Michael’s Pizza

September 24, 2016

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A friend sent me a baking steel last year, and I’ve spent months trying to find a piza dough that I like.  I’ve tried them all, and most of them seem too tough to me.

Finally, I hit on this recipe, which begins with a very soft dough that you gradually knead more flour into.  It’s very pliable, and gives you a pleasingly thin crust.  I believe that our pizza tastes depend upon where we grew up – we all want the pizza of our childhood – but this is as close as I can come to the pizza of my dreams.

Anchovy and Caper Pizza for Michael

Dough

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup 00 Italian flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4  cup lukewarm water

3/4 teaspoon active yeast

pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon olive oil

Mix the two flours with the salt. 

Stir the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water, then mix into the flour with your hands, kneading for a few minutes until it’s combined.  It will be soft and sticky. Allow the dough to rest, unmolested, for 1o minutes, then turn it out onto a well floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes, adding as much flour as you need to make a soft dough.  Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for 3 or 4 hours. 

Knead it again for a few minutes, divide into two balls, cover with the cloth again and allow the dough to rise for another hour.  You can now refrigerate it for a few days, freeze it for a couple of months, or use it immediately. (I like it best after it’s been refrigerated for a couple of days.)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and if you have a baking steel or tiles, put it on the second highest shelf in the oven and allow it to heat for an hour.  (Be very careful when it gets hot; it will be searingly hot, and not remotely touchable, even with oven mitts on.)

Stretch one piece of dough into an 8 inch round; this is the hardest part of the entire process.  Unless you know how to toss the dough into the air, it’s not easy to stretch it. Be patient.

Dust a pizza peel liberally with cornmeal. 

Coarsely mash up about 3/4 cup of canned tomatoes with a fork, then stir in a tablespoon of olive oil. 

Remove 6 – 8 anchovies from the bottle.

Drain a few tablespoons of capers.

Cut 1/3 of a pound or so of mozzarella into small chunks and if it’s wet, drain it on paper towels.

Shred a few leaves of basil.

Grate a small handful of parmesan cheese.

Put the round of pizza dough onto the peel. Spread the tomatoes over the pizza dough.  Decorate the top of the pizza with the anchovies and capers.  Top with mozzarella, scatter the basil about and end with a dusting of parmesan.  Open the oven door and very carefully shake the pizza onto the steel without touching it. (If you’ve never done this before it’s tricky, but you quickly get the hang of it.)

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how well done you like your pizza. Remove with the peel, and serve it right on the peel.

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Wines from the Twenties; Food from the Eighties

September 22, 2016

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Bipin Desai is a physicist, professor and fabled wine collector.  For years he threw wonderful wine tastings at various Los Angeles restaurants.  This series of menus is – as you can see – from the summer of 1989.

The first was held at Michael’s in Santa Monica. Michael’s, which opened in 1979, was a game-changer: Michael’s chefs were all young, educated and American (among the first to cook there were Ken Frank, Jonathan Waxman, Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton), and Michael proudly used American products.

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The second dinner was at Valentino, which was certainly appropriate; Piero Selvaggio had (and has) one of the great wine lists in the city.   One of the first cutting edge Italian restaurants in Los Angeles, it began as a little bar on a nondescript Santa Monica block.  In those days Piero was importing exotic ingredients from Italy – balsamic vinegar, great Parmigiano, true Prosciutto – and you’d go there to learn as much as to eat.

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The next venue was Katsu, an extraordinary sushi bar on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz.  Katsu was famous for the purity of the fish, the minimalism of the room, and the wonderful collection of contemporary art on the walls.

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Judging by the food, I’d guess that this meal was at Patina, the restaurant Joachim Splichal opened after Max au Triangle closed.

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This was not part of the Bipin Desai dinners – or at least I don’t think it was.  As I recall, this was a luncheon held in the Picasso room of the Los Angeles Times in honor of the Vrinat’s, owners of Taillevant.  M. Vrinat was, truly, one of the greatest restaurateurs ever.

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Special Dinners, Early Eighties

September 20, 2016

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Max Au Triangle was one of the most exciting restaurants to open in Los Angeles in the early eighties.  The chef was Joachim Splichal, who had been cooking at The Regency Club before that. After the Beverly Hills restaurant – wildly ambitious – closed Joachim opened Patina.  But this special meal took place while Max au Triangle was still in its glory.

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There’s a lot to study here.  For one thing, tapas were almost unknown in this country in the eighties, so the idea that Trumps’ late chef, Michael Roberts, was creating them was ground breaking.  (Also, they’re fairly classic, which was strange for Michael; he was a chef with a great sense of humor and an iconoclastic bent.) Then too, Darrell Corti is one of the great experts on sherry, so this was an opportunity to learn about the fortified Spanish wine.  I remember this as a really exciting occasion.

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Yanou Collart was an original, a strange amalgam of publicity agent, talent-seeker in the world of food, party girl and collector of rich people.  She seemed to know everyone in Paris, and I’ve never met anyone quite like her. This meal, in a fabulous Hollywood home, was memorable; the guest list glittered, and every single one of the chefs was a major talent.

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The Quilted Giraffe and Girardet, 1980’s

September 19, 2016

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These menus are from various times – wish I had the dates.  But The Quilted Giraffe was a game changer – Barry Wine’s wonderful, and utterly idiosyncratic restaurant. You never quite knew what to expect. (Barry was self-taught, but chefs who worked at Quilted Giraffe include David Kinch, Katy Sparks, Wayne Nish, Noel Comess and Tom Colicchio.)  I imagine, from the little drawings, that these menus all date from after the move from the modest digs on Second Avenue to the very fancy midtown restaurant in the Sony building with its cutting edge design.

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These are the set menus from Girardet in Crissier, Switzerland, widely considered the best restaurant of its era. The dish I remember with the greatest fondness is that kidney roasted in bay leaves on the final menu.

I also remember that when the ice cream cart came around, each flavor was at a slightly different temperature.

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