A slice of lemon on your pizza?
After years of trying out all sorts of techniques, I have converged on a few basic aspects in pizza making – a) a soft and stretchy dough that is not a rubber mat but has sufficient elasticity to be hand stretched into a thin base, b) a 500-600F oven, and c) minimal but flavorful topping. Result is a chewy crust with a crisp bottom and rich flavors in every bite.
Some say that we should always eat whole grains. I agree, whole heartedly. I have gladly swapped out white bread for wheat bread – thanks to Acme. There is no better chappati than whole wheat one. I adore whole wheat or buckwheat parathas and puris. I have cheerfully replaced white flour with whole wheat pastry flour in cookies and cakes. I have even grudgingly swapped out regular pasta and white rice for whole wheat pasta and brown rice. But no whole wheat pizza for me. I have tried to swap out regular flour with white whole wheat, part whole wheat, part whole wheat pastry flour and I have failed to like them. So, my compromise – I don’t make pizza often and when I do, I don’t eat too much of it. If, however, you have to have whole wheat pizza, then give Heidi’s recipe a try.
Perhaps, a good pizza dough takes a day or two in making. I use regular white bread flour and the dough setting of my bread maker – 1.5 hrs. But feel free to use your favorite way of preparing the dough.
Ingredients for the dough (serves 2):
- 1 cup white bread flour (naturally high gluten variety is better but I don’t recommend adding gluten, it has a strange aftertaste for me)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp yeast depending on freshness
- filtered water to form a soft dough
If not using a gadget, prepare dough manually, let rest in a warm and draft free zone until size doubles (2-3 hours).
- 1 cup of toasted walnuts
- 5 oz package of baby arugula
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- salt to taste
- 1/4 cup olive oil
Mix in food processor – first the walnuts, then the leaves and garlic and then drizzle in the oil. Add salt to taste. To store, place in a clean container and top with 1/4 cup olive oil – this will keep the pesto submerged in a layer of oil allowing you to store for longer. Can be made up to a week ahead. You can divide in 2-4 portions and freeze one for up to a few months.
This must be used moderately – is excellent on pasta, sandwiches and pizza.
Slow roasted tomatoes:
- 4-6 lbs of medium size (heirloom) tomatoes
- 1 tsp salt to scatter
- 1/4 cup olive oil
Cut tomatoes in half. Place on a cookie sheet skin side down. Brush with olive oil and scatter the salt. Roast for 4 hours in a 250F oven. Cool and store. Can be made up to 4 days ahead. Roasting brings out the sweetness and umaminess of tomatoes transforming regular everyday tomatoes into perfection.
Making the pizza:
Half hour before baking, raise oven temperature to maximum allowed setting (typically 500 – 600 in regular home ovens) to heat your pizza stone. While the stone is getting heated, prepare the toppings.
- 1 Tbsp arugula pesto thinned with 2 Tbsp of olive oil
- 1-2 roasted tomatoes cut in bite size pieces with a pair of scissors
- 8-10 thin slices of lemon drizzled with olive oil (remove seeds if present)
- 1×1 inch piece of goat cheese (omit f lactose intolerant)
- 6-8 thin slices of your favorite salami, optionally cut up into strips. A lovely vegetarian option is marinated and quartered artichoke hearts
- 2 Tbsp grated parmeggiano reggiano cheese (hard cheeses have practically no lactose)
You will also find time to get started on your beer. Or perhaps muse about Jeffrey Steingarten’s attempts to bake his pizza in the cleaning cycle of the oven.
Professional pizza makers play with their dough. I treat mine gently. I have a fondness for large bubbles in my pizza and a rolling pin tends to take them out. So I take a few minutes to stretch my dough out to a thin base using my hands. If necessary, use flour to keep dough from sticking. Take off rings or jewelry that can poke holes in the dough. I don’t use a peel so I take out the stone for a few minutes to assemble. During the assembly process, I work very quickly.
Transfer stretched dough on the hot stone. Drizzle with the thinned pesto. Arrange for the ingredients to cover uniformly. Crumble and scatter goat cheese and the parmeggiano reggiano. Shove the pizza back into the hot oven for 5-6 minutes. The time will depend on the temperature of your oven. Pizza is ready when the dough edges and toppings are lightly browned.
Take out, let cool for a few minutes and scatter red pepper flakes. Slice and serve. Enjoy the melty mellow lemon, the bitter nutty notes of arugula pesto, sweetness and umaminess of the slow roasted tomatoes and the richness of the cheese. Fennel in the dough enhances the taste of cured meat. Total time to make – 7-9 hours including time to roast the tomatoes. Total time to eat – 15 minutes. Taste – unbeatable.
Our pizza always leaves us wanting for more. So we usually follow up with a bowl of anti-pasti salad or fruit based desserts. On winter weekends when we have a little more time and patience, husband whips up one of his super delightful open faced fruit tarts. Heavenly. Apple tart recipe is reserved for another blog.
And what about the lemon? A while back, I made a lemon focaccia following Sally Schneider’s recipe. I was hesitant at first. What I found was that the olive oil drenched lemon slice became mellow and super soft upon cooking – it is even better on focaccia since they cook longer. But on a pizza, it offers a remarkable refreshing balance against the rich taste of cheese and meats. It has been a keeper.