Posts Tagged ‘tomato’

Wheatless, Eggless, Gluten-Free Crusts

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 067 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 062

A tremendous amount of people have varying degrees of wheat and gluten allergies now. Some folks whisper that the genetic make-up of modern grains is the culprit and, for the most part, they are right. Some, like myself, just want to accomodate people and their aversion to wheat and gluten because they will become my customers for life so I can buy new cars, politicians, pectorial implants and a “posse” to follow me around saying, “John, you are absolutely right on all counts!” (can you tell I’m married?).

At my little place called Avalanche Pizza Bakers, I’ve used a partially-cooked non-gluten, non-wheat pizza crust from Still Riding Pizza because I have too much wheat flour flying around my shop. Still Riding is run by Elizabeth Silverman, who supplies pizza goons like me with excellent non-gluten crust made (with egg) in a dedicated non-gluten facility. It comes in a sealed bag, ready for careful topping by us. We put alot of disclaimers on our packaging because we bake it in a pizza oven with other wheat things. People with wheat or gluten discomfort have given the crust rave reviews because finally, they can have pizza with the rest of their family.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 053

Now, however, I’m ready to delve deeper into the wheat/gluten arena and come up with my own crust for pizza and focaccia. In the 30 years I’ve been  in the food business, I’ve learned that people must know their enemy, just like Al Pacino in Scarface, who learned never to go into a bathroom with a guy who has a chainsaw. I refer to the basic makeup of wheat and the gluten produced when wheat flour is mixed with water. So here’s a little story about  the elements that make lots of folks sick:

Once upon a time, two partial proteins named Glutenin and Gliadin fell in love. Both were brought up in a small town called Endosperm in the great State of Wheat Kernel.

Even though they were closely related (let’s just say 2nd cousins for the censors), their love for each other was intense, so they decided to bond in a holy matrimony. The wedding was a beautiful one, overseen by Reverend Water. All was going great at the reception until a cretin named Mr. Yeast crashed the party. Mr. Yeast has stomach problems, and when he dipped into the hydration punchbowl and danced around, he released lots of  gas (real bad). Luckily the new couple, now calling themselves the Glutens, created a net to stop the gas from embarrassing the whole party. Mr. Salt and Mrs. Oil were also invaluble in strengthing the net holding that ungodly gas at bay.

As the party progressed, the heat rose and the gasses grew and grew and grew, until the whole reception decided to go into a warm (a very warm) room. There, even though things got a little crusty, they worked everything out, to a crunchy end.

Okay already, I know it’s a goofy story, but as I push my hand into the finest corn flour I’ve ever seen, I realize I need to replicate the gluten net holding any gasses that yeast will release. This will be the only way for me to get some sort of rise out of my non-gluten experiment. I have promised many customers who are gluten or wheat intolerant that I will come up with something soon.

This is a daunting experiment, and I have not even cracked “book one” on the subject. I have competed in the non-gluten challenge at the World Pizza Championships, however, and know that Europeans have an affinity for certain flours such as chickpea and rice. I’m using some local corn flour and am excited because I saw this corn grown on the stalk last summer, harvested this fall, stripped off the cobs this winter and milled just recently by my friends Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaegar.

Luckily my first experiment turned out pretty good. Here goes, a pizza that is very good and a foccocia that has a  great mouth feel, taste and texture rivaling flour. This recipe makes 13 balls of dough.

Dough for pizza or focaccia:

4 cups finely ground corn flour

1 cup oat flour

1 cup quinoa flour

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup millet flour

2 cups chickpea flour

1 cup tapioca flour

1/4 cup potato starch

1/2 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 cups warm water

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 002

Grains on top row, left to right: millet, brown rice, quinoa, oat and corn. Bottom row: salt, yeast, baking powder, potato flour, tapioca flour, chickpea flour.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 011 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 012 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 020

Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and stir only until the flours are incorporated. Add the warm water and mix gently with your hands. Do not overmix. Form a large ball.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest after setting the bowl in a warm place at 70-75 degrees for 30 minutes.

Now you are ready to divide this dough into 6 ounce dough balls (makes 13.) Use what you need and freeze the rest or make some foccacia. (BEFORE WE GO, REMEMBER THERE IS NO GLUTEN IN THIS DOUGH AND IT WILL NOT STRETCH, PULL OR RISE WITH ANY SIGNIFICANCE. KEEP IT ON THE PARCHMENT PAPER OR IN THE PAN.)

