Garden Cherry Tomato Pizza
I was working in New York City this summer and went on some great little pizza quests. When I got home, I found that a group of volunteer cherry tomato plants were about ready to burst in my back yard. I decided that things had gotten out of control, as the plants were crawling across my patio and it was time to clean things up. First, I had to pluck all of this juicy fruit from the vines -- it was quite a gift! The seeds for these these plants must have drifted over from the neighbors and didn't get much help from me but, apparently, where they landed, in a little planter cut out of my patio, was a near perfect environment for them. I can't wait to replant, or watch these volunteers show up again.
But what to do with all of these tomatoes? Well, I would certainly make a salad. What else could I possibly do? Ah, pizza time!
When I decide to make pizza, I generally think of what I want to do and then often go wander around the grocery store to see if anything inspires me. Just looking at these tomatoes, I realized that my inspiration for making pizza this day was right here in my backyard. As you can see from the photos, my guest tomato plants gave up quite a bit of gorgeous fruit.
I decided that my first pizza of the day would be totally about the tomatoes. In fact, it was going to be a tomato pizza -- with no meat products! This was going to be a simple celebration of what the garden offered to me.
Garden Tomato Pizza
- Peter's Classic Neo-Neopolitan Dough *Link
- Peter's Herbed Oil *Link
- Cherry tomatoes -- cut in half
- Ball of Burrata, or Fresh Mozzarella
- Green Onions - Grilled
- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Balsamic Vinegar
Make the Herb Oil ahead of time - link to recipe above
Drizzle a little of the Herb Oil onto your green onions and throw them on the grill. Once they are softened and a little charred pull them off. Let them cool a little and chop them up and set aside.
Preheat your oven to the highest temperature, about 550 degrees if possible, for at least an hour prior to cooking to make sure to get your pizza stone up to temperature.
Stretch out your dough and drizzle a little of the Herb Oil over the top.
Place the cherry tomatoes around the dough - mostly cut side down. I feel like they steam and hold more of their moisture this way. Some will roll over when you slide it in the oven, and as you can see, I also threw a few on that sit cut side up as well. This is not science!
Tear up pieces of the cheese and place them around the pizza. Try to imagine how the cheese will melt and blend together with the other ingredients to gauge how much and where you want to place the pieces.
Time for some heat, so, into the oven….
My oven was as hot as it could get. You can see the charred tomatoes. This pizza looked good going in but, hey, it looks good right out of the oven too.
Add the shredded Parmesan, to taste.
Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.
This pizza looks good enough to eat cold. It was a great way to celebrate the gift of my fresh tomatoes, this inadvertent gift from my neighbors. The sweet bursts of flavor from the tomatoes, along with the more earthy onions and amazingly creamy burrata cheese really hit the spot. This pizza was balanced, fresh, and delicious! And, then, as a topper, you also get that sweet twang from the balsamic vinegar, which perfectly ties all the flavors together -- Delish!!
DiNapoli Fire Roasted Tomato Pizza
Living in Southern California, I use my grill more than I use my oven. I love cooking with fire. Fire roasting adds to the flavor complexity of almost anything you cook. There is something primal about it. We're spoiled with gas grills -- mine is even connected to the house and is ever ready to be fired up with a simple turn of the dial, which is great and convenient, but there's still something missing there. So, when I cook certain things, like a fresh piece of fish, I often choose to go the extra step and light up some lump charcoal and a little smoke wood on my Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker and use it like a charcoal grill. The smoke and fire together bring even more flavor in a way that the gas grill just can't (of course, you can always add a little smoke and wood to the gas grill with a smoker box; I've had pretty good results doing my "Gas Grill, Wood Fired" pizzas this way).
And now, there is an explosion in the use of wood fired pizza ovens. Sure you can make a great pizza in a gas-fired brick oven too - I do it all the time even in my brick-lined home oven, or on my grill. There is a difference, though, when you get one out of a wood fired oven. The heat can be the same, but the fire and the smoke, together, coax unique flavors out of a pizza that won't necessarily be there in a traditional oven. The cooking speed is another aspect. I love watching a pizzaiolo work the pie in a wood-fired oven. Each oven has to be played like a musical instrument to bring out the pie properly charred on all sides - cooked evenly and, often, just in the nick of time!
