While a graduate student in Chicago, I heavily relied on ready-made pizza shells. Not Boboli, mind you– I used a cheaper, yet more flavorful honey wheat one which I also liked since it cooked up more crisply than the thicker Bobolis. I liked how making pizzas this way gave me a taste of cooking without too much time investment and I could get as creative as I wanted with the toppings.
Not that I actually got all that creative. Admittedly, I fell into a bit of a rut when all I ate was pizza topped with the sauce packet that came with the shell, some turkey Italian sausage and fresh spinach. It was kind of an emotionally difficult time for me and when I found something that offered comfort, I latched onto it. But one day, I stumbled upon a cooking show that talked about grilling pears for a salad and a new pizza idea quickly came together in my head: thin slices of grilled pear on a layer of pesto, topped with spinach and a mix of blue and fontina cheeses. I also added some halved cherry tomatoes, letting them burst in the oven. It may seem strange to remember what toppings you’d put on a pizza, but I think this stuck with me since it is the first time I can remember being somewhat inventive with my ingredients.
I thought about that pizza as I stared at a box of Harry and David pears that my parents left behind at my house after Christmas. A family friend who lives here in Seattle gave this box as a Christmas gift to my parents who do not live here… yet. As if those pears weren’t enough, they also gave my parents two boxes of giant Asian pears. I shuddered as I saw those boxes being presented knowing that my parents would be unable to take them on the plane so those pears would ultimately end up at my house where they would rot since John and I would never be able to consume of them in time. By this point, we still had 3 or 4 pears, completely overripe. With a need for a relatively quick weeknight dinner, some leftover pancetta, and an urgent need to get rid of some of soon-to-be rotting pears, I knew what I had to do: make pizza.
Rather than make my former standby pear pizza, I wanted this one to be lighter, more refreshing in feel. I rolled out my frozen pizza dough as thinly as I could and instead of a pesto sauce, I poached a few garlic cloves in olive oil then painted the oil onto the crust. I chopped up the soft, golden garlic cloves and scattered them over the pizza then sprinkled on mozzarella cheese. I then scattered thin pieces of pear that I mixed with fresh thyme on top of the cheese so that the heat from the oven would caramelize the pears. Lastly, I topped the pizza with slices of pancetta which crisped up nicely in the oven. When the pizza was hot from the oven, I added some fresh arugula, letting the residual heat wilt it slightly then drizzled the arugula with a little of the leftover garlic olive oil. The end result was so delicious: crispy crust, lightly sweet pieces of pear contrasting with salty pancetta and peppery arugula. At least now I know what I’d do if we get saddled with another box of pears. That is not a request mind you!
- 1 ball of pizza dough (you can make your own or buy some from a store. I get mine from a local Italian bakery– super cheap, freezes well, and total time saver.)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 medium to large garlic cloves
- 1 large, ripe pear, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- 2 tsp fresh thyme
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella
- 3 oz pancetta, thinly sliced
- 2 cups baby arugula leaves
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, heat it in the oven while the oven preheats. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 16 inches in diameter or as thin as your dough will go. Note– I find I have an easier time rolling out pizza dough if it is allowed to come up to room temperature before using. Let it rest while you prep your other ingredients.
In a small sauce pan, add the olive oil and the garlic cloves then turn the heat to medium. Let the garlic cloves poach in the oil, keeping an eye on them to make sure that the cloves don’t burn. Gently swirl the pan to help turn the cloves over and cook evenly. Poach until cloves are soft and golden, about 7-10 minutes. Remove the garlic cloves then let the oil cool slightly before using. Roughly chop the garlic cloves and reserve.
In a small bowl, combine the pear, thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper each. Transfer the pizza dough to either a flat, round baking sheet or to your pizza stone. Brush the entire surface of the dough with the garlic infused olive oil then spread around the poached garlic love. Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese then scatter the pieces of pear over the cheese. Lay out the slices of pancetta over the cheese and pear then bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned in spots and crust is baked through. Remove from oven then pile on the arugula on top of the pizza. Drizzle a spoonful or two of the remaining garlic olive oil then slice away.