Pizza Blog #3… Making incredible pizza at home

This is the third post in my pizza series.  If you missed my previous posts, please check them out.  I gave a brief history of pizza, discussed Italian pizza styles, talked about baking techniques, posted my pizza sauce and dough recipes, and gave my recommendations for tomato products.

Frankie’s Pizza Class

 

Before moving on I wanted to remind you that, for those of you who live in the Seattle-Eastside area, I teach hands-on pizza classes in your home for groups of six and up.  For details on that and/or for catering of pizzas or other Italian offerings, check out my website at http://www.frankiesitaliancooking.com

In today’s post I will talk about…

  • American styles of pizza
  • Post my Basil Pesto recipe
  • Provide recipes for some of my favorite pesto pizzas

American Pizza Styles… A Regional Outlook:

When you discuss styles of pizza you really only hit upon the primary styles.  In reality there are probably thousands of variations.  While the large chains strive for consistency (why be consistently lousy I ask myself?), I would say that no two independent pizzerias are exactly alike.  The variations are endless and can be significant or subtle.  There are so many variables… types of ovens, baking temperatures, the type of flour used, dough recipes and proofing, sauce recipes, types and quantity of cheeses, and how toppings are dealt with.  New Yorkers will even tell you that their water makes their pizza different than all others, including neighboring Jersey.  Let’s start there…

New York Style:  

They say the main difference between New York and New Jersey pizza is the water.  The water in New York makes their crust pliable, so when you fold a slice lengthwise to eat it (a typical New York method), it does not crack.  New Jersey pizza on the other hand has a crisper bottom which will crack when folded.  Otherwise these two pizzas are pretty similar. 

New York pizza is a style originally developed by immigrants from Naples.  It is generously sized, with a thin, pliable crust.  It’s almost always hand-tossed, moderately topped with a southern Italian-style tomato sauce, and liberally covered with cheese.   It shares some qualities with its Neapolitan cousin but is typically a much larger pie.  The reason slices are usually eaten folded in half is its size and flexibility make it otherwise difficult to eat by hand.

This style of pizza dominates the NE states, and you’ll find pizzerias all over the country trying to imitate it.  At Frankie’s our pizzas were similar to this but our crust was a little thicker.  I was always honored when a New Yorker gave us high marks because they always thought there was no match for it.  I once had a New Yorker tell me ours was even better and I almost fell over.

New Haven Style:

Since we started on the east coast we’ll hit a lesser known pizza, at least to those of us out west.  Based in New Haven, Connecticut, this brick oven cooked pizza (or “apizza,” as New Haven-style restaurants call it) has its roots in Neapolitan-style pizza but is a delicacy all on its own.  New Haven uses a long cold fermentation process for the dough, and the oven gets the pizza nice and charred.  A “tomato pie” skips the cheese, and most New Haven pizzerias will treat mozzarella as a topping on its own.  Another variation is their white clam pizza, with clams, garlic, and cheese.

Detroit Style:  

Working our way west we next come to Detroit.  Some compare Detroit style pizza to deep-dish Chicago  style, but it’s really very different.  Detroit pizza is made in a square or rectangle pan.  The square shape is said to be the result of an early tradition of using metal trays originally meant to hold small parts in factories.

The dough is light and airy, similar to Sicilian dough methods, and the middle of the crust is nearly as thick as the edges.  When cooked, it’s crispy on the bottom and edges but light and soft on the inside.

Like Chicago pizza, the toppings and cheese (traditionally Wisconsin brick cheese, not mozzarella) go on before the sauce, protecting the dough from getting soggy.  That’s why this pizza is sometimes called “Detroit Red Top”!

Chicago Deep Dish Style:

Not all Chicago pizza is deep dish.  There is a thin style as well, but the deep dish version is so iconic that it is the version we will talk about.

Developed In the 1940s, the deep-dish version, has a deep crust that lines a large round metal pan.  Every Chicago pizza place from Pizzeria Uno to Giordano’s has its own deep-dish crust recipe, but generally, it’s made from either wheat or semolina flour to give it a yellowish color when baked (and Lou Malnati’s has its famous butter crust).

Though the pizza is quite thick, the crust itself is thin to medium thickness, and the pizza has a very thick layer of toppings.  It requires a long baking time, so the toppings are usually assembled “upside down” with cheese, vegetables, and meats placed on top of the crust, and an uncooked tomato sauce on the top layer, to help the vegetables and meats cook all the way through in the oven, and prevent the cheese from burning.

