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Posts Tagged ‘Margherita Pizza’

This month’s BATHROOOOOOM of the MONTH goes to Co. Restaurant. Not only do their pizzas get top marks, but their bathrooms top the charts this month with a pleasing combination of dark red subway tiles, random art (like a visual non sequitur) and fancy accessories (lemon scented hand soap from C.O. Bigelow). My favorite part was the paper towel cubby hole. Nice work, guys. For our full review of Co. Restaurant, please click here.

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Ever since I read Jim Lahey’s book, My Bread and baked many of the recipes, I’ve been a bit obsessed with Mr. Lahey. Nothing crazy – no stalkerish tendencies. Just a serious admiration for the man’s bread baking talent. I headed up to his restaurant Co. in Chelsea to sample his bread – and PIZZA – first hand.

On a scale of 1-1,000, can you guess how excited I was? Place your bets in the comments section.

The Scene:
Pushing away the velvet curtains at the front door reveals a delightfully warm, pizza-smelling atmosphere that fogs up the windows with bread-baking steam. All around me is friendly chatter – not too loud not too quiet. Perfect for either a friendly get together or a date.

The attentive hostess greets me with an ETS (Estimated Time of Seating) – about 30 minutes, and I take a seat at the bar to await a friend.

Caramel colored wood paneling graces the walls with an interjection of one mirrored panel leading to a window through which you can peep the wood burning oven. This same oven is projected on the wall above the tables like a movie screen – like one of those Yule Log DVDs. Customers have apparently asked to buy a copy of the recording, but it’s not for sale, as you can hear the owner cursing in the background if you listen closely. In my opinion, this only adds to its kitchy charm.

Sam and Dave are crooning on the sound system and I hum, “Hold on (pizza), I’m coming….” to myself as one of the “company people” (identifiable by their matching brown t-shirts) ambles up over to take our order. We select:

The Grub:

First things first: BEER. I’ve been dying to try Kelso beer ever since I started following them around on Twitter. Luckily, Co. happens to serve Kelso Nut Brown Lager, which we promptly ordered a growler of (growler is a new term for me and basically means a helluva big jug o’ beer). We were very pleased – it complemented everything we ordered, especially the Popeye pizza (more on that below). We easily polished off that growler.

Next up: The Cannellini Bean and the Chicken Liver Toasts.

I LOVE chicken liver. You might remember me mentioning this around Thanksgiving time. It’s a weird thing to love, I know, but I really do. Co.’s version did not disappoint: pure perfection, whipped to a frosting-like consistency while still offering that signature tangy taste. As an added bonus, the spread was very generously applied.

The cannelini beans were like a meat broth stew (minus the broth) – bean bolognese, if you will. And I did! And would do it again, please and thank you.


Pizzas:
We selected the Margherita and the Popeye pizzas.

The Margherita was a perfect blend of tomato, mozzarella and parmesan with large basil leaves resting on top. The crust was crispy, charred and moist all at the same time, and the mozzarella had flavor – actual flavor all its own! I dubbed it King Pizza of the night.

The Popeye (pecorino, gruyère, mozzarella, spinach, black pepper and garlic) was a study in delicious contradiction. The spinach, both crispy and tender, was a perfect balance to the tangy and gooey gruyere. For added fun, the spinach seemed to have been marinated in oil and garlic.

And they have sundaes! I enjoyed a vanilla and salted peanut topped with caramel sauce, cream and pomegranate seeds.

The Bathrooms:
I was happy to find the bathrooms as orderly and well-constructed as the pizza (yes, I know that’s a weird thing to say). Clean, modern and supplied with fun extras like C.O. Bigelow lemon-scented hand soap and ART (that’s a crab in the framed photo).

The Experience:
The Shawshank Redemption – The Happy Ending

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Those of you following us on Twitter may have noticed frequent updates on my bread starter. You may have read this post where I detailed my grandiose plan to cultivate my own bread baking yeast for making a superior pizza dough…and for world domination. Pizza dough first, though.

So I began. I found some instructions on the web, including Slice’s Starter-Along blog series, and I commandeered a Tupperware container festooned with candy canes from my friend Stacey. I mixed my flour and water together and I waited.

