You can learn a lot about a person from the pizza they eat. Stressed out New Yorkers love by-the-slice pies–ready at a moments notice–taking mere moments away from productive time. Italians, ever proud of their heritage and traditions, insist on the classic Neopolitan, whose ingredients and preparation methods are strictly regulated by the powers that be. And then there’s Chicago natives, who lean towards tomato soup in a bread bowl instead of delicious pizza, perfectly exemplifying the masochistic tendencies that bring these people to also root for the Cubs and live in a city nicknamed for its temperamental weather. Here in California, we are no exception to this Pizza Identity Rule.
a slice from Di Farra in Brooklyn. If you know someone who doesn’t like this pizza, you can immediately judge this person as insane.
Much like California Cuisine, California-style pizza is an ambiguous category, free of many of the limitations and boundaries that classify other styles of pizza. Really the only rules are that it be fairly thin-crusted, individually-sized, and non-traditional. Much of the time, the pizza combinations are grounded in some ethnic cuisine. For example, some of the earliest successful California pizzas were the “Jewish Pizza” (smoked salmon, crème fraiche, capers and dill), the barbeque chicken pizza (BBQ sauce, chicken, red onions, and cilantro), and an Asian-inspired pizza with duck breast, hoisin sauce, and green onions. At its core, California pizza is an expression of all the diversity in our state, the abundance of fresh an interesting produce, and our culture’s anything-goes mentality.
California pizza originated at the restaurant Chez Panisse. There, in 1974, chef Jeremiah Tower was cooking for a special event one night. While planning the menu, he stumbled across a recipe called “Les Panisses”, which were basically fried pancake-like things made from garbanzo bean flour and olive oil, topped with “something boring,” according to Tower. But seeing as he worked at a place called Chez Panisse, he figured it’d be clever to put these panisse things on the menu anyway. The morning of the event, Tower made a batch of the panisses. They were absolutely disgusting. Panicked, he quickly threw together some bread dough, formed it into a shape small enough to fit in their little oven, then topped it with as many interesting and novel ingredients that they had on hand in the restaurant’s walk-in. They were the hit of the dinner. When anyone asked what a panisse was, Tower replied by saying, “basically just a little pizza.” And thus was born California-style pizza.
Here in our kitchen, we’ve been working on our own version of Tower’s original creation. Building upon a grilled cultured potato flatbread, we’re trying out all sorts of ingredients we have on hand. Pistachios, rosemary, spring onions, and aged sheep milk cheese; padron peppers, goat cheese, and lemon thyme; pork belly, grilled romaine, Fiscalini cheddar, and cured egg…the possibilities are literally endless. It’s the perfect way to showcase the great ingredients we use and the unique preparations we keep in our pantry.
a “potato panisse” trial with burnt pistachio oil, blistered tomatoes, rosemary, and garlic