St. Louis Style:

Moving farther west we find the St. Louis style pizza, originated in the 1960s by Ed and Margie Imo of Imo’s Pizzeria.  It has a thin, cracker-like crust, made without yeast, and is topped with Provel cheese, rather than mozzarella.  Provel is a white processed cheese, made by combining cheddar, mozzarella, and provolone cheeses, and used primarily in the St. Louis area.  Even though this pizza is round, St. Louis-style pies are always cut into small squares.

California Style:

California style pizza is less about hand-tossed dough, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and cured Italian meats… and more about the toppings.  This pizza embraces the cuisine of the west coast.  Experimentation has few limits… think quail eggs, goat cheese, duck sausage or lobster, or smoked salmon with crème fraiche and capers.

Two pizzas that really caught on were the Barbeque Chicken Pizza, and Thai-inspired Chicken Pizza with peanut sauce, bean sprouts, and shaved carrots.  The focus is always on fresh, quality ingredients and a unique pizza eating experience.

California pizza generally uses a dough similar to the Neapolitan, and pizzas are rarely bigger than twelve inches.  This style of pizza is generally credited to Chef Ed LaDou who developed a pizza with ricotta, red peppers, mustard, and pate, that Chef Wolfgang Puck fell in love with in the early 1980s.  Puck hired LaDou to work at the newly opened Spago in 1982.  In 1985, Chef LaDou created the first pizza menu for California Pizza Kitchen.

Back to Frankie’s:

Now that we understand the roots of pizza, through its history and varying styles, let’s get back to the “how-to’s” of making a great pizza.

In my previous posts I provided you with recipes for our Frankie’s pizza dough and sauce, and talked about the best baking procedures.

In this post I’m going to share my other favorite sauce… fresh Basil Pesto… and the secret of making three of my favorite pizzas from our Frankie’s menu… all of which feature this pesto.

But before I give you the recipe let me share a few secrets I’ve learned about making the best pesto you’ve ever had!

 

 

 

Basil Pesto originates from the Genova area in the region of Liguria, a coastal area in northwest Italy (think Cinque Terre and north).  I’ve had pesto here and it is super fresh, vibrant and flavorful.  Why so good?   I’d say the most important are basil, olive oil and cheese.

 

Fresh Basil:  A lot of the basil here is grown in raised beds, often in greenhouses, with the plants very close together.  It is harvested very young while the leaves are at their most tender and flavorful.  You’re not going to find basil like that here, but you want it to be as fresh as possible.

Your best bet is either grow your own (easy when the weather is warm), or to buy live, potted basil plants (or live basil with roots in water).  Then use the freshest and most tender leaves.

Olive Oil:  A good extra virgin olive oil will make all the difference.  Olive oil loses its fresh, fruity flavor as it ages or gets exposed to too much heat or light.  Look for oils which list the year of their harvest on the bottle.  Olives are harvested in the late autumn so most of the time you’ll be buying oil which is from the prior year.  If it does not list the harvest it, it is likely more than a year old.  A local olive oil shop will have some of the best oils, but I’ve also found high quality oils, of the most recent harvest at places like Costco and Trader Joe’s.

Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese:  The best cheese for pesto (and one of the best cheeses in the world, period!) is aged Parmigiano-Reggiano from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.  You will know it’s the real thing by looking for its stamped rind.  BUT, not all Parmigiano-Reggiano are aged for the same period of time.  The best quality-price ratio I’ve found is at Costco… not the pre-grated stuff in the jar, but the wedges.  Even there it is not cheap but it will last you a long time.  I bought another brand at a local grocery store recently and I could tell it was younger because it was softer and much less flavorful.

Other Ingredients:  The next major ingredient is pine nuts or some other type of nut.  Pine nuts are very expensive so you can substitute a different nut such as walnuts or even pecans.  The flavor will change slightly but its not really all that noticeable.

One non-traditional ingredient I add to my pesto is fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Its acidity brightens both the color and flavor, and it helps it keep its bright color.

Another optional ingredient, which I learned from Marcella Hazan (one of the most respected Italian cooks of all time), is softened butter.  It adds a little creaminess and richness to the pesto.

Here is my Basil Pesto sauce recipe followed by recipes for some of my favorite pesto pizzas which we served at Frankie’s…

If you’d prefer the recipe in a PDF click here… Basil Pesto Recipe PDF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here are my favorite Pesto Pizzas…

PDF Format… Vesuvius and Chicken Gorgonzola

Pesto & Goat Cheese and Quattro Formaggio

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Homemade Limoncello… so easy… start a batch now for Spring!

I am taking a brief unplanned diversion from my pizza series (I’ll do my third pizza post next week).  I recently posted a couple of pictures on Facebook of me starting a batch of Limoncello.  I got so many people asking for the recipe that I thought I better post it to avoid a rebellion.  I also mentioned a couple of dessert (dolce!) recipes made from the Limoncello.  I will post those soon.

