The Passion of the Pizza
Like most visitors to Italy’s renowned pizzerias, Rich Products’ Jacob Brach fell in love with the centuries-old traditions, the rapturous attention to each ingredient and the consummate dedication of the pizziolas. Fortunately for restaurateurs across the U.S., he found a way – several ways, in fact – to bring it back home.
As part of the team shooting a lively video for Culinary Institute of America’s educational series, Brach’s behind-the-scenes access to legendary restaurants and chefs was a foodie’s dream. But this was no pleasure trip for Brach, who was a man on a mission for Rich’s. His task: translating the hard-earned wisdom of generations of pizzaiolas into a uniquely American experience. Following are highlights of how Brach and Rich’s have infused the country’s eternal passion for pizza into authentic products for the time-pressed, short-staffed U.S. restaurant kitchen.
- It’s all about the dough. There’s simply no possibility of great pizza without an extraordinary crust, and every pizzeria Brach visited had its own, closely held dough recipe. What they all had in common, however, was a very soft dough with high water content, sparking the creation of Rich’s artisan dough balls. The ultra-malleable, high-moisture dough are packed in individual cryovac pouches to seal in the fermentation that occurs during the proofing process and infuse them with “an extraordinarily rich, concentrated flavor,” he said. Another offering steeped in tradition: Rich’s dough balls made with Caputo flour, a renowned product from an almost century-old family business of master Neapolitan millers. Brach’s visit to this last remaining grain mill in Naples revealed the devotion of the third generation to the Caputo method of slowly, patiently grinding wheat to avoid damaging starches and proteins and preserve authenticity of flavor. The result is a finely ground, lower-gluten flour ideal for a Neapolitan-style crust with a slightly bubbled rim and a light crunch.
- An easy trapizzini. Brach and his culinary team were able to recreate one of Rome’s most beloved street foods, the triangular pizza pocket sandwich at Trapizzino’s, using Rich’s pre-cut 12x16-inch sheeted pizza dough. The recipe:
- Place 2 sheets of dough in a ½ sheet pan, thaw covered, overnight.
- Under refrigeration, proof covered at room temperature until doubled in size.
- Using a squeeze bottle of olive oil, divide proofed dough into 12 squares, then cut on olive oil lines with a bench scraper.
- Bake until golden brown. Cool and cut on a diagonal into triangles, which will form natural pockets for fillings.
- Lean into tradition and fill with braised oxtail, meatballs, pork belly, tongue in green sauce or stewed chicken and vinegar.
- Less is more. Brach noted that Italian pizzaioli, many of whom were schooled in the sensibilities of fine dining, don't pile on the ingredients, but take a more nuanced approach to their pies. For instance, at Roscioli’s, justly famed for its Roman-style pizza sold in long, luscious sheets, the most beloved are the simplest: Margherita (tomato sauce and mozzarella), Rossa (just tomato sauce) and Bianca (sea salt and olive oil). The fried pizza at Pizzeria Sorbillo in Naples is likewise minimalist on toppings, the better to showcase the light and airy dough.
- The big stretch. Neapolitan-style pizza’s thicker-rimmed crust with a texture floppy enough to fold requires a skilled hand and a deft touch with dough. As Brach ruefully admits, his dough-stretching skills didn’t reach the high bar set at Giulietta’s, run by Michelin-starred chef Christine Bowerman. “I was invited to make a pizza when we visited, and it didn’t turn out too well - they called it the Americano!” he laughed. Back at home base, he renewed his appreciation for Rich’s Ready to Stretch Pizza Dough, a premium type of dough that needs just a few minutes of stretching after thawing. “I don’t believe there is anything else on the market that gives operators the opportunity to duplicate the taste and texture of authentic Neapolitan-style pizza without making their own dough,” he said.
- Brach’s incredible edible. After a thoroughly enjoyable visit to a Roman pizzeria where fresh green salads were served in crispy bread bowls, Brach was determined to replicate the concept for American restaurateurs. After testing numerous dough types and prep methods, he discovered the perfect recipe: thaw a standard 7-inch sheeted dough for 15 minutes at room temperature rather than at refrigeration, spray with water, and bake in a hot oven until crisp. “It popped like a pita bread,” he recalled, “and easily carried a grilled chicken Caesar salad, as well as thick stews and soups.”
Brach’s most cherished memory of his pilgrimage to the birthplace of pizza? A visit to Pepe in Grani’s, where pizza is given the haute cuisine treatment, that began with the farmer who supplied the restaurant’s tomatoes. Brach’s group immersed themselves in the day of working in the fields, followed by a beautifully memorable picnic in the olive grove where all feasted on fresh bread, olive oil, and right-off-the-vine tomatoes. Later, back at Chef Franco Pepe’s restaurant, Brach savored his pizza with immense respect for the full-circle experience.
“Every time I share this story it underscores how obsession with quality of ingredients is what makes this one of the world’s finest cuisines. There’s nothing that makes as big a difference in your final product and in your customers’ experience than always choosing the freshest, highest quality ingredients available to you,” said Brach.