Posts Tagged ‘pizza writing’

Local Spelt Pizza Crust

Whole grains of the spelt.

The spelt is here. I have been waiting for this day since the summer of 2009. Back then I drove to my Amish friends in Chesterhill, Ohio to get some late season asparagus and stawberries. As I popped over the roller-coaster road that was being slowly strangled by undergrowth, I came to Joe Hirshberger’s sprawling farm.

The hilly panorama around Chesterhill is like a Grant Wood painting. Undulating hills and steep ravines bottom out into small farm ponds used by horses, cows and sheep. Joe’s  farm is always worked the old fashioned way; with huge hairy-hoofed horses, carriages, buggies, peach trees, drying timber, sheep, chickens, dogs and steel-wheeled contraptions to capture the oats, wheat, spelt and corn. Barefoot kids in straw hats come and go past my window. Off to my right I see the fields where farmers grow, cut and stack all the corn and grains for the season. Closer in, near the road, some Amish women and kids kneel mosque-style (bad analogy.) They look like big black boulders slowly making thier way along the earthen potato rows.

Brandon in the foreground and Joe in the distance, guiding draft horses as they cut the spelt.

Then I see the Hirshberger house over the next hill, and there’s Joe, guiding four huge draft horses as they pull a cutting device through his field. He’s being followed by a dark haired guy stacking up the bundles that joe has cut.

“That job sucks.” I thought, and got out of my air-conditioned comfort to greet them.  Joe halted the horses and flies buzzed around in a moving cloud of chaos. I now regretted getting out of my car, as the air felt like a sauna. A horsefly bit my neck.

“Hi, my name is Brandon,” the dark haired guy said. His shirt was covered in sweat and field debris. “Who are you?’ he asked.

“I’m John, from Avalanche Pizza. Just stopped by to say hi to Joe.” I said, pointing at Joe. I wondered if Brandon was a migant worker. Then realized that I had seen him in the paper. He was that back-to0nature, seed-and-wheat guy who the paper said was bringing back the old-world style connection between local markets and local farmers.

Brandon gathering the spelt after Joe cuts it.

“How do you know Joe?” Brandon asked, just as Joe walked up and shook my hand. Joe’s white collared shirt was soaked but still pulled tight around his neck. His black felt jacket,  black pants, and beard were coated with beige wheat debris. Joe had no shoes on, and as he walked around (he never stands still), I cringed at the thought of those sharp 3-inch stalks stabbing my feet like punji sticks.

“Hello John,” Joe said, stroking his long beard.

“I buy some stuff from Joe every so often,” I explained to Brandon.”It’s a hot one, huh?” I said to both, and realized instantly how stupid a question that was.

“Are you interested in this spelt for your pizzas?” Brandon said.

“What’s spelt?” I asked. Both Brandon and Joe looked at each other quizzically then they both laughed. I thought they were gonna fall down in shared hysterics then realized I was standing in a field of spelt.

Well, that’s how this all started.

Spelt “on the vine” from Joe’s farm in Chesterhill, Ohio.

From then on, it’s been a great partnership. Joe Hirshberger still puts up with my ignorance about his religion, plants, vegetables, culture, and farm animals. He has taken a big chance on me and has planted part of his valuable acreage for my handshake promise to use his spelt and corn flour.

Brandon and Michelle Ajamian (His partner in Shagbark Seed and Milling) have come though in spades with their new mill and plans for the future. They have ground this hard-shelled grain fine enough for me to work into a crazy-good nutty pizza dough.

Moist local spelt on the right and the stone ground whole wheat from Con Agra that we had previously used.

This truly local flour has been incorporated into Avalanche Pizza’s menu-mix for a week now.  We’ve sold over 100 pounds of spelt pizza crust and breads in seven days!

Thank you Brandon, Michelle and Joe.

Domenico Crolla’s Chanterelle Pizza (Part II)

Now that I have the chanterelles, I have decided to contact an award winning pizza expert to design a pizza for me. My expert in question is Domenico Crolla, one of the greatest Italian specialists in the world. Domenico’s resume reads like the stories of restauranteurs of old-born into a restaurant family. He worked his way up and found his success through determination, smart business sense and a fundamental principle that great food is the best that life has to offer.