About Limoncello:

Limoncello is a lemon liqueur which is primarily produced in the southern coastal areas of Italy, such as the gulf of Naples and the Amalfi Coast.  It is made from fresh lemon peel, alcohol, water and sugar.  Traditionally it is served chilled (from the freezer) as an after dinner digestivo.

Limoncello is super easy to make; however it needs time to steep properly (weeks or even a month or two).  So start your batch soon so you can enjoy it when the weather warms up!

Recipes I’ve worked with vary widely in how long to steep the lemons in the alcohol, and then again after the simple syrup (of sugar and water) is added.  Essentially, the longer it steeps, the better it will be; yet you hit a point of diminishing return, where the differences are so subtle it is hard to even differentiate.  Here is a tip for you… if you want to speed up the process, you can always add more lemon peels than what the recipe calls for.  Just don’t go crazy or the lemon flavor might overwhelm.

What you will need:

In addition to the ingredients listed you will need a large glass jar, such as you would use to make sun tea. You will also need enough clear, sealable glass bottles to accommodate nearly 8 cups (about 1800 ml) of finished Limoncello. In my experience, World Market is a good place to find both the glass jar and the small bottles.  You will also need a veggie peeler (see note further down).

How to make it:

Unless you are using organic lemons, wash them with produce wash or soap to remove any residue of pesticides or wax.  Dry with a clean towel before proceeding.

The next step will be to remove the peel from the lemons in long strips using a vegetable peeler.  You want to avoid getting an excessive amount of the white pith, which will lend bitterness.  In the past I used an standard vegetable peeler and had a fair amount of the white pith, which I then tried to trim off with a pairing knife… a bit of a pain.  This time I used a Titan peeler (see photo left) and it was fabulous!  I was able to get clean strips of peel with almost no white pith!  So, I highly recommend buying one, though be careful, they are super sharp.  I cut my finger with it once so was a little intimidated.  But if you hold it properly and don’t peel toward your fingers, you’ll be fine.

 

After peeling the lemons, save what remains for another use (such as making fresh squeezed lemonade).

The next steps are to steep the lemon peels in alcohol and then later create a simple syrup which you combine with that, and then steep a bit longer.  I’ll refer you to the recipe for the rest of the information.  Be sure to read the Frankie’s Tips on page 2 of the recipe before proceeding.

Buon appetito!

Download PDF Recipe or Click on Recipe below

Pizza Blog #2… Making Amazing Pizza at Home

Trattoria Pizzeria – Venice

This is my second post in my pizza series.  If you missed my last post check it out.  I gave a brief history of pizza, talked about baking techniques, posted my pizza sauce recipe, and gave my recommendations for tomato products.

In today’s post I will talk about…

  • Italian pizza styles (I will discuss American styles in a future post)
  • Discuss different kinds flours you can use
  • Discuss dough proofing and yeast
  • Ways to mix your dough
  • Post my pizza dough recipe

Italian Pizza Styles:

Knowing that pizza was born and raised in Italy I want to educate you on the different styles of pizza made there.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Italians for giving us this culinary masterpiece!

In Italy there are many styles of pizza, some distinctively different, others minor variations. Of course each region thinks theirs is the best. The most famous is Pizza Napolitana, and that is the most authentic style which has made it’s way to our shores.  Here is some about that and some others which I think are worth being aware of.

Pizza Napolitana:  

Traditionally cooked in a wood-burning oven making for a thin crust with a puffy edge.  The most popular version, Pizza Margherita, is topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (usually buffalo milk), and basil to finish.

To Neapolitans, quality and consistency is of utmost importance—both Pizza Margherita and its cousin, Pizza Marinara (topped with tomato, oil and garlic), are regionally protected recipes.  To receive the stamp of approval from the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana, Neapolitan pizzas have to stick to very strict standards that govern things like yeastiness, the type of flour (00), and the thickness of the dough, ingredients, and baking temperature.

If you want to find certified pizzerias near you check out their website at http://www.pizzanapoletana.org/en/associati.  Enter the name of your city where it says “Look for a Member” and it will list member pizzerias in your area.

Pizza al Taglio at Eatily

Pizza al Taglio: 

Translating Pizza “by-the-cut”, this pizza hails from Rome where it is baked in sheet pans and sold by the slice, hence the alternative names pizza in teglia (“pizza in the pan”).   You order as you would in a cheese shop, making your selection from the display case, telling the server how much to cut off, and paying by the weight.

Pizza al Taglio bakes in an electric oven for up to 15 minutes, yielding a crisp, airy, golden crust that’s up to an inch thick. To prevent toppings from being overcooked, some are applied mid-bake or after-bake.  Why such precautions for so humble a street food?  Because, at its best, Pizza al Taglio is a base for the some of the best cheeses, cured meats, seafood, and produce in Italy.

