I’m on a diet meal plan. As it turns out, when you quit smoking, you eat your feelings. And those feelings aren’t carrots and green smoothies. They are more like Cheetos and Spam. Regardless of the extra weight, I feel better after quitting and am glad I did it. Six months! [Editor’s note: Woot!] And, the meal plan is not so bad. I’ve found a few substitutes (like spiralized zucchini “spaghetti” and lean meatballs) that have changed how I look at food.
However, nothing will change how I look at pizza. Pizza is not on the plan, but the reason the meal plan works is because it has a little wiggle room. And pretty much all of my wiggle room goes to pizza. I am shocked by how much I crave pizza. I actually made my wife look at pictures of pizza on my phone the other day. But, we went out for pizza on our anniversary this year, so she’s totally with me on this whole pizza thing.
There’s a guy in Seattle that makes ridiculous pizza. His name is Brandon Pettit and he just opened his second pizza place in town, Dino’s Tomato Pie. If you are not familiar with his other pizza place, Delancey, I highly recommend checking out the book as well as the restaurant. And, his wife is Molly Wizenberg whose writing and blog Orangette we love here at Sur La Table. And, my buddy Graham Elliott (not that one) is the kitchen manager.
While you can get a larger version of the Delancey/round pizza at Dino’s, their specialty is the square pie insired by Di Fara in Brooklyn. Brandon and Graham were kind enough to spend some time talking about what they do, pizza in general, and some of the equipment it takes to make great pizza.
Let’s just get this out of the way; you cannot make a pizza like Dino’s at home (unless you have a giant, brick pizza oven, in which case I want to be you). You just need to go out to your favorite pizza place and appreciate what they do. You can, however, still make really good pizza at home if you pay attention to a few key details.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived was Graham working with the dough. Before it is individually portioned on to their specially made carbon steel pans (we’ll get back to these in a minute), the dough is a day old and already risen twice before it’s used for pizza. Graham was carefully poking the dough into the pan. Not stretching and pulling it to fit the pan, but poking it. He explained that it creates the texture, but does not push the air out of the dough. The texture in the pan is an important part of the final product, as it establishes the peaks and valleys that create the leopard-print finish on the pie as it cooks.
Back to the carbon steel pans. When I asked Brandon what his favorite tool/equipment was at Dino’s, he immediately said, “Carbon steel pans.” I’m familiar with carbon steel knives and how they are different, but I was not at all familiar with carbon steel pans. Brandon describes them as, “Similar to cast iron, in that they need to be seasoned.” The more the pans are used, the darker they become, and the better they are at crisping the bottom and edges of the pizza. I will definitely be getting some carbon steel pans to experiment with in the very near future.
The ovens. The top ovens are used for the round pizza and cook at around 700°F. The bottom ovens are for the square pies and cook at around 650°F. This is much hotter than residential ovens and one of the reasons you can’t make pizza exactly like this at home. The good news: baking steel. Brandon explained that, “Pizza stones work by pulling moisture from the dough. Which is great for cooking a pizza in three minutes. I would tell my friends to cook their pizza on a 1/2 sheet pan on top of a stone.” A home oven takes longer than three minutes, he said that cooking on a baking steel gives you great texture, without drying our your dough. Also when talking about temperature, Brandon reached over and grabbed a hand-held infrared thermometer to check the temp on the pizza. Which made me realize, I can’t live another day without my own laser gun thermometer. Done. (Seriously, I cannot wait to use this for BBQ.)
I started my conversation with Brandon by asking what makes Dino’s pizza so amazing? Without even thinking about it, Brandon said, “Quality of ingredients and balance.” Quality and balance. That sounds as complicated as it does simple. As much a lifestyle philosophy as a recipe for anything remarkable. Not to get all metaphysical, but, that is great advice however you apply it. But especially when applied to pizza at Dino’s.
Thanks again, Brandon and Graham!
Do you have any tips for making pizza at home?
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