Thursday, August 21, 2008

How Far We've Come

I don't know about anyone else out there, but to this day, whenever I'm handed a red plastic cup, I'm reminded of going out for pizza. Having grown up nowhere near the New York area, pizza for me always meant Pizza Hut. Back then it wasn't the flashy, delivery driven franchise we see today, but rather a family establishment encouraging you to come on in and stay a while. Chandeliers with red velvet lampshades and yellow fringe hung over every table, and the distant sounds of a pinball machine could be heard over the joyous cries of children spying their pizza as it made it's way to the table. The only thing better than the bottomless fountain soda refills was the long cheese tightrope that formed between your mouth and the tip of your slice after that first glorious bite.

Eventually pizza lost it's leisurely connotation and became a food of convenience or a late-night hangover cure all. The pizza parlors that once made room for the whole family gave way to popular demand and began to diversify, serving a variety of mediocre dishes, and discouraging eating in. Fortunately, the last five years have seen a renaissance in pizza perception. While it still holds it's place as the ultimate post-drink snack, pizza has also become the object of a many chefs affection. It's become not only an excellent vehicle for new and exciting ingredients, but a respectable dish in and of itself. Many foodies are picky about crust, sauce and cheese, not to mention toppings in general, silently begging the pizza makers of the world to raise the bar once again.

I took my own leap forward last night by experimenting with pizza making for the first time. I'm generally terrified of dough, so instead of making my own dough I purchased some pizza bianca bread at Whole Foods that made an excellent pizza crust. The whole endeavor actually started with a beautiful and appropriately named bianca cheese that I'd purchased at the greenmarket on Saturday. It was soft and spreadable like cream cheese, but had a bit of sweetness like ricotta, and a tartness just milder than that of a goat cheese.

Once hearing that it was spreadable and delicious when heated, I immediately knew that I wanted to use it as a base for a pizza bianca, and got to thinking about other toppings. Prosciutto came to mind immediately, as did olives. One of my favorite Turkish brunch spots covers their ham flatbreads in a micro green salad, so I decided to top mine with a lightly dressed baby arugula salad. The dish took no longer than 7-10 minutes to assemble, and a mere 5 minutes in a 450 F degree oven to cook through. This would be a really easy and impressive dish to entertain with, not to mention that it has the potential to feed an army on the cheap. Mine got rave reviews (not just from me) and it is most definitely something I'll make again and again.

Pizza Bianca with Prosciutto and Olives

1 large pizza bianca flatbread (available at Whole Foods)
1 6-inch wheel bianca cheese or other soft farmer's cheese
4 slices prosciutto (about 1/8 of a lb if you're buying at the deli counter)
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, torn in half
3 cups baby arugula
olive oil
red wine vinegar

1. Preheat over to 450 F degrees.

2. Drizzle a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil over the bread and season generously with salt and pepper.

3. Spread a thin layer of cheese over the pizza bread. Tear each slice of prosciutto in half and drape evenly over the pizza. Dot the bread with olives and season the top of the pizza with salt and pepper. Drizzle the pizza with extra virgin olive oil and bake in the oven on a baking sheet for 5-7 minutes, or until edges of bread start to brown.

4. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine arugula with a drizzle of both extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. Season with salt and spread over the top of the cooked pizza. Cut pizza into 8 squares and serve. Enjoy!


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