Ultimate Pizza – The Birthday

For the second half of my mother’s birthday weekend we hosted a small pizza party. I’ve already detailed the entire process involved in the making of my Ultimate Pizza (CLICK HERE for the index page). This party was merely a refinement of the process, but one which succeeded in taking the art to even higher levels.

This whole format makes a really great party. Newcomers don’t know what to make of it because pizzas come off the line slowly at first, in series, and everyone grabs a slice. No one sits down, but instead hovers around the kitchen island participating in the three hour frenzy of pizza making. Very fun and interactive.

First off the presses is this completely basic tomato and mutz pizza for my two-year old. He doesn’t appreciate complexity yet, although I have progressed him from generic orange cheddar to 2-3 year aged special reserve cheddar, which he is now very fond of :-).

 

Opening with some whites: a nice champagne, and a very nice riesling.

“The 2000 Brut Millesime Cuvee Speciale comes across as excessively heavy and almost sweet in its ripe fruit. Something is not quite right about the balance here. Disgorged: December, 2006. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2011.”

Parker gives this riesling 91 points, “An almost confectionary sense of sweetness and ripeness pervades the Prum 2009 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese, making it something of an exception in a vintage collection generally noteworthy for the restraint of residual sugar. Apple candy, caramel, and vanilla mingle on a creamy palate, with hints of salt, stone, and apple pit happily offering some counterpoint in a long and otherwise soothing finish. This showed more grip as it opened, and perhaps time will lend more cut and complexity to a Spatlese that on the basis of track record is likely to thrive for another quarter century or more. Incidentally, this represents the first of three lots of “regular” Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese, the last of which was still in tank in September.”

And the first red. Parker 93, “Super-ripe aromas of cookie dough, spices, and black cherry syrup can be found in the nose of the medium-bodied 2002 Nuits-St.-Georges Les Pruliers. Its fabulously satiny texture, concentration, and purity are immensely impressive. This medium-bodied wine coats the palate with innumerable black fruits, minerals, and spices. Projected maturity: 2008-2018.”

Here is the evolution of my wife’s favorite pizza. Fresh tomato sauce (HERE for details and recipe), black mission figs, corn, mushrooms, roma tomatoes, and marcona almonds.

This is actually the second pizza of the night, as I had made my creme fraiche salmon pizza, but I forgot to get a photo. Fortunately, details can be FOUND HERE.

Cheese: mozzarella, parmesan, pecorino.

And then out of the oven. This time around I was trying to concentrate on slightly less irregular shapes, with some success. I have not mastered the art of “spinning” the pizza to get it very round, and the soft “00″ based dough makes them very fragile.

This pizza employed a base of my special herb oil (detailed HERE at the end of this post). Then pesto (RECIPE HERE), steamed asparagus, almonds, tomato, various cheeses (including Bucheron), mushrooms, basil.

Out of the oven.

Caramelized onions, gorgonzola, figs.

Dressed with balsamic glaze. A very yummy sweet and salty pizza.

Besides all this pizza there was also a very yummy salad my mom made, with micro greens, granny smith apples, and a fresh homemade meyer lemon vinaigrette. I unfortunately forgot to take a photo, must have been running to the oven and back.

Here is a new one. One of my friends brought two new cheeses, a 5 year old aged Gouda and a 7 year old cheddar. Both cheeses were used here, along with breadcrumbs. This made fore a very yummy crunchy pizza, not unlike cheesy garlic toast.

My mother likes her pizzas fairly simple and veggie. This has classic tomato and mutz, plus mushrooms, basil, and julienned zucchini. I got to practice my knife skills with the julienne. She did throw a bit of the aged Gouda on.

It looks pretty different out of the oven, but it sure tasted great. The Gouda turned out to be a great sophisticated pizza cheese and melted here with the parm and mutz into a really great cheesy mess like on a good New Jersey style pie.

Gelsons was out of the Tikka Masala Sauce I used on New Years (HERE FOR DETAILS), but I bought a “coconut curry” sauce by the same company. It’s arrayed here with mutz blocks, corn, chaneterelle mushrooms, basil, red onion and bucheron.

I finished it with cilantro pesto (we had two different kinds of pesto this time around, DETAILS HERE). The purpose of the cilantro pesto was to mirror the finishing of a curry dish with a handfull of coriander (cilantro) leaves. The net affect on this pizza was less in your face than the Tikka Masala, but still very Indian, like Naan bread dipped in curry. Yum!

Pounding through the wines, had to crack a pair of brunellos.

Parker 91, “The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino is a fresh, vibrant offering bursting with dark cherries, violets, underbrush, minerals and sweet toasted oak on a medium-bodied frame. The wine reveals terrific balance in an energetic, focused style, with firm yet ripe tannins. The finish is long, clean and refreshing. This is a gorgeous effort from Loacker. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2019.”

Parker 93, “The stunning, single vineyard 1997 Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli, exhibits more new oak than its sibling, as well as more power, concentration, alcohol, and extract. A deep garnet color accompanies huge, sweet aromas of roasted herbs, red and black currants, cherries, earth, incense, tobacco, and soy. This is a wine to lay away for 5-6 years. This chewy, full-bodied, spectacular Brunello will be at its finest between 2010-2022.”

 

This was a great pizza made by a newcomer to our culinary circle. Pesto, red onion, bucheron, herb oil, some various cheeses, and I think a bit of acacia honey.

I sold her on finishing it with Burrata (details on my favorite fresh cheese HERE), and then single vineyard olive oil and balsamic must.  It was REALLY good.

