Canned Tomato Taste Test

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Everything you need to throw your own tomato party!

Every month I assemble TEAM SPT for some extreme pizza excitement. Last month’s mission was all about the tomato. We talked some tomato history and genetics along with a tasting of several grocery store brand canned plum tomatoes. Pizzerias need the consistency of tomatoes that are canned in season. They use plum tomatoes because they contain less water than the big round guys. That’s why we need to stay on top of the tomato product universe and all that it offers.

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Here are two fresh tomatoes, one from my local grocery store (left) and the other from the Union Square Green Market (right). My grocery store carries Canadian tomatoes that are picked green and gassed with ethylene to redden the skin. It was hard, mealy and off-color. The lovely red tomato on the right is from a farm in Pennsylvania. It was picked when ripe and brought to market within 48 hours. It tasted WAY better! Too bad you can only get these in season, otherwise the canned tomato wouldn’t be such a big deal.

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We tried a few different tomato brands in a blind tasting similar to the massive ones I did in 2010. I put different products from the same company against each other. These two products from La Valle are different. The can on the left is DOP San Marzano tomatoes and the can on the right is straight peeled plum tomatoes. The DOP tomatoes are more expensive, but is the taste really that different? 

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Miriam and Joe did the tasting, I prepared the test. They were given a series of white cups, each holding a whole plum tomato straight from the can. I labeled the cups A-E and hid the original cans in the kitchen. These tomatoes were right from the can with no rinsing or anything. I wanted Miriam and Joe to taste everything about the product. 

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Viva La Pizza - Book Tour!

I’m hitting the road this month to bring the pizza box love to a few cities around the US. Each event will feature a talk about pizza and pizza boxes followed by some pizza tasting! I’ll also be eating a bunch of pizza in each city before and after the events to keep in touch by tweeting @scottspizzatour and we’ll meet up!

Monday, November 11 - Chicago Pizza Tour (Chicago, IL)
We’re hitting four pizzerias in 3 hours aboard the Dough Force One. This is a rad tour and I’ve been waiting YEARS to take it. Buy tickets here.

Tuesday, November 12 - 57th Street Books (Chicago, IL)
Pizza talk + tasting from Edwardo’s Natural Pizza. Details here.

Wednesday, November 13 - Comet Ping Pong (Washington, DC)
This one’s going to be extra awesome because we’re doing a pizza box design contest and the winner gets a free bar tab. Plus there’ll be pizza on hand and books for sale via Politics and Prose. Details here.

Tuesday, November 19 - Otto Pizzeria (BU Campus - Boston, MA)
No messing around, this event is AT the pizzeria! We’ll have a tasting and talk about pizza, pizza boxes, etc. It’s sponsored by Brookline Booksmith, so books will be available. Details here.

Tuesday, November 26 - New York Public Library (NYC)
I’ll be giving a lecture about the history of the pizza box at the Mid-Manhattan branch. Details here.

*Keep your eye on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!

Pizza Box Talk on the Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show

Check out this episode of my favorite podcast, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, in which Jeff and I discuss my new book Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box, available in bookstores and internets everywhere Nov 5. We talk about a lot of specific boxes and I thought it might help to post photos of them here. They’re in the same order talk about on the show. Your life hasn’t been this easy since Jeff released enhanced editions.

LISTEN NOW!

Here’s the episode guide:

imageWe’re talking about a fantastic NYC pizzeria called Ben’s (on Spring St). Try their Sicilian pizza, particularly the Palermo. As for the box, see if you can spot all the differences between their old box and the new one!

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This is the historic predecessor to the modern pizza box. The stufa is made of copper and pointed at the top to allow for better steam release than what we use to transport pizzas today.

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Here’s a strange box from the Faroe Islands, an actual country north of Scotland that has funny telephone numbers.

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As you’ll hear in the show, Luca Ciancio is my favorite Italian pizza box artist. He’s designed over 250 images like this and they are all amazing. Keep in mind this isn’t for any particular pizzeria, it’s a generic stock box! Much better than the “Hot and Tasty” or “Only the Finest Ingredients” we get in the US.

