Posts Tagged ‘spelt pizza recipe’

Liquid Pizza

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Of all the lame-brained ideas I’ve obsessed over, this is the top of the top. That said, I just had to go with the idea of taking the raw ingredients of a beautiful pizza and building the flavors up from scratch to actually taste like a pizza but only in its purest, liquid form. (Above is my two-week labor of love which, my wonderful wife who is my harshest critic said, “…tasted exactly like a fabulous…pizza.”)

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Many chefs are breaking certain iconic dishes down only to built them back up using cooking methods, chemicals and faux ingredients to re-create said dish in another, wacky way. This is especially true for challenges in cooking shows to test the flexibility of a chef. It is great to think of any dish in a different way by throwing out the visual, historical and textural preconceptions by interpreting a culinary item on taste alone. This fun and challenging concept for a pizza was done without the use of gels, chemicals or fancy kitchen machines. I also made a promise that for the sake of your sanity and what’s left of mine, I promise you that I will, at no time use the term; DECONSTRUCTED.

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The pizza I targeted is a Neapolitan style pizza topped with Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano. I cooked the pizza above at 800 degrees and it demonstrated that perfect Neapolitan taste. (Dontcha just love how that Prosciutto melts.) I now had to replicate the wheaty char of grain, the sweetness of tomato like the San Marzano’s above, followed by the ultra-umami found in Parmigiano Reggiano, the salty-fat-fruit of Prosciutto di Parma, the vegetal kick of fresh basil and the milky mozzarella.

First, the Tomato:

Every year at the height of tomato summer, I get the largest, juiciest locally grown, heirloom tomatoes and freeze them. Then, in the depths of winter, I take them out and just put them in a bowl to defrost. Letting gravity and warmth transform these beauties is amazing and quite simply the best way to get tomato water from these beasts. I then create a a winter gazpacho with fresh herbs, diced vegetals and crabmeat.

For this project the tomato water came from three distinct heirlooms; Sweet Azoycha Russian yellows , Green Zebras and Cherokee Purples, all organic and locally grown by Green Edge Gardens in Amesville, Ohio.

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When each tomato started leaching the almost colorless water, I drained each tomato group a separate bowl and let gravity continue to push the liquid out more.

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Then I was ready for just a little salt and a few days flavor-meld in the fridge.

For the Parmesan:

This may seem to some cooks as particularly wasteful but I gotta tell you, its worth it!  You’ve not lived until you do a shot of Parmigiano Reggiano water! The simple act of separating the fat and solids by grating the parmesan and throwing it in boiling water, turning off the heat and letting time and temperature pulls the strong flavor out of the solids and opens a whole new culinary dimension for this king of cheeses. You can take this liquid and make ice cream, gels, “Cheetos-like” crackers, dashi or even make parmesan caviar with the help of sodium alginate and calcium chloride.

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I placed about eight ounces of grated parmesan, including the rind, into four cups of just-boiling water then turned the heat off to let it cool while stirring constantly.

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When the mixture cooled enough, I placed it in the fridge for three days to meld the flavors and separate even more. After a final skim, it is ready.


For the Crust:

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Finding a wheat taste in liquid form was my toughest challenge so I opted to start with the grain in a harvested berry form. The local spelt berries are grown twenty-two miles away in Chesterhill, Ohio were a perfect start. The Amish grow copious amounts of this deep-tasting grain and they harvest it with horses. My plan was to first toast the hard outer shell it under high heat then braise it to cook the grains, or berries. This released the earthy, chocolate-tea-toastiness so prevalent in this spelt. After toasting, I covered them with water and boiled them over medium high heat for three hours until the endosperm popped through the hard husk of each kernel.

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The vision I had in my head compared to what was happening in reality was very different while rendering the spelt into liquid,The plump endosperm that popped through the bran and charred outer shell of each kernel was magnificent and bloated exposing the white glutinous heart of each kernel. I had to concede that this gluten was an integral part of the fluid I was making and no washing or straining would get rid of the gravy-like liquid. Even though this was not what I had envisioned but the taste was magnificent and I knew I had nailed it. (I even made a killer salad out of the berries.)

