredible satisfaction you received from baking your first pizza, cutting it, and sitting down to enjoy it with your friends and family. I envy you. My experience is quite different. 45 years ago, on September 8, 1967 to be exact, I made my first pizza. My Uncle Rocco took it out of the oven, cut it, boxed it, and collected $2.25 from a waiting customer. Out the door went my pizza, a small step for the customer, but a giant leap for me. At that moment I fell in love with the pizza business. I fell in love with the idea that someone would spend money to buy and consume something that I had made with my own two hands.

Growing up in a small family pizzeria I also understood that this was hard work, with small profit. I learned from childhood that making a great pizza was only part of it. If you want to stay in business you have to be able to make pizzas that people are willing to buy at a price that covers your expenses and makes you a little bit more. Most importantly, you have to remember that you are selling an experience. The perceived value of that experience is what will allow you to charge enough to make a profit. No matter how high or low your price points the customer must always feel that the experience was worth more than they paid for it.

That’s the key. How your customer feels after they pay the bill will determine whether or not they come back. That is the pizza business. It doesn’t matter if you trained with Raffaelo Esposito’s great grandson or that you hand-feed hazelnuts to the pigs that become your sausage. In the end you will have to be able to sell enough of your great pizzas at a profit year after year to keep yourself in business.

Note: In Part 2 we will explore the skills you will need to make pizzas at a professional level and how you can prepare yourself for the transition from dedicated amateur to successful pro.

Montanara Starita
Brad English


This is not a restaurant review!

This is a selfish blog posting about being on my own little pizza quest and running into one of the masters in the world of artisan pizza.  I had been trying all week, while I was working in NYC a while back, to fit in some pizza questing and I had the opportunity to visit one of New York's newest ventures.

Don Antonio by Starita opened recently and is getting some rave reviews and, now I know, that's for good reason.  It's a new venture by Pizzeria Keste owner, Roberto Caporuscio, and Antonio Starita, who owns one of Naples' most famous pizzerias, called Pizzeria Starita, which is 110 years old (the pizzeria, not Antonio).  I have been a personal fan of Roberto's for some time having visited Keste on nearly every one of my visits to New York since it opened.  His pizzas have not only pushed beyond good to great, but very well may have reached a new level in my book.  They are what Peter Reinhart calls "Memorable," here at Pizza Quest.  Memorable is something more than just "great".  If you remember a very good pizza you had, you can describe it and even imagine the taste.  But, a memorable pizza is one that goes one or more steps further and makes sort of a time stamp in your mind and is experienced and remembered on a totally different level.  You can seemingly taste and almost experience it again as you recall it.  I don't mean to gush, but that's just what I feel about Keste.  Roberto's dough and crust is that good.

Now back to me…my window opened and opportunity called!  I had time to escape the office for lunch; I bolted for the door.  I took the subway, which popped me up only a block or so from Don Antonio. I went in and sat at the bar for lunch.  I had a limited amount of time and knew that, while here, I had to try the signature pizza called the "Montanara Starita" which is made with a lightly fried pizza dough.  Scott Weiner, of Scott's Pizza Tours, had told me that if I only had time for one pizza there that I had to try that one.

I asked the bartender if Roberto happened to be in today.  Unfortunately, he wasn't.  I ordered a salad and my Monatanara. As I ate my salad, I overheard someone say "Roberto!"  After a few minutes I asked the bartender again and as it turns out Roberto was there (what am I, chopped liver?).  When his conversation wrapped up behind me, I introduced myself and was lucky enough that either Pizza Quest, or Peter Reinhart's name got me into a conversation and,, later, back into the kitchen!  I was about halfway through my Montanara when Roberto came to sit with me.  We talked about, what else, pizza.  I went on a bit about how much I liked Keste and enjoyed the fact that I was eating a pizza with him.

