Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Favorite Summer Pizza

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the simple, impromptu meals I made over the course of one week in late July.  The post consisted mostly of vegetable salads featuring typical mid-summer ingredients: corn, tomatoes, green beans and summer squash.  But I finished the post with a pizza.  

It is often the case that meals I make on the spur of the moment...with just the things I happen to have in the house...turn into favorites that I make over and over again.  That particular pizza turned out to be one of those things...although, I rarely make it the same way twice.  The  sheet of paper with my original notes is now covered with scribbles describing the many variations we have enjoyed since that original post.  When I decided to teach a class this July called "Paige's Summer Favorites"—even though I teach pizzas a lot—I had to include this particular recipe.  

To be honest, the recipe I taught is much more of a template than a true recipe.  Centered around the tomatoes I always have on hand in the summer, the "recipe" has just enough room for variation that we can eat it every week—as long as tomatoes are in season—and never get bored.  

In the original blog post, I made the pizza with red and yellow vine ripened tomatoes and broiled zucchini.  Soon after, I made it with halved cherry tomatoes and substituted broiled eggplant for the zucchini.  Occasionally—at the end of a week, when my produce drawer consists mostly of odds and ends—I make it with a combination of eggplant and zucchini.  Sometimes I make it with all yellow summer squash...or pattypan squash...  You get the idea.  Of course, the cheeses and herbs that I use are almost never the same.  

If you're thinking that this sounds like a lot of different recipes for pizza, you would be wrong.  This pizza follows the exact same formula every time.  I am posting the "recipe" at the end of the post so you can print it off and make your own comments and variations all over it, but the formula is as follows:

Start with a foundation of garlic oil.  Smash a clove of garlic—small or fat, depending on how much garlic you like—to a purée with a pinch of salt and whisk it into a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Smear the garlic oil over the prepared crust and follow this with a scattering of hot pepper flakes—again, to taste.

Sometimes at this point, I like to add a scattering of herbs.  The herbs I choose for this layer are the substantial herbs...herbs classified as sub-shrubs in the gardening world because they have a woody structure and presence in the landscape.  These types of herbs stand up well to the intense heat of the pizza oven.  They include thyme, rosemary, winter savory, marjoram and oregano.  Sage is in this category too, but it isn't an herb I typically think to pair with eggplant and summer squash.  I particularly like thyme with summer squash and marjoram or oregano with eggplant.  The herbs may be chopped or not...as you prefer.  

The herbs and hot pepper flakes could also be stirred directly into the garlic oil.  But I like the more even coverage that results from scattering them over separately.  But you should do whatever is most convenient for you.  If you are a person who always has a certain favorite infused oil on hand, by all means feel free to use that oil on this pizza.  Although, I should mention, if you are making and keeping garlic oil, please remember to keep it in the refrigerator.  Garlic can harbor botulism spores.  Oil is an anaerobic environment—just where botulism spores are happy and like to grow.  When they grow they produce the toxins that cause illness.   Even under refrigeration, it is probably not safe to keep a raw garlic infused oil much longer than a week.  

Next, scatter on a layer of a nice melting cheese.  My favorites are Fontina and low-moisture Mozzarella.  But any flavorful cheese that melts well would be good.  Provolone or Monterey Jack are good choices.  And although I think of it as going better with winter vegetables, I have used Dubliner in a pinch.  A young Gouda, Gruyère or Jarlsberg would work well too.  Take a look in your cheese drawer.  If you like cheese, you will probably find something suitable.  This layer is important not only because it adds flavor, but when the cheese melts, it acts as a glue and helps keep the vegetables attached to the crust.

Next add a sparse layer of zucchini, eggplant or both.  These should be sliced into large-ish slabs and broiled or grilled.  Summer squash should be cut about 1/3-inch thick and eggplant which shrinks a bit more can be cut slightly thicker...maybe 1/2-inch or so.  Brush them with oil, season with salt and pepper and broil/grill until golden and tender, turning once.  If the eggplant is not cooked through when it is golden, stack the slices as you remove them from the pan/grill so they will continue to steam one another and cook as they cool. 

Next add a layer of sliced, fresh tomatoes.  Because the tomatoes are added to the pizza raw, they need some special treatment to encourage them to release their juices before they go into the oven.  If they were to release all of their liquid in the oven, the crust would be soggy and most likely undercooked.  I describe the usual way of ridding the tomatoes of their excess liquid in more detail in my post for a favorite summer tomato tart, but basically the tomatoes need to be sliced, spread on paper towels, salted and then blotted to remove the liquid the salt causes them to release. They don't need to sit long—maybe 10 to 20 minutes.  

If you are using cherry tomatoes, it isn't necessary to salt them.  Simply halve them and arrange them on top of the squash/eggplant layer cut side up.  When arranged this way, their skins act as a barrier, protecting the crust.  The juices which stay contained in the skins reduce and concentrate a bit, resulting in great little exclamation points of tomato flavor on the final pizza.  Sometimes I use a combination of vine ripes and cherry tomatoes.  

The final layer is more cheese.  In my original post, I simply used more of the melting cheese that I used on the bottom layer.  And this is a great way to finish the pizza.  But more and more I am changing this final layer of cheese to a softer cheese like ricotta or goat cheese.  For the ricotta, just blob small spoonfuls of the cheese over the tomatoes.  If using goat cheese, crumble it coarsely over all.  Additionally, I like to add a final layer of finely grated (use a microplaner) Parmesan or Pecorino.  When finely grated, these cheeses become transparent as they melt in the oven, adding an invisible layer of flavor.  I prefer Pecorino with its sharper, saltier presence.  

