Nosh Box: Sports Boost Slices and Pies

The only question is: What kind of pizza are you in the mood for?


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Zachary's Chicago Pizza has mastered deep-dish crust and toppings.

Photo courtesy of Zachary's

October is National Pizza Month, a self-serving annual tradition begun in 1984 by Pizza Today magazine. But pizza is popular year-round. So why should this month’s Nosh Box feature this universal favorite?

One reason is because sporting events trigger fan-food purchases: guacamole, chicken wings, and pizza. February is the principal month for sales of all three because of Super Bowl Sunday. Perhaps that’s why “National Pizza Week,” and “National Pizza Day” fall in February.

However, October and Major League Baseball’s playoffs and World Series; the NBA season gets underway—with the Dubs; the Raiders and the 49ers are approaching mid-season; plus, the NCAA gridiron season is in full swing — all of which boost pizza sales during the month.

Neapolitan Pizza: Named for Naples, where Italian pizza began with ingredients like mozzarella di bufala Campana, and San Marzano tomatoes, the signature variety of Neapolitan pizza is pizza margherita. This pie combines that topping duo baked on a thin, round crust, then embellished with torn fresh basil leaves. Boot and Shoe Service on Grand, and Marzano on Park Boulevard are two sterling Oakland practioners.

Deep-dish Chicago-style Pizza: This pie is baked in an oiled cake pan, rather than directly on the hearth; the layers of toppings start with the cheese on the bottom, so it doesn’t burn during the protracted baking. The tomato sauce is often chunkier, and semolina flower or cornmeal may be integrated into the crust.

The 600-pound gorilla in this market is Zachary’s Chicago Pizza on College in Oakland. They’ve mastered not only the crust and toppings, but also the logistics of efficient seating, ordering, serving, and take-out. And if you dislike waiting in lines, Zachary’s offers got other locations.

California Style: The Bay Area claims to be the genesis for California-style pies. This genre began at Prego in San Francisco, with Ed La Dou making and baking pies. Across the Bay at Chez Panisse, locally sourced, fresh ingredients were bedded on thin crusts in a wood-fired oven.

Wolfgang Puck hired La Dou and spirited him away to Southern California. Meanwhile, Alice Waters kept her oven stoked and baking under a cadre of acclaimed chefs, from Jeremiah Tower in the 1970s, through Charlie Hallowell decades later. And the craft continues today. So try a pie at Chez Panisse Cafe, or at one of Charlie Hallowell’s Oakland eateries: Pizzaiolo or Penrose.

New York Style: This thin-crust pizza is traditionally purchased by the slice, and folded in half along its longitudinal axis for eating. You can find fine examples locally at Amazona’s on Telegraph in Oakland, Rotten City Pizza on Hollis in Emeryville, or at Emilia’s on Shattuck in Berkeley.

Fun Facts: Finally, here are some fun food facts about U.S. pizza, courtesy of Pizza.com: There are approximately 61,269 pizzerias in the United States selling 3 billion pizzas annually and comprising more than 10 percent of food-service sales.

Ninety-four percent of Americans eat pizza regularly, and 93 percent have eaten pizza within the last month. We eat about 100 acres of pizza a day, or about 350 slices per second. Each person consumes about 46 pizza slices annually. Thin crust is the most popular, 61 percent versus 14 percent for deep-dish, while 11 percent prefer extra-thin crust.

Pepperoni is the most popular toping, selected by 36 percent of diners. The top five pizza sales days are: 1. Super Bowl Sunday. 2. New Year’s Eve. 3. Halloween. 4. Thanksgiving eve. 5. New Year’s Day.

DIY Baking Tips: Whether you mix your own pizza dough, buy it unbaked from your pizzaiolo, or select it from the frozen-food section at the supermarket, here are some food-science tips to produce a better finished pie.

Round pizza crusts brown evenly around the edge, while rectangular crusts absorb additional heat at the corners, which cook more than the sides.

Toppings on pies cook concentrically, from the outside toward the center. Using a target analogy, the outer ring will bubble first. Next, the bubbling moves inward as cooking continues. And when the bulls-eye bubbles, the toppings are done.

A challenge when baking pizza is to apply more heat to the crust than to the toppings. An oven hearth or pizza-stone accomplishes this.

Convection ovens apply more heat to the toppings than to the crust, so turn off the convection fan, if possible, during baking.

Pre-baking the crust can help, but thin crusts may warp and distort during the process.

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