He asked me back to the kitchen to meet his daughter Georgia, who was the pizzaiola working the oven.  We talked bit more back there with his staff and Georgia took me over to watch her make a Montanara pizza.  It's simple.  Spread the dough and drop it in the fryer.  It sits in there for a few minutes.  She would touch it here and there, pushing one side, or the other under the oil as it floated to the top and turned it a couple of times before pulling it out to drain a little before she topped it.  At this point it's prepped like any other pizza.  Add the sauce.  Add the Cheese and some basil and it goes into the oven.

As I was about to leave Roberto asked me how I found the Montanara. As I began to tell him, I referenced how I first found Keste's dough, he misunderstood me and thought I was trying to tell him how I got to Don Antonio!  I said, "No, no! I understand!"  We then discussed the pizza.  I had the feeling he was really interested to know what I thought about it, not because I was an expert or anything, but because it was something "new".  When I was at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas months earlier, there was all sorts of chatter about fried dough being the next rage.  I think Roberto was, and is, curious about this new trend, one that is apparently not new at all.  It's just newly in fashion.

So, how did I find the Montanara - fried pizza?  It was my first fried pizza, to be certain, and I honestly didn't know what to expect.  I found the Montanara to be a unique pizza experience.  The dough was lighter than I thought it would be.  It was puffy and crunchy, but still soft.  The tomatoes were bright and the sweet acidity worked well with and against the dough, which had a buttery quality to it due to the frying.  The pizza was rich, but balanced. The smoked buffalo mozzarella was delicious and there to be tasted, but wasn't overwhelming or in a competition with the tomatoes and dough. Then there was the fresh basil which came in with a nice aromatic finish to this ensemble.



I found this pizza interesting.  Okay, I found this pizza to be delicious!  But most importantly, I found this experience of getting to eat this pizza with Roberto, and watch Georgia making one while standing with us in the kitchen by the wood burning oven, well, I found it memorable. Maybe "memorable" is about more than just great food.  Maybe memorable is about great food, plus good people, a unique experience, and maybe even simply great timing!




I'm still haunted by Roberto's traditional wood oven baked doughs, but was happily surprised by this "new" variation of an old deep-fried classic!

Peter's Blog, Oct. 1
Peter Reinhart

Here's the first question that came, from Doc.Dough. He must be a doc, for sure, as it takes a little study to understand the question -- but I'll take a stab at it and then all of you can chime in with comments.

Over on TFL I see lots of people slavishly following very exacting instructions without understanding what the instructions are intended to convey. Perhaps Peter could attempt to articulate the difference between importance and exactness or in some way provide some useful guidance to set expectations a little lower with respect to the behavior of sourdough cultures in the amateur's kitchen. There is the "you have to do it enough times to have seen it go wrong occasionally" method of teaching, and there is the parametric sensitivity derivatives analytic approach which is fine for the science crowd but pretty useless for the average home baker. Is there a happy medium?

I think the answer is both yes and no. Let me see if I can elaborate: there are dozens of legitimate ways of making and keeping a starter. I have offered to send a file on the subject to anyone who requests it (write to me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to make the request -- hundreds of you already have), but the main thing to remember is that a starter is just a medium for the cultivation of wild yeast and lactic acid and acetic acid-forming bacteria. The speed of development and the creation of a hospitable environment for these micro-organisms is partly determined by temperature and also by what organisms are already living in a dormant state on the grain and, to some extent, in the local air.  The biggest mistake I've seen in recent times is that people abandon their starter in the early stages (we call it the seed culture stage) because they think it is dead, or it isn't activating on the same timetable as described in whatever method they are following. Other errors include trying to jump start it with commercial yeast (which is too fragile to survive the acidic conditions and will die and then give off glutathione which wreaks havoc on the gluten), or thinking that their old "mother" starter is no good after sitting in the fridge for months so they throw it out.

It is true that an old starter will turn to mush in the fridge and is not structurally sound enough for using in a loaf, but it only takes an ounce or two of it to re-establish it in a new, strong, viable "mother" starter in a day or two since the micro-organisms are still viable even if the dough itself is spent and chewed up by the acids.

