Week 50: Umami – Mushroom Parmesan Pizza

I’ve been hoping for a pizza assignment like this since I first began this challenge. Umami is an attractive force in my food world with tomatoes ruling the majority of my cravings. While tomato finds its way into the sauce here, mushrooms are the focal point of this pizza.

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Shiitake and crimini mushrooms, while making up the whole of the toppings, remain just a portion of the umami bomb that was dropped.

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Tomato snuck in with a hearty rendition of my usual sauce. Parmesan was shaved over top.

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Oh and then a quick spritz of black truffle salt, a drizzle of white truffle oil and then a dash of MSG just for kicks.

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Fearing another salt overload as seen in last week’s pizza, I added a moderate amount of salt and chose to apply truffle salt to each individual slice.

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Then I ate the whole pizza.

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With a good burgundy nearby, this is not a difficult feat.

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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.

Week 36: Famous Dishes – Ratatouille Pizza

This week’s challenge of “Famous Dishes” involved a full exploration of the term “famous.” To ensure true fulfillment of such a broad idea, I decided to take on the well-known French dish made famous by a Disney mouse: ratatouille.

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Eggplant, squash and peppers provided all the colors and textures needed for the dish.s

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On a super thin setting, rhe mandoline made fast work of the slicing.

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Designing each layer so that each slice peeked out from behind the next took a small amount of patience.

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Using a hearty tomato sauce as the base, this ratatouille had all the elements found in the classic dish.

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As a pizza, all this baby was missing was cheese,

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Where there was once no mozzarella, suddenly mozzarella.

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After a bit of doctoring, the mozzarella slices snuggled up quite nicely in their new bed of vegetables.

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Cooking was a tad risky considering the dense sheets of water-laden vegetables and abundance of sauce on such a thin crust.

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The pizza still came out looking like a beast.

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Fresh thyme and cracked black pepper supplied a kick of herbacous, savory notes.

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No dish has wanted more for a rustic French red than this one, an instinct I didn’t trust until the first sip.

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The pairing was outstanding. This Syrah-based red out of Languedoc had a funky fresh personality that was quite a sipper on its own. And despite a somewhat soggy crust and slightly undercooked vegetables, the ratatouille pizza was a treat by itself but it really hit a new height with the wine. The entire experience has been bookmarked for revisiting in the future.

Week 17: Medieval – Spiced Almond & Pomegranate Cornish Hen Pizza

To kick off Season 6 of Game of Thrones, Reddit’s r/52weeksofcooking has called for a medieval style dish to sustain us through the first episode airing tonight. The pizza constructed to fulfill this requirement began with a 16th century sauce recipe designed to go with partridge or hen. The spice-heavy sauce calls for flavors of cinnamon, ginger, pomegranate and white almonds.

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The ingredients are pummeled into a mildly gritty texture to recall the days without blenders.

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A cornish hen takes the leading role of this pizza. Before roasting, a savory mixture of spices featuring cumin, allspice, paprika and cinnamon is rubbed over the skin for extra flavor. During the cooking and resting period, the crust is prepared.

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While the sauce does not win any pretty awards, it tastes like wintertime. A flurry of ricotta and mozzarella, both fair game cheeses according to White Oak Historical Society, are added for a bit of extra heartiness.

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When the hen is done resting, the thighs are sliced and added to the pizza with their crispy skin accompanying. With the meat cooked, the crust is crisped up in an oven of 550°F.

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The legs are set aside for presentation purposes. This pizza is ready to be spanked on the bottom and sent out to the hungry masses for devouring.

 

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To step these slices up from peasant food to slices fit for noblemen, a quick sprinkle of sliced almonds and pomegranate seeds really jazzes up the presentation.

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There is no better way to wash down a medieval experience, especially one gushing with cinnamon and spice, than a dainty chalice of cider (Eric Bordelet, Normandy, France), which also happens to make a great drinking game accompaniment at 4% abv.

And since nobody ever seems to find the gifs tucked away in each post:

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Berkeley Pizza & the Rhône Valley

In a Chicago pizza joint last year, I joined four hungry locals in ordering a pizza from Lou Malnati’s, a classic Chicago chain. A deep-dish novice, I sat quietly outraged at what I thought was a rather prudish order of a single pie. At most, we could evenly divide the pizza into a slice and a fraction of another. It was only until halfway into my first slice that I had finally realized what everyone else at the table had grown up knowing: Chicago pizza is a beast.

