Photo by Josh Keown
I have been involved in a complicated relationship for 14 years. My partner is fickle, moody, unstable and inconsistent, but I can’t get rid of her. Because of her voracious greed, she takes all my money, squanders it and I never see it again. Unfortunately, my customers adore her and cannot get enough of her, but they don’t understand the cost I bear to keep her around.
Her name is cheese.
My usual mozzarella/provolone cheese mix costs me from 60 to 70 percent of every single pizza and because I use more than 1,000 pounds each week, I am at the whim of the volatile cheese market. To put it bluntly, cheese affects the money I feed and clothe my kids with. I wanted to cut back on the halfpound I place on each large pie, but instead I decided to do the opposite of what any sane person would do. I added Artisan cheese to my menu mix! By embracing these cheeses, my menu-mix has exploded and my customers can get real gourmet pizzas and I get more sales. Before we get started, here are a few tips when starting an artisan cheese program:
- Price. Just because a wonderful cheese is expensive by weight doesn’t mean it’s too expensive to use. Strong cheeses are perfect to use with your existing cheese profile and it doesn’t take much!
- Preparation. Most purveyors have ready-shredded cheeses and American-made variants of European cheeses. If you get cheese by the block, buy a professional cheese shredder and grate it yourself — it doesn’t take much time!
- Marketing. With the increased sophistication of diners these days, your customers will be wowed by these new and intense flavors. They see these cheeses on cooking shows every day and, from my personal experience, they may not be able to pronounce these cheeses right but are usually bowled over by the taste!
Here is a list of cheeses that I have marketed on pizzas in my pizzeria. I have used all of these cheeses on top of a smaller amount of my existing cheese mix:
- Ricotta. Too awesome to describe! Chef Jeff Freehof did a wonderful article on this at www.pizzatoday.com. This versatile cheese is relatively easy to make yourself — and if you do, you should be marketing that fact.
- Asiago. This Italian cheddar named after the town in Italy comes shredded at 27 cents an ounce and adds a great pungent compliment to chicken, basil pesto, bacon, onions, ham and is even strong enough to complete a killer taste profile with pepperoni.
- Feta. The Greek Pizza will always be a fab seller in any pizza joint. I get the cow’s milk feta crumbled in two- or five-pound bags for 27 cents per ounce and pair it with a béchamel sauce for feta cream or with spinach, tomato and black olive. Our Avalanche “Godzilla” Pizza that won “Best Pizza in the USA” at the World Pizza Championships in Italy features feta with sun-dried tomato, spinach and chicken. I also use local feta paired with applesauce, mint, honey, grapes, nuts, local paw-paw or zucchini.
- Goat Cheese (Chevre). This creamy goat cheese is less aggressive than feta but the nuanced sour taste is perfect for dolloping on fruit pizza with cherry, apple, apricot and strawberry. I sometimes stretch this expensive cheese folding it into ricotta for use with basil, bell peppers, fennel, garlic and broccoli. This cheese does burn if you have a high-heat conveyor oven, so watch out!
- Manchego. All my Spanish dreams come true with this cheddar-like cheese. Great with cilantro pesto, roasted red peppers and anchovies, I serve it with homemade chorizo meatballs, provolone and Valorosso tomatoes for a psycho- delicious pie. Manchego with quince paste and Marcona almonds is a favorite.
- Yellow Cheddar. A stalwart on my menu with a Hawaiian pizza or rock the house pairing it with ham or bacon. Cheddar comes in 20-pound cases for 13 cents an ounce for regular or up to 20 cents for aged cheddar. Beware — the cheap stuff burns, especially in a conveyor oven.
- Gorgonzola. Never underestimate the public’s appetite for stinky cheese! Just like anchovies, this major taste sensation is very economical — between 15 and 22 cents an ounce — and melts you right to the bank with traditional “agra dolce” (Agra-DOLchEE- meaning sweet and sour) effect with fresh pear or apple, figs, honey, walnuts and prosciutto. Mint, nuts, cream and mushrooms and balsamic are also great with gorgonzola. (I use Stilton also. It is a British version of the killer, creamy blue taste.)
- Fresh Mozzarella. I’ve learned to transform any pizza using a base of my cheese mix and small chunks of fresh mozzarella for a cool look. Most fresh mozzarella in brine can be had for close to 20 cents per ounce. I like the mozz logs because they don’t leach that white water all over a pie.
- Burrata. This pricy mozzarella ball filled with fresh sticky cream can be obtained for 90 cents to $1.12 an ounce and is now made in Wisconsin. At that price, it’s imperative that you broadcast this as Burrata. It’s perfect for dolloping on any Italian pizza after the oven with garlic, basil, tomato, vin cotto or balsamic.
- Gruyere: This is my new best friend, even at 70 to 93 cents per ounce. The outstanding strong taste pairs with onion, fresh spinach, ham, chicken, apples, garlic and arugula. (This is the cheese of fondue.)
- Fontina. At 28 cents per ounce, fontina is best used sparingly or with another cheese. It is great with salami, fruit, ham or with truffle oil. Fontinella, which is a younger, less expensive cheese, melts great but doesn’t have that grassy, fruity quality of aged fontina.
- Brie. Excellent name recognition! Only a few slices after the pie exits the oven will sell like gangbusters.
- Mascarpone. Mix with a grainier ricotta to dollop and tastes like creamy heaven.
- Other cheeses like Finlandia Swiss, Emmental, Colby, Pepper jack, Gouda, Muenster, Pecorino, Piave Vecchio and Tellegio are also great sellers.
So, if you’re tired of the same old cheese run-around, go rogue and create havoc using artisan cheeses to spice up your menu mix and your bank account.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. He is speaker at International Pizza Expo and a member of the World Pizza Champions.
Photos by Josh Keown
Today’s pizzeria customers are savvier than ever thanks in part to a growing trend in upscale options. Sure, pepperoni and cheese are still king in this industry, but customers looking for fresh, organic and locally grown toppings now have more choices than ever. Add in the rise of Neapolitan and artisan focuses, and the pizza scene has grown into a competitive landscape. We talked to 10 pizzeria operators across the country to find out the hottest new toppings for 2013 –– and how to use them.
Ingredient: Quail eggs
Pairs with: crispy soppressata, roasted potatoes, arugula
“They are perfect for Neapolitan pizza ovens because you can crack them on the pizza going in and they cook to a perfect over easy in 75 seconds.”
-Jay Jerrier, owner of Cane Rosso in Deep Ellum, Texas
Ingredient: Sweet Piquanté Peppers
Pairs with: goat cheese, pancetta, escarole, mozzarella
“The flavor and usage of peppadews is like no other topping. They are sweet, spicy, sour and tart. These peppers can pair with almost anything and can be applied fresh, whole, halved, stuffed, quartered, sautéed and come in different colors. It’s one of the most flavorful universal toppings I have ever used.”
- Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, California, and Pizza Rock in Sacramento, California
Pairs with: provolone, onions, peppers, teriyaki, cashews, chicken, sausage
“We have captured the Asian market in this college town with this ingredient. It’s also funny to see some of the country folk around here order ‘that Kill-chee...Mim-chee...dag gum...just put some of dat spicy Chinese stuff on my pizza!’ ” Har har … it’s Korean!”
- John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio
Ingredient: Hot soppressata
Pairs with: Grana Padano cheese, cherry tomatoes
“It’s the new upscale pepperoni. It has a little bit of kick to it and it offsets the freshness of the cherry tomatoes. The customers have really been taken aback by it and just love it.”
- Chris Lombardi, partner at New Jersey-based Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza & Bar
Ingredient: fried chicken livers
Pairs with: super thin sliced lemon, Calabrian chili, olive oil, garlic & mozzarella
“Chicken livers have always been a favorite for me –– along with pizza. I love the texture and the mineral-ity of livers. We use livers from Plum Creek Farm in Burchard, Nebraska. The chickens are free range, antibiotic free, all natural, etc., which makes for super delicious livers!”
- Nick Stawhecker, chef/owner of Dante Ristorante Pizzeria in Omaha, Nebraska
Ingredient: roast pumpkin
Pairs with: salty ingredients, especially prosciutto, feta cheese or spicy sausage
“Our two most popular pizzas both contain roast pumpkin. ... We have a vegetarian pizza, which we use roast pumpkin, roasted garlic, spinach, feta zucchini and roasted bell pepper. The combination of flavors is perfect and people love it. It also looks amazing with the array of colors.”
- Adam Borich, owner of Lucifer’s Pizza in Los Angeles, California
Ingredient: Pistachio cream; walnut & pine nut cream
Pairs with: Pistachios go well with sweet Italian sausage & fresh mozzarella, while walnut and pine nut cream pairs well with coal-roasted zucchini and bufala mozzarella
“These flavors are one of our most popular new additions to our menu. They are delicate, yet flavorful. (They are) versatile and are not limited to traditional uses. Nuts make an exceptional and unexpected base for pizzas!”
-Mark Dym, owner of Marco’s Coal Fired Pizza in Denver, Colorado
Ingredient: smoked duck breast
Pairs with: gorgonzola, figs, walnuts, pistachios, red onion and pear
“We have a little smoker to house-smoke the duck breast in the wood oven. We then slice it paper thin.”
- Dave Brackett, owner of Pizzeria Rustica in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Ingredient: Conciato Romano
Pairs with: sugna, crushed black pepper, fresh basil, fresh oregano, extra virgin olive oil and fresh figs
“I was introduced to this cheese by the Lombardi family of the Agriturismo Le Campestre in Castel di Sasso, Italy. The cheese itself is considered one of the oldest cheeses in Europe dating 2,000 years to the time of the Roman Legions. It’s an aged sheep’s milk pecorino (six months to two years), and the pie itself (the Schiacciatta di Cinque Cento) is the creation of Franco Pepe of the pizzeria Pepe in Grani in Caiazzo, Italy. I love this cheese because it honors tradition and the artisinal process.”
- Jonathan Goldsmith, owner of Spacca Napoli Pizzeria in Chicago, Illinois
Ingredient: D’Anjou Pears >>>>
Pairs with: French brie, arugula, prosciutto, apricot-chili drizzle
“After 22 years in business we have a new No. 1 selling pizza: pear and Brie. Times have changed since the days of pepperoni and mushroom!”
- Peter Danis, owner of Figlio Wood Fired Pizza in Columbus, Ohio
Photo by Rick Daugherty
According to the National Restaurant Association, the most profitable menu items are soft drinks, followed closely by alcoholic drinks and then pastas and pizza.
The largest pizzeria chains in the world do not sell alcohol, and until just a few years ago they did not even sell pastas. Yet, they still make a lot of money on a limited menu. You might ask yourself: “How does a small operator like me, with one or two stores, maximize my profits?” Well, it is right in front of you. Just open your menu!
Your menu is a main ingredient in the overall recipe of your restaurant’s success. If it is too big, your food cost soars. Too small and your volume may suffer due to lack of variety. So the key to creating “moneymaking menu musts” is using the ingredients that you already have and offering your guest choices that are the most profitable for you.
We all know stale food is not good. Neither are stale menus. Today’s restaurant guests like consistency, but they also crave new options. National brand restaurants make seasonal menu changes that are reflected in their appetizer menu, salads, main courses and desserts … and so can you. It’s easy, fun and can increase your profits every day.
