2009–The Year of the Pizza!
To the Chinese, 2009 is the year of the Ox, but to me it is shaping up to be the Year of the Pizza. Maybe it is the economy, or maybe we all just need something delicious, familiar, hot, and comforting, but it seems like everywhere I go here in New York, there is a new pizzeria just opening. And the good news is, there is some pretty good pizza around!
Of course, when people talk about pizza, you have to first understand what their idea of a perfect pizza is. There are those who define it as the one they remember from the slice-eria that used to stand on the corner of the old neighborhood where they grew up. Others will site the latest trendy place to open where the pizzaiolo has the most tattoos, the place has the least atmosphere, and the service is the surliest.
In my case, the perfect pie resembles those I have eaten in and around Naples in Italy, like the Margherita pictured to the left that I ate in Capri. You will note that the crust is irregular in shape, blistered, and toasty in spots. The edge, called the cornicione, is raised and seems thicker than the center. The crust is crisp, yet still chewy, neither thin and cracker-like or thick and dense. It should be flexible enough to fold without cracking and have a flavor so delicious that you eat every last bite. There is not a lot of topping and the tomato is not flavored with spices. That includes garlic, which has its place on some types of pizza, but not on a Margherita. Best of all, each person is served an individual pie that is made fresh to order, never reheated.
If you would like to find out more about my take on pizza, or learn how to make a great pizza at home, take a look at my cookbook, Pizza Anyway You Slice It!, co-authored with my husband Charles. It was recently reprinted with the title Pizza— Easy Recipes for Great Homemade Pizza, Focaccia and Calzones.
When I am not making pizza at home, I like to go to La Pizza Fresca, located at 31 East 20th Street. The place is cozy and friendly, and the pizza never disappoints me. I have 3 favorites there: the Margherita, of course, or the Margherita with prosciutto and arugula, or the Puttanesca, a spicy pie with sliced garlic, peperoncino, black olives and anchovies. There salads and pasta are terrific too.
Recently, Charles and I went to try Artichoke Basile on 14th Street, a fairly new slice-eria on 14th Steet between 2nd and 3rd Avemues. They are famous for their Artichoke Pizza, which i found to be inedible. It had a thick gloppy topping that tasted like bottled salad dressing, and a few thin, flavorless, slices of artichoke. The Margherita was much better, though since it was reheated, it had gotten overdone and burnt around the edge.
Over the holidays, my cousin Mike treated me to lunch at his favorite pizzeria, Salvatore of Soho, on Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island. It’s a fun place with lots of families, checked table cloths, antiques (check out the bathrooms), really big guys chowing down on the enormous portions, and rock and roll music from the ’60’s. I’d go back there often not only for their toasty New York style pies baked in a coal fired oven, but also for their outstanding cooked dishes, like fried calamari and mussels in spicy tomato sauce.
The latest new pizzeria that I tried is Co., pronounced Company, Jim Lahey’s (of Sullivan Street Bakery fame) new restaurant on 9th Avenue at 24th Street. I think Jim makes some of the best bread in New York City, which says a lot since we have so many excellent bakeries now, so I was anxious to try his pizza. There were four of us and we ordered four pies: a Margherita; an Amalfi with green olives anchovies and chili; a Flambe, with bechamel, parmesan, bufala mozzarella, caramelized onions and lardons; and a Boscaiola with sausage and mushrooms. Except for the Amalfi which was bland, we really enjoyed the pizzas which had a delicious crust that was both crisp and chewy, and flavorful toppings. We started with a cheese and salumi plate that was not very good. The wine list and the service both need improvement, but I would definitely go back again.
PIZZA CLASS — Charles and I will be teaching a Pizza and Vino class on January 22 at 6:30 at Cooking by the Book at 13 Worth Street, New York City. For more information, phone 212-966-9799 or go to www.CookingbytheBook.com.