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White pizza

White Pizza ©DPaul Brown

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
salt
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
immediately.

* 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
beautifully.

Related:

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.

  • This looks delicious! And I am as surprised to hear about the Alleva Dairy as you are. Honestly, the only white pizza I remember having back home is the one without the broccoli, but I love broccoli so that sounds great too.
    The other style of pizza my mother and I used to like was the “Sicilian” pizza. By that we meant pizza that is thick instead of thin. Must have something to do with the fact that she and I were real Italian bread fanatics. I did have occasion to have real Sicilian pizza when I was in Sicily. It tasted exactly as I remembered from Schenectady.
    Of the 3 of us, you and DPaul are the chefs in the family. When we are together again, I woud love for you to whip up any one of your delicious pizzas for us to enjoy together.

  • We used to get this at a pizzeria right in Niskayuna, on Union St, but it was all over Schenectady. I remember the Sicilian pizza too; will have to try that soon.

  • Hey Sean- Glad you enjoyed the taste of home! Have you ever had the Utica favorite: Chicken Riggies? I have a great recipe… Riggatoni with a chicken, roasted and hot peppers with a tomato cream sauce. DELICIOUS!
    (P.S. Your can use my last name… it might increase my google-ability. LOL!)

  • There’s a place I used to go in Montreal that had a fantastic white pizza. Five cheeses, but I can’t remember what they were and their menu doesn’t say. And it was garlicky. No broccoli, though they do put zucchini on their veggie pizza (which is also fabulous).

  • Kristen — I’ve heard of chicken riggies but not sure I’ve had exactly that. Sounds good though!
    sassymonkey — Montreal is not terribly far from Schenectady, though I wasn’t aware it had a strong Italian emigrant population. I wonder if the pizzas have the same roots. Food is like language — you can learn a lot about culture by tracking its migratory patterns.

  • I’ve had white pizza and I’ve had broccoli pizza, but never white pizza with broccoli. It looks fantastic and the crust just perfect. Thanks for the tip about the mozzarella — I have trouble slicing mine thinly enough so I’ll have to try this. Glad to have you join YeastSpotting!

  • The mozz trick was a serendipitous thing. We were up in Sea Ranch a couple weekends ago, and couldn’t find a box grater. Being McGyvers as we are we decided to try the peeler. I’m not going back.

  • P.S. Looking forward to seeing you again at BlogHer Food.

  • Definitely I’ve never heard of this, but I’m guessing I’d like it. Love the top about freezing the mozzarella and shaving into curls, great idea!

  • To talk to an Italian you’d think that Italian pizza is the only pizza around, but I think American pizza is an entirely different beast…and quite good! Mostly because we tend to think out of the box of the “traditional” toppings that most Italian pizzas have – like putting broccoli on pizza (which sounds great to me!)

  • Great writing. I am following you on Twitter. Tell me a story, don’t give me a recipe…you live it!

  • Barb

    Your pizza looks yummy!! This coming from two pizza fanatics who have manadatory Friday night pizza. You don’t want to even suggest anything else to Uncle Jeff or you’ll get a look of confusion of why would we do anything else? We remember white pizza from Schenectady and have made it ourselves without the ricotta. We’ll have to try that! Haven’t mastered pizza dough:( Have to admit, surprisingly, Trader Joe’s is the best we have found around here. Even better than the pizza parlor dough. I’ll keep trying though. Miss you guys!

  • Love white pizza. Sounds delish!

  • DPaul and I go WAY outside the box with toppings — in fact, leftovers are our favorite toppings. We’ve used leftover Chinese and Indian food, barbecue, almost anything.

  • I aim to please!

  • The ricotta really makes it light and rich at the same time. I think also a sprinling of dry oregano wouldn’t hurt either. Try the dough — it’s not too hard and worth the effort!

  • i had no idea that this was an upstate ny thing. i grew up in saratoga… i guess i always just assumed everyone had white pizza this way. yours looks exactly how i remember. my mom and dad (from mechanicville and schenectady) will love this recipe!

  • This is a great idea for a pizza. I love the idea of no red sauce, and the broccoli adding extra crunch and color. And if my pizza can turn out looking like yours I’ll be very happy! We have a pizzeria near us that makes a white pizza with potatoes, garlic, rosemary and cheese. Yum.

  • Potato pizza is actually quite common in Italy, especially Rome. I was very surprised to see it there, since I typically think of Italian food not mixing multiple starches, but you’re right, it’s very good!

  • EB

    Haystack does NOT compare to Noe Valley. Bummer.

  • Dude, tell me about it! I’m heartbroken. Except that now I am eating more, and better, pizza than ever. 🙂

  • This is my favorite kind of pizza. For some wierd reason I never make it (maybe because it isn’t the favorite of the rest of my family?). I am so planning on making this!

  • More for you!

  • I’m from indianapolis, also a city devoid of a distinct food culture. so I feel you.
    this looks awesome! congrats.

  • I always loved my mom’s pizza bianca. She usually topped it with extra virgin olive oil, fresh herbs, lots of salt and red pepper and often times black olives. Sometimes you just don’t need the sauce, as you so deliciously prove.

  • We pretty frequently do pizzas with just olive oil in lieu of sauce, especially when using lighter ingredients like grilled veggies. But this ricotta base is super versatile.

  • Giselle

    this looks so amazing!!

  • Sylvia

    I’ve never had white pizza with broccoli either… but it doesn’t look too bad. I would love to try this! I’m sure my husband and daughter would like it because they are veggie freaks.
    -Sylvia

  • Colin

    You forgot Rochester’s garbage plates and white hots! And Utica’s chicken riggies, of course.

  • And Syracuse's salt potatoes, but that's another post. 

  • And Syracuse's salt potatoes, but that's another post. 

  • Carla

    Classic and fabulous!

  • Carla

    And I’m a neighbor of former Schenectady-ites — Saratoga Springs, where it is impossible to find great pizza. So I make it myself.