Since moving to New York, Dad calls to brag about his homemade pizza with vegetables from his garden every summer. I always beg him to freeze a pie and overnight it on dry ice. He laughs. I naively wait.
While waiting, I’ve tried various restaurant-style regional pizzas. My favorite style is Chicago’s thick cornmeal crust. Each slice is the equivalent to one meal. As for New York’s thin-crust pizza, I initially didn’t like it. New Yorkers brag about it being the best, and they often take out-of-town guests to their favorite pizza place. It’s definitely a ‘place’, because it’s really a fast food version of hamburgers. The ingredients are canned tomato sauce, dry cheese and flavorless dough. It’s doesn’t taste special. A New York restaurant-style pizza specializing in fresh ingredients, especially with homemade mozzarella cheese, is a true delight. However, one slice is a snack compared to Chicago’s hearty version. In recent years, as the food movement as spread, more New York restaurants are making pizza with fresh ingredients.
After trying various good pizzas from the mid-west to the east coast, I still crave Dad’s homemade pie. It’s made sans tomato sauce, but with fresh plum tomatoes slices from his garden. The taste is fresh, pure and clean. Not too heavy like Chicago’s version and it’s not a New York style pizza snack.
It’s been a while since requesting Dad to deliver a frozen pie. A few weeks ago, I started to make my own pizza. As intimating as it sounds, making the yeasted dough is an easy process. I wish to have known when making yeasted loaf bread earlier this year. Perhaps, starting off difficult means further attempts are relatively easy. It’s best to get a solid foundation in the basics.
As for the topping, whole-milk ricotta cheese mixed with fresh herbs and garlic is generously spread over the dough. Tomatoes, zucchini and red onions are thinly sliced to cover the ricotta. The pizza is generously drizzled in olive oil. Sprinkled with fresh black pepper and finished with sea salt. After baking, more fresh herbs are lavishly garnished on top. The ricotta cheese makes this pizza a hearty dish. The fresh ingredients maintain a clean taste.
This pizza is now the foundation to many flavors I intend to create. Ideas are swirling in my head. I’m no longer the homesick girl hoping Dad overnights a fresh pie to her New York doorstep. Just like my $50 Mac and Cheese dish, I can’t wait to one day serve him a slice of this creation. He’ll probably ask me to make this pie whenever I visit. I’ll laugh at his request, but to say no is not an option.
Zucchini Tomato Ricotta Pizza
1 Pizza Dough; store brought or homemade (Directions for homemade below)
2-cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped, fresh herbs (used sage and parsley for this recipe)
Sea salt and fresh black pepper; to taste
Crushed red pepper; to taste
1 tbsp. olive oil; plus more as needed
2 garlic cloves; minced
2 green and/or yellow zucchini; thinly sliced
2 plum tomatoes; thinly sliced with seeds removed
1 small red onion; thinly sliced
1. Mix the ricotta cheese, fresh herbs, sea salt, fresh black pepper, crushed red pepper, olive oil and garlic. Prep the zucchini, tomatoes, and red onion. Set aside.
2. With either the store-brought or the basic dough (see directions for making it from scratch below), knead it lightly and form into a ball on a clean and floured surface. Sprinkle the dough ball with a little flour and place a damp towel or a plastic wrap over it. Let it lightly expand for about 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to the highest temperature and oil a baking sheet.
4. When the dough is ready, flatten the rough dough ball onto the baking sheet. If the dough resists (which usually happens), let it rest for a few minutes. Then continue to flatten into the baking sheet. Shape the dough for a round or rectangle pizza.
5. Gently spread the ricotta cheese over the dough about one inch away from the edge. Place tomato slices over the ricotta cheese. Then add the onion slices over the tomatoes. Lay zucchini slices in a decorative overlapping circular pattern or place haphazardly over the tomato and red onion slices. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the pizza. Sprinkle fresh black pepper and sea salt on top.
5. Place baking sheet in the oven to bake for 12 to 15 minutes or when the edges are golden brown. When done, garnish with chopped herbs and a little more sea salt.
Homemade Basic Pizza Dough
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
3-cups white flour; more as needed
1 tsp. instant yeast
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. fresh black pepper & a pinch of crushed red pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 to 1-1/4 cup room temperature water
1. In a food processor, combine flour, yeast, salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper. With the processor running, quickly add the olive oil and the water through the feed tube. Process the dough for just 30 seconds or until it starts to form into a ball. The dough will be a little sticky to touch. (This is not common, but note: If the dough is too dry, add another tablespoon of water. If the dough is too sticky, add another tablespoon of flour. Don’t add too much flour or water).
2. On a clean and floured surface, knead the dough very briefly to form a smooth round ball (it takes a few seconds). Add the dough to a bowl greased with a little olive oil. Cover the bowl with a damp towel or a plastic wrap. Place in a warm (about 85°F) and draft-free place until it doubles in size for about one to two hours.
3. Follow the above directions to finish making the pizza or use your own toppings.
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