The average American eats approximately 46 slices of pizza each year. I guess I am below average in my contributions to this $40 billion piece of the restaurant industry pie. On the other hand, if you look at our household contribution, we are most likely doing our part. Eric does love his pizza.
I can count on one hand the number of times that I eat pizza each year. That being said, when I decide to indulge in a slice, I am extremely picky as to where it comes from. In Las Vegas, we always go to Settebello, a bit off the beaten Strip for any tourists planning to visit, but well worth the 15 minute drive. The owner went all the way to Naples, Italy to find his pizza maker and pizza oven, they only use imported products, and their crust is charred on the outside, chewy on the inside. I am a connoisseur of pizza crust and anything but the best is a deal breaker for me.
My brother, Jay, used to live in New York City, and any time that I would visit him, I would always want to go to John’s Pizza on Bleecker Street. They’ve been around for almost 90 years, so they must be doing something right, right? To me, this is straightforward New York pizza: Thin, slightly charred crust, seasoned sauce, and fresh cheese. You just know that they have a bunch of guys in the back named Vinnie, Tony, Frankie……….oh, and John.
When I visit my parents in Delaware, we almost always make the half-hour drive up to Pizza By Elizabeths, a sort of gourmet twist on the California Pizza Kitchen style pizza. Owned by two ladies named Elizabeth, each pizza on the menu has an Elizabeth (or Betty)connection, such as "The Taylor" or "The Rubble." Toppings choices are abundant, from meats to veggies, to cheeses, so this is not a place for the indecisive, but you can actually leave feeling like you’ve had a well-rounded and healthy meal.
This version was inspired by a combination of my three favorite pizza joints. The simple tomato, basil, and cheese on a thin crust is my nod to John’s. The individual size and healthiness factor is a la Elizabeths, and the authentic Italian look and crisp chewy crust is so Settebello. Serve it as snack or as a meal alongside a salad. Here are some extra tips for these tomato-topped crowd pleasers:
- The pizza dough for this recipe can either be homemade or store bought. I do not recommend buying the processed pizza dough that comes in a tube, rather, try to find a higher quality version, such as the kind sold at Trader Joe’s for about $1.99. You will need two of these for this recipe.
- If you choose to make your own crust (which is much easier than it seems), I recommend Ina Garten’s recipe, which I have been using for years. Sometimes I change it up a bit by using whole wheat flour or by adding fresh, finely chopped herbs to the dough.
- For a homemade pesto recipe, check out my Arugula Walnut Pesto Chicken Salad post. You might need to thin the pesto that you are using out with a bit of hot water in order to be able to drizzle it over the pizza.
- Feel free to substitute other cheeses, such as fontina, buffalo mozzarella, or asiago for the ones below.
- Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs, and they can be found in the Asian foods section of most grocery stores.
Charred Tomato and Pesto Pizzas
3/4 pound grape tomatoes
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
3 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
5 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Homemade or store-bought pizza dough (see note above)
1 cup grated aged Gouda cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano–Reggiano cheese
Fresh or store-bought pesto
Preheat the broiler. In a medium baking dish, toss the tomatoes with the panko, garlic, shallot, basil, olive oil, and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Broil the tomato mixture, about 6 inches away from the heat, for about 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes are lightly browned and start to pop.
Preheat the oven to 500F degrees. Set a pizza stone on the bottom rack and heat for at least 15 minutes.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each ball of pizza dough to a 7-inch round. Transfer the rounds to the bottom side of a baking sheet or another flat surface from which you can easily transfer the rounds to the pizza stone. Spoon one-sixth of the tomato topping on each round. Slide the pizzas onto the heated stone and bake for about 5 minutes, or until sizzling and just set. Remove from the oven and sprinkle each with one-sixth of the Gouda and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses. Return the pizzas to the oven and bake for about 5 minutes longer, until the cheeses are melted and the crust is lightly browned. Drizzle with some of the pesto and serve. Repeat the process with the remaining dough, toppings, cheeses, and pesto.