Posts Tagged ‘ricotta’

“Et Tu, Bruno?”

Is it Bruno di Fabio, the fun-loving friend and happy-go-lucky pizza guy? Or Bruno di Hyde, selling his soul for a win?

We arrived in Salsomaggiore after a grueling 7-hour ride from the Almalfi Coast, thanks to Bruno’s penchant for driving at the speed of sound. This time I was grateful because the Alfa Romeo we were promised in Rome was totalled. The rental company gave us a smaller Fiat that barely fit us and our bags. The back-seaters (myself and Mike) were stuck like caterpillers in a coccoon.

From San Francisco: Audry, Nancy and Tony Gemignani with Bruno and Leo from Chicago.

I can truly say that Bruno di Fabio is one of my few best friends. Having him as a friend entitles this bearer to countless hours of fun, ruthless and even criminal banter. He is interested in everything under the sun, a curiosity that would make mere mortal scientists’ heads spin. He can also be sensitive and honest at the most inappropriate moments, saying stuff like, “You know John, that’s why I like you, you’ve got the sharpest wit I’ve ever encountered.” (Then the zing.) “Now if only your pizzas didn’t taste like s—- .”

Bruno enters your life like a bullfighter strutting into the ring, wearing only a thong. You must pay attention to him. He demands it. With just a cock of his head and inquisitive eyes, he can either bore a drill-hole into your face or gently taunt you with his smooth charisma.

Two World Champions, Tony Gemignani and Bruno di Fabio; The World Pizza Champions en masse.

After countless years of coming to Salsomaggiore, Italy, I was about to have a front row seat in a play called “The Bruno di Fabio Tsunami” (I would have used “Dog Day Afternoon” but it was too whimpy.)

For his pizza’s ingredients, Bruno dragged us around Sorrento looking for spicy salami and Burrata cheese (a very rich ricotta-like cheese from Puglia). He didn’t quit whining until he purchased some bright green Cerignola olives that would, as he said, “Put the lid on the coffin of all my competitors, including you, John.” Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Napaletana in San Francisco, made a pizza with Campari and reduced blood oranges that was truly brilliant.

Both these guys are undoubtably the best pizza makers in the country. They live for pizza, make it every day, and know all the different kinds of dough, processes and ovens that define good from bad. You may find alot of hot-shot celebrity bakers and chefs with million dollar P.R. firms making the “Top 25 pizzerias” lists of best pizzas, but it’s true pizza men like Tony and Bruno who really live the life.

Tony and Bruno’s Pizza Teglia entrants. Both were calm cool and collected throughout the competition.

(Let’s digress.) It all started in my hotel room at Hotel Valentini. I had just finished cleaning and sanitizing the antique desk in my room as Bruno dumped a pile of All Trumps high-gluten flour into a bowl and added his biga that we had made in Positano.

“So Bruno, I hear they made a new category this year,” said Tony, dressed all in black, his tattoos showing. He lay back on the bed. The smile on his face told me there would soon be laughter followed by yelling.

“Really?” Bruno said as he kneaded the flour into the biga and added more yeast, malt and water.

“Yeah. It’s called ‘last place’ and they did it just for you, chump.” Tony laughed, which cut through the tense room like wildfire.

“Funny Tony,” said Bruno. “Hey, who won last year?”

He and Tony went on and on until I jumped into the fray.

“You hot shots got nothin’ on my pie,” I said.

“That’s because there is nothin’ to your pie except bad taste.” Bruno laughed with a nasal gaffaw. “Face it, John, you’re my friend and I told you before, you’d be much better off if you just quit this pizza dream while you’re ahead. The humiliation for a guy your age may take it’s toll…heart attack, stroke or even leperosy.”

On into the night it went. Tomorrow we would see which pizza truly ruled. That old tense anticipation reverberated throughout Salsomaggiore. Who would win? Who would lose?

Paw Paws, Possums and Pide

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In 1541, Conquistidor Hernando Desoto came acoss the paw paw in the Mississippi Valley while looking for the city of gold. He was so impressed with the fruit that he sent seedlings back to Spain. Poor Hernando never did find that elusive city, but did succeed in introducing smallpox to North America. Because of logging, the paw paw tree has reached the same endangered fate as those natives unlucky enough to have had Hernando sneeze on them. But luckily, in the Ohio Valley, the paw paw is celebrated. It’s a perfect topping for my next pizza.


My Paw Paw Turkish Pide (PEE-day) with lentil cream, arugula, goat feta, pancetta and black sesame.

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The glorious paw paw fruit that hangs from trees in bunches has a banana custard-like taste with a pineapple finish. The flesh feels like all the decadent desserts I’ve ever swooned over: creme brulee, creme caramel being on top of that list. When the leaves of the paw paw tree are young, in the spring, they look exactly like the pods from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.  Paw paw is the official fruit of Ohio and is suprisingly hard to spot, even when staring straight at it.

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Chris Schmiel, with the the tenderness of a urologist and the eyes of an eagle, takes the wild paw paw from the forest.

Luckily, I’ve got a friend in Chris Schmiel, founder of Integration Acres, the largest paw paw producer around. He’s also the guy who is makes great chevre and goat feta for my pizzas. Chris can have his goats graze through his paw paw forest without disturbing the trees or twigs, because of some intense chemicals in the bark called Annonaceous acetogenins.

