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More delicious pizza in the South Slope.

April 2, 2012 Leave a comment

There was a lot of (well-deserved) hype surrounding the opening of Giuseppina’s, the off-shoot of Lucali’s in Carroll Gardens.  But there is another contender for delicious pizza in the South Slope/Greenwood Heights vicinity that’s been under the radar.

If you haven’t tried yet, check out Pauline and Sharon’s.  While a different style pizza is offered making a direct comparison unfair, Pauline and Sharon’s does deliver which should count for some bonus points somewhere in the evaluation process (you can pick up your pies at Giuseppina’s if you don’t feel like dining in but no delivery).

The puttanesca pie is amazing.  If that’s not enough salty goodness for you, add a Caesar salad which comes with house-made dressing chock full of anchovies.  Word on the street is that the tacos are outstanding.  Will have to give it a try soon.

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Pizza – Now With Less Guilt?

BREAKING: Italian researchers have published a series of findings that eating pizza is good for you!  Or perhaps, that it isn’t so bad for you.  But wait – before you call up Pizza Hut and order that large Meat Lovers Stuffed Crust Pizza (plus add a second pizza for only $1.99!), there are a few things to be considered:

There have been in fact a series of Italian publications over the past decade or so that have all supported the general proposition that eating pizza may convey certain health benefits to the consumer.  The Guardian has helpfully traced this timeline for us:

  •  First, in 2001, researchers at Second University Naples published results of a study in the journal Circulation titled “Pizza and Vegetables Don’t Stick To The Endothelium” – finding that, unlike other typical Italian meals, pizza does not necessarily cause clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis) (Here, subjects were fed a high-fat meal consisting of 2 sausages, 6 bread slices, 1 egg , butter and olive oil, versus a pizza meal consisting of “pizza with tomatoes.”)
  • In 2003, researchers published a report titled “Does Pizza Protect Against Cancer?”  Using data gathered from treatement of thousands of Italian cancer patients, they found “an apparently favorable effect of pizza on cancer risk in Italy.”
  • In 2004, some of these same researchers wrote in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention that “regular consumption of pizza . . . showed a reduced risk of digestive tract cancers.”
  • Likewise, in 2004, another team of researchers published a monograph in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition entitled “Pizza and Risk of Actute Myocardial Infarction,” arriving at findings that suggesting that “pizza is a favorable indicator” for preventing, or at least not causing, heart attacks.
  • However, in 2006, a study entitled “Pizza Consumption and the Risk Of Breast, Ovarian and Prostate Cancer” found that pizza” did not show a relevant role . . . on the risk of sex hormone-related cancers.”  So it seems that pizza does not cure all ills, at least not those related to sex hormones.

One large question raised by this whether it is actually the pizza itself that is conveying these benefits. As the 2003 study acknowledged,

Even if the association is real, drawing inferences about specific components of pizza, nutrients or micronutrients remains difficult, because pizza may simply represent an aspecific indicator of Italian diet. Some (olive oil, fish, vegetables and fruit), though not all, aspects of Mediterranean diet have shown a favorable effect on the risk of several chronic diseases, including cancer.

Fair enough.  And in fact, just about all these studies contain some variation of that statement. So while it is nice to think that pizza specifically is providing these benefits (particularly as you reach for your third slice), it may instead be a function of the individual ingredients (oil, tomatoes, cheese, etc.) and relatively lower fat content in pizza that makes the difference.

That is all fine and good for Italians, but what about us pizza eaters here in the U.S. of A?  Well, here are some facts to consider: (1) Italian pizza is much thinner than the typical American pizza; (2) Italian pizza has much less cheese than the typical American pizza; (3) with less cheese and toppings, Italian pizza presumably has a lower fat content than the typical American pizza, (4) Italians almost certainly are eating less pizza at one sitting than the typical American is.  And importantly (5) Italian pizza is not served with any of the following:

  • garlic knots,
  • “crazy bread,”
  • cinnamon twists,
  • ranch dipping sauce,
  • extra cheese,
  • the crust stuffed full of processed cheese
  • buried in a pile of pepperoni/sausage/bacon/shaved steak,
  • accompanied by a 32 oz. bucket of Coke.

So how do these findings translate to us Americans?  The answer is: probably not well at all.  So why bring this up at all?  Because there is an alternative.  We are not all slaves to our local Pizza Hut, Dominos, or generic greasy NYC pizza places – in fact, as previously posted, making pizza at home is a straight-forward and enjoyable task, with just a little required preparation.  And on top of that, it may – according to a decade of Italian research – provide added health benefits.

