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Lemon Pizza: The Next Great Thing

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Anthony Bianciella Photography
Anthony Bianciella Photography

2012-10-15-SorrentinaDonAntoniobyStarita.jpg
Photo Credit: Anthony Bianciella Photography

"Lemon pizza" is coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

Ho-hum pizza is as unrewarding as a boyfriend who's hung around too long. But recently, at Kesté Pizza & Vino, an artisan pizzeria on Bleecker Street in New York's West Village, I encountered a pie so novel and seductive that it set my pulse racing. Layered with fresh basil and smoked buffalo mozzarella, it arrived at my table trailing a tantalizing cloud of perfume. The jaw-dropper, however, was the thin coverlet of lemon slices -- rind, pips and all -- that lay across the pizza's perfectly blistered and puffed Neapolitan crust. Like the love child of actor Marcello Mastroianni and supermodel Agyness Deyn, this pizza was sturdy yet chic, creamy yet tart, suave with a bit of a bite. More blonde than brunette.

Named the Sorrentina, Kesté's pie is a descendant of one invented in 2009 by the daughter of pizza maestro Antonio Starita, at his eponymous pizzeria in the Materdei district of Naples, Italy. Filomena, 31, a fourth-generation pizzaiola, created it for her mother, Rosaria, the cashier and apparently a great lover of lemons. (Sorrento, you should know, is famous for its lemons and, logically, where limoncello originated.) At Kesté, my pie was prepared by another rising-star pizzaiola, Giorgia Caporuscio, 22, whose father, Roberto, is a disciple of the maestro himself (and his partner in yet another restaurant, Don Antonio by Starita, in New York's theatre district).

The Sorrentina pie may seem spare compared to the complexity of other pizzas on Kesté's menu -- one supports pistachio pesto, sausage, homemade mozzarella and Pecorino Romano; another, a layer of butternut squash cream, artichokes and red and yellow peppers. But its surprising contrasts and restrained flavors present a drama that demands attention. Working with an ashwood-fired oven registering 950 degrees, Ms. Caporuscio made my pie, puffed and blistered to perfection, in one minute and ten seconds. Working at home with an oven that reaches a mere 550 degrees, the process takes a while longer -- but not by much.

So, a word of advice: The next time life hands you lemons? Make this.

The Sorrentina pizza is available at both Kesté Pizza and Vino and Don Antonio by Starita.

Pizza Sorrentina
Hands-On Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 10-1/2 to 12-1/2 hours
Serves: 3

This recipe was adapted from one used at Kesté Pizza & Vino in New York City. It's hard for home cooks to recreate the kind of charred and blistered crust and smoky flavor that comes from a 950-degree pizza degree oven, but this recipe gets you close. The elements are simple and widely available, but it's worth going a little bit out of your way when it comes to the flour: Kesté's chef uses only imported 00 (double zero) Caputo flour -- available at amazon.com and many Whole Foods locations -- instead of the all-purpose variety, because it yields a softer, puffier crust.

Dough:
1 1/4 cups very warm water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
3 1/2 cups 00 Caputo flour, plus more for dusting the board

Topping for each pizza:
6 thin lemon slices
3 ounces smoked fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
5 large leaves fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil

What to do:
1. Place water in a large bowl. Stir in yeast, salt and sugar and let sit 5 minutes until mixture begins to bubble. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour until a ball of dough forms; it will be sticky. Turn out dough onto a floured board. Knead 5 minutes. Transfer dough to a large clean bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Keep in a warm place for 8 to 12 hours.

2. When dough has doubled in size, turn out onto board. Using floured hands, divide dough into 3 pieces (about 7.5 ounces each). Knead each piece for 1 minute, then again, lightly, with a little olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Keep in a warm place for 2 hours or until again doubled in size.

3. Heat oven to 550 degrees or as high as your oven will go and keep it at that temperature for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, soak lemon slices in water for 15 minutes, then pat dry.

4. Flour your hands and press one ball of dough into a flat disk. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and stretch it, using your fingers, until it is approximately 9 inches in diameter. Distribute the cheese over the surface, leaving a 1-inch rim. Arrange lemons over cheese and tuck in basil leaves, then drizzle everything lightly with olive oil, including the rim. Place on highest rack in the oven and bake until puffy, about 6 minutes; then turn on the broiler and broil 30-60 seconds, until the crust takes on some color. Remove pizza from oven and serve. Repeat with remaining dough.

Rozanne Gold is a four-time James Beard award-winning chef and author of Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, Healthy 1-2-3, and Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease.

Rozanne can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RozanneGold.

(This post is adapted from Rozanne's article in the Wall Street Journal, 10/13/12).