This past Saturday, I was in the process of making some homemade white sandwich bread when I decided for dinner that night, I'd use some of the bread dough and make a couple of pizzas for my family. My only problem was, what kind of pizza? My youngest daughter prefers a white, or bianche, pizza, and my husband is more of a traditionalist and therefore he prefers rosse pizza. What's the difference between bianche and rosse? Well, rosse pizzas are tomato based while bianche pizza, also known as bianca, is tomato-free. Interestingly enough, even though tomatoes had reached Italy by the 1530's, they weren't introduced into Italian cuisine until the 18th and early 19th century. Prior to that, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous and were grown for decorative purposes only. It was the innovative, (and quite possibly starving), peasants of Naples that first starting using tomatoes in their food and, well, the rest is history!
Personally, I'll eat pizza any way, any time so bianche or rosse would have suited me just fine. But given my daughter and husband's propensity for one over the other, I decided one of each was the only way to go. You can't please all of the people, all of the time, but, hope springs eternal in the human breast and I hoped by making one of each, I could make everyone happy.
The most standard of all rosse pizzas is the Pizza Margherita, which was so named for Italy's Queen Margherita who, in 1889, visited the Pizzeria Brandi in Naples where the Pizzaiola (pizza maker) on duty that day made a special pizza for the queen that contained the three colors of the Italian flag: red (tomatoes), green (basil) and white (mozzarella). Unlike the pizzas we are accustomed to here in North America, Pizza Margherita isn't loaded down with lots of ingredients which actually allows the flavours of the tomatoes and basil to be the stars of the show.
Pizza Margherita was going to be our rosse pizza, that much I was certain of. But what about the bianche? I have made bianche pizza using ricotta, blueberries and basil in the past, but I didn't have ricotta or blueberries on hand, which meant I was going to have to improvise. What could I substitute for the ricotta? Hmmm....soft light cream cheese could be made into some sort of savory white sauce. And what would I use in place of the blueberries? I looked at the fruit bowl on my kitchen table and I saw oranges, banana, Granny Smith apples and two beautiful Bosc pears. I opted to use he Bosc pears.
I knew the Pizza Margherita would be a snap to put together, but the Pizza Bianche was going to take a little preparation. I decided that caramelized pears would be a nice touch on top of a savory white sauce, so I peeled and cored the two Bosc pears and sliced them into match-stick size pieces. Next, I added 1 Tbsp butter to a hot skillet and when the butter was all bubbly, I tossed in the sliced pears and added about 1 tsp of brown sugar for good measure. I let the pears sizzle away for a couple of minutes before reducing the heat to medium low and letting them take their time to become a beautiful golden, caramelized color, which took about 5-7 minutes.
While the pears were caramelizing, I added 4 ounces of soft light cream cheese to a bowl. I decided fresh rosemary would pair nicely with the pears, so I removed the leaves from two sprigs of rosemary, gave them a really fine chop and placed them in a bowl with 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil for two purposes: one, to soften up the rosemary, and two, to infuse the olive oil with the flavour and aroma of rosemary. (My plan was to drizzle the infused oil over all of the toppings once I had my Pizza Bianche all ready to go).
In the bowl with the soft light cream cheese I added the zest of half a lemon, the juice of that very same half a lemon, one clove of garlic, finely grated, 2 Tbsp of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a pinch or two of freshly ground black pepper. I didn't add any salt to the mixture because, for me, the Parmesan cheese adds enough saltiness, but hey? Whatever turns your crank, right? If you wanna add salt, go for it! I mixed up all of the ingredients in the bowl and then I spooned in the rosemary leaves that had been soaking in the olive oil and stirred the sauce once again to incorporate the rosemary. I wasn't too concerned about some of the oil getting into my cream cheese mixture...it was all going to be blended together eventually anyway.
I wanted to make sure there was enough savoriness to my Pizza Bianche to balance the sweetness of the caramelized pears and tanginess of the cream cheese and fresh lemon, so I thinly sliced some red onion and roughly chopped a handful of fresh baby spinach. All that was left to do was build my pizzas!
For the Pizza Bianche, I spread the 'white' sauce onto the pizza dough, leaving about a 1/2" border for the crust. Next I added the red onion and roughly chopped baby spinach, the caramelized pears and some sliced bocconcini. I grated on some Parmesan cheese and drizzled the rosemary infused olive oil over everything.
