Sunday, February 17, 2013

State-by-State Redux: VIII of X - The New England and Northeastern States Revisited - Youse call this pizza!?

As I cross the Mason-Dixon for the final regional post for this series, I think I finally have a handle on just what constitutes "Northeastern food".  A lot of it is tied to New England, but even when it isn't (New York, New Jersey and so on), immigrant foods come quickly to mind, for example: Irish, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Portuguese, Polish, German, Jewish, Chinese, among many others.  And of course, Italian.

Snacking State-by-State Redux VIII of X: The New England and Northeastern States

What are the Northeastern States?: always includes the New England states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut) and upper Mid-Atlantic states (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania); sometimes includes Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, West Virginia and northern Virginia
Important Cities: Arlington, Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Charleston, Dover, Harrisburg, Hartford, Manchester, Montpelier, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, Providence, Springfield, Trenton, Washington, Wilmington
Regions and Subregions: Appalachia, Mid-Atlantic, New England
RAFT NationsChestnut (southern West Virginia, northern Virginia, District of Columbia, central Maryland, southeastern Pennsylvania), Crabcake (Chesapeake Bay coastline, Susquehanna River), Clambake (Delaware & eastern half of Delmarva penninsula, Philadelphia area, New Jersey, New York City, southern and coastal New England, coastal New Brunswick and the Canadian Maritime provinces), Maple Syrup (northern West Virginia and western Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, northern New England, southern Québec, New Brunswick); Wild Rice (Great Lakes coast of Pennsylvania & New York, southern Ontario)
Foods the Region is Best Known For: Ethnic European immigrant foods throughout the major cities and coastal areas (especially Italian, Irish, Polish, German, Russian, Jewish, Portuguese in New England); Canadian / French Canadian and WASP / "Yankee" foods in parts of New England (including clam and lobster chowders, sweet cornbreads, pies, baked beans, Whoopie pies); maple syrup, fiddlehead ferns, pizza; Appalachian foods in western Pennsylvania, western Maryland, West Virginia; foods of the Upper South in states below the Mason-Dixon Line (especially spoonbreads, less sweet cornbreads, fried chicken, etc); oysters, blue crabs; multicultural offerings in the largest cities (metro areas of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore & Washington / Northern Virginia)

New Yorkers are rabid over their pizzas, or as they call them, "pies".  And they are quick to let you know that they do not approve of  your pies.  (Now let's see y'all try to make a crab cake, but I digress).  Apparently there's something in the water in the Big Apple - not my words, folks - that makes the pie crust up there so tasty!  So I set out to make an actual New York-style pie crust.

As you'll see, I am no good at getting them flat, so I wind up with something super puffy instead.  Perhaps this might be due to my dividing the dough and making two smaller pizzas.  You see, the other pizza was not a New York-style pizza, but a New Haven (as in Connecticut)-style clam pizza.  Yes, I'm trying to cover all the bases in the Northeast, and these two pies seemed like a reasonable set of bases to steal.

Note that you can find the typical tomato and mozzarella pies in New Haven, but the clam pizza is what they are best known for.  Not sure how the two are different?  Here's a comparison.

