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 47: Czech – Kulajda white pizza with potato, dill & mushroom

For this week’s Czech-inspired pizza, I opted to turn a classic Kulajda soup into a tasty potato and mushroom pizza pie.

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Potato, mushrooms, caraway and dill provide the majority of the flavor and texture, making up the base of the pizza. The egg comes later.

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The potato was peeled and diced into small cubes.

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After boiling the potatoes with caraway seeds and bay leaves, cream and flour are added to create the white cream base that would normally make the base of the soup.

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Sour cream was there too.

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The creamy potato base was topped with mushrooms and a sprinkle of mozzarella before getting a big 550 degree smooch from the oven.

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Meanwhile, an egg was poached stovetop and then placed in the center of the pizza after being pulled from the oven.

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To pair, 2013 Ottoventi Bianco, a Sicilian white wine featuring a refreshing blend of Catarratto, Grillo and Zibibbo. With the pizza, this wine provided a delightful backdrop of tangerine and yellow apples. This wine had a zingy little personality without being too much of a thinker.

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The pizza was pretty alright, to0. With the wine, it was the tits.

Week 27: Tacos – Mushroom & Pepperoni Quesadilla Tacos

This week’s r/52weeksofcooking challenge required a melding of two of the most cooked items in my kitchen: pizza & tacos. Creating a hybrid would prove to be somewhat straightforward as I have also mastered my quesadilla craft during my desperate time with all the ingredients to make tacos but no meat. As a result, this taco experiment began with a pizza quesadilla base.

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On its own, this would make for a dope midnight snack. But we must march forward.

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With pepperoni already lining the foundation of our taco, cumin & black pepper mushrooms made up the meat of the taco.

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With another melting of cheeses, using a mozzarella and Mexican blend throughout, the mushroom tacos were built and ready to be dressed.

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To crush this pizza-taco hybrid, tomato sauce, ricotta & red pepper flakes made up the final touches before it was eating time.

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The pepperoni kills it. There’s a touch of spice here and there so habanero sauce could easily be included or ignored.

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For the sake of the pairing I opted out of extra spiciness so that a red wine has a shot at being a decent pairing. While the fruit in this Grenache is soft and juicy with black raspberries for days, the alcohol is emphasized by the spice and throws the wine a tad off balance. A noticeable but forgivable offense when I’m too busy jamming out with these little handheld feasts.

double taco dance

Week 20: Outdoorsman – Charcoal-Grilled Veggie Pizza

Taking on the camping aspect of this week’s theme, I fought mild waves of self-doubt over how cooking pizza outdoors would actually go. In the kitchen, I rotate through most of the gear enough to anticipate any issues or difficulties. Cooking pizza dough on a naked grill didn’t come as intuitively as cooking a steak, so I tapped a Serious Eats guide for a smack of confidence that the dough wouldn’t just slide through the grates cartoon-like and melt over the coals. And it didn’t.

Preparation turned out to be the most important lesson in this setting. While this grill session took place in my backyard on a mild weekend afternoon, running inside for every forgotten item was pain enough for me to squeeze out a thoughtful camping lesson for reflection. If I truly were camping, I’d be boned nine times before food ever hit the grill.

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While the coals heated up, I prepped the veggies first, skewering mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and canned artichoke hearts (which were thankfully placed in a pop-top can).

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The dough was patted out in advance, ready to determine the course of this night with how well it faced the grill. To my surprise, the crust was rather easy to manage once it settled in over the heat. It bubbled up and took on a rather rustic look within minutes. Rotation helped to cook portions of both crust and vegetables evenly over the meager amount of coals used.

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With one side of the dough fully cooked, I flipped the crust over for a kiss of heat so that texture wouldn’t be too soft amongst the toppings.

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The sturdiness of the dough was rather fortunate as I gave no thought to the weight of the toppings as they were piled on. It was only during the transfer back to the grill that I realized how heavy the pizza had become, but the crust stayed true to the cause.

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With coals pushed to one side, I set the pizza on the other end and tried to capture enough heat under the grill cover to melt the cheese a bit. The results were somewhat lackluster but the flavor remained unaffected.

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With big, juicy toppings to chomp into, this pizza had a glamping charm to it that would only suit a rosé. Something crisp and funky from Corsica to feast with.

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But just as the realities of camping with wine have struck me before, this bottle was corked and completely ruined for enjoyment. So I did as I did last time and grabbed a beer.

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Yes, Ballast Point sold out for a billion dollar check but that doesn’t mean I love this beer any less. It’s refreshing AF and great alongside whatever just came off the grill. Cheers.

Landini’s Pizzeria & Spanish red

The recent boom of trendy bars and restaurants in San Diego’s Little Italy has been all the chatter about town. From the killer wine list at Juniper & Ivy to the shiny upstairs patio of Kettner Exchange, there is plenty to talk about and more foodie fodder still to come. While old neighborhood standards may harrumph about with speculation as to what the competition means for business, the influx of roaming drunk hoards seems well-suited for a pizza joint to thrive in and Landini’s Pizzeria is situated within easy stumbling distance of it all.

