Wine Advisor FoodLetter In This Issue

No issue next week
About pizza
Three quick pizzas
You're invited to visit our interactive forums
Let us hear from you!
Administrivia

The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter: No issue next week

The 30 Second Wine Advisor goes into travel mode next week, as I'll be away on a 10-day trip to Slovenia, the beautiful and hospitable little nation at the northern end of the former Yugoslavia, where I'll be visiting wineries and serving as a judge at the annual international wine competition, Vino Ljubljana.

As a result, I don't plan to distribute the Wine Advisor's FoodLetter next Thursday. Jet lag permitting, however, we should be back on March 28, maybe with some talk about interesting and unusual Slovenian fare!

It may be difficult for me to keep up with personal E-mail while I'm traveling, so if you comment or ask me a question during the period, please be patient, and I'll respond as soon as I can.

About pizza

Just about everybody loves pizza. When I wrote about matching wine with pizza in a recent Wine Advisor where I described it - only half jokingly - as "nature's most perfect food," I got more E-mail than I've received on almost any other subject.

As I said then: Crisp, chewy Italian-style bread topped with creamy cheese, tangy tomato sauce and your choice of toppings, it offers all the best elements of a sandwich and a hot meal in a package that's at least reasonably nutritious. What's not to like?

So, when I wrote in this column two weeks ago about Madhur Jaffrey's quick Moroccan bread, a quick yeast bread stuffed with fennel seeds and sesame seeds that can be fashioned in little more than an hour, it didn't take me long to segue from North African flatbread to thoughts of pizza.

I've always liked making pizza at home, but heretofore it has been a time-consuming project involving the kind of planning ahead that rarely fits with a busy modern schedule: A midafternoon break to fashion pizza dough and start it rising, with periodic return visits to punch down, shape and preheat before you even start work on the toppings. At some point it seems easier to get on the horn and have a store-built pizza delivered to your door.

Conventional wisdom holds that long, slow rising makes for the best texture and flavor in bread. But is that really necessary for pizza? Over the past couple of weeks, I've made a variety of quick pizzas, modifying and streamlining the procedure until I have it well under 60 minutes, and I find the results excellent.

Following are three variations: A traditional Neapolitan-style pizza margherita, a simple mushroom pizza (without tomato sauce), and a pizza-like treat that's not a pizza at all but a German-Alsatian flammenkuchen.

This week's recipes: Three quick pizzas

First I'll summarize the pizza crust, followed by quick procedures for three disparate toppings.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

6 ounces all-purpose or bread flour (180 grams or about 1 1/4 cup if you scoop it from the bag. It's much better to weigh flour if you possibly can.)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dry yeast (about 1/2 of a packet)
1/3 cup (about 100 ml) warm water (about 120F or 50C)
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
Additional warm water
Olive oil

PREPARATION:

1. Stir the sugar or honey into the 1/3 cup warm water. Sprinkle on the yeast and stir it in with a fork until dissolved. Set aside for a few moments until it starts to bubble and foam.

2. Put the flour in a bowl and stir in the salt.

3. Scoop a "well" in the middle of the flour, stir in the yeast liquid, and stir to mix; continue adding warm water, a little at a time, until you have just enough to hold the dough together in a rough mass. Knead it by folding over and pressing down, first in the bowl and then on a floured board or countertop, adding a little more flour if necessary, until the dough is smooth and dry. This small amount will be easy to knead and shouldn't require more than five minutes' work, if that. Flatten it into a thick, pizza-shaped disk and leave it to rest under a clean dish towel while you work on the toppings and pre-heat the oven to 450F (230C).

4. When your toppings are ready, smear about 1 tablespoon olive oil on a clean surface such as your countertop. Take the round of dough, which should have "relaxed" and now will be a bit easier to work with, and put it down on the oiled surface, pressing it out into a larger, thin round, leaving a thicker rim around the edge. Transfer it onto a cookie sheet rubbed with a little olive oil, gently nudge it into a reasonable approximation of a circle, and load with topping ingredients. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the crust is a dark golden brown. Slide onto a serving plate, cut into slices and serve.

