Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's All About The Crust

I got in the mood to make homemade Pizza crust today. First off, I went to the Evanston Farmers Market yesterday and bought all of the fresh ingredients – Roma tomatoes that were absolutely at their peak, homemade Parmesan and fresh picked herbs - Basil, Oregano and Cilantro. The Cilantro was fantastic. The Cilantro I buy at the grocery store has a very profound, distinct smell. This Cilantro was not overpowering at all and was so fragrant that I could hardly wait to get home and use it. Using local, fresh ingredients is absolutely the best way to validate your homemade pizza crust.
I had forgotten how easy it is to make homemade crust. What I remembered as a lengthy process only took about a half hour…longer to pre-heat the oven. I hand mixed the dough just to remember what it was like without all of the modern gadgets that make cooking easy these days. It was fun…except for kneading the dough. In this exercise I learned two things: I will never be a masseuse and I cannot live without my food processor.

I stress the importance of using a liberal amount of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I like Filippo Berio. Because of its unique, full flavor, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is enormously popular for home "olive oil tastings," a social happening gaining recognition with food aficionados — nearly as trendy as wine tastings in many circles. I use a generous amount in and on the crust. Not only will your dough not dry out but the flavor of your crust is remarkable. I also oil the inside of the bowl and the screen I cook the pizza on.

My old friend, Katie Manion, gave me a short write up this past week on Serious Pie - an inspiration for a local Appleton restaurant, Wild Truffle (5120 West Michaels Drive, Appleton (920) 733-3330).

On the Serious Pie website (316 Virginia Seattle, WA 98121 (206) 838-7388), the photo of the pizza just out of the wood burning oven is amazing. I swear, pizza never looked so good ever. Applewood burning oven preserves? A 600 degree oven? Well, perhaps I need to turn my oven up 100 degrees and experiment!

My pizza cooks in a 500 degree oven preheated for an hour. I cook the pizza for about 8-10 minutes depending on what ingredients I have on it and it always turns out perfect.

More about Tom Douglas, owner of Serious Pie. First off, he looks like everybody’s little brother including mine. Tom was chosen as a competitor in Iron Chef America on the Food Network. He competed against Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, using the secret ingredient Alaskan salmon, and won, defeating Morimoto for only the second time in the shows history. Douglas’s version of the perfect pie is all about the exact amount of really fresh toppings, like home-made mozzarella, sausage, and pancetta, as well as foraged mushrooms, local clams, and farmers'-market produce. Give it to another chef who is totally in to fresh, local ingredients.

So this is what Katie sent over on Wild Truffle since their official website is under construction:

"Hi Sue,
We have a new restaurant in Appleton, the "Wild Truffle", which has by far the best pizza crust I have ever experienced. The owner was originally in the food research business and low and behold now finds himself the owner of this very popular new establishment. He ordered a wood burning stove for $50,000 and spent two years perfecting the crust recipe. His inspiration was a restaurant in Seattle called "Serious Pie", a restaurant which has received rave reviews on several of the food channels. Thought you might want to investigate this for your bank of pizza knowledge. Truly a palette pleaser. Katie Keegan"

For all of you thin crusters out there like me, Great Lake’s Pizza in Chicago is getting a lot of national buzz and has been named the number One Pizza Place in America by GQ Magazine. Nick Lessins, the Polish-Czech co-owner and pizzamaker, actually does makes some of the pies. It’s been said that he makes each as though it is his first, working the dough until it comes out perfect, placing toppings on one small piece after another. He is slow (what can you expect from a perfectionist?) but his cheese pie, prepared with mozzarella made in-house, grated Wisconsin sheep’s-and-cow’s-milk cheese, and aromatic fresh marjoram instead of basil, has been called a work of art. Innovative and local — Great Lake’s characterizes everything alluring about the new approach to American pizza-making. You can find Great Lake’s at 1477 W. Balmoral Ave (between Clark St & Glenwood Ave) in Chicago (773) 334-9270. Just a note that the long lines are worth the wait.

For anyone who loves the original Chicago deep dish, Lou Malnati's is the place. I am not a fan of deep dish but Lou Malnati's is the place to go when you decide to eat out rather than cook at home. One of the best sides to pizza is a good salad. The Malnati Salad is a impressive mix of Romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, black olives, sliced mushrooms, crumbled salami and gorgonzola cheese topped with Lou's famous dressing with a touch of romano cheese. I love a cheese and at $5.50 for a 6”, Lou Malnati's is this week’s cheap eat Chicago restaurant.

Whatever your taste in Pizza – remember, it’s is all in the crust!

Me, I’ll probably always cook Pizza at home as long as I can get the fresh ingredients at Farmer’s markets and make a great crust in my own kitchen.