….and waited…

And then stuff started to happen. Bubbles mostly. And then some foam. And then both! Take a look at the progress in the images below:

By photo #5, thinks looked like they were really cooking. Not only were there bubbles and foam throughout, but the consistency had changed. It was almost like it had been whipped – less cake-batter-like and more foamy throughout. Fascinating, no? Exactly.

Soliciting no professional opinions but my own (non)sense, I decided it was time to make bread. I harvested some of the yeast for pizza dough, and then another batch for some bread. The pizza dough needed to chill in the fridge for a few days and I was keen to see if this whole thing was going to work, so I jumped right into the bread making process.

Also, if you recall, it snowed about a million and two feet on Sunday the 26th of December into Monday the 27th, and I needed something to do between carrying my dog Toby out to the street to pee (he is too short to climb the snow drifts).

So I made the bread. I used this recipe. Let me just say I’ve made bread before. Quite successfully, thank you very much. But this was a miserable failure. I’m not blaming the recipe. I blame John. No, I’m kidding, he wasn’t even there! In hindsight, one of a few things went wrong:

1. My starter really wasn’t ready, even though I thought it was: the bread refused to rise.

2. I didn’t weigh my ingredients because I don’t have a kitchen scale, so the proportions were incorrect.

3. The planet alignment was all off that day, and I should really try this again when Neptune is in a more favorable house.

Even knowing that something was terribly wrong, I decided to put the non-risen bread in the oven anyway. What resulted was the densest, least attractive brick of a loaf of bread that I have ever seen. It was difficult to cut with a serrated knife. I could have hammered nails with it. The loaf was about 2″ high.

I began to laugh. A lot. And then I tasted it, and I stopped laughing because it wasn’t very good. How could it be?

HOWEVER! As I was failing miserably in the regular bread department, there was something happenin’ in the fridge with the pizza dough. Magic, that’s what.

Days later, as instructed by Slice’s recipe here, I removed my pizza dough from the fridge and it’s olive oil coated Ziploc bag. It was surprisingly easy to stretch out. And the cold from the refrigeration made it easier to handle. It even gave me the ability to stretch it a little thinner without breaking the dough.

Needless to say, I was intrigued. With unnecessary amounts of glee, I ran around the kitchen assembling sauce and collecting toppings (mozzarella cheese and basil). I fired up the ol’ oven and pizza stone and made this:

This is, hands down, the crispiest, tastiest crust I have ever managed. In addition to being crispy, the outer crust retained the characteristic chewiness of Neopolitan style pies. And there was flavor! Hot damn and hallelujah!

Why was the pizza dough a success and the sourdough loaf a failure? I have a few educated guesses:

1. Proper planet alignment.

2. The extended rise time of 48 hours (even slowed down due to refrigeration) was actually needed. My starter wasn’t broken, it was just slow! It needed some extra time.

3. The additional fermentation time also added flavor, because the yeast was hanging around for a longer period of time (2 days).

A few things to note:

While cold, oiled pizza dough is MUCH easier to handle and shape, it tends to stick to the pizza peel a bit more. I would recommend dusting the bottom of the dough with a little semolina flour and making sure you can easily slide it on and off the peel before assembling everything and then getting it stuck on there. Not that that happened to me or anything…

The cold dough took a bit longer to cook. This just makes sense, but I’m telling you anyway. You could always take your dough ball out of the fridge a few hours beforehand so you can bring it to room temperature. Either way, keep a sharp eye on things while they’re cooking.

Here are some detail photos:

A few other tips:

I used La Valle cherry tomatoes for the sauce with a splash of red wine vinegar (as instructed by the most recent edition of Cooks Illustrated Magazine). I blended the tomatoes and vinegar in the food processor with garlic, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne (for fun). The red wine vinegar gave the sauce that kick that I have been trying to achieve for a while.

For cheese, I used mini mozzarella balls. I cut them in half so they melted into little blobs.

And don’t forget the FRESH BASIL!!!