Without sounding like a kiss ass, I can truly say that Domenico has gained an international reputation as the best of the best because of his dogged pursuit of excellence through simplicity. This is the reason he has also come out a champion in many culinary arenas such as Italian Chef Wars and the International Pizza Challenge.

Chef Crolla has recieved many awards. Above with his daughter and right,with Gena, his wife and partner.

“So,” you’re saying to yourself, “Big deal, you called a guy in Italy to design a pizza…” No, I contacted a guy in Scotland! Yes, Domenico owns and operates, with his wife Gena, two of the most successful restuarants in the UK: Bella Napoli and Pizza Corture.

Domenico has recieved the United Kingdom Gold Award for pizza in 2007 and 2008 and for Italian Best Restaurant in 2007 and 2008. He is the head judge for the Pizza Expo, the largest pizza convention and competition in the world and (get this) has won THRICE (that’s 3 times) as Pizza Designer of the Year for the UK, in 2006, 2008, and 2009.

My first reccolection of Chef Domenico Crolla was at the Pizza Festiva at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2008. The four finalists included me and my pesto chicken pizza. One of the other contestants, a long-time restuaranteur, motioned me over to the curtain separating the judging area from the prep area.

“Hey John, see that guy?” He asked, pointing at Chef Crolla.


“Watch out for him. I know he’s the judge who screwed me out of the finals.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He kept up with all these incessant questions. Like ‘How old is your dough?’ and ‘What kind of tomatoes did you put into your sauce?’ and ‘What kind of pre-ferment is in your crust?'” The guy paused and let out a breath. “I didn’t know what to say, I just froze. What the !$#*@*% is a pre-ferment anyway? All I’m saying is look out for him, he’s trouble.”

“So, was he mean to you?” I asked.

“No, he was pretty cool, said that my pizza looked real good.” The contestant said.

“So what makes you think he voted you off?” I asked again, feeling like a detective now.

“That damn accent dude. He sounds like Sean Connery, damned unnerving when you’re trying to present a pie!”

That year I was introduced to Domenico Crolla’s cultured inquisitiveness. He does sound like the original 007, and it did feel like he was pointing a loaded Walther PPK at my crotch when I got up to the judges’ table. But as soon as I heard his questions, I knew he’s getting to the heart of the matter: great pizza!

Now, hold on. You think I’m a sicko for putting paw-paws on pizza? Dominico holds the world record for the most expensive pizza in the world.. Just a measly $4200. It’s a little ditty with lobster marinated in Cognac, champagne-soaked caviar and 24-carat gold shavings. Here it is:

Well, enough about Domenico Crolla. Let’s get to the heart of his recipe and those beautiful chanterelles. He sent me this recipe and I really hope I don’t screw it up.

Use one dough ball from the Easy Dough Recipe on this blog. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees and put an upturned cookie tray or your favorite pizza stone in to pre-heat.

For the mushrooms:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chanterelle mushrooms cut vertically down the center. (larger ones can be vertically center-cut in quarters)

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. When hot, place the chanterelles in the pan and saute for 2 minutes. Add the shallots and stir. Saute for another minute. Add the garlic and saute for an additional minute. Add wine and reduce for 2-3 minutes until almost all liquid is gone. Turn off the heat and add the chopped parsley

For the Pizza:

2 Bosc pears, sliced thinly on a mandoline or by hand

3/4 cup Bel Paese cheese or creamy cheese like soft havarti (Bel Paese is best)

Shaved Parmesano Reggiano

Reserved sauteed chanterelles

Form the 7-ounce dough ball into a pizza following the instructions in the easy dough method. Place it on parchment paper. Add the cheese. Place the pear around the pizza in a fan on top of the cheese. Place the sauteed mushrooms on the pears. Sprinkle some shaved Parmesan on top.

Place in preheated oven for 10-14 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. This pie was fabulous. Thanks Domenico!