Hooked on Cheese: Raymond’s Pizza Challenge
This weekend my old friends Joan and Britney flew in from Las Vegas for a mini-vacation in New York City. While catching up over a few beers, the two of them couldn’t stop talking about all the fantastic pizzerie they’d been discovering in the city — Di Fara, Lombardi’s, John’s of Bleecker Street — which got me to thinking: it had been far too long since I’d had some great pie myself. My friends chastised me for not taking advantage of all the pizza this fine city has to offer and I vowed to have a slice (or two) by the end of the night.
After parting ways with the Nevadans, I called up my pal Hannah, the manager of my neighborhood bar, to invite her over for pizza from Motorino (some of the best pie tossed anywhere). She gladly accepted the pizza invite, but with the following caveat: “Since you’re supposedly ‘The Cheese Guy,’ why don’t you make the pizza? You always say yours is the best!” It was practically a double-dare. Knowing all of the tricks I’ve got up my sleeve, I said, “Game on!” I made a quick trip to Eataly for a couple of dough balls and some freshly made mozzarella. Hannah brought a great pizza wine, and we were ready to roll.
The first pie I made featured the fresh mozzarella from Eataly, crushed organic heirloom tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil; incredibly simple Margherita-style pizza. I thought it was perfectly done, but Hannah said she’d expected something a little “bolder” from me. Ouch!
I upped my game for Pie No. 2. Using classic red sauce, heaps of garlic and some full-flavored Taleggio cheese, this was certainly pizza with a bigger flavor. Taleggio is a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from the Lombardia region of Italy, with great melting properties that make it a great choice for pizza. We baked the pie until the cheese bubbles were slightly browned, then removed it from the oven and sprinkled fresh baby arugula and a drizzle of Sardinian olive oil on top. Hannah said this one was more to her liking: it had more intense, non-traditional flavors. But she still wanted to see how creative “The Cheese Guy” could be….
So for Pie No. 3, I went all-in. Skipping tomato sauce, I drizzled olive oil straight onto the dough, then layered on thin slices of a ripe pear and chunks of Gorgonzola Dolce, the lightly sweet, creamy cow’s milk blue cheese. I sprinkled fresh crushed walnuts on top and threw it on the pizza stone. The sweetness of the pear, the creamy richness of the cheese and the toasted-nut crunch were a great match, and melded into a fantastic sort of “dessert” pizza, to boot!
We sat around for a while, chatting and nibbling the leftover pie with the wine Hannah supplied. She had hit a home run with the wine: the 2012 Bogle Essential Red, a moderately priced California red blend that went remarkably well with all three styles of pizza we made. At the end of our pizza feast, I realized that I still had yet to go get a real “New York City” slice (gasp!) as I’d promised my friends, but I must say: I’m certain my pies would have put a smile on any pizza lover’s face.