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The Walker Lock is the most common box type. I am in awe of its simple elegance. The Walker Lock is essentially the rollover self-locking mechanism that keeps most of the nation’s pizza safe and secure during transport.

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The Chicago Folder is a useful box for thick deep-dish pizzas. It’s more rare than the Walker Lock and costs more to produce.

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Jeff and I talk about my favorite new pizza box technology and right now I’m super into this VENTiT box from India. It uses standard corrugated boxes with ports cut into the different layers of paper in such a way that they don’t line up - that lets steam out but keeps heat in! Amazing.

*Listen to the Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show for more information about these and other boxes, as well as other non-pizza box related programming.

My Book About Pizza Boxes Has Arrived!!!

I wrote a book about pizza boxes. It comes out Tuesday, November 5 (one week from today). I’m super excited about it.

Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box presents over 100 amazing pizza boxes from around the world and tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the history, art and technology of mankind’s most under appreciated art form.

Find out more about the book on my website, which has page previews, purchasing information and book events in YOUR TOWN!

Pre-order your copy TODAY from McNally Jackson (signed copies!), Amazon, or get 40% off with promo code PIZZA when purchasing directly from my publisher Melville House! It will also be available in Barnes and Noble bookstores and indie shops everywhere.

Eating Pizza Every Day Lowered My Cholesterol

I was cleaning out my office today when I found some old blood work documentation. In 2007 I worked a job that kept me mostly at a desk with no constant access to pizza. My TC (total cholesterol) was 182, HDL (good cholesterol) was 52 and LDL (bad cholesterol) was a slightly alarming 116. The results in June 2012, after running pizza tours for a few years and consuming 15-25 slices per week, show TC down to 159, HDL holding at 52 and LDL down below risk level at 95 .

On October 9, the 5th annual Slice Out Hunger raised $20,000 for Food Bank For New York City. We hosted 800 pizzas from 43 different pizzerias, most of which were served by the owners themselves. Everything was just $1, from slices to sodas to desserts. The grand total will sponsor 100,000 meals for the hungry in NYC.

[Photos by Dan Lane, Lindsay Berk and Claire Kelly.]

SPT Class Trip - New Haven

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From left: Jared, Miriam, Colin, Joe, Scott (I am not in this photo)

Every month or so, Team SPT gets together for a serious info-session so we can sharpen our collective pizza edge. August’s trip was a no-brainer once I found out pizza guides Miriam and Joe had never been to New Haven, CT. Our tours happen in NYC but cover as much of the pizza spectrum as possible. Rather than sit them down at SPTHQ for a slideshow of the various apizza locations in and around Wooster Street, we piled into the car and made the short drive up I-95. This is our story.

Because of our Saturday tour schedule, we were unable to leave Manhattan until about 3PM. That worked out just fine because Sally’s Apizza doesn’t open until 5PM, so we arrived just on time to join the line at exactly 4:30. Sally’s has the most abbreviated schedule of all the pizzerias in New Haven, so we knew we had to hit it with more precision than the other places. Five of us drove up in my sweet 2004 Nissan Sentra: SPT tour guides Miriam and Joe, guide-in-training Jared and Joe’s husband Scott. We met up with New Haven tour guide and historian Colin Caplan, our spirit guide through the context of each pizzeria and how the city itself impacted the dish’s local variation. He also cleared something up for me: Why do they call it apizza in New Haven? Apparently the Italian population of New Haven is from Amalfi and their dialect includes the term apizza (pronounced ah-beetz). Thanks Colin!

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The profile of Sally’s Apizza reveals their oven!