A lifetime of thin-crust preferences has led me to demolish slice after slice without thought, taking down minimally half a pizza order, depending on size. To have a starvation-level hunger smacked down by a single slice felt like an embarrassment. A couple of us made idealistic moves towards a second slice but despite our efforts we still walked away with leftovers.

Deep-dish pie looks more like actual pie than the flatbread pizza of the rest of the world. Toppings are layered upside-down with a chunky tomato sauce keeping quiet the secrets of what lies below. Chicago-style pizza is all but overlooked in San Diego, but the spirit lives on strong in the few places that do champion the style.

Berkeley Pizza is an oasis from the soulless clumping of restaurants and bars tourists so lovingly refer to as the Gaslamp District. They bait the hot mess of drunk fools and hoards of clubbers roaming the streets with a chill vibe, respectable lineup of beers, late hours, and pizza by the slice. Berkeley Pizza has recently cast a net in North Park, a fresh pond of drunk fools, with a new location posted up between Coin-Op Game Room and The Office. It was from here I ordered a couple slices, a classic pepperoni and their signature combo of spinach & mushroom, to be whisked home between two paper plates for a pairing.

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Such a rich and robust pizza requires a rich and robust wine to match. Acidity is also important so to the Old World we go, specifically the Rhône Valley in southern France. Once a papal summer palace, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a Southern Rhône region that produces red wines made from a blend of up to 13 different varietals, with Grenache at its core.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of Robert Parker’s favorite styles of wine, which he prizes for its immediate parade of “intellectual and hedonistic elements” that generally takes great age-worthy wines decades to develop. Robert Parker reflects this same attitude in many of the wines chosen for high scores on his 100-point scale, providing consumers looking for those ripe and approachable styles a shortcut in research. While I dabble in the other end of the stylistic spectrum these days, I began my love of wine with juicy, sun-humped wines of the New World and moved away only to explore other styles for education purposes. Though I never returned, I can always enjoy a plumped up red, hedonistic and generous with fruit.

Hedonistic is right. The 2012 Domaine de Saint Siffrein (Châteauneuf-du-Pape) opens up hot and lush with stewed berry aromas of raspberry and blackberry pie on a backdrop of matted earth and dried leather. With just enough acidity to balance the wine’s weighty presence, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape is bold enough to handle the monster punch of flavor divvied out in each bite. Meanwhile, the tomato sauce is alive, racy with acidity, fighting an internal battle with globs of cheese and thick, buttery crust threatening to overwhelm the senses. Shockingly, the crust is sturdy enough handle the lasagna of weight above and all can be managed without a fork and knife. And thank the pizza gods for that, lest we disappoint Jon Stewart.
forkgateWith all toppings drenched beyond recognition with pizza sauce and cheese, there is almost no perceptible difference between the two different slices except for the intense animal charisma and lingering spice brought on by the pepperoni. The spiciness, while subtle, doesn’t bode well for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape as perception of alcohol, considerably elevated for an Old World wine, is exacerbated by spiciness in food. In the wake of this realization, I reach for a different bottle of the same region in France to play nice with the pepperoni slice.

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In the neighboring Northern Rhône, red wines showcase Syrah almost exclusively, where the varietal displays aromas of cured meats, olives and leather with black pepper and a medley of dark berries. The comparatively cooler climate of these northern vineyards offers up a bit more acidity to their fruit, and allows for leaner alcohol levels in wine while keeping a firm and powerful frame. Some of the most classic representations of Syrah come from small regions such as Cornas and Hermitage. Though variable in quality as the largest appellation of Northern Rhône, St. Joseph is stylistically similar at a fraction of the cost. The nose on the 2012 Domaine Vincent Paris (St. Joseph, les Côtes) is rich with a sense of copper and rust with raspberries on the palate. The leaner alcohol and higher acidity allow the meat and pepper aromas to play amongst its flavor companions in each bite.

The story ends happily, with the signature pie finding a dance partner with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape while the pepperoni slice took the spotlight with St. Joseph pulling off coordinated dance moves too good not to have been choreographed ahead of time.

