Shishito Pepper Pesto Pizza


I’ve been home for two months, and while I’ve been baking, cooking, and sharing food with my family and friends, I haven’t blogged once. Sure, I had a bake sale, made some diabetes-inducing sticky buns for Father’s Day breakfast, and burned through our stashes of olive oil and butter at an unprecedented rate, but nearly everything I made was an old recipe of mine or from a cookbook—tried and true recipes that I had been waiting for months to make in a kitchen equipped with more than a not-quite-level stove, rickety table, and a medicine cabinet mirror. I made pots of black beans, thai curries, and dozens of cookies, but with all of those recipes already tucked away on this site I saw little point in adding to the redundancy that seems to take over the internet, one food blog at a time.

Last night’s pizza was what finally convinced me to log back on to Word Press. Also, my mom asked if I had let the blog go dormant, and you just can’t ignore a comment like that from the people that  raised you and are sending you to college (hi, Mom and Dad), so I figured a post on this pizza was in order.

Homemade pizza is a staple at our house, and while we normally go the carrot-walnut or margherita route I thought it was time to shake things up a bit with a few handfuls of shishito peppers that were taunting me in the crisper drawer. Shishito peppers, or their Spanish equivalent, padrón peppers, have been cropping up in recipes and restaurants more regularly, especially now that Trader Joe’s carries them and nearly every tapas restaurant serves blistered padróns alongside squares of Tortilla Española. They should come with a warning though: most of them are fairly mild, but every so often you come across a real scorcher. (Engineers out there: the probability of a spicy pepper is about 10%, though that statistic is a rough guideline when you factor in growing conditions and other environmental factors. You may just have to dive into this pizza and hedge your bets.)

Once blistered in a hot pan, shishito peppers are smoky with a lingering grassiness, and when paired with golden brown mushrooms and cherry tomatoes that have been sautéed in a hot pan until split open, you’ll wonder you’ve never piled the three onto a pizza with fresh mozzarella and aged parmesan. A final few dollops of homemade basil pesto when the pizza comes out of the oven ties the whole pie together, and before you know it you’ll be wishing you had made extra.


Shishito Pepper Pesto Pizza

Makes 4 10-inch pizzas, serves 4-6

2 lbs pizza dough

1 lb shishito or padrón peppers

4 teaspoons olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

1/2 yellow onion, finely diced

1 lb cherry tomatoes

1lb button mushrooms, sliced

Cornmeal, for the pizza peel

12 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan

1/4 cup freshly made pesto

  1. Once your dough has been made, divide it into 8 oz. portions and roll them into even balls. Place on a lightly floured surface, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour, until nearly doubled in size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 500F and place your pizza stone on the top rack of your oven.
  3. While the dough rises prepare all of the toppings:
  4. For the blistered peppers: Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over high high for 5 minutes. Add the peppers and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and cook, stirring every minute until the peppers are blistered in spots and tender, 8-10 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a small bowl and let cool slightly, then remove and discard the stems and cut the peppers into 1 inch pieces.
  5. For the tomatoes: Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet. Add the onions and saute for 2-3 minutes, until nearly translucent. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes have split and have begun to cook down. Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl and set aside.
  6. For the mushrooms: Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the same pan that you used to cook the tomatoes (unless you really like doing dishes, in which case go right ahead and get out a fresh pan), then add the mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Saute until tender and golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
  7. To assemble the pizzas: Roll out the risen dough into a thin, 11-12 inch circle, then transfer to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Top evenly with 1/4 of the tomatoes–this will not be a pizza with a traditional layer of sauce, so don’t worry if the tomatoes haven’t become soft enough to be considered a sauce.
  8. Add 1/4 each of the mushrooms and the peppers in an even layer on the pizza. Spread 3 oz. of the cheese in an even layer on top of the vegetables, then sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of parmesan. Transfer the pizza from the peel to the preheated pizza stone, and bake until golden brown and crisp, 11-14 minutes.
  9. Remove the pizza from the oven, and lightly dollop 1 tablespoon of pesto over the top of the pizza–again this should be more like a Jackson Pollack painting, than a smooth layer of pesto. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of parmesan over the top, then slice into wedges and serve. Repeat with the remaining pizza dough and toppings.

