2011 July: GREASED LIGHTING

For some folks, that layer of grease that drips down your arm as you eat a slice of pizza is welcomed. For others, it can be a major turn-off and a reason to go somewhere else for dinner. The challenge here is to create a healthier pizza by eliminating some of the grease (fat) on a pizza, without compromising flavor. Indeed, I do have a few ideas and suggestions on how to do just that.

If we examine the basic toppings used on pizza, some of the answers to the grease situation are quite obvious. Let’s start with two of the most popular pizza enhancements — sausage and pepperoni. Sausage is a no-brainer; it’s as simple as buying pre-cooked sausage from a recommended supplier. Most of the fat has been eliminated. But wait, you might say, the flavor is in the fat. That’s basically true, so that means you have to reach some kind of compromise. For example, if you use raw or uncooked sausage, what is the fat-to-lean ratio? Fifteen to 20 percent fat will still allow for flavor without adding puddles of grease on the baked pizza; however, a lot of commercially made bulk pork sausage
contains 30 to 40 percent fat, so you have to know some of the facts about the sausage you are using. In other words, if you use sausage that is too lean it will be healthier and cleaner, but you will miss out on the taste (I am referring here to sausage that is all meat/fat without any added spices or seasonings).

There are several advantages to using precooked sausage. Handling (as in cross-contamination) poses no risk. Because it has been precooked, the sausage will not leave pools of grease on your baked pizza. The compromise here is that you are losing a certain amount of flavor, but you can definitely crow about your pizza being healthier.

Now let’s assume you are using bulk pork sausage. Do you know the lean/fat ratio? I like to go with a lean/fat ratio of 80/20. That gives me a cleaner sausage, yet does not compromise flavor. Next, how much sausage are you using on various sizes of pizza? While you need to offer value, you also need to use common sense. Obviously a pizza loaded with pinches or pieces of raw sausage will end up with puddles of grease. (I have seen operators who use a lot of paper toweling to pat and absorb pools of grease before sending a pizza out.)

If you are starting from scratch, one way to test the fat throw-off of sausage is to sauté a batch and see how much fat ends up in the sauté pan, then
adjust accordingly.

When it comes to pepperoni, adjustments are made in the same way. If the pepperoni you are using (or intend to use) “cups” after baking, leaving a small stream of grease in the middle, you might want to try a different brand. You might also consider how thick or thin the slices are. Thicker slices of pepperoni will throw off more grease than thinner slices. The objective is to find slices of pepperoni that are the perfect size (not too thin, not too thick) and have more lean than fat. Yes, certain brands of pepperoni have a higher ratio of fat to lean (and vice versa). Again, the test is to put your slices of “test” pepperoni on a pizza, bake it and see what happens.

Now we come to cheese. Low moisture, part skim mozzarella will, quite obviously, melt differently and be less greasy than whole milk mozzarella (part skim mozzarella has even less fat).

Here are the facts relative to two of the most used cheeses on pizza: one ounce of part-skim mozzarella
contains 40 calories and three grams of fat. Conversely, one ounce of whole milk mozzarella contains 85 calories and 6.34 grams of fat –– just about double the calories and fat. Keep those figures in mind if you are considering running a special healthier pizza.

Ok, now let’s look at how matters relative to grease and fat escalate when making, say, a four-cheese pizza. How can you deal with that? As in most situations, moderation is the key (and balance is important, too). One aspect is to look at how the cheese is shredded (coarser, finer, etc.), which in turn relates to how much it will take to adequately cover the size of pizza you are working with, while at the same time developing that all important flavor profile. A four-cheese pizza that uses, say, part-skim mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan and Fontina works great. Regarding proportions of each, that is really up to you, but my suggestion would be 60 percent mozzarella, 20 percent provolone, five percent Parmesan and 15 percent Fontina (or follow the recipe at left). That combo will allow for good coverage and ensure maximum flavor. u

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.

Four-Cheese
Veggie Pizza

This is basically a vegetable lasagna idea evolved into a pizza format. You can mix, change or alter the vegetables to suit your needs or a seasonal aspect (using thinly sliced, fresh plum or Roma tomatoes in place of or in addition to the artichokes, for example.)

Yield: two 13- to 14-inch pizzas

2 pizza shells — each 13- to
14-inches in diameter

4 tablespoons olive oil
10 ounces low moisture, part skim mozzarella
4 ounces shredded provolone
2 ounces grated Parmesan
3 ounces shredded Fontina
1 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, cooked according to package directions
½ cups thinly sliced zucchini
2 cups thinly sliced white mushrooms
1 tablespoon each fresh chopped oregano and thyme

Brush each pizza shell, including the crust edge, with the olive oil.

In a mixing bowl, combine the four cheeses. Divide half of the cheese mixture between the two pizza shells, spreading it evenly up to the border of the crust. Divide the vegetables — layering each — evenly between the two pizzas. Sprinkle on the oregano and thyme. Divide the remaining cheese between the pizzas, spreading it evenly over the vegetables. Sprinkle on a little extra oregano just before baking. Bake and serve.