a taste of italy, the quick way

In high school, I went on a 10-day trip to Italy to learn about “ancient civilizations.” But secretly, I knew I was traveling across the Atlantic to learn about food.

On my first seriously jet-lagged day exploring the Amalfi Coast in the beautiful village of Sorrento, I managed to lose a couple friends along the winding streets and take my first legal shot (at age 16). Somehow, I did not get myself a slice of pizza. Or a plate of pasta, now that I think about it.

I like to think I had the instincts to know that I should wait until the next day, where I would get to taste a pizza that put all previous slices – inadequately crusty and overly greasy – to shame.

On our first day trip, we explored the island of Capri, marveling at the stunning views and the majestic glint coming off of the Mediterranean. Right near the highest point, we stopped for lunch at a quaint little restaurant that was dimly lit, mostly by the white-hot flames of its brick oven.

There was no menu presented to us. As a group of 28, it was a one-item deal. As a more adventurous eater than most Grade 11 students, I was a little disappointed, but my face lit up the second a plate appeared in front of me with a charred and bubbly pizza crust topped delicately with tangy tomato sauce, fresh mozarella and a couple basil leaves.

It was heavenly. And whenever I think about authentic Italian pizza, I remember that day.

I managed to dig up a photo of my first pizza in Italy, circa 2005.

This weekend, I decided to create a simple pizza to go alongside a mish mash of leftovers; we were having guests and I didn’t want then to feel neglected.

I definitely support making your own pizza dough from scratch, but I’ve found a little loophole that gets me a super-fast fresh homemade pizza. And it isn’t on top of one of those thick pre-made crusts or, worse, a pita.

Most grocery stores that make pizza will usually sell their extra pizza dough in the refrigerated section of the bakery. For just a couple dollars, you can get a ball of ready-to-use dough that will make a couple of mid-sized pizzas – and fast.

Using my Capri pizza as inspiration, I kept my ingredients to a minimum:

  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 3 fresh tomatoes, sliced
  • A ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into rounds
  • A handful of fresh basil
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. Use a knife to split the dough into two lumps and roll each one into a ball. Sprinkling a little flour on the counter and your rolling pin, roll out each piece. I went rectangular, since I was using cookie sheets. Once you can’t roll the dough anymore, lift it up and gently stretch it out, rotating the dough through your fingers. I like mine pretty thin, but be careful not to create any holes.
  3. Lightly spray each baking sheet with a little oil and lay the crusts on them.
  4. Brush each crust with a little olive oil and put in the oven for about 5 minutes, so they’re not mushy.
  5. In a bowl, combine the garlic with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and brush it onto the crusts.
  6. Put the garlic-y crusts back in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Remove them and turn the heat up to 425F for later.
  7. Cover the crust with the tomato rounds and sprinkle basil leaves on top. Lastly, cover the basil and tomatoes with mozzarella.
  8. Drizzle everything with a little olive oil so it browns nicely and bake for 10 minutes or so, until the crust and the cheese begins to brown – but be careful not to let it burn!

This is the kind of pizza that requires almost zero preparation, and nothing but pure, fresh ingredients. Perfect for a light meal in the spring, serve it as a main course or cut it into finger food for an appetizer or party snack.

Just remember to keep it simple. As long as you use good ingredients, it doesn’t take much to bring you a little taste of Italy.

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