Jon and I have been excited for some time about the idea of sharing our love for cooking and food with anybody interested in reading. We thought the best way to kick-off our site is with our amazing, gooey Spinach Explosion Pizza!
All our friends know that Jon and I met under strange circumstances. It was love-at-first-sight and we have been inseparable since day one. I remember the first week we met: we couldn't bare the idea of spending any time apart, so Jon called out of work. After a lengthy debate over cocktails about who could cook the best pizza, we decided to spend the next day crafting a series of elaborate pizzas to see who would win.
We took a quick trip to Whole Foods to get our ingredients. When I noticed the cheeses Jon was picking out I freaked out a little because I was picky with strange cheese at the time, and I couldn't bare to tell him that if he used those cheeses, I wouldn't be able to taste what he cooked. If was the first day I ever heard of Pecorino Romano, and when he told me it came from sheep's milk, I was scared to death to try it.
Back at my apartment we started off by having early cocktails to help put us in the mood for a long day of wrangling pizza dough without the help of a KitchenAid Mixer. If my memory serves me correctly, we each cooked two of our own pizzas, using different recipes for all four.
We were having so much fun in the kitchen that I let my guard down. Jon convinced me to throw away my old method of baking pizza on a circular pan, and to instead bake it directly on the wire oven rack, as he assured me would provide an amazing crust. After only a few minutes in the oven, it was apparent that both of my pizzas were going to be ruined because the dough completely stuck to the rack. Jon spent a good 30 minutes trying to salvage the remains of my theretofore promising pizza (he says it was because he felt so bad).
Looking back on the day, I can honestly say that it was sabotage. Jon did indeed win the contest over who could bake the best pizza. If I hadn't been so hungry that night, I'd have refused to try his creations just out of spite, but I bit the bullet and tasted them (and had to concede that his pizzas were excellent).
Several years have passed and although I am still not fond of sheep's milk cheeses, Spinach Explosion Pizza is the latest evolution from that original recipe. Everyone loves pizza, and this is the best we have ever tasted. It's truly a work of art, and my favorite thing about it is it tastes even better reheated the next day. This recipe is a culmination of sweet & salty, and the crust is heavenly. Cook this for your family or friends and they will talk about it for a very long time to come.
Every stage of this recipe is homemade. Jon and I make the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese ourselves, which require a lot of time and patience. Those recipes will be published at a later date. If you have access to fresh herbs and vegetables from your garden then you should use those, since organic is best, and nothing is more rewarding than growing your own produce. The perfect dough recipe comes from Jon's grandmothers cookbook, and together with a sauce started from scratch, you are in for a wonderful treat.
- 6 cups All Purpose Flour (King Arthur or equivalent quality is best.)
- 2 cups Water (Cool water, from the tap. Filtered water lacks natural minerals which gives a mediocre crust.)
- 1 tablespoon Instant rise yeast
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 1 tablespoon Sugar
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 28 Ounce San Marzano Canned Tomato, diced (If you have access to fresh, ripe roma tomatoes you can use 14 of those instead, processed in a blender.)
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 1 teaspoon Pepper
- 6 Large Basil leaves
- 3 Large Garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons Butter
- 1 Large Carrot
- 1 Large Celery stalk
- 1 Medium Onion
ROASTED RED PEPPERS
BABY SPINACH SAUTEE
- 9 Ounce Baby spinach (Fresh or bagged, not frozen.)
- 1 Medium Onion
- 6 Large Garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons Butter
- .5 cup Balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Honey
- 2 cups Parmesan (Fresh grated)
- 2 cups Mozzarella (Fresh if you can find it, grated or sliced.)
1 - If you have access to a mixer, place the dough hook on it and add the water, salt, sugar, olive oil, and yeast. Allow the mixture to activate for five minutes before adding any of the flour. Turn the mixer on low speed, and slowly add 1 cup of sifted flour at a time, allowing it to completely mix before adding the remaining flour. You may need to turn off the mixer and pull the dough off the hook to re-position it in the bowl if the dough starts to look too dry. When you reach the right consistency the dough should be firm and shiny without being sticky. You may need to add more water or flour until it feels right. All this can be done by hand as well, but that requires a little more work. Roll the dough into a ball and coat it with additional olive oil. Place the dough in a used (but clean) plastic shopping bag, tied loosely so as to not allow too much air inside. This dough is best when you allow it to rise overnight inside your refrigerator, however you can let it rise on your counter for three hours if you are in a rush.
