Recently, Sara Rosso posted her series on 101 American Foods, and Kalyn opened the discussion further, asking us all to ponder on what foods we consider to be American. A quick Twitter straw poll netted many of the most immediately identifiable American edibles — apple pie, burgers, Thanksgiving turkey — but she closes with a note that, “being from Utah, Kalyn would have to add fry sauce to Sara’s list!”
Truly, all food is American food, since America is inclusive of populations from every corner of the globe. But if you want to get down to what is uniquely American, you need to talk about regional foods. After all, what would New England be without clam chowder or lobster rolls? New Orleans brought us jambalaya, gumbo, and the muffuletta, among other delectably rich fare. And tomes have been written on barbecue alone.
Yet, where I come from in upstate New York, there are precious few things I can think of that distinguish it from anyplace else. Buffalo has its wings, Syracuse has salt potatoes, but Schenectady has no culinary claim to fame. So that got me thinking: What did I used to eat back home that I can’t get here?
Meanwhile, DPaul, the yeast whisperer, has been on a pizza kick. Our preferred neighborhood pizza joint went out of business recently, and so he has thrown himself into the pursuit of perfecting pizza in the home. To up his game, he got a copy of Peter Reinhart’s American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza, which is half travelogue and half cookbook. Within the book, Reinhart outlines recipes for a myriad of kinds of pizza, from the classic Napoletana to Romana to Chicago and, of course, the fluffy Americana that most of us here in the USA know and love. Truly, a quintessentially American food.
It was then that I remembered that we used to get a white pizza in Schenectady, typically topped with broccoli. Here, at last, was something I could never recall finding anywhere else, something utterly unique to my hometown. Some cursory research online (and in Reinhart’s book) turned up recipes for “New York-style white pizza” that had some kind of béchamel-like or cream-based sauce on it, but that’s not how I remembered it. So I reached out to my friend Kristen back home to ask her what kind of sauce is on our version. “Silly boy,” she replied, “white pizza doesn’t have any sauce!” It’s just ricotta, garlic (fresh or powdered; I prefer fresh), mozzarella and broccoli — though some people opt for no broccoli. I am not one of them.
For all its simplicity, it has a wonderful balance of richness and lightness and is surprisingly delicious. Enjoy a taste of my corner of America!
Pizza americana dough
Makes four dough balls. Adapted by DPaul Brown from Peter Reinhart’s American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza
22.5 oz unbleached bread flour
3 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp table salt or 3.5 tsp kosher
2 tsp instant yeast
1/4 c. olive oil or solid shortening
1 c. milk
3/4 c. room-temp water
I suggest mixing by hand versus using a stand mixer as you get a better feel for the dough. You do not get the same tactile experience with a stand mixer, and there’s not too much kneading anyway.
Have a large container of room-temperature water than you can dip your hand into. During the mixing process submerge your hand in the container of water; a wet dough will not stick to a wet hand. You want this dough to be fairly wet.
Combine all dry ingredients in a large metal bowl and mix thoroughly; then add wet ingredients to the bowl. (If using shortening, mix it in with the dry ingredients first, combining with your fingers, then add the remainder of the wet ingredients.) Using one hand that has been dunked in to your container of water, mix the dough vigorously. As the dough starts to come together, use your wet hand and scoop under the dough and fold back on itself. You want to grab all the loose flour or scraps of dough. Rotate the bowl 1/4 turn, again scoop under the dough and fold back on itself. Do not be afraid to repeatedly dip your hand in water — it is counterintuitive, but it works. Continue to work this dough in this fashion, rotating and folding, until it begins to resist to your kneading, roughly four to eight minutes. Let the dough rest for five minutes, then continue kneading for an additional four minutes. Though the dough will appear wet, it should hold its shape. When you touch the dough with a dry hand it should appear tacky, but release.
Using a flexible board scraper, divide the dough in to four equal pieces. Place the dough in freezer bags, with a tablespoon of olive oil. Let the dough rest on the counter for 15 minutes. You can either freeze the dough balls now or place in the fridge for an extended fermentation. I prefer to make the dough two days in advance and let the dough rise very slowly in the coldest part of the fridge. The resulting dough will have built up a lot of gas (be sure to have an opening in the bag) which will result in a pizza with good rise and blistering. You can make the dough for the same day by letting the dough rest for an hour on the counter, then refrigerate for two hours. If you freeze your dough, place the dough in the fridge for two days prior to cooking for the long fermentation. Freezing will also help relax the gluten and make for a softer, fluffier crust.
When you are ready to make the pizza, preheat your oven as hot as it can get with a pizza stone on the lowest rack or on the floor of the oven if possible. Pull the dough out of the fridge roughly one hour prior to cooking. Dust your workspace with flour and flour your hand (top and bottom). Dust the dough with flour and place on the workspace. Form the dough gently in to a round, carefully so as not to degas the dough. If you are comfortable with handling dough, dust the back of your hands with flour, place the dough on the top of your hands and using your knuckles to gently stretch out the dough. Otherwise, gently stretch the dough with your fingers horizontally on your floured surface. It is important to handle the dough gently as you do not want to lose all the gas bubbles you’ve worked hard to create.
Once the dough is stretched to roughly a 10″ round, transfer to a dry, floured peel. Top with your favorite toppings, ensuring that no wet ingredient touches the peel. If you have any wet spots on the peel, the dough will stick when you transfer it to the hot pizza stone. Give the peel a gentle jiggle to make sure it’s not sticking.
Apply your toppings, and give the peel another jiggle. Open the oven, and gently jiggle the pizza to the end of the peel, then slowly jerk it back, leaving the pizza on the hot stone. If you are not comfortable trying to slide a made pizza on to a stone, you can make the pizza on parchment paper. You can slide the whole kit and kaboodle onto the stone, then remove the paper after a couple of minutes.
White Pizza with Broccoli
1 ball pizza americana dough
1/4 c. ricotta
several cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 c. mozzarella, shredded*
1/4 c. broccoli florets, blanched, shocked, drained and patted dry
Grated parmesan cheeese
Salt and pepper
Follow instructions for dough above. Once the dough is stretched and on the peel, dot the top with
dollops of the ricotta cheese, then sprinkle with the minced garlic.
Cover with shredded mozzarella, and distribute the broccoli florets
over the top. Sprinkle with parmesan, salt and pepper.
Slide the pizza carefully onto the hot pizza stone. Cook until the
crust is brown and the cheese on top is melted and beginning to color,
7-10 minutes, turning if necessary to distribute browning on the crust.
Remove, rest for 1-2 minutes, then cut with a pizza cutter and serve
* Fun tip: Instead of grating your mozzarella on a box
grater, try throwing the block in the freezer for 30-45 minutes, then
using a sharp vegetable peeler to create strips of cheese. They melt
Kerry at Serious Eats takes on Reinhart’s New York-style White Pizza.
Hungry Mouse makes one more akin to the Schenectadian variety.
I may need to take a trip back home to taste the epiphanal ricotta from Alleva Dairy. From Schenectady no less! Who knew?
For a running list of all things yeasty and yummy, check out Wild Yeast’s YeastSpotting.