Midweek Modernist Pizza Report: The volume of recipes opens by defying your expectations of what a recipe book can be (Part 2)
The Ongoing Modernist Pizza Review, Volume 3, Chapter 12, "Iconic Recipes," Part 2
Written by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya
Published by The Cooking Lab; First edition, October 19, 2021
Hardcover: 1708 pages, 32.7 pounds, 13.78 x 10.24 x 15.94 inches
List Price: $425.00
Amazon discount price as of 03/08/23: $294.99
And so the section on Neapolitan pizza begins: “Neapolitan pizza has influenced every other style of pizza in the world, yet it shares very little with those styles in terms of appearance, texture and flavor.”
I’m not going to say, “Tell us something we don’t know.” Not everyone knows that—especially if they just opened the book, bypassing two volumes of sensible intel for the “action” of the recipes. (Note: Treating this 3-volume epic as a cookbook is a tragic mistake and a waste of money. There is so much more at work here.)
Mhyrvold & Migoya outline key characteristics that do seem have already been sufficiently beaten throughout the book. But this IS the baking chapter, after all. And in the process of enduring such redundancy, we get all kinds of new stuff.
For instance, this section offers instructions for the “Neapolitan slap.” If you don’t know, that’s a method of stretching dough by slapping it from hand to hand. They tell us it’s difficult to master. Thank God, as I’ve never mastered it.
There’s also a technique for making Pizza Carnavale. It’s something the Modernistas experienced in Naples at Da Attlilio. Understandably, they admired its innovative qualities in a place that’s not known for pizza innovation.
Pizza Carnavale is a star-shaped Neapolitan pizza. The points of the star are filled with ricotta. You might call it the stuffed crust pizza from the better side of the tracks. Including this methodology seems like a left turn, but I admit: it gets me thinking about how I might do that and spend 20 minutes making only one pizza instead of three.
Was that Modernista enough for you? If not, they give us instructions for getting a big puffy rim on your Neapolitan pizza by injecting air using a food-grade syringe. (I’m sorry, but I feel like we’re treading close to nonsense here. This is like the boob job of Neapolitan pizza.)
On the flip side, there are very practical tips for making a crispier Margherita. This is style of pizza they were finding outside of Naples. It’s interesting that Naples hangs its hat on a soft, floppy pizza. I'm going to go off on a rant for a moment. Ready?
SIDEBAR RANT: Non-Modernist Pizza research I’ve seen shows that, objectively speaking, people prefer a crispy pizza. It’s almost as if Naples and the AVPN (the governing body of Neapolitan pizza) suffer from the same kind of culinary Stockholm syndrome as the rest of the world. “It might not be the most desirable quality, but it’s our quality.” (My hypothetical quotation, not theirs.) END RANT.
There are tips for the so-called handkerchief fold, in case you’ve ever seen that and wanted to try it. If you don’t know it, it’s basically a pizza with less cheese that is served cold from a street-side stand or stall. The pizza is folded into quarters, wrapped in a sheet of paper and handed to the customer. Seems to defeat the unique novelty of pizza in Naples, but try to tell the Italians that.
In case you’d like to know, the Modernistas were able to make an 18-inch Neapolitan pizza. That’s the largest they could get through the opening of their oven. Sounds like it’s impractical to try eating a Neapolitan pizza of this size. 12 inches is the ideal size for a Neapolitan pizza, apparently. (It’s Modernist Pizza, after all. They experiment with such things.)
The visual guide to topping Neapolitan pizza is clear and unromantic. These tips are followed by the rules for true, AVPN-certified Neapolitan pizza. While they appreciate the rules, they didn’t find them always to be the best for creating an ideal pizza. I salute them for saying as much.
There’s another exploded view of pizza, this time the Margherita. The “assembly recipe” for said pizza follows, along with a chart for baking times and (gluten surprise!) baking times for gluten-free Neapolitan, New York and Artisan pizzas.
Then, there’s a weird little present. It’s surprising to see in a cookbook about pizza: a photographic recreation of Salvador Dali’s “soft watches” from the painting Persistence Of Vision, but using pizzas in place of watches. How long did that take to set up, anyway?
There’s also an assembly recipe for marinara pizza, along with a topping variation for a Tokyo marinara. If you missed this pizza in the “Pizza Travels” section of the book, it’s a 12-inch Neapolitan pizza that has as much as 4 teaspoons of olive oil on top. And since it’s so fat-forward, Mhyrvold & Migoya experimented with other fats—including bacon fat, duck fat, schmaltz, ghee and butter.
