Travel to Italy at Home Through Food —

(And wine.)


The team at Montreal’s Elena restaurant transports us to Italy from their home kitchens.

In this new series, a Canada’s Best New Restaurants chef shares a recipe to inspire our home cooking adventures.

After temporarily closing due to Covid–19, Elena – an Italian eatery in Saint–Henri named one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants in 2018 – quickly got to work on a 15–recipe digital cookbook to raise funds for the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, an initiative that provides financial relief for those impacted by the pandemic. The restaurant has since released a second digital cookbook featuring recipes from 20 Montreal restaurants (with all proceeds going to the same initiative) and is now open for takeout.

May 22, 2020
Ryan Gray and his team at Elena enjoy pizza together in Montreal
The sunny patio of Montreal's Elena
Elena co–owner Ryan Gray with part of the team.
The patio at Elena.

To bring a taste of Italy into your home, we asked co–owner Ryan Gray and chef Janice Tiefenbach to give us a tutorial on how to make al taglio pizza crust – which is featured in the first cookbook and available below – along with wine pairings for four kinds of pizza. Similar to focaccia, the Roman–style al taglio dough is cooked on a baking sheet at a low temperature and this recipe is adapted to be made with store–bought yeast, making it a practical option for home cooks.

“You’re going to have a crispy exterior and a tender, kind of chewy, stretchy interior,” says Janice. The pizza is cut into square pieces (taglio means “cut” in Italian) and is delicious hot or at room temperature, or even cold out of the fridge the next day.

A close up of the al taglio pizza with zucchini blossoms served at Montreal's Elena
This al taglio pizza with zucchini blossoms is a thing of beauty.

What is the best kind of wine to pair with onion pizza?

Elena’s onion provolone pizza takes inspiration from Ops, a restaurant in Brooklyn that serves a similar version.

  • Vino: Rosé. It can be a sparkling rosé, like a frizzante, or your everyday flat rosé. You might also consider a rosato from Italy that has a little more body to it.

  • Why: Generally, the most important rule of thumb for wine pairings is to think about region, but Ryan recommends also considering seasonality. “When I think of the onion pizza, I think about springtime,” says Ryan. “So, pairing it with a lighter wine just makes sense.” Onions can be tricky to pair because they’re punchy and astringent, so you want a wine with a lot of acidity that can stand up to these flavours. Look for something that has a lot of fruit, acidity and energy. Nothing too complicated and nothing too heavy.

  • Ryan’s pick: Cuvée Elena, a rosato made from Montepulciano grapes that the restaurant created in partnership with Stefano Papetti at his De Fermo winery in Abruzzo, Italy. Elena co–owner Marley Sniatowsky harvested Montelpuciano grapes, stomped it all by foot himself, pressed it and then put it into a ceramic egg to ferment. “It’s delicious, fun and easy going,” says Ryan. “The perfect kind of pairing for an onion pizza.”

Restaurant co-owners Marley Sniatowsky and Ryan Gray and a bottle of Cuvée Elena
Co–owners Marley Sniatowsky and Ryan Gray and a bottle of Cuvée Elena, wine made with Montepulciano grapes that Marley stomped by foot.

The label of Cuvée Elena features a photo of co–owner Marley Sniatowsky as a baby having an allergic reaction to tomatoes. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Ryan.

Neopolitan-style pizza in Elena’s dining room
Diners dig into platters of Neopolitan–style pizza in Elena’s dining room.

What is the best kind of wine to pair with mushroom pizza?

Monsieur Fun–Guy – Elena’s take on mushroom pizza – is a mix of earthy mushrooms, both wild and cultivated, paired with fermented celery root and a creamy taleggio fonduta and topped with plenty of parsley.

  • Vino: Skin contact (a.k.a. orange) wines, specifically from northern Italy and ideally from Emilia–Romagna.

  • Why: These wines are made with malvasia grapes. “You can find malvasia all over Italy, but the grape is even more expressive in this region – it has notes of apricot and a very unctuous flavour with a nice, dry finish,” says Ryan. The fruity, floral notes in these types of wines pair well with the earthiness of the mushrooms. “It’s a pairing made in heaven.”

  • Ryan’s pick: Valtolla Bianco from Massimo Croci, a young winemaker in Emilia–Romagna. “When people come into the restaurant and they say they want an orange wine, I think they’re actually thinking of this, even if they haven’t had this wine before,” says Ryan.

