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Pizza + Arugula, Pear & Kiwi Salad = Florence

I am not one of those people who’ll name-drop countries I’ve traveled, any more than I feel it’s good manners to speak openly about a party I attended, lest others weren’t there.

Likewise, with travel, I’m keenly aware of what an incredible luxury it is to travel almost anywhere, let alone a European country. And I know that visiting such places as Italy or France are on many people’s bucket lists, but the truth is, they’ll never get there.

With that in mind, please don’t hate me if I tell you I’ve been to Italy three times, France once, and the Czech Republic twice.

I can tell you that meals in those countries left indelible impressions, some of which forever influenced how I cook.

Take salads, for example. Up until my trip to Italy, I wasn’t a big fan of salads. I grew up with the concept that a proper salad consisted of iceberg lettuce tossed with tomato quarters and carrot coins, topped with Wishbone dressing, served in a deep well of a bowl.

A meal in a Florence trattoria eight years ago changed everything. We ordered pizza and salad. The “deluxe” pizza was impossibly thin, dressed with a shmear of tomato sauce, topped with herbs and a sunny-side up egg. It was delicious, and the yeasty crust stole the show.

But the salad is what really blew my mind. It was a single layer, served on a platter. It contained just four ingredients: an arugula base topped with fresh pear slices, kiwi rounds and Pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese shavings. The dressing was olive oil and vinegar, and maybe some lemon juice, salt and pepper. It wasn’t tossed. It was presented, like a delicate, leafy bed of arugula, covered in a thin blanket of the pear and kiwi slices and dressing. So simple. But it honored each ingredient so beautifully.

It totally turned around my idea of salad, and I’ve been using that formula  ever since: a platter, a green base, and three compatible ingredients, topped with a light dressing. A word about dressings. I always have a bottle of one of wine reductions in the fridge, which I drizzle over the salad, followed by some olive oil. But lately I’ve used a technique of one of my virtual boyfriends, Gordon Ramsey, who suggests we keep a squirt bottle in the fridge filled with a blend of water and lemon juice and olive oil, at the ready for salads. Season to taste with herbs, salt and pepper.

Under the dressing, I almost always use a seasonal fruit in the salad – though I’ve been known to toss in canned Mandarin orange slices if I’m making an avocado salad. In fact, as I’m making it, I’m often guided by a dessert concept, such as mixing apples and walnuts and homemade croutons. Or strawberries and pecans and orange. Or apricot and almond and bread cubes.

The Florentine salad came to mind today as I logged onto Tops Markets for its weekly ads. First, I was taken by Tops’  1, 2, 3 Dollar Sale, where a number of items cost either $1, $2 or $3. For example, there are Foster Farms whole chickens for $1 a pound, and Prairie Fresh Pork Loin Chops for $2 per pound and iPura Tilapia fillets for $3 a pound.

And there’s Tops’ bakery-fresh French bread, $1 a loaf, and 1 dozen Willamette Grade A jumbo eggs for for $2, and four avocados for $3.

Then I saw the pears. And the kiwi. And I was in Florence again.

Florence photo by Matt Grigsby.

I’ve already shared the technique for making the Florentine salad, and it’s so easy that there’s not much of a recipe to share.

But I could share my absolute favorite pizza dough, which you may top however you wish. Even with a sunny-side-up egg. Bon Appetito! (P.S. I always double this recipe. Freeze half the dough for later.)

Pizza Dough

Yeast – 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon
Milk – 1 cup room temperature (105 to 115 degrees)
Olive oil – 4 tablespoons
Flour – 3 cups (about)
Salt – 1 ½ teaspoons

In your biggest bowl, mix the yeast, milk and olive oil until the yeast is dissolved.

Stir in half the flour and all the salt until well blended. Slowly add just enough remaining flour to make a sticky dough. Mix until everything is well incorporated.

Dump the mixture onto a heavily floured board. (In the meantime, fill your bowl with hot water in the sink to soak.)

Use the flour to keep the dough from sticking, pulling the dough up and over onto itself. When dough is not too sticky to handle, knead it until it’s smooth and satiny.

In your rinsed, dry bowl, dribble some olive oil in it and smear it around. Put the dough in the bowl, then flop the dough over (so both sides now have a coat of olive oil).

Cover it with a clean towel and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size. Punch dough down. Dough will only be allowed to rise once. (Note: If you want to freeze the dough for a month or so, or put it in the refrigerator to use within 24 hours, this is the time to do it.)

Form the dough into rounds or calzones any way you can: roll it, toss it, pull it, etc.

Place on a cornmeal-covered baking sheet. Place toppings, leaving a half-inch margin around the edge.

Set the baking sheet on the center rack (unless you have a pizza stone, in which case use the bottom rack) of a preheated 400-degree oven for about 20 – 30 minutes, or until the sides are golden brown and the bottom seems set and dry.

Makes two 8-inch pizzas or one 12-inch – approximately.
This recipe sponsored by Tops Market in Weaverville and Redding.

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Click here to order a sandwich online from the Weaverville Tops Market.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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