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Bread, Cheese, Tomatoes – 3 ways

Last week I pretty much lived on tomatoes, cheese and bread. Partly this is because I finally found a real, artisanal, independent bakery that makes real, quality bread (and incredible blueberry scones!). Partly this is because I finally figured out how to make quality pizza.

(Darby’s in West Boylston has literally made our life here better and filled a real void. 8 months with supermarket bakery bread as the best option has been sucky. And enough to prompt me to learn how to bake bread. I’m not good at it yet, but at least I know what’s in it. But Darby’s makes that less necessity, and more choice. Anyway, I digress.)

So, what did I do as soon as I got real bread in my hands? Why, I grilled it of course, and topped it with the best stuff I had on hand.

I happened to have some good golf-ball sized tomatoes on hand leftover from another use, and the same for some fresh mozzarella and basil. (Really the dish was serendipitous, and I was giddy when I realized I had all the things on hand for a delicious snack.) I sliced, salted and allowed the tomatoes to drain for a little bit. The salt leaches the excess water out, and leaves you with a concentrated, less messy, tomato flavor. Then I tossed it together with the cheese, basil, some olive oil and balsamic and let it sit together for a bit.

Meanwhile, I heated a grill pan over medium high heat, and brushed slices of bread with olive oil on both sides. I grilled the oiled bread until there were nice grill marks on each side, and then rubbed one side of each slice with a garlic clove that I had slice in half. This infused the bread with a nice garlic flavor without actually putting garlic chunks into the mix to eat.

And then? I sat, and quietly ate my snack with unbridled pleasure.

The next day I tossed the topping leftovers with toasted, 2 day old bread, to make a panzanella. Panzanella is literally stale bread tossed with tomato, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, balsamic, (or variants). The stale, toasted bread soaks up the lovely juices, and you’re not stuck with a stale hunk of bread on your counter.

Yum.

But the real triumph was this:

(Please excuse the crappy picture. I didn’t expect this to be bloggable, but it was so freaking delicious that I had to snap a picture before we ate it all.)

Salami & Zucchini Pizza
from Jamie’s Italy

My god, this was So Much Better than I could have expected.

First off, I didn’t realize how much proper technique affected a pizza’s outcome. I’ve been making pizza at home with mixed results for years, but I assumed that rolling out some dough, topping with sauce and cheese, and popping it in the oven until done was all there was to it.

And in some ways, it’s that easy. But HOW you roll out the dough, how much sauce, what cheese and toppings, and WHERE in the oven (and at what temp), these all make a huge difference in outcome.

(I will admit it was a shamefully inedible pizza that prompted me to finally look up some technique help on this. I mean, really, who screws up a pizza so badly that it’s inedible. Me. That’s who.)

This is what I’ve found out about making an excellent pizza:

1) A super hot oven. As hot as you can get it really, 500 degrees if yours goes up that high.

2) Thinly rolled dough. About 1/4″ thick. We’re not making veggie pies here, we’re making pizza.

3) Not too big, maybe about 12″ diameter. The dough is thin… if you roll it out too big, it’s too ungainly to handle. Make multiple pizzas if you have to.

4) Just sauce to cover. This means about 4 Tbs of sauce for a pizza the size we’re talking about. Too much sauce and you’ll drown your dough and ruin your pizza.

5) Good toppings. This doesn’t mean fancy. It can be as simple as avoiding the processed, shredded mozzarella and using some torn fresh mozzarella and fresh basil instead. It will make all the difference in the world.

Bonus: A pizza stone, or a slab of granite or marble on the bottom rack of your oven. This keeps the oven temp steady and (as closely as possible for a conventional oven) replicates the bottom of a wood stove. Otherwise, cook the pizza on oiled and floured tin foil directly on the bottom rack, as close to the oven floor as possible.

So, roll out your dough about 15 minutes before you’re ready to cook. Place it on an oiled, floured piece of tin foil. Prepare your toppings.

In this case I used thinly sliced zucchini and salami (Trader Joe’s Pinot Grigio Salami), then some pieces of basil, and enough torn fresh mozzarella to fill the gaps once everything else was on the pizza.

Pop in the oven for 7 – 10 minutes, and enjoy.

I really do have to say that I was extremely surprised at how well it turned out. It was better than any pizza you can get in my neck of the woods, and would fit right in at any specialty, high end, quality pizza shop. This will probably take the place of our Friday night take-out routine. Simple, delicious, and better than anything (pizza, thai, or otherwise) that will arrive in my kitchen after spending 20 minutes in the car.

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