I love to look at the work of various chefs, always trolling for ideas to pocket and have turn up sometime later, perhaps a little jumbled looking from having gone through the brain equivalent of a wash cycle, in meals I cook. I think there must always be a little ticker tape running in my mind storing up a restaurant meal here, a recipe there. Not that they ever seem to come back to me when I most want them to. But, they’re influential.
The food ideas from some quadrants are delectably comfortable, vindicating in a sense. I see them and I think, ‘oh that’s exactly how I would have done that!’ Or, ‘ha! I’ve made almost exactly that before! I should make it again sometime.’
Some food ideas shake you up a little, splash some cold water in your face to wake you up from the food ruts we all settle into, at times more frequently than not. These are the dishes that inspire you with an ‘I would never have thought of that!’ nudge. Sometimes that ‘I would never have thought of that’ is followed by an ‘and I’m intimidated by the very idea, and don’t think I actually want to try making something like that at all.’ Other times it’s followed by an ‘and I will make it the next chance I get!’
When I look at the food coming out of the Canal House, I find a perfect meandering back and forth between the first and third of those categories, sometimes discovering just the sorts of favorite things I was cooking anyways – but executed with an inspiring degree of perfection – and the sorts of dishes that leave me excitedly scribbling notes all over pieces of scrap paper as my mind floods with ideas of how I want to try something of the sort myself.
It’s not such a surprise really, that I find them perennially inspiring. They know what they’re doing, those two. Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton are darlings of the culinary world, coming from well established cooking publications and then – living the dream!!! – leaving to set up shop in a small, terribly romantic, space where they experiment with food, and drink, and photography, and design and put out a gorgeous magazine (if it can even be called a magazine, it’s more substantial than that, let’s call it a book, or perhaps a publication) just once a season, to the oohing, aahing, and drooling of cooks everywhere.
My favorite thing is, they have a site where they publish a photograph and sentence long description of their lunch, daily. It’s wonderful in how diverse and refreshingly real it is. Most days, of course, they make you feel like your own lunch is quite inadequate. But, like the rest of us, there are some days where they only muster the gumption to eat a hardboiled egg, a bit of bread and cheese, or order take out. They still document it.
I don’t remember to go check the site that often, so when I do, I find myself scrolling through a month’s worth of lunches at a time, just taking it in. And, there are almost always one or two things that catch my eye and send me running to grab (one of) my piece(s) of scrap paper where I jot ideas. Such was the case with this pizza, which I saw there, oh, probably just over a week ago now. Something about it made me do a double take, and then stuck with me like peanut butter on the roof of my mouth until I made it myself for dinner.
It’s a pizza elegantly scattered with mozzarella, paper thin slices of lemon, good olives, and rosemary, and then draped with lacey slices of prosciutto. The combination of ingredients themselves is not entirely unexpected. But, the idea of oozing, melting mozzarella with hauntingly fresh and tangy lemon, dark piney rosemary, and briny olives all blanketed with sweet, creamy prosciutto on a pizza seduced me with a single come hither glance. I fell hard. And I would do it all over again. In fact, I may soon.
I’m not usually one for restraint with my pizza. I’m more of a pizza overloader, piling toppings so high that the poor crust groans, buckles, and breaks under the weight. But, I was so entranced by this pizza concept that I stuck to it. I tempered my enthusiasm for adding a mound of caramelized onions here, a pillow of ricotta there, and a handful of mushrooms just because. I added only the brief list of ingredients that I saw in the photo. Okay, plus some golden, sizzling garlic oil. What is pizza without garlic? Well, and a pinch of Parmesan. I’m not a saint here, kids.
Each ingredient, therefore, contributes the entirety of its character without having to throw any elbows or check any hips to try to find space and attention. The delicate slices of lemon work wonders enlivening the other heavier ingredients. I was especially surprised by how assertively, yet gently the rosemary wound its way through. Like the head of a grand household, it nods agreeably to all the other ingredients, seeing to it that they all get along, while also floating above any fracas that might happen to occur (though none did).
We ate with such gusto, that it almost didn’t make it onto this site. I certainly didn’t think to take any pictures in the moment. Luckily, as I realized I absolutely wanted to share this with you, there was a lunch sized portion left over, perfect for reheating the next day to photograph (quickly because man did I want to get to the eating part!) and to enjoy just as enthusiastically as the night before.
Pizza with Mozzarella, Lemon, Olives, and Prosciutto (serves about 4-6)
- enough pizza dough for 2, 10-12 inch pizza crusts (I tend to use this dough recipe, and this is a nice whole wheat one)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 large or 2 small lemons, scrubbed, and sliced paper thin on a mandoline (or with an extremely sharp knife)
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced into thin rounds
- about 20 pitted green olives
- about 1 1/2 Tbs. rosemary needles, fresh or dried will work
- about 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan
- about 6-8 thin slices of prosciutto, each divided in half
- Preheat your oven to 500F. If you have a pizza stone, have that in the oven while it heats, otherwise put a baking sheet in the oven to preheat.
- In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil and garlic. Cook over medium heat until the garlic is golden and crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the garlic and discard it. Set the oil aside.
- Scatter your work surface with plenty of cornmeal. Stretch your dough out into two thin rounds. Brush each round thoroughly with the garlicky olive oil. Arrange a layer of lemon slices on each, followed by a layer of mozzarella cheese slices. Scatter the olives, the rosemary, and the Parmesan over the pizzas (you may have to smoosh the olives down a little to get them to stay in place).
- Scatter cornmeal all over your pizza stone or baking sheet. Transfer (using a peel if you have one, or large spatulas and lots of muttered curses if you don’t) one pizza onto the pizza stone/baking sheet in the oven. Bake in the blistering heat until the crust is golden brown and the mozzarella is bubbling, 12 minutes or so. Take the first pizza out of the oven and put it on a cutting board. Transfer the second pizza into the oven to bake. Drape half of the prosciutto slices over each of the pizzas after they come out of the oven. Cut the finished pizzas into wedges and serve. A crisp white wine on the side won’t hurt at all.