27 Apr ‘Best Pizza Ever’ adapted for home cooks
It didn’t take much more than the sight of the Flathead Beacon’s recent article on Chef Engjell Vrapi and his award-winning Best Pizza Ever at the recent International Pizza Competition in Las Vegas to get my motor revving for a foodie road trip.
Particularly partial to really good pizza, I told myself that Bigfork, the home to Vrapi’s When in Rome restaurant, was not that far away. And with pizza this good, I was guessing it would be worth the trip.
I had visions of getting behind the counter and tossing that pizza crust high up into the air myself, with a little help. I mean, When in Rome … right?
We made some plans, and off we went last weekend, excited to meet the owners and try this Best Pizza Ever.
Vrapi and wife Kaleigh Brook recently renamed their restaurant When in Rome, formerly Sun Mountain Pizza, for many reasons, including the fact that the couple met in Rome and “that is where it all began,” Vrapi said.
In addition to their now famous pizza, their dinner menu includes classic Italian dishes as well as Greek specialties such as spanakopita, Greek salad and baklava, reflecting Vrapi’s Albanian heritage and Albania’s geographic proximity to Greece. Vrapi handles the food while wife Brook is the sommelier, offering a selection of white and red wines, all from Italy.
Shortly after we were seated at our table, out came Vrapi from the kitchen, dinner menus in hand and a copy of his signature whole wheat pizza crust recipe, modified for the home cook.
He explained that the trick to getting pizza dough pliable enough to toss is to use high-gluten flour and to work it until it’s so stretchy you can pull a small piece thin enough to look like a window. (I could try this at home along with the pizza tossing, I thought to myself, especially now that I had the recipe.) Background music jazzed the place up as did the waxdripped- Chianti bottles on the tables, and the wait staff could not have been friendlier or more accommodating. And the pizza? The loyal customers who named it The Best Pizza Ever were right.
The extra time and care they put into providing the best of the best ingredients like roasting the red peppers themselves and slicing the pepperoni in-house makes a decided difference.
Vrapi had told me that when people take their first bite, they say, “Wow,” and as soon as I tried it, I knew exactly what he meant.
Robust flavors of garlic, gorgonzola, roasted red peppers, red onion and pepperoni on a thin crispy whole wheat crust meld into something that can only be described as a winning combination. With a glass of Italian Chianti, it’s delizioso.
With summer right around the corner and many Montanans flocking to the Flathead Valley for weekend getaways, it’s nice to have an area dinner recommendation on hand. If you’re near Bigfork and hungry for some award-winning pizza and a glass of wine, plan to eat at When in Rome.
As for the pizza tossing, if you’re planning on making Vrapi’s signature whole wheat pizza crust at home, 2Js is a good source for the high-gluten white flour. It’s in the bulk food bins labeled “Vital Wheat Gluten Flour.”
Here’s the Special of the Day: When in Rome’s Best Pizza Ever.
CHEF ENGJELL VRAPI’S SIGNATURE WHOLE WHEAT PIZZA CRUST
» 5 cups strong white bread flour or Tipo “00” flour, plus 2 cups of whole wheat flour» 1 level tbsp. fine sea salt » 2 ¼-ounce packets active dried yeast » 1 tbsp. raw sugar » 4 tbsp. pomace oil or extra virgin olive oil » 1 egg
» 2½ cups lukewarm water
Sift the flours and salt onto a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a large measuring cup, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well.
Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid.
Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands.
Add more wheat flour if too sticky.
Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into 9ounce balls and fold the dough to create a perfect round/hard shaped dough ball.
Place the balls of dough in a large oil-brushed pan and also brush the top with pomace oil.
Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size.
There you have it.
To make the pizzas, take dough ball to a flour-dusted surface and push the air out with your hands/fingers — this is called punching down the dough.
You could use a rolling pin to roll the dough out into a 14-inch very thin/round pizza or you can use the tossing technique if you know how.
Build your pizza to your liking. Remember more toppings doesn’t mean a better pizza. Everything needs to be balanced.
If putting on sauce, I would recommend to put it on top of the cheese with a squeeze bottle. This way the cheese works as a glue to the crust, and once melted incorporates with the sauce.
Often you eat a slice of pizza and the cheese falls right off the pizza. That is because they put on the sauce first. The tomato sauce has a lot of water in it and also makes the crust soggy.
What we are doing here is a very crisp whole-wheat crust, which is healthy for you.
Ideally the best way to cook the pizza would be on a pizza stone in a preheated oven as hot as you can get it, but in a pan would work, too.
Cook until very crispy.
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.