The “Innovative Variations” section of the chapter includes “The Dark Side Neapolitan Pizza.” Yes, this pizza is black. The experiments they did with dying their ingredients black to see how it impacted baking times led to what, frankly, is a disturbing-looking pizza. Sure, I’d try it. It’s probably fantastic. But it’s BLACK. Black cheeses and black dough (no tomato) are colored with activated charcoal. (You’ll also be glad to know the pizza tastes the same without the addition of the charcoal.)
Anyway, their Waffle Pizza variation spared me from having to try this approach myself. I’ve thought about it for years. But I was wondering how, in the context of Modernist Pizza, this qualifies as a variation on Neapolitan pizza. I assume that’s because despite the use of a Detroit-style sauce and brick cheese, the Waffle Pizza is made with a Neapolitan-style dough. (But they also say you can use any dough you want.)
There’s a technique variation for what's known as Pinsa Romana. They’ve also decided this pizza is really nothing more than an oblong Neapolitan that’s popular in Rome. And since it’s not a true Neapolitan, I guess, they’ve provided additional instructions for baking it in home oven. Whee!
There’s a section for Medium-Crust Pizza, which they describe as a kind of hybrid of New York and Artisan styles. Like New York pizza, it will reheat well. It’s a structured pizza that can have char. (My personal preference.) The rim is more open and puffy than I typically care for, but hey—it’s all about personal preferences here.
I admit to a degree of bafflement on this next section: “Using Bread Finishing Techniques On Pizza.” But this is the section for you if you’re a bread head, and you want to bring your art—be it scored crust, stenciled crust, epi cut crust, or a seeded rim (which seems normal enough). There’s even a recipe for a starch slurry to help those seeds stick to the rim of your pizza.
Now, the part everyone has been waiting for: “NEW YORK PIZZA”! We begin with the ever-popular exploded view photo, this time of a New York-style pizza. We move back into the tutorial on medium-crust pizza here. There’s a weird little sidebar about the jumbo slice, something I’ve never seen before. (Though I have seen a 36-inch pizza in Hollywood, so the jumbo slice shouldn’t be too far behind).
Instructions for shaping the pizza include how to toss it in the air. And in a technique I've never seen before, the method for shaping via “gravity pull.” You let the dough hang off the edge of the work surface and rotate it. Who knew?
There’s a discussion of the science behind droopy pizza. A visual guide to topping a medium-crust pizza. An assembly recipe for a New York pizza. A table of baking times and temps (including for your home oven). And, knowing how they feel about it, the best part may be the assembly recipe for “Apizza.” Specifically, they offer the white clam pizza, which was their favorite style while in their otherwise disappointing and confusing trip to New Haven.
Now, as we know, the Modernistas have a hard time leaving anything alone when they think that have a better idea. Enter: The Modernist New Haven Pizza. They one-up the white clam pizza with a white pizza sauced using a sabayon, then topped with geoduck or Manila clams and razor clams. (It looks great.)
Next up, Artisan Pizza in the tradition of Wolfgang Puck, Ed LaDou and Alice Waters. They’re topping pizza with manchego, prosciutto, figs, arugula, goat cheese, and a balsamic vinegar glaze. I admit that while I have nothing against any of these ingredients, i really don’t want them on a pizza. I’ve always felt like these pizzas were trying to prove they were better than the other pizzas when the truth is, those other pizzas are the ones that matter. These pizzas are just saying, “See, we can be pizza, too!” Wannabes. Nonetheless, they are an inextricable slice of the pizza landscape ands get their due here in Modernist Pizza.
There is, of course, the smoked salmon and caviar artisan pizza. An exploded view of an artisan pizza of prosciutto, peas and mint. Then, we move on to “Pizza A Metro,” which is style of pizza ordered by the half-meter. The Modernistas are puzzled that it hasn’t caught on in a more widespread way. But I can proudly say that I’ve had it from a pizzeria in West Hollywood, CA. I can’t say that it rocked my world. But it was novel. For a moment. After that moment, it was just another yawner of a pizza with a gimmick. But Mhyrvold & Migoya like this, so there must be something to it that I haven’t experienced.
Quad Cities pizza is up next. And maybe the less said the better there. And then, make way for Deep-Dish Pizza!
If the idea of owning a copy of Modernist Pizza attracts you like a moth to the candle flame, you can find it here. If you want a skinnier, simpler, sillier book that teaches only one kind of pizza, you can find Free The Pizza! here.
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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