Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Easy Yet Indulgent Dinner: Deep-Dish Pizza, California Style

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Land of endless sunshine, delicious produce, and our new home.

It's been quite a first week here in the Golden State; unpacking, learning where grocery stores and farmer's markets are, avoiding rattlesnakes, and shaking off the jet lag. As the Pasta Burner and I adjust to the SoCal lifestyle, one of my favorite maxims has held true -- one of the best ways to learn about any place is to experience its food.

We could start with the entire concept of MexiCali cooking -- to be honest, the topic deserves its own blog -- an intoxicating melisma of flavors that just one word can't possibly hope to capture.

Then again, what about focusing on the fresh-first school of food pioneered by Jeremiah Tower's California Cuisine in the 1970s?

And let's not forget about the laid-back, anything-goes West Coast approach to curb-side food stands and mobile kitchens; not the fetishized, ritualistic obsessions of Greenmarket devotees, but a belief that delicious food is delicious food, new flavor combinations should be explored simply because they can, and that 79-cent per pound mystery-sourced pork shoulder can taste as good if not better than its grass-fed artisan cousin when it's been cooked by the right hands.

Of course, all of these movements are built on the unbelievable produce out here, which speaks for itself, quite loud and clear.

Needless to say, I think I'm going to be very happy here. Go west, young man, indeed.

But what I'm going to write about today (and I apologize for the lengthy, if enthusiastic introduction), presenting Burning Pasta's first recipe in its new home, is a story that tips my hat to a bona fide California obsession -- pizza -- with a glimpse back at one of the restaurants I wish I didn't have to leave behind in Philadelphia.

While California-style pizza is traditionally based on the thin-crust NY/NJ model, one of my favorite pies in Philadelphia is the deep-dish monster served up by Jose Garces at his eponymous Garces Trading Company. Based upon a slow-simmered tomato confit, Garces, a Chicago native, took his home-town's favorite food, cut down on the dough, upped the cheese, and created an unctuous, stomach-filling pie that fills up even the hardiest belly with only a slice or two.

While Garces' deep-dish had made a believer out of me (that being said, I still think the best pizza on Earth is served at Mack and Manco's, 12th and Boardwalk, Ocean City, NJ), I had been thinking, even before we moved, about a way to get the same flavor out of a lighter, fresher, more...dare I say, Californian structure. Today then, I'm serving up my take on Garces' take on Chicago deep-dish. Perhaps there's something to this anything-goes vibe out here.

Let's get to the recipe.

Deep-Dish Pizza, California Style
From an idea by Jose Garces, and with a tip of the hat to David Liebovitz
Serves 6

12 Cups Canned San Marzano Tomatoes, chopped and drained
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
10 Leaves fresh Basil, plus extra for garnish
1 teaspoon Oregano
4 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon freshly-cracked Black Pepper

1 Packaged Pie Crust
1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon sugar
4 Tablespoons Sweet Cream Butter
1/8-1/4 Cup Water

1 Pound Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 Pound Goat Cheese

1 Orange Bell Pepper
8 oz. Crimini Mushrooms
(or other toppings of your choice)

Start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees F.

Next, chop and drain your tomatoes. Place them in a deep, wide pot, and pour in your olive oil. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After 20 minutes, chiffonade and add in five leaves of the basil, the oregano, the garlic, the kosher salt, and the black pepper. Let simmer for an additional 10 minutes, or until the confit thickens.

[Editor's Note: If you'd like a thicker, jammier filling, add in a small can of tomato paste at this point. If you do this, you make need to up the amount of salt as well.]

In the meanwhile, prepare your crust. One of the things that makes this recipe is that it uses a lighter, almost pastry-like crust, instead of a thick, chewy, traditional pizza dough. I totally, absolutely cheat here, and just use packaged pie crust. It works great and saves you a lot of trouble. If you're a purist, and you absolutely must make your own, go ahead. Lay the dough into a mid-sized casserole dish (mine was 9" x 9" x 3"), and stretch it until it just reaches the top of the pan. Feel free to snap off little bits here and there to patch holes. Set the dish aside.

Finally, add in your peppers and mushrooms (or other "toppings") to the confit, and cover it with a lid. Let it simmer for 10 more minutes.

While the veggies cook, slice up your mozzarella into 1/2-inch disks, and pack them in a tight layer along the bottom of your casserole. Feel free to cut larger pieces up to fill in holes -- this is the insulation that will keep your pie water-tight.

By now, your confit should be totally cooked. Drain the liquid -- and I do mean all the liquid -- off from the solids. In fact, if you have a large object handy (a metal spatula will do), press down on the veggies to extract any extra liquid. Juice that gets left behind will mean sloppy, soggy pizza. After you're satisfied with the drainage, scoop that delicious filling into your casserole dish. Cover the top with little chunks of the goat cheese, and the rest of the chiffonaded basil.

Place the whole deal into your oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the crust turns crisp, the goat cheese gets nice and brown on top, and the confit bubbles.

After the pizza is baked, set it aside on a cool surface for 10-15 minutes so that the center resolidifies. Cut it into big squares, and serve with extra chiffonaded basil on top! The final product:

That's it! This is a truly tremendous pie -- the kind of thing you'll be thinking about making again even as you're licking the plate clean. It really is one of the finer recipes we've featured on Burning Pasta, and, I think, a great way to start our tenure here in California.

There's one more very important thing I want to mention! I want to dedicate this recipe to my father, as big a pizza lover as you'll ever find, on today, his birthday. Although you'd never know it (and I hope he doesn't mind me telling you), he's turning 64, a kid at heart, and, frankly, cooler than I'll ever be. Happy birthday, Dad.

Music: Joan Baez (covering Bob Dylan) -- "Forever Young"

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