Deconstructing pizza into a refreshing savory salad
When you have the stuff to make pizza but you’re not quite feeling it, try this variation. It combines cherry tomatoes (the only kind worth using fresh in winter), a torn up baguette, sliced pepperoni, red onion, and shredded fresh mozzarella with a garlicky vinaigrette.
Last week I was prepping to make a pizza and looking at my ingredients spread out in a messy mise en place and realized I wanted a salad, probably because what I saw in front of me resembled salad ingredients, sans greens. There was also a slightly stale baguette that was rapidly turning into a brown whiffle ball bat. Light bulb moment flashed ‘panzarella salad’ only pizza-ish, and I shifted gears.
Before I get into the process and the rewarding results, I have to mention that it is early winter and panzarella is definitely a summer salad, truly meant to feature tomatoes when they taste like real tomatoes. But sitting in front of me, intended to become a fresh tomato sauce, was a pint of those golf ball size tomatoes that appeared several years ago in markets in winter and were not only sweet but seemingly impervious to time.
Though I had sauce in the freezer, I felt I should use these red golf balls as they had been enjoying my counter for two weeks, though they looked just as plump and cheery as they had when I bought them. So when I veered into salad improvisation, they got enlisted. I quartered them, sprinkled some kosher salt on the cut surfaces, a trick that can rescue any tomato from total blandness, and set them aside.
The baguette was pretty hard but I had a brand new serrated bread knife that had yet to be tested and this looked like a fair fight. It got hacked into roughly one inch cubes. The knife lived up to its reviews, a fantastic new tool (for those who care, it’s a Mercer high carbon stainless steel serrated knife* and for around twenty bucks it’s great. Since I got it I’ve seen it in commercial kitchens all over YouTube).
*No affiliate links here!
I threw the bread cubes into a big mixing bowl with the tomatoes, which were starting to exude their juices due to the salt. I chopped some sliced pepperoni into strips, tore the mozzarella into raggedity shreds and added a big pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. If I had fresh basil around that would have got torn into pieces and added but instead I sprinkled in about a quarter teaspoon of dried oregano.
My standard vinaigrette starts with a small peeled clove of garlic. You sprinkle it with kosher salt and start crushing it with the tines of a table fork, working the salt into it until it dissolves into mush. This is added to a quarter cup of red wine vinegar along with two teaspoons of Dijon mustard, a good grind of pepper, salt to taste, and a half cup of the best olive oil you have. Whisk it together until it emulsifies and pour it over the salad. It may seem like too much but the bread will absorb a lot. This should be a juicy salad.
The result was a light entree with a reminder of summer on a dark January evening. With a chilled glass of Prosecco, all we needed was a warm evening breeze. Alas, not to be just yet!