Spinach and Feta Pizza with a Semolina Crust
Aah, pizza! Is there any food more universally adored? Chocolate, perhaps, but ask any teenager what they would choose if they could only eat one food for the rest of their lives and my money is on pizza.
We’ve just returned from visiting our daughter in New York City. No trip to the Big Apple would be complete without heading to Brooklyn for world-class pizza. We stood in line over an hour for a table at Juliana’s to try their signature Pizza Margherita and, yes, it was worth the wait. An ultra-thin crust, topped with a light sauce of imported San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (made right in Brooklyn to founder/owner Patsy Grimaldi’s exacting specifications), and whole basil leaves all baked in an 850 degree coal-fired oven to crispy-chewy-savory perfection -- this is food worth waiting for. Simple ingredients of the highest quality, prepared with skill and passion, are the secrets to Juliana’s success.
The pizza recipe I’m sharing today is not “world-class” by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s truly, incredibly good. Topped with sun-ripened tomatoes, a mountain of greens (don’t worry, they cook down quickly in the heat of the oven), a sprinkling of onion, feta and kalamata olives, and a drizzle of olive oil, this dish is nutrient-dense and much lower in saturated fat than standard take-out. Did I mention that it’s really, really good?
About the ingredients
Semolina is milled from hard durum wheat. It has a golden color and a sandy texture. It’s used to make pasta, but also makes wonderful bread and pizza dough when combined with unbleached all-purpose or bread flour. I use it in place of cornmeal when I need to dust a pan or peel to keep dough from sticking. Bob’s Red Mill brand is easy to find or you can buy semolina from the bulk bins.
Roma or plum tomatoes, also known as paste tomatoes, are meatier and less juicy than slicing tomatoes, which keeps the crust from getting soggy.
Tools of the trade
A peel is used to load and unload bread and pizzas into and out of a wood or coal-fired oven or onto the deck or hot baking stone in a gas or electric oven. A wooden peel with a tapered edge is used for sliding the unbaked dough (sometimes with parchment) into the oven. A thin metal peel is generally used for removing the baked loaves or pizza, but a wooden peel works, too. Lacking a peel, you can use the back of a sturdy cookie sheet. Don’t forget your oven mitts!
Spinach and Feta Pizza with a Semolina Crust
(inspired by Jillian Michael’s recipe for Mediterranean Pizza in Master Your Metabolism)
This is pizza for grown-ups, with vine-ripened tomatoes, loads of leafy greens and a modest amount of cheese. It’s best baked directly on a baking stone, but the pan version is excellent, too.
For the crust: (enough dough for two pizzas. Use half/freeze half for later)
1 ½ cups semolina
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast (aka bread machine or “rapid-rise” yeast)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 cup water (cold if using a food processor, lukewarm if mixing by hand)
1 tablespoon olive oil
If using a food processor: Place semolina, flour, yeast, and salt in workbowl and process to combine. With the machine running, add the water through the feed tube and process for 60 seconds. Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand for 30 seconds. If mixing by hand: stir the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl, add the water, stir to combine, then knead until smooth and elastic on a floured board, 8 to 10 minutes.
Pour the olive oil into a medium bowl. Place the ball of dough in the bowl, turning to coat all sides with oil. Cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1-1 ½ hours. (At this point it is ready to use or you may deflate it, cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight. Let come to room temperature before using.)
Halfway through the rising period, begin preheating the oven to its highest setting for 45 minutes with a baking stone set on the center rack. (If you don’t have a stone, preheat the oven for at least 15 minutes prior to baking.)
When the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and divide in half. (You can freeze half in an oiled ziptop bag for up to one month. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.) Gently stretch or roll the dough into a large, thin rectangle, about 10 by 14 inches. Place on a sheet of parchment that has been sprinkled with semolina. Transfer to a large wooden peel or the back of a cookie sheet. (If you’re not using a baking stone, place the parchment and dough on the right side of the cookie sheet.)
Brush the surface of the dough lightly with olive oil. Add the toppings in the following order:
4 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2-3 cups (about 2 oz.) baby spinach
10 to 12 fresh basil leaves
½ of a small red onion, very thinly sliced
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
⅓ cup sliced, pitted kalamata olives
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil, drizzled on top
After topping, slide the pizza with the parchment directly onto the hot baking stone. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes at the highest temperature, until the edges of the crust are deep golden. Remove carefully to a cutting board and serve immediately. (If you’re not using a stone, place the pizza in the pan on the center rack. Reduce heat to 450 degrees and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.)