There are a number of theories floating around about why it seems to be taking longer for a new

Peter's Blog, Sept. 28
Peter Reinhart

Two quick things: The home page here is getting kind of long so I will soon be trimming it and sending some of the older pieces into their respective archives, which you are always welcome to open with the buttons at the top of the page. I'll also be shortening some of them with a "continue reading" tag at the end. But util I do that, for those of you interested in our recent Peter's Blog Q & A thread, which is now located about halfway down the home page, I wrapped up that very interesting thread with a request for more questions (see thread item 26) so we can start anew. Let's move the response to that request to this posting just to keep it further up the page.

The other item is some happy news for our Pure Pizza team here in Charlotte. We just got our first major review, by Helen Schwab who is the restaurant critic for the Charlotte Observer. You can check it out here: http://events.charlotteobserver.com/reviews/show/14288405-review-pure-pizza

I'm super proud of everyone and I think we're doing something very special there. Please check us out when you are in Charlotte (those of you who came to the Jon Stewart Daily Show tapings, held across the street during the DNC, consumed a lot of our pies -- thanks for spreading the word).

Enough bragging and kudos -- now back to Q & A -- bring them on.....


Kneading Conference West 2012
Teresa Greenway

I just finished attending the amazing Kneading Conference West 2012 here in the Northwest. It was the second annual Kneading Conference West and was held on September 13, 14 and 15 at the WSU Research and Extension Center in Mt. Vernon, WA. I was fortunate to be able to attend the class, “Pizza in the Wood – Fired Oven,” given by Mike Dash of www.rollingfire.com. He had his trailered Forno Bravo oven on site. Mike’s class was very informative and I think I learned more about pizza baking and wood fired ovens than I ever imagined I would. Some of the information available at the class was:


Heating the wood fired oven:

There are three kinds of heat used to bake a wood fired pizza: bottom heat, convection heat and broiler heat. Mike had a fire going in the oven when the class arrived. Once we started the class and began to shape the pizza dough, Mike moved the fire to the other side of the oven and we placed the pizzas right on the floor of the oven where the initial fire had been. The fire was right next to the pizza on the right hand side and was the source of the “broiler” heat which, with the bottom heat and convection of the all-around heat, very quickly baked the pizza to perfection. It was astonishing how quickly the pizza was done. A wood fired pizza bakes at temperatures from 700 – 900F, those kinds of temperatures are not obtainable for a home baker with a standard oven. Mike said some of the best wood to use for a pizza oven fire are oak and apple wood, and to stay away from soft wood and wood with a lot of resin.

The pizza dough:

Mike had containers filled with pizza dough rounds which had sat overnight proofing. He highly recommends the “Caputo” flour, which is available from Forno Bravo here: http://www.fornobravo.com/pizza-ingredients/index.html .

(Note from Peter: Caputo truly is wonderful flour but you might also want to try the Central Milling "00" Classico Flour, an American, organically grown version inspired by the Italian brands, that I totally love (and, of course, Central Milling is one of our Pizza Quest sponsors too!). Click through to their site on the banner ad at the top of the page -- it rotates in periodically -- or click *HERE for more details.)

The “hands on“ feel of the dough is incentive enough for me to try the Caputo flour. I think the dough was the one thing that surprised me more than anything else; it stretched easily and flowed like something alive… which of course it was. The handouts for the class included recipes for Neapolitan dough available on the Forno Bravo site and New York Style dough, available from Peter Reinhart’s book, “American Pie.” Mike did a great job explaining how to stretch and shape the dough, it was a really fun part of the class, especially when the participants had a go at trying it on their own.