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So I added water to it and blended it again then reduced the liquid for thirty minutes, straining again with a finer and finer sieve. After cooling, the presence of the gluten and bran made a thicker liquid but still had the taste of a hearty, toasted wheat. I was finally there.


For the Basil oil:

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I took a handful of basil then cut and mashed it, adding extra virgin olive oil. I then held it to macerate for five hours then strained it. I could have made it more bright green by shocking the chlorophyll in the basil with heat and ice water but I had to get the kids from school.


And for the Prosciutto di Parma:

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I usually make some great cracklings out of the shank product that I get from each prosciutto leg but I also make a killer reduction of this, the king of hams. I first took the shank and cubed it then sautéed it on medium high heat with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to brown each chunk. Then I added a mirepoix, (celery, onion, carrot).

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When all the flavors melded at medium high heat, I turned the heat down and added one cup of chicken stock and two cups water to cover the mix. I left it to gently simmer and breakdown for 20 minutes before extracting all the solids. This left me with a liquid which I reduced on high heat for 10 to 15 minutes until it was thick and tasted like the purest essence of Prosciutto di Parma!

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My first few attempts at placing this flock of liquids on a plate, in a soup bowl and even in a shot glass failed miserably until I found the right layering. I am no freakin’ scientist but I soon found that each liquid had certain weight and density that pushed downward from gravity.

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So after many trials, (massive fail on left), I found that the placing spelt on bottom followed by Prosciutto di Parma gravy, then the Parmesan water followed very gently by the tomato water and topped with basil oil was the way to go. Because of the strong flavors in the Parmesan and prosciutto liquids, I added more of the nuanced tomato water for a better balance.

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Finally, I turned the mozzarella into the most luscious liquid of all. Just by melting it in a pan, it liquefied and completed this wonderful shot of pizza with a blanket of goo. (As I proudly introduced this liquid to my employees, they asked where the vodka was- maybe next time!)

Wild Yeast Pizza Levain (or Starter)

I’m so excited about this pizza and can’t help feeling like Dr. Frankenstein. I wanted to scream, “It’s aliiiiive,” just like Gene Wilder when this Pizza Margherita came out of the oven. Like when I see a crispy baguette or ciabatta finishing it’s bake in golden brown splender; it’s that feeling of triumphant finality that I made something from nothing, that I didn’t screw it up (again) and all the planning, hard work and patience paid off in spades.

Spelt bundled in a Chesterhill, Ohio field and Neal Cherry’s stellar grapes make the beginning of a great pizza.

I did this pizza because I’ve received numerous questions about using a naturally obtained yeast in a pizza crust recipe. Some people refer to a “Yeastless Pizza Recipe” but that really isn’t true because yeast is everywhere.  It’s one of the oldest known cultivated organisms and has been found by archeologists in 4000 year old egyptian bakeries.(Now that’s “Old School!”)

To create this pizza, I must first capture wild yeast and ferment it with 3 things, a warm environment, flour and water. The yeasts will multiply producing carbon dioxide, lactic acid and alcohol which will in turn change the texture and flavor of the dough. The gas raises the dough while the lactic acid adds the flavor. Capturing the gas in cells which can be seen in bread and pizza dough depends upon “The Gluten Net” that is formed by the strength of the flour.

So, this process of creation is fairly easy if you’ve got the time, temperature, yeast and flour.

This starter or “Levain” (the French call it), is also called “Chef” or “Mother.”  Any bread or pizza crust really does taste more complex, nutty, malty and buttery than straight commercially raised yeasted dough. It does though take time and patience to complete the baking cyle. But the reward is the knowledge that you made a natural product using the air, earth, water of this planet. How’s that for sustainability?

Most bakers use this starter and fortify it with commercially raised yeast but for this recipe, we are gonna take it to the limit, with only wild yeast!

I could get extremely technical about this dough but I don’t have the time. Plus I’m not qualified, If you wish to know all the technical aspects about bread, just get “The Bread Bakers Apprentice” by my baking hero Peter Reinhart. His blog is awesome also. You can also go to my freind Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza in San Francisco where you can learn from an 11 time World Champion pizza maker everything you need to know about pizza.