I love making fresh appetizers like onion rings or house-made mozzarella sticks. Take a look at the ingredients necessary to make either of these appetizers and you probably have both in your walk in — mozzarella cheese, onions, flour, baking soda, a few seasonings and beer! Remember, you have no new food ingredients to buy and you are making fresh apps that your guests are going to love. They will increase your profits and set you apart from your competition (which is probably buying items like this pre-made from their distributor). Consider this food cost breakdown:
- A serving of onion rings is 10 rings.
- Onions are about 24 cents per serving.
- Beer batter costs 25 cents.
- 2 ounces of ranch dressing costs about 20 cents.
- The total food cost is 69 cents.
- Price these house-made beer battered onion rings at $5.95, and you’ll have a gross profit of $5.26.
- A six-piece serving of mozzarella sticks is ideal.
- Mozzarella costs about $1.80. u Beer batter equals 25 cents.
- 2 ounces of ranch dressing costs 20 cents.
- The total food cost is $2.25.
- A six-piece order of homemade mozzarella sticks is priced at $6.95. Gross profit? $4.70. And always remember to increase your price point for homemade specials. Your guests will notice the flavor and pay for the quality!
Most pizzerias have pasta on the menu, but does your menu say “house-made pasta special”? It should if you want to make a moneymaking menu! Fresh pasta is easy to make, cooks much faster than dried pastas and tastes much better as well. Once you start making fresh pasta, your menu will explode with exciting new “specials.” And, remember, every time you make a “special” you can increase your profit margins. Here is my easy pasta dough recipe, which yields about six servings of pasta:
4 cups of 00 Flour
4 large eggs
2 tablespoon of water (as needed)
Mix ingredients in a small mixer or by hand until it is the consistency of “Play Dough,” wrap with plastic and let stand about an hour.
Bring salted water to boil and place your pasta in the pot to cook. At the same time, start your sauté of a ½ cup of fresh veggies, 2 ounces of bacon and a pinch of fresh garlic in EVOO. Then add a pinch of salt and pepper. Your fresh pasta will cook in about 3 minutes. Add your pasta to your sauce, toss in a pinch of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese and top with a fresh basil leaf.
The total food cost is just $1.25 with a special menu price of $9.95 — making you a gross profit of $8.70. One of the secrets to creating a menu that consistently delivers high profits is change. Remember to use fresh local vegetables, dairy products and proteins to create specials for your guests. By utilizing the ingredients you already have in your kitchen, this will keep food cost low and make experimenting with new recipes easy.
Now that you have an idea of what your new menu items will be, it’s time to make sure your guests order them. Don’t worry about having to rewrite your menu and spend a bunch of money recreating it. Here are a few ideas to use no matter your restaurant situation:
- Counter service, carryout and delivery. Printing up a quick specials menu is easy and inexpensive. Just list your specials — from apps to desserts — and price accordingly. Whether your guest orders a special right on the spot or takes home the menu, you still have sparked the idea for them to try something new. Get excited about your new menu items and your guests will be excited too.
Send home new special menus with walk-in guests and delivery orders as well and you will see the orders start Wiscon Corp coming with every new call. Run your specials for at least two weeks so your regular guests get a chance to order them. You will be able to track your sales to see what is being ordered the most.
- Dine-in. If you are in the full-service business, then you already know how important it is to train your staff to sell the specials! Make it fun for them and make sure they taste the specials so they can honestly and accurately tell the guest what they are. Wait staff should know your menu inside and out and they should be trained to point out the most profitable menu items, so training is critical.
Glenn Cybulski is executive chef at Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria and a member of the World Pizza Champions. He will present a seminar on this topic at International Pizza Expo this month.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
When Dan Richer opened his second pizzeria venture, Razza Pizza Artigianale, earlier this year, he had a clear vision in mind. All the ingredients would be locally sourced and everything that could be made in-house would be. His beverage list would get the same care and attention to detail as the food and service. The wines would all come from a region in Italy he visits every year on a pilgrimage. The beers would all be considered craft and come from breweries within the state or a short drive away.
Like good food, craft beer “has substance and soul behind it,” says the Jersey City, New Jersey, owner. “Local and flavorful beer on the menu pushes the wheel forward.”
As America enjoys a golden age of beer, many pizzerias have created enviable beer lists that not only increase customer interest — and therefore, sales — but also garnish a sense of pride for operators and give them a leg up on the competition. Call them artisanal, small batch, or even microbrews, but the truth is that more and more craft beers are popping up on beverage menus as pizzeria owners move away from uninspired beer menus that are as dusty as they are irrelevant.
The foamy line has shifted over the last 30 years and now the Brewers Association, a trade group that represents small, independent and traditional breweries, says that there are more than 2,200 breweries in the country and that the majority of Americans live within at least 10 miles of a brewery. This means fresh, flavorful beers that are suitable for any palate are within reach.
Adding even a few craft beers to existing offerings can add depth to a menu and is easier than you might think. It begins with education.
Many beer distributors now have a craft component and they have spent time and money educating their employees on the rapidly changing landscape. They will share that knowledge with you. First, ask your distributor what is available, spend a little extra time with their sales book, and consult sites like beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com to see what real customers are saying about a particular brew. Sites like craftbeer.com (which offers a state-by-state brewery locator) and allaboutbeer.com give insight to trends, flavors as well as popular and inspiring breweries.
Another option is to look to your staff. Chances are there is someone working in your kitchen or dining room that has a decent knowledge of beer and could offer suggestions. When you’re ready to get serious about building a better beer menu distributors will often come in for tutorial classes to help your staff with identifying flavors and proper pouring techniques, as well as give guidance on proper storage and effective presentation.
There are many benefits to draft beer, but it does require extra equipment, space, and education. However, draft offers a chance to serve rare or limited release brews, or options from breweries that do not package their beers. This is particularly helpful if you want to serve local.
If draft is not an option — or even if it is — consider bottles and cans. Yes, cans. Once thought of as a lesser vessel, many craft breweries have embraced aluminum because of its ability to keep out the mortal enemies of light and oxygen, as well as it’s lightweight. Bottle options go beyond the 12-ounce. Flavorful beers come in 7-oz, 22-oz, even 750-ml bottles. Some have the traditional caps, but others offer cage and cork, or swing tops. Pizzeria owners and beverage managers alike say that different bottle presentations along with unfamiliar labels often get the attention of other customers, especially if they are made visible while walking through a dining room.
In the past with generic lagers, people knew what they were getting. Pale to golden yellow in color, easy on the flavor and usually without bitterness, lagers are what several generations grew up knowing about beer. No more.
If you’re aiming to start slow, consider adding a Pale Ale that features a spicy hop bite. Or an amber or brown ale, which focus more on sweet and roasty malts. Belgian beers are popular and include witbier, a hazy wheat-heavy brew with spicy notes, and Belgian pale ale, which has more of a malt profile and some fruit notes. There are also the Biere de Garde that has woodsy, cellar-like character that comes with proper aging and offers a dry flavor and finish. Many of these beers are bottle conditioned — meaning yeast is added to the bottle — and regularly pair well with bread dishes. India Pale Ale, especially one made in the U.S., will be more hop aggressive and pair well with bold dishes, like wings or blue cheese.
Like produce, beer is seasonal. With each new month, different beers are released that showcase the best of winter, spring, summer and fall. Adding these beers to your menu to compliment food gets customers engaged.
As you’re making decisions about your beer list keep in mind that so much depends on what malt, hops, and yeast the brewer used. No two are exactly alike.
Pizzeria operators say that taking the time to share facts of the beer — origin, flavors, alcohol content, and pairing suggestions — on a printed menu lead to additional sales with little effort. Give the beer the same care and description that you do your wine or food menu.
“I’ve found that customers that order craft beer and pay a premium are more likely to order specials from the menu and tip better,” says Mike Rangel of Asheville Pizza and Brewing in North Carolina. “If you rotate your beers, they come back more often. What’s not to like about that?”
John Holl is a freelance journalist covering the beer industry. He’s the author of the American Craft Beer Cookbook. Holl lives in New Jersey and regularly lectures and consults on the topic of craft beer.
Photos by Josh Keown
So much of what happens in a restaurant is creative. All cooks like to think of themselves as artistes. It is, after all, called the culinary arts. But when it comes to the menu, that’s where science kicks in. In fact, too much creativity on a menu can have negative consequences.
That isn’t to say the menu shouldn’t be creatively produced. Indeed, the right colors, typeface and even photos in some cases are key elements. But knowing which colors, what typeface and font size and whether or not pictures should be incorporated are important considerations. They’re components in the science of menu engineering, and learning how to put the knowledge to work with your own menu can increase your profits significantly — without raising menu prices.
There are more than 30 menu-merchandizing techniques that have been proven to influence what guests buy. That’s more than can be itemized here — and more than you need to employ to effectively reengineer your menu. The best menus utilize no more than two of the strategies on one page and no more than five for the entire menu. But one of the most important elements to understand before considering any of the others has to do with what can best be described as your menu’s real estate. And just as with conventional real estate, the three most important things in menu engineering are location, location, location.
Think of your menu as a property development. And just as with, say, a condominium development, some pieces of the property are more attractive than others. If you were a developer, you’d want to put your high-rent properties in those areas that are going to attract the best buyers. It’s the same with your menu, but instead of relying on water features to get the attention of well-heeled condo buyers, or relegating the lower rent condos to the lots next to the railroad tracks, you need to understand how your buyers, the restaurant guests, make their selections. That’s where the science comes in. It is part behavioral and part sensorial.
Studies have determined that people read a menu in a particular pattern. Take for instance the typical three-panel menu. When guests open the menu, their eyes immediately go to the middle of the middle panel. Then they move to the top right of the right-side panel. And from there their eyes move across to the top of the left panel. That’s sort of the Golden Triangle –– the high rent district, if you will –– of your menu. And that’s where you want to put your high-margin signature items. (How to determine what those items are is a topic for another discussion.) That’s perhaps an oversimplification of a rather complex study in human behavior. But it isn’t necessary to know how it works, only why it works, and then take advantage of it. But important as it is to know where to place which items within the real estate of your menu, there are many more considerations as well. Some of these include:
- Item names. A simple cheese pizza becomes more alluring if named the Handmade Mozzarella Pizza.
- Item descriptions. Short descriptions are, as a rule, preferred. But if there is one item on the menu with a longer description than the others, your guests will take note. People are conditioned to notice something that’s different. u
- Negative space. Along the same line, by setting a signature item apart, with empty space around it, your guests’ attention will be drawn to it.
- Nested pricing. Instead of right-justification of the prices, which encourages the guest to shop by price, place the item’s cost at the end of the description, in the same font size. That encourages the guest to choose an item by its description, not by how much it costs.
- Don’t use dollar signs. Psychologically (more science!), dollar signs have been proven to actually create a negative physiological response of pain; much like a small pinch.
And in the “neatness counts” category, be sure to hire a professional copywriter to write and proofread your menu. Misspelled words and poor grammar and punctuation get noticed, and they reflect negatively on you. But beyond mere style, concise and compelling copy sells. Your niece may have gotten an A on her English composition essay, but that does not necessarily mean she can write irresistible menu descriptions that will make your guests want to buy your product.
Also, engage the services of a professional layout designer who can advise on font style and type size. Layout design is truly a combination of art and science. Flowery script and a tiny typeface can make a menu difficult to read. Hint: if your menu looks like a wedding invitation, you and your guests are headed for a break-up.
But none of this will matter and no amount of menu engineering can help if you haven’t first developed your brand’s personality, its story and its promise (three areas that will be more thoroughly explored at International Pizza Expo this month). Too many business owners equate their brand with their name and their product, but true branding goes much deeper than that.