2 - The sauce starts with something the Italians like to call a "soffritto." I use it in every tomato sauce that I make. Place the garlic, carrot, onion, and celery inside a food processor and pulse it a few seconds at a time until it turns into a fine, smooth paste. Add butter to your sauce pan and allow it to gently melt down before adding the soffritto. You may need to add more butter depending on the size of the vegetables you used. Make sure there is enough butter bubbling in the pan to keep the mixture very wet, and allow it to cook for 5 - 10 minutes until the ingredients have melted together, lightly browned, and smell great. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper (more or less, to taste) to the sauce. Cover the pot and allow it to come to a slow saute before adding the diced basil. Cook the sauce until reduced to a thicker consistency, since you don't want a runny pizza. Once fully cooked, remove the sauce from heat and allow it to cool.
3 - Roasted red peppers are simple to make at home, right on your range. Stores always get away with charging outrageous prices for them, and once you see how easy they are to make you won't buy them again. Coat the peppers in olive oil, and place them directly on the top of your range, over a medium flame. Be sure to have tongs available, otherwise you won't be able to turn them as they cook. Don't worry about the skin turning black, you can really scorch the peppers while they roast and it only makes it easier in the end to remove the skins. Once the peppers are blackened all around, remove them from the heat and place them under cold running water. Be careful when pulling off the stem as there is hot liquid inside and you don't want to burn your hands. Allow the peppers to fill up with cold water until the heat is gone. Removing the skins is easy, just scrape them off with your hands, or use the back of a spoon. Once all the skins are removed, slice the peppers into strips the width of a pencil.
4 - When sauteing the spinach, start by completely melting the butter in your frying pan. Add the sliced onion, and allow it to cook until almost translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 - 3 minutes until the garlic is on the cusp of starting to brown. Next, add the baby spinach and cover the pan for a minute while it wilts down. Using tongs, combine all the butter, onion and garlic with the spinach and turn off heat once the spinach is wilted and combined. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
5 - A balsamic reduction is easy to make. Simply combine the vinegar with the honey in a small sauce pan and bring it to a boil, stirring consistently. Continue boiling until the mixture has reduced in half, to the consistency of molasses (about seven minutes). When it's hot it will drip off the spoon much easier, so be sure not to over-boil it. If you have a vent above your range, this would be a good time to turn it on!
6 - Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and position your oven rack on the bottom. Prepare a 11 X 17 sheet pan (or larger) by cutting a piece of parchment paper to place underneath the dough (to help prevent sticking). Use a liberal amount of olive oil on the pan and parchment paper. If your you have allowed the dough to rise overnight in the refrigerator, then it will need a few hours to warm up before you can stretch it to the pan. Once the dough is ready, knead it down to shape the pan and stretch it to fit. Be sure that the dough is even on all corners. You should flip it after pressing so that both sides of the dough are coated with the olive oil. If the dough is resisting being stretched, simply let it rest for 15 minutes on the pan and try again.
7 - Before adding all the ingredients, we like to season the dough with fresh cracked sea salt, either white or black pepper, and 1 cup of your parmesan, sprinkled evenly over the surface. Then. using a rubber spatula, spread the sauce evenly over the dough and cheese so that it covers the surface, leaving edges for the crust. Add the final cup of parmesan on top of the tomato sauce, this time being sure to add some to the crust. Distribute the spinach mixture evenly on top of the cheese, followed by the roasted red peppers. I like to do this all by hand because it makes less of a mess and is easier to control. Next, sprinkle the 2 cups of mozzarella evenly on the top of the pizza. Finally, drizzle the balsamic reduction over the top of the entire pizza in whichever fashion you choose. Reserve a little to finish the pizza after it is done cooking.
8 - Bake the pizza in the preheated oven for 35 - 40 minutes (or longer, depending on how well-done you want it). The crust should be a deep golden brown. If the cheese starts to darken before the crust, place a piece of tin foil on top. Remove the pizza from the oven and allow 15 minutes to cool before cutting. We like to cut the pizza in squares so that we get 8 pieces out of it. Most people are full from 1 slice, but people like me always end up eating more than one, especially if I am not watching my carbs. If you'd like to add more balsamic reduction, do so before serving to give an extra tang to the pizza. Enjoy!