pizza with figs, prosciutto, gorgonzola, balsamic, and arugula

I went to dinner at a fancy pizza place with my parents and Dave a few months ago, and my dad ordered a pizza that seemed appropriate for him – cheeseburger.  Because the more meat, the better!  Hold the vegetables please, is generally his motto.  Oh, I laughed and laughed when his pizza arrived covered in lettuce.  He scraped it right off.

Not that I’ve been much better about the idea of salad on pizza.  It’s a pretty popular concept, but so far I’ve wanted to keep my bread and cheese unadulterated by large amounts of greenery.

I guess when you’re already putting figs on pizza (oh, how I’d love to see my dad’s face if there were figs on his pizza!), arugula doesn’t seem so weird by comparison.  It turns out that the figs and arugula work really well together.  The figs add sweetness, the prosciutto saltiness, the arugula freshness, and the blue cheese…um…stinky-feetiness?  But in a good way.  In a very, very good way, in fact.

One year ago: Brandied Berry Crepes
Two years ago: Breakfast Strata with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Monterey Jack

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Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Balsamic, and Arugula (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

The original recipe calls for fresh figs; since I used dried, I soaked them in port for a while to plump them.  However, I’m not sure this is necessary.

Makes 1 12-inch pizza, serving about 3 people

6 small fresh figs, cut into thin slices
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided
cornmeal (for sprinkling)
12 ounces (¾ pound) pizza dough (⅓ of this recipe), after its first rise
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 4 ounces)
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into strips
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces stemmed arugula

1. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500ºF. Put the figs in a medium bowl and drizzle 1 tablespoon of the vinegar over them. Set aside.

2. Gently flatten the dough, then pick it up and stretch it out, keeping it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

3. Dust a pizza peel with cornmeal and transfer the round of dough to the peel. Rearrange the dough to something reasonably circular; stab it several times with a fork. Top the pizza with the cheese, figs, and prosciutto.

4. Transfer the pizza from the peel to the hot stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is spotty brown. Let the pizza cool on the peel for about 5 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar with the oil and a pinch of salt and pepper; toss the arugula with the dressing. Spread the salad evenly over the pizza. Slice and serve.

traditional pizza

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When it comes to cooking, I definitely have weaknesses. I’ve never cooked a perfect roast chicken. I can’t cook a steak with any sort of precision in doneness; if it’s somewhere between ‘moo’ and black, I consider it a success. And grilling? I’ve really never done it. Clearly there are holes in my culinary knowledge.

But pizza? Pizza, I know.

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I make pizza almost every week. I’ve tried all sorts of crusts, sauces, cheeses, and toppings. I’ve taken notes. And now, finally, I can make my perfect pizza. I’m not saying that my favorite will be your favorite; but it might give you somewhere to start and something new to try.

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Toppings – I’m going to attack this from top to bottom, which has the advantage of progressing from the simplest decisions to the more complicated. I’m going to focus on traditional pizza – tomato sauce, Italian cheeses, toppings. Most any topping will work here. Use whatever toppings you want in whatever quantities you prefer. I vary it quite a bit, with my favorite combinations being ham and mushroom, as well as ham and pineapple.

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Cheeses – I like a ratio of 5 parts mozzarella to 1 part parmesan. If you have other cheeses around, cheddar or gouda or fontina, it can be fun to replace a portion of the mozzarella with those. I actually prefer part-skim mozzarella on pizza; it seems to melt more smoothly and it tastes just as good as whole milk cheese.

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Sauce – My sauce is very (very very) simple, but you have to trust me that it’s just right. All I do is puree a drained can of diced tomatoes, strain them until they’re thick, then stir in salt and pepper. It’s easier than cooking a sauce, and I love the fresh flavor. It does complicate the addition of garlic and spices, but I get around that by adding the garlic as a topping and the herbs to the crust. (I don’t like raw garlic, so I toast the whole unpeeled cloves on the hot pizza stone for a few minutes.)

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Crust – I want a crust that is light and tender and flavorful, but, even more importantly, easy to work with. No one wants to fight with their pizza dough. This crust started with Cooks Illustrated’s popular pizza dough recipe, and then I started substituting white wine for a portion of the water, and after I made Peter Reinhart’s pizza dough, I became more committed to a cold overnight rise.

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Another important aspect of pizza crust is how you work with it. Be gentle with your dough. I need to stress that you really don’t want to use a rolling pin. Pull and stretch the dough. Pick it up, hanging the edges on your knuckles, and let gravity do the work. If it’s tearing or thinning unevenly, put it back down and just pull at the thicker parts. If it’s fighting you, walk away for five minutes to let it relax. (I use this technique when I fight with Dave too – ha!)

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I’m sorry to be so braggy, but this pizza really is just great. Most of it comes down to the crust, which is thin, crisp, and light. I love the sauce too, because it tastes exactly like what it is – tomatoes. The combination of cheeses provides just the right amount of richness and flavor. I start out nearly every weekend by making this pizza, and I can’t think of a better way.

