A reduction can surprise guests by amplifying your pizza’s flavor profile
Last month I talked about liquors, aperitifs and Amaros. I mentioned that this month I’d add digestives to the mix and then tell you how you can use all of these in a surprising way to improve your pizza. So let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?
A digestive, or “digestivo” in Italian, is an alcoholic beverage that is served to aid in digestion. Drambui, Limoncello, Strega, and Fernet Branca are a few.
As luck would have it, I recently visited the Fernet Branca plant and museum in Milan, Italy. Fernet Branca is made from spices and herbs that are aged in oak barrels. It’s all natural and made from scratch. I started drinking Fernet when I was just under 21 years old (don’t tell anyone) in North Beach (Little Italy), San Francisco. North Beach is where several of my restaurants are now and it happens to be the neighborhood that consumes more Fernet Branca than any place in the U.S. You even see it on tap. Currently one of the most popular drinks in Argentina is Fernet Branca and Coca-Cola.
Anyway, all of these spirits that I mention above are not just for drinking. They can be used to make excellent reductions that can be drizzled over the top of some amazing pizzas!
Recently at the World Pizza Championships in Italy I was asked to create a pizza for 65 people. I wasn’t competing … I was demonstrating with five of the best pizza makers in the world. I was asked just a few days before to cook, so I had to create a pizza that was monumental and unforgettable. I went with an eight-grain dough made with an apricot starter, mozzarella, smoked pancetta, goat cheese blended with apricot, radicchio and frisée pickled in vinegar. The kicker? I used a Disaronno reduction served with a Disaronno Sour cocktail. Each person was given a jar and they shook their cocktails tableside. It was the perfect pairing, especially because Disaronno is made from the inside pits of apricots and I used apricots on the pizza and in the dough with the starter. I grew up farming apricots until I was 18 years old, so this pizza went right down my alley. The flavors were out of this world and the crowd loved it.
So, how do you make a reduction with one of these drinks?
Turn a burner on high and pour your spirit into a small pot. It will start to boil and burn off the alcohol, so be careful. You should do this without the top on of the pot. As the spirit starts to boil you want to continuously stir it using a whisk. As it cooks down and gets lower and lower, the sugars will come out and create a reduction that is similar to a syrup. You don’t want to over-cook this because it will burn. As it thickens you should be testing it quickly — but don’t burn yourself when taste testing. You can grab it with a spoon and see if it slides on the backside of the spoon slowly (like a syrup does). This consistency can be different with certain spirits. Fine baking sugar can be added if you think it needs more sweetness –– just make sure it melts. Campari would be bitter and semi-sweet; Strega has a nice, cool, sweet flavor to it; Fernet Branca has a sweet mint flavor. Disaronno has a very sweet caramel/Amaretto flavor to it. All of the spirits have their own flavor profile and all of them can be delicious.
Over the years I’ve experimented with spirits reduced and drizzled over salads, pizzas and entrees. They can also be infused in desserts, like tiramisu and cannoli. The next time you grab a bottle, try reducing it for an amazing ingredient!
RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento. Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.