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Pittsburgh Pizza — Who Knew?

Posted by Roberta Levine on November 12, 2015

My jaw dropped when I looked at the food column in the New York Times last Sunday. One of my favorite food writers, Mark Bittman, chose to make his farewell column, entitled “Slice of Heaven,” about Bread and Salt Bakery in Bloomfield. Not Queens. Bloomfield, Pittsburgh.

I’m not going to lie; I was confused. First, because I’ve been in Pittsburgh long enough to enjoy its under-the-radar-ness, which translates into reasonable home prices and usually being able to get into a first run movie. It also was confusing because I’ve never been to Bread and Salt Bakery owned by Rick Easton, and now I probably won’t be able to get a table. And finally, it was jarring to learn that Mark Bittman was touting this big crust style of pizza, especially when I’d just mastered a home-made version of Neopolitan-style pizza, based on what I’ve been able to glean from the Mercurio’s Restaurant family, whose son studied pizza-making from the renowned Roberto Caporuscio, who owned Pizzeria Regina Margherita in Bellevue and then left us for New York.

I have a long history with pizza in Pittsburgh. I enjoyed the unique topography and charred crust of pizza from the late (and now restored) Vincent’s Pizza on Ardmore Boulevard in Forest Hills. In my Pittsburgh kitchen, I developed a pizza-like recipe that won me a second prize in a Pillsbury Bake-Off. I love the pizzas at Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville; Shady Grove bar does a nice job; and we go so often to Mercurio’s that I don’t even need the menu.

Oddly, even though I’ve worked at and worked out at the JCC for many years, I’ve never gotten into the Mineo’s-Napoli-Aiello’s debate. I’ve left that discussion for Squirrel Hill natives, and I live in Shadyside.

Back to Mr. Bittman’s article. Bottom line — he makes me proud. Here’s what he said about choosing our little part of the universe for his last column:

“When I started writing it, (the Eat column) I never would have guessed that it would end in Pittsburgh. That it does confirms that good food here is hardly limited to a couple of smug metropolitan areas, and validates my feeling that cooking in the United States is as interesting as it is anywhere in the world.”

Mr. Bittman spent a day at Bread and Salt, learning from Rick Easton, and then developed a home version of the recipe.  I can’t wait to try it!

(Featured image originally found on the NYT website and photographed by Grant Cornett)

UPDATE: Bread and Salt is no longer here, but you can easily make this lush pizza yourself:

Rick Easton’s Pizza With Peppers

INGREDIENTS

Pizza Dough

  • ¾ teaspoon (2 grams) yeast
  • 1 ⅞ cups lukewarm water
  • 3 ½ cups or 500 grams bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3 teaspoons or 8 grams kosher or sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons or 40 grams extra-virgin olive oil

TOPPINGS

  • 5 bell peppers of varying colors
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  •  Pepper to taste

PREPARATION

  1. In a comfortably large, preferably rectangular plastic container, dissolve the yeast into 1 3/4 cups of lukewarm water. Mix in the flour with your hand, squishing it together, just until the flour is absorbed. The dough will be very wet and shaggy. Remove what stuck to your fingers, and mix into the dough. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.
  2. Dissolve the salt in remaining 1/8 cup of water, and mix with your hand into the dough. Don’t worry if it doesn’t all mix in. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and rest for another 20 minutes at room temperature.
  3. With wet hands, release the dough from the sides of the container. Coat the top of the dough with 1 tablespoon of oil, and make a trifold or letter fold by lifting up the dough one-third of the way through and letting the end drop and fold underneath. Repeat this action on the other side so that the seam is on the bottom. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and rest for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Repeat this process two more times. After the third fold, rest the dough in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. Sometime halfway through resting, repeat the trifold with oil one last time.
  4. If you have a pizza stone, slide it on the lowest rack or on the floor of your oven, and heat oven to 500. Heat for at least 30 minutes and preferably longer before baking. Slice the bell peppers thinly, and sauté, stirring frequently, over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and salt until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Lightly grease an 18-by-13-inch jellyroll pan with olive oil. (A cookie sheet of a similar size makes a good alternative.) Wipe the pan clean with a dry paper towel; it’s important not to bake the pizza on too much oil. Flip the dough out onto a floured surface, and gently press out into a rectangle 1/2-to-3/4-inch thick, being careful not to deflate the dough too much. Place one forearm over the dough, and use the other hand to flip the dough over the forearm and then into the pan, leaving the floured side up. Rearrange the dough on the pan, again pressing only lightly.
  6. Spread the topping evenly across the dough, drizzle generously with oil and bake on the pizza stone (or directly on the bottom of the oven or lowest rack) for 5 minutes. Move the pizza to the middle rack in the oven, and continue to bake for 10 to 15 more minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Using a bench scraper or metal spatula, scoop under the pizza, and scrape to release it from the pan. This may take some blind faith and a bit of elbow grease. Slide out onto a cutting board, and slice into pieces using a chef’s knife, scissors or pizza cutter. Serve immediately or at room temperature, or reheat.

VARIATIONS

  1. Bake topped only with extra-virgin olive oil, then, when warm, top with Gorgonzola cheese, sautéed onions, grilled pear, fried sage, salt and pepper.
  2. Bake with roast puréed pumpkin and fresh mozzarella, then top with walnuts and fresh arugula, olive oil, a light squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  3. Bake with braised leeks and sautéed apples, then top with thinly sliced lonzino (cured pork loin), or other cured meats like dry coppa, bresaola or prosciutto, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

What do I usually make? A pizza with more typical toppings of simple tomato sauce, mozzarella, gruyere and parmesan cheeses, mushrooms, olives and artichoke hearts.

A very happy pie day to you!

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