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Update 3/16/10: I’ve successfully used this method to make this pizza crust whole wheat.  I made the pre-dough out of 11 ounces whole wheat flour, ¾ teaspoon salt, and 1 cup water .  After letting that sit overnight, I mixed it with the rest of the ingredients – 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon dried oregano, 11 ounces white bread flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons instant yeast, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, ¼ cup white wine, and ½ cup water.

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Traditional Pizza

You can substitute up to 7 ounces (about 1½ cups) of whole wheat flour for the white bread flour, but expect longer rising times and a more stubborn dough. But if you’re patient during shaping, your crust will be just as light and crisp as dough made completely with white flour.

Dough:
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
22 ounces (4 cups) bread flour
1¾ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup white wine
1½ cups water
cornmeal for dusting

Sauce:
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
salt and pepper

Assembly:
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
10 ounces (2½ cups) part-skim mozzarella, shredded
2 ounces (1 cup) parmesan, grated
toppings of your choice

1. For the dough: Heat the oil and oregano in a small saucepan until fragrant. Mix in the water and wine.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the liquid mixture. Continue mixing on medium-low speed until the dough comes together, and then knead on medium-low speed for 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour or water as necessary to form a dough that is sticky but does not cling to the sides of the bowl. When the mixer is running on medium-low speed, the dough should not stick to the bottom of the bowl.

3. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray. Rub your hands on the sprayed bowl to coat them with oil, then quickly form the dough into a ball. Place the ball of dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

4. Either set the dough aside to rise at room temperature, which will take 1½ to 2 hours, or refrigerate it until the next day. If it’s chilled overnight, it will take about 5 hours at room temperature to warm and finish rising. You can also reduce the yeast to ½ teaspoon and let the dough rise on the counter for about 8 hours after it has been chilled overnight.

5. For the sauce: Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor 10-12 times, until they’re pureed. Transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl and let them drain, stirring occasionally for at least 10 minutes. (You can get away with less time if you actively stir and press the tomatoes through the strainer; if you wait longer, you can stir less.) Then discard the liquid in the bowl, transfer the tomatoes from the strainer to the now-empty bowl, and stir in a pinch of pepper and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

6. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500ºF. Place the garlic on the hot pizza stone for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant.

7. Divide the dough and shape each portion into a ball. You have a few options of how to divide it. It makes enough dough for three 12-inch pizzas. However, I always cut it in half and freeze half. Then I divide the remaining dough into two more parts, one twice the size of the other. I make the larger one into pizza and the smaller into cheese bread (no sauce or toppings). Let the balls of dough relax for 10-30 minutes.

8. Using tongs, remove the garlic from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. Mince.

9. Work with one ball of dough at a time on a lightly floured surface. Flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, just piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

10. Dust a pizza peel lightly with cornmeal and transfer the round of dough to the peel. Rearrange the dough to something reasonably circular; stab it several times with a fork. Add 1/3 of each of the garlic, sauce, and cheese, followed by toppings of your preference, then transfer the pizza to a hot pizza stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is spotty brown. Let the pizza cool on the peel for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

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buffalo chicken pizza

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I’m not experienced in the ways of the buffalo wing. I generally find them…well, let’s just say that the ratio of meat to gross animal parts isn’t high enough for my liking, what with the skin and bones and weird tendony whatever bits. The sauce is good though!

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A quick internet search indicated that there are several directions you can go with buffalo chicken pizza. Options for the pizza’s sauce include regular tomato sauce, blue cheese (or ranch) dressing, buffalo sauce, and skipping a sauce altogether. Some recipes use mozzarella and some skip it or use cheddar. I didn’t know what to do. I’ve never even eaten buffalo chicken pizza before.

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I eventually decided to use ranch dressing as the sauce, but I made my own and kept it pretty light. I just mixed up a bit of buttermilk (or plain yogurt) with mayonnaise and added some basic seasonings. It added a welcome tartness, plus the soothing dairy balances the spicy chicken.

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On top of the sauce, I layered the buffalo sauce-coated shredded chicken, a skimpy amount of mozzarella, enough blue cheese to taste without it being overpowering, and some red onions, which caramelized in the oven and contributed sweetness.

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This is most definitely the best buffalo chicken pizza I’ve ever had! And I’m pretty sure that isn’t just because it’s the only one I’ve had. Everything is in such a nice balance – the spice heat, sweet onions, tangy dressing, stinky blue cheese. And you know what’s thankfully missing? Bones and skin and weird tendony whatever bits. Score!

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One year ago: Gallitos (Costa Rican Breakfast Tacos)

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Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Serves 3-4

You can really make the shredded chicken however you want. If you just want to poach a boneless skinless chicken breast, that’s probably easier, and if you have leftover rotisserie chicken or something, that will work too. This is just how I like it. Also feel free to skip the brining; I don’t think it makes a huge difference here since there are so many other flavors, but it was easy and I had time, so I did it.

If you’d like more spice, stir some hot sauce (hotter than Frank’s, like Tabasco) or a small pinch of cayenne into the buffalo sauce.