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the Haven’s Popeye pie & Provençal rosé

Within a quiet stretch of blocks on the Kensington side of Adams Avenue sits an airy neighborhood pizza joint called The Haven. Of the selection of specialty pies featured, a small circular feast named Popeye catches my eye and the recommendation of the employee that day. The white pizza boasts an irresistible lineup of roasted garlic topped with chicken, mushrooms, fresh spinach, mozzarella and goat cheese. Squiggly lines of sweet aromas radiate from the pizza box as a combination of baking spices and roasted garlic creep into the nostalgic territories of my senses and stir up some hunger.

The swaths of garlic, caramelized into a candied sweetness, is a welcomed fiesta instead of an intrusion on my palate. With a salty, almost briny quality to the pie, there is no want for extra cheese. Overlaying the medium-thin chewy crust, chunks of chicken and fleshy mushrooms make up the bulk of textural layout.

Chicken may at first seem to play an integral role in any dish when in actuality the protein generally bows to any sauce or strong flavor present, the same way a neutral grape varietal such as Chardonnay can showcase terroir or a winemaker’s influence with clarity. The mix of aromatic and vegetal pizza aromas allows for a dry rosé to swoop in and play hero. Our hero today is a Provence rosé, 2013 Commanderie de la Bargemone of the appellation Coteaux d’Aix en Provence.

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Provence is a region in southern France dedicated to dry styles of rosé that will quickly win over any drinker’s taste buds when paired with light cuisine or a sunny day. Don’t let those pretty hues fool you: not all rosés are sweet. Not even slightly sweet. Most styles of rosé found in the wild are dry, especially when taking on a global perspective beyond the grocery aisle. Fruity aromas in wine tend to distract from sweetness level, making it easy to confuse the ripeness of fruit detected on the palate for the sugar level of the actual juice in the glass. Similar they may seem, only the latter is referring to actual sweetness as opposed to the perception of sweeter flavors.

This particular rosé is pretty close to bone dry, keeping fairly intense notes of tart strawberries and floral rosy aromas. Provençal rosé is especially refreshing when chilled down to refrigerator temperature, a low preferable for simple and crisp beverages. The rosé beside the pizza’s earthy aromas and boisterous, tangy flavors make for an uncomplicated yet all-encompassing pairing. Come salad or ham sandwich, carpaccio or root vegetable, rosé is generally well equipped to wrangle a range of flavors into a composed pairing. It is best to keep it stocked at all times. Always.

Mona Lisa & Vouvray

Mona Lisa is an Italian market, deli and restaurant prized for keeping harder-to-find goods like white anchovies, fresh pasta, and Italian amari. Having contemplated the deli-section artichokes with hungry eyes, I opted for Pizza Bianca, a white spinach pie, with the addition of artichokes. Expectations for a delicate, light pizza were shattered upon its arrival.

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An entire atmosphere of mozzarella with puffy clouds of ricotta engulf the toppings below making this pie look intimidatingly rich compared to original expectations. Surprisingly, the crust maintained a thin and crispy base with a doughy upper layer that unified well with the pillowy topography above. Each bite was like a lunar exploration, never quite knowing what might be unearthed from within the rocky cheesescape.

When given the task of pizza topping, artichokes offer some tangy relief that regulates super cheesy situations. As the main representative of spring on the classic Four Seasons pizza, artichokes have a long-standing relationship with Italy, where its cultivation is the highest worldwide. Even still, artichokes are notoriously frustrating to pair with wines, requiring a tart, acid-driven white wine to offset the organic acid known as cynarine that makes everything taste sweeter. With a geeky weakness for acidic, mineral driven whites, I plucked a bottle of Vouvray to pair, no problem.

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Vouvray is a French wine region of the Loire Valley producing medium-bodied whites made entirely of Chenin Blanc. The style rewards in its complexity, displaying a wide range of aromas spanning from quince to cheese rind, wet wool to chamomile. 2013 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Sec is youthful and dry with notes of citrus peel, wet asphalt and bruised yellow apples. For a pizza burly with cheese, Vouvray offers a vibrant backbone to the experience, refreshing enough for intensely creamy bites and dry enough to stand up to the sweetening effects of the artichokes. Vouvray has long been my number one homie, but now we’re officially pizza homies.