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Just when you thought you were done with Pizza month, we pull you back in.  Due to the plethora of Pizza joints within the area,  Elana and I have agreed to stop this soon and continue at a later date… but there is still work to be done.  This week’s review is of Luzzo’s, on 211 First Avenue in the East Village.   Since it was Elana’s birthday, we invited a whole crew of pizza enthusiasts and made a reservation way in advance.  Our crew had grown to 15 people, and I was skeptical of how they would handle our posse.

Accommodations turned out to be no problemo.  One of the waiters took our crew down a flight of stairs to their basement.  If anyone is thinking about booking a large group for some delicious pizza, ask to be downstairs in the basement.  We basically had the place to ourselves.  It even comes equipped with a stereo system in which the staff at Luzzo’s actually encourages you to supply your own music.  Unfortunately, none of us were aware of this ahead of time, so Elana’s whack-ass mix of early 90’s techno supplied the musical backdrop.  Also in the basement is a bar, stocked with wine and ice cold Peroni, the latter of which was ordered by all the male participants in half hour increments; like clockwork, one of us would twirl our index finger in the air, while our waiter would rifle off bottle caps and dispense the brewskis.  Did I mention how awesome the basement is?

After ordering a few snacks, the pizzas arrive.  Like Keste, Luzzo’s is very much a Naples pie; the mozzarella is barely melted, the crust is charred, yet chewy.  It is extremely simple in its look, yet sophisticated in its creation.  Luzzo’s gives the option of ordering either 12 inch or 16 inch pies.

For the group, we get a bunch of 16 inch pies; 4 of which are Bufala Mozzarella pies.  This pizza is definitely some of the best we have had.  It is a little thinner than that of other Neapolitan pies,  which isn’t good or bad – just figured i’d say so.  Its bufala mozzarella is great; despite its spotty application, it is huge on taste:  milky, salty, and a touch sour.  Perfect.  The tomatoes are of equal quality, extremely fresh with perfect compliments of oil.  Take a look at the oil which swims on top of the slice.  It’s there, but not overwhelmingly so.  And the crust is of fine craftmanship – the blackened portions of the crust are contrasted with its doughy, pillowy insides.  Rugged exterior, tender underneath it all.  Alot like myself.

(This picture is from the bar afterwards.  As you can tell, it was fun)

We ordered a few more pies.  One was a white pizza with truffle patte (pictured above). Another was a magherita pizza with prosciutto and arugula.   A third one was a white pie with prosciutto and mushrooms seen below.  All were very good; building on Luzzo’s wonderful pizza making philosophy with wonderful pizza making accompaniments/ingredients.

Those looking for a high end Neapolitan pizza will not be disappointed by stopping into Luzzo’s.  In comparison with Keste, our other reviewed Neapolitan pie, it is slightly thinner and tad more simple and bare.  Yet in taste, they’re in dead heat.  Stay tuned for our pizza rankings in the coming weeks.

Overall Movie ExperienceShawshank Redemption

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Life is uncertain: eat dessert first. Does anyone know who said that? It was apparently an American writer named Ernestine Ulmer. I actually just looked that up, because I didn’t know.

Today’s post most certainly involves eating dessert first, a practice that I whole-heartedly support. I also support eating dessert last. First AND last would be best, I think.

While in Rome, Marmo kept going on and on and on about a bakery called Antico Forno Roscioli. It got kind of annoying, so I had to take her there. Then, once we got there, she kept going on and on and on about this particular pastry, ventagli, which means “fans” in Italian. So we had to eat one.

The sign lodged in the ventagli says “no eggs, no milk” so I can only assume that means one thing: BUTTER. Also: SUGAR. As for taste, a few words come to mind: HOLY %^$& that’s good!

Honestly, I was a little skeptical when Marmo was going on and on about ventagli. It really didn’t look that special to me. I like desserts and pastries that I can sink my teeth into. This one looked like it was going flake all over me, leaving me with very unsatisfying bites.

I was wrong. Proven wrong by a pastry is really not all that bad, folks.

This little “fan” was surprisingly hearty. It had a nice snap upon biting into it, and the layers, rather than being a flaky mess, really hung together making it more dense than it appeared (a good thing). As you may note from the photo above, the sugar coating looks intense, but honestly, this was not a sickly sweet dessert. The balance of sugar-to-pastry was quite good, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing in that regard.

