What’s your favorite pizza? Do you like a thin crust, or a thick one? Do you lean towards a simple, single-topping pizza or one topped with everything but the kitchen sink? I think that the countless ways pizza can be created lends to its mass appeal. Plain cheese or pepperoni pizzas are definite kid pleasers but the more sophisticated adult versions are quite appealing, too. Growing up, I belonged to the pepperoni camp; even then I didn’t like the multi-topping variety. Now, while I still occasionally enjoy my childhood favorite, I prefer the simplicity of either a thin, crisp pizza Margherita (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil) or one with tomatoes, mozzarella and anchovies topped with lots of fresh arugula.
If you’ve never made your own pizza at home, I encourage you to try it. You’d be amazed by how simple it is. I would suggest, however, that you invest in a pizza stone and a pizza peel for optimum results. Made of terra cotta tile, a pizza stone effectively absorbs moisture and distributes heat evenly, resulting in a crisp crust without the use of a brick oven. In turn, its sidekick, the pizza peel (paddle), makes easy work out of transferring the uncooked pizza to the hot stone in the oven with the help of corn meal (so the dough doesn’t stick to the peel). These two tools have also made it very easy for me to make my own artisan bread from this book, so they’ve become valuable in my kitchen. The key to great results is to make sure that the pizza stone is very hot before you use it. I put my pizza stone in the oven before I pre-heat it and I wait a few minutes after the oven has reached the required temperature before I use it. The heat is what “activates” the stone’s wonderful pizza-making properties.
I had a craving for this recently but I didn’t have the fresh greens to prepare my favorites. Instead of going the store, I decided to clean out the fridge a little. I had some pancetta, leftover mozzarella, pesto sauce and tomato puree. I even had fresh, ready-to-use pizza dough from my last trip to Trader Joe’s (TJ). Have you tried it yet? I used to make my own using Mario Batali’s recipe but because this book suggested it, I started using TJ’s and haven’t looked back. For under $2, you get a wonderful time-saver without compromising on quality. The fresh dough comes in a small bag and will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. As I mentioned, I like thin crusts, so I divide the dough to yield three, thin personal-size pizzas. This works quite well because it allows for variety–I usually make two to three different combinations of toppings. Notice also that my pizzas aren’t round; I haven’t figured out how to make them so, but I think their homemade rustic look makes them a little more special.
I was pretty pleased with the results using my leftovers. I have always made the two versions I mentioned earlier but the pesto and the pancetta (and yes, the anchovies) delivered nicely. The pancetta pieces aren’t very visible in my pictures because they were diced into small cubes but my taste buds were aware of their presence. The pesto was a nice surprise too. I know that it’s widely used on pizzas already but I’d never done it before. The basil-loaded pesto worked well as a substitute for the fresh basil I didn’t have and its rich, nutty quality balanced well with the light tomato puree.
While I’m certain you have your favorite version, consider trying this and you might be just as pleased as I was with the results.
Rustic Pizza with Pesto and Pancetta
- Pizza dough (your favorite or try Trader Joe’s-it’s really a great substitute and nothing at all like Boboli. My apologies to Boboli fans :-))
- Pizza sauce (I like the Pomì Strained Tomatoes from Parmalat–I just add a little salt before using)
- Pesto Sauce
- Mozzarella cheese
- Anchovies (optional)
- corn meal for pizza peel
I’ll give you the instructions based on the Trader Joe’s dough I used. If you have your own, prepare accordingly until you’re ready to assemble.
The TJ dough requires about 20 minutes of “resting” before it’s used. Sprinkle a little flour on a clean surface and let the dough rest for 2o minutes. Depending on how long your oven takes to heat up, you may want to preheat it to 450º at this time. Don’t forget to put the pizza stone in the oven so it has time to heat up.
After twenty minutes, roll out the dough to your preferred thickness. After I divide mine, I roll out a piece and pick it up by the ends so the dough thins even more. Lay on the edge of the pizza peel sprinkled with corn meal (don’t use too much but don’t be stingy either–you want the dough to slide easily from the peel). Spread a little of the tomato puree all over the pizza; for a thinner, smaller pizza I would recommend using no more than 1 – 2 tablespoons so the crust doesn’t get soggy. Dot sections of the pizza with pesto sauce, alternating with mozzarella slices. Top with pancetta (and anchovies in my case).
Slide out the rack with the pizza stone (being careful not to burn yourself like I did). Take the pizza peel and point it downwards towards the stone. Then, with a quick forward jerk of your hand, allow the uncooked pizza to slide off the peel and onto the stone. This should be fairly easy if you used enough corn meal, but don’t worry, it took a few tries before I got the technique down myself. Some of the corn meal will spill onto the stone but I think it just makes the crust even better.
My little pizzas take about 10 – 15 minutes to cook in the oven (with convection). If you’re cooking a bigger pizza, just check at the 10-minute mark to make sure your pizza doesn’t overcook. Your pizza’s done when the edge has formed a nice crust and the cheese is bubbly and slightly brown. Enjoy.