Here's an article in today's NY Times. It sounds like an interesting new place in Brooklyn to check out (Franny's)...
April 20, 2005
A Student of the Pizza Does a Little Homework
By MELISSA CLARK
N the narrow kitchen of his apartment on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, Andrew Feinberg was about to make clam pizza.
That might sound like a perfectly quotidian pastime for Mr. Feinberg, since he is the chef and an owner of Franny's restaurant, a favorite among New York pizza fans. But truth is, he'd never made pizza at home.
In fact before opening Franny's a year ago in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, he had never made pizza at all. Ever.
"Pizza was never Andrew's thing," said Francine Stephens, Mr. Feinberg's wife, who owns Franny's with him. "The week before the restaurant opened, Andrew was so nervous. I mean, (a) we put in a brand new brick oven, and (b) he had never made pizza before."
Mr. Feinberg shrugged, unperturbed, as he patted and poked a large bowl of dough to decide whether it had reached cool room temperature. It hadn't.
"It's not rocket science," he said. "If any successful New York chef opened a brick-oven pizzeria, they'd all be great. Right?"
He looked up at Ms. Stephens, who shrugged with the barest hint of skepticism.
"When we first opened Andrew didn't know what he was doing," she said, stirring her coffee. "He'd roll out the dough with a rolling pin before he figured out how to stretch it. I'm surprised anyone came back after that first week."
For Mr. Feinberg, the steepest part of the curve was learning how to make the dough consistent. Sometimes it stretched into perfectly thin disks that erupted with charred puffy bubbles when baked in the searing brick oven. And sometimes it didn't, tearing and bouncing back when he tried to pull it out into a circle. After much trial and error and help from Harold McGee's food science tome, "On Food and Cooking," Mr. Feinberg learned how to navigate myriad pitfalls.
While he explained them, tossing off terms like gliadin and autolyse, he prepared the topping. After sautéing onions, garlic, bay leaves and chili flakes in a huge stockpot, he added wine and a giant mound of littleneck clams, then closed the cover. He stood over the pot, lifting the lid every five minutes to pluck out the open clams. After tearing out the meat and putting it to the side in a bowl, he tossed the shells over his shoulder into a trash bin.
This took about 20 minutes, barely enough to complete his dough discourse. The short version: over-knead it, and the gluten breaks down, meaning that the dough won't stretch out nicely. Under-knead, and the gluten doesn't develop, so the dough won't stretch out nicely. Start pulling the dough when it's too cold, and it won't stretch out nicely. Start when it's too warm, and it will stick to your hands and the counter and won't stretch out nicely.
At Franny's he overcame the pitfalls and developed a recipe that calls for a minimum of yeast and a slow overnight rise to develop a savory, deep flavor.
When the clams were cooked Mr. Feinberg added some cream to the liquid left in the pot and set it to simmer so it would thicken into a glaze. He checked the dough again, divided it into balls and covered them with towels. More waiting, this time to let the gluten relax so the dough would ... well, you know.
With a few minutes to relax himself, he poured a cup of coffee and stirred in a splash of the cream from the same container he had just used in reducing the cooking liquid.
"I honestly think this recipe wouldn't be as good if I didn't use this cream," he said, showing the label: Evans' Farmhouse organic cream from Norwich, N.Y. "You've got to taste it. It's different depending on the time of year. When the cows are outside eating grass it's really thick and fatty. Now they are on hay, silage, so it's thinner. But it still has a lot of flavor."
Given that most clam pizzas consist of steamed clams on a white pie or chopped ones on a red, Mr. Feinberg's creamy version seemed comparatively elaborate.
"It may be more work," he acknowledged, "but it's worth it. Most clam pizzas don't taste clammy enough because they don't use the juices from the clams."
His inspiration came from an unlikely source: a lobster salad he used to make at Veritas in Manhattan.
"We used to buy giant bags of mussels just to steam them open for the juice," he said. "We'd throw out the meat. Then we'd reduce the juice down with cream to a glaze, and it became the sauce for the lobster salad."
As he spoke, he stretched the dough balls into thin rounds with a touch now practiced and expert. He painted some clam cream over the top and arranged the clams evenly over the dough. Then he sprinkled on a pinch of chili flakes.
Now was the moment of truth for his heterodox plan to cook pizza at home.
He slid the pie into the oven on top of quarry tiles that had been preheating for the past hour, then closed the oven door and waited five minutes, just long enough to firm up and brown the bottom of the dough. Then, using tongs and a spatula, he transferred the pie onto the broiler rack and set the flame to high to lightly singe the top of the pizza.
It was bubbly and golden and perfectly pocked with black scorch marks on top. He gilded the pie with olive oil and parsley. The pizza tasted like the sea, with richness from the olive oil and cream and a bite from the chili flakes. The toasty, toothsome crust was nearly as good as the one on the clam pie at Franny's.
Mr. Feinberg frowned. "Yeah, it's pretty good," he said, "but there's probably a way to make it better."