Last Saturday was pizza night at our house, which is always a treat. We like to have pizza night on a moderately regular basis, mainly because it’s such a tasty dinner. But there are a couple of other reasons, too. It gives us the chance to try new flavor combinations (as in today’s post), and it’s also really easy once you get in the habit of making bread dough; we just cut off and save about a pound of dough specifically for pizza. Covered and refrigerated, you can hold over the dough a couple of days, at least.
Now, we’ve never seen walnuts listed as a topping at the Pizza Rut or Dumb-I-Knows, but we tried them in the past and they are one good topping! And, as you’ll see, we added a bit more to this simple but tasty pizza.
We’re really not sure how we came up with the idea of using walnuts as a topping. Perhaps it’s because we’ve used nuts in raviolis with great success, or, perhaps, because they pair so well with breads. Regardless, we’d tried them on a standard cheese-and-mushroom pizza, thought they’d be even better paired with spinach and a few other toppings, so what follows is our result from scratchin’ central.
Makes one 15- to 16-inch pizza.
We knew that spinach would release liquid; therefore, we wanted to start with a very thick sauce so the crust underneath wouldn’t get soggy. We also wanted it to be easy. Really easy, so we went with plain tomato paste. Since pizza already has a lot of sodium from the cheese, we made sure to buy paste without added salt. As always, most of the toppings are really optional and should be varied according to your taste, although, let’s face it, it wouldn’t be much of a Spinach and Walnut Pizza if you omitted the spinach or the walnuts. We added a bit of feta cheese because we know that goes well with spinach — think Spanikopita — and the okra was there just to try something new.
Procedure in detail:
Yes, we know that many people already have an idea about how to put together a pizza, but just humor us as we go through it. We might have a trick or two that you haven’t tried before. There are a lot of things that follow, but it’s mainly: preheat, assemble, bake, and eat the pizza.
Adjust oven rack. Odd that we’re suggesting you adjust the oven rack, but we are. We’ve found that we get the best pizzas with our oven rack in 3rd position from the bottom, which places it about 4-5 inches from the broiler element. We’ve also found that we get the most heat for the amount of air circulation right there. Placing the pizza higher blocks off the top of the pizza from the hot air — it’s too close to the top of the oven — and a lower position is just a bit cooler — heated air rises, remember?.
Preheat to 450°F. Place a baking stone on the rack and get that oven hot. Let it go through several cycles of turning off and on. You want the oven hot and the stone hot. Really hot. We start doing all the other prep work (grating cheese, etc) while the oven’s heating.
Press or roll out dough. Tear off a square of baking parchment, dust with just a bit of flour, and start pressing the dough into a circle. If needed, you can use a rolling pin, too. We do. If the dough starts to spring back and becomes hard to roll or stretch, give it a break. Wait about 5 minutes to let the gluten relax, then roll and stretch some more. We really suggest using parchment, as it allows the bottom of the pizza to get nice and crisp, makes for easy in-and-out of the oven, plus easy clean up. Just wad it up and toss it.
Wait. Do not assemble your pizza until the oven is hot. Feel free to cover the crust with a towel, or something to keep it from drying out, but do not start adding toppings until you’re ready to place the pizza in the oven. Putting toppings on too soon results in a soggy crust.
Spread paste. We wanted to go with a really light amount of sauce on the pizza, so we used a rubber spatula like a brush to “paint” the crust with a thin layer of tomato paste. If you have a favorite sauce that you want to use, go ahead, remembering that you’ll have some liquid from the spinach, so you might want to go easy on the sauce.
Season. Since we were just using tomato paste, we sprinkled dried basil and oregano all over the surface and then gave everything a crackling of pepper. Now, you may think it odd to use just plain tomato paste for a sauce, but think about the most famous pizzas: Neapolitan pizzas. They’re made using just crust, fresh tomatoes, cheese, and basil. And those are sure tasty, right?
Add cheese, just a bit. We wanted to have just a slight amount of cheese between the spinach and the sauce. Not really enough to keep the two separated, but, just a bit, so the cheese could melt into the tomato sauce. We carefully sprinkled just a bit of mozzarella onto the sauce.
Add spinach. Next up, we topped with spinach. We did this so it would ultimately be covered in cheese and steam just enough to make it tender. If we’d put the spinach on the very top or even mixed in with the other toppings, it would burn because it’s so thin — not a good choice when we can fix that problem before it happens.
Cheese it. Ah, the reason pizza is so tasty! Spread the remaining mozzarella cheese over the spinach in a nice even layer.
Apply remaining toppings. Once the mozzarella was in place, we added the walnuts, mushrooms, and the feta cheese (just a bit), then finished up with those okra pods, placed strategically around the center.
Bake. If you have one, slide a pizza peel under the parchment to transfer your pizza and place it, parchment and all, directly on the baking stone. If you don’t have a pizza peel, get creative and use a large piece of cardboard, perhaps a baking sheet, or, if you’re very careful, you might be able to pick it up by the sides of the parchment. Once in the oven, bake for about 13 minutes. The crust will brown, the cheese will melt, and your kitchen will smell really good.
Broil. This might be difficult if you have a gas oven, but, using our electric one, we just switch the oven from bake to broil, and the top elements start heating up. With a gas oven, you might have to move the pizza to the broiler. If so, it’s a judgement call as to what you want to do. If you do place it under the broiler, broil for just a few minutes, about 2 maximum, to brown and finish the cheese nicely. Watch carefully, or you’ll have burnt cheese, which isn’t as good.
Garnish. Sprinkle that fresh basil over the pizza. There’s nothing quite like fresh basil on pizza (or on anything, for that matter), so go wild. We always put it on after the pizza comes out, because basil will lose its flavor as it cooks. Once the basil is in place, we sprinkle with just a bit of Parmesan that will melt and hold it in place.
Serve. Slice that pizza and chow down. Beats the Pizza Rut all hollow, doesn’t it?
Just as with the goat cheese tartlets we posted recently, we’re starting to think of using pizza more as a palette on which to try new flavor combinations. It’s probably not quite as good of a palette, just because almost all pizzas taste sooo good, but that just makes us feel as though we’re better cooks than we really are. This turned out remarkably well; we happen to think that both the walnuts and the okra were really good on pizza. The okra, being right on top, got charred, just a little, giving the pizza the slightest hint of smokiness — not dissimilar to pizettas that we do on the grill (we have to write those up some time, they’re the best) — which was a great addition. The walnuts, however, were the stars. They added a nice, subtle flavor, not too nutty as to overwhelm the other flavors, but, just enough, so you could taste them. Plus, they added a nice, lightly crunchy, texture. Not crunchy like potato chips, but more as if we had something a little more substantial on board. We really recommend adding a small amount of nuts as a topping to your next pizza. Overall, five stars. It’s pizza; come on, how could it be anything but?