50 State Pizza Project


I’ve been remiss in updating the progress on the 50 state pizza project, as has my friend over at The Muffin Man. However, every couple of weeks, when I’m not sure what to do, or what to write, I look in the fridge to find what state I could represent with my next pizza endeavor.

I did it last week- I opened the fridge, and there was some celery, half a pepper, some olive tapenade, and some cold cuts and cheese. Ah, well. Maybe next week.

Then again, maybe not.

On my days off, I usually wander to the store, pick up a couple sundries, and head back home to make a sandwich or two, hence the cold cuts. For tomorrow’s outing, for example, I bought some edamame, some roasted peppers, and some sandwich vegetables. I also saw, in the frozen section, langostinos, those little half lobster/half prawn crawfish looking things. There, in the frozen aisle, was my inspiration. I’ve used crawfish many times before, and I love them, but their muddy flavor just wouldn’t go well on a pizza.

I gathered my purchases, went home, and began chopping with Gordon Ramsey’s MasterChef in the background. Into the bowl went Olive Tapenade, fresh basil, chopped celery, diced tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, and a couple good handfuls of langostino tailmeat. This was the base of my pizza. This was going to be the sauce.

In the fridge, I had provolone and genoa salami, alongside some emmentaler and sopressatta. Another quick shred of the cheese and rough chop through the salami, and my pizza was almost ready to be assembled. I was making a muffuletta pizza.

Muffuletta is one of the old staple foods of New Orleans. It traditionally consists of olive salad with giardinera, ham, provolone, capicolla, salami, mortadella and any other italian meat you can find, all on a giant loaf of focaccia-like bread. Its origins trace back to the early 1900s, most prominently attributed to the French Quarter’s Central Grocery. Sicilian workers would come in during their lunch break, order meats, olive salad, and slices of cheese to eat with their bread, eating them separately, perched rather precariously on produce crates and barrels. Lupo Salvatore, the owner of Central Grocery, saw this as an opportunity to take something from the old world and adapt it to a new, New Orleans clientele. (Did you read my last post? See what I did there?) He took all the ingredients, layered them, and put them on a round muffuletta loaf, selling them by the quarter or half.

Alright, who’s hungry from that little history lesson? Back to the pizza.

With all this delicious nonsense happening in my kitchen, I took a time out to realize a problem with the 50 state pizza project. Some states will not fit on my pizza pan. It’s a decent sized pan, too. 14 inch? I guess what I’m saying is that I had to make do with a lopsided version of Louisiana. That’s okay. I think it’s more about the flavor than the shape. Shape is approximate.

Louisiana Pizza- Not Actual Shape or Size

So it was good. With the olive salad, the dough would have benefitted from a solid parbake to avoid the absorption of moisture that made the pizza only knife and forkable rather than the glorious foldable slices of, say, a New York Pizza. Does that mean it was a failure? Absolutely not. It was a great idea, and I loved the flavor. Half the pizza had salami, half had langostinos, and the entire thing tasted great. I’ll definitely think about it a little more before I make another one, and address the problem of soggy crust head on.

What should the next pizza be? If you’re inquiring about your home state, let me know what ideas you have for ingredients indigenous to that state, and how you’d envision it all fitting together. I’ll get back to you when I have a few good ideas.

Here’s something to think about- from whatever state or substate you live in, what would you say are ingredients and preparations thereof native to your area?

When I took on the task of making a pizza in the shape of New Jersey, utilizing ingredients native to the state they were to represent, I had it pretty easy with New Jersey. There’s a style of pizza (tomato pie), and a solid ingredient that the state is known for being a large producer of  (eggplant). However, for my second attempt at a pizza, I may have promised too much.

Wisconsin. Yeesh. My home state, land of beer, cheese, bratwurst, etc. Do they go on a pizza? No clue. Can I make them fit? Probably. How do I come up with a cohesive theme that encompasses all the great things about Wisconsin cuisine and fit them on a single pie? Moreover, how do I reconcile my desire to put everything on a pizza where the ingredients may or may not match up. Furthermore, taking from my years at the Dane County Farmer’s Market, how on Earth do I choose from the thousands of fantastic, locally grown and sourced items that were available to me every Saturday?

The local food movement is never more present than in Wisconsin, where every weekend at 6:30 AM, as I set up the bakery stall, I’d see wagons filled with local meats, cheeses, and produce, destined for restaurants around the area. There was L’Etoile, a kind of mini Chez Panisse, taking a large bit of inspiration from the mind of Alice Waters. L’Etoile spawned Harvest, whose executive chef went on to lead the Madison chapter of the Slow Food Movement. In later years, though, there was Ian’s Pizza. I’d never think that Ian’s would be so fastidious about sourcing local ingredients, as it was a late night hangout for every drunken collegiate within stumbling distance of either the Kohl Center after basketball games or State Street, the main bar thoroughfare in Madison. Still, every Saturday, Ian himself would be walking around the square, talking with the vendors, and picking out interesting ingredients for his pies.

Ian’s made a name for themselves as an inexpensive yet inventive pizza joint in Madison, staking claim to pizzas like the Macaroni and Cheese, the Steak Frites, and more recently, a Thanksgiving pizza, with mashed potato sauce base, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and bits of turkey as a topping. This is where I drew a bit of inspiration from.

Wisconsin

Here’s a map of Wisconsin: It’s much larger than New Jersey, with topography that goes from rolling glacial hills with incredibly fertile black soil in the south to sandy, evergreen forests in the middle, and cranberry bogs in the north. What to do?

In Wisconsin, there’s a tremendous amount of old growth forest-a mycological playground for wild mushroom foraging. Morels, trumpets, hedgehogs. You name it, and with enough asking and searching, you can find someone who knows just the right place to find some. Unfortunately, the only thing as sacred in Wisconsin as the allegiance to the Green Bay Packers is usually the location of one’s secret mushroom area, so good luck with that one.

***

In my head, I’ve got some ideas. I waited a couple of weeks for the first signs of real spring produce to show up. I did not want to use hothouse tomatoes, root vegetables, or anything that could have been kept in a cold store for the winter. Around April in Wisconsin, we see the first shoots of green pop up: In our gardens, we have the patches of asparagus that grow like weeds. In the forests out behind the house, we have my personal favorites, ramps. As I walked through the store the other day on my way out, I noticed we had some ramps on the shelf. I grabbed two bunches, their twist ties reading Harmony Valley Farms, a longtime Dane County Farmers’ Market staple and huge advocate for new and different local foods. They were selling sunchokes and yellow carrots long before they were foisted on us by the Food Network. They were nutty, soft, and as good then as they are today.

I found some dried apples. In the Kickapoo Valley in the Southwest corner of the state, there is a town called Gays Mills situated among the bluffs along the Mississippi. It’s known for its Apple Festival every September, where all the orchards harvest their finest crops and come together to celebrate the agriculture which sustains this three block long Main Street and the surrounding area.

In the meat department, I grab a bratwurst. Unless you know where to find Johnsonville, or you make your own, you cannot find a good, raw bratwurst in this city outside of Lincoln Square, the heavily German neighborhood on Chicago’s north side. The bratwurst we have at work is pretty good. Flavorful, and a close cousin to a Sheboygan.I also grab a little bit of bacon.

As I mentioned before, cranberries in northern Wisconsin grow abundantly, and driving through the state, if you avoid the turnoff to Minneapolis, you pass bog after bog of cranberries destined for a bottle of Ocean Spray. In the store, it’s difficult to find a dried cranberry these days that is not sweetened with sugar, so I found some that were a bit more pricey that were sweetened with apple juice.

Up to this point, I have not talked about cheese. Cheese is a touchy subject, especially if you need to find something that is going to be representing the entire state. Do you do cheddar? Muenster? Brick? Wisconsin, specifically the cheese Mecca of Monroe, has more Master Cheesemakers per capita than any other state in the country. In Monroe alone, there are 9 Master Cheesemakers, one of whom, Bruce Workman of Rothkase, has certifications as a Master of eight cheeses. You study one at a time, for two years before you’re even considered for your certificate.