Click here for a printable version of the recipe.


Carrot-Walnut Pizza


I think I can guess what you just said to yourself. Is it, “What! Carrots and walnuts don’t belong on a pizza?” Well, actually, they do. I wish I could take credit for this incredible combination, but it actually comes from a pizza place in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While working as a TA during graduate school, my dad tried it during a pizza-fueled marathon exam grading session. Years later, it has become a mainstay for our homemade pizzas. Unfortunately, I think we’re the last surviving makers of Carrot-Walnut pizzas—we haven’t been able to find the pizzeria that sells such a pizza in Cambridge, and I will never know what the original tasted like.

Once baked, the grated carrots get firmly anchored to the crust and cheese and blister slightly under the intense heat of the oven. The walnuts, too, toast gently and taste sweeter alongside the carrots, which manage to minimize the traditionally bitter mouth feel of walnuts. And the best part is that when sliced, the toppings stay on the pizza. My biggest pizza pet-peeve is when the cheese refuses to stay on the pizza. Luckily, that is nowhere near the case for this recipe.


Underneath the toppings is a thin layer of a freshly made tomato sauce, full of garlic and basil. It only takes a few extra minutes of work to make homemade sauce, and it is worth it every time. Delicious toppings and a phenomenal sauce only need one more thing for this pizza to reach restaurant quality, and that is a pizza stone. Once preheated, it works quickly enough to allow the crust to be crisp on the bottom yet not cracker-like.


If I still haven’t convinced you that Carrot-Walnut pizza is worth your time, maybe my brother can. Every time we make pizza, his only toppings are carrot and walnuts, and after devouring the entire pizza, he sits back and remarks, “I am always amazed by how well carrots and walnuts go together on pizza. It’s just so good.”

Who knows, maybe someday these toppings will be back in action at local pizzerias, but for now, I hope you’ll try it at home.

Carrot-Walnut Pizza

Makes 4, 12 inch pizzas, which will serve 4 teenagers or 8 adults

Dough

1 ½ cups warm water

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 ½ teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups all-purpose flour (try to get a low protein flour like Pillsbury or Gold Medal)

2 teaspoons table salt

Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon salt

28 oz. can diced tomatoes, pulsed until smooth in the food processor

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Toppings

Cornmeal, for dusting the pizza peel

16 oz. part-skim, low-moisture mozzarella cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater

3 carrots, grated on the large holes of a box grater

1 cup walnuts, chopped

  1. For the dough: Mix the water, yeast, sugar, and oil in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Let the yeast proof until bubbly for 5 minutes. Add the flour and salt and mix on low to combine, then increase the speed to medium and knead until smooth and shiny, 6-8 minutes. Cover and let rise until doubled in volume, 45-60 minutes.
  2. For the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic cloves and sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes and salt and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Off heat, stir in the basil and set the heat aside.
  3. 30-45 minutes before baking the pizza, place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 500F.
  4. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured work surface and divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll each dough ball out into a 12 inch circle, then transfer to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Spread ½-2/3 cup sauce into an even layer onto the dough, leaving a ¼ inch border along the edges. Sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella in an even layer on top of the sauce. Next, spread ½ cup of the grated carrots all over the pizza, then finish with ¼ cup of chopped walnuts all over the carrots.
  5. Slide the pizza from the peel onto the preheated baking stone, then bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown, rotating halfway through baking. Transfer to a cutting board, let sit for about a minute, then slice and serve. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the remaining ingredients to make 3 more pizzas.

Note: If you do not have a pizza peel or a pizza stone, spread a baking sheet with cornmeal, then place the rolled out dough on the baking sheet and top as described in step 4 and continue with the rest of the recipe.