Before we even joined the line outside the pizzeria, I showed Miriam and Joe the building’s profile, which tells a great deal about what’s going on inside. Sally’s uses a coal-fired oven, which was added after the building’s construction. You can see here that the 3-4 story building drops to a single story extension that ends with a tall chimney. That extension is the oven. Coal ovens are large and burn in such a way that the coal gets loaded into the front and exhaust escapes out the back. It’s hard to see this in New York because the buildings are built so close together. New Haven has space, so you can stand in the parking lot and look at a piece of architecture that reveals something about historic pizza technology!

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But we didn’t spend all our time in the parking lot. Once inside, we ordered two small pies: one regular (no cheese) and one with mozzarella (mutz). The second was probably my favorite of the entire trip so check it out of you’re looking for one stop in New Haven. The interior is amazing, with a mix of “here are some old photos and articles about us since we opened in 1938” and “we don’t redecorate or clean” that’s both charming and alarming (ie the bathroom). I love this place for all its charm and, of course, for its excellent and honest pizza.

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Our next stop was Frank Pepe's, the oldest remaining New Haven pizzeria. Pepe's has two locations right next to each other. The main building is the one everybody goes to, so there's always a long line. The other building - to the left of the main space and set back into the parking lot - is the original bakery Pepe worked at before opening his own place (Colin, correct me if I'm wrong about that) and was at one point a rival pizzeria but now owned by the Pepe family. I usually go to the main building, so this was my first time at The Spot (the former name of this pizza location, although not officially called that anymore). I'd taken photos through the windows but never had the chance to actually go inside!

The pizza was identical to that from the main space of Pepe’s. We had a regular mozzarella pie and the famous white clam pie. Both were excellent, but our group wasn’t all about the clams. That’s fine, more for me!

The journey continued to Modern Apizza, possibly my favorite in New Haven. It opened in 1936 - two years before Sally’s - but has changed hands and names since then. Much to our dismay, Modern was closed for their annual vacation. Watch out for August, Italians love to take a couple weeks off so it could be a mess for your pizza voyage. I regret not looking into this before we went but all turned out OK because we had time to hit Bar, a more recent addition to the New Haven pizza scene.

Bar opened about 18 years ago and it’s a huge brewpub / pizza joint that makes an updated version of New Haven apizza. The place is SO DANG HIP it was almost a 2 hour wait for the pizza, so we got it faster by just taking it to go. We took the pie back to my car and set up shop on the hood.

Along came a lovely couple that had just come from setting up for a friend’s wedding. They asked where they could find a slice of pizza in the area and we all squealed. They could not have approached a better crew. Sadly, there aren’t really any good slice shops in the area so we said the best option is to do what we did and hit up Bar. They looked so sad, it was really heart-breaking. So we invited them to join us! Without missing a beat Mrs Random grabbed a slice and Mr Random was close behind.

Pizza is the ultimate food of friendship. It’s both personal and communal at the same time and that’s what brought this entire group of pizza fans together in the first place. This moment truly defined the entire trip!

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Us with the Van Der Beeks. WHAT?!?!

Our new friends were so lovely and of all the random things they could have said, they hit us with a real doozy. “Have you ever heard of James Van Der Beek? We’re his parents!” Yup. So that happened. They had a passerby take this photo and emailed it to me the next day. SO IT WASN’T ALL JUST A DREAM!

We finished up, said farewell and moved along to our return trip down I-95. It was late enough that traffic was light, so we cruised swiftly along the gentle glide of the highway. Only one stop remained in our path: Colony Grill in Stamford, CT. This place is a 1930s Irish pub that started doing pizza somewhere after WWII. It’s a thin pan pizza with cheese all the way out to the edge (it even burns a bit!!!!) and we had to have it as a nightcap.

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Half sausage, all hot oil at Colony.

We did a classic order of a small pie with hot oil on the whole thing and sausage on half. The hot oil is a must here so don’t leave Colony without it! It’s a Serrano pepper-infused oil and it is delightful, especially when matched with chunks of sausage. This was a crowd favorite for sure and I’m glad we made the stop.

And so our journey came to an end as we returned to New York City filled with new-found knowledge and bellies filled with delicious pizza.