2010 January: Perfect Pies

White pizza is the hot new trend in fi ne dining Italian restaurants. For example, a fi ne-dining restaurant here in Chicago recently switched cuisines mid-bite –– it went from contemporary American to Italian –– and one of its featured dishes is a white pizza. The trend toward white pizza seems to grow a bit year by year. A couple of the more well known white pizzas include the clam pie served at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana and the potato pie served at Sally’s Apizza, both in New Haven, Connecticut.

Simply put, a white pizza is a pizza without a pizza sauce, or at least that smear of red that tops 99 percent of the pizzas made around the world. Is a white pizza for you? I say, quite emphatically, yes! Unless you try something new you will come across as being old and tired. You can even add some drama to your menu by using white pizzas as signature pies. Yes, I know that sausage and pepperoni with sauce and mozzarella will always be the customers’ No. 1 choice, but if you introduce a couple of white pies, you just might be surprised at how eager your customers are to give one a try.

White Pizza

When it comes to white pizza, really sock the fl avor to it. For example, even though you might not be buying fresh herbs, consider bringing in a couple. The two I am thinking about are thyme and rosemary. These two fresh herbs will add a ton of fl avor to a potato pizza (recipe follows).

Use extra-virgin olive oil (a little goes a long way) instead of virgin olive oil. The fruity and up-flavor of extra virgin olive oil provides an elegant final touch to a white pizza.

If you’re using garlic, make sure it’s good and fresh. Old garlic tastes, well, old, and has a musty, off taste that can ruin not only a white pizza, but any other dish in which you use garlic. (Note: if you see a green “thread” in the center of a garlic clove, this means that the garlic is actually trying to root and that the clove is getting old. You can still use that clove, but take out the green root.)

Pancetta and Potato Pizza Pie
Yield: one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
1 14-inch pizza shell
¼ pound lean pancetta (aka baby pancetta), chopped*
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large redskin potato (about ¾ pound), peeled and sliced almost paper-thin
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

In a small sauté pan over medium high heat, cook the pancetta until it starts to render its fat. Add the garlic. Stir and cook until the pancetta is crisp, about 7 minutes. Reserve in the pan.

Brush the crust with some of the oil from the sauté pan. Arrange the potatoes over the crust, up to the border, overlapping them if necessary. Sprinkle on the rosemary, thyme, and red pepper flakes.

Pour the reserved pancetta, including the fat in the pan, evenly over the pizza. Sprinkle on the Parmesan. Bake.

* If pancetta is not available, use bacon.

Chef’s Note: You can create a white clam pie by simply replacing the potatoes with chopped canned clams, using some clam juice to enhance the flavor.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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