Smoky Pepper Pizza

Smoky Pepper Pizza

Late summer's bounty of peppers and herbs combine with smoky cheese to make this unusually flavorful pizza. Of course, you can use store-bought pizza dough or pizza crust. You could even doctor a pizzeria pizza, if you're feeling especially averse to cooking: add any other vegetables you have on hand, including cooked potato slices, fresh tomatoes, sautéed summer squash, or steamed greens. And don't forget the sprinkling of fresh herbs, which adds a powerful punch of flavor.

Yield: Makes 2 12-inch pizzas

Ingredients
2 large red bell peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, peeled and pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs: basil, parsley, thyme, marjoram, cilantro, or some combination (in a pinch, you can chop celery leaves)
1 pound pizza dough, store-bought or homemade (recipe follows)
Cornmeal for dusting the peel or pan
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound smoked mozzarella, grated

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 500 and, if you're using a pizza stone, set it in the oven to heat.
  2. Roast the peppers: cut them in half, remove the stems, seeds, and white membranes, then place them, cut-side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Roast them under a preheated broiler, as close to the flame as you can, until they are mostly blackened, around 10 minutes. Bunch the foil up around them so that they steam as they cool, then, when they're cool enough to handle, slip the blackened skins off of them (it's fine if some of the skin clings to them).
  3. Slice the peppers thin and place them in a bowl, then dress with the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and half the herbs.
  4. Now shape the dough: the idea is to stretch it in a kind of coaxing way until it's thin but not tearing. Begin by using the heels of your hands to flatten dough as much as possible, then hold the dough down in the middle with one hand while using the fingers of the other to gently pull the dough outward around its perimeter. If it stops stretching, let it rest for a few minutes. Try holding the dough aloft on your knuckles and gently stretch and turn it, letting gravity do some of the work for you, until the dough is more or less 12 inches in diameter. If a hole forms, pinch it closed.
  5. Place the stretched dough onto a wooden pizza peel that has been heavily dusted with cornmeal (if you're using a pizza stone) or onto a pan that has been brushed with olive oil, then sprinkled with 2 tablespoons cornmeal (any large pan -- a cookie sheet, with or without sides -- is fine; a round pan works too).
  6. Top the dough with half the onion, half the peppers along with half their juice, and half the cheese. Slide it onto the pizza stone (or slide the pan into the oven), and bake until the bottom is crisp and the cheese is bubbling, 7-12 minutes. Top with half the remaining herbs and cool it on a baking rack while you top and bake the other pizza.

For the dough:

Ingredients
1/2 envelope (1 teaspoon) active dry yeast
1 cup warm (not hot) water
Pinch of sugar 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour mixed with 1/2 cup whole wheat flour 

1 tablespoon each toasted wheat germ and ground flaxseed (optional)

2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)

1 tablespoon olive oil


Directions

Sprinkle yeast over water in measuring cup, add sugar, and let dissolve for about 5 minutes. If any dry yeast remains on the surface after that, stir briefly to mix in. Proceed with one of the following three methods:

Food processor: Pulse flour with wheat germ and flaxseed, if using, and salt. Add oil to yeast mixture and, with processor running, pour liquid slowly into the feed tube. The dough should cohere and form a ball that sits on top of the blade. If it doesn't, it's either too wet or too dry, and you should add water or flour accordingly, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the ball forms. Scrape dough (it will be sticky) onto a lightly floured counter, sprinkle with flour, and knead 2 or 3 times to form a ball.

Stand mixer: Pour yeast mixture and oil into bowl of mixer. Using paddle attachment, mix in dry ingredients on low speed (adjust dough with flour or water as directed above if it seems too wet or too dry) then switch to dough hook and knead about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and springy.

By hand: Pour yeast mixture into a large bowl with oil, and stir in dry ingredients until the mixture coheres into a mass of dough, about 1 minute. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then knead, adding as little flour as possible, until dough feels smooth and springy — 8 minutes or so.

  1. Next, whichever method you've used, place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place to rise for about an hour, or until it doubles in size.
  2. Flour your fist and punch down dough, then turn it out onto a lightly floured counter, knead once or twice, and use a sharp knife to cut it into two pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball, cover balls loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest for 5 minutes.

See all recipes from Catherine Newman's "Dalai Mama Dishes" blog.

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