Antico Forno Roscioli stocked a number of other freshly baked items, including pizza in the Roman style. I really liked those long ones shown in the above photo, but I have no idea how you go about baking such a monstrosity. However, for pizza I wanted to go to a real Roman pizzeria. I was going on and on and on about it. I think it was annoying.

So Marmo took me to Monte Carlo Pizzeria, where we sampled two beauties: the Margherita and the Fiori di Zucca (squash flower).

Pardon this PIZZA TANGENT: Roman pizza is characterized by an especially thin and crispy crust. The use of a pizza stone when baking this type of pizza is imperative as the crust really needs even heating from the bottom. The crust should have some give to it, like a thin bread. It shouldn’t crumble or have the texture and consistency of a cracker.

In terms of preference I’m not sure where I stand: Neopolitan Style or Roman Style. I like both, but if pressed, I may veer towards Naples. I am Neopolitan, after all…Feel free to leave your comments about your pizza preference!

Onto the Margherita:

You can clearly see the thin crust in the above photos. However, the pizza doesn’t stay rigid, but is a bit bendy (like bread). The taste was excellent. Pure crushed tomatoes combined with a thin, even layer of mozzarella cheese. I did find it interesting that there was no basil. I do love basil. I also loved the bubbles that formed around the outer crust (you can see this well in the top photo). Some of these bubbles got nice and charred, and really gave the pizza a kick.

Next up, squash flowers:

As I may have mentioned, I have become a bit obsessed with these flowers. I wanted them on everything while I was in Italy. This combination of the squash flower and lightly-cheesed pizza was quite good. The flowers have a very mild taste, almost buttery. This soft, buttery flavor compliments the salt of the mozzarella cheese. As you can see, this pie also had a nice char going on around the edges, which gave it a slightly smoky taste. Definitely a winner.

Overall, both of the pies were very light. It was quite easy to eat an entire pie and still have some room left over for dessert (again). Did I hear someone say gelato? This is both because of the thin crust, and also the light, even-handed application of the toppings.

I’m thinking this style of pizza would be a great appetizer at a party, cut into small pieces. I’m going to try out a thin crust in the laboratorio semi-moderno (test kitchen) soon for you all.

In the meantime….I did hear someone say gelato?! Let’s have some:

A few gelaterias to keep in mind, should you find yourself in Rome or Orvieto:

San Crispino, Rome

Ciampini, Rome

Gelateria Pasqualetti, Orvieto

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Every month, Elana and I are aiming to post a creative video of us and food.  Whether that be a recipe, a restaurant, a food fight… remains to be seen, but we hope to post a video with some sort of regularity.  This week, we present Pizza Making Set to Pop Music.  Special thanks to B.O.B.’s “Magic” for providing the background track.

Also, if the video moves too fast, I have attached the pizza recipe we used.  Enjoy.

Pizza dough recipe

1 envelope dried yeast
1 cup warm water
4 c all purposeflour or bread flour
¾ t salt
½ cup warm water
2T olive oil

In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of warm water…stir in ½ cup of the flour.  Cover and let stand for about 30 minutes

Then add the other ½ cup of warm water salt and olive oil.  Slowly begin to add the remaining flour.  When all of the flour is incorporated knead the dough until it is smooth.  It may take about 10 minutes….

Then dust the dough lightly all over with flour and place in a bowl – covered with a cloth  to rise for about 1 hour.

When it has doubled in size, punch down the dough and divide into 4 parts.  Form each fourth into a smooth ball and let rise covered on a floured board for 30 minutes.  In the meantime heat the oven to 500 degrees for 30 minutes….

  

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Pizza month continues – and this week’s review is of Artichoke Basille’s Pizzeria.  Elana and I went to their newer location on 17th street and 10th avenue.  I had walked there from the PATH station on 14th street and 6th – which, ordinarily, would not be considered a long walk, however it was pouring.  By the time I stepped inside, my sneakers were absolutely drenched.  This place had better be worth it.