San Diego kitchens shut down disappointingly early for a city that parties nightly until two. As bars unleash batches of wooing hot messes and their socially oblivious companions into the streets, Landini’s becomes a magnet for inebriated pizza zombies drawn to the ever-appreciated business model of late-night slices.

Initially enticed by the menu’s fancy sounding toppings of brussel sprouts and butternut squash, I opt for a less cerebral treat after standing in line between drunk toddlers in celebratory feather boas indicating some holiday nigh. Instead, the very chill people of Landini’s recommend a standard issue pepperoni pie, to which I add tomato and mushroom to half and contribute what I can to send some cat to ninja school.

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The toppings don’t seem to matter beyond pepperoni as the base components make up the whole of the pizza’s personality. A soft core that runs from crust to cheese is enlivened with collected pockets of juicy tomato sauce and a chewy texture. While the tomato and mushroom are decorative at best, contributing nothing much beyond texture to the pie, the pepperoni is spiced perfectly, calling for a bigger style of red wine to be its match.

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Bodega Margon Pricum (Tierra de León, 2007) is a Spanish red made up solely from the Prieto Picudo red grape of the region. Upon opening, the wine is immediately taut, tannins strained and fruit ungiving, and in need of time to breathe. Decanting is an option, offering more surface area for oxygen to interact with the wine and hasten its evolution, while swirling in glass offers smaller format aeration for those seeking to enjoy a glass or two.

As the wine opens up, aromas of black tea, pepper, and dusty earth are at first most notable. Dark fruit flavors emerge in the form of black cherry and blackberries that provide a counterbalance to the meaty landscape of the pizza and inherent spice never overwhelms the wine. With plumply ripe fruit aromas and moderately higher alcohol, there is just enough acidity to match the tomato sauce while the scrubby tannins play nicely off each cheesy bite.

landini's leftovers

Leftovers are an undeniable truth of pizza eating for one. To step up my pizza game, I ditched the microwave and learned a stovetop method for reheating pizza that revives any lifeless crust on the fly. All it takes is a pan prepped to low-medium heat with slices placed in dry for a crisp bottom while covering with a lid to heat the toppings evenly. Serve with eggs and call it breakfast.

Napizza and uncommon Italian DOCGs

For a by-the-slice concept, Napizza is a pretty swanky spot holding down a coveted corner in Little Italy, the land of shiny new restaurants. With more than a handful of pizza options nearby, Napizza has established itself as a “healthy and organic” option, a modern trend that tends to litters walls and websites with a fatiguing number of buzzwords. With marketing so fiercely tuned in, it is best to hit mute and let the flavors speak for themselves.

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Behind the display window, each pizza offering sings its own siren song, drawing me in until I focus my hunger on the Truffle Porcini and Parmigiana, two slices destined for a set of Italian pairings.

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Built on a focaccia bread base, the medium-style pizza has a crisp olive oil crust that helps maintain the structure, allowing for weighty toppings such the mess of eggplant and chunky tomato on the slice of Parmigiana. A smothering of pesto with each bite offers a glitter of garlic spice and tangy green brightness. Meanwhile, the personality of the pizza stays true to the name, singing of simple Italian cuisine, hearty, earthy and satisfyingly cheesy.

napizza eggplant and cerasuolo

Azienda Agricola COS, Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG, Sicilia, 2011 is produced from the first and only DOCG of Sicily. The ruby red wine is made predominately from the black grape Nero d’Avola, Frappato making up a 30-50% minority. In this bottling, the dominant varietal expresses itself with finely grained tannins found in the wine while the latter varietal can be seen through red berry aromas of dehydrated raspberry and cranberry, further emphasized by the savory pizza elements of eggplant and pesto. The refreshing acidity is quite appealing with such a rich style of pizza while a soft note of wood provides a plush finish as does a lingering note of tobacco and black tea. The pairing isn’t perfectly aligned, each element playing its own instrument and not quite harmonizing. It comes together like an awkward first date, whereas the next one is like a long-awaited, romantic night out.

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The Truffle Porcini slice hits the palate with a roar of mushrooms, herbs and truffle notes. Such an aggressive umami overload puts our first wine in an aromatic stranglehold, demanding a larger player. Travaglini, Gattinara DOCG, Piedmonte, 2008 is a playful companion to this slice, swinging at its oily center with all the elevated acidity that accompanies the varietal, Nebbiolo. Known locally as Spanna, Nebbiolo makes up 100% of the wine even though a minimum of 90% composition is required for Gattinara DOCG.

In the last pizza pairing, Nebbiolo was featured through Palmina’s New World interpretation whereas in Gattinara, Nebbiolo is in its homeland of Piedmont, where Barolo and Barbaresco represent the pinnacle of its expression. Even though Gattinara is a more approachable style, it still comes dressed up with purple flowers, violets and roses as well as fresh leather, orange peel and baked cherry pie. The tart red fruits are tangy with personality and a quick burst of tannins add fireworks to this hot little love fest.

postscript: the uniquely-shaped bottle was designed in 1958 to diminish the need for decanting by catching sediment naturally. For three years, I walked around thinking the misshapen bottle recovered from a vineyard fire as lore would have it. Oh, how humbling fact checking can be. Also, embarrassing.

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.

St. Joseph

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.

she's all that