In the Kitchen // Menu

Menu Trends For 2012

By Pasquale "Pat" BRUNO Jr. Photo by Josh Keown

This year will be all about healthy eating, so be prepared to think about how you can tweak your menu and your existing pizza, pasta and salad offerings to reflect forward thinking as it relates to “tastes better, better for you, less filling.”

I am not suggesting that you have to do a 180 on this, but be aware of trends like these (and those listed below) that will affect how well you stack up against the competition.

Here is one example: In one of my pizza cookbooks, I featured a Pizza Insalata, or salad pizza. This is a
no-sauce pizza that is as simple as topping a cheese pizza with tossed salad greens. In other words, prep and bake a cheese pizza, then let it cool a little. Afterwards, top it with a salad (mixed greens, fresh tomatoes, etc., tossed with a balsamic dressing). This pizza dish is colorful, healthy, easy and delicious.

In that same pizza cookbook I devoted an entire chapter to “Vegetarian Pizza.” What goes around comes around, so I am saying that one of the important trends for 2012 will be how you can come up with dishes where less is more. And doing so creates a win-win situation. What’s not to love about lower food costs, lower menu prices and greater customer satisfaction?

Let me dig a little deeper into what I see will be major trends in 2012:

Other healthier pizza trends have to do with these factors: No added sugar in the sauce, going lighter on the cheese(s), thinner pizza crust (thinner by a lot, but not cracker thin; the crust needs some chew and texture).

Think outside the box when it comes to new ideas in pizza dough. For example, you can fashion a pizza dough by using grains — quinoa and quinoa flour, for example. My intent here is not to have you go off the grid; rather I’d like you to think about what your competition will be throwing at you in the year ahead. Remember the Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared.”

Lighter sauces and smaller portions apply to pasta as well. And in the area of pasta, try whole-wheat and whole grain varieties (there are plenty of brands to choose from). To make any pasta dish more appealing, give the sauce the full flavor treatment by spicing it up with, say, chilies or crushed red pepper flakes. And incorporate more vegetables into your pasta dishes.

Keep those veggie toppings for your pizzas up front and personal. Don’t back off from the idea of using eggplant, zucchini, rapini, broccoli and potatoes as pizza toppings. Yes, I know that sausage and pepperoni are still the most popular, but you need to offer alternatives; don’t get stuck in a rut.

Should you be thinking “organic?” Only if it makes sense (it’s becoming a geographical issue). Keep in mind that organic ingredients carry a higher food cost. Let common sense prevail.

Regional themes will be ripe for the picking in the year ahead. Yes, I know that “Regional Italian” was the buzzword a few years back. But in our business there is a cycle that curves back, so be ready to grab on to it when it comes your way. Try something in the order of regional pizzas to include as part of your menu listings. This is part of “Romancing the Menu,” which will drive your competition crazy, because their reaction time will be slower (which means you get the jump on them). For example, put into play regional names like Sardinian, Sicilian, Neapolitan, Tuscan and Roman in every way — salads, pasta, pizza — you possibly can. A trip up and down the Italian boot can be very, very tasty.

Put some thought into your children’s fare and kids’ menus. Do more, offer more, make it more interesting, a reason for parents to bring the kiddos to your restaurant. The words “family friendly” will never go out of style.

Gluten free pizza. Has the gluten-free trend hit its peak, or is it here to stay? Conflicting reports abound, but it’s important to remember that only a very small percentage of the population — one percent — need to eat gluten-free for medical/health purposes. To that end, if you would like to make a gluten-free pizza, here is my basic recipe.

Gluten-Free Pizza Dough

Yield: about 18 ounces of pizza dough

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup warm water

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 ½ cups white rice flour

1 tablespoon corn oil

Put the yeast, sugar and water in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Let sit for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch and rice flour and add it to the water-yeast mixture. Add the corn oil. Mix until the dough comes
together and you can form a ball. Add additional rice flour if needed (the dough should be soft and pliable). Set aside. Cover. Let rise for an hour or more.

Lightly coat a quarter-sheet pan with olive oil (or you can use corn meal). Press the dough into the pan and up the sides, making it as thin as possible without tearing it. For added flavor brush the crust with garlic butter or garlic oil. Top with the usual toppings — sauce, cheese(s), herbs. Bake at 450-475 F for 15-20 minutes (don’t over bake the pizza or the crust will be too tough), until the crust gets crispy and takes on some color.

Remember that this is a crust that is not light and can be rather stiff.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a former food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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