Essentially, a brand’s personality is very much like the personality of a human. If your brand were a person how would it walk, talk and behave in public? Would it be whimsical or serious? What’s its favorite color? How does it dress — in a button-down shirt or cut-off jeans?
People love storytelling, so after you determine your brand’s personality, consider its story. It could very well be your story, too. But a focus of the story should be not what you sell but why you sell it, because, ultimately, that’s why people buy it.
And the brand promise communicates your pledge to the customer. It may be in the integrity of your ingredients, your dedication to sourcing local products, or a higher level of quality. Once you’ve developed them, your brand’s personality, story and promise will drive all aspects of your business, from the marketing you do, the sign you hang out front and the color you paint your walls. And yes, even the way you design your menu.
Aaron Allen is a global restaurant consultant representing foodservice clients spanning more than 100 countries worldwide and who collectively post more than $100 billion in annual revenue. He will speak on the topics of trends, menu engineering and restaurant makeovers at the upcoming 2013 Pizza Expo.
Photo by Josh Keown
Two decades ago, America was largely intimidated by wine. Snobs drank it. Even worse, they swished it around, spit it into a bucket and then talked about it in unappealing and difficult-to-understand terms like “flinty” or “grassy.” What normal, everyday Joe wanted to drink grass?
Since wine was an unknown and perceived as expensive, it was feared. Forget that it is grape juice at its heart — it was just too, well, sophisticated for the pizza crowd.
Times changed, however, as times always do. A number of factors worked in unison to broaden wine’s appeal: the industry’s marketers, for example, realized the need to make the product more accessible; food-centric shows on television encouraged people to expand their palates and restaurants identified the value in the additional revenue stream.
Fast forward to today and there are tens-of-thousands of pizzerias across the country that menu wine. In fact, our most recent research shows that 38 percent of American pizzerias — more than 26,000 pizza restaurants — serve vino. How can they all be wrong when it comes to wine’s appeal? They can’t, says Taylor McNeely, a pizzeria bar manager in Indianapolis.
"Wine is a profit driver for us,” she says. “We sell a lot of it and it is one of our biggest money-maker items.”
McNeely offers wine by the bottle and by the glass, but also has found success with flights.
“They’re good because it encourages people to try new things. It helps them branch out a little,” she explains. “A customer may come in with a pre-conceived notion that, ‘I don’t like chardonnay or I don’t like big, bold reds. But just because you may not like Chianti does not mean you won’t like another red, like a Barbera or something else. One red might be spicy, while another might be fruity. There are just so many variances from each variety and even within the same variety from different labels. You have to open yourself up to trying new things, and the flights help that out a little bit. You’re not putting all your eggs into one basket, so to speak. You aren’t spending $18 on a bottle or $7 on a glass of something only to discover that you don’t like it. It’s a very non-commital way of learning, of discovering what you might like.”
At Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Seattle, a well-established wine program is one of the hallmark’s of the company’s success. Tutta Bella was named our 2010 Independent of the year. Owner Joe Fugere likes to keep offerings fresh and examines the wine list with a critical eye at least twice a year. Typically, the company’s wine offerings experience a facelift every six months. With wine representing close to 20 percent of overall sales at Tutta Bella, Fugere must be on to something.
Jenny Fleece, a longtime spirits manager who is working to open her first pizzeria in Bethesda, Maryland this summer, says she plans to follow a similar strategy.
“I like to turn wines over in late spring, just before summer, and again in late autumn, just before winter,” she says. “Sometimes, like during the hot months, people may gravitate to some lighter, more refreshing whites. They tend to opt for some heavier reds later in the year. While you seek balance, you want to turn the list over when necessary to make sure you’re offering what will sell the best at any given time.”
Often, what sells is largely dependent on the service staff. A knowledgeable crew that has been well-trained on wine and food pairings can make helpful suggestions to customers, translating into better wine sales. It doesn’t take a full-time sommelier, either. Today’s educational opportunities are abundant. Jason Crum, a bartender at Joey’s in Houston, says vendors can be excellent resources.
“Your wine reps are more than just sales people,” he says. “A good one cares about your business, because your success is his success. A good one is knowledgeable about the products he sells and can be a great point of contact when it comes to learning more about wines and how to best pair them with pizza or Italian food.”
Crum says his wine distributor makes it a point to keep him up to date on the latest trends and pairings.
“He comes in periodically and gives the bar staff and wait staff crash courses on the different wine options we carry,” explains Crum. “He talks about the grapes, the region they’re grown in, what the climate and soil is like. He talks about the process and how that relates to what you taste when you lift the glass and the juice hits your taste buds.”
Sometimes, it’s about story telling. The details of the story enrich the customer experience and make the customer-server connection a more meaningful one.
“After you tell the story,” says Crum, “the sale is easier. It’s not a transaction; it’s an experience.”
If you are looking for some good wine and pizza pairings, let us help you get started. While many people think Chianti when they think of Italian food, there’s no reason to paint yourself into a corner. Let’s face it, a bottle of Chianti in a wicker basket next to a plate of spaghetti and meatballs is about as cliché as it gets. Don’t limit your selection to Italian labels. Quality wines from America, France, Australia and South America, to name a few, will get the job done as well.
Take a German Riesling, for instance: its sweetness and mellow attitude makes an excellent accompaniment to a spicy sausage and pepper pizza. If you’re looking for an across-the-board all-star to pair with red-sauce pizza in general, then look to a Barbera. A Moscato can be tapped for desserts, while the properly balanced Red Zinfindel is exquisite with a meatlover’s pie.
“A wine list should express some diversity,” says McNeely. “Variety is the spice of life.”
Jeremy White is Editor-in-Chief at Pizza Today.
(Asparagus is great grilled
and used in pasta and on pizza.)
Photos by Josh Keown
More and more I am seeing a bumper crop of vegetables showing up on restaurant menus –– and I am not talking salads here. From asparagus to zucchini and everything in between (arugula is the hottest green being used as a pizza topping right now), vegetables of every shape and color have become the go-to ingredients that add pizzazz to pizzas (and pumps up that pasta dish to pleasing perfection).
(Broccoli rabe –– also known as rapini –– is a distant cousin to the cabbage and turnip. )
I am seeing rapini (also known as broccoli rabe) and radicchio being used in pasta dishes with delicious effect. as simple as blanching the rapini until it is tender, followed by a quick sauté olive oil and garlic. That’s the prep. toss the cooked and drained pasta (short pasta such as penne, ziti orrecchiette or rigatoni) into the rapini, combine serve.
(This might look like red cabbage, but it’s actually radicchio. This colorful offering can be used in salads, but we have a recipe using it on pizza. )
Another vegetable that works in pasta dishes and as a pizza topping is asparagus. Trim and clean the asparagus, then toss brush with olive oil. Grill the aparagus roast it in the oven). Now cut the spears into 1-inch pieces. Use as is for a pizza topping or toss with cooked pasta.
Since the dog days of August are upon us, here’s a great dish to consider for a late summer special now through the end of September. I make this dish more than a few times during late summer when I have access to fresh, dead-ripe tomatoes and arugula. The dish comes out more or less like a pasta salad. Served with crusty Italian bread, it becomes an entree salad.
(Arugula has a tendency to be gritty, so rinse well before using. )
After you check out my fresh tomatoes and arugula recipe, I have a couple more for you to try as well.
(For the best flavor, choose smaller zucchini. It is younger and boasts more flavor. )
Rigatoni with Fresh Tomatoes and Arugula
Yield: 4-6 servings
(scale up in direct proportion)
3⁄4 pound rigatoni, cooked until al dente, drained, cooled slightly
3⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
½ cup chopped red onion
8 ripe Roma tomatoes (about 3 pounds), cored and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups, tightly packed chopped arugula
1 cup grated Parmesan
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar and olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, tomatoes and arugula, then toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked pasta to the bowl. Toss to combine. Sprinkle on the Parmesan. Toss again. Divide into serving portions.
Arugula, Prosciutto and Fresh Mozzarella Pizza
Yield: One 14-inch pizza
(scale up in direct proportion)
1 14-inch pizza shell
2 cups fresh arugula leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 very thin slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces), shredded
6 ounces pizza sauce
2 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced or cubed
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Toss the arugula with the olive oil and prosciutto. Set aside. Spread the pizza sauce over the pizza crust. Put the fresh mozzarella over the sauce, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the mozzarella. Bake the pizza until the crust is brown and the cheese has melted. Let the pizza cool for a few minutes, then slice. Just before sending the pizza out, arrange the arugula/prosciutto mixture over the top.
Pizza with Sauteéd Radicchio
Yield: One14-inch pizza
(scale up in direct proportion)
1 14-inch pizza shell
1⁄4 cup olive oil
5 cups coarsely chopped radicchio*
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella
In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the chopped radicchio and the garlic. Cook and stir for about 10 minutes or until the radicchio is soft and wilted. Remove from heat. Set aside. Spread the sauteéd radicchio evenly over the pizza crust. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the radicchio. Bake. ❖
You can substitute escarole for the radicchio if the cost of the radicchio is too high. ❖
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.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
When San Ramon, California-based Straw Hat Pizza wanted to increase appetizer sales, they turned on the TVs. The 61-unit company partnered with Coca-Cola and created a three-minute video showcasing the chain’s Snack-A-Tizers and Coca-Cola products. Store owners bought television sets that they placed on the order counters, and customers watched the Snack-A-Tizer loop –– which, thankfully for the cashiers, had no sound –– as they waited to place their order.
The chain tested the video in stores in Northern and Southern California. The results were encouraging. “We had a 23- to 30-percent increase in appetizer sales,” says Jonathan Fornaci, president of Straw Hat Pizza. “We had one store near Monterey where the store owner’s TV broke, and within a week his Snack-A-Tizer sales dropped.” He adds that the store owners’ investments paid off within the first month of buying the TVs and DVD players.
Fornaci says the test indicated that customers want to see more visual presentations of the foods, so the chain is installing digital menu boards in some locations. Digital menu boards show pictures, video, moving text and other features. “You want to make the customer feel more comfortable. The digital menu board shows the picture, and the customer says, ‘I want that,’ ” he says. Store managers can even change the text to Spanish to reflect the demographics of a store.
Other restaurants that want to upsell appetizers use a more low-tech approach. Usually that means training cashiers or servers to mention appetizers in a way that doesn’t seem pushy.
“We tell the cashiers we want to offer the missing item,” says Amir Sabetian, vice president of operations for the 96-unit zpizza, based in Irvine, California. “Say they come in and order a pizza, the beverage is the main missing item, so we offer a beverage. Then we go for salad, because salads create a bigger check average than starters. Then we offer starters.”
Sabetian says appetizers and desserts are impulse buys, especially with Internet orders. “We notice if people order online the check average is higher,” he says. “They see everything in photos, and they get to take their time. Sometimes customers ordering for two people end up with enough food for four.”
David Poth, senior vice president of marketing and research and development for Mazzio’s Italian Eatery, says the company trains call center staff to offer a Dippin’ Starter, or appetizer with a sauce, early in the ordering process. “They start with a pleasant greeting, ‘Would you like to start this evening’s order with an order of cheese dippers?’ It’s non threatening. We are asking a question.” The call center handles the delivery and carryout for about 75 of the chain’s 167 locations.
Two years ago the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based chain launched a promotion called Go 4 It. Call center staff and counter staff at the restaurants tell customers they can add a starter for $4, which is a discount of about $1 to $1.50. “Four dollars is a safe price point,” Poth says. “At four bucks that obstacle to purchase is pretty low, so we might get them to take a chance.”