Not all Pizza al Taglio is Roman, though you may hear it called Pizza Romana, and not all Pizza Romana is Pizza al TaglioPizza al Taglio is prepared in many areas of Italy and takes on different regional characteristics.  Unfortunately this kind of pizza is hard to find in the states.  So you may have to make a trip to Rome.

Pizza Siciliana: 

Sicilian pizza – American style

In America “Sicilian Pizza” is often synonymous with “square,”  which is the shape of the pan pizzas prepared by Sicilian immigrants and their descendants, mostly on the east coast.  These New World pizzas were probably inspired by Sfincione of Palermo or Cudduruni of Syracuse, two types of Sicilian pizza typically sold in bakeries and likened, on account of their breadiness, to Sicilian focaccia.

When you order pizza in most areas of Sicily you usually get a round pie or, in the case of a stuffed pizzolo, a double-crust pizza. The term Pizza Siciliana is defined less by shape than by local ingredients: Semolina and other home-grown grains in the dough; toppings of goat cheese, pecorino siciliano and local cow’s milk cheeses – anything but buffalo mozzarella. Anchovies are common.

Pizza Romana Tonda

Pizza Romana Tonda:

Christopher Columbus convinced all that the world was round, not flat. Devotees of Pizza Romana Tonda view the world as round AND flat.  Whereas Neapolitan Pizza is floppy and bendy, this round pizza of Rome has a crust that is exceptionally thin, and ultra-crisp. If you hold up a slice the point of the triangle will never sag. I’ve had this style of pizza in Italy.  Personally it is not my fave, but for those of you who like a super thin, crispy crust, this one is for you.

 Pizza Alla Pala / Pizza A Metro:

These are alternate terms for oblong pizzas baked directly on the stone floor of the pizza oven.  Think pizza boards.  T he Pizza a Metro is sized according the number of people sharing it, up to a meter long, as its name “pizza by the meter” – suggests.  Pizza alla Pala may be cut into square slices.  Pala is Italian for “peel,” the long-handled shovel-like tool used to slide pizza in and out of the oven.  Texture and depth can vary, but in most instances these pizzas are crunchy and at least a half-inch thick.

Pizza Italiana:  

This is the none-of-the-above style.  It may also be recognized as “Classica”, “Tradizionale” or, in the generic sense, “Napoletana”.  It’s pizza according to the Italian model, as opposed to the American one… small size (about 12-inches)… with a thinner crust… fewer toppings… and less of them.  The toppings are familiar (Margherita, Marinara, Napoli, Quattro Stagione, Capricciosa) rather than design-your-own… no pepperoni… no chicken… no pineapple.

Flour: What kind should you use for pizza?

The first thing you need to understand about flour is gluten.  Gluten is NOT evil!

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein… when hydrated it creates an elastic system throughout the dough that gives it’s chewy, springy nature (think of it like a spider web). The process of kneading dough traps the bubbles of CO2 released by the fermenting yeast in the web that is created by the gluten strands, allowing the dough to rise.  The amount of gluten in the flour is what determines just how rubbery and chewy the bread will be as well as how much it will rise.

When it comes to pizza (and bread), there are a couple of key points you need to remember about gluten.

Key points:

  • Too little gluten makes dough very soft and tender and air pockets do not develop properly. It will tear easily when stretched.
  • Excessive gluten (or over-activated) makes dough too difficult to stretch. Like rubber it just keeps springing back.

There are different types of flour available to you at the grocery store…

Types of flour…

  • Cake and pastry flours – lowest gluten, described as “soft flour”
  • All purpose – medium gluten, a blend of “hard” and “soft” flour
  • Bread flours – highest gluten flours you will find in grocery stores
  • Commercial pizza dough flours—made from “hard” winter wheat
  • 00 – high gluten very finely milled
  • Semolina – made from Durum wheat—coarser and relatively high in gluten

Which flour is best for me?

Most pizza dough recipes found online or in cook books call for using all-purpose flour.  These will give you very good results.  Most have a protein levels of 10-12 percent.  This is what I recommend for starting out if you are not experienced at making pizza.

If you want your pizza to have more chew, and a bit more rise, you can try something higher in gluten.  Unfortunately you will not find high gluten pizza flour in your grocery store.  The closest you will find is bread flours which can have quite a range in protein levels from about 12 to 16 percent (most are in the 14 to 16 percent range).

High gluten flour can be a little more difficult to stretch, so if you’re a rookie, you might want to start with a good all purpose flour, or if you want to push it a little, you can blend some all-purpose and bread flour.

