American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza

American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza

by Peter Reinhart

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Master bread baker Peter Reinhart follows the origins of pizza from Italy to the States, capturing the stories behind the greatest artisanal pizzas of the Old World and the New.

Beginning his journey in Genoa, Reinhart scours the countryside in search of the fabled focaccia col formaggio. He next heads to Rome to sample the famed seven-foot-long pizza al taglio, and then to Naples for the archetypal pizza napoletana. Back in America, the hunt resumes in the unlikely locale of Phoenix, Arizona, where Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco has convinced many that his pie sets the new standard in the country. The pizza mecca of New Haven, grilled pizza in Providence, the deep-dish pies of Chicago, California-style pizza in San Francisco and Los Angeles—these are just a few of the tasty attractions on Reinhart's epic tour.

Returning to the kitchen, Reinhart gives a master class on pizza-making techniques and provides more than 60 recipes for doughs, sauces and toppings, and the pizzas that bring them all together. His insatiable curiosity and gift for storytelling make American Pie essential reading for those who aspire to make great pizza at home, as well as for anyone who enjoys the thrill of the hunt.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781607740902
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 10/27/2010
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 51,946
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Peter Reinhart is a full-time baking instructor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was the cofounder of the legendary Brother Juniper's Bakery in Santa Rosa, California, and is the author of six books on bread baking, including Brother Juniper's Bread Book and the 2002 James Beard and IACP Book of the Year, The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

