Thursday, January 23, 2014

How To Make Fermented Pizza

Your immediate, gut-level (pro-biotic pun intended) response to reading this headline was probably either "Oh god, why in the world would you want to ferment pizza?", or else it was: "Yes! Finally a way to ferment pizza!"

I, of course, have to eat fermented pizza. For one year, I'm living off of only fermented foods, and clearly I'm not going to give up pizza for an entire year. Why should you do it? Well, it's tasty. It's also fun to point out that you're eating an entirely fermented pizza. And fortunately, it's quite simple to prepare, so today I'm going to show you how.

Here's what I'm curious about, though: what was the first image that popped into your head when you saw this headline? What form, exactly, might fermented pizza take? How would one consume it?

Might one, for example, take some pizza — unbaked, so as not to kill off the naturally-occurring bacteria — and ferment it for 4 - 7 days in a salt brine?

Well, okay, no. Sorry. That header up there is a bit of a fake out; it was too fun to resist. Making fermented pizza at home is far easier and much less gross than that horrific pickled pizza slice vision you may have in your mind right now. The whole reason fermented pizza is such an awesome concept, in my opinion, is that most of the ingredients already are fermented. Yes indeed — that's the funny thing about fermentation, and half the reason I'm doing this book. So many staples of our everyday lives involve fermentation in ways we don't realize, because so much of our food is simply presented to us these days. Many of us don't understand the similar forces at work behind the varied foods we eat.

Let's walk through it, shall we? In a week or two — just in time for that big football game everyone is always on about — you can be enjoying fully-fermented pizza too.

Pizza Dough
1. The Dough
What is dough? Bread, basically. It rises through the action of yeast. This is fermentation; one major ingredient in your fermented pizza that's absolutely no different. You can make your pizza dough various ways, and you can make it 'more fermented,' so to speak, with some sourdough pizza crust. It will also probably be more delicious this way. But I'll sometimes just buy Whole Wheat pocket-less pita bread from the store. It's the perfect size, shape and consistency for pre-made pizza dough, and it tastes almost as good.

Fermented Tomato Sauce

2. The Sauce
Here is the one core ingredient of a pizza that's not already associated with fermentation. Fortunately, fermenting tomato sauce is insanely easy. I don't want to get terribly in-depth with the basics of veggie fermentation today, since it's a sub-recipe for the overall recipe, but below is a quick how-to.

Fermenting Tomatoes

2b. How To Make Fermented Tomato Sauce (In Brief)
Take 4 - 5 lbs of tomatoes, some Italian seasonings (oregano, thyme, basil, bay leafs, etc.) and 1 tablespoon of coarse, non-iodized sea salt. Cut off the stem end of the tomatoes, chop them up into chunks, and mix with salt and seasonings. Stuff into a quart-sized wide-mouth mason jar (or fermentation vessel of your preference.) Leave an inch or so of room at the top, then press down with a flat surface (the bottom of a beer bottle or a smaller mason jar works well) to compact the tomatoes and form a brine. If the tomatoes are not fully submerged in liquid, add a small amount of filtered, de-chlorinated water to submerge. Twist on the lid almost, but not-quite all the way, to allow ventilation of CO2 during fermentation. (Or put an airlocked lid on the jar, or use another fermentation vessel of your choice.) Fermentation will begin in a day or two and should take 7 - 10 days.

Following fermentation, press down on the fermented tomatoes to squeeze out some liquid. Pour off excess liquid, then dump contents of jar into blender. Blend well. Pour back into jar. Screw lid on tightly; refrigerate. Continue to Step 3.

3. Cheese
This should hopefully seem like an obvious one — of course cheese, a major component of all pizza, is fermented. Sadly, this is one you'll actually have to be careful with when you're shopping for ingredients. The go-to cheese for pizza for mozzarella, and most mozzarella cheese today is made quickly through an enzymatic reaction, rather than bacterial cultures. Traditionally, mozz was fermented as well, and this type of mozzarella is probably more flavorful too. When buying your mozzarella cheese, look for it to say something about "cultures" in the list of ingredients. If you aren't sure, I have no qualms with using other types of cheese. Softish cheeses like Monterey Jack (which is aged for about a month), work well.

Sidenote: it is curiously difficult to make cheese look appetizing in pictures. Which is weird, because cheese is the most delicious thing ever.

Pizza Toppings

4. Toppings 
Add some fermented toppings. Get some veggies on there — you know, for your health. As you can see, I enjoy red onions, red peppers, and jalapenos on my pizza from time to time. Most veggies can be fermented just as easily as the tomatoes above.

Pepperoni is Fermented

5. Pepperoni
Oh, what's that? The most classic pizza topping of all is already fermented? My goodness, this is all just so convenient.

6. Bake That Pizza
You'll want to pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees in advance. Finish things off with some umami-packing Parmesan cheese or Balsamic vinegar, if you like. When the oven is ready, pop that pizza in and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the crust looks nice and crusty and the cheese is starting to form little almost-burnt bubbles.

Sorry, this pizza isn't pro-biotic. But if you eat a lot of fermented food as it is, not every meal has to be.

7. Pizza
Get yourself ready for the most savory, umami-rich pizza you have ever had. And it's totally fermented. Guys, when this whole crazy year is done, I just might open my own pizza restaurant. Or maybe... a brewpub that specializes in fermented pizza?

Hmm... this could go somewhere. Any capital investors out there want to get in on this?

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