Passion for Pizza
Geyserville chef knows how to throw a party.
By DIANE PETERSON
When Executive Chef Dino Bugica of Taverna Santi in Geyserville throws pizza parties in his own back yard, it’s easy for his guests to imagine they’ve died and gone to Italy.
There in the heart of the Dry Creek Valley, the chef grows his own San Marzano tomatoes that he crushes into a simple tomato sauce, crowning the pizza crust with a delicious layer of acidity.
Then he rounds up some fresh cheeses — dollops of Bellwether Farms’ Crescenza, creamy ricotta and rich mascarpone — to stud the sauce with gooey goodness and provide a foil for its tartness.
Finally, he slices a few of his favorite toppings — spicy salami and prosciutto, aromatic arugula and cherry tomatoes, briny capers and anchovies — to make each pizza sing with deep, resonant flavor.
But it’s the crust that pulls this particular pie together. From its charred center to its rippled edge, the crust exudes a smoky flavor that comes from the searingly high heat deep within his wood-fired pizza oven.
“It’s the olive oil that makes it crispy,” Bugica said of the pizza crust. “The more you add, the more it will make it crispy and chewy.”
Bugica’s passion for pizza is shared by his wife, Sonja, who was born and raised outside of Pisa, Italy. Her mother taught her how to make dough as a child, and she put that knowledge to work in her uncle’s pizzeria.
“I like the crust thin but not too thin,” she said. “My favorite pizza is tomato sauce, prosciutto and mascarpone cheese. Pizza’s got to be simple … three ingredients are enough.”
The couple met while Bugica was working at a seafood restaurant in Forte dei Marmi, a resort town located on the Ligurian Sea at the northern end of the Tuscan coast.
Although pizza has been around the Mediterranean for upward of 2,000 years, America’s current pizza mania can be traced back to 1980, when chefs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Wolfgang Puck of Spago in Los Angeles started reinterpreting the traditional Neapolitan pizza of Italy, creating crusty masterpieces that raised the bar on taste and texture.
Like the newest crop of pizza chefs — Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, Craig Stoll of Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco and Tom Douglas of Serious Pie in Seattle — Bugica has gone public with his pizza fanaticism. This month, he opened his own pizzeria, Diavola, just a few doors down from Santi in Geyserville.
“We hope to attract everyone from vineyard workers to San Francisco foodies,” Bugica said of the restaurant located in the former Smokehouse. “We’re going to do appetizers and salads, but we’ll focus on pizzas.”
The menu includes familiar choices like the Margarita and Quattro Formaggio pizzas, along with more eclectic choices like the Bagna Verde (Ligurian clam sauce, parsley, tomatoes, Pecorino cheese and herbs) and Salsiccia (house sausage and Pecorino cheese.)
Diavola offers one special entree each night, such as a baked pasta or baked Spanish mackerel. These rustic dishes, inspired by “La Cucina Povera” — the peasant cuisine of Italy — are baked in the imported Mugnaini pizza oven Bugica had installed in the restaurant’s open kitchen.
When he’s not working, Bugica relaxes with his wife and family — Valentino, 4, and daughter Dahlia, 5 months — at their expansive farmhouse nestled between 14 acres of vineyards and the cool waters of Dry Creek.
When the Bugicas throw a pizza party, guests are greeted out front by the aroma of lavender, mint and roses of a Mediterranean garden. Then they make their way to the backyard, where a 100-year-old oak tree towers over raised beds.
To whet his guests’ appetites, Bugica likes to serve a traditional aperitif — either Campari with fresh squeezed citrus juice or a spritzer of prosecco and Aperol, an orange-flavored bitter.
As an appetizer, he always offers some of his own hand-crafted salumi (he specializes in these Italian-style dried meats), along with a selection of olives.
Meanwhile, Sonja has already mixed, proofed and rolled out the dough balls for the pizza party.
