THE PIZZA BIBLE by Tony Gemignani

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The World’s Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neapolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit, and more, with Susie Heller & Steve Siegelman, photography by Sara Remington

I am Italian by marriage, and over the years we have gotten pretty serious about pizza, serious enough that my husband built a wood burning pizza oven in the back yard (see picture below.)

The first time I had homemade pizza was at my mother-in-law’s house on Long Island. Growing up in New York, I ate a lot of pizza from pizzerias.  It never even occurred to me that this was something you could make at home. Sure, we had English Muffin pizza and maybe some frozen French bread pizza, but real pizza? That we went out for or had delivered.

My mother-in-law made pizza that is now called “Grandma Pizza.” Baked in the oven in a half sheet pan, similar to Sicilian pizza except the crust isn’t prebaked and most unusual, at least for me, the mozzarella went on the bottom and the sauce went on top. It was awe inspiring and delicious. She was kind enough to share that recipe and many others – in fact, my husband taught me to cook using his mother’s recipes.

Pizza oven night

Backyard pizza oven all fired up

Fast forward many years, and pizza started going what some call gourmet, but really was back to its roots in Naples. The ubiquitous pizza chains are as popular as ever, but so are the Napoletana style pizzerias and lots of mom and pop shops. There are shows on the Food Network and other channels, pizza forums like Forno Bravo, pizza blogs like Worst Pizza here in south Florida.

That said, over the years we have tried lots of different recipes from a variety of sources and cookbooks. So when I heard about this Pizza Bible, I was intrigued, and when I got my hands on the book (thanks, Ten Speed Press!) I knew I found pizza nirvana.

For the beginner to the Professional Pizzaiolo, this book works for everyone. Every conceivable type of pizza is included, as the subtitle informs (I won’t be trying Chicago style pizza, which I consider to be more of a casserole than a pizza) with lots of gorgeous pictures and clear explanations and directions. Nothing is assumed, and this book is geared towards the home kitchen. There is a complete index and a list of online sources to find some of the more esoteric ingredients and equipment, but more commonly found alternatives are usually given.

We decided to try the Napoletana Dough and Sauce. There are instructions for making your own mozzarella cheese, but fresh cheese is very easy to find in my area so I didn’t feel the need to go that far. The dough was a three day affair; in fact, when I first got the book I wanted to try it right away but then realized it would take a bit of planning. All I can say is that it was worth it. It’s not difficult or even time consuming, it’s just that you need to make a poolish (starter) which needs 18 hours to grow, then make the dough, a quick affair using a stand mixer, and that needs refrigeration for 36 hours or more – thus, the planning. The dough was easy to manipulate, and that alone is worth the planning. If you’ve ever worked with store bought pizza dough or frankly, most recipes, the dough can be a bear, wanting to spring back to its original shape or tearing as it is stretched.

On the other hand, the Napoletana Sauce was super easy, basically made from San Marzano canned tomatoes pushed through a food mill and salted. For the first pizza I used the minimal amount of sauce suggested, but preferred a bit more than called for, an easy fix.

If you are using a wood fired oven, or wonder how that works, there are pictures and step by step instructions on building the fire and preparing the oven floor, along with directions on turning the pizza and so forth. This is excellent for the beginner or the curious.

new year 15 pizzaMaking pizza is not the easiest thing in the world, but it is worth it. The Napoletana Dough was perfect – the crust was crispy around the edges, chewy through the middle. You could pick up a slice and it held its shape without drooping and dropping sauce or cheese. It baked perfectly in a smidge over two minutes. I think we ate it about that fast, too!

I also made a calzone with ricotta, mozzarella and Romano cheese. Again, the dough was easy to work with. I didn’t overfill it, per instructions, and sealed it much like an empanada. It still popped open in one spot and lost a bit of filling, but it was delicious and pretty, too.

I like that he includes recipes like Two Cool Things to do with Leftover Dough – most useful, and an interesting meatball recipe. He explains why pepperoni is an American invention and how it differs from sausages made in Italy.

I’ll still keep using my mother-in-law’s pizza recipe when the oven in my kitchen is a better option – there’s something quite hellish about standing in front of a 900+ degree oven during a south Florida summer when it is a not-so-breezy 90+ degrees and 100% humidity outside. But I will be trying more recipes from this book. I have to try the Burratina di Margherita, which won the Gold Cup in the Pan Division of the International Tournament of Champions in Lecce, Italy – plus it’s made with burrata, which is the most heavenly cheese on earth. Here’s Tony’s description from page 129:

Burrata is mozzarella that’s formed into a pouch, filled with more mozzarella and cream, and then wrapped in leaves. As it sits, it comes together as a fresh, moist “super mozzarella” that’s insanely rich. In Lecce, they make huge burrata balls, and they treat them like sacred works of art.

In South Florida, I can get slightly smaller than tennis ball size burrata at Whole Foods or Trader Joes and it is a treat.

I’m also excited about the Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza, the Margherita Extra, made with wood oven charred cherry tomatoes instead of sauce, the Insalata AKA salad pizza, one of my faves, and so many more. This is an excellent cookbook, well laid out, easy to use, with recipes that work. Gift this to the pizza lover in your life and hope they invite you over!

 

1/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE PIZZA BIBLE by Tony Gemignani. Ten Speed Press (October 28, 2014). ISBN: 978-1607746058. 320p.

 

3 Responses to THE PIZZA BIBLE by Tony Gemignani

  1. Louise Rae says:

    Off topic for books, but on topic for pizza. Am coming to America this year, spending time in New York, whats the best place for pizza? Eating pizza is one of my to do things for New York

  2. Larry says:

    Hi Louise you can try the following Pizza places:

    NYC
    ***Forcella closed renovations? Slice of Naples 334B Bowery New York, NY 10012

    ***Kesté Pizza & Vino 271 Bleecker St, New York, NY ‎ Neopolitan

    ***John’s of Bleecker Street 278 Bleecker St, New York, NY

    John’s of Times Square 260 W. 44th Street New York, NY 10036

    Bleecker Street Pizza 69 7th Ave S, New York, NY

    Pizza Box 176 Bleecker St, New York, NY NY Style
    Joe’s Pizza 7 Carmine St, New York, NY ‎
    Motorino 349 E 12th St, New York, NY

    Brooklyn:
    ***Di Fara in Midwood 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn, NY 11230

    ***Juliana’s Pizza in Dumbo 19 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201 Patsy Grimaldi’s new Place

    ***Paulie Gee’s In Greenpoint 60 Greenpoint Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11222

    L & B Spumoni Gardens 2725 86th Street Brooklyn, NY 11223

    Also if you’re still unsure I suggest that you go on one of “Scott’s Pizza tours”. The walking tour is great and he really knows the history of Pizza in NYC. What’s also nice about it is that you can get a slice at every stop and not have to order a whole pie. The pizza at Lombardi’s is good but has gotten a little commercialized for my taste.

    *** = Exceptional!

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