Read an Excerpt

For a long time, I thought the best pizza in the country was from Mama’s in Bala Cynwyd, just outside of Philadelphia. And then something happened.
I grew up on Mama’s, even worked there briefly as a delivery boy, and found warm comfort in its stringy cheese and crisp, yet floppy crust whenever I’d been rejected for a date, lost a basketball game, or got together with high-school friends for a Saturday-night poker game. My family was equally hooked, and we often picked up a Mama’s pizza for dinner when my mom wanted a break from cooking, especially if going out for Chinese food, our other favorite pastime, seemed like too much trouble. We knew the owners of Pagano’s Pizzeria in West Philadelphia and often went there when we wanted an actual restaurant experience to go along with our pizza, pasta, and broasted chicken (they were pioneers in this now rarely seen pressurized frying system). But as good as Pagano’s pizza was, it never measured up to Mama’s for deeply felt satisfaction, a culinary balm of Gilead. More than forty years after eating my first Mama’s pizza, almost always made by Paul Castelucci (though I never knew his last name when I worked as a delivery boy), the business is still in the family, and the pizzas are now supervised, but not made, by Paul Jr., Paul’s son. Mama’s is still extremely popular, with long waiting times not only for pizza, but also for fabulous stromboli, hoagies, and cheese steaks.
My brother Fred, who now lives forty-five minutes from Mama’s instead of the five minutes of our childhood, continues to make the pilgrimage whenever he needs a fix. He brought us a Mama’s pizza when my wife, Susan, and I were in Philadelphia for a big food event. Susan had sprained her ankle at the airport just after we landed, forcing us to cancel our dinner plans so she could keep her foot on ice. When I called Fred to explain our plight, he said, “No problem, I’ll pick up a pizza and some cheese steaks at Mama’s and we’ll eat in.” I loved the idea. It had been years since my last Mama’s pizza.
The pizza arrived ninety minutes later, accompanied by Fred and his wife, Patty. I rushed through the greetings—hug, hug, “great to see you”—while Patty comforted Susan. I was captivated by the aroma of the pizzas and cheese steaks, and my mind floated away to distant times. It was like a long-lost friend, triggering painful and joyful memories that were flashing like a deck of cards rifled in front of my eyes. I’d deal with those later. For now, as far as I was concerned, it was about opening the pizza box, unwrapping the butcher paper from the cheese steaks, and getting everyone to stop talking and start eating. We divvied up the cheese steaks, which tasted even better than I remembered them to be, and then, at last, passed around slices of the pizza. I took a bite and stopped, the pleasant image-streaming of food memories suddenly interrupted by a mental disconnect. I shook it off and took another bite expecting an automatic memory flash to kick in so I could resume my forty-year flavor retrospective. Instead, I got a blast of “Whoa!
There was definitely something amiss. The words just came out without forethought. “Fred, they’ve changed the crust.”
“No they haven’t.”
“Yes they have.”
“No, they haven’t. Maybe it’s you.”
“I don’t think so. The crust is thicker and there are no air bubbles in the lip. Definitely not the Mama’s I grew up with.”
“I think it’s you.”
“No, it isn’t.”
Fred took another bite. “Well, it does seem a little thicker than usual. I heard they were breaking in a new pizza guy. But, I gotta tell you, it’s still pretty close to usual.”
“Maybe it is me,” I thought. It wasn’t just that the crust was a little different. The cheese and sauce certainly still resonated with old memories, and even if it wasn’t the best Mama’s, it was close enough that it should have elicited, within my usually tolerant margin-for-error forgiveness code, at least a sigh of pleasure. But something had changed within me. My expectations, an internal bar of standards that is both conscious and subconscious, had been violated. A slow wave of realization set in, one that I couldn’t suppress even though I tried.
“Maybe,” I said to myself, “it was never as good as I thought it was, just the best I’d been exposed to during my sheltered youth.” I knew it was something I couldn’t say out loud because Fred and Patty still lived here, while I was going back to Providence and might not have another Mama’s pizza for years. Yet I couldn’t shake the thought.
Since 1990, when I left the communal setting of a religious order in which everyone lived a vow of poverty and thus had limited restaurant experience, I have had the privilege of teaching and writing about food, especially bread. I’ve traveled around the country and beyond, belatedly pursuing knowledge about my taste passions. These passions are simple, not of the great gourmand type. I have learned that one of my inherent gifts is the ability to recognize flavors and textures of universal appeal and show people how to reproduce them. As a result of this gift, I have carved out a career as an educator, writer, and product developer. Which brings me back to pizza.
I have had a steady stream of students who have their own sets of childhood food associations that have driven them to the gates of learning. Food memories, as James Beard and M.F. K. Fisher have shown us, are powerful and compelling forces. Wherever I teach, if I want to get a lively conversation going, I need only ask, “Where do I find the best pizza around here?” Nearly everyone has a pizza story and a strong opinion. Pizza, it seems, lives in everyone’s hall of fame.
In 1976, I worked in Raleigh, North Carolina, as a houseparent in a home for what we euphemistically called undisciplined teenagers; in other words, juvenile delinquents. There was a pizzeria on Hillsborough Street called Brothers Pizza, and although I barely remember the details of the place, I do remember the experience of it. I took the kids there whenever we needed to decompress from the latest dramatic event in our house, and there were always, always dramas. That pizza, and only that pizza among all the pizza shops in town, was a panacea, our emotional salve. It had a crispy, crackly crust, like hot buttered toast, comforting and satisfying. It was perfect. The cheese was stringy and slightly salty. Was it the best pizza I’d ever had? No, but it was “perfect” pizza, a peerless match of textures and flavors that fed more than our stomachs and palates. But if I had it now, all these years later, I imagine it would be like having a Mama’s now. It would be good, perhaps the same as it always was, but it wouldn’t be the pizza of 1976, when teenage boys and girls from shattered families, with broken hearts and raging hormones, felt safe enough to confess their fears to me and to one another as they ate their pizza. That pizza, out of that context, could never be that perfect again.
So here I was, years after Raleigh, in Philadelphia, realizing that I was caught in a nature versus nurture situation. Was it me or was it the pizza that had changed, or was it a little bit of both? I’m pretty sure that when I asked myself that question, I set this whole pizza quest in motion.
In the pages that follow, I recount the journey that took place between my two visits to Phoenix, plus some trips that followed it. (This is a journey with no clear endpoint; it doesn’t begin or end with Pizzeria Bianco or Mama’s, but is merely signposted by them.) I had become a hunter of sorts, a pizza hunter, and I enlisted others to join me on the hunts. With Mama’s no longer the benchmark, and with the memory of Pizzeria Bianco serving as a temporary beacon and standard, I sought out great pizza everywhere I traveled, and I traveled to seek out great pizza.
Some of the numerous pizza excursions I choreographed were thwarted by circumstances: trip cancellations, a restaurant Closed sign, logistical mix-ups. But almost every time something went wrong, something else occurred to make it all right. In fact, Plan B was often better than Plan A could ever have been. As result I came up with the Reinhart Pizza Hunter’s Credo, a sound axiom for anyone who decides to adopt it: It’s all about the adventure, not the pizza. The pizza is just grace.
Sometimes my fellow pizza hunters made the hunt itself a more memorable adventure than the pizza did. I had so many interesting conversations around a pizza, on the way to get a pizza, or in anticipation of a pizza, that the pizza itself became the excuse for the hunt. But every now and then, the quality of the pizza transcended the hunt, stopped all conversation and refocused everything on itself, the object and subject, and the thrill of the hunt fulfilled itself in the quarry. When that happened it was magical, and all that mattered again was pizza.
So, I followed the trail wherever it led. And where it inevitably led, to no one’s surprise, was Italy.