1 large bone-in skin-on chicken breast (about 12 ounces)
salt
1 teaspoon oil
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup Frank’s hot sauce
½ teaspoon packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon buttermilk or plain yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
pinch of sugar
pinch of garlic powder
2 ounces (½ cup) mozzarella, shredded
1 ounce (¼ cup) blue cheese, crumbled
¼ cup red onion or scallions, diced very fine
12-16 ounces pizza dough (one third of a recipe calling for about 4 cups of flour), stretched out to 9-12 inches

1. For the chicken: Stir 2 tablespoons salt into 2 cups cold water until it dissolves. Add the chicken; refrigerate for 30 minutes, then remove the chicken from the brine and pat it dry. Adjust an oven rack to the middle-low position and heat the oven to 450ºF. Heat a small oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan; place the chicken breast in the pan skin-side down. Cook without moving until well-browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and move the pan to the oven. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken measures 160ºF or the juices run clear when small cut is made in the chicken. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside. When the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove and discard the skin (or eat it, because it’s crisp and delicious!) and shred the meat with your fingers or two forks. (If you’ve used good chicken, brined it, and pan-roasted it like this, I dare you not to resist stealing bites of the shredded chicken. It’s delicious.) Increase the oven temperature to 500ºF.

2. For the buffalo sauce: Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the brown sugar, hot sauce, and vinegar. Mix the sauce with the shredded chicken.

3. For the white sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk or yogurt, mayonnaise, sugar, garlic powder, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

4. Assemble the pizza: Place the pizza dough on a wooden paddle that’s been liberally coated with cornmeal. (Or use parchment paper instead of the cornmeal, or the back of a baking sheet instead of the paddle.) Spread the white sauce evenly on the pizza dough; top with the chicken, then the cheeses, and finally the onions.

5. Bake the pizza for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is browned. Let the pizza rest about 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

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quick baking powder pizza crust

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I’m not exactly Ms. Spontaneous.  I like a Plan. I like following the Plan. I do not like when the Plan is disrupted.

Dave was supposed to stop at the farm stand after work one day to pick up some corn on the cob for black bean and corn quesadillas, but the farm stand was closed. A quick juggle of my meal Plan for the week left me with the option of making Smitten Kitchen’s squash and goat cheese pizza that night instead, except that I didn’t have time to make regular pizza dough, and I certainly didn’t have time to defrost the dough I already had in the freezer, as per the original Plan.

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Instead, I mixed up this quick-bread version of pizza dough that I’ve always been curious about. It’s basically a biscuit, so the dry ingredients are mixed, then butter (less butter than in most biscuit recipes) is cut in, and milk is stirred into the mixture to bind it.

After that, you can treat it like regular pizza dough, by rolling it out and baking it on a pizza stone. At least that’s what I did, but I do wonder if, in this case, a lower oven temperature and a regular baking sheet might work better. Then again, biscuits are usually baked a really high temperature too…

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I’m probably trying to fix something that isn’t broken, because I thought the pizza crust was good the way I made it. It doesn’t have much in common with regular yeasted pizza crust, but its thinner, crisper, almost cracker-like texture was a great base for this lighter non-traditional pizza. For a sauce-drenched, cheese-laden, meat-topped pizza, yes, I’d want something more substantial. But for just a bit of goat cheese and some fresh summer squash, it was perfect, even preferable. Not to mention, quick, so no Plan is needed.

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One year ago: Banana Nutella Crepes

Quick Baking Powder Pizza Dough (from Jeanne Lemlin’s Vegetarian Classics)

For 4 (8-inch) pizzas

I believe I made half the recipe into a 12-inch pizza.

Tip from Lemlin: If you want to make the dough in advance, just roll it out and place it on a baking sheet, then pop it in the freezer until you are ready for dinner. Let it thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes or so before covering it with your toppings.

2½ cups (12 ounces) unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1 cup low-fat milk
olive oil for greasing or cornmeal for sprinkling

1. Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. You can do this in a food processor, if desired. Add the milk slowly and mix just until the dough is evenly moistened.

2. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 2 or 3 times, or just until it is pliable. Divide the dough into 4 balls.

3. Lightly oil a large baking sheet, or if you will be using a pizza stone, sprinkle some cornmeal on a pizza peel. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out each ball into an 8-inch circle. Place 2 on a baking sheet or 1 on the pizza peel. Proceed with your pizza recipe.

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chicken artichoke pesto calzones

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I hardly ever cook large roasts of meat, but when I do, I find like I like the leftovers even more than the original meal. I had lots of fun after Thanksgiving, and found that pot roast makes an amazing soup and sandwich. And roast chicken, to be honest, hardly ever impresses me served plain with dinner, but once it’s cooled and mixed with mayonnaise for some chicken salad, I am one happy camper.

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This time, though, I forwent the mayonnaise for something more interesting. I happened to come across a recipe for chicken artichoke pizza when I had shredded roast chicken, artichokes, and pizza dough in the freezer. I was practically forced to make it. Plus it sounded delicious.