This puppy, also by a newcomer, used a sauce base of both the crushed tomato sauce and homemade romesco (I had made it two days before for my special eggs, DETAILS AND RECIPE HERE). We also used both the aged cheeses, and some good aged parm.

Also a very yummy pizza, with the romesco lending an extra bit of tanginess to the sauce.

Another newbie with this novel shaped pizza. Basic stuffs, a lot of basil, lots of cheeses and onion.

Out of the oven.

Scott, one of my most regular partners in pizza crime, tried to make this “mexican pizza.” The sauce is actually salsa, not regular tomato. Then corn of course, various cheeses, tomato, red peppers, and some sliced jalepeno I think.

Finished with burrata and cilantro. We wanted to use avocado too, but our farmer’s market avocados were hard as rocks, they needed another week or two to ripen.

My mother liked her basic veggie so much (as did many others) that she whipped up another one.

This is a highly experimental pizza. It used a port wine cheese and aged gouda, along with chopped farmer’s market dates, and even some splashes of the currently open wine (either a brunello or a very good cote de rhone — below).

Then it was finished with fig jam (not shown). This made it a very interesting sweet pizza, even if the color was a putrescent pink.

I decided to experiment with my own caramelized onion based pizza. I added Bucheron, sharp cheddar, marcona almonds, cherry compote, and a bit of harrisa.

After cooking.

Dressed with burrata and balsamic glaze. This was not my most successful combo, and I think the problem was the cheddar. It added a tangy sharpness that just didn’t work.

This used romesco alone as the sauce, along with all sorts of vegetables, figs and cheeses, including bucheron.

Finished with burrata and balsamic and olive oil. Yum!

More wine. Parker 90, “The 2006 Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone exhibits meaty, herbal, tapenade, pepper, animal fur, and damp earth-like notes. It is soft, round, lush, and best consumed over the next 10+ years.”

For a finale Mirella, another regular and adventurous pizza chef, concocted this baby. The sauce is a mix of Moroccan Harissa and caramelized onions! Aged cheeses, onions, sliced garlic, and gorgonzola dolce.

Cheesy, spicy, sweet, this was a delicious finisher.

But we weren’t done drinking. Parker 97, “The 2004 Reserva, according to Remirez is “a great vintage, a lot of nerve, like 1994, that needed a long aging period”. Opaque purple in color, it offers up a splendid bouquet of sandalwood, incense, Asian spices, balsamic, and black cherry. Layered, opulent, and impeccably balanced, it is a monumental effort.”

My mom’s birthday cake, yes she is one year younger than my toddler.


And after that cheese bomb of a meal, nothing like a little gelato/sorbetto to polish off the palette. We experimented with this gourmet store brand, Talenti. Pistachio, Lemon, Raspberry, Double Chocolate, and Blood Orange. For store bought ice creams these were very good, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to what you get at a good gelateria. Sigh. All were good, personally I thought the blood orange was the best.

Finito.

Ultimate Pizza – The Toppings

When making Ultimate Pizza fresh ingredients are one of the most crucial elements. I already went over the preparation of the Dough, the Pesto, and the Sauce. Now I’ll cover the bulk of the shopping and for toppings.

I get most of my “fancy” condiments at Bay Cities Italian Deli and Bakery. This is a convient one-stop-shop spot for all sorts of Italian (and other) goodies.

I have never been in there when they aren’t mobbed. The deli counter wait alone is usually 30-45 minutes.

They make some darn good hoagies, and they have a bit of outside seating. Even though it’s December 31 the weather is gorgeous.

I had them make a “Jersey Style” Italian Hoagie. No mayo. No mustard. Just cold cuts, provolone, and oil and vinegar. Oh and don’t forget the onions, lettuce, pepper-chinos.

I went to the Gelsons for produce. Bay cities doesn’t really have produce.

The loot nestled in the trunk. This is pizza only for five!

Dairy. Next after the dough, and possibly the olive oil, nothing is so important as the dairy. Burrata, world’s greatest fresh cheese, fresh from the local creamery. Mozzarella (balled and blocks from shredding), Creme FraicheGorgonzolaParmesanRicotta, Bay Cities House Blend (parm and pecorino grated), and Bucheron (very fancy goat cheese). I threw in some Egg Nog because of the season.

Some jarred and canned stuff. Anchovies (in vinegar and in oil), black truffle oil, Italian tuna, capers, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, tomatoes, various compotes, jams, corn (sometimes I’ll roast it fresh but I was too busy), and more.

Polenta to use as “pizza lube” (getting it off the stones and peels). Olive Oil (single vineyard), balsamic must (the Romans used this), honey, garlic, vinegars, onion marmelade, balsamic glaze, black mission figs, marcona almonds. I have white truffle oil too, but I forgot to stick it in the photo.

Produce. Five types of mushrooms, including morels and fresh chanterelles. Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Chives, Dill, Sage, Cilantro, Mint, Arugala, crushed red pepper.

More produce. Italian squash. Red onion, avocado, lemons, meyer lemons, roma tomatos.

Every item needs to be prepped and put in a bowl or similar so it is accessible during the pizza making. Here is the basil. In total, this is a huge amount of work.

Mozzarella is grated.

Arugala is coated in Meyer Lemon and fresh ground pepper.

Gorgonzola crumbled.

Dried mushrooms rehydrated, fresh ones washed.

White asparagus boiled and blanched.

Vegetables chopped.

In aggregate, this prep takes 2-3 hours, even after all the shopping. The the above is just a sampling of photos.

Here is the complete spread prior to guest arrival.

Please CONTINUE HERE WITH THE PIZZA ITSELF.