Every participant who wished to, not only had the chance to stretch out their own pizza dough, they then topped it and baked it themselves. Mike stood by to give advice, answer questions and offer a helping hand when necessary. The pizzas produced by Mike’s method and the Forno Bravo wood fired oven were superb! I really had a wonderful time being able to take the class, make my own pizza and enjoy the dinner pizzas made by Mike’s staff the evening before. If you wish to set up classes in your area, you can visit Mike online at http://www.rollingfire.com. Hopefully Mike will be available next year at the third annual Kneading Conference West for more Pizza in a Wood Fired Oven classes. If you want more information about the Kneading conference visit: http://www.kneadingconferencewest.com . If you want to learn how to bake your own pizza, well, you are already at the best site!

How the Internet Changed Pizza History
Albert Grande

Pizza has always been America’s favorite food. It’s been the subject of movies, books, and songs. Pizza is not only a food of sustenance, but for some has become an obsessive delight. And for many fans, pizza is a sheer and utter passion. Pizza debate brings on an endless thirst for argument that cannot be easily quenched with just a slice or two.

People discuss their favorite pizzerias with the same emotionally charged energy as they would discuss politics or their favorite sports team. Pizza has become so entrenched into the culture that it is easy to forget that it was once simply peasant food. Pizza was, for many years, enjoyed by the lower echelons of society who could afford little else.

For most of pizza’s long and romantic history it was a regional dish. The great pizza in New York stayed in New York. The inside secrets of the best New York pizzas remained in the boroughs and neighborhoods where it was created. There would be an occasional newspaper or magazine article. Television and radio reporters would sporadically discuss pizza on regional and local venues. However, unless you visited New York, these insider pizza secrets remained mysteries to the rest of the country.

The pizza in New Haven stayed in New Haven.  Frank Pepe began making pizza in 1925. Sally’s founded by Frank Pepe's, nephew, Salvatore Consiglio, came into being a decade later. Modern Apizza, also in New Haven developed their own brick oven masterpieces. Up the road in Derby, Connecticut, Roseland Apizza had created their own brand of

The Hwy 15 Pizza
Brad English

A few months ago I went to Las Vegas for the Pizza Expo.  I wrote about visiting with John Arena of Metro Pizza.  While driving to Vegas I had been a little lost in thought.  No, I wasn't on my phone, but I was drifting along somewhere out in there in the desert.  I was thinking about the email exchange I had with John and the fact that he mentioned he'd love to make some pizzas with me.  As this worked it's way around my brain, I started noticing that the desert valley I was in was reminiscent of something familiar.  I was driving along in an air conditioned car, with a cool venti iced latte from a Starbucks stop a while back.  I said to my father, who was riding with me, "Look at the mountains that are encircling us.  Don't they look like the crust of a giant pizza?"

He looked around and said, "No."  I told him he was crazy and unimaginative!  All he could see was the white sand and scrubby sage and rocks.  "Can't you see how the sage brush is like little bits of herbs poking out from the desert sand (which would be the cheese)?

We then came upon a hill that appeared to be formed from a lava eruption, or burst from under the ground.  To me, that was it, it sealed the deal, I was literally in the middle of a giant 10-mile wide pizza and that burnt rock hill was a bubble in the crust.

I think I brought it up to my father again in the next valley. (There are two distinct "Pizza Valleys" on Hwy 15 from LA to Las Vegas -- you heard it here first.)  He just couldn't see my vision. Topics turned to the more mundane banter bouncing between laughter and arguments that we always have - especially while trapped in a small car for 4-5 hours together.

I've written before about my experience meeting up with John Arena at the Pizza Expo, which was great.  During the show, John took me by a booth that he had made dough for and I noticed that there was a huge air bubble with a burnt top.  I mentioned my desert pizza "vision" to John and, being far more visionary than my father, he loved the idea.  We kicked around some ideas for desert ingredients.  On my way home I was all ready for the pizza valleys and admittedly, I did ask




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Vision Statement

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.

Peter's Books

American Pie Artisan Breads Every Day Bread Baker's Apprentice Brother Juniper's Bread Book Crust and Crumb Whole Grain Breads

… and other books by Peter Reinhart, available on Amazon.com