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I made calzones instead of pizza mostly just because I hadn’t made them in a while, but I do think that the sizable chunks of shredded chicken that I wanted to use would be more appropriate in a calzone. Calzones, though, are undoubtedly more work than pizza. Instead of rolling out one round of dough for every 2-3 people, you’re rolling out one per person, and once the ingredients are added, the edges need to be crimped.

The extra work was worth it for me, because I really enjoyed these calzones. Pesto, chicken, and artichokes are a great combination, and it can only get better with cheese.

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One year ago: (Almost) No-Knead Bread

Chicken Artichoke Pesto Calzones (ingredients adapted from Stefany’s pizza, which is adapted from allrecipes; calzone method adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8

I used mozzarella because I had it, but I think fontina would be even better.

2½ pounds pizza dough (a full recipe of this one would be perfect)
1 cup pesto
1 cup frozen artichokes, defrosted and roughly chopped
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella or fontina cheese
olive oil for brushing

1. Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position, set a pizza stone on the oven rack, and heat the oven to 500 °F (260°C) for at least 30 minutes. Turn the risen dough out onto an unfloured work surface. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Gently reshape each piece of dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and let the dough rest at least 15 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.

2. Working with one piece of dough at a time and keeping the other pieces covered, stretch and pull the dough into a 7- to 8-inch round. (I don’t like to roll pizza dough, but I suppose you could if you prefer.) Set it aside while you stretch out the remaining rounds of dough. You’ll want to form and fill just four at a time, and then work on the other four while the first set bakes. (Cooks Illustrated stacks the rounds with squares of parchment paper in between; I like to use a kitchen towel.)

3. Spread 2 tablespoons pesto onto each round of dough, leaving about a 1-inch border around the edge. Divide the toppings evenly between the eight dough rounds, forming a pile in the center of the bottom half of each dough round and leaving a 1-inch border uncovered.

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4. Fold the top half of the dough over the filling-covered bottom half, leaving ½-inch border uncovered. (The photo above shows how the dough doesn’t overlap all the way. Look at the left half of the photo, where the dough isn’t crimped yet.) With your fingertips, lightly press around the silhouette of the filling and out to the edge to lightly seal the dough shut.

5. Beginning at one end of the seam, place your index finger diagonally across the edge and gently pull the bottom layer of the dough over the tip of your index finger; press into the dough to seal. (Hopefully the same picture  helps illustrate this.) Repeat the process until the calzone is fully sealed.

6. With a pastry brush, brush the tops and sides of the calzones with olive oil. Carefully transfer the calzones to parchment paper; slide the calzones on the parchment onto a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet, then slide the calzones with parchment onto the hot pizza stone, spacing them evenly apart. Bake until the calzones are golden brown, about 11 minutes; use a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet to remove the calzones with the parchment to a wire rack. Remove the calzones from the parchment, cool 5 minutes, and serve. While the first batch of calzones bakes, form the second batch and bake them after removing the first batch from the oven.

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peter reinhart’s pizza

This makes two Daring Baker recipes in a row that were already on my mental to-do list. It’s perfect because otherwise who knows when I actually would have gotten around to making them. I would have been making my standard pizza recipe, too lazy to try this new one which I’ve heard great things about, and wondering if mine is as good as it gets.

I’ve been using Cooks Illustrated’s crust recipe for years, which has the same ingredients as Peter Reinhart’s in only slightly different proportions. I started adding some sugar and white wine to it after Deb discussed it, and I found that my crust was a little more light, crisp and bubbly, which I liked.

But the CI recipe hasn’t always been perfect for me. Lately when I try to stretch it out, it has a tendency to rip, even when the dough is warm enough and risen completely. It’s not an elasticity issue either – it’s not like the dough is bouncing back on itself when I try to stretch it out.

One of the keys to Reinhart’s recipe is that he uses very cold water in the dough, then refrigerates the dough immediately after kneading, similar to his pain a l’ancienne. To be honest, I usually do this – albeit somewhat half-assed – with CI’s recipe, just because it’s more convenient for me to make the dough the night before I want it for dinner.

The biggest difference between the two recipes is that Reinhart mixes and kneads his dough with a stand mixer, while CI uses a food processor.  Despite the similarity between CI’s and Reinhart’s recipes, their outcomes were relatively distinct. Reinhart’s dough did not rip – it seemed capable of stretching to infinite lengths. Rosa, this month’s host, requested that we take a photo of the dough being tossed and spun, but this dough was so floppy, there’s no way I was going to chance throwing it around the kitchen.

Baked, the pizza wasn’t very different from my normal recipe. In fact, Dave didn’t notice that I had changed it. However, it wasn’t quite as crispy, and it wasn’t substantial enough to hold up my toppings, even though I don’t think I overloaded it. I think I might have gone overboard in making it thin.

I think in the future, I’ll stick with the ingredient proportions from CI’s recipe, adding the the sugar and white wine. However, I’ll use Reinhart’s method of preparing the dough with the stand mixer and using refrigerated ingredients. Hopefully this way I’ll get the best of both worlds. It’ll be a while before I have a chance to try it though, because right now, I have a half recipe of both doughs in my freezer.

