Pizzas I have stolen
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s true. After all, why bother copying something you don’t like? Take pizza. There are the classics: margherita, marinara, pepperoni — everyone can make these. But when a pizzeria comes up with a truly novel and interesting combination of toppings, what can one do but try to copy it?
Here are three pies I’ve started to make at home, shamelessly ripped off from some of my favorite pizzerias:
I am an unabashed fan of Punch Neapolitan Pizza. There are people who complain that Punch pizzas are dragged down by their soggy, wet-cardboard crust, but those people are wrong. It’s right in the restaurant’s name: Punch is making Neapolitan pies, and they’re making them right to style. Droopy pizza points bothering you? There’s a reason they serve pizza in Italy with a knife and fork. (Though, with a well-executed fold I’ve never had a problem with this.) Some people are also put off by the fact that Punch is a chain, but I think this actually puts pizza in its proper context — it’s casual food, not something to be exalted in a temple. That a chain produces such a solid Neapolitan pie is all the more to their credit.
Punch was the first pizzeria I fell in love with on moving to Minneapolis and over the years I’ve tried most of the pizzas on their menu. My favorite is the Adriatico: feta, caper, onion, saracene olive, oregano. Since I usually have most of these ingredients on hand, the Adriatico is a pie I frequently imitate. It’s easy: stretch out neapolitan-style dough, top with crushed tomato sauce, add mozzarella, then scatter capers, thinly-shaved onions (use a mandoline), olives and feta (it works fine without the extra cheese). After the pizza bakes, sprinkle it generously with dried oregano.
Motorino: Brussels sprout
Martha and I went to New York over Thanksgiving to visit our friend Ryan, and whenever people ask me about our trip all I can talk about is where we ate. Hey, it’s not my fault that at the time Ryan was living in the East Village, a block and a half from momofuku noodle bar and just a block from Motorino. Not being a New Yorker, I don’t pay much attention to the New York restaurant scene, but Motorino has gotten enough buzz in the online pizza world that I knew the name, and when I realized how close we were (serendipitously, we were just out walking and there it was) I insisted that we eat there.
Motorino’s reputation for quality pizza is well-deserved and we ordered a number of classic pies that were very well done. But the table favorite was a combination I’ve never had before, labeled simply “Brussels sprout”. It’s listed on the menu as: “BRUSSELS SPROUT: FIOR DI LATTE / GARLIC / PECORINO / SMOKED PANCETTA / E.V. OLIVE OIL.” After we got home from our trip, I became obsessed with this pizza, making a version every week. To make it, I stretch out a crust and drizzle it with olive oil and top it sparsely with mozzarella. I take a few brussels sprouts and slice them on the mandoline, not too thin. and spread them on top of the crust, followed by chopped raw bacon. After baking 10 minutes at 500ºF (less time if you have a hotter oven!) the edges of the sprouts will be dark brown and well-roasted, crispy, and the whole pie will be imbued with the flavor of rendered bacon fat. Finish it with a grating of pecorino or parmesan cheese.
Black Sheep: #8
I’m just going to say it, and it shouldn’t even be controversial: Black Sheep makes the best pizza in the Twin Cities. This is mostly due to the crust, crackling and charred from its time in the coal-fired oven, yet still moist and soft in the mouth. It’s a crust that’s not quite Neapolitan and not quite New Haven, but sort of combining positive characteristics of both.
But I also give Black Sheep a lot of credit for their creative topping combinations, interesting but never weird just for weirdness’ sake. I almost always order a #7: “Oyster Mushroom, Smoked Mozzarella, Rosemary & Garlic.” I wish I had jumped on the Black Sheep bandwagon soon enough to have experienced the missing #6, which a server once told us involved clams but had to be scrapped when they couldn’t keep the seafood fresh enough. And then there’s #8: “Chicken & Pickled Peppers.”
Now, I know there are some who consider chicken on pizza to be an abomination. (I grew up eating chicken pizza — even now I can picture the yellowing magazine page with the recipe on it — so I’ve never suffered from this impediment.) To be fair, it’s easy to do a chicken pizza wrong, chicken breast dries out easily in the oven. Black Sheep tackles the dryness problem by skipping delicate breasts for heartier chicken thighs, which they braise and pull (NB: I haven’t actually asked if this is what they do, it’s just my impression from eating the pizza). Atop the chicken goes pickled hot peppers. I remember ordering this with some trepidation the first time and being totally surprised by the presentation, and surprised again by how well it worked.
To make #8 at home, I took two chicken thighs and put them in a small pot with a crushed garlic clove, a quarter teaspoon of whole cumin seeds, a few dried red peppers and a pinch of salt, adding water to not-quite-cover the meat. I brought the pot to a low simmer and let it cook, stirring now and then, until the water was almost entirely evaporated. This took about an hour, meaning you can do it while you heat your oven for pizza. After the chicken cooked so long it shredded easily. For the pizza, I topped dough with crushed tomato sauce, spread the shredded chicken, added thinly-sliced pickled jalapeños (I liked the heat but Martha found it too much — pepperoncini might be a more reasonable choice) and a light sprinkling of mozzarella.