Friday, May 21, 2010

It's a start ...

RECIPE: Basic Pizza Dough & Improvised Topping

I almost set the kitchen on fire today.

This afternoon, my mediterranean cookbook came in the mail. It's called The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, actually. Unfortunately, the dust jacket doesn't exactly detail the many near-disasters that inevitably follow the amateur cook.

I suppose I should have been less adventurous in my first foray into the world of Mediterranean cuisine. But we had very few ingredients on hand, so I improvised. And it wasn't exactly the improvisation that went wrong, merely my own lack of foresight (see notes at end).

On to the recipe! I used Jenkins' recipe for basic pizza dough, substituting ordinary salt (since I had no sea salt on hand) and using whole-wheat flour instead of semolina. I liked the texture of the dough, but it took quite a lot of kneading and needed a fair amount of time to rise. I don't recommend trying this recipe on the fly unless you've scheduled in 2 hours of preparation time.

For the topping, I departed from anything Jenkins has included, mostly because I lacked the ingredients necessary to fill any of her recipes. The ingredients I had easy to hand were:
  • 1 bag of loose fresh spinach
  • 1 block of fresh mozzarella (made from cow's milk)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 large jar of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
  • 1 small tub of ricotta cheese
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • assorted herbs & spices
The process was all very simple, actually. I thought it would need more work, but it all went very quickly––in my mind, anyway. In all, the toppings took about twenty minutes to prepare.

First, I chopped the onion in half and sliced it lengthwise, into thin pieces about one inch long and an eight of an inch wide. I then crushed two cloves of garlic with the side of my knife and sautéed both the garlic and the onions in what amounted to about a quarter cup of olive oil at a medium-high temperature setting. Don't gasp quite yet! Much of the oil evaporated away as I sautéed. After the onions had turned a nice caramelized golden brown, I threw in about half the bag of spinach, making sure to add about a quarter cup of water to the sauce in order to prevent the leaves from scorching. At the same time, I added about a quarter cup of ricotta cheese to the sauce––just to see what would happen. I added freehand amounts of basil, thyme, ginger, and allspice to taste (to add warmth and flavor). I then put the lid on the sauce and let it cook away for about 10 minutes, checking it every now and then to make sure the spinach hadn't burnt and adding more as it cooked down.

While the sauce cooked, I set aside about a cup of sun-dried tomatoes and chopped up about two-thirds of the block of mozzarella. Once I rolled out the pizza dough and put it on the pan (without greasing it, fyi), I strategically scattered pieces of cheese across the dough in such a way that it wouldn't drip off the edge of the pizza. I then took the sautéed onions (+ garlic, + spinach, + ricotta) and distributed it evenly across the two pizzas that the original pizza dough recipe allowed for. Lastly, I added the sun-dried tomatoes, drizzling olive oil over the top. And then the lot went into a pre-heated oven at 550 degrees.

It tasted very good. But, as previously alluded to, hole-y pizza pans are the devil. I highly recommend using a stone pizza pan or at least one without holes in the bottom. Supposedly the holes make for a better-baked crust, but I don't trust pans will holes in them anymore. At all. Ever. Again.

FINAL OUTCOME: A success! Mostly.

Concluding notes to self:
  • Never, ever, use one of those hole-y pizza pans for baking pizza, unless you plan on skipping the olive oil (or calling the fire department).
  • If you do use a hole-y pan (and the olive oil), make sure the pan you put beneath it doesn't warp and therefore spill the cleverly captured oil onto the bottom of the oven anyway.
  • Ricotta cheese doesn't blend very well in sauces. It maintains a slightly grainy texture.
  • Setting a fresh college graduate with an English degree loose in the kitchen is dangerous. Unless you're making tea, scones, or cookies.


  1. Love the way you write about your kitchen adventure. Please include pictures of the final products though!

  2. Ha ha. I've never had a problem with the holey pans, but then again I've never used olive oil on my pizzas!
    The first time I made homemade pizza, my brother told me that it looked like a slab of marble with cheese on it. But he ate four slices. :)

  3. Got it. Use hole-y pizza pans.

  4. I'll post pictures once I find my camera. It's still buried somewhere in my suitcases. And ... yes, make sure those pans are hole-free. Holes are dangerous things. In the kitchen every bit as much as in socks and footwear.