Update: At some point I’ll get around to posting my method for making pizza (exact crust instructions, sauce, etc.), but I want to do some refining first.  In the meantime, you can find blog entries on Cooks Illustrated’s basic recipe here, here and here.

Basic Pizza Dough (adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart)

Makes 6 pizza crusts, about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter.

4½ cups flour (bread, high-gluten, or all-purpose), chilled
1¾ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
¼ cup olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1¾ cups water, ice cold (40 degrees)
1 tablespoon sugar
cornmeal for dusting

1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl or stand mixer. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (spoon or paddle attachment) to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth. If it is too wet, add a little flour and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

2. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper. Cut the dough into 4-6 equal pieces. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap.

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days. NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

4. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

5. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

6. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Take 1 piece and lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss. Make only one pizza at a time. During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.You can also resort to using a rolling pin.

7. When the dough has the shape you want, place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

8. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

crawfish, roasted tomato, and farmers cheese pizza

I make pizza probably every other week, always on the weekend. About half of the time I make a traditional pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. The other half varies – in the past few months, I’ve made shrimp scampi pizza, caramelized onion and Gruyere pizza, and spinach ricotta pizza. When I tell Dave that we’re having pizza for dinner, he always asks hopefully, “Normal pizza?”

Not this time. I’ve had crawfish tails in my freezer for months. I used a portion of the package for a recipe which I will, eventually, blog about, but I had no plans for the remainder. Cooks Illustrated’s recipe for pizza with shrimp, farmers cheese, and roasted tomatoes seemed like a great place to use some of that crawfish in place of the shrimp. Something about that combination of ingredients seemed very American to me.

I really only used CI’s recipe as a basic guide. Their recipe is developed to grill the pizza, which I wouldn’t be doing. Since I wasn’t sure if the crust recipe they provided was specially designed for grilling, I opted to use my favorite regular pizza dough recipe, tweaked to incorporate the seasonings CI uses in their recipe.  I substituted crawfish for the shrimp and used far less than they call for, and I used Deb’s recipe for slow-roasted tomatoes instead of CI’s method for roasting tomatoes

Overall, it was the same basic ingredients CI called for, but combined a little differently. It was my first time using farmers cheese, and I really liked it. The slow-roasted tomatoes, oh my gosh. I made about twice as many as I needed for the pizza, and I ate the others plain. I was greedy and barely shared with Dave.

The only step I wasn’t quite sure how to adapt was the actual grilling of the pizza to baking them on a hot pizza stone. Since all of the toppings were already cooked, I didn’t want to risk overcooking them by putting them into a 500 degree over for 8 minutes. I ended up simply putting the untopped dough in the oven for a few minutes, then taking it out, adding the toppings, and putting it back in until the crust was spotty browned like I like it. It wasn’t the perfect solution – I should have poked the dough with a fork before putting it on the hot stone, because it puffed up like a pita.

Dave and I both really liked the pizza. I should have used more cheese, but when is that not the case? (The recipe below is adjusted for the amount of cheese I wish I would have used.)  Dave thinks shrimp would have been better than crawfish, but I don’t really agree. The only problem I had was that there was that the toppings, especially the crawfish, kept falling off the pizza. More cheese might have acted like glue to hold the toppings on as well. Overall, this was my favorite of the non-traditional pizzas I’ve made recently, and a great way to use up some of that tasty crawfish.

Crawfish, Roasted Tomato, and Farmers Cheese Pizza (substantially adapted from Cooks Illustrated; Roasted Tomatoes from Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 6 as a main course

Garlic-Herb Pizza Crust:
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1¾ cups water divided, warm
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast (1 envelope)
4 cups bread flour
1½ teaspoons table salt

Roasted Tomatoes
24 cherry tomatoes (small), halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
Table salt and ground black pepper

Crawfish or (Shrimp)
1 pound crawfish tails or medium-sized shrimp
1½ tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
½ teaspoon hot chili powder
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Table salt and ground black pepper

Toppings
12 ounces farmers cheese, crumbled
⅔ cup packed cilantro leaves, minced
⅔ cup packed fresh parsley, minced

1. For the crust: Heat olive oil in a small skillet; add next 3 ingredients and cook over low heat until garlic softens, about 5 minutes. Cool.

2. Mix flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. Add water and herb oil to yeast mixture. With machine on, gradually pour liquid into dry ingredients; process until a rough ball forms. If dough is too sticky or dry, add flour or water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let dough rest for 5 minutes, then continue to process until dough is smooth, about 35 seconds.

3. Knead dough by hand a few seconds to form smooth, round ball; place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until dough doubles in size, about 2 hours.

4. For the roasted tomatoes: Preheat oven to 225°F. Halve each tomato crosswise and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough to make the tomatoes glisten. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes in the oven for about three hours. You want the tomatoes to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside. (The tomatoes can be set aside at room temperature up to 6 hours ahead.)

