When we first began contemplating what Pizza Quest could be as a Travel/Food Series, one of our early goals was that the show would vicariously transport viewers around the world as we journeyed on our quest to find the secrets to that perfect pizza. I wanted people to feel what I had when I first read Peter's book, "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza". As I read the opening chapters I felt as if I was connected to Peter as he described the places, the people, the smells, the tastes and some of the secrets of the master pizzaiolos he had found. I knew right away that this had to be a show some day. I mean, who doesn't love pizza? But, even more than the recipes and great pizza I hoped to make, I think it was about the experiences that Peter shared that made the biggest impression on me (don't get me wrong, the recipes are great and my pizzas are well on their way toward perfection, if that's even a possible end goal).
Over the years I had always loved my own "journeys" when I watched Anthony Bourdain exploring so many cultures and tasting such amazing food. My favorite parts of those travels was when it seemed I forgot I was watching a show and would just get lost in the moment, as if I was with a good group of people all enjoying the shared passion of good food and good conversation. Nobody can take you to this place like Anthony. You really should "travel" with him if you can. He's on TV every week - don't miss it!
I also remember the hours I've spent sitting there with Mario Batali as if I were the 4th guest on Molto Mario while he cooked another mouth watering meal he had learned while studying in Italy. His passion for not only cooking, but for the story of cooking, or really the people and traditions behind the cooking, is what ultimately sparked my interest as a home cook. I think that's why so many Food and Travel shows are so popular. We all can't get everywhere we'd like, or travel with our favorite TV show hosts in the real world. A well done food/travel show, book, blog, or even a recipe can transport us there instead, even if for only a little slice of that moment in time. With food I think that experience can be heightened because we use so many of our senses in the process of cooking and, ultimately, tasting the food.
I recently watched an episode of Bourdain's "No Reservations" with my son, Owen. Anthony took us on a trip to Brittany, France where, by the time it was over, Owen was making plans to go to Brittany when we could somehow make the time. The kid is a dreamer! We'll probably have to settle for a shellfish tower here where we live, in Redondo Beach, which to someone else in the world may be as exciting as a trip to Brittany would be for us! Or, on our quest for a better quality of life, maybe we'll bring a little Brittany here to our home and, by doing so, we'll not only taste a little of what Brittany is about, but also crack a few crabs, pull a few shrimp, and dip a few lobsters with a few of our friends.
From the beginning, our website was intended to be a community, or gathering place where we could continue to share the experience, or quest with our viewers and hopefully, have them share back.
I was thinking about all of this recently when I was planning to make a new round of pizzas. I thought about one of my favorite chefs. I've had the pleasure to eat his food and spend a bit of time with him over the past year thanks to Pizza Quest. His name is Kelly Whitaker, of Pizzeria Basta in Boulder, CO. I thought I might take a little quest-like trip and see if I couldn't bring a little of the Pizzeria Basta magic home for a night. So, I took a look at Kelly's menu on the Basta website and decided to make a few pizzas of his, both to test my skills, and also to share of some of his great pizzas with my family.
I'm going to make a few of them and write about them over the next few weeks. The first one is the pizza Kelly simply calls "Arugula" on his menu.
Kelly's Arugula Pizza
- Pizza Quest Signature Pizza Dough *See archives for recipe
- Peter's Herb Oil *See archives for recipe
- Smoked Gouda *Kelly calls for Smoked Mozzarella
- Grape Tomatoes
- Wild Arugula
*Note: My ingredients vary here a little from Kelly's original recipes because of what I could find in the store, or I had on hand to use. Again, I want to stop and point out how truly fun this aspect of cooking is. Using a substitute ingredient will not only make the recipe a little more of your own, but will also open up the opportunities of discovering other taste connections and aha's.
Make sure to pre-heat your oven to 550 degrees, or higher if it can go. Later, before baking, I put my oven onto Convection Bake, which automatically lowers it to 525 degrees. This seems to cook my pizzas faster by moving the hot air around the oven.
Spread the pizza dough out on your floured peel.
Drizzle a little of Peter's Herb Oil on the dough. I added this, because I nearly always use this on any pizza that doesn't have a tomato sauce.
Add the grated Smoked Gouda, or Smoked Mozzarella
Add the halved grape tomatoes, cut side down.
Tear some prosciutto into pieces and place them around the dough.
Into the oven it goes. When it comes out nobody knows (your oven will decide that)! But, through repetition, I know that mine comes out in 8 minutes.
Add a little fresh Arugula to the top, to taste, to finish it.
Cut and Serve.
This was a sweet, smokey, herby, "prosciuttoey" pizza. The tomatoes steam and soften and kick in a sweetness that literally pops in your mouth with flavor. This was juicy and moist and warm and just plain old awesome!
That's my version, so who has another variation? Let us know and thanks to Kelly for the original!