Week 38: Acid – Snow Crab, Grapefruit, & Blood Orange Beurre Blanc Pizza

This week’s pizza featuring the theme of acid has not only grapefruit and blood orange, but also a splash of champagne vinegar to brighten up the mood.

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The blood orange and champagne vinegar were used in the beurre blanc that was prepared as the sauce for the pizza.

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After cooking down the liquid, the shallots were strained from the final sauce before adding butter for richness.

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A quick lesson in cutting suprèmes from grapefruit was necessary to protect the delicate textures.

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To further protect the delicate nature of the toppings, the base of this pizza, blood orange beurre blanc, cottage cheese and fromage blanc, was baked in advance so as to allow the crust to cool to a welcoming temperature.

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Meanwhile, the snowcrab was quickly boiled and shelled for clean segments of meat.

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The construction mainly took place after the pizza had cooked in the oven. Grapefruit, avocado and snow crab made up the core flavors while poppy seed were added as a final touch.

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My instinct was to reach for a wine with high acid and a severe dryness to match that of the pizza’s profile. White burgundy worked well enough to match the profile.

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In the end, Vouvray with a whisper of residual sugar was a natural pairing to help maintain a high level of acid while also counteracting any of the harsh quality with the sweetness inherent in the style.

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the perks of dating within the pizza world.

There’s nothing pizza can’t fix. Bad night? Order a pizza. Broken heart? Go eat some pizza. Broken bones? Pizza certainly can’t make it worse. Burned the roof of your mouth on lava-hot cheese? Muster up a minute’s worth of self-control, then resume eating pizza. From the first pop of the cardboard briefcase keeping warm the pizza within, all the ugliness encountered since your last slice disappears. The cure-all effect is especially potent if the pizza encounter is unexpected, which happens to me with some regularity with my SO working at URBN, a New Haven coal-fired pizza joint.

After one particularly grueling night, a surprise from the pizza gods/a dutiful boyfriend landed a few wild slices of URBN’s Gouda Garlic Alfredo on my countertop. With a fresh shipment of goodies from Hi-Time Wine Cellars, I pounced at the chance to revisit labels from the recent booze haul in order to best select a pairing.

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A boon to any wine & spirits enthusiast in Southern California, Hi-Times is an incredible resource for bottles to get excited about, both well within and way out of any normal price range. With every opportunity to do so, I gladly drain my bank account to shop their shelves and stock up on hard to find wines. San Diego can be a challenging city for us wine geeks; it’s tough enough to track down a bottle of Sherry or Barbera, but even the mildly obscure (Assyritiko, Godello or Uruguayan Tannat) are practically nonexistent. Keeping a double-entranced, multi-room cellar, Hi-Times is where to turn to satisfy wine curiosities and discover new styles yet untallied, such as the Beaujolais Blanc (Domaine Des Terres Dorées, 2011, $16) plucked for this pairing.

The southernmost region of Burgundy, Beaujolais is best known for light and fruity reds made entirely from the Gamay grape. Styles range from flirtatious, bubblegum Beaujolais Nouveau first popularized in the 1970s for its youthful attributes to more age-worthy, darker representations cultivated from the granite hillsides of Beaujolais Cru. Even those familiar with Beaujolais may not have known a white counterpart existed, and for good reason: the region is practically a monoculture of Gamay. Though a rarity, Beaujolais Blanc does exist in small quantities, requiring 100% Chardonnay.

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Owner and winemaker Jean-Paul Brun began Terres Dorées in 1979, converting his family farm into an estate. From 10 acres of vines, Brun first produced Beaujolais Blanc, eventually expanding his vinicultural repertoire as his vineyard holdings increased. The now 40-acre estate still dedicates half its plot to Chardonnay, providing a stellar representation of what the grape is capable of without the fuss of getting dolled up.

Unlike many weighty, over-oaked styles of Chardonnay especially common among cougar populations, the pristine varietal expression of this wine kept it light on its feet, dancy and alive. An attractive chalkiness on the nose was further emphasized by a wet limestone palate. Under-ripe apple and tart lemon contributed to the wine’s fresh liveliness with hints of a nutty bitterness and slight waxiness rounding out the texture.

With a name deserving to belong on an Olive Garden menu, the Gouda Garlic Alfredo is surprisingly light, with chicken, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes driving the true flavor profile. Tomato acted as the diva of the bunch, bursting with personality and juicy, concentrated musk while the gouda was shy with just a twang of nuttiness. Even the garlic was subdued by the soft vegetal tones brought on by the greens. And chicken was there being chicken, offering texture and support to all its more flavorful companions. Unfazed by any smattering of red pepper flakes or garlic undertones, the Beaujolais Blanc drove the midnight snack forward with each sip invigorating the palate for more. And so it goes, the pizza was reduced to mere crumbs and crust, concluding this pairing adventure with one momentous realization: Beaujolais Blanc is rad.

Caffè Calabria and the DOC(G)s

Caffè Calabria, a coffee shop down the street, serves what may arguably be the best brew in town. With plenty of competition nearby, we keep fairly loyal to their coffee offerings. Meanwhile, a friend shackled to an 8-year veterinary program in Sacramento has their beans shipped north to resupply her kitchen, refusing to buy from anywhere closer. Now that’s fucking loyalty.

