Winter Reading List

It may not feel like Winter in New York, but there is no avoiding the deep chill that is sure to come. And when that day arrives, you’ll want nothing more than a cozy fire and a good book about pizza. Fear not, dear slice-o-phile, for there are several fantastic reads at your local book shoppery that promise to keep you warm while nature does her thing. Here’s a roundup of some books I’ve been spending time with lately…

1. Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoe Francois (St Martin’s Press)

Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day is exactly what it sounds like. This is the latest in a series about hassle-free bread baking and it’s totally awesome. Baking pizza is an extremely practical way to feed yourself AND heat yourself. The book makes you feel like a jerk for wasting so much of your life not making pizza at home with its ridiculously simple dough recipes. No complicated steps or fancy words, just simple ingredients that combine to make dough that sits in your refrigerator until you’re ready to bake.

The authors’ approach to flatbread and pizza making is more focused on getting delicious results than trends or “authenticity.” They address common problems people have with homemade pizza, focusing largely on the component that scares most humans into submission to and abuse from the big delivery chains. Even though I’ve bakes many a pizza at home, the book isn’t too oversimplified or basic. Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day is perfect for anyone who is even mildly interested in expanding their home cooking skill-set, even if the sum of your prior pizza experience is Ellios or Digiorno.

2. Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller (Norton)

First of all, great title. Extra Virginity stuck out immediately when I was scanning the shelves at my go-to indie bookstore, McNally-Jackson in Soho. I’ve been craving a book about olive oil ever since I had my first real taste of the good stuff on a trip to Israel four years ago. We visited an olive mill and not only was I the only person out of 40 to stay awake during a presentation about how oil is pressed, and I’m probably also the only one of the group who currently uses the information on a daily basis. I’ll never forget that first taste of a substance that surprisingly tasted like olive. If this is what olive oil is supposed to taste like, what have I been ingesting all these years? Tom Mueller has the answers and some of them may shock you.

Even though the olive industry is predominantly fueled by the Mediterranean region, the good old USA is getting into olive oil in a pretty big way right now. There are dedicated shops and gourmet stores literally shoving all things “Extra Virgin” down our throats. All the more reason to do a little reading on the subject! Throughout the book, Mueller introduces us to a dozen key players in one of the oldest and most deceptive industries on the planet. He covers enough history, science, technology and politics to give you all the ammo you’ll need for your next trip to the supermarket’s oil aisle. You’ll also gain a greater appreciation for the taste and health benefits of this ancient nectar; I was craving a glass of straight-up olive oil by the end of the first chapter!

3. Serious Eats by Ed Levine and the Editors of SeriousEats.com (Crown)

It’s about time the good folks at Serious Eats put out a book and it was definitely worth the wait. Ed Levine and his crew of hungry editors lead you through every meal of the day (plus snacks!) as they dish out recommendations for where, how and when to eat everything tasty within the United States of America. The book is divided into chapters based on food genre (Breakfast, Burgers, Pizza, Sandwiched/Hot Dogs BBQ, Street food, Fried food, Sweets and Home-Grown). If you keep a pizza-only diet, this book will expand your horizons. If you’d rather stick to foods that are (usually) round and (usually) cut into triangle wedges of cheese, sauce and crust, there’s always Levine’s classic Pizza: A Slice of Heaven to settle your cravings.

As the parent website to Slice: America’s Favorite Pizza Weblog, SeriousEats.com spends a great deal of time with pizza and the book reflects just that in its wonderful pizza chapter. The lists, photos, essays and recipes for pizza of all shapes, sizes and cities of origin are spot-on. It’s the perfect gift for any food adventurer, whether or not they’re a pizza addict. Just flip to any page in this book and tell me you don’t want to run out for a snack of whatever Ed and Co. have described. Go ahead, I dare you.

4. America’s Little Italys by Sheryll Bellman (Sellers)

America’s Little Italys is like a time machine that lets you visit a dozen of the country’s strongest Southern Italian immigrant neighborhoods when they were at their peak. There are enough incredible photos to make your head spin, providing a clear window into the past. There’s a great spread of shots from Franks Pepe’s in New Haven, CT as well as a huge section about the various Little Italys in the five boroughs of NYC. But it goes even deeper into other regions whose pizze pedigrees have been lost in the shuffle. Part of pizza’s mystery is its extreme degree of variation from city to city; New York has different indigenous pizza species than Chicago, St Louis, New Haven, San Francisco, Old Forge, etc. The fact of the matter is that diversity is the result of the diverging histories and economies. This book gives some context with which to better understand various pizza styles.

Sheryll Bellman has done a beautiful job collecting images and stories from all over the country, but there’s also a fantastic timeline from 6000 BC to 2010 AD in the front and a glossary of Italian food words in the back. This is the most easily digestible reference guide to Southern Italian culture in America that I have ever seen.

5. Goldberg’s Pizza Book by Larry Goldberg (Random House)

I know what you’re thinking: something about Goldberg’s Pizza Book by Larry Goldberg doesn’t seem right. Not enough vowels a the end of his name? Don’t worry, that’s covered in the first two sections of this amazing little time capsule of a book. Section 1 is called “An Open Letter from Maria Busto Angello, Italian Mother,” followed immediately by “An Open Letter from Sara Goldberg, Jewish Mother, in Response to the Open Letter from Maria Busto Angello, Italian Mother.” That should give you an idea of what this book is all about.

Goldberg’s Pizza was one of the great New York slice shops of the 1970’s (based on banter at Chowhound and other forums, since I was not yet on this Earth) but it wasn’t run by the stereotypical large Italian man throwing dough up into the air all night long. This skinny (although formerly overweight, covered in the chapter “How I Stay So Svelt”) Jewish guy held his own on the pizza scene and even managed to publish this book in 1971, before anybody was ruminating about pizza.

This one might be tough to find since it has been out of print for at least 30 years, but it’s worthy of a place in your pizza library as a snapshot of pizza when a New York slice was easy to define and still cost the same as a subway token.

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