January 16, 2012

Pasta x Pizza = Italian²

What's more Italian than pasta? What's more Italian than pizza? As the great debate rages on over the most iconic Italian food, I have brought them together in one bite with a pasta pizza. Their synergistic potential knows no bounds. They are an Italian combination of unknown greatness. As potent an image as Fellini driving a Fiat 500 through the Vatican. More Italian than the Mafia sipping red wine on Easter. It would make any nonna shout "Mamma Mia!"

A true creation Italiano? No, I say: Italianissimo!

It's precisely the creation that came together in my kitchen last weekend during an impromptu pizza party. My former catering partner Alex, never afraid of an unusual combination - he once made chocolate covered pasta and declared it a success - began brewing some ideas for a pasta pizza. But as we talked it over we realized the challenge would be great. What kind of pasta do we add? What kind of sauce? Will the pasta just fall off? Will it dry out as it cooks? Will the dough become too soggy?

As you're beginning to understand, it was no small feat for two Americans set out to concoct the most Italian food of them all. To begin, we decided on using only the most pure Italian ingredients, no American pizza gimmicks allowed. This dish would be as similar to BBQ chicken pizza as Berlusconi is to a Dominican friar.

So what ingredients did that include? Homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, extra virgin olive oil, penne pasta and fresh pizza dough. And that's it. To keep the dough from getting soggy and the pasta from overcooking, the pizza dough was cooked part way before adding the pasta. In order to keep the pasta together on the pizza, shredded mozzarella and plenty of sauce were mixed in with the pasta before placing it on the pizza, and it was topped off with fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil.

The results? Buonissimo! Imagine perfect baked pasta over crispy, flavorful pizza dough, crispy on the bottom, cheesy and moist on top. It was one of the best pastas or pizzas I've ever had, overflowing in its mozzarella-draped Italian identity.  It was as Italian as Isabella Rossellini in stilettos sipping espresso at the Colosseum. Which is to say: freaking delicious.

Recipe below.

Pasta "al Pomodoro" Pizza (a.k.a. Italian²) 
Makes 1 pizza

-2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
-1 small red onion, chopped
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 16 oz. can whole or chopped tomatoes
-1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes, optional
-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
-1/3 pound penne or other pasta
-1 ball fresh mozzarella
-salt and pepper
-1/2 recipe pizza dough (below), or store bought pizza dough for one pizza

1. Preheat the oven to 500 at least an hour before baking the pizza. If you have a pizza stone, place in the oven.

2. In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion, allow to cook 3-4 minutes, then add the garlic and cook an additional 1 minute. Pour in the can of tomatoes and pepper flakes (if using), stir, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, partially covered, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and place in a medium mixing bowl. When the sauce is ready, mix in enough sauce until the pasta is well coated. Add in the shredded mozzarella and mix to combine.

3. Lightly flour a large sheet pan/cookie sheet and using your fingers, press the pizza dough to about half an inch so it fits the entire pan (any shape you want!). Place in the oven (or slide onto the pizza stone if using), and bake 4-5 minutes until it just begins to bubble. Remove the partially-cooked dough from the oven and top with the pasta mixture in an even layer. Top with torn pieces of the fresh mozzarella, spoon over any additional sauce, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Place back in the oven and cook 4-5 minutes more until the cheese just begins to bubble. Remove and serve at once.

Pizza Dough
Makes 2 large pizzas

-1 package instant yeast
-1 cup warm water
-1 teaspoon honey
-1 teaspoon olive oil
-3 cups all purpose flour
-1 teaspoon salt

1. In a small bowl, combine yeast, water, honey and olive oil. Allow to sit until it begins to bubble or foam, indicating that the yeast is active, about 5 minutes.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture. Combine with a wooden spoon or your hand until it comes together into a dough. You may need to add more flour or water. Turn dough onto a surface and knead until a smooth ball forms. Rub a large glass bowl with olive oil and place the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for 1-2 hours until the dough has doubled.

Note: For maximum flavor, allow the dough to rise for half an hour at room temperature, and then place in the fridge over night. Remove from fridge one hour before baking the pizza.

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