A two-trick pony, Calabria is also locally revered for their Neapolitan-style pizza. Normally, the gravitational pull of good pizza is strong enough to overcome temporal and spatial obstacles, but the siren call of scrumptious, everyday late-night, undemanding pizza of URBN always sounds when I enter North Park (full disclosure: dating the head bartender and I swear it’s not for the pizza). It took a post-marathon splurge fest for Calabria to finally get a chance to show off its chops.

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After finishing a half-marathon, a bottle of Dom, a nap and a couple margaritas, the persisting treat-yo-self mentality drove us right through the doors of Caffè Calabria during operational oven hours (the woefully selective range of Wednesday-Sunday, 5-11pm). Unfortunately, dear reader, social gallivanting and the high of accomplishment made note-taking futile. Left blankly satisfied, I wanted for a more attentive go at their Margherita DOC (requiring actual certification for the privilege of the full title) and the Italian-focused wine list.

Calabria does what it can to keep true to the Neapolitan style of pizza-making right down to the oven, constructed by third generation oven maker Stefano Ferrara, of Naples, Italy. They have, however, mostly abandoned the fight for the classic fork-and-knife method of pizza noming, automatically slicing each pie on its way out. From the belly of the 700+ degree oven comes thin crust pizza, “wet” with a oozy center. With slicing, some vigilance is required bite to bite to maintain proper topping-support posture, a problem that could be eradicated if only we had evolved as a tool-making species.

p. stew exemplifying how to eat pizza like a badass, regardless of utensils.

The following visit was a solo venture with choice of pie inspired by a recent wine tasting class on Alto-Adige, the northernmost region of Italy. Close ties with bordering Germany have influenced the wine culture here in intriguing ways. Seemingly ubiquitous, Pinot Grigio takes up little more than 10% of vineyard space while varietals like Schiava, Gewürztraminer & Legrein also count themselves among the most important. The same phenomenon is true of the cuisine. Speck is a fantastic example of these cross-cultural influences, marrying the southern traditions of Italian cured meats, such as prosciutto, with smoked meats of Germany to the north. Piqued by this newfound knowledge, my pizza selection featured speck, complemented by caramelized onions, gorgonzola, and a smattering of basil leaves.

speck, caramelized onions, gorgonzola and basil

Toppings were scattered in such a way that, bite to bite, the chances of revisiting the same flavor profile were dim. Some bites were smoky with speck or sweet with caramelized onion, some charged with gorgonzola and others left vulnerable and dull without a sauce for cheese to cling to. My only gripe was with the mild under-salting, one of those fixable problems, and the scant amount of basil used. The latter is a common peeve of mine that has always left me raw, but I am a practicing adult and can cope.

Without an offering of Alto Adige wine by the glass, I plucked a glass of Frascati (Fontana Candida, Frascati DOC, 2011, $6 BTG), one of many DOCs from the Lazio region in central Italy (think: Rome). By itself, this dry white, consisting of minimally 70% Malvasia, balances aromas of juicy pear, lemon oils and yellow apple with a touch of slate minerality. It maintained crispness without sharp, elbowing acidity, making it pleasant even without the accompaniment of food (a quaffer, as Karen MacNeil would say). The pairing’s most surprising aspect was how the clean and fruity nature of the wine emphasized the smoky elements of the speck and brought out a nutmeg aroma in the sauce.

However successful, the in-house pairing did not made me forget about the Margharita DOC I had only become casually acquainted with before. With a twinge of hunger on a night to myself, I made the necessary phone call and took off into the night to witness its birth firsthand.

the belly of the beast

Calabria recommends eating their pie hot from the belly of the oven, but the setting, however romantic, isn’t conducive to a pretty picture (specifically with my crap camera phone). Or an off-list wine pairing sans corkage fee. Or an episode of Parks and Rec. Just trust that I drove home like a mad hatter to get this pizza party going.

double pairings for faster results!

For a double-punch pairing, two styles of Piedmonte wine sat waiting: a chardonnay from a classic Barolo producer (Ettore Germano, Langhe DOC, 2013, $21) scooped up from Village Vino and a lightly-chilled dolcetto (Pecchenino san Luigi, Dogliani DOCG, 2012, $13) from San Diego Wine Company. The chardonnay offered slight butteriness with a refreshing background of tart lemon and apple. The creamy bufala mozzarella amplified an already richly present wet stone quality. The dolcetto, despite the name (in Italian, “little sweet one”), was dry but deeply aromatic with tart fruit aromas of blackberry, plum and black cherry mixed up with a dry soil component. The plush tannins were emphasized in the presence of pizza, but the heat, ranking 13.5% abv, overwhelmed the quieter toppings. Although the two weren’t completely incompatible, they certainly didn’t make for a memorable pairing. While the chardonnay matched up well, a lighter style of dolcetto may be more suitable, such as with a DOC like d’Alba or d’Asti, where the minimum alcohol requirement is a half percent lower at 11.5%. Taken in a different direction, the charred underbelly of Neapolitan-style crust seems to want for a bolder, zestier wine to match the smokiness, such as a medium-bodied zinfandel (primitivo, even) or Northern Rhone syrah. And thus the adventure continues.

And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to go a little further.