Should you use Organic Flour?

Personally I always use Organic or Sustainably Grown flour.  It has been widely reported that standard farming practice is to spray wheat with Round Up a few days prior to harvest which makes it go through the threshers better and gives farmers a higher yield.  This is not the case with Organic or Sustainably Grown flour.

There some excellent brands to choose from.  For personal use, or if catering pizzas, I use a commercial pizza flour, Shepherd’s Grain High Gluten Strength Flour.  It is sustainably grown… no chemicals sprayed prior to harvest.  But it’s only available in 50 pound bags at places which sell commercial products.  So unless you plan to make a LOT of pizza, or share it with others, it would not make sense for you.

So when teaching pizza classes I use a good Organic All-Purpose Flour.  Some of my favorite brands are Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, and Central Milling Company.  Bob’s and King Arthur are employee owned companies which really appeals to me.  Both companies make standard and organic flour so make sure it says “organic” on the bag.  They will cost you more, usually about $7 for a 5# bag, but for me it is worth it.  The Bob’s Red Mill is easiest to find in grocery stores where I live.

A really good value for quality organic all-purpose flour can be found at Costco.  They carry 20# of Central Milling Company Organic Flour.  I’ve had excellent results with it.

What is proofing dough and how long should I proof mine?

“Proofing dough” is simply a term used for the final rise before baking.  It refers to a specific rest period within the more generalized process known as fermentation.  Fermentation is a step in creating yeast breads and baked goods where the yeast is allowed to leaven the dough.

When making pizza dough you have a variety of options, you can make the dough  in the morning or mid-day for making pizza later that night.  That is standard practice for Pizza Napolitana. Personally I like to make my dough at least one day, or preferably two to three days prior to making my pizzas and allow it to proof in the refrigerator after a brief initial rise.  This long proofing period allows the dough to gain complexity and a more yeasty flavor.

I most frequently make my dough two days in advance.  If I am busy that day I will usually push it forward or backward a day. This requires some planning but if you know what day you want to make your pizza, just put a reminder on your calendar for the day you want to make the dough.

Refrigerating Dough?  Really?

Pizza Dough

Yes, if you plan to make your dough one to three days prior it will need to be refrigerated.  This dramatically slows the rising but allows the flavors to develop.  I then remove the dough from the refrigerator one to three hours before using.  If I feel it is pretty much fully risen I give it about an hour just to bring it to room temperature.  If I think it needs to rise more, I give it two to three hours.  You want it to be roughly double the size of the original dough ball.  This is not rocket science so if it a bit more or less than double, don’t stress about it!  I like to put my dough in these clear plastic take-out containers which I buy at Cash n Carry.  But you can also store in one gallon plastic bags or a bowl with a lid.

About My Dough Recipe Ingredients:

The most basic pizza doughs are simply flour, water, salt and yeast (or no yeast at all if using naturally fermented dough… more on that another time).  I add two additional ingredients to my dough… extra virgin olive oil and just a little sugar.  This was the recipe we used at Frankie’s and it is so good I have stuck with it.

About the Yeast: 

I use Active Dry Yeast.  You can buy this in packets but I prefer to buy it in the jar so I can measure it myself, and easily adjust for the size of recipe I am making.  If you store the jar in the refrigerator it should last for months.

I recommend that you DO NOT use Rapid Rise Yeast unless you need your dough to be ready within 2-3 hours.

I recommend that you vary the quantity of yeast depending on how far in advance you make your dough.  My recipe calls for 3/4 teaspoon, which is fine if making the dough within 24 hours of using it.  If I am making it two days ahead I reduce the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon, and even less if making it three days in advance.

Water Temperature:

To properly activate your yeast you want your water to be very warm, but not hot.  I use a thermometer to make sue my water is between 105-110 F.  If it is cooler it will not activate as well.  If it is too hot you run the risk of killing the yeast.

Measuring Ingredients:

I list my flour and water in both volume measurements and grams.  I highly recommend that you measure in grams if you have an electronic scale.  To do it by weight, simply put whatever bowl or measuring cup that you plan to use on the scale and then zero it out before adding your flour or water.

Why?  Because it will give you more consistent results.  Look online for the weight of a cup of flour and you will get all kinds of answers.  You can buy electronic scales these days for $10-$30 dollars.  If you don’t have one, just be careful in measuring.

How to mix your dough:

I generally mix my dough in my Kitchenaid mixer using a dough hook, and then do a brief kneading and shaping by hand.  You can also do it in a food processor if yours is large enough.  Some people who have tested both methods actually feel that the food processor is superior.  Either will work great, OR you can mix and knead your dough my hand and also get excellent results (with the added benefit of well developed muscles in the process!).

