Posts Tagged ‘mozzarella’

Amish Asparagus and Serrano Ham Pizza

The green rockets of spring are taking to the air. Finally, we can get our noses out of the misted produce isles and the never-ending harvest of mediocre corporate veggies. Here in southeast Ohio, asparagus is the first hint of what is to come: morel mushrooms, ramps, strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries, kholrabi, garlic tops, arugula, mustard greens and kale, until the baby zucchini blossoms herald the full frontal assault of summer.

When I visited the Ervin Hershberger farm in Chesterhill Ohio, Ervin’s wife Rachael shoved a one-year old in my arms and we stumbled out back to the asparagus field. “I don’t know if there’s…oh my, we DO have alot of asparagus,” she said as I looked at the  green stalks peeking their delicious heads up from the field. Short and fat ones grew alongside long skinny ones just waiting for me to grab and twist before dropping them into the aspargus bucket. As my delight in the first bounty of spring heightened, I kept reminding myself, “Don’t drop baby John…don’t drop baby John…don’t…”

The best hint on buying asparagus is to never buy asparagus that has been cut with a knife. Asparagus has a fabulous way of telling you when you’ve reached the spot where the stalk turns to wood. Grab the stalk and twist – it breaks right at that inedible point.

While waiting tables in Chicago years ago, my friend Chrisensio told me that, while new to this country, he tried every job as a migrant worker. “The two jobs I would rather die than go back to are cutting asparagus and planting pine trees in a clear-cut forest.”  The field managers walked among the pickers, telling them to cut under the earth to get as much poundage as possible. Sounds like a real back-breaking job. It also gave me a hint of how are foodstuffs are managed by the large companies.

I decided to make a pizza with asparagus using Serrano ham from Spain. I will pair this magnificent combination with Manchego cheese (Spanish cheddar from the La Mancia region of Spain), sweet San Marzano tomatoes,and  fresh mozzarella.

Jamon Serrano means “Mountain ham” and can best be described as having a taste like Italian prosciutto crudo or the French Jambon Bayonne. This ham is dry cured with salt and is only made from the “Landrace” breed of pig from the Sierra mountains in Spain. The taste, compared to the  Prosciutto crudo, is more of an upfront salty-pork flavor and noticably lacking in the last Parmesan-umami taste at the back of the throat that prosciutto exhibits. I like this ham on pizza because of the amount of fat in each slice. I tear the fatty pieces  to cook in the oven (which creates some bodacious cracklings), while saving the crudo for topping the warm pizza.

I love fresh raw asparagus on pizza as much as the next guy but with this recipe, I take off the outer skin and “shock” the asparagus. This par-cooks the aspargus for 30 seconds and then fast-cools it, setting the chlorophyl or green color.

Asparagus and Serrano Ham Pizza

1 Easy Dough recipe

4 to 7 fat stalks of fresh, local aparagus

6 to 7 slices of Serrano ham

3 whole canned San Marzano tomatoes

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons shredded imported Manchego cheese

5 to 6 small balls of Boccocini (fresh mozzarella balls)

Make two 7 ounce dough balls. Freeze one for later or double this recipe for 2 pies.

Preheat an upturned cookie sheet on the middle rack of your oven set at 475 degrees.

Put a 3-quart pan filled halfway with water on a high burner to boil. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water.

Using a peeler, lay the asparagus down on cutting board and run the peeler down along the stalk, taking as little of the skin of as possible. Roll the stalk and peel the skin around the whole stalk. Do not run the peeler twice in the same spot or you will take the meat off and end up with nothing.

Fill a large bowl with water and add 4 to 6 ice cubes.

Place asparagus in the boiling water and count to 30 seconds. Do not walk away. Grab the asparagus with tongs and transfer to the ice bath.

Take the asparagus out of the water and cut each stalk in half lengthwise.

Cut the fatty portion off each slice of Serrano ham.  Wrap the non fatty portion around each half-stalk of asparagus.

Open the can of tomatoes and place in a colander to drain. Tear the best 3 tomatoes into filets. Place on a plate. (For true San Marzano tomatoes, note the D.O.P. or Denominazione D’Origine Protetta on the side of the can, the 3 seals on the left side of the can).

To Assemble the Pizza:

Form the pizza dough according to the easy pizza dough recipe. Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper.

1. 2. 3. 4.

1. Pour the extra virgin olive oil onto the dough.

2., 3. Scatter the Manchego on the dough, followed by the fatty ham and the tomato filets.

4. Place the fresh mozzarella balls on top.

Place the pizza with the parchment on the preheated cookie sheet and close the oven. This pizza should cook in 10 to 12 minutes. Check for even cooking after 5 minutes and turn accordingly. The final pizza should be golden brown and more brown on the bottom.