Classic New York style pizza pie (I got this information from J. Kenji López-Alt [2010], who laid out in gory detail the basics in making a classic New York-style pizza pie):
  • A slow-simmered tomato sauce.  It's easiest just to make this one yourself.
  • Grated block of mozzarella cheese - never the soft, fancy kind.  Plus, exactly as he put it [2010], "you must grate it yourself". Never ever buy the pre-shredded kind.  Why? Because pre-shredded mozzarella is typically covered in potato starch or cornstarch to help avoid clumping (yum, corn in my cheese.  It really is in everything).  Freeze the cheese for a few minutes after grating and apply just before baking for best melting.
  • Pizza crust contains sugar.  Just a little for sweetness.
  • Once baked, the crust should be crispy on the bottom and chewy just above that.  The outer rim of crust should be a little higher than the middle.
While most pizza chefs do not do this, López-Alt found a lot of success in getting the tastiest dough not by using the ever-versatile Kitchen Aid, which can be used for absolutely anything short of finding life on Mars (scratch that: they probably have an attachment for that, too), but instead his food processor.  Zuh? López-Alt explains why, according to Peter Reinhart's American Pie:
[Reinhart's] method is to mix together the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, olive oil, and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer, knead it slowly for a couple minutes, then allow it to rest for a few minutes in a step called an autolyse. Autolysis allows time for flour to absorb water, and for the gluten-forming proteins to shorten themselves through enzymatic action, allowing them to be more easily aligned and stretched with subsequent mixing.  
The dough is then kneaded again until enough gluten is developed to pass the window-pane test [taking a small ball of dough and stretching it between your fingers until you get an almost translucent "window-pane" through which you can see your fingers if you tap them right behind it], allowed to rise overnight in the refrigerator, then shaped, proofed, rolled, and baked. [López-Alt 2010]
When you make pizza dough in the stand mixer, however, the flavor is kind of off - not bad, but not "New York-flavored pizza".  López-Alt reasons that the culprit is something that you simply can't control for with the Kitchen Aid: a dough ball of minimal size with maximum exposure to air.  Instead, as he and his sources suggest, the food processor pulses everything together much faster with far less exposure to the air.  His results when he tried the food processor method?  The dough not only passed that window-pane test but tasted much more like a typical New York pizza pie.

Classic New Haven style clam a-pizz (what a Nutmegger typically calls "pizza") is a bit different, in a few key ways, as Roadfood's Michael Stern [2010] spells out in his typically rapturous description of a-pizz from Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven:
  • The crust is Napoletana-style, as Stern puts it (I love how he puts this, by the way): "thin but not brittle, with a real bready flavor. Cooked at high temperature on the brick floor of the ancient oven, it is dark around its burnished gold edge, and there is a good chew to every bite" [2010]
  • No mozzarella.  Though they do eat mozzarella on many different types of pizza, these New Havenites will just shake their heads if you try to put any of that on a clam pizza.  A little grated Romano isn't so bad though [Gourmet 1995]
  • Use clams that are fresh as possible.  I didn't shuck my own, but instead of the "Chicken of the Sea in a can" I wanted at least some good clams from New England, so I got a tub of some frozen ones caught in Massachusetts.
  • Also spread some cornmeal on your pizza peel (the big wooden paddle you will use to slide your pizza onto your pizza stone)  This will help it slide off the peel easily, so you won't actually have to peel it off [Gourmet 1995]
I did have one problem in making these pizzas, as you will see below: I have never been able to get nice, thin crust.  It always puffs up like an elephant ear for me.  This will likely have to do with dividing half a recipe of pizza dough into two smaller pieces of dough, and stretching them out as much as possible, then not poking any holes in the bottom.  Still, my end result was satisfying.

This recipe from Gourmet magazine [1995] ended up as the basis for my New Haven style clam pizza.  I followed López-Alt's [2010] to make the New York style one, as well as his pizza dough recipe.

There are two final things you will definitely need if you want as close a New York or New Haven style pizza as possible (I have alluded to these above): the pizza peel and the pizza stone.  The peel (about $10 to $20 typically - don't spend more) when covered with cornmeal will make the uncooked pizza slide easily onto the other thing you need.  This is a pizza stone (anywhere from $15 to $30 - I borrowed my mother's cheap one from Aldi's which still worked fine).  This can be the round kind you buy in many supermarkets today or even unglazed quarry tile from the Home Depot (check out Marye Audet's Green Living Tips column at the TLC website for how to get great pizza stone tiles at Home Depot for all of five bucks [2012]). You will want this because it distributes the heat evenly and ensures a crisp crust.  You don't want to use a pizza pan for this, but bake directly on the stone.  And you must make sure to put the pizza stone into the oven before you turn on the heat!  Let the stone heat with the oven.  If you try to put it into a hot oven, it will shatter.

