pizza alla carbonara

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You’d think that for someone who weeped slightly while watching SATC the-Village-wet-dream in her Vancouver apartment 15 years ago, and now replays movies like You’ve Got Mail the-Upper-West-Side-porn to ease her New-York-home-sickness, if now given the chance to move back to the city, would of course choose Manhattan in a heart beat.  Well, almost.

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But the truth is, since 2006 when I was still dwelling in my 500 ft² apartment in Hell’s Kitchen the-Midtown-nightmare, all I had my eyes set on was to move into a renovated loft (LOFT!) situated in the newly-hipster town across the river – Williamsburg.  Yes, the other boroughs.  You see, because New Yorker wears their address as part of their identities, and 55 Berry Street Williamsburg was humming to me on a very seductive tune.  The too-cool-for-schools, the hipsters walking a designer stroller and an adopted pit bull, the vintage-bikers on the Williamsburg bridge cruising into sunsets, the L-Train patrons with awesome tattoos and really cool hats…  I… I could be those.  But instead, I somehow moved across the wrong river and ended up riding the PATH in a very floppy scene for two years and now, this dump.  I dunno.  Shoot me an email if you’ve got any idea what happened.

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And as if to rub salt on my wound, Williamsburg seemed to have retaliated by… just getting better and better!  News of non-stop, cooler-than-the-one-before restaurants, markets, fairs and bakeries are springing up like weeds in the past few years and mercilessly stinging my sore heart.  Among which is my newest obsession, Forcella Eatery, that started in Williamsburg and now has two other locations in Manhattan, known for their now listen… PAR-FRIED PIZZA DOUGH.  OK, that was 2011 I KNOW I’m slow but did you hear?  PAR-FRIED!  As excitingly as that makes my blood jitters, I’m not going to expect anyone as crazy as to wanting to do that at home.  Instead, I’m gonna focus on an adaptation of the OTHER signature – the carbonara pizza, a crusty and puffy pizza dough that’s bar-baked in the hot oven until almost done, then poured with a layer of Parmigiano and black pepper infested custard and baked until it’s just beginning to set but still runny and creamy.  Soft, eggy and cheesy with crispy, lardy guanciale bits on top, tasting like my ultimate hispter-dream.  It is only served as their brunch menu on weekends as appropriately so, and it will be on the top of my list of things to hit the day I move to Williamsburg.  Yeah sure it’ll happen… some day…

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Makes: 2 medium pizzas, or 3 small pizza

Nowadays when it comes to pizza doughs, I default to a hybrid of Bonci’s pizza dough and Lahey’s quick basic pizza dough.  There’s more details in the brand/choice of flours I use for this dough in Bonci’s post so I’m won’t repeat myself here.  I use a little more yeast for a shorter fermentation period, approx 8 hours instead of 24 hours, and the result is quite a good compromise.  But if you have a favourite pizza dough of  your own, by all means use that.

At Forcella, they put crushed ice-cubes in the center of the pizza when par-baking to create a “basin” for the carbonara, but I find that fresh mozarella does the trick pretty well.  If the center of your pizza dough puffed too much during par-baking, simply poke/press it down with a fork before pouring in the carbonara custard.

About the carbonara mixture, the KEY is really to mix with LOTS LOTS of GOOD QUALITY parmigiano cheese AND LOTS LOTS of freshly ground black pepper.  I did the mixture in a blender but you can easily do it by hand (just lots of cheese to grate).  If you do, just make sure there’s enough grated cheese in the custard that it’s the consistency of a LOOSE PASTE.  And it really does make a difference to top the pizza with more parmigiano cheese, sea salt and black pepper… right, basically just NEVER ENOUGH parmigiano and black pepper.