I use a somewhat unconventional mixing method that I learned from a professional baker which I have begun to use.   After mixing the dough in my mixer for 2-3 minutes I turn the mixer speed to high and mix for another 45 seconds or so.  This helps develop the gluten structure of the dough.

After mixing in a mixer, food processor, or by hand in a bowl, you want to turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead by hand and then form a large dough ball (which you will later cut and reform).

The key is that you want to mix and knead your dough enough to activate the gluten structure.  You will know this has happened when you get some pushback when you make an indent in the dough.  If the dough is very soft and does not push back, knead it a little longer.  It will relax during the proofing process.

One last FYI, my dough recipe is based on a 60% hydration level (flour to water ratio).  I will explain hydration levels in my next blog, and how they effect your finished pizza.  This dough should be slightly sticky and take a little scraping to get it out of the bowl.  Use just enough flour on your hands and counter to make it workable.

After you form the dough, you will cover it and allow it to rest and go through a short rise before forming the final dough balls.  You will notice that the glutens have begun to relax when you come back to the dough.  I then do another short brief time at room temperature to let the dough begin it’s rise before moving to the refrigerator for proofing.

 

Download Dough Recipe PDF

Wrapping it up:

That’s it for today.  In my next blog post I will discuss…

  • Various American styles of pizza
  • Hydration levels (flour to water ratio) and how they affect your crust
  • Different styles of dough

I hope you enjoyed this post.  Please comment if you did, or if you have questions.  But mostly I hope you will get in your kitchen and bake some pizza!

Don’t forget, if you live in the eastside of Seattle area I teach hands-on pizza classes in your home for groups of six and up.  I can do fewer people but you still pay for six.  For details on that and/or my catering of pizzas or other Italian offerings, check out my website at http://www.frankiesitaliancooking.com

It’s time to say grazie for reading my blog and bid you ciao for now!

Frankie

 

 

 

 

Making Amazing Pizza at Home

Today I am publishing the first in a series of pizza making posts.  Let me start by saying… I LOVE pizza!  This surprises me since I owned a pizzeria for 24 years and ate pizza several times a week.  I have probably eaten thousands of pies.  Yet I never grew tired of it.   It is one of the perfect foods.

And here is an interesting fact for you, when we closed Frankie’s (due to redevelopment), my pizza consumption dropped by about three-quarters, and my cholesterol went up.  Go figure.  Go eat pizza!

Until now I had  avoided posting pizza recipes because it really needs to be taught properly.  But for me now the time is right.

Pizza Classes offered: 

A side note here.  For those of you who are hands-on learners, I offer pizza classes in your homes.  So if you live in or near the Redmond, Washington area (near Seattle), gather some friends or family and schedule me to come and teach you in person.  It makes for a great party!  Information can be found on my website at… http://www.frankiesitaliancooking.com.

If you saw my last blog post you know that I just completed an outdoor kitchen with a new wood-burning pizza oven.  With this to cook in I am having more fun that ever.  But just so you’ll know, there are multiple ways to make (and bake) a great pizza, so let’s get started.

In this series of posts we will take an in-depth look at…

  • The history of pizza
  • Various styles of pizza
  • How to make pizza dough and sauce (including some variations on the dough)
  • Different methods of baking pizza
  • Pizza ingredients… which will include my favorite products for making quality pizza, especially cheeses and tomato products (because I believe these make or break a pizza).

 A Brief History of Pizza:

First let’s start with a little history of pizza, which can be controversial.  The history of pizza begins in antiquity, when various ancient cultures produced basic flatbreads with toppings.  It’s been discovered that on the isle of Sardinia they were making it with leavened dough over 7,000 years ago.  The ancient Greeks made a flat bread called Plakous, which was flavored with toppings like herbs, onion, and garlic.

The forerunner of modern pizza was probably the focaccia, a flat bread known to the Romans as panis focacius to which toppings were then added.  Focaccia is still hugely popular in parts of Italy.  Most historians credit the Neapolitans though, the people of Napoli, as being the creators of modern day pizza, when tomato was added to the focaccia in the late 18th century.

There is a well known story about how the Pizza Margherita came to be.  According to tradition, in 1889, Queen Margherita of Savoy, and her husband, King Umberto I, were on a royal tour of Italy.  This was only 29 years after the unification of the country.  Throughout these travels, the queen often observed peasants eating large, flat bread with colorful toppings.  Being curious she ordered her guards to bring her one of these so called ‘pizza breads’.  Apparently she fell in love with it, causing some consternation in her Court (it was unseemly for a queen to dine on peasant food!). But the queen’s love was not to be diminished.