5. Place a pizza stone on the lowest oven rack and heat oven to 500 degrees. Punch dough down and divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll each portion to form a smooth, round ball. Place the balls on a lightly floured surface, cover with a damp cloth, and let rest 10-30 minutes.

6. For the crawfish/shrimp: Heat a medium-sized skillet over high heat. Toss crawfish with 1½ tablespoons oil, chili powder, cayenne, and salt and pepper. Cook crawfish in hot skillet, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, until the tails curl. (Shrimp may need an additional 2-3 minutes, depending on their size; cook until opaque.)

7. Stretch and press a ball of dough until it reaches a diameter of 9-11 inches. If the dough is very resistant to being stretched, let it rest 5 minutes and then try again.

8. Brush the circle of dough with olive oil, then stab it with a fork 10-12 times. Transfer the dough to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Slide the dough onto the heated stone. Bake until the crust edges begin to brown, 5-8 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven, add ⅓ of all toppings, and return to hot stone until crust is crisp and browned, 3-4 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. Repeat steps 7 and 8 with remaining dough and toppings.

fried egg and sausage ciabbata breakfast pizzas

By now it must be obvious that I like eggs on top of stuff. Poached are my favorite, but fried is fine too. With some potatoes or bread to soak up the creamy yolk and any number of other additions, a lot of my favorite breakfasts are based around eggs on stuff.

I’m not completely sure that this particular breakfast deserves its own recipe, although I apparently needed one to give me the idea. All it really is some crusty bread, halved horizontally, brushed with oil and topped with green onions, cheese, and cooked sausage. The pizzas are cooked until the cheese melts, then topped with a fried egg and more green onions.

I kept the basic structure of the recipe the same, but varied the details. I used some extra pain a l’ancienne that I had in the freezer, plus cheddar instead of pepper jack and breakfast sausage instead of Italian. The recipe instructs that chopped green onions should be mixed with a half cup of olive oil, which is rubbed on the bread and then drizzled over the egg at the end. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that is a heck of a lot of oil (even for eight servings). I used just enough to coat the bread before adding the other toppings, and I (meant to but forgot to) sprinkled more chopped green onions over the egg, leaving the oil behind.

Dave and I couldn’t quite figure out if we should eat these with silverware or hands. Dave tried using silverware, and it seemed like sort of a disaster. I ended up picking mine up to eat it with my hands, and it worked pretty well. I was thinking that the yolk might be a drippy mess, but it mostly soaked into the bread below. So disregard the silverware in the pictures – I’m pretty sure silverware is not the way to go here. It is pizza, after all.

You can vary the ingredients to use whatever seems good to you. Any crusty chewy bread will work, and any cheese or cooked meat. Any way you go about it, this should be an easy and fun breakfast to put together and eat.

Fried Egg and Sausage Ciabatta Breakfast Pizzas (from Bon Appétit January 2008, but really epicurious.com)

BA note: Make this recipe your own by using different sausages and cheeses. For a Middle Eastern spin, sub in lamb sausage and feta. Serve pizzas with hot sauce.

Bridget note: I used breakfast sausage, cheddar cheese, pane a l’ancienne, and far less oil.

Makes 8 servings

1 loaf ciabatta bread (about 1 pound)
1 cup chopped green onions
8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces sliced hot pepper Monterey Jack cheese
1 pound spicy or sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
8 large eggs

Preheat oven to 450°F. Cut bread horizontally in half. Place bread halves, cut side up, on separate baking sheets. Mix onions and 6 tablespoons oil in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve 2 tablespoons onion oil and spread remaining onion oil over bread. Top with cheese.

Sauté Italian sausages in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up with spoon, about 7 minutes. Divide sausage among bread halves. Bake pizzas until cheese melts and bread begins to crisp, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in each of 2 large skillets over medium-high heat. Crack 4 eggs into each skillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let eggs stand in skillets while pizzas bake.

Arrange 4 eggs atop each pizza. Spoon reserved onion oil over eggs. Cut each pizza between eggs into 4 pieces.

smitten kitchen recipes

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Smitten Kitchen is my new favorite cookbook. In the past month since discovering Deb’s blog, I’ve made seven of her recipes. When I’m trying to come up with cooking ideas, I just scan through her recipe page. Rather than rehash each dish in detail, I’m combining them into one entry.

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Boozy Baked French Toast

Of all of Deb’s recipes that I’ve made recently, this is my and Dave’s favorite. For one thing, it takes all of 10 minutes to put together, and that can be done the night before. In the morning, just cook it in the oven for half an hour, and voila – a great breakfast. The recipe is supposedly adaptable to whatever flavors you’re in the mood for or you have available, but I’ve only made it one way. I was planning to follow Deb’s recent favorite, with triple sec and orange zest, but I use “planning” loosely, as I didn’t actually bother to get either triple sec or orange zest. Instead, I used Grand Marnier as the alcohol, the zest of one grapefruit, and a splash of vanilla extract. It was fantastic. It was like Creamsicle French Toast. I made it again a week later, exactly the same way. This is why I have a loaf of challah in my freezer right now, and a grapefruit languishing in my crisper drawer, waiting for me to get back from New Mexico and make this great and easy dish for my friends who will be visiting.

