Thursday, February 4, 2010

I got the pox from what's in the box with the dots

The Italian migrant diaspora has given us a lot of things. Decent coffee, for example. Or Your Correspondent for that matter. However, the influx of Italian migrants into America hasn't been quite so packed full of win. Italian-American society has taketh away far more than it hath giveth. (Sorry about the thpeach impediment, I have a blogged node.) For every Joe di Maggio or Mario Andretti they giveth, they also giveth us Madonna, bad Mafia films, Jersey Shore and crappy American pizza.

There are few greater travesties - few more heinous examples in cuisine of Europe giving us something wonderful and America ballsing it up - than crappy American pizza. Aside perhaps from crappy American coffee, but that's a post for another time. Deep-dish, cheese-slathered, inch-thich-base oozing with emulsified lard, lined with processed mystery meats, dubious sauces and Things That Cannot Be, slung into a soggy cardboard box and delivered lukewarm to your household in 30 minutes, or the projectile gastric's free. There is no place for American-style pizza in modern Australian cuisine, aside from out the back in the skip. Particularly because decent pizza is an absolute piece-of-piss-a (see what I did there?) to make. Now, as with many things in a culinary 'space' I'm a rank amateur at DIY pizzadom compared to the likes of Flinty, but I do know what I like, and the following is it.

Decent pizza, to my way of thinking, needs a couple of simple elements. (They're elements which completely escape any pizza joint I've found in Dunedin, but that's another story.) One, it needs a thin base. NOT one of those big fuck-off lard-sponge jobs and definitely NOT infused with liquid cheese impersonating polymer. Two, less is more. It needs as few toppings as you can get away with. Three or four different ingredients, well chosen to complement each other, is perfect. And the same goes for the cheese - less is more. Unless it's less of course. In which case it's still more.

What I've just actually described in the above is the blessed output of what was always my favourite pizza joint in Brisbane, the Schonell Pizza Caffe at the Uni of Queensland. And not just because you could order them at the uni bar bistro downstairs and they'd bring them down to you, piping hot, while you smashed ales by the jug and talked absolute crap with your peeps. They were brilliant, authentic bits of gourmet gear. Sure the menu itself was a tad on the wanktastic side - each pizza was named after a particular director, actor, film or other element of Italian cinema, in tribute to the indie art-house cinema which the Pizza Caffe was attached to - but each was brilliantly conceived. And the place was licenced, much valued during the long, dark period of black-evil-crap-ed-ness between the closure of the Rec Club in the late Nineties and the opening of the new uni bar with the series of stupid names (then Red Room, now the 2nd Degree or some minging shite) in the early Noughties. And pizzas were only eight bucks for students! Of course at this point someone older and crustier than I, with UQ alum status that dates back beyond the turn of the century, will point out they were five bucks back in the day, or two, or free, and the Rec Club would sell you a dozen pots for a buck fifty, and it were all trees roon' here lad, aye. Good on you, and good to see the elderly getting out in the community. $8 pizzas were pretty fricken sweet back in the Noughties. Personal faves were the K (Killer Fish - the pizzas inevitably became known by their initials rather than their slightly punishing names), a marinara pizza lightly dusted with chilli; P (Pasolini), a compelling combination of pancetta, potato and rosemary; and Q (fuck knows, can't remember), which was prawns, tomato and fresh basil leaves. Simple flavours, simple ingredients which set each other off brilliantly. That, my friends, is pizza. Not a quintuple cheesegasm lardmeister super supremo from Pizza Slut that looks like a melted puddle of Jabba the Hutt.

And so to the practical component of today's lab class, which is: recreating Pizza Caffe WIN in your own home. Here I've had a bash at the Q and P pizzas, because I could. Obviously, commercial bases and a standard kitchen oven aren't about to recreate the win that homemade dough and a proper pizza oven would, but stuff that.

Commercial base, commercial pasta sauce with a bit of crushed garlic blended through.

RHS - Quo Vadis replica; tomato, basil and prawns.

LHS - Pasolini replica, which sounds more like a '70s Ducati than a pizza; proscuitto (pancetta not available in the Anglo white-bread stronghold of D-town), thinly sliced new potatoes and fresh rosemary.

Ready to roll. With probably too much cheese, given the above rantage. Oven cranked to As Hot As It Will Go.

Waiting. It's thirsty work.

Not ready yet.

More waiting then.