Apparently word reached Naples, where they were to visit.  To honor their visit, Chef Raffaele Esposito and his wife, owners of Pizzeria Brandi, created  a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil).  They named it for the Queen “Pizza Margherita”.  Some also say that he was the first to add cheese to pizza.

This “cheesy” part of the legend is disputed however.  Descriptions of such a pizza recipe can be traced back to at least 1866 in Francesco DeBouchard’s book “Customs and Traditions of Naples”.  There he describes the most popular pizza toppings of the time which included one with cheese and basil, often topped with slices of mozzarella.

Whatever the real origins of this pizza recipe are, one thing we know for certain is that Raffaele Esposito’s version for Queen Margherita was the one that made it popular. Since then it has grown into one of the most recognizable symbols of Italian food culture in the world.  And in my humble opinion, whoever thought of the idea of adding cheese, is due great honor for one of the most brilliant ideas in culinary history.

Going backward and then forward,  we know the word pizza was first documented in AD 997 in Gaeta and successively in different parts of Central and Southern Italy. Pizza was mainly eaten in the country of Italy and by emigrants from there. This changed after World War II, when Allied troops stationed in Italy came to enjoy pizza along with other Italian foods.

It is my belief that pizza has not only a glorious past, but a glorious future, and will remain a popular food for as long as mankind dwells upon the earth.  And I hope there will be pizza in heaven!  I have a feeling there will be.

Easy Ways to Make Really Good Pizza:

Very soon I will be posting more information, including my pizza dough recipe.  Meanwhile there are a couple of easy ways that you can make a very good pizza without making your own dough.

  1. One is to buy pizza or bread dough from a grocery store. We recently wanted to make foccacia and did not have time to make the dough so we purchased bread dough from Trader Joe’s and it was excellent.
  2. Second is to buy pizza dough from a good local pizzeria that makes their dough from scratch. Most will sell it to you.  The advantage of dough from a pizzeria is that it is usually made from flour specially formulated for pizza, providing optimum elasticity and pliability, which makes it easier to stretch and it does not tear as easily.

But the key to either of these is how you bake them.  I strongly recommend a pizza stone (or pizza steel… see more below).

About Pizza Stones:  Unless you use a pizza stone, you will not be able to get the quality results you find in a great pizzeria.  A pizza stone, if heated properly, will seal the bottom of the pizza crust quickly, providing superior rise, texture and crispness.

Pizza stones have become very affordable and can be purchased at any good kitchen store or online.  Sometimes you can find them packaged with a wooden pizza peel (which is the only type of pizza peel you need).

Pizza stones are also great for baking rustic breads as well.  And one other good use… if you ever do take-out pizza, and want it to be as fresh and hot as it is at the pizzeria, ask them to “half-bake” your pizza and leave it uncut.  Bring it home and finish it on your stone.  Your family will fall down and worship you!

Pizza Steels:  An even better, though more expensive option, is a Pizza Steel.  They are just what their name implies, a heavy plate make of steel.  They’ll run you about $70 to $100 (I bought mine on Amazon).  These are relatively new and less well known but will give you an even better crust than a stone, especially if you want to make multiple pizzas in a session, as they retain and reflect heat better.

How to use Pizza Stones (or Steels):  The key to using your pizza stone (or steel) is to get it really hot!  I recommend a minimum of 45 minutes at 500º F (or even 525 if your oven will go that high).  One note though—if you plan to put a lot of toppings on your pizza, reduce the temperature to about 485 F, or the bottom of the pizza will get overcooked by the time the toppings and cheese are properly cooked.

Making Homemade Pizza Sauce:

I feel like I need to include at least one recipe in this post so I am going to include my recipe for pizza sauce.  My dough recipe will be in my next post.

Use this recipe as a guide and adjust things like garlic, salt and herbs to your liking.  I don’t even use a recipe anymore because I’ve been making it for so long.

Tomato Notes:  You can really make pizza sauce from almost any kind of tomatoes.  Crushed Tomatoes work well, or Tomato Sauce (especially if you add a little Tomato Paste to either), but my tomato product of choice for pizza sauce is Tomato Puree.  I like it for it’s consistency.

Using my power burner

The only problem is some stores do not carry many (if any) brands or sizes of tomato puree.  You also may not be able to find the size can listed in the recipe.  If not, just adjust the recipe accordingly.

 

 

 

My Favorite Brands:  Look for these brands which I think are the best…

  • Cento (from Italy)… a little more expensive but worth it
  • Muir Glen Organic
  • San Marzano brand (these are not true San Marzano tomatoes from Italy… they are grown in California)
  • If you cannot find any of these, Hunt’s will work fine

Have fun making pizza!  I’ll do another post soon.

