That glorious summer dough. It rarely fails to be extra fluffy and beautiful. So many fun ideas to explore when you just know your starter will explode in the summer heat.
Summer is a very conflicting season for me these days. On the one hand, there are bushels of beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables to play around with, long, lazy nights and the perfect weather to tackle a few fourteeners. On the other hand, working an oven in 100-degree weather is brutal. Now, in this new Post world we find ourselves in, adding a mask to the equation is a whole new level of hot.
Like most pizza makers, I always get the question, “what’s your favorite style of pizza?” The response for me is a complicated one. Pizza is a lot like music. My mood is what dictates the style I crave. So, for me, summer pizza is an all-encompassing thing. It is not only the bounty of produce to put on the pie, the season also entices me to create different styles, such as boards of airy Roman and grilled pies drizzled with hearty portions of extra virgin olive oil. Whereas in the winter months, I like to bury myself in the comfort of sauce heavy Sicilians and Grandmas.
Every region has certain crops that thrive. In Colorado, we don’t have the same range of year-round produce as some places, but we have our things. And beautiful greens are one of them. Fresh greens also happen to be one of my favorite pizza toppings because they are so versatile and require little prep other than a good washing. I like to add them raw in a heaping pile under the cheese. They cook down perfectly by the time the pie is pulled from the oven. The Green Mountain is one of our most popular pies. It is called that because we put a mountain of spinach on with mozzarella, ricotta, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Greens are so diverse as they are all different in flavors and textures. To soften some of the more bitter greens like dandelion, beet, kale or stinging nettles, simply round them out with creamy, nutty cheeses and salty meats.
Another great way to incorporate greens on a pie is with pesto. While I always like to use a handful of basil in almost every variation, as long as you have the basic proportions down, you can make an unlimited number of combinations and flavors of pesto with different greens and nuts. Making a vegan version is also simple by excluding the Parmesan and adding in a hit of lemon and salt. In addition to garlic, it’s fun to add those elusive varietals of allium in the short windows that they are available, like garlic scapes and spring onions. A few fun ones other than the classic basil and pine nut pesto to play around with:
- Beet green and walnut pesto
- Rainbow chard and almond pesto
- Kale and pumpkin seed pesto
- Herb (add whatever you want: parsley, cilantro) and pistachio pesto
And then there is fruit. Now, I am not much of a desert pizza person. Don’t get me wrong, I love dessert. I don’t really feel a meal, or even a snack really, is complete without something sweet at the end. Dessert pizza just isn’t my thing. And, while I am not the girl to reach for the bacon doughnut, I do love the sweet and savory fruit combinations. Peaches in Colorado are outstanding. It can easily be paired with some salty prosciutto or guanciale and a few spicy sprigs of arugula. Fruit also goes really well with all of that pesto. You can use any other variety of stone fruits or if you have access to a plethora of berries, indulge in those.
Another great crop in Colorado is corn. The sweet kernels are perfect for pizza. I, of course, love to combine it with the beautiful chilies that pop up here in summer, such as Anaheim. It’s perfect with a younger cheese like Cotija or a raw goat or sheep’s milk cheese.
I have been lucky enough to visit a few tomato canning facilities. Both outstanding products. While they were in different parts of the world, they shared a few common things. The biggest one is that they have a short canning period, only around 90 days. This is because they can and process the fruit at their peak. At least in my opinion, fresh tomatoes are not good year-round, which is why we don’t offer them on our menu. But, at their juicy peak in the summer, tomatoes are one of the greatest gems in the world.
Summer also means one of my favorite cooking styles, grilling. Until last year I hadn’t really delved into grilled pizzas and it was really by accident that I realized just how great they truly are. I had stupidly signed up to compete in the Neapolitan pizza category in Naples and hadn’t actually made Neapolitan pizza in over eight years. Now, I am the kind of person who likes to fly by the seat of her pants. I have ideas and just expect that they will work out somehow, which means I am not always the most organized when it comes to planning. I would much rather just wing it and hope for the best. Anyway, a few weeks before the competition I decided I needed to revisit my Neapolitan dough recipe and at the time my oven at the restaurant only reached 675 degrees F. I needed one that would bake at 900. Long story short, we bought a cheaper home oven which cooked the first few pies gorgeously and left the proceeding ones very under baked, with ghost white bottoms. Charred and crispy bottoms are a must in my book, so, my brilliant husband had the idea to crank the grill up and finish them in there. They turned out beautifully. Now, grilled pizza is a summer staple here. As for the competition in Naples? Well let’s just say Peyton Smith ended up with a few less dough balls in the middle of competition and one very, very grateful pizza girl.
On that note, here’s a basic pesto recipe. Be sure your greens are fresh and your olive oil is extra virgin.
- 3 cups herbs and greens (basil, kale, etc.)
- 4 cloves garlic
- ¾ cup grated Parmesan
- ½ cup pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios, pumpkins seeds, or any other nut or seed.
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Combine everything in a food processor and blend.
- Slowly add olive oil and blend until just combined.
Audrey Kelly is the owner and pizzaiola at Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage in Boulder, CO.