Old Forge White Pizza
I've never been to Old Forge, Pennsylvania, or tasted the famous "White Pizza" that originated there, but shortly after I moved to Maine I fell in with a sleeper cell of Wilkes-Barre / Scranton area natives (Lex, Joe and Lester) who march in lockstep devotion to the stuff. (Old Forge is a village of about 10,000 that has been subsumed by Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in their sprawling gallactic collision along the Susquehanna.) These are people who will drive seven hours primarily to go to a pizza shop. (I'm not getting in the middle of the battle about which one is the best -- apparently there are about ten shops clustered on the main drag and feelings run high when the question of which is the best.)
After a recent return from white pizza Mecca, Joe suggested that, with help from him and his cohorts, I might be able to create a reasonable facimile of Old Forge White Pizza, since I like to make pizza and I like to hang with the Old Forge contingent. So I agreed to take a run at it.
White Pizza (I'll drop the "Old Forge" designation for the rest of this post) is essentially a rectangular double-crust pan pizza, stuffed with a blend of cheeses and topped with olive oil and rosemary leaves. Variations on that theme are apparently available in the pizza shops of Old Forge, but the cognoscenti disapprove of any deviations from the orthodoxy: "It's the combination of the cheese, the rosemary and the olive oil, with a crust that's not too thin or thick, that makes a White Pizza," Joe informed me, "and nothing should be added or changed."
Never having attempted a stuffed pizza, I started this assignment (after determining in an extended Google session that no recipes for White Pizza are readily available on the 'net) by looking up similar recipes, settling on Marcella Hazan's recipe for sfinciuni, from Palermo, which, while round, stuffed with meat and fontina, and cooked on a stone instead of a pan at least pointed me in the right direction with respect to the dough proportions and preparation technique.
An email to Joe carrying the seemingly innocent question -- "What cheeses do we use?" -- started a flurry of about 40 emails back and forth between the group, more Googling and sending of links, etc., The result: it's a secret that no one has ever divulged. Lester, the most detail-oriented of the PA Gang, finally ruled that the cheeses would be fontina, provolone and Cooper sharp American cheese, in equal proportions.
So last night we came together for the test kitchen, tentative recipe hot off the Epson. The first round was deemed to be in the ballpark, so we workshopped the recipe over a couple of beers and decided on a slightly thicker crust, more pronounced water bath at the start (see recipe below), double the cheese and a lighter hand with the salt. The second try took us deep into the third quarter of the Monday night football game (I rarely last beyond the half, especially with snoozers like last night's domination of the Jets by Atlanta) but by the end of the evening Lex and Joe (Lester was unavailable) pronounced the product worthy of respect (subject to the Addendum, below). Sweet success!
I love this kind of cooking: setting out with only memory and a few related recipes for guides to try to reproduce the taste, texture and appearance of a favorite restaurant dish. It's an excercise I look forward to, and after years of reminding friends and family that I really like the challenge, I get requests on a fairly regular basis to try to reproduce this or that fondly-missed delight. The White Pizza was an extra challenge because I had never eaten it myself, but with guides so firmly committed to a shared vision of perfection I had a fairly easy time of it.
The bottom line: for members of the White Pizza diaspora, this recipe should allow some relief for your yearning to go home. For me, at the risk of offending the Old Forge brotherhood, this pizza is too cheesentric, for me, too much of a one-note Samba, and after a couple of bites I was wishing for more flavors and textures. However, I very much appreciate minimalist art and architecture, so I'm sure, with practice and dedication (Lester, Joe and Lex combine about 120 years of White Pizza experience), I could develop the deep understanding of the dance of four simple ingredients that is the Old Forge White Pizza. (Not that there's anything "minimalist" about 6 cups of cheese on a pizza....) My doctor and his weird obsession with cholesterol is going to be an obstacle to achieving that lofty goal, I'm afraid, but I'm sure I could do it if given a new set of arteries and valves....!
White Pizza (Old Forge style)
1 double-crust rectangular pie, about 10" x 16" (six slices about 4" x 5")
1. This crust is different from the "standard" crust recipe I usually use, which is found in Pizza Basics.
2. This is the recipe actually tested. For a further adjustments suggested by my advisors (but not yet tested), see the Addendum below.
2-1/4 tsp instant yeast
3 C flour
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 C + 2 T warm water (about 105º)
1-1/2 T olive oil
2 C fontina cheese, shredded
2 C aged provolone cheese, shredded
2 C Cooper sharp American cheese, shredded (see the Comments attached to the post for discussion of alternatives)
1 T fresh rosemary (whole leaves, removed from stems - but see Addendum, below)
Preheat the oven to 400º.
Place all the crust ingredients in the bowl of a food processor with the steel blade and process until the dough clumps together and starts to ride around on the blade. Place dough in a bowl, coat it with 1 tablespoon olive oil, cover with clear plastic and allow to rise 'til doubled, about an hour and a half.
Punch down the dough, knead it for a few seconds and then cut in half. Wrap one half tightly in plastic wrap. Roll the other half into a thin rectangular sheet, about the same size as the pan, with edges the same thickness as the center. (Use a dark-colored metal jelly roll pan.) Oil the pan with about 1-1/2 tablespoon olive oil and lay the crust in the pan. Roll out the other piece of dough to about the same size and shape. Cover the dough sheets with clean towels and allow to rise 30 minutes.
Spread 1 tablespoon olive oil over the bottom crust, stopping half an inch from the pan edge. Mix the three cheeses and spread over the crust, again stopping half an inch from the pan edge. Salt lightly and drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the cheese. Lay the top crust over the bottom crust and filling. Stretch the edges of the lower crust up and over the upper crust and crimp together to form a seal.
Brush the top of the pizza liberally with water, then bake 15 minutes, or until just starting to brown. Brush the top liberally with olive oil and scatter on the rosemary. Bake an additional 10 minutes. Allow the pizza to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing.
1. Thicker Crust. Les and Joe have said they would like a thicker crust, so the following is a recipe for a thicker crust for 1 pizza, assuming the samOld Forge White Pizzae pan dimensions:
4 tsp instant yeast
4-1/2 C flour
2 tsp salt
1-3/4 C warm water (about 105º)
2 T olive oil
This recipe variation is as-yet-untested for O.F.White Pizza, though based on my extensive experience with pizza dough I have high confidence that it will work. As with all bread recipes, of course, the measurements will vary according to type of flour used (I use King Arthur All-Purpose Unbleached), specific yeast characteristics and freshness (I use the SAF brand, usually less than one year old and stored under refrigeration -- this is a sort of weaponized version of yeast that seems to be extremely consistent), atmospheric conditions and altitude. Similarly, baking time is approximate.
2. Rosemary. As noted in the Comments, a rough chop of the rosemary is advised, for a more even distribution on the surface of the pizza.
3. Cheese Quantity. Full disclosure: when we ate the results of the second test (the basis for the main recipe above), Lex and Joe both said that there could be more cheese. I ignored them in preparing the original post because to me a cup of cheese per serving is an appalling amount already. However, if the goal is to reproduce the original classic Old Forge White Pizza, the cheese quantities apparently have to be greater, according to my experts. How much greater? In my opinion, once you pass the 0ne-cup-per-serving barrier you're free to go as high as you want...1-1/2 times as much? twice as much? Hey, your arteries are already thick with goo, what's a little more?
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