Thursday, August 30, 2007
Squash Ribbon Pizza with Blossoms, Basil, & Anchovies
Somehow the ritual of having an aperitivo along with some appetite-awakening, savory little nibbles in the hours before dinner seems perfectly suited to summer, when the outdoors beckon and life feels ever so slightly slower and easier. It’s a reviving, incredibly civilized custom I enjoy whenever I’m in the Mediterranean. Why don’t we stretch out our meals over the longer summer evenings more often, after all? Back in New York, I wait all winter for the warmer weather and the return of our ever-so-relaxing, light-drenched cocktail hours.
And warm it is. Though the calendar says it’s almost September, New York lingers on in the 80's. Factor in the “Indian summer” we always have in the northeast, and I’d guess we’ve got another 4 weeks dotted over the next few months to enjoy a refreshing glass of rosé and some salty little treats whenever a free early evening presents itself.
Here’s a pizza I’ve made a lot this summer – one that I adore for its beauty as much as for the pairing of sweet, buttery squash and smoky, saline anchovies. Summer squash are in season until the first frost – usually late October or early November around here – which leaves you plenty of time to make this dish with wonderfully fresh produce.
You may have leftover basil paste – keep it under a layer of olive oil in the fridge for at least a week. It’s delicious over fish and makes a great base for Susan at Farmgirl Fare’s inspired pesto. I first started turning my extra basil into this simple paste after reading about it in Patricia Wells’ Vegetable Harvest. It’s less of a flavor commitment than dedicating the entire bunch to pesto right off the bat, and it’s a great way of extending the herb’s usefulness. For summer aperitivi ideas, try my Prosecco with Basil, a Kir, or even an Elderflower Liqueur with white wine and soda.
Serves 8 with aperitivi before dinner
1 medium bunch fresh basil leaves, rinsed well and patted dry
extra virgin olive oil
1 portion pizza dough (about 20 oz. Click on the link for a recipe)
2 small or medium summer squash, preferably different colors
8 anchovy fillets preserved in oil
1 medium ball fresh mozzarella cheese (about 4 oz.)
6 – 10 squash blossoms, depending on their size
freshly ground black pepper
Put a pizza stone (if you decide to use one – it’s not imperative) in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 F.
Reserve 10 or 12 of the smallest basil leaves for garnish. Put the rest in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Use a spatula to push down the leaves on the side of the bowl. Leave the processor on and stream in olive oil until a loose paste forms and season to taste with kosher salt. Pour the basil paste into a bowl and pour over a thin layer of olive oil to keep the color bright. Cover and store in the fridge until ready to use.
Sprinkle a flat cookie sheet (no sides) with cornmeal. Stretch or roll out your pizza dough into a rectangle about twice as long as it is wide – mine was 16” by 8”. Place the dough on the cornmeal and brush with olive oil. Season with a little sea salt and set aside.
Using a y-shaped speed peeler , shave ribbons down the length of one of the squash, Once you reach the seeds, turn over and do the same on the other side. Repeat with the second squash. Lay a single layer of squash strips along the length of the pizza dough, leaving a small amount of bare dough around the edges. You’ll probably have leftover strips.
Lay out the anchovy fillets over the squash strips, running in the same direction. Pull apart the fresh mozzarella and dot pieces of it over the pizza. Next dot small dollops of basil paste over the pizza in the spaces with no cheese. Gently check the insides of the squash blossoms for fauna and then arrange them over the whole thing. Drizzle with a tiny bit more olive oil (there’s oil in the anchovies and basil paste already). Season with freshly ground black pepper and a little bit more sea salt – remember the anchovies are salty, so you’ll need less salt than usual.
If you’re using a pizza stone, sprinkle it liberally with cornmeal and slide the pizza onto the stone. Otherwise just put your cookie tray into the center of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is lightly golden. Cool the pizza on a rack for 15 – 20 minutes before garnishing with small, whole basil leaves, slicing into smallish wedges (this is about piquing the appetite, not satiating it), and serving with cool drinks.