Every two to three months, Mazzio’s changes which starter to offer at that price. Sometimes the chain uses table tents at the counter, to show photos of the appetizers. Poth says the table tents help future sales. “It doesn’t help us for that visit but it plants a seed. People say, ‘Oh I didn’t know they had toasted ravioli.’ ”
Call center staff can earn prizes for meeting certain appetizer sales goals. Poth says the prizes often include gas cards, iTunes, and gift cards. Call center managers get a budget, and they buy prizes they think will be valuable and motivating. “They are empowered because they’ve got input, and that seems to work,” Poth says.
At Giovanni’s Pizza, with one location in Huntington, West Virginia, owner Tony Mancini says customers tend to eat appetizers at the bar, while watching local Marshall University football games on TV. “When people spend four or five hours there, they don’t want to eat a big bowl of pasta and then throw down beers. Instead they get a spinach dip they can share with their buddies,” he says.
The trick is to get dining customers to order appetizers in addition to their meals. Mancini says Giovanni’s offers specials, and he incentivizes staff with prizes. He offers gift cards for a non-competing restaurant to the person who sells, for example, the most chicken tenders on a weeknight. “Most of my servers are college kids. You can motivate them with free food,” he says.
He instructs servers to ask customers not whether they want an appetizer, but which appetizer they want. “Make the decision for the customers,” he says. “Plant it in their head with, ‘Do you want to start with a spinach dip?’ ”
Sabetian says staffers don’t have to sell an appetizer to every customer. On busy Friday nights, for example, sometimes it’s better to wrap up orders quickly than to try to get a person to order an appetizer while others are waiting to place an order. “If there are ten people in line, I’d rather take another customer and another $25 check than a $4 starter,” he says. “When it’s slow, the cashier can offer more things and have a conversation with customers.”
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
Mix it up with your cheese. The flavor profile of each cheese commonly found in pizzerias can be put together to create unique combinations. Try these combinations (in a 50-50 mix unless otherwise noted):
• Mozzarella and provolone
• Mozzarella and fontina
• Fresh mozzarella and Parmesan
• Mozzarella, fontina, Asiago, Parmesan (basic four-cheese blend, but Romano can be used in place of Parmesan)
• Smoked mozzarella and brick
• Smoked mozzarella and mozzarella
• Cheddar and Monterey Jack (excellent for Mexican or Southwest-style pizzas)
• Cheddar, mozzarella and provolone (also works well for Mexican pizza)
• Gorgonzola and brick (60 percent brick to 40 percent Gorgonzola)
• Muenster and Romano (70 percent Muenster to 30 percent Romano)
• Mozzarella and feta (70 percent mozzarella to 30 percent feta)
Menu Trends For 2012
By Pasquale "Pat" BRUNO Jr. Photo by Josh Keown
I am not suggesting that you have to do a 180 on this, but be aware of trends like these (and those listed below) that will affect how well you stack up against the competition.
Here is one example: In one of my pizza cookbooks, I featured a Pizza Insalata, or salad pizza. This is a
no-sauce pizza that is as simple as topping a cheese pizza with tossed salad greens. In other words, prep and bake a cheese pizza, then let it cool a little. Afterwards, top it with a salad (mixed greens, fresh tomatoes, etc., tossed with a balsamic dressing). This pizza dish is colorful, healthy, easy and delicious.
In that same pizza cookbook I devoted an entire chapter to “Vegetarian Pizza.” What goes around comes around, so I am saying that one of the important trends for 2012 will be how you can come up with dishes where less is more. And doing so creates a win-win situation. What’s not to love about lower food costs, lower menu prices and greater customer satisfaction?
Let me dig a little deeper into what I see will be major trends in 2012:
Other healthier pizza trends have to do with these factors: No added sugar in the sauce, going lighter on the cheese(s), thinner pizza crust (thinner by a lot, but not cracker thin; the crust needs some chew and texture).
Think outside the box when it comes to new ideas in pizza dough. For example, you can fashion a pizza dough by using grains — quinoa and quinoa flour, for example. My intent here is not to have you go off the grid; rather I’d like you to think about what your competition will be throwing at you in the year ahead. Remember the Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared.”
Lighter sauces and smaller portions apply to pasta as well. And in the area of pasta, try whole-wheat and whole grain varieties (there are plenty of brands to choose from). To make any pasta dish more appealing, give the sauce the full flavor treatment by spicing it up with, say, chilies or crushed red pepper flakes. And incorporate more vegetables into your pasta dishes.
Keep those veggie toppings for your pizzas up front and personal. Don’t back off from the idea of using eggplant, zucchini, rapini, broccoli and potatoes as pizza toppings. Yes, I know that sausage and pepperoni are still the most popular, but you need to offer alternatives; don’t get stuck in a rut.
Should you be thinking “organic?” Only if it makes sense (it’s becoming a geographical issue). Keep in mind that organic ingredients carry a higher food cost. Let common sense prevail.
Regional themes will be ripe for the picking in the year ahead. Yes, I know that “Regional Italian” was the buzzword a few years back. But in our business there is a cycle that curves back, so be ready to grab on to it when it comes your way. Try something in the order of regional pizzas to include as part of your menu listings. This is part of “Romancing the Menu,” which will drive your competition crazy, because their reaction time will be slower (which means you get the jump on them). For example, put into play regional names like Sardinian, Sicilian, Neapolitan, Tuscan and Roman in every way — salads, pasta, pizza — you possibly can. A trip up and down the Italian boot can be very, very tasty.
Put some thought into your children’s fare and kids’ menus. Do more, offer more, make it more interesting, a reason for parents to bring the kiddos to your restaurant. The words “family friendly” will never go out of style.
Gluten free pizza. Has the gluten-free trend hit its peak, or is it here to stay? Conflicting reports abound, but it’s important to remember that only a very small percentage of the population — one percent — need to eat gluten-free for medical/health purposes. To that end, if you would like to make a gluten-free pizza, here is my basic recipe.
Gluten-Free Pizza Dough
Yield: about 18 ounces of pizza dough
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 ½ cups white rice flour
1 tablespoon corn oil
Put the yeast, sugar and water in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Let sit for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch and rice flour and add it to the water-yeast mixture. Add the corn oil. Mix until the dough comes
together and you can form a ball. Add additional rice flour if needed (the dough should be soft and pliable). Set aside. Cover. Let rise for an hour or more.
Lightly coat a quarter-sheet pan with olive oil (or you can use corn meal). Press the dough into the pan and up the sides, making it as thin as possible without tearing it. For added flavor brush the crust with garlic butter or garlic oil. Top with the usual toppings — sauce, cheese(s), herbs. Bake at 450-475 F for 15-20 minutes (don’t over bake the pizza or the crust will be too tough), until the crust gets crispy and takes on some color.
Remember that this is a crust that is not light and can be rather stiff.
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 former food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Q&A: Menu Development
BY BIG DAVE OSTRANDER
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
I haven’t updated my menu in a couple of years except for price adjustments. Is it worth it to pay a professional company to do this for me?
I’m rarely stopped dead in my tracks. A few years ago, however, I did a double-take as I passed an exhibitor’s booth at International Pizza Expo. It was setup day, and I was getting a sneak-peak at what attendees would see on the show floor. This particular booth showcased menus and flyers that were stunning in layout, design, photography and professionalism. It was eye candy for me.
Too often, restaurant menus are uninspired price lists. That’s a shame, because your menu is a powerful marketing and sales tool. Analyzing and costing out your menu is part of the equation; designing it smartly brings it all full circle.
A well-thought-out menu design will bring about sales increases, sometimes in the double-digits. The key is to produce classy, eye-catching pieces that convey your quality, brand and image.
Remember, your menu is a marketing piece. Its performance should be scrutinized the same way you critique the results generated by your flyers, newspaper ads, door hangers, etc.
Perception is reality in your customers’ eyes. If your menu looks amateurish and boring, your guests will unconscientiously think your operation is amateurish and boring. If it sizzles with color, photos, stories and mouth-watering descriptions of your entrées … Well, you get the picture.
Many of my single-unit clients have been asked if they were part of a larger franchise company because of how refined their image happens to be. Trust me, putting a pretty face on your current menu will do good things to your top line sales. Menus are like pizzeria managers — they are either moneymakers or money losers. Pretty menus coupled with current and updated data, and backed up with period reports, are guaranteed to generate gobs of new cash you may be leaving on the table today. Get started!
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today.
Photos By Josh Keown
Nothing says Chicago like deep-dish pizza. This unique pie stands out with a crisp, biscuit-like crust that comes up the sides of a three- inch pan. it’s thick with cheese and other ingredients, and then topped with a chunky tomato sauce and baked for 30 to 45 minutes. Chicago is heavy with pizzerias that offer this iconic pie with both locals and tour- ists proclaiming loyalty to their favorites. but does it play outside of the windy City? The answer is yes, but in this global market of savvy customers, authenticity is the name of the game.
In 1943, Ike Sewell created Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and opened Pizzeria Uno in down- town Chicago. The concept later morphed into Uno Chicago grill, and now, 69 years later, boasts 136 domestic units in 24 states. “Customer expectations are high with deep dish,” says Chris Gatto, vice president of food and beverage and corporate executive chef for this boston-based chain. “They have an expectation of what Chicago-style pizza tastes like, and they expect a consistently great product every time they order it. we invented this pizza and we take a lot of pride in its authenticity.”
Authentic Chicago-style pizza dough contains quite a bit of oil, says Gatto. “you need that oil because the dough bakes for such a long time in the oven,” he says. “it almost fries, giving you that crispy, buttery texture that you want. remember, it’s not being baked on the oven deck. it’s in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, so it needs that fat to get crisp.” Gatto also says oiling the deep-dish pan is important. The pie cooks in a 400 to 450 F oven.
The popular Number ono build at Uno’s Chicago grill sees mozzarella topped with sausage, peppers, onion, mushrooms and pepperoni, then finished with a bit of mozzarella and romano. Another best-selling pie is the Chicago Classic, which features crumbled sausage, mozzarella and romano. “our pizzas are hand-craft- ed. we shred our own mozzarella. we do everything in the back of house,” says gatto.
Although classic pies still rule, Uno’s has innovated within the Chicago-style pizza category,featuring such pizzas as its Farmers Market Pie, which stars caramelized onion, spin- ach, sun-dried tomato, plum tomato, roasted eggplant, pesto, and a blend of feta, mozzarella and romano. And in October 2011, the chain rolled out a nine-grain deep-dish pizza crust as a more wholesome option for diners. “Deep dish crust is sacred,” says Gatto. “how do we make it better-for-you and still taste really good? we think we answered that with this crust.” The whole wheat/ brown-rice flour dough boasts: rye flakes, sunflower kernels, yellow- corn grits, barley flakes, flax seeds, soy grits, tritcale flakes, millet seed and oak flakes. it makes up 10 to 15 percent of pizza orders.
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria boasts a rich tradition in Chicago, too. The first one opened in 1973 and it now has 34 throughout the Chicagoland area. “Authentic Chicago-style deep dish is meant to be a meal, not a snack. it’s almost like a casserole with all the flavors melding together,” says Jim D’Angelo, chief operating officer of Lou’s. “The crust has to be firm enough to hold everything, but flaky and crisp. And when we add meat to the pizza, it’s not dotted on the pizza. it’s a heavy amount of meat. Finally, the sauce has to be a chunky tomato sauce.” Lou’s offers both a regular crust and its signature buttercrust.™ “sausage is king in Chicago, but the Lou does really well, too,” he says. That vegetarian pie features fresh spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and a blend of mozzarella, romano and cheddar.