This Artichoke location is only a couple of months old.  As a result, they were still sorting out the whole beer thing/liquor license I guess, because I could only get soda.  Not a huge deal.  I love fountain soda with pizza.  Despite its apparent young age, the joint is broken-in quite nicely – it has an old Italian pizzeria feel to it; a long mahogany bar, small black and white tiles for the floor, and wood seats.  There are flat screens to watch the game, and somewhat loud music playing.  Typically, this would have been an annoyance, but for the outrageously good lineup of tunes. The Pretenders, Michael Jackson, Toto (Rosanna and Africa) – my night was officially turning around.

There is an Artichoke slice shop located immediately next door, where one can mix and match slices.  The main section, however, restricts one from doing so – only pies.  And judging by the size of our neighbor’s pie, only one was necessary.  They are fairly large at 16 inches across, and somewhat pricey as well at $24 for the Margherita pie.  Artichoke’s style of making pizza is what I would classify as American.  Previously, I had discussed the three ways that most Italian pizzerias make pies – (1) Neopolitan (2) Hybrid Neopolitan/American (3) American.  What makes Artichoke an American pizzeria, to me, is the oven they use: Baker’s Pride ovens.  These type of ovens are found in many pizzerias across the country.  Go into your local pizzeria and, chances are, you will see a Baker’s Pride oven doing the cooking.  These ovens cannot get quite as hot as well functioning brick pizza ovens.  The result of this is that the pizza will take longer to cook.  The pizza is also more evenly cooked the American way.

Artichoke’s Margherita is definitely evenly cooked.  It is also awesome.  The pizza is tastily burnt, and HUGE on flavor.  Along with the mozzarella, Artichoke adds Parmesan.  Its tomato sauce is simply wonderful.  Very oily (which I love) and fresh. They also throw in a healthy dose of basil leaves.  All of this, as previously noted, is cooked to an absolute glorious crisp.  And, due to the amount of time this sucker was cooking in the oven, the pizza is extremely hot.  This is another difference between pies made the American way vs. the Neopolitan way.  Although the American pie is not exposed to the high, volcanic temperatures that the Neopolitan pie is exposed to, it spends a much longer time in the oven.  It has to in order to get cooked.  The result, especially in Artichoke’s case, is a very hot pie all the way through.  The beginning, middle and crust of Artichoke’s pie is crispy throughout.  This stiffness is demonstrated in the below photos.

Here, the inflexibility is, in my opinion, incredible.  They really put the “pie” in pizza pie.  Just look at that slice on the left as well.  There is even a crust to the cheese; a noticeable snap accompanying every bite, yet never once it is overdone or bitter.  It has been baked to perfection; teetering on the brink of being burnt, but never crossing the line.  This pizza is worth every penny.  Really just some fine craftsmanship.

Service is just fine, an attentive and friendly staff frequently checked up on us to see how we were doing throughout the experience.

As for the bathrooms, Elana had this to say, “I liked the art that greeted me when I entered, as well as the subway tiles: very iconic NYC. What I first thought was an Xlerator turned out to be a paper towel dispenser, but it was well-stocked. Other than that, everything was clean and on the up-and-up.”

As dedicated pizza enthusiasts, even the entire Margherita pie was not going to stop us from going next door to try their Artichoke pizza.  I mean, after all, the name of the place is Artichoke, right? Unfortunately, since it was raining out, we didn’t have the most luxurious of accommodations to try the slice.  We took turns shielding each other from the rain with a golf umbrella while we each sampled the slice.  In addition, the roofs of our mouths had been carelessly scorched due to our inability to temper our hunger vs. the Margherita pie’s hot temperature.  Even speaking to each other was a challenge.

The actual artichoke slice was a different experience.  Extremely thick in size, and moderate in temperature, this slice is a gooey, white mess of taste.  It was not as positively received as the Margherita Pie, but that could have been an impossible hurdle to clear.

Stationed on the wall between the restaurant and the slice shop is a picture of Oscar the Grouch, as seen above.  I wish I had more to say about this, but I really don’t.

I am absolutely going back to this place.  I loved it.  Artichoke was worth the walk after all.  Definitely one of the “heavy hitters” as far as pizza is concerned.

Overall Movie EquivalentThe Big Lebowski

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