Okay, I know this is a recipe post -- I got lost in rumination there for a minute -- but at least we were on subject talking about fire. This post is about Fire Roasted Tomatoes, so let's just say fire is good and move forward to the pizza.
I had been wanting to make a pizza sauce with the DiNapoli Fire Roasted Tomatoes for some time. I picked up a small can of the stuff at the Vegas Expo when I met Rob DiNapoli for the first time. I had previously been lucky enough to receive a few cans of their Bianco DiNapoli Organic Tomato product as well as some of their other amazing tomato products. That's one nice perk having a pizza blog!
We had been fans of Rob a long time before he became an actual sponsor of our website. He exemplifies the type of artisan we chronicle here on Pizza Quest. He is a third generation farmer and is dedicated to bringing the best product he can to his customers. He, and others like him, are that first step in the process of bringing great food to our tables. Serious chefs know their producers, or have an intimate working relationship with them. They rely on people like Rob to start the food chain with a top quality product in order to bring the best food to their tables.
So I made a couple of pizzas to see how I liked these fire roasted tomatoes. I did! I do. Here's the first...
Fire Roasted Tomato Pizza:
Peter's Classic Dough
Can of DiNapoli Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (14.5 Oz)
Thinly sliced Pancetta
Fresh Wild Arugula
Shape your dough.
Build the pizza by placing fire roasted tomato solids on the dough. I left the juice in the can.
Drizzle with a little olive oil.
Tear the mozzarella into pieces and place them around the pizza.
Cover with slices of the pancetta
Into the oven…
Special touch: When it came out of the oven, I took some more tomatoes and the juice from the can and crushed them in my hands and sort of drizzled them over the pizza. I wanted to really taste the flavors of these tomatoes and loved the idea that the first layer is baked and the second is cool. The cool tomatoes will begin to warm right away, but the varying temperature of the first and second layers of tomatoes present slight nuances in flavor.
Top with chopped fresh arugula
Cut and dig in!
That looks pretty good - and it tasted amazing.
The fire roasted tomatoes were sweet and delicious, but had another element participating in the flavor dance. The charred bits can be seen right when you open the can and the charred flavor is just a little bit of a deeper note on top of the otherwise sweet and juicy tomato. There is an earthy burnt flavor that almost comes off as "meaty". It's interesting.
Oh, and the salty pancetta with it's own crispy bits from baking, and the somewhat peppery arugula, goes so well with the sauce!
Stay tuned for my next Fire Roasted Tomato pizza - I did a few variations!
*To purchase DiNapoli Fire Roasted Tomatoes online, you can go to Gourmet Sleuth - *Link
A Wandering Desert Road Pizza
I was walking through one of my local markets and, in the produce section, a large oval green shape caught my eye. As I turned to look closer and my eyes focused on what I was seeing, my smile grew at the same time. My market had fresh cactus! I had literally made my pickled cactus sauce, ode to the Nevada desert pizza, "The Hwy 15 Pizza," a couple days ago. I was going to order some cactus online until this fortunate meeting of me and the spiked Napolea Grande leaf. If you can't find it in your local store, I found this informative site that grows and sells Organic Cactus called RivenRock.com. They have videos and recipes on using their products, which I relied on when I brought my "leaf" home from the store.
I continued to shop, but now I was on another mission -- to do another version of my Hwy 15 Pizza that featured a sauce made from pickled cactus. Lets see, what other desert ingredients can I bring to this pizza party? I figured I would keep this in the same vein as the original Hwy 15, but add something to it here and there to see where this experiment might lead. I found some Queso Fresco, which is a light, fresh Mexican cheese that can substitute for goat or feta cheese as a lighter fresher cheese option. I thought this might work well, allowing the other ingredients to shine. I figured I would once again use the pickled cactus sauce as the base, but add some fresh jalapeños into the mix.
After wandering around, I figured I had enough new items to create something that started on Hwy 15, but maybe ended up out on a deserted dirt road that wandered across the Nevada desert.