Pull from oven and place aspargus on the pizza in spokes. You may have to trim the asparagus. Place one half mozarrella ball in the middle of the spoke. Serve immediately. Don’t cut this baby until you get a ‘wow factor’ response from your family or hungry guests.

Famous Joe Carlucci, Pizza Maniac

At the North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show this last weekend, I partook in the annual ritual of competing with some of the best pizza makers in the Midwest. In order to clear the air, let me just say that I took 40th spot in the Gourmet category. Yes, that’s FOUR-ZERO. My pizza choice was the tremendously popular Hot Tuna pie at Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. Evidently it wasn’t tremendously popular with the judges in Columbus.

Not to worry. My friend and fellow pizza fanatic Joe Carlucci of Tortoras Pizza won with The Sydney in the traditional category on Sunday.

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Joe Carlucci with his winning pizza.

I hadn’t seen Joe since last year at the World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore, Italy. It was our final night at the five-star Hotel Valentini, and I had just lay down in my bed after an exciting yet rowdy party with my team, The World Pizza Champions. Brits, Irish and  Aussies had joined in the festivities (yes, a very bad combination for any club owner).

Hearing a noise, I opened my  door to see what the commotion was out in the hallway. My foggy eyes saw Joe gleefully jumping up and down, playing rowdy leapfrog down the hallway with the members of the Australian pizza team. They were adept in their hyper-hops along the padded carpet, with nary a miss. I asked if they could pick another hallway. Joe’s last word to me was an endearing, “Ribbitt.”

2009 pictures of italy 025 Joe making his Pizza Teglia at the World Pizza Championships in Italy, 2008.

Joe is to pizza what Willie Mays is to baseball. He’s often overlooked because of bigger, louder, and more aggressive celebrity chefs, pundits and artisan bread cretins shoving their way into the limelight. Joe still has the title from the Guinness Book of World Records for the Highest Pizza Dough Toss, when he threw a perfect round pizza dough 21.5 feet in the air. His competitive nature has propelled him to win numerous culinary as well as acrobatic awards, which is why he is one of the greatest pizza consultants around. But despite all the awards and accolaides, Joe still remains one of the kindest and best friends any pizza guy could have.

Monday, I was in a loser funk that floated around in my head like Badluck Schlep-rock after a failed attempt at pizza victory on Sunday. While standing around with my “L” tatoo newly imprinted on my forehead, Joe came by carrying 4 pans in large plastic bags. The dough in these pans was bloated to the point of looking like “The Blob” of Steve McQueen fame, only these blobs were white.)

“Holy Moly, Joe.” I sniffed the dough, smelling the familiar smell of long-fermentation similar to a mellow Scotch. “How long have you had this stuff fermenting?”

He looked around to see if anyone was listening, “Seven days with a pre-ferment. Wanna see me par-cook this stuff?”

I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Joe was using two specialized pans from the best custom panmaker in the nation, Lloyd Pans. These pans were seasoned to perfection and would transfer enough heat to turn any dough into a crisp golden brown.

“Looks good,” he continued. “Huh? Huh? Looks great John, huh?

“Yeah,” I said, pushing the now-crisp outside, feeling a great bounce back from the bread-like interior that makes a great Pizza Teglia. (This is a pan pizza process that we undergo at the World Pizza Championships in Italy.)

“You’d tell me if it wasn’t, huh? Huh, John? You would, right? Right?” Joe was rambling, trying to elicit an honest response from me by nagging. Little did he know, I’ve been married for too long to fall for that.

I smiled at the funny way in which this guy, who has won so many competitions, was still modestly demanding a second opinion. He was doing the same thing I do when reaching the finals: get a response from a friend. After all, every opinion from a team member is a good opinion.

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As Joe took his pizza to the table to top it with his ingredients, I asked him about his toppings. “Some sausage, tomatoes and onions and mozzarella.” he said flippantly. I knew this response well. Keep it simple, tell the truth, but not all the truth. Accidently leave the secrets out. For years Joe and I have had conversations like the following:

“Well Joe, that looks like Chorizo sausage,” I said, trying to sound insulted.

“Oh, yeah buddy, sorry. Sausage with paprika…that’s chorizo.”

“Those look like carmelized onions, Joe.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry John, it was a long night.”

“Did you oven-dry those tomatoes, Joe?”

“Ah, maybe…Oh, yes, it think they ended up in the oven. Yes.”

“What’s in that sauce?”

“Tomatoes…and stuff.” he said with finality and smiled. I threw my head back and laughed. Now that’s a competitor, I thought.

Here is a video of Joe’s final moments before submitting his pizza at the show.

And after the final bake, he made another pizza for the finals competition.

After congratulating Joe, I asked him for his recipe. He hasn’t responded. I don’t blame him, as I’m going up against him in Italy and Las Vegas soon. Contact him at Famous Joes and bug him, but don’t get your hopes up.

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Congratulations to Joe. Semper Pie!