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 48: Leftovers – Pizza Bread Pudding

Having to work every Thanksgiving evening and rarely getting a chance to indulge in a hot turkey meal, let alone leftovers, I’ve opted to take this challenge in a different direction and offered leftover pizza a chance at metamorphosis.

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First it begins with a pizza.

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And a metric fuck-ton of willpower.

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After some lonely time cooling down, that tasty-looking pizza got packed away to become way less sexy leftovers.

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Even without that fresh oven glow, this pizza still looked so tasty. Working quickly to fight off taking even a nibble, I cut each piece into small pieces.

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I whipped together a big bowl of eggs, cream and parmesan.

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After stuffing muffin tins with pizza cubes, I poured the cream over until each was just full and applied a quick hit of parmesan over top before placing these confused beauties in the oven.

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So foreign and alluring at the same time.

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A bottle of Taurasi made for a killer pairing with all the leathery, meaty, dark fruit characteristic of Aglianico complementing the heartiness of each marinara-coated morsel. The wine is rich and structured but really comes alive in front of flavors that can match its intensity.

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Judge me if you must but I found much joy in these little pizza desecrations. They’re definitely worth a revisit.

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Week 9: From A Can – White Clam Pizza with a can of rosé

For this next challenge, “From a can,” I decided not to indulge in my favorite pizza standard of artichoke red pie, despite the use of both canned tomatoes and artichokes. Instead, I took on a pizza that I had never dreamt of making: white clam pizza. URBN Coal Fire Pizza/Bar in North Park, San Diego boasts a New Haven-style, thus features a classic clam pie. It’s the perfect pizza to order for lunch on a Sunday with a glass of Provence rosé.

I generally operate under a zero-seafood-from-a-can policy when I cook so I’ve decided to slap on some bacon for a bit of flavor insurance.

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Bacon offers unity between land and sea and, for those iffy about clams on a pizza, it can become the focal point of the experience.

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Garlic is the perfect aromatic to go alongside seafood so an abundance is used to coat the base.

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Classically, fresh littleneck clams are used but since freshness is already being shunned for the sake of this challenge, the clam of choice is not a point of concern.

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Ignoring how closely these clams resemble ID4 aliens sealed in an Area-51 tube once unveiled, these clams need to be coarsely chopped with the juice reserved for extra flavoring.

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Once outside of their murky clam juice home, these puppies look ready to hop on a pizza and snuggle up alongside some bacon.

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The dough used is a 3:1 bread and whole wheat flour, which was rolled out as thinly as possible while the oven climbed up to a maxed out 550°F. When freshly made, this dough can insert a subtle yeasty sweetness in the pizza’s overall flavor.

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Using olive oil & garlic as the sauce, mozzarella provided a base of cheese and the protein followed with parmesan grated overtop. Most importantly, a couple spoonfuls of clam juice were sprinkled over evenly before popping this bad larry into the oven for 7-10 minutes.

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In keeping with theme, a can of Alloy Wine Works – Grenache rosé, Central Coast, California was the pairing of choice, harking back to my URBN clam pizza & rosé days. With underripe raspberry and white strawberry notes balanced by the hint of actual sweetness in the wine, this wine tasted like the can’s own promising of sour patch kids. The inherent saltiness of the pizza even further emphasized the fruit of this rosé but it was the wine’s waxy texture and fuller body that helped manage bursts of smoky bacon.

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The briny flavors were well integrated with the garlic and bright, tangy parmesan with the occasional bite of sea water surprise that is likely inevitable with a dish like this. The pizza kept pillowy texture that stayed moist and fresh thanks to the addition of the clam juice on top, without which this pizza would be lost.

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Nailed it.

 

Buona Forchetta & Falanghina

Buona Forchetta is a quietly trendy South Park restaurant priding itself in traditional Italian fare and a pretty dope ambiance. An incredible amount of hype built up by local pizza fanatics sets expectations high, especially when personal experience with a range of dishes has placed overall consistency into question. Even still, ravings over Buona Forchetta pizza persists, making their cuisine an on-going, sometimes obsessive study. Curiosity strikes with every recommendation for the place and I find myself perusing the menu again and again, tempting my hunger with the array of options.

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Close proximity to Hamilton’s, South Park’s keeper of great beers, usually green lights the decision to make the trek for pizza. With sours kept well stocked, Hammy’s is my first stop regardless of whether I’m waiting for a table or saying ambiance schmambiance and ordering a pizza to-go. Although much of Buona Forchetta’s overall experience can be extracted from the quaint atmosphere reminiscent of the chef’s homeland, isolation from the romantic distractions of strung up lights and Italian accents can be quite revealing and just as satisfying. Carry-out means no corkage fee, but it’s worth mentioning that the corkage fee here is extremely reasonable at ten dollars per bottle.

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Buona Forchetta (left) credit: San Diego Magazine

From the belly of the kitchen’s shiny centerpiece oven, Sofia, built by third generation oven-maker Stefano Ferrara, comes an order of the Sergio pizza. The pie is one of the more popular choices featuring prosciutto di parma, arugula, parmesan and buffalo mozzarella. The pizza is a winner from the very first bite with flavors singing harmoniously together as bright parmesan and milky fresh mozzarella balance with a base of light and acidic tomato sauce. Meanwhile, the prosciutto and arugula not only contributed with bursts of flavor, their layers also enhance the texture of the chewy dense crust, making each bite immensely satisfying.

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With buoyant pizza flavors presented in a classic Neapolitan style, the streak of lesser known Italian wines continues on with Falanghina (2010 Feudi Di San Gregorio, Falanghina del Sannio DOC), a fragrant white wine hailing from Campania in Southern Italy. As the grassy arugula cuts through powerful cheesy core with refreshing bitterness, the cheese in turn bridges the lean vegetal notes of the arugula with the bright acidity in the wine. In general, lively wines with plenty of acidity can gracefully manage cheesy situations while also playing the same role as a squeeze of lemon with bitter greens. The meaty, salty prosciutto enhances stone fruit flavors of peach and apricot in the wine while red apple and tangerine aromas contribute to its juicy, refreshing style. With delicious flavors in full balance, this pizza and wine pairing requires no more than sweatpants and a couch to appreciate this winning combo.

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.

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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.