Wednesday, February 24, 2016

By the Slice (White pizza with pancetta and arugula)

While I, in a robotic devotion to efficiency, could be quite content to eat the same meal most days, Aaron demands variety. Except with pizza. Aaron, and perhaps most of the free world, will always be happy to have pizza. We once made mostly pizza for dinner for a few months as a "diet," because it was easy to standardize, control portions, and could be spun into infinite variations. One key element was to always pair with a salad, though who doesn't remembering arguing that pizza was a balanced meal in grade school? This particular pizza, white pizza with pancetta and arugula, has both. 

One-stop shop
I'm a pizza snob with exacting standards, which has proved to be an exhausting curse for both myself and everyone around me who just wants to enjoy some frelling pizza. I demand a very light, thin, crisp crust and relatively few (and, ideally, as preposterously bougie as possible) toppings. The charm of pizza is supposed to be "even when it's bad, it's still pretty good." Somehow, even when traveling in Italy, I couldn't find a pizza I liked. Maybe I was getting stuck in tourist traps? 

Only moderately bougie toppings
The tastiest pizzas, featuring said crispy crust, are made in wood-fired brick ovens. For those of us not blessed with a hedge fund or killer app, this can be difficult to recreate at home, but you can make a close approximation using a cranking hot oven and a pizza stone. Pizza stones are usually ceramic rather than actual stone. They provide thermal mass for even heat and their porous surface absorbs excess moisture for extra-crisp crust. To use one: allow it to warm in the oven, prepare the pizza on a baking sheet, and slide it off onto the pizza stone to bake. A sprinkle of corn meal onto the stone just before transferring the pizza prevents sticking. Used over time, a pizza stone seasons to a natural patina reminiscent of black pearl and should be prized just as highly. Regrettably, ours broke in the move to Cambridge.

Arugula, also called rocket, ready to rock
As for the condiments, tradition would dictate that restraint is key. I once read an interview with an authentic Italian pizza master and his one comment on American pizzas was "molto condimenti" - "lots of toppings." It was strongly implied to be a criticism, though, in retrospect, could it perhaps have been admiration? This version splits the difference. I did attempt to go for a theme of authentic Italian ingredients. Pancetta is Italian unsmoked pork-belly bacon. Supremely salty, it's also nutty-sweet and seasoned with black pepper. Fresh mozzarella melts more gracefully than the pre-shredded, low-moisture stuff and has fresher, sweeter flavor and creamier texture and Parmigiano-Reggiano is required because its salty tanginess is the perfect complement to mozzarella. Simple arugula-lemon salad makes the perfect finisher: it's freshly vegetal and bright with tart lemon, tender-crisp against the luscious cheese, chewy-crisp pancetta, and golden crust.

Golden delicious

White pizza with pancetta and arugula
Fancy people make their own pizza dough. Multi-taskers find the best pre-made pizza dough fresh in a chiller unit by the deli in the supermarket or from local markets upon request. Serves 4-6.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 pound pancetta diced
1 pound store-bought pizza dough, thawed by package directions 
1/4 cup flour
1/2 pound ciliegine mozzarella, drained and halved
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated

1/4 cup cornmeal

2 handfuls fresh baby arugula
1/2 lemon, juiced
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Preheat an oven to 450 F, place a pizza stone in the oven to warm, and line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil. 

Warm a large, heavy skillet over low heat, add the olive oil, then the garlic slices. Cook slowly and gently, stirring often, until they begin to turn crisp and golden, about 10 minutes.

Just turning gold
Drain the garlic and oil off into a bowl and return the skillet to the burner, increasing the heat to medium. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often, to desired doneness (I prefer very crispy, about 10 minutes, when it's turned from pink and white to red and bronze), remove to a paper towel on a plate to drain.

Pork fat rules
Toss the dough in flour and, using floured hands, work it out as thin as possible, to about the size of your pizza stone.

Arrange the crust on your prepared sheet, brush with oil and garlic mixture. Then layer on pancetta and mozzarella, topping with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Oiled up
Working quickly, sprinkle the hot pizza stone with cornmeal and slide the pizza off the prepared pan, directly onto the pizza stone.

Bake 12-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and turning golden and the crust is crisp.

Remove the pizza to cool slightly and toss the arugula, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl.

Slice the pizza, topping individual slices with sprinkles of dressed arugula.


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