And good it was too. Not as good as the genuine arsetickle, but the latter's as much a ghost of the past as KB Gold and flared slacks. You'll notice in the above that all references to the FKNAWSMness of the Pizza Caffe's work are in the past tense. This is deliberate. The last time I went there, about two years ago, the uni beancounters had been through. Prices had been jacked to Christ and, worst of all, inferior ingredients had started slipping into the pizzas. The marinara mix used for the K pizza was worthy of burley, little more. The pancetta tasted like Woolies ham, and the fresh basil on the Q pizza was freshly shaken out of a Master Foods bottle. EPIC FAIL.

You can never go home again.

The Doctor is OUT.


  1. These days you are far better off just making your own good food. At least you know for sure what you are eating, and there is also the bonus you know for sure actual real food has been involved in the process.

    The pizza looked great, I can see me doing a homemade one soon now.

  2. I used to make dough in the breadmaker.
    Too easy. Chuck it all in, push buttons, come back when summoned by bleating machine.
    Roll dough, powder dough, spread with sauce and sprinkle with goodies.
    One favorite was pesto and mushroom with little slivers of bocconcini.

  3. Sweet mother of god that looks good.

  4. I've made my own dough since my penniless student days. No machine involved, just yeast, good flour, optional herbs and sugar. The last is just to give the yeast something to get stuck into to prove it's ALIVE, ALIVE I SAY. Basically, you fill a measuring jug with lukewarm water, add a tablespoon of sugar and some dry yeast, blend by hand, let stand until a dense foam starts to form on the surface, place flour in a bowl with herbs, make a well and mix by hand till you get a dough that's firm but not dry. Then let that rise for at least an hour, covered so as not to dry out.

    One of the few good kitchen items I owned back in the day was a cast iron pan. So I'd warm this on the stove, roll a base onto it, add toppings on the stove while preheating the grill, once the cheese was on and the base was warmed through I'd stick the whole pan under the grill. This would produce near-perfect results every time, once I was in practice.

    These days, I still do the base, but cook it all on the barbie. For this you need a 4 burner with a hood. You put the plate on low and the grill on full. Place pizzas sans cheese on the plate and close the hood, let them go for 5-10 minutes, turn off the plate and add the cheese, and bake for another 10-15 (with the hood closed of course). This requires getting the heat balance above/below right and takes some practice, but produces consistently excellent results when up to speed.

    The dough itself is great in small pieces rolled out flat and thrown on the barbie as pan bread. Or indeed it makes bread rolls. It's a bread dough after all. You still roll it flat, but leave it half an inch thick and bake in the oven for 10-15 on 180.

  5. Have a post brewing on the other half of the Italian goddess, pasta. Less is more there as well. And once you have the nack it's easy as.

  6. I went to Italy in the early noughties and was blown away by their pizzas. So different. So delicious. Those American beast should really have a different name. To borrow your word, 'piss-a' would be apt!

  7. Daze - yeah the quality of the readymade bases has improved to the point where it's actually not a bad option for a meal - quick too, and gives the youngsters the opportunity to contribute to making it, which means they're more likely to eat it.

    Moko - it was too. Lining up another for lunch tomorrow.

    Damian - great to see someone getting actual use out of all that extraneous crap they got with their BBQ! Our hood is still in the garden shed somewhere.

    Beeso - good to hear

    TW - was really hoping to get an indignant response from Jen or one of the other USAnians, but will have to keep trolling!

  8. Looking tasty DOC.

    I have the same philosophy as you...greek yiros breads make superb bases and those herbs you get in the squeeze tube make great sauce bases...usually a mix of garlic, chilli and parsley...topped with cheese only (mozza)...I used to bake them for the boys when they were beering and they loved the crunchy cheesey spicyness-ness. WIN.

  9. I admire your waiting technique - and the pizza looks good to!

  10. Quokka - sorry I missed you above - breadmaker dough's pretty good I understand. My yeast fermentation expertise runs to home brew only I'm afraid.

    Nat - sounds like excellent boozing fodder! You mind catering Bathurst for us this year?

    Lerm - there's got to be some advantages to this cooking caper I reckon.

  11. Arrivaderci Pizza in Milton is not all bad (and the only takeaway pizza I will even consider). Homemade bases are definitely the best though - espeically with some homegrown basil, pancetta, minimal sauce (which I'm too lazy to make myself) and some variety of hard smelly, or soft stringy dairy substance strewn sparsely on the the top. Although I do also admit to loving the heretical barbeque sauce, cheese and red kidney bean (or even tinned baked bean) pizza now and again - homemade of course, on a handy commercial base. Don't shoot me!

  12. I remember the night that Pietro at the Schonelle opened the Pizza place - he had made his own woodfired oven. Glad to hear that it is till cooking...