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Artichoke Ravioli

I love the idea of homemade ravioli. I enjoy working with fresh pasta, and I like the option of customizing my ravioli filling to whatever strikes my interest – mushrooms, squash, seafood, and in this case, artichokes. The problem is, I sort of suck at making it. Both times I’ve tried, the pasta has been too watery after being boiled. This particular recipe is baked after being boiled, which helped dry it out somewhat, but clearly I need to work on my technique. Ravioli is too much tedious work to get anything less than amazing results. I’m not ready to give up yet. This filling was, fortunately, very good. The simple sauce was good too, although I used canned tomatoes instead of fresh, it being February and all.

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Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I already have a macaroni and cheese recipe that I love, but Deb’s photos of a crispy cheesy crust and creamy cheesy sauce had me intrigued to try a new recipe. Did I mention that it’s cheesy? This recipe uses twice as much cheese per pasta as my other favorite recipe. So I made it, and it was delicious, but Dave and I couldn’t decide if it was as good as my other favorite. So I made them side-by-side, which was, well, confusing. Neither recipe is particularly difficult, but I was making half recipes of each sauce, then storing half of that in the fridge so we could have an easy but fresh meal a few days later, which means that each sauce was topping only a quarter recipe of pasta. There was a screw-up here and there, but nothing vital. We weren’t able to pick a favorite. I know they’re both macaroni and cheese, but it felt like comparing apples and oranges. The Cooks Illustrated recipe is creamy and smooth, both in texture and flavor, while the new recipe was far sharper (did I mention that it has twice as much cheese as the other?) and a bit grainy, but oh, that crisp crust was fun. I think I’ll be combining the two in the future. I know Cooks Illustrated uses half cheddar because of its great flavor, and half Monterey jack because of its smooth melting qualities, but I’m going to try using 75% cheddar and 25% Monterey jack next time to get some more of that sharp flavor. I’m also going to skip the bread crumb topping and use more cheese instead, then put that under the broiler to brown the cheese. I think this will combine my favorite aspects of each recipe. (I was also just reminded of a recipe I used to love that uses smoked gouda, so I need to revisit that one. Hey, I love cheesy pasta.)

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Hoisin and Honey Pork Ribs

When I was a kid, pork ribs were my favorite meal, and I requested them for every birthday. I grew out of that when I decided that ribs were too much effort and mess to eat when there was so little meat. But these ribs were certainly worth the effort. I wanted to make them because I recently tried hoisin sauce for the first time and loved it. This was my first time cooking pork ribs, plus I’m not usually very good with the broiler, but everything worked out great. Because the ribs are boiled first, the broiler is just to crisp them and caramelize the sauce, so it was easy.

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Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares

This recipe called to me as soon as Deb posted it. Cheesecake filling, graham cracker crust, chocolate glaze, all mixed up with dulce de leche. I’m not really familiar with dulce de leche, but caramelized milk certainly sounds great. But wow, these were rich. I can usually handle rich foods without a problem, but these were too much even for me. It helped when I thought of them like candy instead of like a bar cookie and started cutting them into the 1-inch squares that the recipe recommends. I did enjoy them, but I don’t think I’ll be making them again.

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Truffles

It sounds like Valentine’s Day is becoming mostly an excuse for couples to enjoy a good meal together, which I think is great. Dave and I weren’t even going to do that (we were having the second day of mac and chz comparison on V-Day), and I was okay with that. I found out on February 13th that Dave wanted to do something extra, so I surprised him by making truffles the next day. I loosely followed the recipe for Robert Linxe’s truffles, except, less fancy. I didn’t use Volrhona chocolate, I didn’t wear gloves, and I didn’t simmer the cream multiple times. It wasn’t worried about details this time. It was my first time making truffles, and I think they came out well. I want to try them again, but comparing a number of different quality chocolates to see how much it really matters.

Pizza Dough

Deb discussed a recipe for pizza dough that replaced some of the water with white wine and added a little honey. I tried it, and while the dough wasn’t sweet and the wine flavor wasn’t obvious, it made a really good pizza crust. Even Dave, who didn’t know that I had changed the recipe, pointed out that it was particularly good. I forgot that this recipe was related to this entry in my blog, so I didn’t think to take a picture, which is unfortunate because the crust was really crisp and light.

Next on the list is Lighter-Than-Air Chocolate Cake. Flourless chocolate cakes are usually dense confections, so I’m interested in this very light version. And then, who knows? World Peace Cookies? Pretzel rolls? Risotto alla Barolo? There’s so many great recipes to choose from, all beautifully photographed and enticingly described.

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salty little fish (pissaladiere)

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Like many people I know, I worked at a pizza joint as a teenager. One night, as another employee handed a pizza to a customer, I caught a whiff of an awful odor – like rotting fish, ruining a perfectly good pizza. This was my first firsthand experience with anchovies. Yuck.

