I spent an evening last week at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op Community Learning Center taking their Pizza The Hot Italian Way class.
Hot Italian happens to be my favorite pizza place in midtown. I was excited when my friend Kristen emailed to share that the co-op was going to showcase Fabrizio Cercatore – chef-owner of Hot Italian restaurants in Sacramento and Emeryville, CA . The class description from the co-op’s website read: Join Fabrizio Cercatore, maestro pizzaiolo from Midtown’s Hot Italian, and discover “la passione per la pizza!” Fabrizio shares his secrets to creating the perfect authentic dough and crust, using the freshest seasonal ingredients and best quality meats for fabulous pizzas and calzones.
Yes, yes, and yes… sign me up!
It had been a while since my last cooking class, but that didn’t matter, I was still greeted with the same smiling faces and even sat with some regulars that I had met during previous classes. With Prosecco in hand, good times followed.
As a group, we shared a pre-class snack of Organic Valley Provolone Cheese, Fierucci Uncured Hard Salami and and assortment of items from the co-op olive bar.
Perhaps the biggest white beans I’d ever seen… they were really good. Our table debated whether they were giant cannellini beans or something else.
Fabrizio talked a little bit about his background. We listened to stories about his restaurant and time in Italy before moving to the states. We also learned a little about his company Passione Pizza (located in Berkeley, CA) and his thoughts on different types of flour. Before creating his own pizza dough blend, He used King Arthur’s Unbleached Bread Flour to make pizza dough when he first arrived in California. He’s currently talking to the co-op about carrying the Passione Pizza line of products… That would be sweet!
First up was making the sauce. Fabrizio used Strianese Brand Organic Italian Peeled Tomatoes. He first strained the sauce to get rid of the seeds and pulp. He used (1) 28 oz. can of tomatoes, 2 bunches (about 18 leaves) of basil, 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper, and 1 teaspoon dried oregano and a little over a cup of cold water.
We enjoyed a small salad of baby spinach, seasonal pears, dried cranberries, Gorgonzola dolce cheese and pine nuts – (the Sozzani on Hot Italian’s menu). The dressing was delicious. I was excited to learn the recipe. 1 small shallot – peeled, 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon good quality Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons honey (Del Rio Farms), 1 cup balsamic vinegar, pinch of salt, pepper, chili flake and dried oregano. Add all ingredients to a blender and then slowly add 1 3/4 cup olive oil while the blender is going.
Fabrizio made a batch of dough and then he brought out dough balls that he had ready to go. He invited student volunteers up to learn how to stretch the dough. He covered the work surface with a huge mound of semolina and started working the dough ball.
Fabrizio likes the flavor that semolina gives the pizza dough.
Kristen decided to give it a try. I was snapping photos like paparazzi 🙂 – she did a great job, but had to do everything in reverse due to being left handed.
Fabrizio shared that you could use the edge of the counter and gravity to your advantage when stretching dough.
Then he made us all ooh and aah as he spun the dough like a true professional. He was going so fast, I couldn’t even capture a decent photo of the process.
The first Hot Italian pizza we tried was Cannavaro – Tomato sauce, bufala mozzarella and fresh basil.
I love a simple, crispy pizza crust and this fit the bill. Would loved to have tried it piping fresh out of the oven, but the pizzas were brought over from the restaurant and re-heated. Definitely not the same quality as ordering one in the restaurant, but still very tasty.
We sampled one of Hot Italian’s seasonal asparagus pizza recipes – made with tomato sauce, mozzarella, asparagus, Fra’mani Smoked Uncured Ham and goat cheese.
Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Foods, based in Berkeley, California, was founded by nationally-recognized chef Paul Bertolli.
North Valley Farms is a small family owned and operated farm in the northern portion of the Sacramento Valley. Located in Tehama County, the farm is home to North Valley Farms Chévre, Inc., a Grade A Dairy/Farmstead goat cheese making facility. I would love to go there for a tour/visit.
Both products are sold at the co-op. That’s what I love about taking classes at the learning center, you can just head to the co-op to buy supplies after class.
The last pizza of the evening was Hot Italian’s Pezzo. Tomato sauce, mozzarella, mascarpone and speck.
Fabrizio shared tidbits throughout the evening and one was to add fresh basil and cured meat after the pizza had been cooked. He did however recommend cooking pepperoni when someone asked. I still need to work on not overloading my pizzas the American way… with tons of toppings.
The burning question of the evening was – How to you bake a pizza in your home oven to get similar results to restaurant style pizza? The answer… Put your oven on the highest temperature setting (usually 500-550°F) with your pizza stone on the top (highest) rack. Leave the oven on the highest temp. for 40-60 minutes. Then be VERY careful when removing the stone… place your stretched dough on the stone and begin saucing and building your pizza. The pizza will be cooking on the heated stone throughout the process. Then switch your oven to broil and finish off the pizza for a few minutes under the broiler.
Lori from the co-op sent us an email a few days after class that included the following photo:
Someone from class must have asked what Fabrizio recommended as the best pizza stone to purchase. Turns out he recommended this All-Clad stone. The stainless serving tray, 13-inch stone and pizza cutter are $125 on Amazon.
High quality ingredients are the key to making a fabulous pizza. I’m looking forward to throwing pizzas in my own kitchen… Riiight! I’ll probably just stick to the edge of the counter stretching method for now. Otherwise, I picture my mini schnauzer scooping raw dough off the floor as he runs through the house as I scream his name.
And with that… I’m now craving pizza.