Love pizza but afraid of trying to make it yourself and failing? That’s how I was, so I decided to seek the advice of an expert. That expert was Shari Greicar of Eatz L.A.
Greicar is a native born Chicagoan, and, as you may know, Chicago is a very pizza friendly city. Shari was a mere teen when she started working at pizza joints, going from one venue to the next, picking up pointers at each until she moved west, sharing the skills she learned with others.
Eatz L.A. is basically one large room with a long table in the center where couples gather to practice what Shari preaches, be it steak or pizza do’s and don’t’s. The back of the room contains all the necessary culinary ingredients, including every spice known to man.
To the left of the entrance are dual pizza ovens set at 500 degrees for the occasion.
Individual burners are set on the table for students to prepare the cool stuff that tops the pizza, like your basic tomato sauce. Also on the table are cutting boards, bowls, utensils, cups of salt and pepper and bottles of olive oil. In drawers under the table top are any other implements you’ll need like knives and whisks.
Before commencing with the basics, Shari provides bottles of red wine and mushroom turnovers to whet your appetite. The pizzas won’t be ready for a while, and heaven forbid our tummies should grumble during class!
We learned how to make six varieties of pizza that evening: a traditional Sopressata with Italian salami along with tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, Flatbread, Deep Dish, Pesto Calzone, Prosciutto and Arugula, Grill Pan and a Dessert Pizza topped with Nutella (don’t ask…..) Shari cautions: sample a bite from each…take the rest home.
We each get enough dough to make six individual pizzas per person. We learn the basics: make your knife an extension of your hand; curl the fingers of your other hand so as not to accidentally chop off your fingers; keep your chopping arm close to your body. and for mincing, hold your knife like you’re grasping the handles of a bicycle.
Next we’re on to the dough.
- Prepare the dough by combining 3 ½ cups all purpose flour, ½ cup semolina flour for extra flavor, ¼ cup corn meal for crunch and 2 teaspoons of sugar.
- Activate yeast by shaking 2 packets, dropping contents into bowl, adding 1 1/3 cup of water at 110 degrees, whisking until there are no lumps and starts to foam. Let rest a few minutes.
- Scrape half of flour mixture with wooden spoon into bubbly yeast and stir…then add more flour slowly.
- Add 2 teaspoons salt and rest of flour mixture.
- Add ¼ cup melted butter or ¼ cup olive oil (butter better when it comes to taste). Stir.
- Scrape mixture onto board and knead at least one minute at quick pace. Your goal: elasticity. Use heel of hand with push-push-up and over technique.
- Put dough in bowl, coat with olive oil and cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise….30 minutes if rapid rise yeast….2 hours if using regular yeast. Keep dough in warm spot…but not too warm to dry it out.
And that’s that! At least as far as the dough is concerned.
While it’s rising we move onto the toppings.
I won’t go into each and every topping we prepared that evening, but I have to share the basic sauce:
- Chop open a head of garlic using the side of a large knife. Take a clove or three, and again chop it with the side of the knife to loosen the skin. Remove skin and mince cloves. Good trick if garlic tends to stick to knife: run the knife under hot water before you begin!
- Slice about 8 cherry tomatoes in half for small pizza.
- Coat bottom of sauté pan with olive oil on low heat. If you burn the oil, warns Shari, it will negate its positive health benefits.
- Scoop garlic into pan and keep stirring with wooden spoon to keep it from burning.
- When starts emitting wonderful aroma, add tomatoes and seasoning: kosher salt, pepper and maybe oregano or basil. If using dry herbs only use half what the recipe calls for. Dried herbs are more concentrated.
- When tomatoes lose their firmness, turn off heat.
When dough has risen punch to release it and turn out on lightly floured surface. Cut into the number of pieces you’ll need to form your individual pizzas. Roll it out into either round or rectangular shapes, stab repeatedly with a fork and coat with olive oil. Add a light layer of Fontina and Parmesan cheese and top with your fragrant sauce.
Voila! Or should I say Ecco! (the Italian equivalent)
It’s a two hour ordeal by the time we’re done cooking and sampling our creations, but it’s been both enlightening and entertaining. We’ve made new friends, learned some culinary basics and filled our bellies to the brim.
I wondered what brought others to Eatz L.A. and found out most were celebrating friends’ or relatives’ birthdays, others were foodies and wanted to learn another skill, while some had never cooked before and decided it was about time to jump in. One couple had come in from San Francisco while another woman was in town from Michigan.
Eatz L.A. not only has pizza classes ($95), but they have an intensive six week course in Cordon Bleu basics. For $650 you’ll learn stocks, sauces, entrees, sides and desserts. They also host parties for fourteen or more where you can invite your friends to Eatz to prepare their own feast. It’s a bit pricey at $1330, but it’ll certainly be memorable.
The best part of the pizza evening for me at Eatz, I didn’t have to clean up!
612 N. La Brea Ave.
L.A. CA 90036