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Champion dishes on his recipes

Gemignani releases first pizza cookbook


March 24, 2008
By Cam Wood

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At first glance, Tony Gemignani’s venture into the publishing world may seem a touch … well … intimidating.

Gemignani releases first pizza cookbook

At first glance, Tony Gemignani’s venture into the publishing world may seem a touch … well … intimidating.

After all, the Californian is not only a six-time world champion pizza acrobat, but he also has quite a reputation for his culinary skills post-pie throw. So, to thumb through the 60-plus recipes contained in Pizza, might scare off any fledgling pizzaiolo.

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did you know?
book
• The most popular filling in a Chicago-style pizza isn’t meat; it’s spinach.
• Tony’s Famous Cholula Spicy Chicken pizza started out as a prank on one of his drivers that complained his pies were never spicy enough.
• Fontina Val d’Aosta is one of the oldest cheeses in Italy.
• Neapolitan pizzaiolo Robert Caporuscio, of Pittsburgh, PA, uses a wood oven burning at 1000 F, taking no more than one minute to bake a pizza.
• New York City’s Gennaro Lombardi is credited with being the first pizzaiolo to bring pizza to North America. He immigrated to America in 1895, and opened Lombardi’s on Spring Street in 1905.
• New York is still the home to some coal-fired ovens, grandfathered in when restaurant laws changed.
• Rolling two wheels of dough on their edges in opposite directions along the length of each arm and behind the head is known in pizza acrobat circles as “the Gemignani.”
• The restaurant Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island, is credited with being the birthplace of grilled pizza.

But on thorough reading, Gemignani and co-author Diane Morgan, present a culinary collection encompassing almost every taste and skill level in pizza. From traditional Italian recipes, through the ’burbs of New York and Chicago’s deep-dish passion, the book arrives in the southwest style of California, providing enough interest for any pizza lover. There are even a handful of non-traditional pies to whet the adventurous appetite.

For those of us in the pizza industry, we know how serious a competitor Gemignani can be – on stage and in the kitchen. His passion for pizza is matched perfectly with Morgan’s background in food writing and culinary talents. Scott Peterson has brought the writers’ recipes to life with his photography, leaving the reader salivating from the read and anxious to slap out the dough.
Pizza is geared toward the home kitchen, but there is no shortage of recipes that could easily find their way onto a bigger menu.

The only downfall that may be found in the book is being able to source some of the ingredients for the pies. However, that speaks more about access to quality produce in this part of the country than it does about the authors’ choices for the book. Some better-stocked urban grocery stores may have more extensive produce selection … but seeing that most of them now compete directly with Canadian pizzaiolos, a strong recommendation is to wander through some of the country’s finest farmers’ markets.

First up on the table was my own recipe for bruschetta (pronounced brus-_ket.ta) pizza. And while the appetizer hailing from central Italy has been a traditional dish in North American restaurants for decades, it seems to be a gaining trend in Canadian pizzerias, as a pizza offering on garlic-rubbed pies as opposed to Italian bread.

A recipe for Bosc pears, provolone and Gorgonzola as a second appetizer followed this. (See page 47 for recipe).

I then chose to cast aside any trepidation and went for the challenge of Gemignani and Morgan’s grilled pizza. The uniqueness appealed to the “foodie” in me, and provided an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that pizza can be a summertime dish without cranking up the household oven.

Their grilled Canadian bacon with pineapple, poblano peppers and mozzarella barely made my serving table as grilled pizza certainly seemed to be a novelty in these parts. Of course, reading through the book, you’ll learn that grilled pizza originated at Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island. Owners George Germon and Johanne Killeen started grilling pizzas in the restaurant back in the 1980s. Morgan dines there frequently, and took a course from Germon on pizza grilling.

The major difference in grilling versus baking pizza is that, in the author’s preference, grilled pies are first grilled on one side, flipped, topped and then grilled again.

The hardest ingredient to source (keeping in mind this is geared to the consumer side, as opposed to our professional kitchens) was the poblano peppers. A fortunate find at the farmers’ market, but you can substitute the poblano with the milder green pepper.

Prior to putting my dough onto the grill, I had pre-grilled the bacon, pineapple slices and oiled the grill to prevent the dough from sticking. The peppers, however, were subjected to a slightly different process – see the sidebar Culinary Pyromania.

Grilling pizza takes a bit of planning, as once the pie goes on the barbecue; time is of the essence to achieve something edible. The authors are pretty clear that the key is to have all the ingredients portioned and organized at the side of the grill. Also, a metal peel or a rimless baking sheet is a “must-have” in this process.

The authors recommend grilling one side until a crust forms and light grill marks are present, and then flipping, topping as quickly as possible and returning the pie to the barbecue. It also takes a great deal of monitoring, as grilled pizza can burn very quickly. The goal is to reach a point where the cheese is just beginning to melt nicely.

Keeping the barbecue theme going, but returning to the more traditional home-cooking method of the oven, next up was the final pie from Gemignani and Morgan’s book – the California-styled barbecued chicken, cheddar, onion, bell pepper and BBQ sauce pizza.

The guests I had invited for the pizza soiree were appropriately impressed with the combination of the initial sweetness of the pie, followed by the “bite” of the barbecue sauce and a touch of tang from the peppers. The authors don’t recommend any one particular sauce, although Morgan favours a Kansas City-based brand that became a family favourite. In honour of that flavour, I opted for a bottled Canadian version of Kansas City smoked sauce.

Pizza has the potential to fill out any menu, whether in the home kitchen or on the menu board. The catch for the professional pizzaiolo is to find a recipe in the book that will add some flavour to their offerings and extend their brand reputation further.

The concept of Pizza is sound, bringing a collection of pies from pretty much every avenue of taste to sate the appetite and enough background information to understand the industry and history. The recipes range from simplistic to exceptionally challenging. Of course, the real challenge to any pizzaiolo who wants to take on these world-class pies is where to begin.

As for me, I’m going to see what the hype is about Tony’s World Famous Cholula Spicy Chicken Pizza. Apparently it’s a little warm.•

To purchase a copy of Pizza by Diane Morgan and Tony Gemignani, call the Annex bookstore at 877-267-3473, or visit through www.annexbookstore.com .


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