It took Cooks Illustrated (of course) and their recipe for pasta e fagioli to convince to me give the little fishies another chance. In this soup, the anchovies are used much like garlic, first minced and then used to flavor the sauce. When I opened the can, I expected to be confronted with the rotted smell that I still remembered from ten years before. Instead, I smelled…nothing. Nothing rotted, nothing even the least bit fishy. I took a hesitant nibble of one.

Whoa!!! Careful eating anchovies straight from the can! It’s like eating a fillet of salt.

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These days, I love anchovies. My husband, unfortunately, does not. One too many anchovy pizza deliveries as he worked his way through college, I suspect. I don’t know what those pizza places do to their anchovies to make them smell so horrid; my theory is incorrect storage. Also, to me, slabs of fish on tomato sauce and cheese seems inconsistent.

Not that I don’t like anchovies on pizza, mind you. But I like to skip the tomatoes and cheese and lay the little fishes on a pile of caramelized onions, dotted with nicoise olives and sprinkled with parsley. Ah, pissaladiere. This was one of my favorite dinners for myself before I married an anchovy-hater.

And now it’s my entry for Hay Hay It’s Donna Day, hosted this month by Joey of 80 breakfasts. I certainly encourage you to give anchovies a chance if you’ve always been convinced that they’re nothing but a foul pizza topping. They are far more than that – subtly meaty and a bit salty even after being rinsed. I admit, however, that this is probably not a good recipe for the anchovy un-initiated.

But for the rest of us, what a treat of contrasting flavors that play so well together!

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Pissaladiere – Provencal Pizza (from Cooks Illustrated)

Instant yeast is almost always sold under a marketing name; look for “rapid rise,” “perfect rise,” or “quick rise.” If your food processor includes a plastic dough blade attachment, use it; its short blades and dull edges make kneading easier on the motor. If not, the regular metal blade works almost as well. For best flavor, use high-quality oil-packed anchovies; in a recent tasting, Ortiz were our favorite. The dough in this recipe rises for 1 to 1 ½ hours. If a longer or overnight rise is more convenient, make the dough with ½ teaspoon of instant yeast and let it rise in the refrigerator for 16 to 24 hours. The caramelized onions can also be made a day ahead and refrigerated.

Makes 2 tarts, 8 to 10 first course servings

Dough:
2 cups bread flour (11 ounces), plus extra for dusting work surface
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional oil for brushing dough and greasing hands
1 cup water (8 ounces), warm (about 110 degrees)

Caramelized Onions:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
½ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon water

Olives, Anchovies, and Garnishes:
olive oil
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup niçoise olives, pitted and chopped coarse
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and chopped coarse (about 2 tablespoons)
12 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry for (optional) garnish
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves (optional)

1. For the dough: In workbowl of food processor fitted with plastic dough blade (see note), pulse flour, yeast, and salt to combine, about five 1-second pulses. With machine running, slowly add oil, then water, through feed tube; continue to process until dough forms ball, about 15 seconds. Generously dust work surface with flour; using floured hands, transfer dough to work surface and knead lightly, shaping dough into ball. Lightly oil 1-quart measuring cup or small bowl, place dough in measuring cup, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside in draft-free spot until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

2. For the caramelized onions: While dough is rising, heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until shimmering but not smoking; stir in onions, salt, and brown sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until moisture released by onions has evaporated and onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until onions have softened and are medium golden brown, about 20 minutes longer. Off heat, stir in water; transfer to bowl and set aside. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, set baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.

3. To shape, top, and bake the dough: When dough has doubled, remove from measuring cup and divide into 2 equal pieces using dough scraper. Working with one piece at a time, form each piece into rough ball by gently pulling edges of dough together and pinching to seal. With floured hands, turn dough ball seam-side down. Cupping dough with both hands, gently push dough in circular motion to form taut ball. Repeat with second piece. Brush each lightly with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut two 20-inch lengths parchment paper and set aside.

4. Coat fingers and palms of hands generously with oil. Using dough scraper, loosen 1 piece of dough from work surface. With well-oiled hands, hold dough aloft and gently stretch to 12-inch length. Place on parchment sheet and gently dimple surface of dough with fingertips. Using oiled palms, push and flatten dough into 14- by 8-inch oval. Brush dough with oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Leaving ½-inch border around edge, sprinkle ¼ cup olives, 1 tablespoon chopped anchovies, and 1 teaspoon thyme evenly over dough, then evenly scatter with half of onions. Arrange 6 whole anchovy fillets, if using, on tart and sprinkle with fennel seeds, if using. Slip parchment with tart onto pizza peel (or inverted rimless baking sheet), then slide onto hot baking stone. Bake until deep golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes. While first tart bakes, shape and top second tart.

5. Remove tart from oven with peel or pull parchment onto baking sheet; transfer tart to cutting board and slide parchment out from under tart. Cool 5 minutes; sprinkle with 1½ teaspoons parsley, if using. Cut tart in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise to form 8 pieces; serve immediately. While first tart cools, bake second tart.

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