From Italy: Pizza with Fresh Tomato, Mozzarella and Arugula

A few days ago, I had this memory of sitting alone in the stairwell of a Saskatchewan hotel in the wee hours of the morning. Which I realize, in its own right, isn’t worthy of recollection, let alone initial note. But it was in that stairwell, nearly a year ago today, that I received a phone call telling me that I’d be spending my summer in a slightly more exotic locale. And, looking back on the year that had passed since I took that call that would take me to Italy, I realized that I’ve done a pretty paltry job of sharing recipes I picked up while I was away.

Before a full year has passed since I left for one of the world’s culinary hot spots, I figure I’d better get on with passing along those recipes. So this weekend, I headed over to my sister’s place to make pizza and, as you can see, to hang out with her cat (photo credit for the silly shot goes to my brother-in-law, Rob).

scooter-spoons.jpgThis particular creation combines some of my favourite things about Italian pizza (and, as you’d expect of anyone who spends some time in the place, I ate my fair share). First up, the dough: While the thin, crispy crust traditional to Roman pizzas is tasty, my favourite pizzas used Neapolitan-style dough, which boasts a crisper, chewier crust that seems like more of an ingredient in its own right, standing up to (and holding up) the ingredients that top it off. In the recipe I’ve shared with you guys, I’ve used my standard no-knead crust, which reminds me a whole lot of the flavourful, bubbly dough from my favourite pizza place. To take it up a level, I’ve followed their lead by brushing the exposed edges with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkling them with a liberal dose of sea salt. The result: a crust with enough crispness, chew and flavour that (at long last!) you’ll look forward to eating it.

pizza-group.jpgThe combination of toppings, in contrast, comes from my favourite Roman-style pizza place, which topped its dough with buffalo mozzarella and teeny fresh tomatoes, adding on a big handful of fresh arugula just before serving. Using good ingredients and a bit of careful preparation — salting the tomatoes before baking, adding the ingredients to the pizza in stages, and dressing the arugula with peppery extra virgin olive oil — those few toppings make for an impressively flavourful and balanced pizza (think rich and creamy, acidic and juicy, and fresh and peppery all in one go). Together, it’s pretty magical, and pretty pretty, as far as pizzas go. I used a good block of regular mozzarella in place of the buffalo (none to be seen at the store, alas), but if you can track down buffalo mozzarella, your pizza will reach a whole new level of deliciousness.

zucchini-pair.jpgThe standard no-knead recipe makes enough dough for two sizeable pizzas, so for our second creation we revisited an old favourite, spreading roasted garlic on the dough, topping it off with thinly-sliced fresh zucchini, hot red chili and grated parmesan, and giving the exposed dough the same extra virgin olive oil and salt treatment as the tomato and arugula pizza before baking. Happiness. But really, guys, once you’ve got a good base and a handful of good ingredients on hand, you’re ready to make all sorts of awesome pizzas, Italian-inspired or not. Good luck, and happy baking!

Fresh Tomato, Mozzarella and Arugula Pizza
Makes 1 large pizza (enough for two hungry people)

1/2 batch of no-knead pizza dough, prepared to the point where it’s ready to be shaped and baked*
1 250 gram ball of fresh buffalo mozzarella sliced into 1/4 inch slices, or 1 packed cup of grated mozzarella
1.5 cups fresh cherry tomatoes, halved and sprinkled with 1/4 tsp of salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1-2 handfuls of fresh arugula


1. Measure a piece of parchment paper to fit a 9x13 inch baking pan. Place baking pan, without parchment, in your oven and preheat the oven to 445ºF.

2. On the parchment paper, shape your prepared dough into a rectangle that nearly fills the parchment.

3. Brush the eges of the dough with the 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, making a border that measures ~1 inch thick, and sprinkle the oiled area fairly generously with salt (~1/2 tsp).

4. Distribute the mozzarella (sliced or grated) evenly inside the bordered area. Carefully remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and transfer the pizza, on the parchment paper, onto the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts and the crust is just beginning to brown.

5. Remove the pizza from the oven, distribute the halved cherry tomatoes evenly over the pizza and return to the oven until the crust is golden and the tomatoes are beginning to cook, 5-10 minutes more.

6. Remove the pizza from the oven, top with the arugula, top with a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and salt, and serve!
 steps.jpg*I made my batch of pizza dough using 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 2 cups of whole wheat with tasty results.

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