Since leaving his position at the popular Brooklyn restaurant Roberta’s five years ago, Anthony Falco has travelled the world advising restaurateurs on how to make best pizza possible.
He has kneaded dough 8,000 feet above sea level in Bogota, recommended adding paneer and spinach to pizza in subtropical India, used a translator in Japan to help a perfect a Tokyo Marinara, and worked alongside the crew at the Toronto’s General Assembly to come up with a lamb sausage pizza (with input from a local Lebanese woman on staff) that has the perfect combination of spices, making it one of the restaurant’s top sellers.
Falco, who never intended to make pizza his life’s work, has literally made thousands of them, some perfect and some flops. Now he’s poured all of that accumulated knowledge into his first cookbook, aptly called Pizza Czar: Recipes and Know-How from a World-Travelling Pizza Chef, a useful guide for aspiring pizza cooks.
“The one thing I tell everyone, no matter where I go, is don’t try and reinvent the wheel,” says Falco. “Every good pizza starts with the basics – wheat, tomato and cheese – and then get creative with whatever fresh, local ingredients you have on hand. But don’t go crazy. The best pizza is simple at its core.”
On a recent trip to Bangkok, for instance, he was working with a client who owns a rum bar where they serve delicious Cuban sandwiches. Drawing inspiration from a crowd-pleasing favourite, he arranged roast pork, ham and whole grain mustard on a pizza. “The acidity of the mustard, mixed with the salt in the meat, finished with pickles and some fresh dill was delicious.”
The best thing about pizza, Falco says, is it can be tailored to suit the tastes of every culture. “It’s one of the most adaptable versatile foods in the world, which I think, explains its vast appeal and longevity.”
The cookbook gives tips for making the perfect white and red sauce, explains the dos and don’ts involved in making four different crusts and, of course, shares recipes that are the result of collaborating with an international clientele.
“Pizza is the world’s food,” says Falco. “It brings people together and is one of the most fun, celebratory meals you can serve. My old boss at Roberta’s gave me the nickname ‘pizza czar,’ but I’m really a pizza mechanic. And frankly, I think I have the best job in the world.”
Veggie Lover’s Pan Pizza
Makes 1 (12-inch/30 cm. diameter) pizza
650 grams pizza dough, par-baked and ready to top
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
¾ ounce Pecorino-Romano, finely grated
Pinch dried wild Sicilian oregano, stems removed
4 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella, shredded
2 ounces fresh mozzarella
¾ ounce green bell pepper, julienned
1 ounce Oven-Roasted Fancy Mixed Mushrooms
¾ ounce red onion, thinly sliced
¾ ounce black olives, pitted and quartered
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar.
Preheat the oven with pizza stones to 475 F.
Immediately after taking the par-baked pizza dough out of the oven, using a ladle or a large spoon, spread the tomato sauce onto the entire pizza, leaving about ½ inch around the dough’s edge for the crust.
Top the sauce with the grated cheeses. Pinch the oregano onto the sauce and cheese. Follow with the fresh mozzarella and then both shredded mozzarellas. Finish with the bell pepper, mushrooms, onion and olives.
Put the pan in the oven directly on the pizza stone and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crust and cheese are golden brown. The time will vary depending on your oven.
Remove the pizza from the pan with an offset spatula and transfer to a cooling rack. Drizzle the whole pie with the vinegar. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting into 8 slices.
Oven-Roasted Fancy Mixed Mushrooms
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 cloves (15 grams) garlic, sliced
8 sprigs thyme, stems discarded
8 ounces oyster mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 pinches sea salt, one for each batch of mushrooms
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced lengthwise about ¼ inch thick
Preheat oven to 500 F. Brush 2 sheet pans with the butter and sprinkle with the garlic and thyme.
In a large mixing bowl, dress the oyster mushrooms in half the olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Transfer to one of the buttered sheet pans then repeat with the cremini mushrooms.
Roast the oyster mushrooms for 10 to 15 minutes, and the cremini mushrooms for 15 to 20 minutes, until both are golden brown and slightly dried. Look for released moisture, but don’t stir the mushrooms while they roast. Once the moisture has evaporated, you’re done.
Transfer both batches to one large container, stir to combine, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 2 to 3 days).
This excerpt has been condensed. Text copyright © 2021 Anthony Falco. Photographs copyright © 2021 Evan Sung, Molly Tavoletti, and Anthony Falco. Cover © 2021 Abrams. Published in 2021 by Abrams, an imprint of ABRAMS. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.
Plan your weekend with our Good Taste newsletter, offering wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more. Sign up today.