Posts Tagged ‘guanciale’

Best Pizza in Mid-America

Recently I was lucky enough leave my home in Athens and Avalanche Pizza Bakers to compete in the best run and most thrilling pizza competition, held at the largest pizza convention anywhere in the world: The International Pizza Challenge at the Pizza Expo, in Las Vegas. I saw all my friends from around the world, cooked world-class pizza and found and stole new ideas. I made  this spectacular schiacciata, or long pizza.

I won the title “Best Pizza in Mid-America” title with this pizza that exhibited that agra dolci (sweet and sour) taste that I love.

Schiacciata means “squashed” or “flattened” in Italian. You can find thin or thick crusts and just about everything under the sun on them in Italy. I make a tremendous amount of these pizzas at the Athens Farmers Market using local cheeses, vegetables and meats.

This long pizza consists of Maytag Blue cheese, fresh mozzarella, pancetta (Italian cured but not smoked pork belly), smoked guanciale (cured and smoked pork jowl), and roasted red peppers. I slather just enough fig jam to excite the palate and then place a peppery arugula on top. The final sweet/sour note is supplied by a drizzling of balsamic vinegar.

Guanciale and Pancetta Schiacciata

1 recipe Schiacciata dough

3  ounces sliced pancetta (bacon is a fair substitute)

3 ounces sliced guanciale (or smoked pork jowl/cheek or bacon)

3.5 ounces roasted red pepper (See Roast a red pepper )

4-5 ounces slices fresh mozzarella

3 ounces Maytag blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Stilton are good substitutes)

3 to 5 tablespoons fig jam or preserves

1/2 cup baby arugula leaves

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Make one 14 ounce dough ball per the Schiacciata dough recipe.

Prepping for the pizza:

Cut pancetta and guanicale and saute in a pan over medium high heat for 3 to 6 minutes. Your goal is not to cook the pork, but to  just “sweat” off some of the fat from the pork and par-cook the meat. The excess fat will be a great compliment on the pizza. Slice the pork in julienned strips and set aside for topping.

Cut the roasted red pepper flesh in a large dice.
For the Pizza:

Form the schiacciata dough into a very long shape.  The best way to start the dough is to pull in a football shape before pressing your fingers into the dough. Then pull the dough from the CENTER of the football, kneading it out towards the end. (Most people just pull on the ends). Drape it over the back of your hands. If the gluten is too tight, walk away and come back after the dough has relaxed. Dimple the dough, aways pressing outwards, then pull the dough until it reaches about 36 inches or the length of your oven. Place on a double layer of parchment paper long enough to accomodate the whole pizza.

Top the sciacciata with the mozzarella, then the blue cheese, then the pork and roasted red peppers. You are now ready for the oven.

I will not kid you now, this long pizza is very hard to cook in a very hot oven. Because no one (including me) has a pan or pizza stone long enough to facilitate this monster, it has to be cooked directly on the oven rack without the dough dipping through the tines.

The problems you will be facing are 1. Uneven cooking. 2. Burning yourself if you are not careful. 3. Spilled cheese on the bottom of your oven 4. The end falling over, depositing all the toppings and cheese on the oven floor if you cannot turn it properly. 5. The parchement burning. These things may lead to some frustration, but I’ve found if you take a used (hopefully Avalanche) pizza box and unfold it, it makes a great pizza peel  or large spatula. You may have to trim it to use it.

Place the pizza in the oven on the very bottom rack. This will set the dough underneath, eliminating a wavy pizza.

Let it bake on the bottom rack for at least 4 minutes.

Move the pizza to the top rack and spin it to expose the opposite side to the back of the oven. Please forgive me for the bad picture but, like I said, this is hard (and I’m a guy who’s hands are always in ovens.)

Cook for aproximately 10 to 12 more minutes, using the unfolded pizza box to turn the pizza around again once more or if needed.

Pull the pizza from the oven and check for doneness and golden browning on the edges. The bottom should be dark golden brown.

Top with the fig jam, arugula and balsamic. Serve to very appreciative guests. Yum.

Brown Turkey Fig, Guanciale and Maytag Blue Pizza

“That’s the best pizza I’ve ever tasted”,  my wife said to me as she took a bite of  this pie on a sunny October afternoon. I was somewhat put off by her excitement-as if she was actually saying “You mean to tell me that YOU made this pizza?” After snarfing down a slice, I couldn’t disagree, this pizza really is great!