Today is the day before the 2009 Paw Paw festival, which Chris organizes every year. I begged Chris to drag me though the forest for some righteous paw paw scavenging. We headed out into the forest while I kept an eye out for the billy goats (I have a history with them, and I want to sit down again).

Chris deftly dissapears into a leafy wall and screams “Gotcha, you varmint!” I run through the brush and see a live-catch cage with an oppossum in it. “That’s what these varmints do,” Chris says as he points to the opposum scat. The poor creature shoots me a “What? I swear dude, that’s not my poop” look. Here’s the possum:

Finding the right paw paws is a delicate process. Once you’ve donned your jungle gear and waded your way into the green forest, the last thing on your mind is to come back empty handed. This is why folks tend to grab the unripe paw paws and therefore never touch them the rest of their lives. Below is a tutorial on how to pick paw paws.

To taste the paw paw you have to throw caution to the wind. Take off that Hugo Boss tuxedo jacket and get your hands gooey, because most of the succulent soft meat surrounds the small black seeds. Once you taste it, your brain enters “custard mode,” a state of mind where you might babble, “I’m in my comfortable place now, you must leave” as you spit out the seeds and the paw paw juice dribbles down your chin. Chris has years of experience eating these fruits:

Bravo! Now let’s witness an uncultured putz eating a paw paw:

Man, I had some great fun here. I bid Chris Schmiel and Integration Acres good-bye. My car was 16 paw paws and 2 pounds of goat feta heavier as I headed back to make a paw paw pide.


Paw Paw Turkish Pide with Lentil Cream, Arugula, Goat Feta, Pancetta and Black Sesame

I wanted this pide’s flavors to compliment to the paw paw without overwhelming its complex, delicate taste. The creamyness of the ricotta, lentils and Parmesan mirror the texture of the paw paw and pair well with the  pancetta and the pineapple and almost-cinnamony paw paw taste. The spicy arugula wilts in the oven and offers a fantastic textural foil, as well complimenting the astringent goat feta. Finally, the black sesame seeds play the banana notes perfectly while counterbalanced by a tangy balsamic glaze (found at specialty stores or you can use regular balsamic vinegar).

I love keeping cooked lentils on hand at all times for salads. (Trader Joe’s has some bodacious precooked lentils in the fridge department.) If you think lentils are a pain in the ass, substitute cannolini beans out of the can.

Easy Dough Recipe

3 tablespoons ricotta cheese

8 ounces brown or green lentils

1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese

4 – 8 large leaves of fresh arugula

3 or 4 slices of thin-cut pancetta

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh crumbled goat feta or goat chevre

1 egg, whipped with tablespoon of warm water

1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

4-6 fresh paw paws

Balsamic glaze or vinegar

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat baking stone or upturned heavy cookie sheet on middle rack of oven.

Prepare dough recipe using only one 7-ounce dough ball. Let one ball rest in a warm place. Put the extra dough ball on an oiled piece of plastic wrap and into the freezer.

Prepare the lentils.  Lentils are just like sushi rice in that they are best covered and cooked for 20 minutes under low heat after being brought to a boil. Bring either 1 3/4 cup water or chicken stock (or combo) to a boil. Bring back to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer on medium low for 20 minutes. Set aside 3 tablespoons of cooked lentils for this recipe. Let cool and hold the rests in the fridge for future recipes.


Put ricotta, lentils and Parmesan in bowl and whisk together.

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Place the round dough ball on the table with 2 tablespoons of flour. Push the dough out into an 8 – 10 inch football shape or oval. Spread the ricotta and lentils on the dough with a spatula.

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Tear arugula leaves and place on top. Scatter the crumbled feta on the arugula.


Place the pancetta on the pide. Don’t worry that it’s raw: The fats will cook and drain nicely, adding flavor to the pide.

Forming the Pide

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Go along the side of the football shape and fold the dough over the ingredients, making your way to the end. Do not pull dough too hard or it will rip.

(1) Pull both ends together and twist the excess dough. (2) Continue to pull so that you can tie a small knot (the stickiness of the dough will help so do not pull too much). (3) Wrap the dough around your finger and make a small knot. (4) You may need to manouver the dough through, using your pinky finger.


Each side of the pide should have a knot. Gently place the pide onto a parchment covered pizza peel (large spatula for pizza) or a parchment covered pizza screen, or just parchment.

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(1) Using a whisk, stir the egg and water in a bowl until foaming. (2) Brush the egg wash onto the pide with a pastry brush. Remember, if you miss a spot, the sesame will not stick, but do not put too much egg wash on. (3) Using both hands,  sprinkle on the sesame seeds. (4) You may need to use your hand for some hard to reach areas.


Place pide in the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Oven temperatures may vary so as a rule of thumb, check the pide after 8 minutes and check the bottom and top dough for golden-dark brown look. The black sesame may make it a little hard to discern the color on the sides.

While the pide is in the oven, prepare the paw paw topping. Use a bowl to catch the pulp.

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Start by cracking the paw paw in half like Chris did in the video. Grab the seeds and press each firmly in your hand.

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You will feel the pulp squeeze away from the seed. The pulp will squirt out between your fingers. Not to worry, keep going, and flick the pulp into the bowl.

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When the pide is out of the oven, don’t worry about cooling it. Place the paw paw on the pide in stripes or any artistic way you can handle. Lick the bowl clean. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and enjoy one of the best fruit pizza recipes inspired by the paw paw.