Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza

As a pizza blogger, DiGiorno has been particularly useful to me, even though it's likely been three years or more since I last ate a DiGiorno pie. It’s been my barometer, my baseline for judging fresh pies. In my experience, DiGiorno is the best of the mass-produced widely-distributed frozen pies. 

Intuitively, you would think that ANY freshly made pizza should be better. But in fact, most pizza shop pizzas are not better than DiGiorno. They fail by being made from bland Sysco or Sysco-like ingredients; they fail by being badly undercooked; they fail by being over-sauced and soggy; they fail by being piled with toppings to distract from the faulty foundation. It’s shameful how many pizzerias cannot turn out a pie that is better than DiGiorno.
The "meatball marinara" pie. Click any pic to enlarge.
The two pies I purchased ($5.38 each, at Bottom Dollar Foods) were the “Meatball Marinara” and the “Meat Trio,” both from the “Italian Style Favorites” collection.  Italian style, what? Is there another style? Peruvian Pizza? Pakistani Pizza? I actually debated between the DiGiorno pies and the $3.99 house brand “rising crust” pizza that probably duplicated the DiGiorno approach, but in the end decided to shell out the extra $1.39 per pie for the name brand.  

Even at $5.38, the pies were a bargain meal, at least until I recalled that I purchased a fresh margherita pizza of similar size during happy hour at Media PA’s wonderful La Porta (reviewed HERE and HERE) for only six bucks.  I didn’t measure the DiGiorno pies, but they were the size of a big personal pizza, and I cut them into 6 medium-small slices. The total weight was 28.7 ounces per pie, and calories are 370 per slice.

The meat trio pie was generously topped with slices of pepperoni, sticks of Genoa salami, and surprising chunks of sausage. I say surprising because even though they were not the huge irregular chunks of fresh Italian sausage you’d find on a Trenton tomato pie from DeLorenzo’s or Papa’s, they were of decent size with an authentic texture. Most frozen pizza and a distressing percentage of freshly-made pizzas have rabbit-dropping shaped sausage pellets that bear little resemblance to actual sausage.
Meatball pie with added jalapeno

Meat Trio pie

The meatball marinara had smallish half-globes of meatballs, with so much white cheese that I would have thought it was a “white” pie absent the “marinara” in the name. In fact, there was a generous amount of sauce hidden under the cheese. I struggle to resist improving frozen pizza, and therefore I sliced a jalapeno pepper over this one. That actually showed some restraint, because I often add onion, garlic, or other cured meats pre-bake and then fresh basil and grated Italian cheese post-bake.

As with many frozen pies, the instructions were to bake at 400 degrees, on a sheet for softer crust or directly on the oven rack for crisp crust. I always prefer a crisp crust, so I baked both pies together directly on the rack. The instructions called for 22-25 minutes of baking. I bake most frozen pies for the max time or sometimes longer in that quest for a crispy crust, but these were clearly done at 22 or 23 minutes. I removed them and allowed them to cool for a minute before slicing.
Crisp and brown, but not charred or spotted

These are thick pies. You would not mistake them for that wretched Chicago casserole called deep-dish “pizza” or even for Sicilian pie, but each bite was pretty “bready” in the words of my dining companion VACK (Vegetable-Avoiding College Kid). My usual complaint with 95% of pizza crusts is that they are too soft or, even worse, wet. So the long bake at high temps directly on the rack was a legitimate attempt to avoid those foundation pitfalls. 

But to my surprise, I found that the crust was crisp on the bottom and chewy above (good thing), but actually drier than ideal. If I baked another DiGiorno tonight, I wouldn't place it on a conventional baking pan to retain moisture, but perhaps on a pizza stone or a perforated pizza pan to get a better compromise of crisp without becoming dry.

How did it taste? The crust reminded me, in flavor and texture, of Costco pizza (reviewed HERE), and that’s not a bad thing. The cheese was pretty bland, and the pie would have benefitted by addition of some aged provolone pre-bake or something like grana padano after the bake. The meat toppings, so different in appearance, were similarly good in that salty and greasy way.

The dominant flavor, though, was the sauce. It was not particularly sweet or salty or herbal or tasty, but it had a distinct flavor that mostly recalled Ragu and other mass-market jarred tomato sauce. The jalapeno was a terrific addition and I’d endorse that for anyone who appreciates some spicy heat.

The DiGiorno pies mostly met my expectations as pizza that beats 99% of the frozen competition and probably 85% of “fresh” pizza. That doesn’t make it great, but it makes it pretty good, mostly on account of the crust. We’ll give 7 stars to the crust, 6 to the meat toppings, 5 to the sauce, and 4 to the cheese. Overall, DiGiorno earns a 6. It is a boatload of calories, but worth the occasional indulgence. Papa John's could just stop making pizzas and instead heat up a DiGiorno for you -- it would be a substantial improvement.

DiGiorno also makes a thin crust pie, which I haven't tried. If you have, please leave a comment below and let us know your evaluation.

1 comment:

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