4/4/2013 - Pizza seems simple enough: some crust and sauce with toppings like meat, cheese and vegetables. But the right ingredients can take pizza from everyday food to explosive eating experience.
The crust is the basis for any pizza — it’s what’s piled on top that makes it unique.
“You want a good balance of flavors, so you get some flavor in every bite. You don’t want too much dough,” said Jerry Lipet of Angela’s Pasta and Cheese in Manchester. “You don’t want to oversauce a pizza and overwhelm the flavors. The sauce should be in the background.”
Angela’s Pasta and Cheese offers thin-crust pizza on Fridays in three or four varieties. Some are traditional, while others are more exotic, Lipet said, sometimes including ingredients like fennel, leeks, goat cheese, arugula and the shop’s homemade sausage. Another recipe includes poblano cheese, chicken and corn for a Mexican-style pie.
“There are so many combinations you can do,” he said. “You can be pretty creative.”
Doug Dow, owner of C.C. Tomatoes in Penacook, said he likes to mesh sweet and salty flavors. His pizza starts with handmade crust and, for some recipes, whole-milk mozzarella. Additional toppings may include white sauce, caramelized onions, spinach, sweet basil ricotta cheese and diced tomatoes on the Carmine pizza or homemade barbecue sauce with chicken, caramelized onions and crispy bacon on the barbecue chicken pizza. The Tijuana Mexicali pizza has beef, tomatoes, lettuce, hots, salsa, mozzarella and sour cream; it’s essentially a taco on a pizza.
“Texture and smell do as much for flavor as anything,” said Dow, who has been making pizza for more than 30 years. “We use fresh products all the time, which enhances the aromas, crispness, texture and smell.”
At 900 Degrees in Manchester, each pizza gets its own fresh mozzarella, broken up by hand. The restaurant uses Grana Padano, a dry, hard Italian cheese similar to Parmesan cheese, in 75 percent of its dishes, according to executive chef Matt Siwik. Grated Parmesan cheese adds extra flavor.
The Saltimbocca pizza has roasted garlic cream topped with fresh mozzarella, roasted chicken, fontina cheese, fresh tomatoes, caramelized onion, shaved prosciutto, sage and an little extra virgin olive oil. Siwik said the fontina, a soft cheese with an earthy, nutty flavor, complements the roasted garlic cream sauce and chicken well, creating a fusion of flavors.
Pizza is baked in the restaurant’s “old and authentic, Neapolitan style” wood-fired oven, using what Siwik said is a perfected technique of adding the right amount of wood and spinning the pizza at just the right time.
“It’s a skill and something you learn,” he said, noting the restaurant is named after the oven’s average temperature. “It’s a skilled trade to operate an oven. About 90 percent of the food in this restaurant goes through our oven.”
Steam is needed to puff the crust and creates blisters, something unique and found only in a wood-fired oven. The pizza cooks through a combination of direct heat, radiant heat and constant air movement. Hardwoods like maple or oak are typically burned to give flavor to the pizza, though other woods like apple or cherry could be used to change the flavor slightly, Siwik said.
Make your own
For anyone looking to make their own pizza at home, Lipet and Kristy Stephens Ammann, owner of Butter’s Fine Food & Wine of Concord, have some suggestions on choosing the best cheese. While many people like mozzarella, it’s not the be-all and end-all of pizza cheese.
“It’s very subjective and of personal taste,” Lipet said. “If you like a cheese, try it on a pizza.”
He recommends trying provolone with meats or red peppers, and considering the melting quality of the cheese when using it as a topping.
Ammann’s suggestions include raclette, a new and different cheese that melts well and is similar to fondue. She suggests pairing it with grilled vegetables for a “party on a pizza.” Another sweet and savory pizza could have cave-aged Gruyere, sliced potatoes, broccoli and apples. She said her dream recipe would include sottocenere, an Italian cow’s milk cheese, with truffles and roasted mushrooms on a pizza finished with truffle oil.
While standard tomato sauce is fine, the food experts suggest trying something new as a base. Both C.C. Tomatoes and 900 Degrees have menu options that include barbecue sauce, pesto and a form of cream sauce as a base.
If you would like to make your own sauce, Dow suggests sprucing up canned tomatoes with some salt, sugar, olive oil, oregano and fresh basil leaf for extra flavor.
Ammann said grilled pizza is perfect for summer. She bakes it slightly in the oven, then grills it for extra flavor.
And to drink?
To make a pizza meal complete, Maureen Adams of the Wine Studio in Manchester has some beverage suggestions. Feta cheese on pizza pairs well with Beaujolais or unoaked chardonnay. Pizza with olives goes well with a rose, sauvignon blanc or Riesling.
She said American pizza is generally sweeter than Italian pizza, so a dry inexpensive chianti, a montepulciano or barbera pairs well, as they cut through the tomato’s acidity. In Neapolitan restaurants, white pizza is enjoyed with sparkling water, Coke, beer or Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine.