Best Pizza in Mid-America

Recently I was lucky enough leave my home in Athens and Avalanche Pizza Bakers to compete in the best run and most thrilling pizza competition, held at the largest pizza convention anywhere in the world: The International Pizza Challenge at the Pizza Expo, in Las Vegas. I saw all my friends from around the world, cooked world-class pizza and found and stole new ideas. I made  this spectacular schiacciata, or long pizza.

I won the title “Best Pizza in Mid-America” title with this pizza that exhibited that agra dolci (sweet and sour) taste that I love.

Schiacciata means “squashed” or “flattened” in Italian. You can find thin or thick crusts and just about everything under the sun on them in Italy. I make a tremendous amount of these pizzas at the Athens Farmers Market using local cheeses, vegetables and meats.

This long pizza consists of Maytag Blue cheese, fresh mozzarella, pancetta (Italian cured but not smoked pork belly), smoked guanciale (cured and smoked pork jowl), and roasted red peppers. I slather just enough fig jam to excite the palate and then place a peppery arugula on top. The final sweet/sour note is supplied by a drizzling of balsamic vinegar.

Guanciale and Pancetta Schiacciata

1 recipe Schiacciata dough

3  ounces sliced pancetta (bacon is a fair substitute)

3 ounces sliced guanciale (or smoked pork jowl/cheek or bacon)

3.5 ounces roasted red pepper (See Roast a red pepper )

4-5 ounces slices fresh mozzarella

3 ounces Maytag blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Stilton are good substitutes)

3 to 5 tablespoons fig jam or preserves

1/2 cup baby arugula leaves

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Make one 14 ounce dough ball per the Schiacciata dough recipe.

Prepping for the pizza:

Cut pancetta and guanicale and saute in a pan over medium high heat for 3 to 6 minutes. Your goal is not to cook the pork, but to  just “sweat” off some of the fat from the pork and par-cook the meat. The excess fat will be a great compliment on the pizza. Slice the pork in julienned strips and set aside for topping.

Cut the roasted red pepper flesh in a large dice.
For the Pizza:

Form the schiacciata dough into a very long shape.  The best way to start the dough is to pull in a football shape before pressing your fingers into the dough. Then pull the dough from the CENTER of the football, kneading it out towards the end. (Most people just pull on the ends). Drape it over the back of your hands. If the gluten is too tight, walk away and come back after the dough has relaxed. Dimple the dough, aways pressing outwards, then pull the dough until it reaches about 36 inches or the length of your oven. Place on a double layer of parchment paper long enough to accomodate the whole pizza.

Top the sciacciata with the mozzarella, then the blue cheese, then the pork and roasted red peppers. You are now ready for the oven.

I will not kid you now, this long pizza is very hard to cook in a very hot oven. Because no one (including me) has a pan or pizza stone long enough to facilitate this monster, it has to be cooked directly on the oven rack without the dough dipping through the tines.

The problems you will be facing are 1. Uneven cooking. 2. Burning yourself if you are not careful. 3. Spilled cheese on the bottom of your oven 4. The end falling over, depositing all the toppings and cheese on the oven floor if you cannot turn it properly. 5. The parchement burning. These things may lead to some frustration, but I’ve found if you take a used (hopefully Avalanche) pizza box and unfold it, it makes a great pizza peel  or large spatula. You may have to trim it to use it.

Place the pizza in the oven on the very bottom rack. This will set the dough underneath, eliminating a wavy pizza.

Let it bake on the bottom rack for at least 4 minutes.

Move the pizza to the top rack and spin it to expose the opposite side to the back of the oven. Please forgive me for the bad picture but, like I said, this is hard (and I’m a guy who’s hands are always in ovens.)

Cook for aproximately 10 to 12 more minutes, using the unfolded pizza box to turn the pizza around again once more or if needed.

Pull the pizza from the oven and check for doneness and golden browning on the edges. The bottom should be dark golden brown.

Top with the fig jam, arugula and balsamic. Serve to very appreciative guests. Yum.

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6 Responses to “Best Pizza in Mid-America”

  1. Wow that’s some gourmet looking pizza. I’m going to have to try this pizza out soon. Thanks for the review.

  2. John says:

    Hey Dude,

    Thanks, are you a pizza guy too?

    John Goon

  3. mike says:

    John, Your honey-tahini bread (with the pear in the middle) was amazing! It was more of a dessert, then bread. And your other kimchi-bread was great, too, with a nice ‘kick’ to go with it. Good job. and Congratulations for the award. We could have told you that –didn’t need to go all the way to Las Vegas….Mike

  4. Judy says:

    Sounds and looks delicious – is this now offered on your regular pizza menu?

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