Operational challenges shouldn’t be overlooked, he advises. “we’re in a microwave-minute kind of a world,” says D’Angelo. “The biggest challenge is getting your customer to understand that these pizzas take at least 30 minutes to bake. we try to train them to pre-order, so they’re only wait- ing 10 minutes instead of 30.” baking a pie for that long requires a level of artistry, says D’Angelo. indeed, working the oven is reserved only for experienced cooks at Lou’s. “The human element is a big part of Chicago-style pizzas,” he says. “you need to know when to rotate or move the pizza to get it to cook evenly and cook off some of the moisture from the ingredients.” Fresh vegetables on pizzas, which cook for a long time in the ovens, throw off a lot of moisture that needs to evaporate. “our oven guys need skill and experi- ence to know how to bake these so they turn out beautifully every time,” says D’Angelo.
Tony Manzella, owner of Tony’s Little italy in Placentia, California, includes Chicago-style pizza in his repertoire. in fact, Tony’s was located in Chicago back in the 70’s, but he transported the busi-ness to the west Coast, lured by sunnier weather. “i have customers who fly in from Chicago to get my Chicago-style pizza,” he says. “i’ve been making pizza since i was 14 years old. i take a lot of pride in my pizza.” The best-selling pie at this 27-seat shop is the Tony special, featuring sausage, green pepper, mush- room and onion. Toppings include the traditional pepperoni and mushrooms, but perhaps influenced by location, diners can also choose from artichokes, chicken and jalapeño. “The secret to authentic Chicago-style pizza is in the dough, in the sauce,” Manzella says.
“but i can’t give away my secrets.”
CHICAGO'S OTHER LEGACY: STUFFED PIZZA
Stuffed pizza is deep-dish pizza’s much younger sister. While deep-dish was invented in the 1940s, stuffed pizza made its debut in the early 1970s. Based loosely on the traditional Scarciedda, or Easter pie, made in Turin, Italy, it sports a flakier, milder crust than deep dish. It also stuffs even more cheese into the pan than a deep-dish pie and then adds a thin crust over the cheese, sandwiching it, essentially, then finishes with tomato sauce. Chicago stuffed pizza has its own loyal following, with locals debating over which stuffed pie reins supreme. Chicago contenders include Nancy’s Pizza, Giorda- no’s Famous Stuffed Pizza and Edwardo’s Natural Pizza.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. she’s based in Naperville, Illinois.
Photos by Josh Keown
National Pizza Month Pizza Challenge: We asked pizzeria operators to give us their best pizza recipes to celebrate National Pizza Month in October. We received recipes from across the North America. These are our interpretations of the best of the best.
Italian Club Pizza
Two Guys and A Pizza Place
Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Two Guys uses a classic dough recipe from Italy believed to be from the 19th century as the base for their pizza. A basil pesto base is topped with provolone and hot capicollo. Next, sprinkle the pizza with a mozzerella/ cheddar / Monterey mixture. Top with pancetta and red onion and bake. Once cooked, top with a fresh mixture of tomatoes and baby arugula. Sprinkle with shaved Parmesan petals (a little goes a long way!) and drizzle with a balsamic glaze. The spicy meats and sweet glaze are a perfect complement.
Loaded Baked Potato Pizza
Mia’s Pizza and Eats
This pizza combines two comfort foods and is a departure from the everyday pepperoni. Start with a mashed potato base made with fresh potatoes, heavy cream, butter and salt. Add fresh broccoli, bacon, red onions and cheddar cheese. To finish, you can even drizzle the pizza with a Mexican crema over the top. This is a great winter recipe!
The Royal Family
Willy O’s Pizza & Grille
South Haven, Michigan
This was a winner in a local contest held by Willy O’s, and we love the addition of Cajun-seasoned chicken. Willy O’s uses a gluten-free crust with this pizza, but a traditional crust can also be used. Start with a basil, garlic and lemon pesto. Slice a grilled chicken breast and toss with Cajun seasoning. Place chicken on pizza and top with julienne-cut green peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, Feta cheese and a mozzarella/ provolone blend. Bake and serve.
Aldos Ristorante Italiano & Bar
We love the freshness of this pizza, and it uses a lot of toppings already found in most pizzerias. Brush a dough skin with extra virgin olive oil and fresh garlic. Top with mozzarella and reggiano cheeses and bake. Toss fresh arugula with shaved red onions, Campari tomatoes, fresh lemon juice and EVOO. Top the pizza with the salad mixture, dollops of ricotta cheese and serve immediately.
Rosario’s Italian Restaurant
The base for this pizza is housemade ricotta, topped with prosciutto, mushrooms, caramelized onions, Parmesan cheese and sprinkled with fresh arugula. While you can caramelize onions the traditional way with brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, rosario’s uses Dr. Pepper, which imparts a unique flavor to the onions. Brilliant!
Photo by Rick Daugherty
The financial boost that comes from catering really and truly can take your business to the next level. There’s so much more to catering than one time monetary gratification. I find that each catered event I complete grows word-of-mouth. I generally get a couple of inquiries from each event. Now some of these events are small and simple, but think about this: a daily catered event for a staff of 18, at an average cost of $10 per person plus tax and delivery charge, adds more than $46,000 to my annual revenue — and that doesn’t include any large events. The good news is you already have everything you need (with the exception of perhaps catering pans) to make this all happen.
Half- and full-size aluminum pans are essentials for your entrées. Use the aluminum lids instead of foil. It’s sturdier and much more professional. Some disposable catering trays are great for sandwiches, cold cut platters and desserts. Make sure you keep them in stock for that last-minute order.
Here are some of the most popular things you can offer:
Baked ziti with meat sauce
Chicken broccoli Alfredo
Chicken Parmesan, Piccata or Marsala over pasta u
Stromboli (sliced on a platter)
Sandwich platters with assorted wraps
Pasta or garden salad
I like to provide bread and salad with two pasta entrées. If you don’t have any kind of dinner rolls, then simply cut your sub rolls into 2-inch-thick slices with butter on the side. I price everything to serve eight to 10 people and I use the half pans for each item.
$12.95 for a garden salad
$5.99 for bread with butter cups
$32 for baked ziti
$38 for chicken & broccoli Alfredo with penne pasta u
$38 for a pan of four-cheese lasagna
$45 for a pan of meat lasagna
$45 for a pan of Chicken Parmesa
Marsala or Piccata over pasta: $65 for a sandwich platter for 10.
Now, if you are feeding a group of more than 10, simply put your food into the full pans instead of halves (which will actually hold enough food for up to 30 people since they are deeper). I use one pound of raw pasta to cook for every 10 people I’m feeding, which initially may seem insufficient but will be enough after adding meat sauce or chicken and broccoli to it. Let me give you some creative alternatives to take your catering menu to a more diversified place than most of your competitors.
Here are some of my favorites:
Chicken Pesto Primavera is a simple variation of our Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo, which is comprised of sliced or diced chicken breast, steamed broccoli, cooked penne pasta and Alfredo sauce. For the Primavera version, simply add some of the other veggies you’ve got in the restaurant. Since we have a dinner vegetable medley that we offer with our entrées that is made up of roasted zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes and caramelized onions, we toss that in with the pasta and a little bit of our pesto. By adding these two ingredients, we’ve created an entirely new entrée.
Chicken Roma is another simple dish with slight alterations that creates a slightly lighter dish version. It’s essentially the exact same dish as the Chicken Pesto Primavera, except this dish has no pesto. Plus, instead of being all Alfredo, we use mostly piccata sauce, which is made with chicken stock, lemon, wine, salt, pepper, garlic and little bit of roux to hold it together. Add a small amount of cream or even Alfredo to bring a creamy texture to this dish.
Chicken Giordano is yet again a creative entrée that can be enhanced from your traditional chicken marsala, which is made with some sautéed chicken breast sliced mushrooms and a marsala wine sauce and chicken stock, salt, pepper and garlic with a little roux to pull it together. Now simply add a very small amount of marinara sauce, sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts to create this new dish. This would be great served over pasta as well.
There are a couple of important things to remember with these pasta catering dishes. The first is that although it’s best to typically cook our pasta “al dente”, I like to go just one stage more than that and fully cook the pasta (but not overcook it) for catering. The reason for this is because your pasta is still thirsty, in a sense, and wants to drink up any liquid. So in essence if your pasta is al dente, and the amount of sauce on your pasta seems totally sufficient, 30 to 40 minutes later when this office is about to dig into your delicious creation it will be very dry because the pasta will have absorbed the sauce. Don’t be afraid to over compensate just a little bit with your sauce for catering without having the pasta swimming in extra sauce. I also like to use penne pasta compared to spaghetti because it is much easier to serve by the spoonful.
Take your new catering earnings and do something great! Perhaps some beautiful chafing dishes for those big events!
Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.
Photos by Josh Keown
“There may be a hundred different stances and sword positions, but you win with just one,” said undefeated Samurai Miyamoto Musashi in 1643. Mushashi would have been a great pizza guy because he described pan pizza to the letter. Every town, village and territory in the world has their own pan pizza style: Chicago style; Sicilian Sfincione; Detroit Red Top; Tuscan Schiacciata; Old Forge style; French Pissaliadiere; Ligurian Pizza all’ Andrea; Philidelphia’s Tomato Pie; the Abruzzan Pizza Rustica from Renaissance times; stuffed pan pizza and pizza Pugliese. Even the centuries-old Chinese Scallion Pizza is baked in metal and some speculate that it was this idea that Marco Polo brought back to Italy to evolve into…(drumroll please) pan pizza!
For 13 years, I have used the 180 seasoned pizza pans in my small place to bake my own Athens-style pizza. Each pan sees action at least twice every day. During the rushes, they get tossed, slammed, slid, stacked and sometimes knocked over which, I will admit, is not a great way to treat the vehicle that crisps my pizza product (but each pan will again eventually don the high protein cloak of cold-fermented dough that it deserves). My pans have straight sides with a “nesting” indentation halfway up to stack the pans very high without harming the dough. I opted for this feature because I only have 1,200 square feet in my pizzeria.
Unlike pan pizzas on the East Coast, ours are not oiled but are just dusted with corn meal. These pans hold the dough crust vertically for a rustic look as it is docked, proofed, sauced, cheesed and topped before heading into our 475 F conveyor ovens. The pan heats up from 390 to 400 F after seven minutes, pushing the crust temperature to 315 F for a nice browning effect. It isn’t as hot as a wood-fired oven but heats up the 19 ounces of proofed dough nicely!
There are as many pizza pan designs as there are styles. If you are buying more than 50 at once, some companies may discount your order or deliver for free. Always ask (I only use credit cards that offer miles also!)
To find the one best pan pizza for your pizzeria, consider these factors:
- Your comfort zone. Are you and your staff willing to enthusiastically craft new pan pizza styles to generate more revenue?
- Your customer. What are they used to? How far can you stretch their culinary comfort zone? u Your market. Who has the best pan pizza in your area? (Be honest.) How can you beat them? These are very personal considerations for you and your pizzeria, but if you wish to take the leap to pan, let’s first concentrate on where the metal hits the road.