TOPPING I: PIZZA MARGHERITA

5 or 6 fresh plum tomatoes, sliced thin
1/2 cup diced tomatoes, canned or fresh in season
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh, sliced in thin rounds
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
salt and pepper
a sprig of fresh basil leaves or, if you must, 1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Purportedly representing the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag, this is nothing more than a pizza topped with fresh tomatoes, basil and cheese. When your pizza crust is ready, place the mozzarella slices directly on the crust. Top with the sliced tomatoes and diced tomatoes and finish by sprinkling on the cheese with salt and pepper to taste. Bake as directed, and sprinkle on the basil just before serving.

TOPPING II: MUSHROOMS AND GOAT CHEESE

12 ounces fresh mushrooms (I used a combination of white and brown)
large clove of garlic
1 red bell pepper, sliced into long strips
Olive oil
salt and pepper
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh
2 ounces mild goat cheese
2 ounces yogurt (I used an artisanal sheep's-milk yogurt for more flavor)

1. Rinse and dry the mushrooms (or just wipe them if you don't believe in washing mushrooms, an approach that has never excited me since I know where they've been), and slice them thickly. Sautee the mushrooms, red pepper strips and smashed garlic clove in olive oil (if you're watching calories, you can get away with no more than 1 tablespoon in a nonstick pan, adding a little water during the process if things get too dry).

2. Mix the goat cheese and yogurt together and slice the mozzarella into thin rounds.

3. Arrange the mozzarella rounds neatly on the pizza, and spread on the goat-cheese and yogurt mix. Top with the sauteed mushrooms and peppers. Bake as directed.

TOPPING III: FLAMMENKUCHEN

1/2 cup sour cream (I used a "light" version to save calories, but would avoid the no-fat variety)
1 egg
6 strips cooked bacon
1 large red onion, sliced into thin rings
salt and pepper

1. Stir the egg with a fork until it's slightly frothy, and stir it in to the sour cream. Spread it on the pizza dough.

2. Cover with the sliced onions and sprinkle on the bacon, crumbled into small bits.

3. Bake. Note that this variation, because of the cream, requires a different approach to avoid scorching: Put the pizza in a COLD oven, set the heat to 300F (150C) and cook for 15 minutes; then increase heat to 400F (200C) and cook for another 15 minutes or until the crust edge is golden brown. Keep an eye on it as it may not need that much time.

MATCHING WINE:

For pizza in general, I've always leaned toward Italian reds, just because, well, they're Italian. But I've recently begun noticing that Argentine Malbec makes a remarkably good pizza wine; so does Zinfandel. In both cases, it seems to be the open, forward fruitiness that makes these wines sing with pizza, particularly when there are tomatoes and cheese in the equation.

The mushroom and goat cheese topping would normally make me think of a Pinot Noir, but a Malbec that I expected to be earthy (the Altos Las Hormigas featured in today's Wine Advisor) made an outstanding match.

And the Flammenkuchen joined a marriage made in Heaven with an Alsatian Riesling, the 1999 Trimbach.

If you would like to review the responses posted when we asked "What wine with pizza" in our Wine Lovers' Voting Booth, click to the results page,
http://www.wineloverspage.com/votebooth/ans20020125.shtml.

You're invited to visit our interactive forums

Even when I'm traveling, the interactive communities in our online forums keep going strong. I hope you'll drop by regularly for a visit. There's always something interesting going on in all our forums, which are indexed at
http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/.
Or you can go directly to the Food Lovers' Discussion Group at
http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=2.
I hope to see you there, and if you visit, please feel free to join right in to any discussion topic, or click the NEW TOPIC button to introduce yourself and say hello.

Let us hear from you!

If you have suggestions or comments about The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter, or if you would like to suggest a topic for a coming edition and recipe, please drop me a note. I really enjoy hearing from you, and I try to give a personal reply to all mail if I possibly can. The Ask A Question form at http://www.wineloverspage.com/ask_a_question.phtml is the easiest way to reach me, but if you prefer, you may also send E-mail to wine@wineloverspage.com.

Administrivia

This is The 30 Second Wine Advisor's weekly FoodLetter. To subscribe or unsubscribe, change your E-mail address, or for any other administrative matters, click to http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/admin.phtml. In all administrative communications, please be sure to include the exact E-mail address that you used when you subscribed, so we can find your record.

For more about food and wine, you're invited to visit us at http://www.WineLoversPage.com, and to join in the interactive online community in our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=2.

Thursday, March 14, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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