“Last time, we made about 90 pizzas for 50 people,” she said. “You’ve got to eat if you come here.”
While some chefs like to use the soft, fine flour known in Italy as “doppio zero,” Bugica prefers Giusto’s organic flour, available at Anstead’s Market in Healdsburg.
“You want it milled fresh,” he said. “You don’t want old flavor.”
It’s also important to use a decent extra virgin olive oil and water that is either purified or filtered, to help boost flavor.
The couple uses an electric mixer with a dough hook to blend the dough. The entire process — mixing the dough, letting it rise, rolling it into balls and letting the balls rest — should only take about two hours.
When he’s ready to cook the pizzas, Bugica sets up a picnic table next to the pizza oven and spreads out all of his toppings, along with some Parmesan cheese and olive oil to finish the pizzas.
Then he puts together a half dozen different flavor combinations, such as anchovies with capers and cherry tomatoes, or spicy salami with arugula and cherry tomatoes.
If you don’t have a pizza oven, you can still make a decent pizza in your own oven, with a little help from a pre-heated pizza stone or sheet tray.
“If you crank your oven up to 500, and you have a pizza stone, they come out great,” he said. “You want to cook them well on the bottom.”
The couple prefers to serve a light red wine with some acidity, such as a sangiovese, with pizza.
For dessert, guests are invited to scoop up a bowl of polenta pudding, sweetened with sugar-baked apple slices, raisins and honey.
After dinner, the party gravitates to the shady porch, where the family keeps a foosball table and chairs for playing briscola, a popular card game in Italy.
“We like this style of entertaining,” Sonja said. “It’s home-style and not too elaborate.”
These three recipes come from Dino Bugica, executive chef of Santi and chef/owner of Diavola.
BASIC PIZZA DOUGH
Makes 6 pizzas (10- to 12-inch rounds)
- 1½ packets of instant yeast (1-2 ounces total)
- 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup water (more as needed)
- 3 cups of flour
- Pinch of Salt
Add yeast and oil to water and let dissolve. In a mixer with a dough hook, add the flour and salt. Slowly add water mixture to flour and mix for 20 minutes. As you’re mixing, slowly add more water as you need it so the dough comes together until the mixture is a little wet and sticky. If too sticky, sprinkle a little flour over it.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled 2-quart bowl. Cover with a kitchen cloth, and set the bowl aside for approximately 30 minutes for the first rise. Then place the bowl in the refrigerator for approximately 1 hour until it has doubled in size.
Once the dough has doubled its original size, punch it down to eliminate the air bubbles. On a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough into six equal pieces and form the dough into ball shapes. Using a rolling pin, roll into a 10- to 12-inch circle for the pizza crust.
BASIC PIZZA SAUCE
Makes enough to top 6 individual pizzas
Bugica suggests using the San Marzano or Cento brands of canned tomatoes if you haven’t canned your own.
- 1 28-ounce can of whole peeled canned tomatoes
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 bunch of fresh basil
Add all ingredients into a food processor and lightly puree.
Makes one individual pizza
This is the favorite pizza of Bugica’s wife, Sonja.
- ¼ cup olive oil for frying onions
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 8-ounce ball of pizza dough, rolled out (see recipe above)
- ¼ cup tomato sauce (see recipe above)
- 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
- 6 thin slices of prosciutto crudo
- 2 tablespoons olive oil for drizzling on top of pizza (optional)
Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil on medium and add the onions, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the moisture has evaporated and the onion mixture is very soft, almost smooth, and caramelized, about 45 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.
Cover the dough with the onion mixture, add tomato sauce and mascarpone, then drizzle with remaining olive oil. Bake in pre-heated 500 degree oven for 10 minutes or until golden brown. The baking time will vary depending on whether you bake on a stone, a screen or in a pan. Be sure that your oven is well pre-heated before putting pizza in.
Pull from the oven and add the prosciutto crudo and drizzle with olive oil, if desired.
You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or email@example.com.