The Recipes: Traditional New York Pizza and New Haven Clam Pizza

First, we start with the dough.

The Recipe: New York Style Pizza Dough

For this good all-around pizza dough I assembled the following, all of which I had on hand.  Exact measurements are in López-Alt's recipe, which I halved:

* hard flour (bread flour works best - do not use a soft, cake flour.  You're not making cupcakes here)
* dry active yeast (I had a packet on hand.  For his full recipe, you'll probably use a whole packet)
* olive oil
* sugar (just a little - again, not making cupcakes)
* kosher salt
* water

You should also have a gallon ziplocked bag in which to store the dough, and extra flour (this time it can be soft) to flour the surface.  A rolling pin isn't a bad idea (though it is technically cheating), and something to poke holes into the crust (which I did not use, but really should have) - that would keep it from rising as much as it did on me, though getting it thinner would've helped too.  And that one's totally on me.

I went ahead and tried the food processor method for making the dough - something my sister may not forgive since she often makes the dough in her Kitchen Aid.  First you add together the flour, sugar and salt.

Then add the yeast.

Pulse it together until mixed.

Next add the olive oil...

...and the water.

And combine until the dough starts to ball up.

I had to add a little extra water in the end.

Punch it and roll it into a ball.  Mark it with a B.  Oh, sorry, childhood flashback.  Scratch that last part.

Put it in a ziplocked bag to let rise overnight in the fridge.

This is what I had when I put it in the refrigerator.

And this is what I got a day later. When I was ready to assemble the pizzas, I put the dough in the oven while it was off to rise just a little bit more.  I got some nice bulk there.

As you can see, my pizza dough doesn't exactly pass the "window pane test".  This will have ramifications in getting my dough thinner.  Perhaps it needs to rise more?  Or maybe I just need to knead it better?  Anyway, I was working on a schedule here, so I would have to live with this effort.

I divided the dough to make my two mini-pizzas, and got ready to assemble.

That was actually the difficult part.  The easy part comes in assembling your pizza pies.  First, the New York style.

The Recipe: New York Style Pizza

First, the sauce - again, López-Alt's recipe, which I did not cut in half this time.  I figured I'd save the rest, or use it as spaghetti sauce.  It makes a very nice spaghetti sauce.

* tomatoes (canned San Marzanos will work nicely here.  I wanted the whole ones - about $4 for a 28 ounce can)
* butter (had Kerrygold.  Don't twist my arm by making me eat the good Irish butter)
* olive oil (had it)
* sugar (same)
* dried oregano (had it too)
* garlic (and this)
* onion (very cheap from the store)
* chili flakes
* basil (I bought a little plant grown locally - okay, the Shenandoah Valley, so relatively locally - that is on my windowsill right now, for about $4

Crush your tomatoes, or blend them in the blender or with a hand blender (finally busting out the one I bought reduced at Super Fresh when they were closing down)

Grate your garlic on a grater, or else very finely mince it.

Next, melt your butter together with your olive oil in a saucepan.

Once melted, add the garlic and brown but don't let burn.

Add the maters and all other ingredients (I only added most of the basil here, and held off until the last few minutes to add the rest, to make it even more "basil-y").  Note: when adding your onion, you will not mince or chop it, but cut it in half and just throw it in.

Let simmer for at least an hour, or until reduced by half.

Again, I added the last bit of basil at the end.

Spoon out the onion when ready to use.

When ready to begin assembling the pizza, put your pizza stone into a cold oven.  Then turn it to about 500°.

For the New York style pizza itself, you need

* the sauce you just made, plus
* the dough you just made, and
* pre-packaged mozzarella cheese - neither the shredded kind nor the fresh kind.  I used Polly-O, which set me back about $4 to $5

Grate your block of mozzarella into a bowl.

Pop it in the freezer for at least 15 minutes.  This will help it to melt at just the right time in the oven.