Sampling skin contact (a.k.a. orange) wine
Skin contact (a.k.a. orange) wine.
Orange velvet banquettes at restaurant Elena in Montreal

What is the best kind of wine to pair with a potato pizza?

Described as the culinary equivalent of “getting tucked into bed and kissed on the forehead by a loved one,” the Passion Patate – topped with fingerling and Yukon gold potatoes and provolone and mozzarella cheese – is comfort food at its best.

  • Vino: A white wine that has complexity, texture and depth plays nicely with the flavours in this humble dish.

  • Why: The pizza itself is rich, but ultimately, it’s a simple dish, so Ryan recommends pairing potato pizza with a white wine that is mysterious or intriguing. “This pizza won’t clash with something that is complex.”

  • Ryan’s pick: A Montemarino 2017 by Stefano Bellotti made with 100% cortese, which is a white grape indigenous to the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy. Stefano Bellotti was “an incredible producer” who passed away in 2018, but whose family still runs the Cascina degli Ulivi winery in Piedmont.

Chef Janice Tiefenbach of Elena holding handmade pasta
Four different platters of pizza offered at restaurant Elena in Montreal
Chef Janice Tiefenbach with handmade pasta.

What is the best kind of wine to pair with a rossa pizza?

Rossa, or red, pizza is simple in toppings and execution. “It’s a humble food, but if you make it with good tomatoes, good olive oil and good dough, it’s delicious,” says Ryan.

  • Vino: A classic Italian red that has relatively low alcohol with nice structure and a “crunchy” finish. A barbera from Emilia–Romagna, a dolcetto from northern Italy or an old–school Chianti will do the trick.

  • Why: Tomato sauce has a lot of acidity and bright flavours, so Ryan likes to pair it with a “zippy” wine that is fruity and fun. Skip the heavy reds and stick with wines that are less than 13% alcohol. “Nothing that’s going to make you feel sleepy. That’s a good rule of thumb.”

  • Ryan’s pick: La Rina by Fabrizio Iuli, who is one of the few producers growing a rare grape called slarina. “He grows all these crazy, old, forgotten varietals and this one is made with 100% slarina,” says Ryan.

A tomato based al taglio from Montreal's Elena
Al taglio is a Roman–style pizza that is similar to focaccia.
Team Elena enjoying pizza together in front of their Montreal restaurant

Al Taglio Pizza Dough

Makes: 2 balls
Preparation time: 24 hours
Cooking temperature: 500°F
Cooking time: depends on individual pizza recipe

  • 5 tsp kosher salt, plus more

  • 3 cups water, plus 3 tbsp, divided

  • 6½ cups bread flour

  • ¾ cup spelt flour (or whole wheat)

  • 1¼ oz active dry yeast (1 envelope or 2¼ tsp)

  • 3 tbsp extra–virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

  • All–purpose flour, for dusting


Making dough

  • In a small bowl, combine 5 tsp kosher salt and 3 tbsp water; stir to dissolve salt. Set aside.

  • In a large bowl, whisk bread and spelt flours, and yeast to combine. Add 3 tbsp oil and 3 cups room–temperature water. Mix with a rubber spatula until a large shaggy mass forms.

  • Knead in bowl until dough forms a rough ball, about 4 minutes. Let rest, uncovered, 10 minutes.

  • Add reserved salt water to dough and knead until water is incorporated (dough will be very wet and shaggy), 5–10 minutes. Generously oil a bowl that is at least twice as big as dough and place dough in bowl. Cover with a plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

  • Transfer dough to a clean work surface and fold in half over itself 3 times, turning 90° after each fold. Return dough to oiled bowl, arranging seam side down. Cover tightly with a plastic wrap and chill dough overnight (it should double in size). Store dough for up to three days in fridge or freeze until needed.


Stretching dough

  • The next day, place dough on a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Lightly flour tops of dough. Working with 1 piece at a time, fold each corner into center of dough. Rotate 90° and repeat process until you have a neat ball. Turn dough, seam side down.

  • Generously flour two 18x13–inch rimmed baking sheets and place a ball on each baking sheet. Cover each with a damp kitchen towel. Set in a warm spot; let rise until dough is very relaxed, supple, and doubled in size, 2–3 hours.

  • Transfer dough balls to a work surface and lightly oil baking sheets. Lightly flour work surface and set 1 ball of dough on top, seam side up. Release some air by pressing down into dough with your fingers. Stretch dough and continue working with your fingers until it’s about the same size as baking sheets. Transfer to a baking sheet and stretch to fit, pressing into corners.

  • Repeat with remaining ball of dough.