- Steel pans. Old-school steel pans are sometimes found in all their black seasoned beauty in the dark corners of used restaurant stores, these are the undisputed kings of golden crispy pizza pan crusts. The steel is strong (but does not conduct heat as quickly as aluminum) and they have better cook-ability and hold the heat longer. With thicker pizzas and larger pans, they don’t have a middle “skip” zone of un-doneness that aluminum pans have because of bending under heat. Some old pan pizzas were made in tin-plated steel pans, but remember that tin melts at 450 F, so these aren’t good for today’s high-heating ovens. I like the steel pans because some high seasoned sides seem to force a nice heat into the upper cornicione, or crust, of the pizza.
- “Nekkid” steel pans. New “bare” steel pans can be cheaper than coated steel pans, but buyer beware: thicker pizza pans with gauges below 16 are getting harder to find these days. If you are buying online, always ask what gauge the pan is. The lower the steel gauge number, the thicker the pan. These new bare steel pans need to be seasoned, which means you crank up your oven and coat each pan with a thin layer of lard, (really old school) vegetable oil or shortening. These have a low smoke point and you must ventilate your place well while doing this all day long until they turn color and eventually get blackened with carbon. (NOTE: never wash seasoned pans or bake with any liquid on the seasoning. If you absolutely have to wash them, use warm water and a weak soap quickly, then rinse and immediately run through another seasoning session.)
- Aluminum pans. Aluminum transfers heat four times faster than steel but I’ve found from personal experience I get a better golden brown crust in a deck oven from the steel. Because non-coated aluminum heats up fast, there is sometimes a “stickability problem.” Large aluminum pans tend to buckle in one corner under brick oven heat and that can affect cooking also.
- Coated pans. Aluminized steel pans offer both the durability and speed at heating up, while the “Anodized” aluminum pans coated with PSTK or pre-seasoned Tuff-kote improve durability and baking performance. These can either be as an electro-chemical process that converts the outside of the pan to aluminum oxide, or through multiple layers of sealant sprayed on an aluminum base that is absorbed into the pores for a tough, non-stick surface. This pan coating comes under numerous names depending on the company but they are all are twice as expensive as “bare” pans and, as I am finding out, will last forever — 11 years and counting for my pizzeria.
As you can see, many options are available for your perfect pizza pan. I’ve barely touched the surface here and most of my information just comes from personal experience. The best pan information will come from the company itself. If you are looking to open a new pizzeria, consider having multiple styles of pizza and don’t forget the pan.
In the next issue, I will delve into the differences in pan pizza dough styles and how the two most important aspects are achieved with the marriage between dough and pan: taste and texture.u
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. He is also a speaker at International Pizza Expo and a member of the World Pizza Champions.
We’ve all seen those menus in restaurants –– Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese — where the heat level of certain dishes is marked by a small chile symbol. Usually, one chile is mild, two chiles means hot and three chiles, well, have a pitcher of milk handy to douse the fire. What in the devil’s name is it that fires up the heat in those dishes? The simple answer is chile peppers in one form or another.
Back in 1912 Wilbur Scoville developed a method to measure the heat level of chile peppers. Without getting all scientific about it, the heat of chile peppers is now measured in Scoville units. Sweet bell peppers have no heat at all — zero Scoville Units. At the other end of the scale, the habañero pepper averages 375,000 Scoville units (there are some peppers that go even higher on the Scoville scale, but for our purposes here, they would be of little use, considering that those chile peppers are so hot your taste buds would have to wear asbestos suits to survive).
Jalapeño, poblano, ancho, pasilla, Anaheim, chipotle, serrano: all of these chile peppers are in a Scoville range that is quite acceptable and can be used (common sense prevailing) to lay some interesting heat on various pasta dishes and pizza, which brings me to that little jar of crushed red pepper flakes on the table in many Italian restaurants, often referred to as the “Pizza Pepper” or “Pizza Picker Upper.”
Cajun and Creole restaurants go with bottles of hot sauce on the table (there is a Cajun restaurant in Chicago that has a “Wall of Fire,” something like a thousand bottles of different brands of hot sauce). My point is that it’s pretty easy to fire up any dish on your menu (or the customer can add their own heat with some of that “pizza pepper,” also known as crushed red pepper flakes, which is a blend of chiles (ancho and cayenne), seeds and all.
But don’t fry your brain in the process. All you have to do is sample different crushed red pepper flakes, chile powders and hot sauces in various dishes before turning up the heat for your customers. Medium heat to one person might be too mild for another and vice versa. When I have chili, I want the heat level to be at the point where my nose runs and my eyeballs sweat. One the other hand my wife wouldn’t touch chili that hot with a 10-foot fire extinguisher. To heat his own, I say.
Two Pasta dishes that cry out for crushed red pepper flakes include linguine con vongole (linguine with clams) and Orecchiette with rapini (“small ears” pasta with rapini a.k.a. broccoli rabe). I am including a recipe for one of those dishes.
As far as stoking the fire on a pizza, it’s as simple as adding a dash or two of hot sauce or crushed red pepper flakes (to taste) to your basic pizza sauce. Be sure to make your customers aware of the fact that this is a special sauce that carries some heat. Note that fact on your menu and list the pizza accordingly. For example, you can use “Pizza Arrabbiata” or “Pizza Diavolo.” The first translates as “angry” or “hot.” The second as “Devil,” as in hot as the devil.
Linguine with White Clam Sauce
Yield: 4 servings (scale up in direct proportion)
1½ cups minced or chopped canned clams
2 cups clam juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound linguine
Put the clams and clam juice in separate bowls or containers.
Put the olive oil in a saucepan set over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned. Add the clam juice, parsley, red pepper flakes and thyme to the saucepan. Salt and pepper, to taste. Bring the sauce to a simmer.
Cook the linguine in a large pot of boiling, salted water until it is al dente. Drain.
Just before you drain the pasta, add the clams to the saucepan just to heat through (if you add the clams too early they will get rubbery).
Divide the pasta among four heated serving bowls. Pour an equal amount of the sauce and clams over each portion. Serve with crusty Italian bread for sopping up the sauce.
Chef’s Notes: You can make this into Linguine with Red Sauce by cutting the amount of clam juice in half and adding a cup of marinara sauce to the clam juice.
Makes one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
8 ounces basic pizza sauce
1 tablespoon chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce*
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 14-inch pizza shell
10 ounces cooked hot Italian sausage crumbles
4 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
Mix the pizza sauce with the chipotle peppers and cilantro. Spread the sauce evenly over the pizza crust. Top the sauce with the sausage crumbles. Blend the Monterey Jack with the cheddar. Spread the cheese evenly over the sausage and sauce. Bake. Garnish with cilantro just before serving, if desired.
Use caution when working with the chipotle peppers. Remove them from the can with a fork, place them on a plate and chop them using a knife and fork. If you have to touch the peppers with your hands, use protective gloves. The smoky flavor of the chipotle is what makes the sauce. However, if canned chipotle peppers are not available, use fresh jalapenos.
I buy chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in my local supermarket. A little amount goes a long way.
Bacon is back. In the past few months I have come across no fewer than seven food articles in which bacon played either a main role or a supporting role in various dishes. Talk about pigging out. Did you know that there was a “Bacon of the Month Club?” Now you do.
And have you heard about the “Bacon Explosion?” Two pounds of bacon get woven through and around two pounds of Italian sausage, the whole of which is slathered in barbecue sauce. Talk about going whole hog.
Bacon is loaded with flavor (“everything tastes better with bacon” is pushing the envelope, but there is some truth there), so it does have a place in many dishes and styles of food. And to expand the possibilities, consider using pancetta. The Italian version of bacon, pancetta is a cured — but not smoked — pork product that should be considered when working up dishes where the idea of pork has merit. One example would be a PLT, or pancetta, lettuce and tomato panini. Buy baby pancetta (it is sold rolled and has the shape of, say, capicolla or salami). Slice it thin, crisp it in a saute pan and use the whole round slices to make a great panini.
I am also in favor of using bacon (or pancetta) in pasta dishes. For example, one of the tastiest pasta dishes around is spaghetti carbonara. Spaghetti carbonara uses just a few ingredients – cooked bacon (or pancetta), grated Parmesan, eggs, black pepper –that when tossed with the cooked pasta makes quite an amazing and delicious dish.
And don’t forget that bacon can be used quite effectively in a salad. For example, combine fresh spinach with crisp bacon, tomatoes, and slices of hard-boiled eggs. A balsamic vinaigrette dressing completes this delicious salad.
Cooking bacon is a no-brainer, but the simplest and easiest method is to microwave it. You can prep a whole lot of bacon in a short amount of time this way. If you do that, be sure to keep the cooked bacon in the cooler or prep table (covered). Even though it is cooked, bacon can go over the hill real fast, so I recommend you not cook more than you need for, say, four days.
On the other hand, if you need the fat that is rendered from the cooking of the bacon, use a saute pan and fry away. Or lay the bacon on a sheet pan and cook it in the deck oven (conveyor oven works too, but the grease splatters really do a number on the oven). There is also the possibility of deep-frying the bacon, should you want it extra crisp to use, say, as crumbles on a salad. The deep-frying does take most of the fat out, which you can take two ways: healthier, but with a loss of flavor.
So there’s an idea, thinking about that “Pork Explosion.” What about the possibility of using bacon and Italian sausage together as a pizza topping. Got a name for it? No. I do. “Pork Pie.”
Pork (Pizza) Pie
I have to admit right up front that this pizza is not low on calories or fat, but when it comes to flavor there is nothing quite like it.
Makes one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
1 14-inch pizza shell
8 ounces shredded mozzarella
10 ounces ground pork
2 teaspoons ground fennel
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
6 strips bacon, cooked until crispy, then chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces ground tomatoes or tomato puree
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
Spread the mozzarella over the crust up to 1/2-inch of the edge.
Mix the ground pork with the fennel, salt, pepper and press into a patty that is about 12-inches in diameter (in other words, very thin). Put the pork patty on top of the cheese.
Sprinkle the cooked and chopped bacon over the pork. Ladle on the tomatoes. Sprinkle the Romano cheese evenly over the tomatoes. Bake.
Bacon and Spinach Pizza
You will note that in this recipe I use the half-and-half cheese method – half the cheese directly on the crust, then add the toppings and finish with the remaining cheese. No tomatoes are used on this pizza. This method gives the pizza a lot more eye appeal since the toppings are visible. This pizza falls into the “Signature” category of pizzas. In other words, because it is made with premium ingredients you can charge a bit more. Your customers will agree, once they have had a slice or two, that this pizza is worth an extra buck or two.
Makes one 12-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
1 12-inch pizza shell
1/4 pound bacon, cooked until crisp and broken into pieces
8 ounces 50/50 blend mozzarella and provolone
½ pound (about) fresh plum or Roma tomatoes, sliced
10-12 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh garlic
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Spread half the cheese blend over the rolled out crust. Sprinkle the cooked bacon over the cheese.
Lay the sliced fresh tomatoes evenly over the cheese.
Spread the spinach leaves evenly over the bacon and tomatoes.
Drizzle the olive oil over the spinach, followed by the chopped fresh garlic.
Sprinkle on the remaining 4 ounces of cheese, followed by the toasted pine nuts.
The Organic Trade Association provides background and information about organic food on its web site, www.ota.com. The OTA defines organic as food that is produced in soil that is free of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. The food itself must be raised without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering, sewer sludge or irradiation. Cloning animals or using their products is not considered organic. Food must be processed minimally without artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is in charge of certifying food as organic in the U.S., according to its web site. The U.S.D.A. allows the use of the term 100 percent organic on labels of food that is in fact 100 percent organic, excluding water and salt. Products may be labeled simply as organic if they have 95 percent organic ingredients. Processed food that is labeled as made with organic ingredients must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.
