I had so much fun at lunch the other day. Instead of running out for a slice or a sandwich, I made my own – slice that is.
Napa Valley’s Cakebread family invited me to make pizza with them at Pizza a Casa on Grand Street. I was part of a small group that joined brothers Bruce and Dennis Cakebread (president and vice-president, respectively), winemaker Julianne Laks, culinary director Brian Streeter and vineyard director Toby Halkovich to learn how to make pizza (while enjoying Cakebread wine).
Pizza a Casa is a pizza “school” about the size of a large walk-in closet. It is helmed by husband and wife team Mark and Jenny Bello. Mark is a pizza-making evangelist who can convince you that you too can make pizza dough and bake it into world-class pizza in your pathetic little New York oven.
I have always believed that people fall into one of two camps – cooks or bakers. These require completely different skill sets and personality types. There are a few rare birds who do both, just as some people are ambidextrous.
Sitting firmly in the “cooks” camp, I was fascinated – but completely unconvinced that I would ever venture forth and copy - by the process of making dough. It seems pizza dough and wine are “separated at birth” type twins. To make wine you add yeast to your sugary liquid (otherwise known as grape must). To make dough you add sugar to your yeasty liquid (active dry yeast combined with warm water).
In the wine-making process adding the yeast is known as “inoculating” the must. It seems that sugar inoculates the dry yeast combination as well. While there are other steps involved in both processes, this was enough to give me an “ah-ha” moment about why pizza and wine really are a great pairing. Not really but…
When I was first set free amongst the ingredients (after the dough was made for me), Dennis Cakebread joined me in making a pizza with gorgonzola cheese, carmelized onions, endive and smoked duck. After that was baked, we added chopped walnuts, a reduction of balsamic vinegar and lemon zest. We originally thought that this would pair with the Cakebread Zinfandel, but because of the balance of ingredients it paired best with the 2011 Chardonnay.
Never one to sit on my laurels, I tried again. This time I started with a semi-classic Margarita pizza. Semi because I added mushrooms. It finished completely “not classic” when I topped it with two eggs, which fried on top of the pie. After those yolks were drawn across the pie, I added chopped arugula, olive oil, lemon zest and salt.
Cakebread wines are available all around New York. If you want to learn to make pizza, a four-hour class at Pizza a Casa run about $150 per person.