A Wandering Desert Road Pizza
Mesquite Pizza Dough
Pickled Cactus and Jalapeño Sauce
Fresh Cactus Leaf
Thin sliced Pancetta
Whole Sage Leaves - chopped, or torn
Fresh Jalapeños - sliced
Mesquite Pizza Dough
I had come up with the idea of creating a new dough for my original desert-themed pizza. While researching ideas for this pizza, I inevitably came across mesquite, which many know as a "flavor" associated with grilling. This could be an interesting thing to add to the wood mixture in a WFO. Though it's not necessarily associated with Nevada, I felt that it did embody desert life and was heavily used by Native Americans as a staple food source. They create a mesquite flour by grinding down the dried mesquite pods in a mill. It lacks any gluten and has a very intense flavoring - which changes when cooked/baked. It can become bitter. The website where I purchased my mesquite generally recommends blending the mesquite flour at 1/3 of the volume of what you are making.
I chose a Fire-Roasted Western Honey Mesquite Flour. Peter suggested I start with my first batch at 10% mesquite to total flour. I used the basic Neo-Neopolitan Pizza dough and added in my mesquite. (Note: If you've read my blogging much, you'll have heard a few comments by my son Owen, or other family members. Owen may have a knack or a finely tuned palate. I once was making a few pizzas with some Bianco DiNapoli Tomatoes, used straight, as the sauce to see how good they were. Owen said, "Dad, this is the best sauce you've ever made!" Well, all I did was open the can. Thanks Owen! He did it again with this Mesquite Dough. He said, "Dad, this is the best crust you've ever made!" He had no idea I made this with the mesquite flour. He just showed up for some testing of the finished product. Anyway, as Owen can vouch, it's good!)
Here's a link to The Mesquitery where I got the Fire-Roasted Western Honey Mesquite Flour: www.mesquiteflour.com
Neo-Neopolitan Dough Recipe: *Link
Pickled Cactus and Jalapeños Sauce:
The idea for this "sauce" comes right from Jersey's own Mossuto's Pizzeria. Here's the link to my version of their Fat Lip Pizza - *Link. I wanted to incorporate cactus into the pizza for obvious reasons. When you think of the desert cactus is likely one of the first iconic images that you think of. I picked up a jar of Pickled Nopalitos (Cactus) and had a jar of my Mom's Soy Pickled Jalapeños around and went from there.
- Pickled Nopalitos (Cactus)
- Pickled Jalapeños
- Olive Oil
- Fresh Ground Pepper
Chop the cactus and jalapeños and some garlic to taste and place in a bowl.
Add olive oil and freshly ground pepper.
Measure and add ingredients to taste. The cactus is somewhat sweet with a nice tang from the pickling. The jalapeños add some heat and a little salt - because I am using my soy pickled jalapeños. Pull the solids from the sauce onto your pizza, being careful to manage how much oil you get on the pizza. You don't want it to be too runny. Mix the ingredients and let sit to marinade for as long as you can for the flavors to come together.
Fresh Cactus Leaf
To prepare your cactus leaf check out this simple video demonstration at RivenRock.com. *Link
It's really simple. You use the scrubber side of a sponge to lightly remove the spines. Then you simply trim the edges and slice your cactus into the shape you want to use.
A Wandering Desert Road Pizza
Spread the dough
Add a scoop of the sauce and spread across the dough. Add more as desired, or place on top of the pizza before, or after cooking.
Break off chunks of the Queso Fresco to cover the pizza.
*Prior to assembling the pizza:
Lightly fry up the chopped sage leaves and sliced jalapeños until just tender. They will cook more in the oven. I used a little of the Pickled Cactus Sauce as the oil.
Add pancetta over the cheese.
Add your sliced fresh cactus
Top with some of the sautéed jalapeños and sage.
Into the oven it goes.
When the pizza comes out of the oven, you might drizzle a little of the Pickled Cactus/Jalapeno sauce, or just dig in.