Want to become a certified organic restaurant? Visit www.ams.usda.gov, which operates the U.S.D.A.’s National Organic Program.
Have fun with this “five-course” summer special: appetizer, salad, pizza, pasta, and dessert. I have a lot of recipes to cover, so let’s get right to it. Each of these recipes can be scaled up in direct proportion.
Mozzarella Cheese Puffs
These golden puffs are flavorful and fun. Kids, especially, love these. You just might have to move them from a special to the regular menu.
Makes 12 puffs
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 pound shredded mozzarella
Combine the flour and the salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter. Fold in the mozzarella cheese. Add the flour mixture and combine thoroughly. Shape the mixture into small balls (around the size of a golf ball) by rolling them in the palms of your hands and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. Oven for 15-20 minutes or until the balls puff and are golden brown. Serve with a warm marinara dipping sauce.
Bean and Tuna Salad with Radicchio
A cool, light and refreshing salad that works particularly well in the summer months. Put layers of thinly-sliced fresh tomatoes on the plate to form a flavorful and colorful base on top of which you can portion the salad.
Makes 4 servings
2 ½ cups canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups coarsely chopped radicchio
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup water-packed Albacore tuna, drained, flaked
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium-size bowl, combine the beans, radicchio, onion, parsley, and tuna. Toss gently to combine. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, and vinegar until completely blended. Add salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
Pizza alla Funghi (Mushroom Pizza)
Earthy, flavorful, delicious. Call it a “Mushroom Lover’s” Pizza if you care to.
Makes one 14-inch pizza
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ pound shiitake mushrooms
½ pound portobello mushrooms, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
½ pound cultivated (white domestic), sliced about 1/8-inch thick
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 14-inch pizza shell
8 Ounces shredded mozzarella or combination of mozzarella and Provolone
In a large saute pan set over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the garlic and the mushrooms and cook and stir until the mushrooms give off their liquid, about 4 minutes. Add the oregano and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the mushrooms out of the pan and reserve (can be made several hours ahead).
Spread the mushroom mixture evenly over the pizza curst. Sprinkle on the cheese. Bake.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Mac ‘n’ Cheese is one of the hottest dishes around. And this is my version of this classic dish. I use a combination of cheeses instead of the usual sharp cheddar. But the all-important flavor kicks — dry mustard and cayenne — are still included.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 Pound cavatappi or similar corkscrew shaped pasta
1/4 pound shredded provolone cheese
1/4 pound shredded Asiago cheese
1/4 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
1 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
In a heavy sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes. Add the milk in a steady stream, whisking steadily, and bring to a boil. Add the mustard, cayenne, and salt, and whisk to combine. Whisking the sauce, simmer until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until it is almost al dente. Drain well.
While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a shallow 3- 4-quart baking dish.
In a large bowl, stir together the cooked pasta, white sauce, provolone, Asiago, mozzarella, and 1 cup of the Parmesan, then transfer the mixture to the buttered baking dish. Smooth off the top with a spatula.
In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, oregano, and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and sprinkle it evenly over the pasta. (This recipe can be prepared several hours in advance, covered and put in the cooler. Bring to room temperature before baking.)
Bake the pasta in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cheese is bubbling.
The standard trinity of Italian desserts consists mainly of tiramisu, cannoli, and gelato, so maybe it’s time to think outside the box. Here’s a quick and easy dessert that offers relief from that boring old box.
This is a dessert you can count on for whipping up (no pun intended) real fast. Creamy and rick-tasting with a mousselike consistency, it’s one that adults and children alike will enjoy. If you don’t have espresso in house, simply use strong black coffee (or even instant espresso coffee).
2 cups ricotta cheese (not low-fat)
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup espresso or strong black coffee, cooled
2 tablespoons sambuca (optional)
½ cup finely chopped pistachios
Put the ricotta, sugar, coffee and optional Sambuca in a food processor or blender and process until creamy and thick. Spoon the mixture into tall serving glasses and refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours, until thoroughly chilled.
Just before serving, sprinkle some of the chopped pistachios on top of each serving.
Another option to jazz up this dessert would be to fold mini-morsel chocolate chips into the cheese after it has been chilled.
From parsley and Parmesan to lemon slices and dustings of powdered sugar, plating food is an art form that delights guests. I want to teach you some plating techniques and let your passion for food shine through.
I’m sure you’ve heard it a hundred times: people eat with their eyes! It’s important to understand exactly what that means. I like to talk about first impressions and how we don’t ever have a second chance to make that first impression. It’s true about the entrance to our restaurants and even how we greet our guests with a warm and friendly hello — creating a great first impression will truly set the mood for their experience with you.
The same principle applies to your food — but it’s 10 times more important. What kind of message are you sending? People are passionate about great food and you can truly show them how passionate you are by making them not just happy, but overwhelmed.
Keep in mind that the first step to styling your food is determining which plate is correct for the dish being served. I’ve seen restaurants jam a side garden salad in a tiny bowl that makes it impossible to even mix in dressing. In my restaurant, I’ve taken a small salad and transferred it onto a large dinner plate or bowl — and what a huge difference. It made a much better presentation and gave the guests a better perceived value.
When it comes to garnish, don’t go old school by putting a leaf of kale with an orange slice and a strawberry on the plate. Make it practical! Making your garnish edible is always a winning move. It could be as simple as sprinkling a small amount of freshly grated Parmesan mixed with some chopped parsley around the edge of your plate. I like to use a little bit of field greens underneath some of my appetizers. If you sell calamari, think about tossing some banana pepper rings with them as an edible garnish. I started selling olive and cheese fritters. When I changed the presentation to a martini glass, the sales of that appetizer doubled, because people would watch a server walk by with them. That’s another perfect example of how people eat with their eyes.
Taking some grated Parmesan and sprinkling them on a parchment paper lined baking pan and baking it in the oven will give you some fantastic Parmesan crisp that can be used to garnish your Caesar salad or many of your entreés.
One of the reasons chefs used to use the kale, orange and strawberry that I mentioned was because of the vibrant color contrasts. When you are creating your menu and recipes, build those colors in. My Calypso pizza that won Pizza of the Year at International Pizza Expo in 2000 had just about every color on it that you could think of. When you looked at it, your eyes would become enlarged and your taste buds got ready for something they knew they would love.
I serve Italian nachos in my restaurant. For the pasta chips, I actually fry up won ton wrappers. We use both marinara and alfredo, then top them with black olives, crumbled sausage, banana pepper rings and diced tomatoes. It’s an incredible presentation because of the space the chips take up. They create height to the dish and have a built-in color contrast. That really grabs people’s attention.
Lastly, for all of your dishes, make sure you have put great care into the flavors and textures. The food is what it’s really all about, after all. It can’t be sloppy. You’ve taken the time and energy to find the right ingredients and the right products to put together your interpretation of a perfect tasting dish, so now really analyze the plates you are using, the colorful ingredients used to create the dish and the manner in which you present it.
One final recommendation that I would give you actually serves two purposes — and that is to photograph your food. It will give you a better perspective on how it looks. If it doesn’t say “wow”, then make a change. It will also show your cooks exactly how you want your food leaving the kitchen. Food styling is something that you would do to maximize the presentation value of any dish that you are to prepare and serve.
A dessert tray is a perfect example to a perfect finish. Whether you make your own desserts or buy them, put together a beautiful display of your desserts and showcase them. It’s the only way to sell desserts to someone who has already filled up on your great food.
Once you make the sale, exceed their expectation with a dollop of whipped cream, with a light drizzle of chocolate, caramel, or raspberry sauce and even a sprinkling of cocoa or confectioners sugar (depending on the dessert). Adding about a nickel’s worth of garnish will really leave that lasting impression on your guests, giving them the understanding of your passion and commitment to making their dining experience the best that it can be.
Don’t limit the antipasto concept to platters. Consider the suggestions below to stretch antipasto across the menu:
• Create an antipasto salad where assorted meats, cheese and vegetables sit over mixed greens.
• Offer antipasto-style subs, paninis, wraps or sandwiches built around standard platter ingredients such as salami, pepperoni and cheese or roasted artichoke hearts, peppers and olives.
• Create a specialty antipasto pizza topped with roasted vegetables, cured meats and cheese. Instead of pizza sauce consider covering the pizza with olive oil and herbs.
• Enhance traditional bruschetta with antipasto ingredients.
• Serve a bite-sized amuse-boche of olives, sliced cheese or vegetables to diners before the meal.
You can have the best coffee bar in the biz, but it doesn’t do you any good if no one knows about it. Here’s how to get the word out:
- Customer education. Coffee newbies may hesitate to order something because they can’t pronounce it, don’t know what it is or even if they’ll like it. Introduce customers to the language and culture of coffee, and don’t make them feel stupid if they don’t know how to say macchiato.
- Coffee cards. You probably already offer buy-x-get-one-free for your slices or pies, so adding one just for coffees is an easy opportunity.
- Do the most with your brew. Give your specialty drinks great, memorable names, do daily specials and offer samples regularly.
- Sell your roaster. Especially if they’re local, organic and/or fair trade. Customers love to see the “people” behind their food, and this is true of roasters as well. You can even sell bags of whole-bean or ground coffee.
To keep you ahead of the curve, here is the way I see the sauce ladle being used in the year ahead for both pasta and pizza. However, as the song goes, you can’t have one without the other. For example, if the trend in pizza is toward a thinner, lighter crust (and it is headed that way), then the sauce going on that pizza needs to be lighter as well.
If the trend in pasta is toward smaller portions (and it is headed that way) then the sauce has to be in harmony with the amount of pasta. What’s the point of loading a small portion of pasta with an enormous amount of sauce (which is what some of the chain restaurants do to the point of absurdity).
So as I look into my crystal ball, I see . . . I see. . . .
When it comes to pizza sauce these days, Less is better. That’s what I see as a big trend in pizza sauces. Far too long we have been drowning that pizza crust with too much sauce. Here’s the deal: use better tomatoes and you don’t have to use as much.
My approach is to use only as much sauce as it takes to get the flavor balance needed for that perfect pizza. For example, a classic Neapolitan-style pizza requires but a light smear of sauce (the reference I am using here as it pertains to sauce is, more than likely, tomatoes–all purpose ground, plum, chopped, puree — right out of the can without any advance cooking or preparation, other than, possibly, some seasonings).
Having said that, tomatoes out of the can is no sauce at all (or at least sauce as we broadly define it). For example, I was looking at a menu from a new Italian restaurant in Chicago. The menu is complete from antipasti to dolci, but there are as many pizze listed on the menu as there are pasta dishes. One pizza that caught my eye and ultimately my taste buds was the “Quattro Formaggi e Polo.” This pizza — thin crust — sported four cheeses, chunks of grilled chicken and thinly cut cherry tomatoes. No tomato sauce at all. Excellent pizza.
Don’t get me wrong. The Queen, as in Margherita, still prevails. Margherita pizza is still one of the most popular pizzas out there, and it will continue to reign in the year ahead (but, please, use good tomatoes, don’t sully the Queen with bad tomatoes).
Light. Think light — but at the same time, think flavor, think texture as you address the sauce issue for pizza. Another example that comes to mind is a white pizza. A white pizza might be a clam pizza, which means that the crust gets nothing more than a brush of garlic-infused olive oil. That’s the “sauce.”
On the other hand, a white pizza in the true sense of the word would start with a bechamel or white sauce. The sauce is brushed or ladled on the crust (lightly) and then any number of topping possibilities can be used: A cheese or two (grated Parmesan, mozzarella), red bell peppers (grilled or not), shrimp, chicken, prosciutto . . . the possibilities are endless.
