While we end up spending most of our time making fudge for our customers and tending to the farm, when we do have some spare time we love to cook and entertain friends and family more than anything else. One of our favorite things to make (and eat) is what we refer to as our Spinach Explosion Pizza. We have yet to find good takeout anywhere near us in Vermont and so we choose to make our own and it's incredible.
This recipe includes everything you need to make this pizza from scratch, like we do. There's a lot of steps, and of course you can substitute along the way if you want to simplify things. That said, one thing I would strongly recommend not skipping is making your own dough.
This dough recipe came straight from my grandmother, Jean Restivo, and it's so easy and versatile. She showed me how to make it in high school, and featured it in one of her Tutto Bene cookbooks. I even made it with her on her cooking show Cucina di Nonna once (if anyone is curious, you can still see the show almost 20 years later by watching it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
We use it for all of our pizzas, calzones and can even make bread with it. When I left for college I committed it to memory, which wasn't hard to do given how simple it is (2 cups water, one tablespoon of sugar, salt, olive oil and yeast, and 5-6 cups flour). I've been using it for almost all of my pizzas ever since. It makes a lot of dough, so you can either spread it all out on a very large sheet pan if you want to make a thick, focaccia-style crust, like this recipe calls for, or divide it into 4 and make thin crust-style pizzas (or even grilled pizzas) if you prefer a thinner crust.
As for the toppings, one of the main reasons we make this pizza so often is because in the middle of summer our garden is typically overflowing with everything we need to cook this pizza. And, summertime is a great time to make this pizza on the grill, which gives the pizza itself an incredible texture and flavor, while keeping your kitchen cool and allowing you to spend your time outdoors waiting for it to cook. If you do make this pizza on your grill keep it in the sheet pan, keep an eye on the bottom so it doesn't burn, and make sure you use lots of olive oil.
We're so happy to be sharing this recipe with all of you, just as much as we love sharing the pizza itself. We hope you all love it just as much as we do! Don't forget, our fudge makes a great dessert with ANY meal. 😉
(You can also buy the premade dough that comes in bags from your supermarket if you don't have time to make your own)
6 cups All Purpose Flour
2 cups Water
1 tablespoon Yeast
1 tablespoon Salt
1 tablespoon Sugar
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
(You can use your favorite canned sauce if you don't want to make your own, or even fresh tomatoes if you have a garden)
28 ounces San Marzano Canned Tomato, diced
1 tablespoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Pepper
6 large Basil leaves
3 large Garlic cloves
2 tablespoons Butter
1 large Carrot
1 large Celery stalk
1 medium Onion
ROASTED RED PEPPERS
1 large Red bell peppers
BABY SPINACH SAUTE
(We substitute this with swiss chard sometimes and it works great. Spinach grows best in cool weather so it's not always available)
9 ounces Baby spinach (Fresh or bagged is best)
1 medium Onion
6 large Garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
(You can use store bought balsamic reduction and skip making your own)
.5 cup Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Honey
2 cups Mozzarella (Fresh if you can find it, grated or sliced.)
1 cup parmesan, grated
1. If you have access to a mixer, place the dough hook on it and add the water, salt, sugar, olive oil, and yeast. Allow the mixture to activate for five minutes before adding any of the flour. Turn the mixer on low speed, and slowly add 1 cup of flour at a time, allowing it to completely mix before adding the remaining flour. You may need to turn off the mixer and pull the dough off the hook to reposition it in the bowl if the dough starts to look too dry. When you reach the right consistency the dough should be firm and shiny without being sticky. You may need to add more water or flour until it feels right. All this can be done by hand as well, but that requires a little more work. Roll the dough into a ball and coat it with additional olive oil. Place the dough in a bowl with plastic wrap over the top. This dough is best when you allow it to rise overnight inside your refrigerator, however you can let it rise on your counter for three hours if you are in a rush.
