The Pizza Bible by Tony Gemignani

photograph_copyright__2014_by_sara_remington.jpg__800x600_q85_crop“11-Time World Pizza Champ” is not something that would normally impress me much. Competitions are bunk, but I read about this online and saw some illustrations and was intrigued enough to add it to my Amazon wish list. After thinking about it for a few weeks, I ordered it. I’ve been given a few pizza books over the years, and there are some decent ideas in them, though I find it’s the quality of the food photography within that has the biggest influence on whether I want to try a recipe or style.

The Pizza Bible has excellent photography, and almost every page makes you want to try something – even atrocities I’d normally dismiss like the Chicago deep dish, though maybe not the cheese and lard pizza.

Bible implies a certain comprehensiveness, and I think that’s the case here. The book covers pizza styles from all over the United States and Italy, but also Barcelona, Dublin, Greece, Munich etc. There’s also a section for wrapped and rolled pizza, calzone, and so on. The pizza sausage roll is especially intriguing (flatten the sausage meat over the whole of a disc of dough and then roll it like a Swiss roll before cooking), and looks like a great lunch-box staple. I also like the look of the Pizza Romana (pictured), which is a giant slab of pizza with a variety of toppings, leading you through a meal from starter to dessert.

I chuckled at first over the idea of making your own sausage, but while I wouldn’t ever go as far as buying the attachment for my Kitchen Aid and some wraps, idea grows in your mind until you decide to try it.

I’ve always been fairly lazy about my pizza, though in comparison with someone who just orders junk pizza from Domino’s or buys supermarket ready-made ones, obviously not. But I’m not trying to win a world championship. I do buy Caputo pizza flour (excellent), but I don’t make my dough 24 or 48 hours in advance. Instead, I bung in a tablespoon of instant yeast and sit it in a warm place to rise in about an hour. Even this, of course, is more than most people do to prepare pizza, and people are generally very complimentary about my crusts, notwithstanding the quick’n’dirty preparation method. I haven’t got a wood-fired pizza oven in the back garden (though I’d have one if I won the lotto), but I do cook pizza on a slab of granite in my gas barbecue, and (in winter) I use a Ferrari electric pizza cooker, which does a decent enough job if you use it right. I’ve also got one of those Uuni wood pellet ovens, but I’ve been disappointed in the results and don’t use it (ought to get rid of it really). As for the sauce and the cheese, I generally just spread sundried tomato paste and use grated mozzarella from the supermarket. And family tradition dictates the use of a repertoire of toppings, including the divisive pineapple as well as olives, chorizo, bacon, peppers, and sometimes exotica like avocado, fig, or banana.

But this weekend, I went for the full Pizza Bible experience. I started the dough (with a tiny amount of yeast) on Thursday night, left it in the fridge, then knocked it back on Friday and divided it into three balls, which were again refrigerated until two hours before use on Saturday (my house is generally on the cool side, so two hours was needed to reach ‘room temperature’). I made the ‘New York-New Jersey’ (no-cook) tomato sauce using the best ingredients I could find on this side of the pond, and even prepared garlic oil. And then the sausage. Once you read the Bible, and realise how this ‘home-made sausage’ works without skins, it makes perfect sense.

Instead of pork mince, I bought some sausage meat from Waitrose (opted for the Gourmet variety, which already had black pepper and nutmeg in it), which I then mixed with other spices, including crushed fennel seeds, star anise (because I couldn’t find regular anise seeds), and chilli, as well as honey. What you do with this is take small amounts and flatten it into discs which you put on your pizza. So it’s not sliced sausage, but works just as well, if not better. It’s just a little messier and, if you’re squeamish about raw meat, might put you off. To test the flavour, I cooked a few samples in a frying pan: as soon as you taste it, you’re totally sold. The recipe in the Bible uses 900g of pork, but I halved the quantities, which still leaves you with more than enough sausage. I divided it into four balls and froze three of them.

My other toppings included chorizo and another kind of Italian sausage, which was probably overkill for the first weekend, but you can never have too much variety with pizza.

Pizza making is always a bit of a production line or military operation, and I’ve enough experience to be able to skip those parts of the Bible, but the author does take you through the steps: you get everything lined up and prepared in little bowls etc. in advance, like a television chef who has someone else to clean up after them.

Again, being lazy, I generally roll out my dough to flatten it, though I do sometimes hand stretch. Following the Bible religiously, I tried to hand-stretch this time, which does preserve more of the airiness of the 48-hour dough. This was not entirely successful, not because I’m bad at it, but because my dough balls were on a sheet of baking parchment that turned out not to be the non-stick kind, and so they lost a bit of integrity in the traumatic transfer to the work surface. So I part hand-stretched and part rolled out.

I did three different toppings: one with the home-made honey-spiced sausage and the home-made sauce; one with Calabrian salami; and one with chorizo. I also used a different type of mozzarella this time, the Galbani cooking mozzarella.

The results were interesting. The first pizza, the one with the home-made sausage, tasted so much better than the other two (with pre-packed slices or sausage) that I was actually a little disappointed in them and wished I’d made more with the home-made. I was also less keen on the Galbani mozzarella than I thought I’d be. I’ll probably go back to the Waitrose grated next time. Also, the recipe in the book used a lot more cheese than I usually do, so I’ll cut back next time. My wife wasn’t keen on the garlic oil (which was drizzled onto the pizza after cooking), but she never does like the taste of raw garlic (she’s French).

I’d give this first outing 7/10 (for the first) and 6/10 for the others. There’s room for improvement, but one thing I know: there’s no turning back from this sausage.

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