Fun fact: There used to be over 100 dairy operations in Southern Wisconsin that made limburger cheese. Now, there is only one in the United States, and it is located in Monroe, Wisconsin.

Okay, back to the cheese. Which one to choose? I wanted to go with something fresh and something from Wisconsin. In my state, Dairy farming still sustains many, many families, and although times are tough, there are many farmstead operations around the state  where farmers can take their milk to be processed. One such operation is Crave Brothers Cheese. Makers of fresh Mascarpone, ripened cheeses, and Fresh Mozzarella, I found out a few years ago that a former classmate of mine had married into the family. When shopping for local ingredients, it makes me feel good to know that I’m supporting not only area businesses, but families and friends who are working hard and making a living by showcasing the agricultural heritage of Wisconsin. From the fresh case at work, I picked up a container of Crave Brothers Ovoline.

***

As I assembled the ingredients back at the house into something that I might actually want to eat on a pizza, I felt good. I sauteed some mushrooms and dried apples in butter, and in a pan on the other burner, I fried up some bacon and bratwurst. The smell hit me. My apartment started to take on a new olfactory dimension, and I became intoxicated by the bacon. As they were caramelizing, I made a quick ramp pesto using the ramp leaves, some oil that I had infused with pureed basil, and a shred of parmesan cheese. I now had the smell of bacon, mushrooms, apples, and the garlicky smell of the pesto floating in the air.

Ramp Pesto

It smelled like home, but something was missing.

I set aside the apples and mushrooms, took out the bratwurst, and sliced the browned bacon into small strips. The bacon grease came out of the pan, and there, I saw it. On the bottom of the pan was the answer to my missing ingredients.

To the fridge, where we had a cheap can of beer. (It was Old Style. Had I planned a little better, it would have been Pabst). Into the pan went a few splashes of beer, lifting the golden bits from the cooking surface. Back into the pan went the bacon, followed by the cranberries and a splash of the bacon grease. Tossed around, they got glossy and exuded a smell that I could not deny was uniquely Wisconsin.

Bacon, Cranberries, and Goodness

I did the same thing with the Bratwurst. I returned it to the pan, sauteed it with some mushrooms, and hit it up with some beer and bacon grease.

I had been putting this pizza recipe off for too long, and I knew tonight was the night, so I had to make one concession. I was not going to put it off for another day, but I didn’t have the time to make the dough. I bought a dough ball from work, which actually seemed to work out fairly well. It was easy to work with, and I didn’t mind it one bit.

Saying that, the dough was quite stretchy, and airy. I haven’t tossed dough like that in 15 years, but it worked out well enough that I could put it on our pan and cut it into a basic shape of Wisconsin.

For organizational purposes, keeping in mind that the lady doesn’t eat meat, despite being equally as enthralled by the scent of bacon as nearly any good American should be, I decided to break down the map of Wisconsin regionally. Apples and mushrooms  were to go in the southwest,  with a stripe of beerbrats and mushrooms stretching from Milwaukee/Sheboygan/Green Bay up Twin Cities way. We followed it with our cranberry and beer bacon mix in the north. As the base, we used the verdant ramp pesto, to celebrate the state’s pastoral place as America’s Dairyland, and to top it off, a good measure of the Crave Ovoline.

Into the oven. Twenty minutes at 425°.

When it came out…

A little puffy, not to say anything bad as we’d say back home. Nothing to complain about. I can see that it’s Wisconsin, and I can smell that it’s Wisconsin, but how’d you think it tasted? I’ll tell you right now- It tasted incredible.

It tasted like home.