Layers! What struck me here was the layers of flavors/textures created using fresh cactus and pickled cactus. I am now a born again cactus fan! I have since made some of my favorite homemade salsa using chopped fresh cactus. It has a really fresh flavor. I sliced the cactus thick enough so that it retained it's moisture. It was like the oasis of moisture on my pizza, just like the cactus is in the desert. The pickled cactus added a vinegary accent, while the fresh cactus gave a soft fresh juicy note as you bit into it.
I will definitely keep playing with this new ingredient while exploring my desert pizza experiment as well as on other foods I enjoy like: tacos, burgers, salsas, salads and maybe more?!
The Hwy 15 Pizza
A few months ago I went to Las Vegas for the Pizza Expo. I wrote about visiting with John Arena of Metro Pizza. While driving to Vegas I had been a little lost in thought. No, I wasn't on my phone, but I was drifting along somewhere out in there in the desert. I was thinking about the email exchange I had with John and the fact that he mentioned he'd love to make some pizzas with me. As this worked it's way around my brain, I started noticing that the desert valley I was in was reminiscent of something familiar. I was driving along in an air conditioned car, with a cool venti iced latte from a Starbucks stop a while back. I said to my father, who was riding with me, "Look at the mountains that are encircling us. Don't they look like the crust of a giant pizza?"
He looked around and said, "No." I told him he was crazy and unimaginative! All he could see was the white sand and scrubby sage and rocks. "Can't you see how the sage brush is like little bits of herbs poking out from the desert sand (which would be the cheese)?
We then came upon a hill that appeared to be formed from a lava eruption, or burst from under the ground. To me, that was it, it sealed the deal, I was literally in the middle of a giant 10-mile wide pizza and that burnt rock hill was a bubble in the crust.
I think I brought it up to my father again in the next valley. (There are two distinct "Pizza Valleys" on Hwy 15 from LA to Las Vegas -- you heard it here first.) He just couldn't see my vision. Topics turned to the more mundane banter bouncing between laughter and arguments that we always have - especially while trapped in a small car for 4-5 hours together.
I've written before about my experience meeting up with John Arena at the Pizza Expo, which was great. During the show, John took me by a booth that he had made dough for and I noticed that there was a huge air bubble with a burnt top. I mentioned my desert pizza "vision" to John and, being far more visionary than my father, he loved the idea. We kicked around some ideas for desert ingredients. On my way home I was all ready for the pizza valleys and admittedly, I did ask
I have only experimented with this dough one time. It's nothing earth shattering, though it sounds like it should be, but it's certainly interesting, so I think it's worthy of a post.
I was making up some pizzas recently and we were doing a Vietnamese inspired pizza. Since I make the doughs the day before, I noticed my Sriracha Salt just sitting there staring at me on the counter. As I went to grab the Kosher Salt, the jar of Sriracha Salt shuddered a little, maybe beckoned. It was just a little, but enough for me to notice.
Ok, just kidding of course, but I did notice it while grabbing the regular salt and a little light bulb went off. "Why not?" I was making Peter's Signature Bruery Beer Dough and thought I'd substitute the Sriracha Salt for the regular salt. I didn't know if the dough would work because of the spices -- perhaps causing it to not rise, or explode or something. But it did work. The result was a subtle hint of spiciness throughout the dough. As I took my first bite of the finished pizza, I didn't notice it right away. There was so much going on with the Banh Mi Pizza (see that post from a few weeks ago), that the subtle flavor it added to the dough didn't show up immediately.
As I got to the crust, though, I could definitely sense the Sriracha flavor. It was subtle and interesting. Like I always say about making and eating pizza, it's always interesting. There's a unique opportunity to experiment when making pizzas. You can try little things while making the meal because you'll be making 3 or more pizzas at a time and each one can be an experiment with slight changes, or major changes help you figure out what you like most. And, I believe that the excitement of trying to find that "Ah-Ha!" moment is almost as much fun as eating that perfect slice. The quest is about the questing and also the time spent with friends and family eating the results of your madness!
So, the recipe for the Sriracha salt is already posted -- just use it instead of regular salt when making any dough and let us know the results. Sometimes it's just the little things that the difference....
For Peter's Signature Bruery Beer Dough recipe - click: *HERE
*Note: This would work with any dough recipe.
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