While there are is a place for purity and tradition, there are some moments (and foods) that will forgive a bit of artistic licence. In every life there are times when one must stand up for personal preference, give into craving and possibly bend a culinary rule or two to satiate the appetite. And what food presents the perfect canvas for such a creative expression? You need not look further than the not-so-humble pizza.
When my dear Sean and I first started setting up house, I quickly came to realise that not only did we have to become experts in the tactful delivery of “your lamp does not go with my couch,” and the art of paint selection, but we also had to be adept in the United Nations level-negotiation of what would grace the dinner table. The decision of what to eat would take greater diplomacy than interior design discussions ever would.
You see, while my dear Sean and I have similar palates, we there is a disparity to our cravings. Where I salivate over something decadent and chocolate, he will pick the apple pie. I truly dream about unctuous scrambled eggs, whereas Sean will be looking forward to pancakes. Neither finds the other's choices distasteful; we do like the same things, but we do not always want them at the same time.
Enter the great leveller - the pizza. Especially when made yourself, a pizza allows for your personal stamp; thin crust or thick, red sauce or white or none at all, meats or vegetables. It is the opportunity to create the perfect taste combination to suit, well, your tastes, no matter how capricious they might be.
This combination of salty ribbons of jamón and creamy ricotta, topped with a verdant tangle of peppery rocket, brings some of my cravings together. The citrus-spiked vinaigrette echoes the aromatic lemon thyme and cuts the richness of the cheeses. While I have provided a recipe, it is only a framework for your own creativity - I mean, who am I to say what the perfect slice to be?
Jamón and ricotta pizza with rocket salad
My own interpretation from many points of inspiration. This recipe makes four thin crust pizzas. If you prefer a doughier crust, make the bases smaller than directed. You will need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
For the dough
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar (I heap this a bit)
1 cup lukewarm water
2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal, for dusting
For the toppings and salad
240 g mozzarella, sliced thinly
240 g fresh ricotta cheese
8 slices of Jamón (serrano or ibérico) or Prosciutto di Parma
3 fresh lemon thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Four handfuls of baby rocket (arugula) leaves
Juice from 1/2 lemon, approximately 2 scant tablespoons
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar (or thereabouts)
7-8 tablespoons olive oil, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and water. Set aside in a warm spot for 5 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and you begin to smell a musty, yeasty aroma.
In another bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture and olive oil. Using your well-floured hands or a wooden spoon, slowly incorporate the flour into the wet ingredients until a dough is formed. Adjust the amount of flour until the dough comes together into a clean ball (see note).
Turn out the dough on a lightly-floured surface and knead for 5-8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. To best test this, poke your finger into the ball of dough - if it springs back, it is ready. Divide the dough into four equal portions and lightly shape into balls. Either on the floured work surface or on a floured baking tray, cover the balls with a clean, damp tea towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
On a floured surface, flatten a ball of the dough with your fingers, then roll it out into a 22 cm - 25 cm round (between 9”-10”). Dust a pizza peel or a piece of parchment paper with cornmeal then place the round on top. Repeat with remaining balls of dough.
Preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F). Place a pizza stone, unglazed tiles or an overturned sheet pan in the oven and allow to preheat for at least 30 minutes.
Brush pizza bases with olive oil, if desired. Top with mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. Roughly tear the jamón into long strips and lay them among the cheese. Sprinkle over the lemon thyme sprigs and season with pepper. For added flavour, finish with another drizzle of olive oil.
Bake on preheated stone or sheet pan for 8-10 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and golden.
Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette by whisking all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly. In a separate, medium sized bowl, toss the rocket with the amount of dressing you see fit. Personally, I like the dressing to be a bit scant; only glossing the leaves rather than weighing them down. If you have remaining vinaigrette, place in jar and store in the fridge - it should keep for a good week or so.
After the pizza is out of the oven and cooled a minute or so, top with the salad and serve immediately.
Makes 4 pizzas.
• The dough sometimes requires up to an addtional 1/4 cup of flour to come together.
• I have chosen to add a slug of olive oil to the dough as I prefer my crust to have a bit of tooth but still tenderness. Omit this if you prefer a drier, cracker-llike crust.
• The slower the dough rises, the more improved the taste. While keeping my little swaddled dough babies out of drafts I do not put them in a particularly warm place either.
• I do not salt the pizza, as the dough has been well-seasoned and the tang of the vinaigrette will season the toppings enough.
• Alternatively, if you prefer a softer jamón: reserve the slices and bake as written with just the cheeses and lemon thyme. Top the pizza with the jamón once it is baked, then with the salad as directed.
• For a particularly bright tasting vinaigrette, include some finely grated lemon zest and some finely minced shallot.