Ingredients: keep in mind that the portion below is for 2 medium pizzas

  • Pizza dough: adapted from Bonci’s pizza bianca
    • 400 grams of high-gluton bread flour
    • 100 grams of tapioca flour
    • 2 tsp of instant dry yeast
    • 1 tsp of sugar
    • 3/4 tsp of salt
    • 350 grams of water + 1 ~ 2 tbsp for adjusting
    • 20 grams of extra virgin olive oil
  • Carbonara mixture:
    • 4 large eggs
    • 155 grams (5.5 oz) of aged Parmigiano cheese
    • 1/8 cup of heavy cream
    • 2 1/2 tsp of black peppercorn
    • Salt to taste
  • 1 large mozarella cheese, teared into small pieces
  • 120 grams (4.5 oz, or roughly 1/2 cup diced) of guanciale, or pancetta, or thick-cut bacon
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • More Parmigiano cheese, fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to top

To make the pizza dough:  Evenly mix bread flour, tapioca flour, instant dry yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Stir the extra virgin olive oil into 350 grams of water and pour it into the flour mixture.  Swirl the mixture together with a fork until it JUST starts to come together as a wet dough (if the dough feels slightly dry or wouldn’t come together easily, add 1 ~ 2 tbsp more of water).  DO NOT FURTHER WORK/KNEAD THE DOUGH AT THIS POINT.  It doesn’t matter if it’s not smooth, or even (the water will further hydrate the flour in time and it will feel less lumpy).  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for 15 ~ 20 min, after which, come back to it and pull the dough up by holding two “corners of the dough” with your fingers.  Lift it and let the gravity drag the rest of the dough down, then fold the dough over onto itself.  Cover the bowl again and let it sit for another 20 min.  Repeat this step for 3 times.

This folding process, not only mix the dough without kneading, but will create lots of air bubbles within that’s very important in a good pizza.

You can now cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it proof in a COOL place for 6 ~ 8 hours.  If your apartment/house is warm and the dough is expanding too quickly, looking as if it’s going to MORE THAN DOUBLE in 6 ~ 8 hours, then transfer the bowl into the fridge.  I had to move my dough into the fridge after a couples of hours on the counter because it’s still summer.

1 hour before using, carefully scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface, and divide it into 2 ~ 3 portions depending on the size of the pizza you’re making (BE CAREFUL NOT TO over-work/knead the dough or you’ll loose all those precious air bubbles!).  Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for another 40 min.  Or, right after you scrape the dough out of the bowl, you can plastic-wrap the divided dough and freeze it for another day (I wouldn’t keep it in the freezer for more than a week).  The dough will take several hours to defrost and proof slightly before it’s ready for use.

To make the pizza:  Preheat the oven on 500ºF/250ºC, with a pizza-stone or a shallow cast-iron pan in the middle rack.

Add the diced guanciale (or pancetta, or thick-cut bacon) into a frying-pan with smashed garlic and thyme.  If you are using guanciale (I did) or thick-cut bacon, there’s should be enough fat, but if you are using pancetta which can be relatively leaner, add 1 tbsp of olive oil to the pan.  Set the pan over medium heat and render out the fat until the diced guanciale/pancetta/bacon is crispy and browned.  You should have a few tbsp of rendered fat in the pan.  Set aside.

Blend large eggs, parmigiano cheese, heavy cream and black peppercorns in a blender until very smoothly pureed.  There should be no crumbs of parmigiano left in the custard, and the custard should be creamy and slightly thick.  You can of course beat the eggs, and grate the cheese and black pepper by  hand.  Season the custard with a pinch of salt and set aside.

Lay a large piece of parchment paper on the counter and rub it with a little olive oil.  Place 1 piece of pizza dough in the middle and drizzle a couple tsp of olive oil on top so it doesn’t stick to your hands.  GENTLY press down the dough with your knuckles and push it outwards.  You are looking for a thin, round pizza dough with a slightly thicker/fatter edge, which is going to be the “basin” that holds the custard.  Scatter the mozarella pieces on top, mainly around the edges to “secure the perimeter”, and season with some fine sea salt.  Lift the parchment paper and move onto the pizza-stone or cast-iron pan in the oven, and bake until the pizza crust is golden-browned on all edges.

Move the pizza back onto the counter by lifting the parchment.  Use a fork to gently press down the center of the pizza and pour the custard on top until it generously fills the “basin”, as much as you can before it over-spills (even if it does a little bit, it’s ok).  Scatter the crispy guanciale/pancetta/bacon, and drizzle the rendered fat on top.  Shower the pizza with more grated parmigiano, sea salt and black pepper.  Return the pizza back into the oven and bake for JUST 2 MINUTES, only enough time to lightly cook the custard but still keeps it runny.  The custard will firm up further with the residual heat.  Serve immediately.

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