The pizza in question is festooned with my crowning achievement in agriculture this year, which means I grew something that didn’t die a horrid shriveled death. The Brown Turkey fig tree that my son Sam and I planted (he calls it “Little Grumpy”) had actually produced fruit: little teardrop-shaped orbs of sweetness.

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My introduction to the savory-sweet contrasts of a fig pizza was in Sorrento, Italy, where I shared a prosciutto and fig pizza with my wife on our first trip there. On top was shaved Parmesan and rocket (arugula) drizzled with unfiltered olive oil, and balsamic-soaked raisins. The taste of that pizza (and the one in this recipe) flies gloriously through the whole spectrum of salty, sweet, sour and bitter, which, along with the crunchy textural quality of the crust, is a whole dinner unto itself.

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Figs are originally from western Asia. From excavations, they are known to have been around since 5000 B.C. In Italy, the best known varieties are the Gentile Bianco from Liguria, the Verdello, Ottato, and the Brogiotto Bianco. The Italians usually eat them fresh or paired with Prosciutto di Parma. Figs are frequently sun-dried, which gives them five times more calories by weight than when fresh. Italians also  soak them in blood orange juice and honey, or boil them with honey and cover with chocolate.

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The Brown Turkey fig has much more sophisticated names such as Aubique Noire, Negro Largo and San Piero. It is originally from the Provence region of France. Some sources describe the flavor as “insipid,” but not my figs. More teardrop shaped than round, they explode with sweetness.

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In usual Pizza Goon form, I ate wayyyy too many of the figs and had to bolster the pizza with a few black Mission figs from California (so much for a sustainable pie). This pizza also consisted of an adventurous grilled guanciale (pork jowl), roasted sweet red pepper, Maytag blue cheese, fresh mozzarella, baby arugula and a balsamic glaze straight from heaven.

If you do not have fresh figs, use Dalmatia Fig Jam from any specialty store or (and I know I’ll get hell for suggesting this…) buy some Fig Newtons and ever-so-gently cut the breading off of the sides. Scrape the middle into a bowl, add a little water, whisk and…yuk-a-voila, faux fig jam is born.

If you have a great fig pizza recipe, please send it and I will publish it.

Using the Easy Dough Recipe, make two 7 ounce dough balls

Guanciale or pork jowl (or 5 slices of cooked bacon, cut in matchsticks)

1 medium red bell, sweet Italian, or Toro pepper (see Toro pepper pizza)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons crumbled Maytag blue cheese

3 to 4 ounces fresh mozzarella (5 small balls of Ciliegini brand)

15 leaves of baby arugula

6 to 8 fresh figs

Balsamic glaze for drizzling

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Pre-heat the oven to 475 degrees, with a heavy duty upside-down cookie sheet in the middle rack.

Fire up the grill to high.

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Slice approximately 2 centimeters of the skin off the guanciale or pork jowl. Turn the jowl on its back and slice 4 to 5 thin (quarter sized thickness) slices.

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Place the pork on the grill and wait for the action to begin. (This practice is inherently unsafe. Why? The pork fat will drip onto the drip pan or coal and start a fire. So be careful.) The jowl will not start flaming until you turn it over. Place the pepper on the slices to get greasy and help burn the skin off and incorporate the porky flavor into the pepper. Keep an eye on the slices as they will flare up. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes or until the jowl is browned around the edges. The pepper will take a little more time to become blackened and devoid of structure.

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Put the pepper in a paper bag or bowl with plastic wrap over the top to steam for 10 minutes. Peel the skin off of the pepper, starting at the top, where you can get ahold of the skin. Without running water over the pepper, finish peeling it. Pull the stem and core out and shake off the seeds. Cut in strips lenthwise down the pepper.

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Cut the guanciale into matchsticks the same size as the peppers.

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Cut the figs into 3 slices each, by first cutting off the stem and slicing vertically down the figs.

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Roll out the dough per the instructions in the recipe. Brush the crust with extra virgin olive oil.

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Place the Maytag blue cheese, then the mozzarella, on the oiled crust.

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Place the guanciale on the cheese, followed by the red pepper strips.

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Place pizza in the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

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Wait for 4 minutes to top with the arugula and fig slices.

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Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve one of the best fruit pizza recipes I’ve ever tasted.