Now for the dough.  Flatten it on a floured surface...

...and stretch it out as best you can.  Mine kept on tearing here and there (again, looks like something got lost in the translation, but happens to me even with pre-bought pizza dough).  I may be impatient, and perhaps I just didn't have enough dough (or the dough wasn't elastic enough) but with hand-stretching this is as stretchy as it got for me.

So I broke out the rolling pin.  I still could only get it to about 8 - 10".  So I wasn't exactly going for mini-pizzas, but I got mini-pizzas.

Spread cornmeal all over your pizza peel.

Plop the dough on top of it, and spread tomato sauce over the dough, leaving about an inch margin around the sides.

Cover that with the mozzarella.

Slide the pizza off the peel and onto your pizza stone (here is where the cornmeal really helps).

And bake for about 12 to 15 minutes.

You will probably get a pizza that isn't nearly as puffy as this one.

From the side, the cheese and sauce melted together nicely.  And while the flavor and texture of the dough were to my liking, again the thickness was a notable setback.

The New Haven style pizza - again from Gourmet magazine [1995] - is a bit different, but even easier to assemble.  I used the

 The Recipe: New Haven Style Clam Pizza

* pizza dough (the other half of the dough I made earlier.  Of course, already stretch this out and put on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel).  
* Oh yes, you need a little more cornmeal.
* garlic (chopped - actually, I ended up using the garlic paste from Trader Joe's)
* olive oil
* dried oregano
* Romano cheese (not mozzarella.  You will grate this yourself.  This wedge was about $7 per pound, and cost me about $4)
* chopped fresh clams (about $6 for the frozen New England kind.  Try to avoid the stuff in a can.)

Mix together the olive oil and garlic, and then chill.  Awww yeah.

Spread the garlic oil on your flattened, stretched out pizza dough.

Top all over with clams and some of the clam liquor.

Sprinkle on top the oregano...

...and the grated Romano cheese.

Bake, again, at 500° for about 15 minutes.

And again, it came out not exactly round or flat.

However, I was again pleased with the texture and flavor of the dough.  The topping was just as satisfying.

So my first attempt at making both New York pizza and New Haven clam pizza wasn't completely a bust.  The New York style's tomato and cheese really were as I have remembered many a pizzeria-bought pizza pie: deliciously chewy cheese on top of a tangy, intense tomato sauce.  The New Haven clam pizza was something new for me: the garlic and clams meld together wonderfully on top of a soft bed of dough.  And speaking of which: the only thing that went against me was the dough.  I should have worked harder at making it thinner.  But it tasted and felt delicious (I guess the food processor method works).  However, if thickness is my only problem then I'll take it.

- - - - -

That's the last regional post for this series. We have two more to go in this series.  The last one will deal with an All-American Classic (or two).  But first, a side trip to the local Chinese take-out for, believe it or not, another All-American Classic.  At least it should be, since like most Chinese takeout dishes, next week's dish cannot be found anywhere in actual China.


Audet, Marye.  "DIY: Make a Homemade Pizza Stone for $5 Dollars".  "Planet Green" column, TLC, 2012.  Copyright 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC, all rights reserved.

Gourmet.  "New Haven-Style Clam Pizza".  March 1995.  Posted on the Epicurious website.  Copyright 2012 Condé Nast, all rights reserved.

López-Alt, J. Kenji.  "The Pizza Lab: New York Style Pizza at Home (Or How I Became a Food Processor Convert)".  "The Pizza Lab" column, Serious Eats.  Posted October 29, 2010.

López-Alt, J. Kenji.  "New York Style Pizza".  "The Food Lab" column, Serious Eats.  Posted October 29, 2010.

López-Alt, J. Kenji. "New York Style Pizza Sauce".  "The Pizza Lab" column, Serious Eats.  Posted October 7, 2010.

Stern, Michael.  "Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana".  Roadfood.  Posted June 29, 2010.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia and from the Food Timeline State Foods webpage.