To recap, the sauce trends for pizza: less is more. Quality over quantity.
Focus on: Spicy tomato sauce, a true white sauce, pesto sauce (especially in conjunction with chicken), a Latin influence (Mexican pizza that uses salsa as the sauce).
When it comes to pasta, the sauce possibilities are off the chart. I repeat, less is more. Make a sauce that explodes with flavor and you can use less and still wow the customer. One thing to be aware of: creamy-rich sauces will not be as popular as they once were. The implication is heavy and rich, so don’t go overboard on offering cream sauces.
What do I see in the year ahead? Zippy, as in spicy, will be a major trend, whether it has to do with a basic arrabbiata sauce or a spicy Italian sausage added to the dish.
Meatballs will be big in the year ahead, but veal meatballs will be generate even more interest. So pair those veal meatballs with spaghetti and a light marinara sauce (see recipe below) and watch what happens.
Sauces with depth of flavor will be important. Add that depth of flavor in any number of ways. For example, swirling some heavy cream into a marinara sauce will give the sauce a luxurious flavor profile. If you really want to push the taste of luxury to another level altogether, swirl in some mascarpone.
Slow, long-cooked sauces will be another trend that has to do with depth of flavor, especially a meat sauce that starts off with braised pork ribs.
Vegetable sauces (as in meatless) will be important as lifestyles demand a healthier approach to sauces. Customers will continue to indulge in pasta dishes, but you need to offer lighter, healthier alternatives. For example, cooked pasta with an oil and garlic sauce along with sauteed zucchini and broccoli or red bell pepper and some crushed red pepper . . . Ecco! A fine pasta dish.
Veal Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
Once you have cooked these meatballs, keep them warm in some marinara sauce.
Yield: about 18 meatballs, each about 2 inches in diameter (scale up in direct proportion)
1 cup cubed day-old Italian or French bread
½ cup milk
1 ½ pounds ground veal
1 teaspoon each dried oregano and basil
1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
In a small bowl soak the bread in the milk until saturated. Squeeze the bread to drain the excess milk. Break the bread into small pieces.
In a large mixing bowl combine the bread with the veal, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, parsley, Romano cheese and egg. Mix thoroughly. Form the meatballs by rolling a portion between your palms.
Arrange the meatballs on a broiling pan or sheet pan. Bake the meatballs in the oven, turning them once, until they are cooked through and brown on all sides (about 15-18 minutes at 425 F.). Can be held in the cooler or put in marinara or any other red sauce.
Pasquale "Pat" Bruno
How much do we know about stuffed crust pizza? I know that the idea of stuffing, say, cheese into a crust is not new. In fact, as I recall, a family in New York actually took out a patent on a stuffed crust pizza, and this dates back some 15 years or more.
There is also some wordplay going on relative to stuffed crust pizza. Version A — the standard (and made popular by a pizza chain or two) procedure — involves rolling out the crust, laying some cheese (string cheese, for example) along the inside edges, and then folding the dough over the cheese and sealing the edges. After this takes place, the basics are added in the usual way.
There is also a school of thought that brings in the idea of a stuffed crust pizza being more of a double crust pizza, similar to, say, a stuffed pizza (made famous in Chicago, circa 1970). I have no problem with this approach, since, in fact, the crust is stuffed, but simply in a different way.
What are we going for here? It is my opinion that Version A involves a lot of extra work, extra cost, and, in the long run, the idea of the cheese stuffed in the crust is not such a big deal to the customer. To put it another way, does the customer get a kick out of the extra cheese stuffed into the crust? Or, are they even aware that it is there?
Having said that, let's take a quick look at a basic stuffed crust pizza (Version A) and maybe play around with some production techniques, along with some ideas that might amp up customer interest in this product. Then I think it would be a good idea to explore another stuffed crust idea along the lines of a stuffed pizza that I have come across on my trips to Italy.
As stated earlier, the initial direction relative to stuffed crust has to do with cheese and cheese alone. I saw situations where operators tried to use shredded mozzarella to stuff the crust (laying the cheese along the edge of the crust as suggested above). That takes a lot of time, and it gets messy, the cheese ending up all over the prep table or work area. Then once the pizza gets baked, the cheese melts away to the point where you hardly know it is there. This is definitely not a good thing.
A more appropriate idea is to use string cheese or strips of mozzarella (cut from a block), and fold those into the crust. Production moves faster this way, and this approach leaves no mess behind. However, once again, the cheese melts away to the point where the idea of it all gets lost on the customer.
Enhancing the cheese in some way helps to draw customer attention. For example, I would sprinkle some dried oregano over the string cheese before folding the crust over it. Another approach I have used quite successfully involves using plastic squirt bottles filled with sauces and such.
For example, if I am doing a barbecued chicken pizza, I would squirt a ring of barbecue sauce alongside the cheese (in this instance I would suggest a smoked mozzarella) before folding the crust.
If I were doing a Mexican pizza I would squirt salsa alongside the cheese (the cheese in this situation being Chihuahua, Monterey Jack, cheddar).
In other words, adding a little something extra, a kick of flavor, will enhance the whole idea of a stuffed crust pizza. Try this out for size:
Three-Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza
Makes 1 12-inch pizza
12 ounces of pizza dough stretched to 14-inches
8 ounces string cheese
1 tablespoon dried oregano
8 ounces pizza sauce
4 ounces shredded (or thinly-sliced) provolone
4 ounces shredded mozzarella
Stretch the dough onto the screen or pan.
Lay the pieces of string cheese (I use pieces that are 5 inches in length) around the crust, about 1/2-inch from the edge, so that they touch edge to edge.
Sprinkle the oregano over the string cheese.
Fold the crust over the cheese, and press and seal the edges all around. The pizza will now be about 12-inches in diameter.
Spread the sauce over the crust.
Spread the provolone and mozzarella over the sauce.
Bake the pizza.
Note: You can use whatever two- or three-cheese blend (a fine selection of cheese blends are available from suppliers) suits your needs.
No matter which way you go, keep in mind that you are adding extra cost to each pizza you make. Translate that cost to customer interest, awareness and satisfaction. If the equation comes out in your favor, then give it a test run around the culinary track and see what kind of speed you can generate. Otherwise, take a different approach.
Single-ingredient organic foods, such as mushrooms, meat and cheese, are easy — anything that’s certified organic by a USDA certifier will bear the USDA Organic seal. There are other seals that denote other standards, such as free-range, hormone-free and natural, but none of these is the same as organic.
When you get into multiple-ingredient foods, it gets a little trickier. But this is where your pizzas will fall, so it’s good to know:
100 percent organic — Pizzas certified to be made with 100 percent organic ingredients
Made with organic ingredients — Pizzas made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients. (Pizzas made with less than 70 percent organic ingredients cannot use the term “organic” other than to identify the specific organic ingredients in the ingredients statement.)
This over-under debate has nothing to do with betting. Rather, it concerns pizza toppings and where to put them.
The gist of this over-under scenario is a stew of ingredients that include tradition, appearance and common sense. Common sense and appearance implies that, for example, you are not going to put the slices of pepperoni on the crust and then ladle pizza sauce over the pepperoni (at least, I hope not). This approach would result in yells (especially from the kids), the least of which is “Where’s the pepperoni?” Tradition suggests that the pepperoni is smack on top of the cheese, so that the slices get a lot of heat, allowing them to cook just enough to release the essential oils, hence the taste and flavor. Not only that, but it also enhances the appearance of the pizza.
However, where you place your pizza toppings can impact on the overall goodness and flavor. For example, when using fresh mushrooms on a thin-crust pizza, there are two considerations that can affect taste. A mushroom that is sliced very thin, placed directly on top of the cheese and exposed to the high heat will dry out in a flash and turn the mushrooms into flavorless pieces of cardboard (mushrooms have a high moisture content). Not good.
Thinly sliced mushrooms should be buried under the cheese just enough to allow the cheese to insulate the mushroom from the heat, yet still cook them just enough. If you have a problem with the buried mushroom approach, toss the sliced mushrooms in olive oil before putting them on top of the cheese. Fresh mushrooms that are sliced thicker, as well as canned mushrooms, will make it through the heat OK most of the time.
Another topping that heat plays havoc with is fresh spinach. Baby spinach is the spinach of choice these days. And while it tastes great on a pizza, it is very fragile. Precooking the spinach is not the answer (it wilts away to the point where you will blow your food costs), so when using fresh baby spinach as a topping you have two choices –– bury the leaves partially under the cheese (as with the mushrooms) or chop it (labor involved) and combine with the shredded cheese.
Over or under considerations have a connection, too, with the style of a particular topping. For example, when using fresh tomato slices (standard slicing tomato), I would not put them directly on top of the crust (the high water content would result in a soggy crust). Put half of the shredded cheese over the crust first, then the tomatoes, then the remaining cheese. As the cheese melts, the tomatoes will become visible. And to enhance the flavor and appearance I would sprinkle on a nice amount of grated Parmesan.
Crumbles of raw Italian sausage under the cheese? No. On top of the cheese? Yes.
Working with, say, mushrooms and spinach (or broccoli or artichokes or cooked sausage) is a no-brainer when it comes to stuffed pizza. The way this works is rather simple, as in simply tossing the topping with the shredded cheese. The cheese (with toppings of choice) is then piled into the deep-dish pan lined with pizza dough. The second layer of dough goes over the cheese/topping mixture, then comes the pizza sauce. The long bake time (35 to 40 minutes is the average) for a stuffed pizza allows for the “toppings” to get a proper cooking.
However, putting fresh broccoli florets on top of the cheese will do nothing good for the broccoli or the pizza. Fresh broccoli florets go under, not over.
Speaking of cheese –– over or under? Using standard shredded mozzarella or provolone, or a mixture of other cheeses, allows you to go either over or under or both. On certain pizzas —Mexican pizza, for example — I cut the refried beans with a bit of water to make them easier to spread on the crust (first topping). Next I sprinkle on a combo of Monterey Jack and cheddar. Over the jack/cheddar combo I add dabs of salsa. Now more of the cheese combo. Lastly, the chorizo slices followed by a sprinkling of cilantro. I would not, for example, put the cilantro under the cheese (I am going for taste and appearance here).
Keep in mind that with a classic deep-dish pizza as made at Uno or Due in downtown Chicago, the slices of mozzarella go on top of the dough and under the pizza sauce. The slices of cheese on top of the dough helps to insulate the dough from a soggy mess, while at the same time adds to the goodness (as in a good crust chew) of the finished product.
Fresh mozzarella is a different story. I would hate to see a classic Margherita pizza served to me that had the cheese under the tomato sauce. The melt would not be the same for one thing, and the appearance would be kind of weird. The same goes for that fresh basil on the Margherita. On top it goes, but only after the pizza comes out of the oven.
ASIAGO PEPPER AND TOMATO PIZZA
Makes one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
1 14-inch pizza shell
12 ounces shredded Asiago or Fontina cheese
6 large (about 1 pound) fresh Roma tomatoes, sliced crosswise ¼ (one-fourth) inch thick
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup roasted red peppers, cut into strips
10-12 leaves of fresh basil
Sprinkle half the Asiago evenly over the pizza crust. Arrange the sliced tomatoes evenly over the cheese. Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes. Sprinkle on the Parmesan. Arrange the strips of bell peppers evenly over the tomatoes. Tear the basil leaves and sprinkle them on. Sprinkle on the remaining Asiago. Bake.