Pizza From Scratch: Not The Impossible Dream

Living in D.C. for the past nine months has made me realize how spoiled New Yorkers are when it comes to pizza. Unlike D.C., there are many decent options and a handful of truly excellent options.  But, rather than grind my axe about D.C., I am instead going to be constructive and provide a simple “from scratch”  pizza recipe.  This should be useful even for New Yorkers because homemade pizza is a very different creature than delivery pizza, and it is very impressive to serve to your guests or roommates or significant other once you have gotten the hang of it (which isn’t hard).  Also, for those with children, it is the sort of recipe that kids can help out with quite easily, and of course they get to eat it later.

(If you don’t care about the recipe, skip to the end for a video of a pizza-making FAIL) 

4 cups flour (bread flour is best, but all-purpose will do)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 pkg. “quick rise” yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp. sugar
1-2 tbsp. cornmeal
Assorted toppings (see notes below)

Making The Dough

1. Put the flour and salt in the food processor and process for a few seconds.
2. In a small bowl, mix the water and yeast, then add the sugar. Let it sit for a minute or two.
3. Add the oil to the flour in the food processor
4. Pour the water and yeast mixture into the flour, then begin processing.  it may take a little while, but what will happen eventually is that the mixture will form into a rough ball.  Once this happens, turn off the food processor and take the ball out, sticking any stray pieces into it.  If it is very sticky, add just a little flour and work it in. (Note: if you have problems forming the ball, try adding just a little bit of flour while it is working).
5. Knead the dough ball a couple of times until it smooths out and then put it in a glass bowl with some saran wrap over the top, let it sit somewhere reasonably warm for 45 minutes to an hour to rise.

Rolling Out The Crust

6.  Preheat the oven to 450.  If you are using a pizza stone, put it in the oven to heat, otherwise, keep a large baking sheet handy.
7. Once the dough has risen, divide it into three roughly equal pieces.  remove one of them, roll in a ball.
8. On a large cutting board, spread out the cornmeal to about the size of the doughball. Press the doughball down on it and flatten it.
9.  The technique for rolling out the dough is that you have to let it rest periodically so it will stretch more.  I suggest kneading outwards from the center with your finger tips, turning a few degrees at a time so you are expanding it evenly, or you can pull it gently from the edges.  Once you have gone 360 degrees, let it rest for a few minutes.
10. The reason for the cornmeal is to prevent the dough from sticking on the cutting board, so you can ultimately slide it into the oven. Every so often, you should shake the cutting board and make sure the dough is sliding around loosely – if it sticks, you can reach under and add a little more cornmeal.
11. Knead it out as far as it will reasonably go – the thinner the better, in my opinion.  It may take a little while.  If you have multiple cutting boards, you could be doing this with two doughballs simultaneously.
12. If you are using baking sheet, slide the dough round onto the baking sheet once you have it the way you want it.
 

Adding The Toppings

Here, the sky is the limit.  Just a few observations and pointers here: 

  • Avoid watery vegetables and sauces, as they will make a watery pizza (you should cook veggie and meats ahead of time). 
  • Fresh mozzarella can be watery, depending on the brand, so be careful.
  • For ingredients that may burn (i.e., garlic) you may want to let the pizza cook for awhile and then add the garlic when there are just a few minutes left
  • A good tomato sauce can be made by using a can of crushed tomatoes, after draining all the liquid out of them (i.e. pressing through a mesh strainer) – or you can cut up whole canned tomatoes and drain them.
  • often, less is more – the crust will be able to stand pretty well on its own so you dont need to drown it in cheese, sauce or toppings…especially cheese.

Getting The Pizza In The Oven

If you are using a baking sheet, just slide it into the oven.  If you are using a pizza stone, it becomes somewhat trickier.  The difficulty is, you can’t just pull or lift the uncooked pizza off the cutting board because it may stretch and tear.  The best technique is to pull out the oven rack as far as it can go, with the pizza stone on it (it will be 450 degrees in there, so be careful).  Then, holding the cutting board an inch or two over the stone, you want to do the following, all in one motion: push the cutting board forward an inch or two to loosen the pizza, then jerk it back towards you quickly.   Ideally, as you jerk back the cutting board, the pizza will drop flat onto the stone or sheet. 

Here’s what it looks like when this is performed wrong.  That guy did not jerk the peel back quickly enough, as you will see.  Don’t be that guy!

* if you fail spectacularly in pulling this off – don’t panic!  If you just fold a failed pizza in half and seal off the edges with a fork, you have made a calzone – and none of your guests need know that you botched the pizza.

FINALLY – bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes.  Once the crust is nicely browned and the cheese melted, it should be good to go.  I would suggest checking it after 8 minutes and then every minute or two after that – you want the crust to get pretty browned so don’t be shy about leaving it in – however, you don’t want it blackened, obviously.

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