Pizzas that taste just like summer

It doesn’t take much to transform a workaday weekday into one that feels like a notable weekend. The smell of marinated meat searing on the grill makes Wednesday night feel like Friday night. The vision of a crisp, cool salad with fruit and greens from the farmers market turns back the clock from Monday to Sunday afternoon.

Few would argue with the notion that summer is all about backyard barbecue and salad on the deck. But even the best and brightest of anything can become a bit dull.

An easy way to add a spark to the summertime mealtime lineup is to switch out the plate beneath the grilled meats and the bowl that’s cradling the salad. So how about using a pizza shell in place of the dishes?

With a slight adjustment to your thinking, pizza can become the figurative and literal foundation to a scrumptious meal that builds on the traditional seasonal pleasures of local produce and barbecued proteins.

Whether it’s a crispy, flat shell you make in minutes yourself, a store-bought disk of dough you bake or an airy ciabatta toasted in the oven and then topped, you need work backward from your favorite summer barbecue and salad recipes to set the table with a fresh idea for dinner.

In other words, if you’re planning to break out the charcoal grill for barbecued chicken one night, make extra and save the pickings for a pizza topping. If you’re going to mix the greens for a big salad one day, why not leave a few handfuls undressed and use them the next night on your salad pizza.

There’s not a supermarket that doesn’t sell prepared shells that can be doctored to make them closer to homemade. For instance, sprinkle the baking pan with cornmeal, brush both the top and bottom of the pizza shell with your favorite olive oil (I prefer one without the “extra” pressings for its fruitier, more pungent taste), sprinkle the top with salt and pepper and bake in a hot oven. Another option is to toast a crusty bread loaf — an Italian focaccia or a French baguette. Cut the loaves lengthwise, brush with olive oil, and toast in a hot oven.

Always cool the yeasty base before topping it. If you don’t cool first, the topping can make the pizza soggy, especially if it involves sauce.

It’s also easy to make pizza dough from scratch by hand. In his book, “Pizza,” James McNair says start off by combining yeast, warm water and sugar and allow the mixture to stand to proof. Combine flour and salt in a large bowl and create a well in the middle. Add the yeast mixture into the well. Vigorously stir the flour with a wooden spoon into the well, beginning in the center and working toward the sides of the bowl, until the soft dough just begins to hold together.

Knead the dough onto a lightly floured surface, by pressing down on it with the heels of your hands and pushing it away from you. Then partially fold it back over itself. Continue kneading until the dough is elastic and shinny and feels smooth and springy. Too much kneading will overdevelop the gluten in the flour and result in a tough crust, Mr. McNair says.

There are many recipes to make a pizza crust from the Neapolitan thin to Chicago thick. Some are baked on on terracotta slabs and others in special round deep pans.

The most important step to take, though, is the first one: Think of your pizza shell as a plate, bowl or the bottom of a open-faced sandwich. Then move forward with whatever sounds good for supper.

Basic Pizza Dough

I’ve tried many pizza dough recipes but this is the one I use most often as it is easy and tasty. It came from a cookbook/user manual that accompanied my Cuisinart DLC-7 Superpro food processor my husband bought me when we were dating many years ago.

1 package active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (105 to 115 degrees)

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons oil plus more greasing pan

1 1/2 tablespoons cornmeal

Stir yeast and sugar into warm water and let stand for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place rack in the lower third.

In a food processor, add flour and salt. With machine running, add yeast mixture and process for about 45 seconds, until the dough pulls away from sides of the bowl. Add oil and process for 60 seconds longer.

If dough sticks to the bowl, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, processing for 10 seconds after each addition, until dough leaves sides of the bowl but remains soft.

Roll dough on a floured surface into a circle, rotating and turning the dough often and using enough flour so it doesn’t stick.

If dough resists rolling, let it rest for a few minutes and try again.

Roll dough into a 15-inch circle.

Grease a 14-inch pizza pan or cookie sheet lightly and sprinkle with cornmeal. Fold rolled dough in half loosely and then in half again. Position the point at the center of the pan and gently unfold.

Press into place from the center outward; turn up the 1-inch overhang and shape it into a rim.

Bake crust for 6 minutes.

Remove from oven. If it has puffed, press it down gently with a kitchen towel.

Allow to cool at least slightly. Top as desired.

Serves 4 to 6.

— Adapted from Cuisinart DLC-7 Superpro food processor cooking manual, 1987

Salad Pizza

This is essentially a goat cheese, red pepper, prosciutto and pine nut salad atop a pizza crust. Pick your crust — it can be a round shell, baked; or a bread loaf, toasted. I used ciabatta, which I cut lengthwise, brushed with olive oil and then toasted in a 425-degree oven.

For the salad

2 ounces arugula, torn into bite-sized pieces

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into pieces

Generous 1/4 cup chopped firm goat cheese

Handful of pine nuts

For the dressing

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Pinch of salt and pepper

1 teaspoon tomato paste

Assemble arugula, pepper, meat, cheese and pine nuts in a large bowl.

Mix oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and tomato paste for the dressing (be sure to use a very small bowl with a little whisk or a fork for mixing).

Add dressing to salad ingredients.

Distribute the dressed salad atop the hot pizza crust as soon as it comes out of the oven, so that the heat of the crust will partially wilt the arugula and melt the cheese. If the cheese doesn’t melt enough, pop it back into the oven for a minute or 2.

Serves 4 to 6.

— Adapted from “Salad Love” by David Bez (Clarkson Potter Publishers; July 2014)

Strawberries, Parmesan & Red Chicory Pizza

There’s nothing like local strawberries and so if you can lay hands on them, grab them. But even sweet store-bought ones will enliven the chickory.

For the salad

1 small head of red chicory, torn into bite-sized pieces

1 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered (do not sweeten with sugar)

1 cup Parmesan cheese shavings

Handful of hulled sesame seeds

Bunch of fresh chives, chopped

For the dressing

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Pinch of salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine chicory, strawberries, cheese, sesame seeds and chives in large bowl.

Mix oil, vinegar and seasoning for the dressing. Combine dressing and salad together.

Top hot pizza crust with the salad.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from “Salad Love” by David Bez (Clarkson Potter Publishers; July 2014)

Korean-Style Pulled Pork Pizza

I love pulled pork. I love Sriracha. I love that the following recipe makes enough to serve the pork as a main dish one night and the leftovers for pizza the following night.

1 pork butt (about 4 pounds)

2 tablespoons salt

1/4 cup black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (unless smoking or barbecuing)

1 cup Sriracha hot sauce

1 cup soy sauce

1 cup sesame oil

10 garlic cloves

3 scallions, finely sliced

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup jarred sliced jalapeno peppers

1 pear or peach, finely diced (optional)

Coat pork butt in salt and pepper.

Cook meat in a smoker or on a barbecue (using your preferred wood chips) or slow cooker on low overnight (which is my preferred method). The meat needs to be seared on all sides. (Hopefully your slow cooker has an insert that can be used on the stove top.)

In the morning, combine Sriracha sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic cloves in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

Drain fat from the slow cooker; pull the pork using two forks, essentially shredding it. Stir in the sauce.

Add scallions, sesame seeds, and jalapeno peppers, as well as the fruit, if using.

Heat through. Use the pulled pork to top your preferred pizza base.

Serves 4 as the topping on pizza then 6 to 8 as an entree on the second go-round.

— Adapted from “Hog: Perfect Pork Recipes From the Snout to the Squeak” by Richard H. Turner (Octopus Publishing Group; April 2015)

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