Sunday, September 13, 2009

In Search of the Perfect Pizza

If you are in search of the perfect pizza like I am, pay attention. Any great pizza chef will tell you it’s all in the crust!

I use to make pizza for my little sisters when they were young and they always considered it the greatest treat. I don’t know if they loved the pizza so much but they never asked for any other ingredients to be put on the pizza and I never offered. It was just the way our pizza was. Simple, fresh ingredients and really good!

I bought a cookbook (it’s all about another great cookbook) called Pizza by James McNair back in 1987. I have used this cookbook so much it is literally falling apart. James McNair is one of the most creative food writers with over 30 cookbooks to his credit. In the single-subject books that McNair has published since his first one, Cold Pasta, in 1984, Pizza has always been my favorite. The ingredients are fresh and the recipes are straightforward and easy to follow.

There are also samples in this cookbook. This is how I sample my cookbooks: When I lay a spoon down on a page that has olive oil on it and it makes an indelible stain, almost as if to validate the recipe as one you definitely need to make again.

After all of this time, I haven’t decided if I like my niece Jennifer’s cornmeal crust or if I like McNair’s Basic Pizza Dough. It’s still up in the air and I like switching off between the two. I must admit that I love them both. It’s all about the perfect crust. It really does make the pizza! I guarantee that you will never buy pizza again once you have made your first homemade crust.

So, the long time debate in Chicago is – thin or deep dish?

In June, 2009, GQ magazine named the thin-crust mozzarella pizza from Chicago's Great Lake Pizzeria to the top spot of its roundup of the nation's top 25 pizzas. No other Chicago pizza made the list, and no deep dish pizzas from anywhere made it. People say when they come to Chicago they know they are having deep dish - It's not the same anywhere else...or is it?

As with many higher end restaurants, the thin crust pizzerias make a point of using fresh and local ingredients. My pizza restaurants have its mozzarella delivered weekly from Italy. Great Lake makes its own.

Yes, there is a thin v deep dish on Facebook. Connect to it on: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=27041826093&topic=6726

Whatever is on your culinary wish list – thick or thin- pizza defines Chicago’s culinary scene and will be a part of the history that characterizes Chicago’s debate over thick or thin.

Me, I love a thin crust. The crust should never take away from the flavor of the ingredients. I also NEVER put sauce on my crust…only fresh tomatoes. I buy fresh mozzarella and parmesan from The Cheese People in Quincy, IL and also use basil, oregano and tomatoes grown in my neighbor’s garden.

I cook in a very hot, preheated oven – 500 degrees – and only cook on a pizza screen.

To achieve an incredibly great taste, I use a generous amount of olive oil on the crust when I am preparing it. Making the crust from scratch is absolutely worth the extra effort.

You can find a million homemade pizza recipes online including James McNair’s. If you happen to have one you think is really good, send it to me as I am always in search of the perfect pizza.

Bon App├ętit!