New York is a pizza town. Just ask our recently elected mayor, Bill di Blasio. Shortly after he took office, he travelled to Staten Island, a borough well-known for the stuff, where he took out a knife and fork to eat his pizza. You would have thought the man had committed an impeachable offense. It must have been particularly hard on the mayor whose Italian credentials are impeccable. He was born Warren Wilhelm Jr. He changed his name to incorporate that of his mother becoming first Warren di Blasio-Wilhelm and later just Bill di Blasio. His mother was one only two Italian Americans in her Smith College class of 1938. And he speaks fluent Italian. But when he chose to eat pizza with a knife and fork, they almost ran him off Staten Island.
|How to eat pizza without|
a knife or a fork.
Pizza is Italy’s, of more specifically Naples’ gift to the world. And I am here to tell you that Italians may talk with their hands but they eat their food with knives and forks. In Naples, pizza is always eaten with a knife and fork, especially when seated at a restaurant. Dispensation from cutlery is only given when the pizza is being eaten standing up at a bar or counter. Perhaps from the latter settings, New Yorkers imported their penchant for doing away with any utensils. Instead, the pizza is folded in the hand so that the tip goes into the mouth and the rest is bitten into on the way down the wedge. (See illustration above).
|Deep Dish Chicago Style…Pizza or Cake |
|Fast Food Pizza |
To me, pizza is the most perfect food on earth. It combines vegetables, protein, dairy and carbohydrates in an infinite variety of flavors for every conceivable taste. I am not alone. According to a recent article in the New York Times, 40 billion dollars a year is spent in this country alone on pizza. I’ve lived in New York for a very long time and I’ve travelled all over this country and eaten pizza. My advice would be once you leave the east coast, don’t bother until you get to California. In Chicago, they’ve managed to create something called a ‘deep dish pizza’ which is basically a heavy, thick, gigantic piece of doughy bread with toppings on it. Awful. California is home to, among others, Wolfgang Puck who basically reinvented pizza topping it with ingredients Neapolitans would never even recognize. Most parts of the country are pizza wastelands with fast food joints disguised as pizza parlors. Fast food pizza is the stuff you see on television commercials. Who ever told anyone to stuff cheese into the crust? Then again, who has ever eaten one of their pies with anywhere near as much cheese as their TV spots would indicate. The magic of television gives a completely false impression of what may be called “pizza” out in the hinterlands. All fast food pizza has in common with great pizza is the cardboard box they’re delivered in.
|“Moonrock Bagel Pizza”|
I don’t think so.
As you can imagine, when Trader Joe’s latest Fearless Flyer touting its “Out of This World Pizza Edition” appeared in our post box, I was skeptical to say the least. I wondered how Trader’s Joe’s offerings would stand up to the heat in our kitchen. There certainly was variety. There were frozen organic pizza crusts, refrigerated pizza dough in Regular, Whole Wheat and Garlic and Herb. There was a suggestion to use Frozen Naan, that delicious Indian flat bread, as a pizza crust. There was also something called the “Moonrock Bagel Pizza” which TJ’s suggested could be topped with all of 5 different ingredients. Talk about a heavy bagel. There were also suggested toppings of multiple kinds of cheese, sausages, chicken strips, prosciutto, pepperoni, pesto, black olives, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes and on and on. Finally for the completely uninspired and terminally lazy, there was a trove of already-topped frozen pizzas in their freezer case. I ruled these out altogether because, in a moment of weakness, I had once brought one of their frozen offerings home and hated its glutenous dough. But I hadn’t tried the other offerings. I decided we’d have a weekend of pizza tastings at our house. Well, that is to say I would make 3 kinds of pizzas using 3 of their crusts and some of their suggested toppings. Here are the results.
The first TJ’s crust I tried was frozen Trader Giotto’s Organic Pizza Crusts. Two of them came in a 14.1 ounce package for $2.49. These were ‘personal sized’. Not big enough for two but quite adequate for one. “Trader Giotto” makes a big deal out of how they worked with an Italian supplier to create this crust. They certainly made it simple enough. You load the top of the still frozen pie with whatever you have in mind. Into the oven they go only to emerge at very few minutes later. For our toppings, I wanted to see if I could come close to one of Andrew and my favorite pies, the “Parma” from World Pie in Bridgehampton NY. The original “Parma” consists of tomato sauce topped with pesto, slices of
prosciutto and lots of shredded mozzarella. TJ’s Genova Pesto is the traditional blend of basil, garlic, nuts, Parmesan and Oil at 2.49 for 7 oz. . Their prosciutto is American made which is why it can be sold at 3.99 for four ounces, plenty for two pizzas. Finally, TJ’s shredded Mozzarella, the classic pizza cheese is 3.99 for 16 ounces. In error, I left off the tomato sauce but the result was remarkably flavorful and crisp. I am a huge lover of thin crust pizza, which this is, but it isn’t “Moderately chewy” or “light, airy” as TJ’s promised. But altogether it was certainly passable and very easy to make.
Next up was the pizza dough from the refrigerator case, $1.19 for a 16 oz ‘bag o dough’. Of the three varieties available, I went for the Regular, which is what we generally order in. This pizza I chose to top with Trader Joe’s Pizza Sauce. (16 oz. $1.99) Where Trader Giotto disappeared to in this incarnation, I am not sure. The dough was not the easiest thing to handle and Andrew and I were incapable of making a nice big round. We also could not get it to roll out as thin as we
might have liked it. Instead we used the back of a sheet pan, dusted with corn meal–a trick we learned from the exemplary “Two Boots”, one of our favorite New York pizzerias. We ended up with a rectangular pie. I must say this was delicious. The Pizza sauce is fairly sweet but for this pie TJ’s Quattro Formaggio Shredded Cheese (4.99 for 12 ounces.) counter-balanced the sauce nicely. It combines Asiago, Fontina, Parmagiano and Mild Provolone and it’s a great melting cheese. We had some asparagus which we also added and we finished up the prosciutto from our first pie to top this one. It puffed up and tasted the most like a really good pizza parlor pizza.
The last experiment was the simplest. I used one of the three flavors of Naan, that fragrant Indian flatbread that TJs sells frozen. Covered with a good bit of Quattro Formaggio, and served with an Indian curry, it was an excellent starch and a little surprise in an Indian meal.
So how do TJ’s Pizza offerings hold up? As I said, I wouldn’t bother with their considerable stock of pre-made frozen pizzas. I’d give a ‘meh’ to the frozen organic crust. But all the toppings we tried were good to very good and the refrigerated crust would be hard to beat if I made my own. Finally the Naan is a very simple way to add an exotic take on pizza to any meal. Enjoy!