Sunday, February 12, 2012

Guest post: Deborah Gray on pizza and wine pairings

In Italy, pizza is a national dish, but variations are enjoyed all over the world, including Australia and France! In this case, I will weave a few French and Australian ingredients and wine suggestions through the pairing.
Yes, Chianti from Tuscany is a natural wine pairing for pizza. But instead of the delicious, but predictable, pairing of Chianti with red sauce and mozzarella, let’s think outside the box and consider alternative wines and toppings. As with other main dish meals, such as chicken, fish and beef, it is the accompanying ingredients and cooking method that best determines the wine. Earthy, rustic Chianti is wonderful with all that rich and acidic tomato sauce. But what about avocado, zucchini and fontina cheese? Not so much. In that case, a Sauvignon Blanc would be fabulous.
Homemade pizza dough is relatively easy to make and well worth the effort. There are plenty of dough recipes in books and on the internet, but the one I have provided takes you through step by step and hopefully removes the intimidation factor. If you don’t happen to have several hours to wait for yeast to grow and dough to rise, there are very acceptable frozen or fresh commercial dough, and good quality flatbreads will work too.
Here’s one pizza that uses a number of individually appetizing ingredients that collectively combine to make a wine pairing a little tricky.


I round of pizza dough, stretched thin (see recipe below)
Cornmeal (polenta) – not corn flour, which is finer*
4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pear, peeled, cored and sliced ¼ inch thick
3 to 4 ounces young arugula (rocket) leaves
3 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
8 ounces brie, very thinly sliced
Course black pepper or pepper in a mill

Preheat the oven to 450° F for 30 minutes. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When butter gets foamy, add several slices of pear. Sauté for about 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned. Transfer the pears to a plate and continue until all of the pears have been sautéed, using additional butter as necessary. When all of the pears have been sautéed, put the greens in the pan. Cook, covered, until just wilted, about 1 minute, and remove from the heat. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining butter.
Sprinkle a baker’s paddle or the bottom of a sheet pan with cornmeal and set the pizza dough on top. Brush the dough with the melted butter, place the strips of prosciutto on top, and spread the greens on top of the prosciutto. Arrange the cheese over the greens. Scatter the pears on top, and grind black pepper over all. Transfer the pizza to a baking stone sprinkled with cornmeal and bake until the crust is lightly golden and the cheese fully melted, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes and then cut into 8 wedges. Serve immediately.
For a vegetarian version, as illustrated in photo, simply omit the prosciutto.

*the idea of coarser grain is to provide a little cushion for the pizza to prevent sticking.


Some recipes for pizza dough require six to eight hours’ time for rising, a slow process that require more advance planning than this one, which gives excellent results in less than half the time. This recipe, which makes a 12” round, can easily be doubled, though you should not increase the quantity of yeast.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
2 ½ cups (approximately 10 oz.) all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine the yeast and water in a large mixing bowl and set aside for 10 minutes. Use a whisk to stir in ½ cup flour, the salt and olive oil. Add more flour, ½ cup at a time, until you have ½ cup remaining. As the dough thickens, switch from whisk to wooden spoon. Stir in half of the remaining flour, reserving ¼ cup.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead about 7 minutes, or until it is smooth and velvety, working in as much of the remaining flour as the dough will take. Brush a large, clean bowl lightly with olive oil, set the dough in the bowl and cover it with a damp towel. Let rise for 3 hours, until it has more than doubled in size. Gently turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Use the heel of your hand to press the dough into a flat circle, and then use both hands to pick it up. Hold the dough perpendicular to your work surface and move your hands around its outer edges, shaking gently as you do. If it doesn’t stretch easily, put one hand on either side of the disc and pull gently until the dough is about ¼” thick, or slightly thinner. The edges will be thicker. Using your hand or a floured rolling pin, flatten it into a 12-inch circle and about 3/8” thick. From this point you top the dough with recipe ingredients and bake as directed.

Okay, so shall we choose wine to go with brie and pear? But what about the arugula? A Chardonnay will go with both, but only a crisper, less ‘buttery’ or ‘creamy’ Chardonnay, one that has not gone through malolactic fermentation, will go with both. To make it a little easier, choose one from a cooler climate such as Margaret River or Yarra Valley, or if you want to learn a little more about wine, ask a wine store consultant for a Chardonnay without malolactic fermentation. It is more often a better choice for Chardonnay anyway, allowing the grapes’s true nature to come through.
A dry rosé from Provence is a safe and appealing bet, or try a Rhône white such as Marsanne or Roussanne.

Omitting the prosciutto, if you want a vegetarian version, will neither adversely affect the overall dish nor change the wine pairing.
If you don’t have a pizza stone (which often cracks after a few uses anyway) an inexpensive alternative is unglazed Mexican paver tiles. Put these on a rack in the oven and for a minor investment you have a pizza stone. Always put them in a cold oven, so that they absorb the heat evenly with the rise in oven temperature. A stone or tile is essential because it absorbs moisture from the dough and ensures a crisp crust.
Do not touch while hot, even with oven gloves.
Because unglazed tile also absorbs flavours, don’t wash with soap and water.
Use warm water only.

1 comment:

  1. So, an ordinary pizza tray is not on? I only make a basic margherits anywa, nothing fancy, and it tastes fine to me.