The Pizza sauce recipe is below or you may download as a Pizza Sauce Recipe PDF

 

 

 

 

 

Finally! A successful Gelato recipe… Pistachio!

I love gelato!  At least I adore the gelato I have in Italy.  I have a strict personal policy… when in Italy, I must eat gelato every day!  And if I miss a day, I must have it twice the next day.  Now that is a rule I can live by.

I’ve always desired to have great gelato here at home, but until now I’d never had any as good as what I have had in Italy.  I’ve wondered if it is the magic of the place that makes it so good?  This may be partly true.  But I’ve also become convinced that nobody in my part of the world makes it as good.  This was true across the board… whether I purchased in a gelato shop, a grocery store, or an attempt to make it at home.  I’ve tried making gelato a few times and it never came out like the wonderful stuff I’ve had in Italy… until now! YES!

I took this recipe from a couple of different sources.  The custard base was adapted from the Best Recipe Italian Classics cookbook published by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  These people always test their recipes thoroughly.  The pistachio cream recipe I got elsewhere, and when I put the two together, well it was like magic happened.

This base has be cooked ahead of time and thoroughly chilled before churning.  It takes a little time but is well worth the effort. There was a lot of science and testing behind the procedures and temperatures for cooking the custard.  I cannot explain all of those here but please follow them as carefully as you can.

A gelato maker would be ideal for churning this, but I used my Cuisinart ice cream maker and was very satisfied with the results. What is the difference you ask?  Well a gelato maker only mixes in about half as much air as an ice cream maker, giving a denser consistency.  I don’t yet have a gelato maker.  I hope to one of these days, but they cost over $200 so its hard to justify unless I know I’m going to use it frequently.

Gelato is often viewed as a healthy alternative to ice cream due to it’s lower calorie content. This is because gelato is generally made with whole milk, or even 2% milk rather than cream. The lower butterfat is one reason it has more flavor, partly because the flavors are not coated over by fat.

Gelato also has a greater density and therefore you can eat less quantity and still be satisfied. So for those who are watching their waistlines, take heart, gelato may soon become your new midnight snack!

The other thing about gelato is the intensity of it’s flavors.  This recipe calls for making your own Pistachio Cream.  You can buy Pistachio Cream in some specialty grocery stores but this was easy to make.  It would not have been easy if I’d have had to shell all of the pistachios, but luckily I found raw, unsalted, shelled pistachios at my local Trader Joe’s.  With those in hand, it was easy.  I made mine in my blender, but I think it would be easier in a food processor.  I’ll find out next time.  Either way, get the cream as smooth as you can.  Then if you like you can add a few pistachios on top of the gelato when serving.

A few additional tips:

I highly recommend that you use an Instant Read Thermometer to keep track of
the temperature during the custard making.

Also, gelato is typically served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream. It is best served either right from the ice cream/gelato maker, or frozen for up to a few hours prior to serving. If you freeze it overnight, I suggest pulling it out a little while before serving.

Hope you enjoy!  Buon appetito!                 Pistachio Gelato recipe

 

A great time for Tuscan Clam Sauce

Ciao friends!

If you are like me you sometimes think of summer as seafood season. But clams are best in the winter.  This recipe was published in my cookbook, Frankie at Home in the Kitchen, still available online as an eBook.

I really love traditional clam sauce, but this Tuscan variation with the addition of some crushed tomatoes is really amazing.  This recipe is best with fresh clams, but for a simple, and still delicious weeknight dinner, you can make it with canned clams.  You could make this with spaghetti or another long pasta if you prefer but I really like the linguine.  It holds the sauce better and has more body to it.

Nobody likes eating sand with their clams so be sure to read my Frankie’s Tips on how to purge the sand from fresh clams.  

One other Frankie’s Tip… this one for Food Safety.  Be sure to discard any clams which do not open up when you cook them!  This means those clams were not alive to begin with and may be contaminated with bacteria or toxins.

Buon appetito!  Frankie

Recipe for Linguine with Tuscan Clam Sauce

 

 

 

Frankie’s Chicken Marsala… perfect for a special dinner

This recipe is is my cook book, but for those who do not have a copy I wanted to post it here. This would be a great recipe for Christmas Eve or New Year’s or any time you want to impress your friends or family. And it really is fairly easy to prepare. No special skills needed!

I tried many different recipes before developing this one. I took the best from each and developed my own recipe which I think tops them all.

Marsala is a fortified wine from the Island of Sicily.  It comes in a “sweet” or “dry” version. The recipe calls for Sweet Marsala but I’ve used Dry and liked it just as well. It is just slightly less sweet.

Hope you enjoy!  Buon appetito e buon Natale!

Chicken Marsala Recipe