Table of Contents

Part IThe Hunt9
New York City
New Haven
San Francisco Bay Area
Los Angeles
Sardinia in Dallas and Croatia in Bellevue
Pizzeria Bianco
Philadelphia and Mama's
Part IIThe Recipes89
The Family of Doughs103
Napoletana Pizza Dough
Roman Pizza Dough
Neo-Neapolitan Pizza Dough
New York-Style Pizza Dough
Pizza Americana Dough
Prebaked Freezer Dough
Sourdough Pizza Dough
Grilled Pizza Dough
Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza Dough
Sardinian Carta di Musica Dough
Focaccia Dough
Focaccia col Formaggio and Greek Pita Dough
Sauces and Specialty Toppings141
Tomato Sauces141
Crushed Tomato Sauce
All Purpose Marinara Pizza Sauce
Pesto alla Genovese
Specialty Toppings146
Balsamic Syrup
Herb Oil
Spicy Oil
Caramelized Garlic Puree and Whole Cloves and Garlic Oil
White Sauce
Smoked Eggplant Puree
Sweet-and-Sour Onion Marmalade
Sauteed Mushrooms
Butternut Squash Puree
Dill and Chive Sauce
Crab and Cream Cheese Topping
Roasted Eggplant, Tomato, and Lemon Topping
The Pizzas163
Napoletana-Style Pizzas171
Pizza Margherita
Pizza alla Marinara
Pizza Quattro Stagioni
Pizza alla Pugliese
Pizza con Acciughe
Pizza Quattro Formaggi
Pizza Vesuvio
Pizza con Rucola
Pizza Rosa al Bianco
First Generation Neo-Neapolitan Pizzas188
Sauce and Mutz Pizza
White Clam Pizza188
Second Generation Neo-Neapolitan Pizzas194
New York-Style Sauce and Cheese Pizza
New York-Style White Pizza
Pepperoni Pizza Americana
Three Cheese Pizza with Roasted Eggplant, Tomato, and Lemon
Third Generation Neo-Neapolitan Pizzas201
Candied Figs, Pecans, Andouille, and Goat Cheese Pizza
Onion Marmalade, Walnuts, and Blue Cheese Pizza
Smoked Eggplant Pizza
Cream Cheese and Crab Pizza
Smoked Salmon, Dill Sauce, and Onion Pizza
Folded Greek Salad Pizza
Roman-Style Pizza210
Pizza alla Romana con Salumi
Pizza al Taglio, Rosa e Bianca
Grilled Pizza216
Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza224
Classic Deep-Dish Pizza
Sardinian Carta Di Musica Pizza228
Pizza alla Pescatora
Pizza con le Sarde
Focaccia alla Genovese
Potato Rosemary Focaccia
Focaccia with Onion Marmalade, Blue Cheese, and Walnuts
Raisin Focaccia
Grape Focaccia
Focaccia col Formaggio di Recco

Customer Reviews

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American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has two parts, the Hunt (about searching the world for great pizza) and the Recipes (how to make and bake pizzas at home). My only critique of the Hunt part is that I could only get halfway through before I HAD to start making pizzas! The good news is that you don't have to read the entire hunt to understand and execute the recipes in part two. And the recipes and techniques that I've tried so far have worked great. I have made pies with the napoletano and neo-neopolitan doughs and they make the BEST homemade pies I've ever had. I plan to spend the next couple of months making all the recipes. They've been as good as or better than all but the best pizza shops. Which brings me back to 'the Hunt.' I eventually finished this section of the book, and it is enjoyable. It is a bit drawn out, and thus makes better reading if spread over time. I was impatient and skimmed through for the regional results. Then went back and read it cover to cover. I had already eaten at some of the places mentioned (in NY and Rome), and I can agree with the author's choices. I'm looking forward to taking some trips to the Northeast and Southwest to try some more!
angray on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love this book, though be warned - it's not exactly a regular cookbook. The first half is a bit of a travelogue and personal journey as Peter seeks out different types of pizza around the world, trying to capture some of the flavours of his youth and of the history of pizza. The second half consists of recipes which recreate the various pizzas he was impressed with in his travels.I really liked this mix; it provides a context to his abiding interest in pizza and also provides a useful perspective - there's no one perfect pizza as there are so many different and good variations out there. Peter has excellent taste, and makes a great tour guide.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have studied homemade bread recipes and techniques after being hooked as a kid. THE Best by far were books written by Peter Reinhart. Informative, not stuffy, contemporary, yet developing a traditional love into a modern comfort! This book does the same for pizza...I love making homemade pizza. Now I can do it well!
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pizzaiolo More than 1 year ago
Interesting introduction to the history of pizza making in America. Great foolproof recipes for making dough and toppings.