Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pizza Love: DeFazio University

Back in December Zena's online superpowers made her a winner of a little contest with All Over Albany to attend DeFazio University for a pizza or pasta class for four. Saving the world from the forces of evil is fun, but not nearly as much as playing with food. And eating it. And loving every greasy, salty, happy blimpifying bite in order to graduate.

DeFazio's Imports in Troy, NY
Which I did, with honors, during their pizza workshop last weekend because our instructors at DeFazio's Pizzeria in downtown Troy were such an amazing team. Rocco DeFazio and his son Matt are passionate about their work (two time winners of the Capital Region's Tournament of Pizza, which I understand won't be continuing for some reason but probably because DeFazio's is hard to beat), proud of their family's history establishing DeFazio's Imports back in 1951 (and their pizzeria in 1991), honored at being a part of their neighborhood, and excited by the prospect of expanding their business in a nearby property to include a restaurant/bar, banquet hall and a real culinary school.  But nothing says love more than being in that original, cozy pizzeria, it's story part of every nook and cranny that surrounds you, a space imbued with the smells of yeast and tomatoes and wood smoke, laughing with friends, and listening and learning from the experts how to make these dishes at home. Which I did. Later in this blog. Wait for it.

Rocco DeFazio making Stromboli
Now these aren't cheap seats: I'm not going to share everything I scribbled in my notes, because YOU should sign up and experience DeFazio's yourself. But here's how our afternoon unfolded.

A warm olive mixture with fresh lemons and a plate of Fontinella cheese and smoked meats, as well as freshly made focaccia and smiles from Rocco and Matt greeted the small group of 12 who braved more damn snow to participate. Rocco waxed poetic and told us his story, highlighting the quality of the ingredients and their grandmother's bread recipe (the basis of their delicious crusts), and the importance of their wood-fired oven in turning out wonderful products. Matt demonstrated how to make dough (um, starting with 25 pounds of flour, so it didn't translate well to home cooking), but getting the consistency right, varying how much oil or water you add depending on the weather and what other ingredients (such as herbs) you'll be adding, were critical to success. They did suggest King Arthur high gluten bread flour as a good substitute for what they get from their wholesale supplier. Rocco and Matt went around showing us how to roll up our pizza dough balls. Up with the right, close with the left. Zena got distracted how that move could be used against a giant attacking ball of dough, but quickly refocused as we moved on to our next lesson.

Their traditional white dough ready for portioning. Otherwise it will take over the world. Let your dough rest 24-48 hours before using.

Rocco cooked up their famous red sauce, surprisingly simple, starting with two large cans of tomato products, one called "California Super Heavy Concentrated Crushed Tomatoes". Not available retail but he suggested zapping crushed tomatoes in a blender and cooking it down would be a good start. The CSHCCT was thick like paste, but NOT paste, something they do not use, nor do they use sugar. Spices, a bit more water, cooking for one hour was all it took. Very informative. At the end of the day we all got to take home a pizza kit with the two balls of dough we shaped and wrapped up, a container of that lovely sauce, some Pecorino Romano (their not so secret secret ingredient - sorry about that), and a cool little pizza cutter.

Matt DeFazio making a Calzone
From here our instructors moved on to demonstrate how they make Stromboli, Calzone, and pizzas using their traditional white dough as well as their whole wheat and garlic and herb doughs. I LOVED the spinach and broccoli Stromboli - heavy with garlic and pretending to be healthy - just my style. Shaping the dough, the right amount of filling and topping, and baking in their traditional gas or wood-fired ovens was a real show - beauty in motion - but the best part was trying the different pizzas. The four cheese pizza topped with mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, Fontinella and Gorgonzola was culinary heaven. The traditional crust was crispy but with a nice chew, light, tender and flavorful. I had a couple of rotten pizzas in Chicago a couple of weeks ago with crusts that were hard and tasted like cardboard. The crusts coming out of the ovens at DeFazio's are the best I've ever had, and believe me, I LOVE pizza and eat it everywhere I go, and I can eat a lot of it (another one of my amazing feats). I was SO impressed with what we have just over the fence in our own back yard. What took me so long to finally get to DeFazio's? Even superpowers can be idiots. But let's get beyond it, shall we?
Whole wheat dough topped with walnut pesto, tomato slices and store roasted chicken
We wrapped with a demo on making Deep Dish Tomato Pie and a little reminder that this is a class joint, according to the Jersey Boys, and I agree:  (Frankie: This is a pretty nice place, huh? Mary: Yeah, They don’t sell slices. That’s how you can tell).  They don't sell slices, FYI.

Thanks AOA, Rocco and Matt, for your kindness, your generosity, your upbeat optimism in all things pizza, and for sharing the love with the rest of us. I mean it. You guys ROCK.

Zena's Stromboli

I love a good workout, but I've always said that I'd never win anything unless it was something like a hot dog eating contest. Or pizza. Or Stromboli, so I made one at home last Monday when I got trapped at home AGAIN (trapped today as well) because of more damn snow, to see how much I could eat and if I could win without anyone around to watch. Well, I didn't win, but I think I did a pretty good job. 

One 14-15 ounce ball of white pizza dough (you can buy it from DeFazio's and it's also available at the Honest Weight Food Co-Op [as Organic Joe's]) - at room temperature
Semolina flour for dusting
1/2 pound cooked sweet Italian sausage, crumbled (I like the sausage from Garafalo & Co. in Schenectady, if you are willing to put up with surly service, but DeFazio's also makes their own and it is also wonderful)
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh broccoli
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4 ounces mozzarella cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Lightly flour your cooking surface and shape your dough into a rectangle. Evenly distribute your toppings. Roll it over three times to make your log and pat it lightly to seal the edges. Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with olive oil. Cut 3 or 4 slices into the top so it doesn't explode during baking. Bake at 375 degrees F for 40-45 minutes until golden brown. Slice and serve.
Zena's first ever Stromboli (a.k.a. "garbage bread")
Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Also thanks to Jaguar, Foodie Friend and the Mistress of the Hounds for a lovely afternoon. And to Pony for supplying our BYO "The Verdict 2009 Shinas Estate Cab Sav" from Victoria, Australia. After pizza and wine it's hard not to love life.


Anonymous said...

You can not call it "garbage bread". I made that mistake a few years ago when I asked Rocco's father what was in the "garbage bread". His reply was: "Do you put garbage in your bread?" And I got the whole lecture on what is really called stromboli. I really liked Rocco's father as well as his mother. They are surely missed.

Mike Oliviere

Zena G.O.F. said...

Hi Mike! It was Rocco that shared the term with the class and he was very humble in saying that kids would eat whatever if it was rolled into a Stromboli. No offense meant - theirs are the best I've ever had!