Remember Iain? Of course you do. Well, this week, I made a pizza for his blog project. I know Wisconsin would be the easiest pie for me to tackle, but according to those who live up there, stuff just isn’t ready. I still have to wait a little bit for ramps, asparagus, berries of all kinds. It’s okay. I just didn’t want to make a turnip pizza.

anyway, I thought about what pizza I’d really like to make. With Iain’s completion of Pennsylvania, I decided to do a little companion puzzle piece. A little bit of Googling pointed me to New Jersey’s favorite foods.

Maybe I’m one of the only people to realize this, or maybe I just remembered because Zach Braff wouldn’t shut up about New Jersey for a few years and probably mentioned it, but New Jersey is the nation’s leading supplier of eggplant. Also known as the Garden State, New Jersey is the birthplace of the Tomato Pie, with Trenton staking the earliest claim to the recipe.

Tomato pie is a pizza with the toppings in reverse. Crust-Cheese-Topping-Sauce. It ends up looking like a stuffed pizza. The tricky part for this pizza is that the Trenton style of tomato pie is thin crust. There’s no place to hide the sauce. Just goes right on top with no retaining wall on the sides.

***

I needed things. I knew I had, in the fridge, my basil pesto from last week. That was going to be the base. Brushed on as a thin layer directly between the crust and cheese layer, it was my way of saying to New Jersey that even though people may only remember them for being dirty and giving the world the idea that only greasy, fried Italian things come from the shore, that underneath it all, there’s a tiny patch of green that I know is there, and it makes everything alright.

I picked up the following- Provolone (mozzarella uses the same curd as what becomes provolone. Plus, sliced thin, it’s easy enough to place in an even layer on the pizza), tomatoes for sauce, onions, garlic, and baby eggplant. I thought about getting a large one, but these were about the size of a juice glass, and we only had to have enough for one pizza. Also, parmesan cheese for sprinkling.

Conspicuously cut to not show a label, but I really made the Pesto. Really.

So, I came home to my standby pizza dough rising in the oven. I sliced the eggplant into 1/2″ thick rounds, breaded them in parmesan breadcrumbs and egg, and fried them. Setting them aside, I made the sauce. Onion and garlic, sweat in olive oil for five minutes. I added some leftover capers from a few nights before, and a can of seasoned tomatoes, just because it doesn’t have to be great. Just sauce.

Sauce cooked down, reduced until it was pretty chunky with little excess liquid. That’s when I hit it with the immersion blender. After blending, it thickened and reduced pretty quickly. Instead of a runny sauce, I had one that I could dollop onto a pizza. The consistency was great, and the sauce was not going to run anywhere.

I rolled the crust out, and pinched my way to a vaguely jellybean-shaped crust. I took all the pesto and spread it across the crust, layered the provolone, and put the eggplant parm on top. Two small eggplant yielded about 16 small slices, which fit the pie perfectly all the way down from Hackensack to Cape May.

Adding the sauce, I used the eggplant as a natural barrier for spills, and it seemed to work out fine. By the time it was sauced, the makeshift marinara had thickened up to a paste.  It worked so well. With a flourish of grated cheese, it went in the oven for 25 minutes at 425.

It turned out perfectly. As it was in the oven, I got a call from my lady friend, who said that she was bringing guests over, and she hoped that there was enough food. I looked at the pizza, which while filling seemed deceptively small in surface area, and immediately grabbed the other dough ball in the fridge. The oven was still on, so I didn’t have to worry about anything but making enough food to feed everyone.

Pizza number two, the other one, was what I had in the fridge. Orange peppers, capers, kalamata olives, a little sauce, feta, more provolone, roasted garlic. Into the oven it went, and I was happy when it came out and everyone was able to enjoy more than a couple slices of pizza.

I enjoyed both pizzas, but the Jersey Pizza held a special place in my heart. I did it to help out a friend, to feed my household, and to utilize the fresh bounty of a state not normally associated with freshness. Here’s my pizza. I hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I enjoyed making and eating it.

New Jersey-Now available in Pizza!

Don’t forget to check out the 50 State Pizza Project at: http://www.the-muffin-man.com

You’ll be very happy you did.