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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pesto: A Midsummer Night's Dream


Michael's basil seedlings have poked through their sleepy peat pot cocoons and unfurled their delicate tender leaves. As they bend toward the morning sun, they inspire dreams of  midsummer caprese salads and  genovese  pestos. While we're weeks away from the sweltering dog days of summer and the height of basil season, a variety of vibrant pestos can be prepared from the gorgeous spring greens that dot the stands of our farmer's market.


Arugula Pesto Pizza.
Simple Pesto.
I dropped 2 cups of delicate Shelby County baby arugula into the bottom of a blender before adding
minced garlic, 1/3 cup toasted almonds, 1/3 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. After blending the ingredients into a loose pesto sauce, I scraped the sauce into a small bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, an set it aside.

 Pizza Dough.
I kept it very basic by mixing 1 1/2 cups Weisenburger Mills all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast, and 3/4 cups lukewarm water in a large bowl.  I pulled the dough into a rough ball, kneaded it for 5 minutes, plopped it back into the mixing bowl, brushed it olive oil, covered it, and let it rise for 2 hours.

When the dough doubled in size, I punched it down, dusted our well worn pizza stone with cornmeal, and pressed the dough into a clunky shaped pizza round. After smearing the arugula pesto over the top of the squishy dough, I dotted it fresh mozzarella cheese and split grape tomatoes. I brushed the exposed dough with olive oil, added thinly sliced onions, and showered the pizza with parmigiano-reggiano before sliding it
into a preheated  475 degree oven.

Within minutes, the pizza rippled and bubbled. When it was slightly blistered from the heat, I pulled it from the oven and set it aside to cool.  While the oven was still hot, I roasted paper thin slices of prosciutto. The delicate fat rendered quickly, leaving the prosciutto crisped and caramelized. After plucking the pork cracklings from their fatty bath, I scattered them over the pesto pizza.

So, here's the deal. I expected the arugula pesto to have aggressive peppery undertones. Not at all. Tempered by the fruity olive oil, nutty reggiano, and oozing mozzarella, the pesto mellowed in the mix. As the pizza baked, everything melted and swirled together to create a fun topping for the pizza crust. The rich cheesy pesto sauce seemed almost creamy (the goo factor). While the salty sassy crunch of the crisped prosciutto shards balanced the slight peppery creaminess of the pesto, the roasted split tomatoes added bursts of sweet acidity.

For now, we can still dream about summer basil. Luckily, early season spring arugula pesto gave us a tasty hint of what's to come.

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