You might wonder who I am and how I developed such a passion for making pizza and writing about making pizza.
I began making Chicago-style pizza soon after I got married. My wife and I received a Chicago-style pizza set as a wedding shower gift. The kit had a deep-dish pizza pan, pizza cutter, pan lifter, and a pizza cookbook specializing in Chicago-style pizza. One day I asked my wife if she was ever going to make pizza; she said, “You go ahead.” So, I did. I used the kit to make pizza quite frequently. I kept practicing until I could make a better pizza than most of the local pizzerias in the suburbs of Chicago where we lived at that time. After a while, I missed the New York-style thin crust pizza that I grew up with; you just could not buy that kind of pizza in Chicago when I lived there. Therefore, I decided to try my hand at making New York-style pizza. After another intense period of practice, I was able to duplicate and even improve on the New York-style pizza I remembered from my youth.
I practiced making pizza whenever I could. I made and served many hundreds of pizzas to my family and friends over the years. My pizzas became more and more consistent and I kept getting rave reviews; that is, when they were not begging me to make something other than pizza! Many of my friends said, “You should open a pizzeria!” Others said, “Can you teach me to make pizza like that?” I wrote this book to capture the techniques that I had learned and developed so that you can make great pizza, too!
I have fond memories of the three pizzerias that formed my personal vision of what pizza should be and influenced how I make it. I spent many hours watching the people make pizza at the Grande Pizzeria in Endwell, New York. It took me a couple of years of experimenting, reading pizza cookbooks, and picking my memory to duplicate their crust. Brozetti’s Pizzeria, in Binghamton, New York, made the best Sicilian-style pizza. We used to buy individual pieces of it cold, topped with just sauce and cheese. Their sauce had a sweet, rich taste that I have come pretty close to duplicating. Whenever anyone had a large party, the pizza of choice was Nirchi’s Pizza, in Endicott, New York. They made big, rectangular Sicilian-style pizzas; you could buy either a half or a full “sheet.” These pizzas had a thick crust and an uneven surface. The cheese would be dark brown, and when you bit into the pizza, you never knew whether you were going to get more dough, sauce, or cheese. I was inspired to make pizza that was as distinctive and as satisfying as the pizzas these pizzerias made.
The flavors on the pizza we ate when I was growing up also shaped my vision of pizza. We almost never got toppings on our pizza. Therefore, when I started making pizza, I began the quest to find just the right dough, sauce, cheese, and herb combination for the “perfect” cheese pizza. In my opinion, the quintessential test for a pizza chef is the ability to make great cheese pizza. I believe that a cheese pizza should stand on its own without the need for additional toppings.
I grew up to be particularly open-minded to new and different flavors on a pizza. My father was allergic to tomatoes; as a result, we were always ordering a “white” pizza for him. A white pizza is a pizza made without tomato sauce and with some kind of toppings to give it flavor. Although we did get many strange looks at many a pizzeria, we ended up having some great (and unique) pizzas.
I also moved a few times. By the time I started making my own pizza, I had lived in upstate New York, the mountains of Virginia, and the cities of Atlanta and Chicago. My mother was a wonderful cook and she always experimented with different types of recipes and ethnic foods. This gave me an early initiation to some interesting foods. She was also very progressive and health-conscious so we had many healthy (and strange) ingredients in the foods she made. I think all of these experiences opened my eyes to the wonderful variety of tastes, which we can make into pizza!
As I began broadening the pizzas I made and started writing about making pizza, I became more aware of the different types of pizzas. I started observing everything about pizza and started a kind of catalog in my mind. The pizzas I ate at many a pizzeria as well as by the pizza cookbooks I read shaped this catalog. I began to see each type of pizza as something to explore, understand, and experience. I also saw each type of pizza as something that was different and unique. I could categorize, study, and duplicate each one. It became my passion to understand these different types of pizzas as well as to describe them in a way that anyone could duplicate them.
My Passionate About Pizza: Making Great Homemade Pizza cookbook has been a long time coming. In the beginning of my journey, I wrote a four-page recipe for pizza to give to my Dad. I eventually expanded that to a pizza tutorial that had enough information to get started making basic pizza for anyone who wants to try making pizza but is not ready to buy a dedicated pizza cookbook. By then, I had been making three different types of pizza to duplicate the three types of pizza from my youth. After describing those three, I kept adding descriptions about another type of pizza then another. Soon I had quite a bit of material. It needed structure and form to make it easily accessible. I cooked up the idea of systematic pizza making and the organization of the cookbook along the lines of the system. It seemed to hang together well and it got good feedback from those who reviewed my drafts.
Before I knew it, I had something that looked and read like a cookbook! That reenergized my passion and it has never stopped. I created four major iterations of the book before this published version. Getting a high-quality digital camera was another big step. With it, I could take pictures to help guide alongside the text. The pictures prove that you can do it. They show me making pizza in my home kitchen and are the real deal.
I hope that through this book I can help each of you make your own pizza-making journey successful!