Just in case you're not familiar with bocconcini, it's a semi-soft, white, rindless, unripened mild cheese made from smooth, pasteurized cow's milk. It can come in the form of little oval bite-size balls, a large ball the size of a jumbo egg or pre-sliced, but it's usually always packed in a light brine to preserve it's freshness. Bocconcini pairs very well with a multitude of flavours and ingredients and is quite similar to the traditional Buffalo mozzarella used in Italy.
Prior to moving on to prepping the Pizza Margherita, I preheated my oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. After spreading the pizza dough out onto the pizza pan, I spread roasted tomato sauce, (nope, I didn't make my own sauce...I poured it straight from a store-bought jar!), and topped the sauce with slices of bocconcini and chiffonade fresh basil. (To chiffonade the basil, simply layer leaves of fresh basil on top of one another, roll them up and slice across width-wise to make long strips of basil). Because I had some rosemary infused olive oil leftover from the Pizza Bianche I decided , 'what the heck?', and drizzled that over the top of the Pizza Margherita too! And, because I love parmesan, I added some freshly grated Parmesan too! (Taking great liberties here, I know but hey...my pizza, my way!).
I placed both pizzas on the middle rack in the preheated 425 degree Fahrenheit oven and let them cook until the crust was golden brown and the cheese all gooey and melted. Normally, this would take 15-18 minutes but by the 16 minute mark, my mouth was salivating so much I thought I'd drown so I simply had to remove them and call the troops to the kitchen for dinner.
Oh baby...doesn't that look DELISH? The bread dough I had used for my pizza crust had risen slightly to give a tender but thick crust around the edge and it was soooooo yummy! And the smell? Get out of here! (For my bread dough recipe, click HERE. To make the pizza dough, for two pizzas, simply half the bread dough recipe and the dough is ready to be used after one rise).
I took a chance and plated one slice of each pizza onto everyone's plate and decided to let the pizza crumbs fall where they may. Both my husband and my daughter thought both pizzas were delicious, but when it came time to get another piece, my daughter reached for the Pizza Bianche with Caramelized Pear and Rosemary and my husband, the Pizza Margherita. I guess you can bring the horses to the water but you can't make them drink from it twice in one trip.
The caramelized pear was the perfect balance to the tangy cream cheese and lemon, while the garlic and red onion added the perfect savory notes and the baby spinach and bocconcini brought everything together in perfect harmony.
As for the Pizza Margherita, there's just something so simplistically wonderful about the combination of tomatoes and fresh basil. This pizza was aromatic and unpretentious and I couldn't help but think it was very close to authentic Italian pizza made by a real pizzaioli. PIzza Margherita proves, once again, that food doesn't have to be complicated to be good!
Now, I'm not claiming that my homemade pizza can possibly compare to Neopolitan pizzas given the specialità tradizionale garantita designation in Italy since 2010, but, I do prefer it over most of the fast delivery pizza joints around and in the absence of being able to go to one of the fancier restaurants that make wood fired oven pizzas every Saturday night for pizza, this homemade pizza will more than suffice. (Besides...it costs me less to make than to buy AND both my husband and I can sip on a couple of Peroni Italian beer without worrying about who's going to drive home.).
This Tale of Two Pizzas ended with satisfied eaters, full bellies and the wonderful aroma of bread dough pizzas topped with caramelized pears, rosemary, garlic, onion, tomatoes and basil wafting through the house all evening. What more could we ask for?
extra freshly grated parmesan cheese to top (optional)
Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add butter. When butter starts to bubble, add sliced pears and 1 tsp brown sugar - stir to combine. Let simmer for a minute or so and then reduce heat and allow pears to caramelize, approximately 5-7 minutes. When golden and caramelized, remove from heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, add finely chopped rosemary leaves to 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil to allow leaves to soften and oil to infuse with aroma and flavours of fresh rosemary. (Rosemary will be added to cream cheese sauce and infused oil will be drizzled over pizza prior to putting in the oven).
In small bowl combine light cream cheese, 1 clove garlic, finely grated, lemon juice, lemon zest, parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine. Spoon rosemary leaves that have been soaking in olive oil into cream cheese mixture. Don't worry about some of the oil being added to the cream cheese - it's all going to combine eventually anyway! Stir cream cheese mixture.
Spread dough out onto 12 inch pizza pan or stone. Spread cream cheese sauce over top of dough, leaving a 1/2" border for the crust. Top sauce with roughly chopped baby spinach, thinly sliced red onion and caramelized pears. Add slices of bocconcini (or fresh mozzarella if using). Drizzle toppings with rosemary infused olive oil and add freshly grated Parmesan cheese to your liking.
Bake in preheated 425 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15-18 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and cheese melted. Remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!
For printer friendly version of this recipe, CLICK HERE!