2. The sauce starts with something the Italians like to call a "soffritto." I use it in every tomato sauce that I make. Place the garlic, carrot, onion, and celery inside a food processor and pulse it a few seconds at a time until it turns into a fine, smooth paste. Add butter to your saucepan and allow it to gently melt down before adding the soffritto. You may need to add more butter depending on the size of the vegetables you used. Make sure there is enough butter bubbling in the pan to keep the mixture very wet, and allow it to cook for 5 - 10 minutes until the ingredients have melted together, lightly browned, and smell great. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper (more or less, to taste) to the sauce. Cover the pot and allow it to come to a slow sauté before adding the diced basil. Cook the sauce until reduced to a thicker consistency, since you don't want a runny pizza. Once fully cooked, remove the sauce from heat and allow it to cool.
3. Roasted red peppers are simple to make at home, right on your gas range burners (you can use an oven broiler or a grill if you don't cook with gas). Stores always get away with charging outrageous prices for them, and once you see how easy they are to make you won't buy them again. Coat the peppers in olive oil, and place them directly on the top of your range, over a medium flame. Be sure to have tongs available, otherwise you won't be able to turn them as they cook. Don't worry about the skin turning black, you can really scorch the peppers while they roast and it only makes it easier in the end to remove the skins. Once the peppers are blackened all around, remove them from the heat and place them under cold running water. Be careful when pulling off the stem as there is hot liquid inside and you don't want to burn your hands. Allow the peppers to fill up with cold water until the heat is gone. Removing the skins is easy, just scrape them off with your hands, or use the back of a spoon. Once all the skins are removed, slice the peppers into strips the width of a pencil.
4. When sautéing the spinach, start by completely melting the butter in your frying pan. Add the sliced onion, and allow it to cook until almost translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 - 3 minutes until the garlic is on the cusp of starting to brown. Next, add the baby spinach and cover the pan for a minute while it wilts down. Using tongs, combine all the butter, onion and garlic with the spinach and turn off heat once the spinach is wilted and combined. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
5. A balsamic reduction is easy to make. Simply combine the vinegar with the honey in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling until the mixture has reduced in half, to the consistency of molasses (about seven minutes). When it's hot it will drip off the spoon much easier, so be sure not to over-boil it. If you have a vent above your range, this would be a good time to turn it on!
6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and position your oven rack on the bottom. Prepare a 11 X 17 sheet pan (or larger) by cutting a piece of parchment paper to place underneath the dough (to help prevent sticking). Use a liberal amount of olive oil on the pan and parchment paper. If you have allowed the dough to rise overnight in the refrigerator, then it will need a few hours to warm up before you can stretch it to the pan. Once the dough is ready, knead it down to shape the pan and stretch it to fit. Be sure that the dough is even on all corners. You should flip it after pressing so that both sides of the dough are coated with the olive oil. If the dough is resisting being stretched, simply let it rest for 15 minutes on the pan and try again. (You can also do what we do when it's good grilling weather and skip the sheet pan all together. We stretch out the dough and shape it directly on a well greased pizza peel with parchment and cook it on baking steel inside our propane grill at 450 degrees for 5 - 10 minutes).
7. Before adding all the ingredients to the dough, we like to season the dough with fresh cracked sea salt and pepper sprinkled evenly over the surface. Then, using a rubber spatula, spread the sauce evenly over the dough so that it covers the surface, leaving edges for the crust. Distribute the spinach mixture evenly on top of the sauce. I like to do this all by hand because it makes less of a mess and is easier to control. Next, sprinkle the 2 cups of mozzarella evenly on the top of the pizza, followed by the roasted red peppers on top of the cheese, and then the parmesan on top of everything at the end. Finally, drizzle the balsamic reduction over the top of the entire pizza in whichever fashion you choose. Don't forget to save some for the crust and you can also toss some extra olive oil on top of the pizza and the crust.
8.Bake the pizza in the preheated oven for 35 - 40 minutes (or longer, depending on how well-done you want it). The crust should be a deep golden brown. If the cheese starts to darken before the crust, place a piece of tin foil on top. Remove the pizza from the oven and allow 15 minutes to cool before cutting. We like to cut the pizza in squares so that we get 8 pieces out of it. Most people are full from 1 slice, but people like me always end up eating more than one, especially if I am not watching my carbs. Enjoy!