Geppetto’s Pizza Bianca is the best white pizza recipe you’ll ever come across — fontina cheese, garlic, shallots and herbs on a fabulous thin crust.
Back in the ’80s and ’90s I was the General Manager of Geppetto Restaurant in Bethesda MD. I was young at the time, in my 20s when I took on that role. It was a formative experience. Yes, that’s cliché to say, but I learned more about people, leadership, management and myself in those years than I probably did anywhere else. I didn’t know that at the time, I figured it out later.
Another thing I didn’t know at the time: I absorbed a lot of knowledge about cooking and food. I guess you can’t stand next to a sauté cook day after day without picking something up.
We were known for our pizza. It reigns in my mind as some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Ever. There is nothing like a Sm Neo roni on mush – all my old Geppetto chums know that’s a small thin crust with pepperoni, onion and mushroom. It remains the pizza of my dreams.
But a rival to our regular pizza was our Pizza Bianca. We had the best imported (and aromatic) Fontina cheese. It stunk in a good way.
While I was working at Geppetto our white pizza recipe was published in Gourmet’s “I had a delicious dish, can you get the recipe” column. Since I was a longtime Gourmet subscriber, I still have the clipping from the magazine.
The crust isn’t as good as the Geppetto crust, but we had advantages at Geppetto: a guy whose full-time job was making the pasta and pizza dough, semolina in the flour mix, and a long rise for the the dough. Even though it’s not the same crust, it turned out better than I expected. Some of the center pieces could be a bit crispier but my choice of pan and lack of pizza stone could have caused that. The topping (sauce and cheese) taste just like my memories. I’m very pleased and can’t believe it took me this long to make.
Geppetto White Pizza
You’ll need a heavy duty mixer (or you can knead for a longer time by hand), mixer bowl and dough hook, clean dish towel, food processor (or blender, or you can finely mince and mix ingredients by hand), spatula, rolling pin and two sheet pans. The recipe says to use a cake rack or flat perforated pan. I used what I had: a cookie sheet and a sheet pan.
- 1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
- 1-1/2 packages dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2-1/2 cups (plus) all-purpose flour, plus more
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 large shallot
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley – I didn’t have dried, so I used about 1-1/2 teaspoons of fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Fontina cheese, grated — Imported is best, the stinkier the better, but use what you can find.
Sprinkle yeast and sugar over warm water in mixer bowl. Stir to dissolve. (I like to let it sit for a few minutes before adding anything else.) Add salt, mix to blend. Add 2-1/2 cups flour and oil. Put bowl on mixer and mix with hook at low to medium speed about 5 minutes until dough forms ball and cleans sides of bowl, adding more flour, one tablespoon at a time, if necessary. I used about 6 extra tablespoons, but your amount will depend on the humidity level of your flour plus other magic factors. Continue mixing until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Note: This is the part of the recipe where you’re on your own. The amount of additional flour you’ll need will depend on the humidity level in the house and the dryness of your flour. The time it will take to arrive at the desired “smooth and elastic” stage varies as well. Here’s some advice from Alton Brown about what that stage looks like: “Tear off a small piece of dough and flatten into a disc. Stretch the dough until thin. Hold it up to the light and look to see if the baker’s windowpane, or taut membrane, has formed. If the dough tears before it forms, continue to knead the dough.”
Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it rise in a warm draft-free area for 1 hour. I usually heat the oven to 150 and then turn it off and let it cool down a bit. Then I put the bowl in and shut the door or leave it ajar if it still feels too warm.
Mix all the sauce ingredients (not the cheese) in a food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides every now and then.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Pat each half into a round. Let stand 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 475. On a lightly floured surface, roll each round into a 1/8” thick circle (or rectangle depending on your pan shape). Transfer to your pans. Spread with sauce. Sprinkle with Fontina cheese. Bake until edges of pizza are lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes, depending on all kinds of things. Cut into squares and serve immediately.
We usually served these plain, but I had a couple of regulars who always asked for prosciutto on theirs. Many of us topped the slices with chopped pepperoncini. I’m happy to just eat it plain. Swoon.