Right now I just want to show you a way to capture yeast from nature, encourage the yeast to grow and produce bubbles of gas and make a great pizza with it. This is what it entails.

Finding wild yeast: Raisons, Apples, Plums, Peaches, Nectarines, Grapes, and even vegetables offer a landing zone for wild yeasts. You will find alot of wild yeast just cruisin’ around the air but these fruit and vegetables are best at capturing as much yeast as will need to facilitate a rise out of your pizza dough. Remember, the acid in certain vegetables may kill the yeast.

Getting the yeast to activate: We will use the simple method of just putting the yeasted fruit in warm, uncontaminated tap water for a period of 3 to 4 days. Don’t be stupid and use modified bottled water thinking it to be more “pure.” We are reveling in nature here, using an organic micro-environment for out pizza benefit! Bottled water sucks.

Adding the flour to the yeasted water: We will work to slowly bring the yeast to life by offering it natural proteins and sugars to feed on. Please don’t use bleached flour, organic is better and half whole wheat will add to the flavor.

Patience is indeed a virtue: We will wait on natures time to witness our harnessing of the miracle of fermentation. (Hopefully while drinking a beer, which contains yeast also.)

Don’t worry if you stray off course a little: If you put too much water or flour in the recipe, don’t worry, I won’t tell. It’s all a learning experience. Just make sure you label stuff or you will find yourself screaming “Who threw my starter awayyyyyy!”

Use this starter forever: If you follow a simple plan of feeding and retarding your starter, you can keep it forever. My freind Matt Rapposelli has a starter that is almost 20 years old. Cool!


For the yeast capture:

Here the goon starts the warm water bath for the grapes. How many did he eat after this video? About 20,(the pig)

Start with about 3 to 4 cups local organic grapes (seeded or not) obtained from the wild or a grape grower that doesn’t spray chemicals on the fruit. Other fruit will suffice but I’ve found that the spherical nature of each grape seems to capture more wild yeast floating through the air than other fruits. (DO NOT WASH THE GRAPES)

Put the grapes in 3 cups of spring water. Squeeze some grapes in the water to offer the yeast sugars to eat. Leave using cheesecloth and a rubber band for 4 days. Stir each day. In the end, the mixture will smell like wine or a combination of weak balsamic vinegar and wine.

These are the grapes after 4 days.

Strain the mix, disgard the grapes. Keep the cheesecloth. Always leave the grape water out on the counter, not in the fridge.

For the Starter:

In a bowl, put 1 cup organic, unbleached bread flour (it has more protein than all purpose), 1 cup organic, whole wheat or spelt, half a cup grape-water mixture. Mix well and pour into a small container with the cheesecloth or a damp towel (the towel will be better for eliminating crust forming). Stir this mix every hour if you have the time, you will see it increasing in bulk and bubbles.

The first day of feeding:

Take the day-old flour and grape water combination, (it should be starting to bubble) and mix it and 1 cup bread flour and 1/2 cup of the grape water in a bowl. Stir, leave in the bowl or transfer to a clean container,cover and leave for 24 hours stirring every couple hours.

Second day of feeding:

Wow! The mixture will start to tell you that it is activating by the smell of fermentation and by the bubbles. I used plastic wrap because of all the yeast flying around my store, but you can use a wet rag or cheesecloth.

Repeat the same mix and measurements. Transfer to a clean container. After another 24 hours, this is what you will have. An active pre-ferment made by wild yeast.

Store this starter in the fridge in a covered container.

Feed your starter regularly, about 2 times a week. To feed it, take out one-third of the saved starter to add room and just add one cup of flour and enough water and stir well enough to make a thick sticky paste. Leave this at room temperature for 4 hours. Put it back in the fridge. If making a pizza or bread, always feed the starter about 12 to 24 hours out and leave it at room tempererat wiure.

If you forget to feed it, take it out of the fridge and coax it back to life by mixing flour and water into it. You can add a little beer to give it a kick, or a raison or two.

Please forgive me as my Three year-old has a fever tonight. Tomorrow, I will show you how I made the dough with this starter using no other yeast and the subsequent pizza.

Good night and don’t forget to feed your mother!