Fiori di Pizza / Pizza Flowers
Another week, another Project Food Blog Challenge-Pizza. I deeply appreciate you voting thus far, and I hope you like this entry enough to vote again. This time I had to reach deep into the caverns of my mad mind to come up with a pizza made at home worth weeping big salty tears over. Then I hatched a plan to spherify those tears, but that’s a tale for another time over a big-girl-sized glass of wine. Not having a pizza oven at my disposal, I knew I had to think far outside the box (or oven, as it were).
The resulting pizza is one which, in its inception, involved a set of skateboard trucks (I wanted it to spin around at mouth height in front of the diner), air bread, and shards of tomato glass. Ultimately, the skateboard trucks seemed too dirty to be part of a dish you’d eat with just your mouth, the air bread too-puffy since I wanted it to be a one-bite wonder, and the tomato glass (in its early test versions, at least) too sharp for a tender mouth.
The skateboard trucks were replaced by a flower stem. I forewent the idea of spinning altogether, which I hope you’ll agree is for the best since psychotically complicated does not often a toothsome dish make. I replaced the air bread with the thinnest savory tuile crust I could conjure, and the tomato glass became tomato gossamer- still paper-thin but slightly less-piercing on the intake.
And so, pizza flowers-fiori di pizza- were born. The requisites of this challenge stipulated that we include a crust, a topping and a sauce. The glaring omission to that list would be cheese and so I embraced that as a fourth criterion.
I set about creating a noteworthy pizza and my thoughts inevitably wandered to toppings. Crust aside, this is where the hot pizza debate often gets infernal, and sometimes ends with people slinging slabs of Canadian bacon across the table at capicola-clutching purists. In an effort to please both the old world and the new, I decided on a mashup of two classic pies- The Margherita (ciao Napoli, ho nostalgia di te) and good ole Pepperoni Pizza, which linguistically-speaking is a bastardization of peperoni, the plural Italian word for pepper.
I’m hereby naming my pizza the Mullet of pies because it possesses a little somethin’ somethin’ for everyone. The business front is there with the serious Margherita, but you can’t give up a little party in your mouth, so the Pepperoni is there to slather your salami. If Mullet pizza like, totally gags you with a spoon like the full-on Valley girl you are deep down, like, oh my gawd, then think of it as the Ape-Drape or Long Island Ice Tease pizza instead. In some strange parallel universe these are considered euphemisms for Mullet.
Now that I’ve pissed off both sides of the pizza contingency and I haven’t even addressed the thin crust thick crust burnt bottomed floppy folding fork and knife folks, I’d better get down to explaining the business end of this pie. The pizza base, as formerly mentioned, is a savory tuile crust made from an adaptation of Thomas Keller’s cornet recipe in TFL. Initially I tried potato tuiles-too gloppy, semolina tuiles-to gritty, even rice tuiles-too Styrofoam. Finally I recognized that I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel because Thomas Keller has already done it for us, so I bedazzled his cornet recipe with a little extra butter and a dusting of semolina and eureka! I had my crust.
Phase two involved forming the crust into a flower base that would both affix to the stem and cup the petals, stamen and pollen I had planned. Egg shells proved instrumental here. I was able to nestle the crust rounds into the shells and create dainty little teacups worthy of the highest High Tea.
Affixing the crust to the stems was another matter entirely. I used gum arabic as the “glue” since it’s edible and tasteless. I bought six artificial tulips, cut off the petals and kept the stems, then got down to gluing my cups with a blowdryer and a steady hand. I had some time to ponder important matters during this epic blow-dry session since each flower took 15 minutes of hot air to perch precipitously on the teetering stems. I came up with a few gems I’ll share with you:
a. I have finally found a use for artificial flowers that doesn’t involve a rubbish bin,
b. floating particles of gum arabic that have blown into a nearby glass of Tempranillo do not add value to the mouthfeel, and
c. too much Tempranillo may have a causal relationship to an alarming new physical ailment I developed which I’m calling “shaky hand syndrome” or SHS for short.
After the blowdryer incident, the tomato gossamer almost turned the fiori di pizza coup into the fiori di pizza debacle. Genuine tears were shed during this portion of the experiment, and since this occurred the morning after, I cannot blame it on the Tempranillo. First I had to track down some esoteric sugars to mix with the tomato powder I’d made by pulverizing dried tomatoes. If you want to do this, I suggest locating freeze-dried rather than sun-dried tomatoes, since they will have less moisture, and moisture is the nemesis of tomato gossamer. Regular sugar won’t work to make these because of several scientific factors including melting point and moisture content.
Suffice it to say that I took a cue from Grant Achatz’ playbook and made a neutral tuile base from fondant sugar, powdered glucose, and isomalt. I then pulverized it along with the tomato powder (in a 50 sugar to 10 tomato ratio), sifted it over a round template onto a silpat, melted it in a 200°F oven, and formed the gossamer into the waiting tuile crust cups in a pleasing petal shape. That all sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. I won’t delve into the details of my agony- the wound is too fresh- but all sorts of things went awry, including but not limited to breakage, clumping, glopping, and melting.
The topping and cheese represent the party part of the Mullet pizzas since they were fun and easy to make. I made a basil “dew” to pay homage to the Margherita. Basil oil is simple but it takes several days since you need to infuse blanched basil into oil before you strain it and give it a final day to decant before again separating out sediment.
I opted to include pepperoni in the form of “pollen” to stick with the floral theme. Pollen-izing involves rendering fat from a big hunk of pepperoni, then mixing it with maltodextrin to turn it into powder. It evokes synesthesia tasting something so familiar in such a different format- supersensory fun with science in the kitchen.
While reverse-spherified buffalo mozzarella bulbs are a little fat to represent stamens, they have a certain je ne se quois, and so they stand. Spherification is the process of turning liquid into spheres using a calcium chloride bath. Reverse spherification differs in that it uses a sodium alginate bath instead. Reverse works well with calcium-rich food, making it perfect for mozzarella. Buffalo mozzarella spheres benefit the pizza by providing a liquid element, but not drenching everything and destroying the delicate crust and tomato gossamer. If you’d like to see the technique, check out Ferran Adria’s helpful video.
The relationship between a diner and his/her food is beautiful, complicated, and evolving. We know it’s important to consider what goes into our bodies. Altering the actual mode of presentation helps resonate that point. Fiori di Pizza are designed to sit at mouth-height and easily pop off their stems in one bite. While each flower represents an entire pizza, the drastic skewing of scale as compared with a traditional pie is a play on quantity, and further, gluttony. Much like many far-greater (actual) chefs (I do not presume to the title) before me, I am on a quest to create the ideal bite. I would rather have one mouthful of perfection than a thousand of mediocrity.