Posts Tagged ‘Napics’

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!

Bruno’s Famous Clam Pizza

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I first met Bruno di Fabio in Columbus in 2004 when I was competing for the North American Pizza Pizzaz competition. He was making his pizza next to me and they had just called my name to go to the ovens. Our introduction began with a compliment.

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Bruno di Fabio with his award-winning Pizza al Taglio at the 2009 World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore Italy where he won Best Pizza In the U.S.A. 2009

“Nice pie,” he said in his unmistakable New York accent, just as I had lifted the pizza up on the peel.

“Thanks, dude.” I said looking at his. “Yours looks great too.” (I was lying, I didn’t care what his pizza looked like, he was my competition and I wouldn’t have cared if he fell over dead, his head careening into his sauce bowl and his cheese flying everywhere.)

“Thank you sir, and good luck. Just one thing…”

“What?” I stopped because he looked concerned.

“Oh, nothing.” Bruno shook his head, like he was fighting with himself to tell me something important. “I know something you can do to that pizza that will save you some time and might help you.”

“Really?” I put the pizza back down on the table and stared at it. “What?”

“See that can?” He pointed to a big garbage can.


“If you throw that piece of crap in there now and you won’t have to go through the humiliation of losing to me.”

It was my first immersion in the Bruno di Fabio laugh. An uncontrollable high-pitched nasal guffaw reverberated throughout the convention hall, loud enough to turn heads as far away as 50 yards. His face turned red as he slapped me and choked out in a high voice, “J…j…just jokin’ wit ya man. Hee, hee, hee. It looks great!”

More laughs followed as Bruno gasped for air, unable to contain his hysterical joy. I smiled and muttered, “Dick” under my breath as I walked to the ovens with my pie. But when I looked over my shoulder , I couldn’t help smiling broadly as I saw Bruno doubled over in laugh-pain.

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Bruno with another winning pizza in 2009, and on the stage with his gold medal and Ms. Italy for “Fastest Pizza Maker in the World,” 2007

I didn’t win that year, but I made a friend. Bruno’s one of those guys who has always been there when I needed help, especially at the World Pizza Championships in Italy. He has helped me sneak into Italian kitchens to prep, translated for me, bribed chefs, and has been my prep slave-sous chef and driver on tough foraging expeditions through the Italian countryside.

Bruno has proven that he would give me the shirt off his back, but he has never given me this damn clam pizza recipe. For two years, I’ve been bugging him. Every time I ask for it, he rolls his eyes and denies me.

My clam pizza obsession began at the World Pizza Championships in 2007. Both Bruno and I were staying with our team The World Pizza Champions at the sprawling Grand Hotel Astro Terme in Salsomaggiore Italy. The hotel, perched atop a green finger ridge, looks down on a steep valley filled with Gelato shops and a few bars.

One night, after a trip to the coast to get clams, Bruno hurried to the kitchen and made the most delicious clam topping that I’ve ever eaten. The next day he entered it as his Pizza Classico. He scored very high but didn’t win. Luckily, he won “Fastest Pizza Maker in the World” the next day.

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Bruno volunteered to be my sous chef and helped me  plate (L) and cut fresh pasta (R) in the finals of the Heinz Beck Competiton in Italy

I texted Bruno the other day and finally, the day is here. I got him to spill the beans…or the clams, so to speak. After he gave me the recipe, I drove for 3 hours to obtain some fresh littlenecks.

Here it is. Bruno di Fabio’s famous clam pie. I only had about 13 Littleneck clams so I had to add chopped canned clams. If you double the fresh clams in this recipe, it doubles the clam flavor.

One Easy Dough Recipe

3 tablespoons clam juice

12 or 13 Littleneck clams

1 tablespoon olive oil for the sauce and 1 teaspoon for brushing on the dough

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 thick sliced bacon slice, or 2 slices of Italian pancetta cut into small dice

1/4 yellow onion, chopped (makes 3 tablespoons)

3 tablespoons chopped clams (Bumble Bee is the best because they only use salt, not bad chemicals to preserve)

2 tablespoons white wine

1 can whole San Marzano tomatoes or whole California tomatoes, drained and hand torn into small pieces and left to drain again,  about 3/4 cup tomato flesh (make sure the tomatoes are not watery)

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

1/2 cup whole milk grated mozzarella (premium quality because there are lots of bad mozzarella products on the shelves)

1 tablespoon chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

Dust one dough ball with flour and keep it in a bowl covered with oil until the toppings are done. Preheat oven to 470 degrees with a thick upturned cookie sheet on the middle rack.

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Using a small saute pan on high heat, add the clam juice and the 13 clams. (If you have fresh clams, double the clam juice and upgrade to a larger pan.) Cover and steam for 5 to 8 minutes until all the clams have “popped.” This may take a few shakes of the pan to coax some clams open.

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Put the clams in a bowl. Place the juices in a separate bowl.

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Using the same pan under medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Add the bacon and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and onion. Saute for 5 minutes until the onion and garlic are translucent and the bacon is just gettting golden brown.

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Add the chopped clams, clam juice and white wine to the pan. Turn to high and reduce for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Saute for 5 more minutes stirring until the sauce is not watery. Take off the heat.

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Pull the pizza dough out to form a circle according to the Easy Dough Recipe. Place on parchment paper you have laid out on the bottom of an upturned cookie sheet. Brush with the extra virgin olive oil and dust with the Parmesan cheese. Place the mozzarella on the dough.

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Place the clam topping all over the pizza and slide the pizza and parchment onto the preheated cookie sheet in the oven. Bake for 6 minutes.

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Smile for the camera and place the opened clams on the pizza. Put back in the oven and cook for 5 more minutes or until the bottom is dark golden brown and the crust is a golden brown. Serve immediately. Thanks Bruno, yer GREAT!

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