Recently, I made this pizza with yellow and pale green pattypan squash and all yellow and gold tomatoes.  The resulting pizza was a beautiful study in greens, yellows and golds.  The colors inspired me to scatter a few torn leaves of basil over the pizza as it came out of the oven.  Not only was it beautiful...but the flavor addition was great too.  I liked it so much I added it to the eggplant-red tomato version I made over the weekend.  Since there is always basil in my garden in July and August, I will probably never make this pizza again without adding this final garnish of fresh basil. 

And this is the beauty of this pizza.  It is amenable to all kinds of adjustments in the flavoring department.  Changing the cheeses, herbs, type of squash or eggplant and color and size of the tomatoes will give you astonishing variation.  But don't go too crazy.  One of the things that makes this pizza special is its simplicity...it's really all about the tomatoes....and one vegetable.  Adding onions....or olives or capers....or another vegetable like roasted red peppers....or meat....might be tasty...  But then you would have a totally different recipe.  

My Favorite Summer Pizza

a scant 1/2 lb. vine-ripened tomatoes...any color (or cherry tomatoes...or a mix of the two)
Salt & Pepper
1/2 lb. zucchini (or any summer squash)...or 3/4 lb. eggplant...or a combination of the two
Olive oil
1 ball of pizza dough (recipe below)
pinch of hot pepper flakes...to taste
herb of your choice—picked thyme, chopped/minced rosemary, winter savory, marjoram or oregano—to taste (optional)
3 oz. of a good melting cheese (Fontina, Provolone, low-moisture Mozzarella, Monterey Jack...etc.)
a generous 2 oz. ricotta or goat cheese or some more of your chosen melting cheese
1/4 c. (3/4 oz.) finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan
Several basil leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces (optional)

Core the vine-ripened tomatoes and slice 1/4-inch thick.  Spread the sliced tomatoes on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. After 10 to 20 minutes, blot up the water that has beaded on the surface of the tomatoes.  If using cherry tomatoes, simply cut them in half and set aside.  

While the tomatoes sit, slice the zucchini on a long diagonal in 1/3-inch thick slices.  (If using eggplant, slice cross-wise into 1/2-inch thick rounds.)  Spread on a baking sheet, brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil until tender and golden, turning once. If you have a grill, you can grill the vegetables instead of broiling them. Let cool.

Make some garlic oil by stirring the garlic in to a tablespoon of olive oil.  

Build the pizza: On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan, baking sheet or pizza peel that has been dusted with flour.  Working quickly, spread the garlic oil over the dough.  Scatter the hot pepper flakes over the oil, followed by the herbs, if using.  Scatter the melting cheese over the oiled dough.  Top with a layer of the zucchini (or eggplant) and then the blotted tomatoes. If using cherry tomatoes, arrange them cut side up over the vegetables.  Place random blobs of the ricotta over the tomatoes, or scatter crumbled goat cheese or more of the melting cheese over all.  Finish with a scattering of the Pecorino (or Parmesan).   

Bake the pizza: If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 450° to 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes).

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling—about 8 to 12 minutes.

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board, scatter the torn basil (if using) over all, cut into wedges and serve.

 Pizza Dough

1 cup warm water (100º-110º)
1 package (2 1/4 t.) active dry yeast
2 1/2 to 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 T. olive oil
1 t. salt

Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast.  Let soften for a minute or two.  Add 1 ½ cups of the flour and whisk until smooth.  Add the oil, salt and another cup of the flour.  Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape, adding more flour if necessary.  Sprinkle some of the remaining half cup of flour on a smooth surface.  Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more flour.  Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour.  Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide the dough into two pieces and roll into balls.  Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.  The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and cooked or frozen.  

Makes two balls of dough (for two 12- to 14-inch pizzas)—recipe may be halved for just one pizza.

Food Processor Method:  Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved.  Place 2 3/4 cups of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend.  Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous.  Begin to run the mixture in long pulses until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute.  If the dough seems wet and sticky, add some of the remaining quarter cup of flour a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand.

Printable Recipe


Kathy said...

Paige, your recipes never disappoint!

We made this the other night, being uncertain how a non-tomato-sauce pizza would be. But the fresh veggies were so tasty, especially with the tangy goat cheese.

The surprise was the crust. We went with pizza for dinner because I had some remaining quite wet ciabatta dough. We had to push it into a round shape on parchment because it was such a high hydration dough. But was the resulting crust was so crisp and tender. We're about to decide that will be our go-to pizza crust -- though it does require that parchment!

Paige said...

Thank you! I imagine the ciabatta crust was delicious. And I'm so glad you were pleased with the pizza without tomato sauce (I have nothing against tomato sauce...I just don't usually use it on pizza!).

Anonymous said...

Oh,how I love this pizza! I think it is my favorite .I have been making it a few years. I look so forward to the yellow squash,zucchini and fresh tomatoes from the garden. Then ,there's the herbs,a good way to use the thyme and oregano. Then,the yearly basil,lovely. So much intense flavor due to the way you prepare the veggies .The garlic/oil crust is so me as I adore garlic. Thank you!

Paige said...

Thank you so much for taking a minute to let me know how much you enjoy this pizza. It is almost time to start making it again!