When I returned to the U.S. following my semester in Rome, I refused to eat Italian food, period. I knew the pasta dishes wouldn’t live up to my favorite cacio e pepe from the no-name, cash-only restaurant up the street from Piazza Navona. Ice cream wasn’t gelato from Old Bridge, coffee wasn’t the cappuccino from Sant’Estauchio. The massive, greasy cheese pizzas from our local pizza places were unappetizing and didn’t have a flavor profile remotely resembling that of the Primavera at PizzaRé, plus I had never really been a huge fan of the New York-type of pizza. I was in a dejected, uninspired food funk for the better part of that summer.
I eventually got over my bad self and learned to tolerate, if not enjoy, Italian food in the States. I soon discovered some restaurants — both Italian and not — who did pastas quite well, but finding pizza akin to that in Rome was more difficult. It was a crust issue — the crust was too thin, too thick, burnt, not flavorful enough. So I took it upon myself to brace my inexperience with yeast and experiment with pizza doughs recipes until I found a crust that could be thin-ish on the bottom with some puffiness to it.
Fear not, ye fearers of yeasted bread, for this is a simple recipe that delivers great results. I’m certain I don’t make pizza exactly like the Italians because I doubt they’d be keen on grapes on their pizza, but this dough comes close to nailing it.
I made this dough into a flatbread of sorts — it makes for a great appetizer and is a staple in the Taylor Family party repertoire. Definitely play with your favorite combination of ingredients! Molly made a more traditional pizza — check it out!
1 1/3 cups warm water
3 3/4 cups bread flour (all-purpose flour works, too)
2 1/4 teaspoons (one package) active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoons salt
2/3 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, sliced
splash balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
1 package spreadable garlic & herb cheese (I used Boursin)
2 cups arugula
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup red grapes, sliced
Measure 1/3 cup of warm water in a bowl. Sprinkle yeast over water, add a pinch of sugar and stir. Let stand for five minutes – yeast should rise and become foamy.
In a bowl, stir together flour, salt, and sugar. Add yeast and 1 additional cup of water, stir with a spatula until mixture comes together in a dough. Place a warm, damp dishcloth over the bowl and put bowl in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours.
After the 2 hours, remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface and cut in half. You can freeze one half for use later. Oil a rimmed baking sheet and stretch dough to the edges — the dough might be finicky and spring back, but be patient and keep working at it. If the dough rips, just pinch it back together.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook down, stirring occasionally. When onions are translucent and begin to brown, add splash of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a few cranks of pepper. Stir a few more times and remove from heat.
Bake pizza dough for 12-15 minutes until edges are golden. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Transfer crust to a cutting board.
Using a spatula, spread garlic & herb cheese evenly across the crust. Layer arugula, walnuts, grapes, and caramelized onions atop the crust and slice flatbread into rectangles. Serve and enjoy immediately.