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Professional Pizza At Home with Sunday Dinner Club

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

What can a home cook glean from professional chefs? That's what I'm attempting to find out. I have a voracious hunger to learn from those far more experienced than I, so I decided last year to call upon some connections I have with local chefs and see if I could work in their kitchens. The name of this practice is called a stage. Pronounced with a soft a - St-ah-j.

You might recognize Josh and Christine from my Holiday Gift Guide. They own Sunday Dinner and Eat Green Foods (best granola bars on the planet, have you tried them yet?). Sunday Dinner Club is their underground community dining club; you have to be on their email list to get an invitation and it's not easy to get on the list - you have to know someone who's already on the list and be referred by them. They send out invitations for monthly, four-course themed menus, you respond with an RSVP and they let you know where to show up. It's all very hush hush because they are operating out of a private home.

So, it was at this secret location that I showed up to do my stage. It was a traditional, Victorian-style Chicago two-flat with a standard kitchen - a place you'd not expect to be served restaurant quality food.

One of the deal breakers for me in choosing the chefs I wanted to work with was that they only use the best ingredients; that they buy local, sustainable, hand-crafted foods as much as possible. It aligns with my tastes and values and fortunately for all of us, there are so many chefs doing that these days. I have staged for three consecutive months with Sunday Dinner Club and I am blown away by the ingredients in their fridge and larder. Everything they buy and use (and personally eat themselves) is of the highest quality; they shop and source from the best local and international purveyors. Everything they make is from scratch in their kitchen - start to finish. It was a treat to learn and work with these ingredients.

My first stage with Sunday Dinner, they did a series of pizza dinners and I was shocked that you could make professional, Neapolitan-style pizza at home without special equipment.

Here is the menu from their Pizza Dinner, last November 18, 2009:

Tuscan Ribollita Soup with Pancetta & White Beans

Calamari, Chickpeas, Cauliflower, Red Chile Orange Vinaigrette
Butternut Squash and Rainbow Chard Gratin
Finnochiona Salami (fennel salami from Salumeria Biellese) with Housemade Giardiniera
Fried Potato Cake with Leeks & Aioli
Winter Salad Greens, Marcona Almonds, Balsamic

Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Kale), Chile Flake & Ricotta
Tomato Sauce, fresh Mozzarella & Fennel Sausage
Wild Mushrooms, Creme Fraiche, Caramelized Onions & Rosemary

Zeppole (Fried Donuts) with Local Honey & Cinnamon Sugar

One of the elements of the dinner that I loved the most was their housemade Giardinera
. They served it with fennel salami on a small bruschetta toast. (By the way, the letters ch together in Italian produce the sound of a K - broo-sketta.) It's fresh and bright tasting versus the giardinera soaked in oil you usually see, which has its merits too. They were kind enough to offer me their recipe, so here it is. This is the kind of food I would keep in my fridge and just eat out of the container all the time.

Sunday Dinner Club Giardinera

Makes approximately one quart

Picking Liquid
6 cups water
4 cups vinegar (apple cider or white distilled or combination of both)

2 cloves crushed garlic
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon red chili flake
2 Tablespoons kosher salt

1 cup cauliflower florets, roughly medium dice size
1 cup medium dice carrots
1/2 cup medium dice celery
1/2 cup medium dice sweet bell pepper
1/2 cup medium dice shiitake mushrooms

Other Ingredients
1/2 cup sliced green olives (preferably Castelvetrano or Lucques)
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Bring pickling liquid and aromatics to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Strain out aromatics and return the liquid to a simmer.

Add carrots to the liquid and cook for one minute. Add cauliflower and celery, cook for one additional minute. Add peppers and cook for one additional minute. Add mushrooms and turn off the liquid. Allow vegetables to steep for 5 minutes. Strain vegetables and discard the liquid. Cool vegetables completely on a sheet pan. Once cooled, add olives to mixture and toss mixture with olive oil. Serve with diced finocchiona on toasted bread.

Best Home Made Pizza

Here's the pizza recipe. It is made with "oo" flour, which is as fine as silt and high in protein. It's the essential ingredient for the dough. I haven't worked with dough much at all and was very intimidated, but the trick is to not over handle it. You could make a batch of dough and after you divide it into four portions, keep them in the freezer until you're ready to use them. The other trick is to parbake the dough, which is thoroughly explained below. Buy the best quality ingredients you can afford for the toppings, that's what makes the biggest difference of all. The other great thing I learned is how to make creme fraiche. It's so expensive to buy at the store but so ridiculously easy to make and can be used for both savory and sweet dishes. Mix one part organic buttermilk to three parts organic heavy whipping cream in a container and let sit out covered overnight. Voila, you have creme fraiche. On the pizzas, we used a large spoonful of it, rubbed it across the dough with the back of a spoon and then put the caramelized onions, mushrooms and rosemary on top. It was my favorite pizza of all.

OK, happy pizza making....

Inspired by Jim Lahey 's Sullivan Street Bakery no knead technique - pizza dough recipe

Makes 4 10-inch pizzas


3 cups "00" Flour (found at Italian Grocery Stores like Bari Foods and Caputo's)
1/2 teaspoon Instant Yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 1/2 cups Water
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (good quality)


To make and portion dough:

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and stir until mixture comes together in a slack dough. It should look loose and wet.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 18 hours at room temperature.

After the 18 hour rise, preheat oven to 500 degrees F and place a pizza stone on the middle rack. Flour your work surface and pour the dough onto the surface. Sprinkle the dough liberally with flour. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions and place on a heavily floured sheet pan with at least one inch between each of the doughs. Cover with cheesecloth or a kitchen towel and allow to rise for two additional hours.

To shape and parbake dough:

Heavily flour your work surface and place dough on the surface. Begin to gently stretch the dough out from the center with your finger tips, rotating the dough and being careful not to create holes. Leave the rim in tact, trying to preserve as much air in the dough (especially in the rim) as possible. Once the dough is stretched to about 9 inches around, place the dough on a floured pizza peal or the back of sheet pan. Brush dough liberally with olive oil. Moving quickly (as to minimize heat loss), open the oven, slide the dough onto the baking stone and close the oven.

Parbake each dough about 4-5 minutes until it is bubbly and lightly golden brown around the edges. Remove pizza crust from the oven and allow to cool in a single layer on a sheet pan. At this point, without compromising quality, you can hold the parbaked pizza crust uncovered at room temperature for a maxium of two hours before finishing baking with toppings.

To finish pizzas:

Preheat broiler. Add toppings of choice to each pizza, leaving 1-inch around the rim and being careful not to put too much weight on the crust. Sprinkle pizzas with kosher salt and black pepper. Place pizza under the broiler for about 1 minute and watch carefully. Pizzas left unattended with most likely (and tragically) burn. Rotate pizza with tongs if neccessary to get even cooking and browning on the toppings. You might need a couple of additional minutes and rotations to get the desired finish, but you want the pizza toppings to bubble and begin to brown. Transfer finished pizza from the sheet pan onto a cutting board. Allow to rest for 1 minute, drizzle with olive oil and eat immediately.

Topping suggestions:

Tomato Sauce, Fennel Sausage, Fresh Mozzarella and Stravecchio (or Parmesan)

Creme Fraiche, Caramelized Onions, Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms and Fresh Rosemary

Braised Italian Kale, Chili Flake and Ricotta Cheese

Photos by Tyler Mallory

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