Giving authentic meaning to the phrase “artisanal pizza”, muralist James Aschbacher moonlights as a pizzaiolo for close friends and lucky neighbors. I was treated to one of Aschbacher’s thin-crust pizzas when I lunched this week with the artist and his wife, novelist Lisa Jensen.
Turns out there are a few absolute necessities involved in making pizza so good that it occupies a higher plane than the mere “homemade.”
First, the gloves. That’s for opening the oven door when the temperature is full-blast 550 degrees.
Then there’s the dough. Stretched thin enough to read through.
Barilla pasta sauce. Certo. Fresh basil, you bet. Plus various secret topping ingredients that involve cheeses, olives and other stuff.
Another secret weapon: the pizza screen (available at Chefworks in downtown Santa Cruz). Instead of building your pizza on a round pan (think cookie sheet) you construct it on a spherical mesh grid, which allows for the heat to move up around, in and out of the pie.
This is what keeps the ultra-thin (Roman-style) Aschbacher crust light, crisp and golden.
Final secret: the pizza is placed on the very bottom of the oven (you gotta have a gas oven for this). NOT on the lowest rack. On the BOTTOM of the oven.
Jim watches his pizza like an Italian matriarch, turning it every few minutes during the roughly 10 minutes of baking time.
Served with a delicious Merlot, this pizza was a bravura bit of cookery. Unbelievable.
And since you’re wondering…Jim uses pizza dough from Trader Joe’s. Aschbacher has tried it all, including from-scratch. But this is what he swears by. Well, I’m a believer. This pizza was molto, molto bene!