[Adventures] Pizza Pizza!

[Peroni, an Italian beer.]

Last week, Amanda, Katie and I had our first official outing as the 3 Happy Eaters! Amanda had found a Scoutmob Hand-Picked Deal (get it here!) for a night of pizza making at Piola in Midtown and we snatched it up. None of us had ever been to Piola before and we weren’t quite sure what to expect. When two Italian chefs who spoke little-to-no English came out, we knew we were in for a treat! Especially after we learned that Chef Salvatore is a world-famous pizzaiolo from Naples who has won world titles for his Napolitan-style pies, and for “pizza arobatics” as well!

[Our Italian instructor, giving us the lowdown.]

After being served a Peroni each, the instruction part of the evening began. Gathered around the pizza oven in a corner of the restaurant, we were given an in-depth look at what makes pizza napoletana unique. We learned that there are three main things in the composition of the pizza that set it apart:

1.]  The dough. The flour used for the dough is type 0 or 00, a “pure” flour with no added gluten. Most American flours have gluten added in processing because it makes the flour easier to work with. This has most likely contributed to an increase in cases of gluten sensitivity. We're still researching, but you can buy this flour online in bulk.

The second unique part of the dough is the rising of the yeast. The dough for an authentic Napolitan-style pizza has risen and rested for 48 hours before being used. This allows the yeast time for complete maturation, making the dough extremely moist when baked, and keeping it from giving you that stuffed, uncomfortable feeling that you sometimes get after eating pizza crust.

2.]  The sauce. Our instructor informed us that authentic Napolitan-style pizza has sauce made from hand-crushed tomatoes—never pureed in a processor. The hand crushing keeps the sauce slightly chunky, adding to the moistness of the final product. Along with the tomatoes, the sauce has a bit of olive oil, basil, and other seasonings. 

3.]  The cheese. The mozzarella used for pizza napoletana consists of 60% milk. This is a higher percentage than most mozzarellas, and it makes the cheese very creamy when melted.

[Chef Salvatore demonstrating how to form the crust.]

After the lesson, it was time to make our pizzas! We were given aprons and stepped behind the counter with Chef Salvatore to our individual balls of dough. He wordlessly instructed us to watch him demonstrate first, then we’d try it for ourselves. Starting at the top of the ball and using his fingertips, he gently pressed the dough into a flat disc. He flipped it over and did it again to the other side, working in a counterclockwise circle around the disc. Then, with his hands palm-down on the disc, he stretched the dough by moving his hands apart, and turning the disc 45 degrees as he did so. He did this three times, until the disc was circular and about 12 inches in diameter.

[Amanda with a proud Chef Salvatore.]

Then it was our turn! After receiving nods of affirmation as we followed what we had just observed, it was time to add the sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil. These toppings provide the basic canvas for a Napolitan-style pizza. Then we were invited to add additional ingredients—everything from anchovies to broccoli to Italian sausage (none of that ground stuff you get at Pizza Hut). 

 [So many delicious toppings to choose from.]

I went with some sopressata, a spicy Italian salami, and some colorful sautéed peppers. Amanda added sopressata, sautéed onions, and capers for a salty kick. Katie kept hers classic, with just a bit of olive oil drizzled on top.

[Katie's pizza about to go into the oven!]

 [A peek at our pizzas in the oven.]

They popped them in the pizza oven, which we learned is about 10 degress warmer with each inch in height. So this particular oven was 400 degrees at the bottom, and about 600 at the top. Our pizzas spent a couple minutes at 400 then finished off at the top of the oven to seal in the moisture of the dough.

 [My delicious pizza. Nom.]

And boy were they deliziosa. The sauce was so flavorful and the cheese so creamy and the ingredients so rich. It was well-worth the fun effort. We finished up with a sweet treat baked from the same dough with a mascarpone and avocado spread topped with fresh strawberries. It was a fun, delicious, and educational culinary adventure! 

What's your favorite thing to put on a pizza? Have you ever made pizza napoletana? Share your pizza adventures with us!

How Julia Child saved me from being a Big Loser

I’d never really cooked anything before going to college. 

My mom is a great cook and I never exactly needed to do much in the kitchen. Sure, I could follow directions for package brownies or muffins, but that was about the extent of it. Sometimes, I’d help Mom cut up mushrooms. So yeah, that’s the sum of my culinary experience before age 20.

When I went away to school, I learned two things: dining hall food is not my mom’s cooking and neither is my cooking. I was struggling to make noodles, was afraid of raw meat and basically was living on a steady diet of cereal and canned soup.

My confidence in the kitchen completely evaporated the fifth time I burned rice.

[Sadly this was 15 weeks ago according to Instagram.]

But my best friends Amanda and Laura are amazing in the kitchen. 

So I decided to grab the ole proverbial bootstraps and keep trying. I texted them a lot of silly questions and asked even stupider ones when I tricked them into cooking dinner for me.

I also got married in July, so the pressure was on. I knew that either my husband and I would die of starvation, or we’d be auditioning for "The Biggest Loser" in six months. Something had to be done.

Enter Julia Child.

[photo pulled from goodreads, my other obsession.]

I read “My Life in France” on our honeymoon and was really surprised by how much I liked Julia Child – especially her tenacity. And I completely related to her humble beginnings. She’d never been great in the kitchen, but when she got married and moved to France, she knew she needed to step up her game. Plus, she wanted to.

So she developed a cooking community becoming friends with chefs, shop owners and fishmongers. She took cooking classes, practiced a lot at home and her cooking career took off from there. JC burned, ruined, and spilled her way to being one of the most iconic chefs of all time. And I realized that if she could do all of that—why couldn't I learn how to cook?

More importantly to me, Julia leaned on her two friends to help her. (Bam. Done.)

And as a writer who is tired of adding journals to my shelf, I decided it would be a lot more fun to include my friends that know a lot more than me and make it public so other people could know that even if they burn rice and can really only succeed at frozen pizza, things can change.

So from here on out, this is a learning experiment.

And remember:
“No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.” Julia Child. 

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