Sunday, August 09, 2009

Lemony Tomato Feta Cilantro Pizza

I wasn't entirely sure what to call this creation. It's almost more of a flatbread than a pizza. It's got a crust, true (in the Neapolitan style), but no lashings of red sauce, no thick top layer of mozarella. I'm open to a new name, if you've got one. Whatever it is, it's delicious.

I was initially got the idea for this pie the amazing Cheeseboard Collective, an cheesemonger/pizzeria that my Berkeley-based friends adore. Their pizzas tend to have unorthodox topping combinations, based upon the seasonal yield in Northern California. Although many sound strange (and upsetting to five-year-olds expecting pepperoni), they seldom disappoint.

Years ago I had a pizza of theirs, topped with sauce and cheese, and some of these ingredients. It was delicious, but I felt that there was a lighter, more summery pie trapped inside. I got rid of the sauce and cheese, upped the amount of chopped fresh tomatoes for moistness, and added more lemon juice and zest to tie it together. The result is reminiscent of the Minted Feta Flatbread, but more of a substantial meal, with the cilantro taking out of the Middle East, and into someplace else entirely. It's a wonderful way to use the season's fresh tomatoes, brightened up with salty cheese, sharp lemon juice, and cilantro. It's perfect with a side of brown fava beans, a salad, or just on its own.

Lemony Tomato Feta Cilantro Pizza
makes two pies

crust adapted from Jeffrey Steingarten's Neapolitan-American Pizza, although you can grab two bags of dough from the supermarket if you're tight on time


3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool water
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 cups flour


scant 4 cups chopped tomatoes, drained in a colander of excess liquid
1 cup loosely-packed crumbled feta cheese
1/2 red or yellow onion, thinly sliced in half moons
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
olive oil for drizzling
1 bunch cilantro, washed and roughly chopped
juice and zest of 1 lemon
black pepper

To make the dough:

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the yeast and water and allow to sit for a few minutes for the yeast to soften. Add salt and flour, mix with a paddle until well combined. The dough will be very moist. Mix on slow speed with a paddle attachment for a minute (this can also be done with just a wooden spoon, if needed).

Coat a clean counter with a thick layer of flour, and pour the dough out. It will drift and ooze, like a big blob. Grab the floured underside, and gently fold it over the top, covering the dough blog. Let rest 10 minutes. Divide the dough in two, shape each piece into a ball, and place each in an oiled bowl. You don't need to oil the top of the dough -- just make sure it has a nice dusting of flour. Cover tightly with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled (aobut 3-4 hours). Move to the refrigerator, for a minimum of 1 hour, an ideal of 3, and a maximum of 24.

To make the pizza:

Preheat the oven, with a pizza stone if you have, to 500 degrees for an hour. When it's been almost an hour, prepare your toppings, and remove the dough balls from the refrigerator. Stretch the dough out to pizza size, and then place it on your pre-heated stone. Working quickly, scatter half the tomatoes over the pizzas, then half the feta, garlic and onions. Drizzle olive oil over the top. Place in the oven, and bake until the crust is browned to your liking (generally 10-15 minutes). If you have a pizza peel, you can assemble the pizza on the peel, then slide it onto the stone in the oven, avoiding the frenzied construction.

When the pizza is browned, remove from the oven. Scatter half of the cilantro over the top, half of the lemon zest, and squeeze the lemon juice evenly across. Grind some fresh pepper over it (the feta should supply enough salt, but feel free to add more if your feta isn't briny enough). Slice and enjoy. Repeat with second pizza.


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