Teaching the art of 'throwing your own pizza'
By Lynn Dirk, GLOB Content Editor
This past weekend I had a great time at the test run of a cooking class on pizza at the nonprofit commercial kitchen incubator, Blue Oven Kitchens. This is a new, fantastic resource in North Florida – an government inspected facility available for numerous local food related activities such as supervised product development by food entrepreneurs – and cooking classes!
The pizza expert testing the cooking class waters was Kenny Nona of Strega Nona's Oven.
He brought his portable wood fired oven, all the ingredients needed for delicious pizzas, and the recipe for a great pizza crust and a great time.
When I arrived at Blue Oven, bowls and flour were all lined up waiting for us. The first order of business was a history of pizza, an ancient dish that was first mentioned in Virgil's Aeneid. Soldiers who tasted "tomato pies" in Italy during the World Wars sought them out in the Italian neighborhoods here n America when they returned and with a name change from "tomato pie" to "pizza pie." Add a big boost of publicity from Dean Martin, the rest was history.
We also learned that the big pizza makers use high gluten flour and that's why they can toss their pizza crusts into the air. We would not be throwing our pizza dough in the air in this class because we used all purpose flour for our pie crusts, which is not as elastic.
Once the historical review was over, we dug our hands into the very basic ingredients of pizza crust: flour, instant yeast, water, and a little salt. That stuff is sticky! We learned how to briefly work the dough and let it rest a few times and then we made 4 pizza crust dough balls that we would take home with us to try another time. For making the pizzas in class, we used dough that Kenny brought. We pressed the dough out to about 12-inches. Then the trick was to work fast putting on the ingredients before the dough started sticking to the board because Kenny had to s-s-s-slide the pizza off the board into the oven.
Kenny brought a lot of wonderful pizza toppings – black olives and special green olives, red and green onions, red and green peppers, artichokes, mozzarella, cheddar, some special cheeses, and the usual pizza meats. Val Leitner, BOK President and host, contributed some of BOK's Garden Pate, which is really like a pesto with arugula – YUM. (Available at Dorn's Liquors at Millhopper Shopping Center).
We all tasted each other's pizzas and they were fantastic. The crust was so light and had such a delicate crunch on the bottom. I am sorry to say we were so busy eating the pizza, I forgot to take a picture of the pizzas after they were cooked!
I am ready to make pizza every day. If you love pizza, take this class when Kenny is teaching it.
Speaking of cooking classes, Stefanie Hamblin who writes the Hogtown Homegrown newsletter, which always has fantastic recipes, is teaching classes the first Sunday of every month at BOK to demonstrate and teach the great recipes she features in her newsletter. I hope the GLOB will have a report on one of those classes in the not too distant future.