For the pizza topping:

Extra virgin olive oil as needed

One can of whole peeled tomatoes

3 fresh basil leaves

Pinch dried oregano

Pinch sea salt

2 ounces cheese, preferably whole milk mozzarella, grated (about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 460 degrees and place an upturned cookie sheet on the middle rack to get hot.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 022

Take a small amount and form a ball (aproximately 6 ounces). You will be making a 10 inch pizza so if you do not have a scale, imagine the size being just smaller than the size of a tennis ball.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 023 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 024 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 025 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 026

Place a piece of parchment on the table. It must be at least 11 inches square. Oil it lightly with extra virgin olive oil.Place the ball in the middle and press down in the middle. Keep pressing gently with your fingertips until you have pressed the dough out. (TAKE YOUR TIME!) The outside edges will start to crack so you must push them back together again. Remember, the same quality (no gluten) that makes it hard to form can also be on your side when repairing holes and cracks. Once you’ve got the round to a disc shape, brush the top with olive oil. This will help for the next step, pressing it further into shape.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 027 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 028 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 029

Being patient, keep pressing now with more of the flat of your fingers until the dough is 10 inches in diameter. Using your fingertips on both hands, form the outside edge. Use the brush to finish the edging.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 046 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 047

Drain the can of whole tomatoes in a colander. Tear the tomatoes into little pieces with your hands, and let drain for 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a bowl. Tear the  basil leaves and add them, along with the oregano and sea salt. Stir.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 049 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 050

Top the crust with the grated cheese, followed by the tomatoes. (Are you wondering why the tomatoes are on top? I want the fullest cook possible on this dough and the possibility of a liquid coming in contact with these flours would exacerbate the already inherent flimsiness of the finished crust.)

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 061 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 070

Place the parchment on the heated upturned cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the crust starts to turn brown in spots. Check the bottom of the crust for golden browning. Pull from oven when the crust is starting to turn golden brown. (Note: some of the flours burn faster than others so look at the overall pizza before taking from the oven.)

Serve immediately.

Foccacia topping:

1 large or 2 small red onions

Pinch dried thyme

2 fresh rosemary sprigs

Extra virgin olive oil as needed.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 036 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 038

Cut 2 small or 1 large red onion in half lengthwise, then half again, then half again to make slivered petals. Dust with dried thyme and toss with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Roast in an oven at 450 degrees for 5 to 8 minutes, until the onions are just barely limp when tossed.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 031 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 032 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 033

Oil a square or rectangular non-stick sheet pan or cookie sheet with extra virgin olive oil. Place 36 ounces of the non-gluten dough in the center and press gently into the pan to form a cohesive mass approximately 1/4 to 1/2  an inch thick.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 042 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 043

Place the onions on the dough and press down into the dough. Place petals from 2 rosemary sprigs into the dough and around the onions.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 053 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 055 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 057

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until you can place a spatula under the crust and see the browning in the bottom-middle of the pan.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 058 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 059

This recipe should produce a nice firm and flavorful bread free of gluten, wheat and egg. Please enjoy.

A Pizza Champ, an American Icon, and a Coal-fired Oven

A few weeks ago, I visited my friend Steve Lieber in North Miami, Florida. Steve and I met while attending Scoula Italiana Pizzaioli in San Francisco. Steve graduated at the top of my class and I was 6th (Alright already! There were only 6 in the class.) I knew he was Operations Director for a Gary Rack Restaurant Managment Group, which had just opened another restaurant on the inland waterway called Rack’s Italian Bistro.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 185

Steve Lieber with the honors bestowed upon him: “Best Pizza in America.”

When I walked in I was floored by the unpretentious elegance of the place. Large banquettes spanned the walls. A crisp dining room with heavy dark woods beckoned me to the outdoor terrace, just above the mangroves and inland waterway.

