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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