Pizza possibilities please

The author of Feast from the Mideast shares her thoughts on an American pizzeria.

With their pleasing spiciness, small leaves of arugula, also known as rocket, are a good choice to balance the richness of pizza. (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
With their pleasing spiciness, small leaves of arugula, also known as rocket, are a good choice to balance the richness of pizza.
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
At first glance, the dish we were served at a popular Los Angeles pizzeria looked like a salad on a flatbread. In fact, it was a pizza, and under the fresh greens we could see roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic cloves, mushrooms, pine nuts and softened slices of mozzarella di bufala (made from milk of water buffaloes).
After the pizza was baked at the blazing high temperature for which the restaurant was named – 800 Degrees – it was blanketed with baby arugula, which gave it a striking, fresh look. As a final flavoring, the greens were drizzled with truffle oil.
With their pleasing spiciness, small leaves of arugula, also known as rocket, are a good choice to balance the richness of pizza. Other tender greens can be used, too. At Live Basil Pizza, a just-opened Los Angeles pizzeria, we enjoyed a pizza topped with baby spinach; it also had tomato sauce, a blend of cheeses, marinated peppers, red onions and wild mushrooms.
You could have any of their pizzas finished with raw arugula, spinach or basil leaves.
Another way to add a touch of green to pizza is to spread pesto on the dough. At 800 Degrees, in addition to the familiar basic pizzas – margherita (tomato and cheese), bianca, or white pizza (cheese, no tomato) and marinara (tomato, no cheese) – there is also pizza verde, made with pine nut-basil pesto, fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano. For this “green pie,” we chose toppings of marinated roasted eggplant slices, caramelized onions and spinach, which came lightly steamed. When the pizza was baked, we could still see the green pesto coating on its base. It retained its verdant color because the pizza was baked briefly.
The first time we had a pizza topped with raw greens was not in an Italian- style pizzeria but at Al Sanabel, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Anaheim, California. We ordered a flatbread with cheese and spinach. It was a variation of manakeesh, or za’atar bread, baked with a light topping of shredded cheese and served covered with a generous mound of spinach.
We were surprised that the spinach came raw, but the result was delicious.
Whenever we returned to the restaurant we ordered this flatbread, sometimes with a topping of labaneh in addition to the cheese.
When making arugula pizza, James McNair, author of New Pizza, recommends preparing the greens in advance. He washes small arugula leaves, removes as much water as possible in a salad spinner and pats the greens dry with paper towels. Then, he wraps the leaves in a towel and refrigerates them for at least 30 minutes.
McNair uses olive oil at several points in his pizza’s preparation. After shaping the dough, he brushes it all over with olive oil and tops it with diced tomatoes, sliced fresh or shredded semi-soft mozzarella cheese, grated Parmesan cheese and salt, and drizzles the topping with olive oil.
After baking the pizza, he brushes the edges of its crust with olive oil, scatters the arugula over the top and sprinkles it with a little more Parmesan.
When planning to bake pizza at home, some are intimidated by recipe instructions that call for using a pizza peel to transfer the pizza to a hot baking stone. But there are other ways to bake it. McNair prefers to use a pizza screen or a pizza pan with holes, which he brushes with oil before adding the dough. Some grill their pizzas on a charcoal grill. To cook manakeesh, Anissa Helou, author of Mediterranean Street Food, simply uses a skillet on top of the stove.
Domenica Marchetti, author of The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, learned to bake pizza from her mother, a native of the Italian region of Abruzzo. She stretches the dough on a baking sheet and bakes the pizza on the sheet. This is the method we use most often. (See recipe.)
Pizza with fresh greens
This recipe is based on the classic pizza in The Glorious Vegetables of Italy. Author Domenica Marchetti notes that you can customize it with different toppings, such as roasted mushrooms or caramelized onions, and use different cheeses.
To add a touch of green, scatter basil, arugula or spinach leaves on top and sprinkle the pizza with olive oil and salt.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
❖ Pizza Dough (see next recipe), risen and ready to shape
❖ 360 gr. (1½ cups) canned diced tomatoes, drained well
❖ 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking sheet and for drizzling over the greens
❖ 1 garlic clove, lightly crushed
❖ 5 fresh basil leaves, shredded
Fine sea salt
❖ 340 to 455 gr. (12 to 16 ounces) fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
❖ Handful of fresh basil leaves, whole or shredded, whole small arugula leaves, or fresh baby spinach leaves
Prepare pizza dough.
Combine tomatoes, 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, shredded basil and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Let sit for 30 minutes or longer to allow flavors to mingle.
Heat oven to 260ºC (500ºF). Generously coat a 30.5- x 43-cm (12- x 17- inch) rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. With oiled fingers, gently stretch and press the dough out toward the rim. This will take a little while since the dough will want to spring back toward the center. Let it rest for a few minutes, then continue to stretch and press the dough until it reaches the rim.
Spoon tomato mixture evenly over dough, leaving a 2.5-cm (1-inch) border.
Arrange the mozzarella slices on top of tomato. Bake pizza for about 17 minutes, or until cheese is melted and brown in spots, and crust is lightly crisp and puffed up around edges.
Remove from oven and let it rest for 5 minutes before cutting into rectangles for serving. Just before serving, scatter basil, arugula or spinach on top of pizza, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.
Pizza dough
Marchetti makes the dough with a mixture of bread flour and semolina flour but you can substitute all-purpose flour. She prefers letting the dough rise slowly in the refrigerator, to give it more time to develop flavor and a somewhat chewier texture.
If you don’t plan to use the dough immediately, you can wrap it tightly in plastic wrap after it has risen. Put the wrapped dough in a Ziplock bag and store it in the refrigerator for 1 day, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Makes 680 grams (1½ pounds), enough for a 4- to 6-serving pizza
❖ 345 gr. (2¾ cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
❖ 35 gr. (¼ cup) semolina flour
❖ 2 tsp. rapid-rise yeast (see note below)
❖ 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
❖ 1 cup warm water (38 to 45ºC or 100 to 110ºF)
❖ 1 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl
Combine bread flour, semolina flour, yeast and salt in work bowl of a food processor.
Pulse to combine. With the motor running, drizzle the water and then 1 tablespoon of the olive oil through the feed tube and process just until a ball of dough forms. If mixture seems dry, add 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes.
Form dough into a smooth ball. Coat the inside of a large ceramic or glass bowl with olive oil. Put dough in bowl and turn to coat it completely with the oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
If you have time, put dough in refrigerator and let it rise slowly for 6 to 8 hours.
Otherwise, set in a warm spot and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1½ hours.
If dough has risen in the refrigerator, remove and let come to room temperature before shaping.
When dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a flour-dusted work surface and roll into a ball. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let sit for 20 to 30 minutes, until lightly puffed. It is now ready to be shaped.
Note: If you don’t have rapid-rise yeast, use other dry yeast. If you’re letting the dough rise at room temperature, allow a longer rising time.