Log In / Join Now

Food Tip: Everything You Need for a Pizza Party

A roundup of authentic toppings and handy tools to make your Italian feast a success
Photo by: Lara Robby
These pizza essentials highlight Italy's bounty.

Owen Dugan
Posted: July 25, 2017

Note: This guide originally appeared in the July 31, 2017, issue of Wine Spectator, "The Art of Collecting."

TOPPINGS

Gustarosso Tomatoes
www.zingermans.com
$10 for 22.2 ounces

The number of possibly arbitrary rules about pizza-making is roughly equal to the number of pizza makers. One of them goes, "Never use fresh tomatoes." Sure, they can be finicky and contain too much liquid, but c'mon, what's wrong with a fresh tomato?

Most do agree, though, that canned San Marzanos are a great way to go. This slender variety comes from a protected area south of Naples, where the plant grows in Vesuvian soil. It's meaty and has more substantial tomato flavor than just about any other canned tomato. Some people slice and drain them, but for appealingly irregular distribution, crush them with your hands into a bowl, sprinkle them on the pie as needed, maybe drizzle a little juice around, and on to the next step.

Rossi Pesto
www.gustiamo.com
$25 for 5.2 ounces

The central riddle of the greatest Italian dishes is their simplicity. "But it's so good; there has to be more to it." Well, there is and there isn't.

I make pretty good pesto. I use fresh basil, pine nuts, good cheese, garlic, salt. That's what Roberto Panizza does too, but his basil is tiny baby basil from the Liguria DOP, sweet garlic that has less bite, Trapani sea salt from Sicily and aged fiore Sardo cheese. The mixture is pounded by hand with a mortar and pestle. This breaks the ingredients down differently than a kitchen processor would, keeping their flavors brighter and fresher. The result is a pesto with super-clean flavors: The basil doesn't have that licorice edge it can get sometimes, and the garlic isn't hot.

Keep in mind that this needs to go into your fridge but should be served at room temperature. Take out what you think you'll need and let it warm gently. Do not cook it on raw dough; pesto should never be cooked, but rather warmed. Bake a pie with just a sprinkling of good salt. When it's done, give it a quick drizzle or smear of this stuff.

Maplebrook Mozzarella
www.saxelbycheese.com
$7 for 8 ounces

We're banging the origin-is-key drum pretty hard here. And much can be said for getting true mozzarella di bufala shipped across the Atlantic to authenticate your culinary endeavors. But by the time it gets to you, how much of its character has been lost? Mozzarella belongs to the fresh-cheese category, for which every hour is a step closer to death, rather than toward depth, as is it for other cheeses. So try to find a local producer, and use the cheese as quickly as you can, preferably with no time in the fridge.

Failing that, try an American variety for a change. Maplebrook is a Vermont creamery that makes great mozzarella. If you blind-taste a bunch of mozzarellas, you'll notice textures from smooth to stringy and flavors from creamy to grassy. Maplebrook is creamy and a little salty.

Once various mozzarellas have spent time in the oven, however, those distinctions fade. The main job of the mozzarella is to melt without weeping, and this Maplebrook does that well.

La Quercia Borsellino
www.laquercia.us
$12 for 6 ounces

We've grown beyond the "If it ain't pepperoni, it ain't pizza" epoch. While truly anything goes on pizza these days, piquant cured pork still has its appeal, and there are many all-American products that rival the best. You might get some hot soppressata since every party has at least one heat-seeking guest. But mild is good too.

La Quercia has been making prosciutto in Iowa for more than a decade. Kathy and Herb Eckhouse had this crazy idea that prosciutto could be made from the great heritage breeds of pig returning to the Midwest. After studying production in Italy, they returned home; accolades came soon after.

La Quercia has also branched out into salumi. The Borsellino is a mild salami. Each one is small, so slice thinly on the bias and distribute over a pizza before you slide it into the oven; a piccante version is a little more full-flavored.

TOOLS

Epicurean Pizza Peel
www.epicureancs.com
17- by 10-inch peel, $27

The trickiest part about making pizza is getting it from the peel to the oven floor. When it works, it feels great—the motion is fluid and dramatic, and the results are impressive. When it doesn't, it makes a mess in the oven. A bad mess.

The basic options for peels are wood or steel. Trust us, especially if you're new to this: Use a wooden peel, and rub the top lightly all over with flour. This creates a good surface on which to build the pie before slipping it into the oven. Wood is far less sticky than steel. Plus, you can start on the next pie while the previous one bakes.

Oxo Pizza Wheel
www.oxo.com
4-Inch Pizza Wheel, $13

Slicers are pretty rudimentary devices. Their advantages over knives are that they don't stick to the toppings as much, so what you serve looks more like what you pulled out of the oven, and you don't get your knuckles covered in mozzarella and tomatoes. The two best things about the Oxo are that the rubber handle still has grip when your hand is covered in food, and when you're done, you can give it a rinse and throw it in the dishwasher.


WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.