Midweek Modernist Pizza Report: The volume of recipes opens by defying your expectations of what a recipe book can be (Part 4)
The Ongoing Modernist Pizza Review, Volume 3, Chapter 12, "Iconic Recipes," Part 4
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
Perhaps there is hope for us regular folks as pizzamakers after all. The section of Chapter 12, "Iconic Recipes," beginning “Thick Crust Pizza” is another excellent, concise overview of pan pizza technical details and aesthetics. And something in there is eerily familiar.
In the section of “Thick-Crust Key Characteristics," there’s a photo of an “open crumb structure” crust. That photo makes me feel better about my own Detroit-style pizzas. They look shockingly similar. If I’m approaching anything Mhyrvold & Migoya approve as desirable, it makes me feel like I’m yet again doing something else correctly.
The photos in Modernist Pizza can be very helpful in providing an aesthetically pleasing yet technically useful illustration of what this stuff should look like in process. This includes the beauty shots (of which there are many, many alluring examples). But it's also about the process shots within the recipes. And once again, who doesn’t love an exploded view photo of a pizza? This time, it’s a Detroit-style Red Top Pizza, as they call it (or a “red stripe” pizza as I originally learned it).
There’s a recipe here for “Our Burt’s Place-Style Pizza.” It seems that Burt’s Place in Chicago was made nationally famous by Anthony Bourdain. And while I remember seeing the late, iconoclastic punk TV chef at Hot Doug’s, raving about the subversive hot dogs, I don’t recall his venturing into this pan-pizza joint.
Burt's Place makes a round pizza more in the Detroit style than Chicago style. It’s a light and airy, thick-crust pan pizza, heavy on the toppings and with a crispy-cheese frico that all looks fantastic. This is one of those recipes that makes me say, “I must try this!” And the photos are further enticement, for sure.
There’s a focaccia recipe because this bread “is often viewed as a precursor to pizza.” There’s an “ultra-open crumb” variation on focaccia, and an extensive list of focaccia toppings provided in a parametric recipe.
I’m not sure how to feel about a recipe for focaccia in the context of a pizza book. It’s clearly not pizza. And I’ve always been a little leery of focaccia, feeling as though it’s a trendy wannabe thrust onto the scene here with a crass and calculated, commercial motivation and little aesthetic intent.
But then again, I'm a cynic and focaccia is clearly a “pizza cousin.” And I do feel that, like Detroit-style pizza, it’s the kind of thing you can learn to make fairly easily once you’re comfortable with traditional, round pizza. And having focaccia in your bread box, so to speak, gives you one more thing you can serve or bring to a party that enhances your pizza reputation without actually involving the high-friction of making many flat, round pizzas.
There’s a recipe for the infamous sfincione, the Sicilian bakery item that’s often mistaken for a pizza. (It’s not pizza but a bread, both by most people’s standards and by the pizza taxonomy devised for Modernist Pizza.)
There’s also an Argentinian Al Molde-style pizza recipe. This is a thick-crust pan pizza that’s heavy on the cheese—enough so that the Modernist travel team was taken aback by how much the cheese oozes from the pizza once it’s cut and served. Variations thereof include the A Caballo style, which is with a chickpea cake on top, and a cheeseless Canchera style with anchovies.
Next up is the “Prebaked Pizza” category. We’re speaking specifically of Roman al taglio-style pizzas, the New York square pizza, and variations like Grandma-Style, and the long and narrow Sadenara from Liguria.
The prebaked category also includes another infamous pizza, that of “Pizza Capital Of The World” Old Forge, Pennsylvania. This is the pizza oft described as “like the bland pizza you would find in a middle school cafeteria.” (They might have standards and favorites, but Mhyrvold & Migoya are also fair.)
Along with the Al Taglio recipes, they give us their own Gabriele Bonce-inspired recipe with ricotta, pistachios and mortadella. There’s also a recipe for “Our Pizza Sandwich,” inspired by Renato Bosch who trademarked the "double-crunch" pizza called Pizza Doppio-Crunch. If you need yet another way to ingest more carbs than is advisable, here you are. This seems like a lot of work for what I would term a PLO (pizza-like object), but hey—no skin off my nose. And no more on my waistline if I don’t make and eat it. (But why do I want to?)
There’s the Bonce-esque Pizza Gourmet recipe. Pizza Gourmet is a creation that eludes me. It’s a non-traditional pizza with a prebaked round crust that looks like an oven-browned throw pillow.
After baking, the Pizza Gourmet throw pillow pie base is covered with “chef-inspired toppings.” The assembly recipes they offer include an oyster cream, ham and caviar Pizza Gourmet; a Margherita pizza Gourmet (which is its own unique take on this standard); and a Pizza Gourmet topped with squab and foie gras. (“Honey, I’m just going to rush down to Kroger for some squab and foie gras. Back in a flash!”)
The next section, “Pizza Cousins” reminds me of my own designation for Pizza-Like Objects, except on steroids. There’s an actual pizza in there, called the Pizza Montanara. It’s a Neapolitan crust that’s been fried, then topped with cheese and sauce and finished in an oven. There’s the pizza fritta, which is a little like a deep-fried calzone. (The “secret” to this pizza is ciccioli, made from fatty, aged, pressed cuts of pork. Good luck finding it at Kroger along with your squab and foie gras. It is apparently available via mailorder.)
The Modernistas introduce us to making the famous calzone. This old standby is essentially the pizza ingredients you already have on hand repurposed for the folded, pizza-Iike treat.
Since this is a pizza-like object many of us make unintentionally, it’s interesting to see actual instructions on how to make it with purpose and intent. Mine usually happen by surprise right at the oven. My calzone recipe includes a loud iteration of the F-word, then a lot of shoveling around inside that hot, hot oven with the peel and fingers, and maybe a spatula finds its way into the action.
There’s a Pizza Alla Campofranco, which is a “double-crusted savory pie” that looks a little like a classic pork pie. And no, you will not find it in Italian pizzerias. They do not regard it as pizzeria-worthy. But the Modernistas bring it because they found it very similar to Chicago deep-dish pizza.
They also bring a warning: “It takes some practice to get right, so don’t make this as your first attempt at pizza.” Of course, since I often suffer from polarity response, I wish I had tried this as my first pizza.
But my bigger question is this: who wants to make traditional pizza, comes to this monstrous book, and decides, “Pork pie-like pizza! This is the recipe I’ve been waiting for!” It’s like going into the tool chest for a tack hammer and deciding a 12-pound sledge is exactly what you were looking for. But again, I digress.
Next, the Pizza Rustica is similar to the Pizza Alla Campofranco in that it’s a double-crusted pizza with a savory filling. But this one is more tart-like. It also makes me wonder if this isn’t related to the pizza the famous Samuel Morse experienced when he once described pizza as a “nauseating species of cake.” This pizza cousin seems much like a quiche with a top crust.
The recipe here for Focaccia Di Recco is presented with the commentary, “This recipe shows how flexible Italian cuisine names are. It’s called focaccia but there’s nothing focaccia-like about it; this is super-thin and doesn’t have an open, airy crumb, and is stuffed with cheese, which focaccia typically isn’t.” It also sounds really good. I may have to try it after the other 137 things this book make me want to bake.
And that, my friends, takes us to the end of the chapter on “Iconic Recipes.” Next up, chapter 13: “Flavor Themes.” Get ready for topping-on-topping madness!
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?
When you click those links to Amazon (and a few other sites we work with), and you buy something, you are helping this website stay afloat, and you're helping us have many more glorious photographs of impressive pizza.