It has been a long time since I’ve seen a more chic and warm restaurant. The menu is a mix of Italian favorites. I chose the Calamari “My Way,” crunchy and meaty squid dressed in a spicy and lemony marinara, basil and little cherry peppers. This dish was so addictive because it filled the whole spectrum of flavor and texture with suprise that kept me coming back for more. Then came a meatball as big as my 2 year-old’s head, with a side of whipped Impasata, the Massoratti of Ricotta cheeses, nestled on San Marzano gravy. The veal, pork and beef in this bundle of heaven were succulent, moist and studded with flavor. Okay, John, shut up and tell us about the pizza.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 175 October 3rd and pear pizzaii 177

After waiting for Steve, nursing my two cokes and gorging on these dishes, he finally came by with this big guy. “I hope you didn’t eat anything,” he said. “I’m gonna make you some great stuff.” (“No prob” said me to myself as I massaged my belly. “I can gorge with the best of them.”) He introduced me to his friend, Don Kirshn…..” and headed for the kitchen, saying over his shoulder “Gonna make you a great pie…”

So there I was, staring at this smiling, nice guy I didn’t know, but I recognized the name as vaguely familiar. He asked if I was in the pizza business and I (as usual) unloaded way too much pizza information upon him. The he asked me what pizzas I sold and I mentioned the Ted Nugent Pizza.

“Oh, I had him on my show,” he said.

Some hollow ping reverberated in my head as cloudy memories of the ’70’s cleared. It was the summer of 1978 at Soldier Field, Chicago in the hot sun. The Motor City Madman, standing on a 50- foot stack of speakers, wailed away while his hair caught the Lake Michigan breeze. Too cool. That memorable day was filled with 38 Special, Peter Tosh, Journey, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and the Stones. Memory is a weird thing when you’ve lived through the 70’s.

“I also have the Hot Tuna Pizza on my menu” I said proudly, “…that’s Jorm…”

“Yes, Jorma Kaukonen, I had him on my show, well with Jefferson Airplane… he was a nice young man.”

Now, the gongs were going off in my head. “Damn it,” I thought, “This guy, Don Kirs…ner. That’s it, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert!” “Holy Moly, you’re Don Kishner,” I stammered.  “I watched every show. You brought rock and roll to the mainstream.” I had to catch myself from acting like a kid, but that’s what I was when Mr. Kirshner introduced me to  all those great bands (This was before cable, before MTV, even just right after FM for God’s sake).

I flashed to Steely Dan, UFO, Mahogany Rush, Uriah Heep, The Outlaws, Pat Benatar, Foghat, New York Dolls, Lynard Skynard, The Village People and of course the Stones, ELO, BTO, Prince, Black Oak Arkansas and my favorite, Rory Gallagher. This guy introduced so many groups to the American public. Along with Creature Features, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert was the “Must See” show on TV. I had to ask myself why he isn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

October 3rd and pear pizzaii 165

Steve Lieber, Don Kirshner and The Goon on the spectacular outdoor patio over the magroves and inland waterway.

Right on cue, Steve arrived with his award-winning pizza that had taken on all comers at the Orlando Pizza Show this year, and garnered Steve “Best Pizza in the Nation.” The smell was spectacular. Don and I dug in to this beautifully thin but not floppy crust with a perfect crumb, no gumline (gummy dough just under the sauce), and fab cornicone (or end crust) with solid cell structure. This pizza was to die for: black truffles, Parmesan, Mozzarella, cracked black pepper and a little bit of scallion.

October 3rd and pear pizza ii160 October 3rd and pear pizza ii159

Once you start eating Steve Lieber’s pizza, you cannot stop. This massive meatball was utterly awesome also.

Here is how he made it and fired it in his coal ovens. Steve is not only one of the most knowledgeable coal-fired pizza guys in this country, he’s one of the premiere pizza guys out there. This is a great chance to see a pro make an award-winning pie and a truffle pizza recipe in a very hot oven. (Sorry about the multiple cuts but I was running out of batteries.)

Steve is a busy guy but I’m sure I’ll see him again. I’ll compete against this formidable opponent in some pizza competition one day soon, maybe Italy. In the meantime, I’m glad he’s my friend. Gary Rack and Steve just opened another spectacular restaurant, Table 42, in Miami also. The menu is to die for and I’m sure if Rack’s is a standard bearer, Table 42 will “rock” also.

Special thanks to Steve Lieber, Gary Rack and the staff of Rack’s Italian Kitchen in Miami.