Wednesday, February 10, 2010

White Pizza with Arugula

OK, I have been in a little bit of a food funk. For some reason I am picking meals that have been less than stellar for dinner and I do this knowing full well what the results will be. For example, this week I will make a white chicken chili-without the chicken- to please my nutcase husband, and I know for a fact that it will just be OK. I picked it because it sounded easy. Stupid easy even because really, there is no cooking involved. You just open cans of beans and various other ingredients and dump them in pot and heat it up. I was intrigued because while the recipe will most likely be so-so, it will still be good and I wanted to try it out. I will let you know how that endeavor goes when the time comes. Anyway, to get back to the point it's just been one OK dinner after another. This wouldn't normally be a problem, but I am used to pulling out a restaurant quality meal at least once a week. This is not to say it is fancy. Sometimes it is (I do make an awesome Boeuf Bourguignon and Filet of Beef au Poivre) But most of the time it's just any great food elevated to a level that makes it better than the run of the mill everyday. It's that one ingredient that makes the dish pop, or something so simple, like roasted potatoes, but it has a perfect balance of salt, pepper and fresh rosemary and is cooked to perfection as well, where the outside is crisp and brown but the inside is moist, hot and velvety. I think in essence that is my whole cooking philosophy...that whatever it is I am cooking, I want that particular dish to be the best that it can possibly be. If I am going to make chili, I want it to be what chili is supposed to be- what it is meant to be. Hardy, thick, rich and satisfying. I need it to have fresh ingredients as well as canned and it must be slightly spicy.

Really, to reiterate, what I try to do is take a food like pizza (the recipe below) and try to make my very favorite version of it. I make it over and over again over the course of the year or so until I get it right. That way, I end up at the quintessential version of what I am looking for. The perfect recipe in my mind. I have successfully done this with Beef Stew, Chili, Roast Chicken and a few other things. whenever I make them it is done the same way because there is no need to mess with it, it's my favorite. Although I do make different "versions" of these dishes I usually go back to the original over and over again.

So, I was very glad to have made my favorite pizza for dinner the other night in the midst of my food rut. It was just the thing to remind me that life is too short to eat food that is so-so, especially when you don't have to. Although sometimes you do have to. Some night I am just plain uninspired and tired. Those are the nights you pull out the white chicken chili recipe, without the chicken, that you hardly have to do anything to and it is a good thing.

This pizza I am going to talk about is a white pie and I love it for a couple reasons. The first being that there is no reason to make pizza dough. Just go to your favorite local pizza place and ask them to sell you 2 dough rounds. Most every place will do this. However, if you do get denied for some reason like, the person behind the counter is new and she doesn't know that they sell it that way...that happened to me once, thanks a lot Dominos! Just go to another pizza place and ask again. Another reason is that it takes no time at all to make. Sure you have to make the flavored oil to brush the pizza with, because you really can taste all that garlic, thyme and red pepper flake ever so slightly in the finished product and it's the thing that elevates this dish to make it so great, but the oil literally takes 2 minutes to prepare. Forgive my never ending run on sentences, will you? Oh, and don't even get me started on on the harmony of the three cheeses used on this pizza. Try to use all three if you can. This last time I made it I only used the mozzarella and the goat cheese, leaving the fontina out. I can't say it was a huge disaster because it still was really, really, good but it wasn't as good as it always has been. There is something about that combination of cheeses that makes magic, I tell you. However, I do have a bone to pick with how much cheese is called for in the recipe. Way too much people! I just eyeball how much cheese to put on. I put enough to cover the pizza thinly, not thickly and it is perfect. I don't even know how you could get all the cheese called for on the pizza. If you did, it would be sickening. Also, just consider yourselves warned that when you pull this pizza out of the oven it will be rather greasy. Fear not! Just blot the top off with paper towels to soak up the oil. I think the clincher in making this pizza restaurant quality is the fresh arugula salad that you put on top of it. It's fresh and light to go along with the heavy. It's a little crisp and cool on the hot slice. It's just, perfect really. the arugula wilts ever so slightly from the heat and lends a slight citrus-y bite to the whole thing that works so well with all the other flavors. Really, if you don't put the arugula on top the whole dish is lost. It loses it's appeal in my opinion. So, needless to say don't be afraid to top your pizza with it. Be careful not to over dress the salad though. The arugula should just be coated, not sopping in the vinaigrette. Seriously, this pizza is like the equivalent of Brad Pitt, if you are into that sort of thing, how wrong can you go?

White Pizza with Arugula
adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

2 pizza dough rounds
4 garlic cloves, sliced
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper
3 cups grated Italian fontina cheese (8 ounces) (I would say more like 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups grated fresh mozzarella (7 ounces)
11 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled (I think a small package will do)

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 ounces baby arugula

Preheat the oven to 500

Make sure your oven is clean since you will be using it at this high temperature.

Get your pizza dough out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter while you make the garlic oil. Place 1/2 cup olive oil, the garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over LOW heat. Cook for 10 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't burn. Set aside.

Stretch or roll the pizza dough out until it is about the size of medium pizzas. Set the pizza dough on sheet pans lined with parchment paper. When the oil is done, brush the pizzas with it and liberally sprinkle salt and pepper over the top. Sprinkle the pizzas evenly with the fontina, mozzarella, and goat cheese. Drizzle each pizza with about a half a tablespoon more of the garlic oil and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crusts are crisp and the cheeses begin to brown.

Meanwhile for the vinaigrette, whisk together 1/2 cup of the olive oil, the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. When the pizzas are done, place the arugula in a large bowl and toss with just enough lemon vinaigrette to moisten. Place a large mound of arugula on each pizza and spread out so it covers the whole surface. Slice and serve immediately.

These 2 pizzas serve 4-5 people. I finish mine with a tiny bit of sea salt before serving. If you are like me and don't bake both pizzas at the same time, because my oven sucks, just bake one, top with the salad and bake the other while you eat the first one. It's the perfect amount of time so when you are ready for the second one, it's ready for you. Disclaimer: This is the original cookbooks picture, not my own, but it looks just like this.