The day has come. It is time to introduce you to something you may have never come across. Pizza di scarola. The reasons for that are that escarole is not so easy to find here in the UK (but not impossible) and that it is such a local, traditional pizza that very few, unless they have been to Naples, have encountered it.
Pizza di scarola is a bit like mandarins. Christmas is in the air any time it is served. In fact, it is the pizza that Neapolitan families make for lunch on Christmas Eve. But it is so very delicious that I started making it on other occasions, too. Technically I only started making it when I moved to London because I could no longer scoff huge amounts made by my mum.
I would confidently say that pizza di scarola and pizza con salsiccia e friarielli (which you may have come across in any authentic Neapolitan pizzeria in the UK) are the most popular pizze for Neapolitans. “Above pizza margherita, calzone, etc?” you may cry. YES.
Why? Well, the combination of ingredients is just delicious: the escarole cooked with garlic and olives acquires a very unique taste. The pine nuts add a great texture to contrast with the softness of the other ingredients. And the raisins? That is a throwback to the Renaissance, during which the association of sweet and sour was one of the main characteristics of dishes. The escarole can be slightly bitter but the raisins are a good counterbalance to that.
All in all it is a magical combination of different ingredients and flavours that work wonderfully together!
My granny Cristina was the master of this pizza. People from all over Pozzuoli – the city in which I grew up – would ask her to make the pizza for them. They would buy the ingredients and ask her to make one or two big pizze. My mum makes a great pizza, too, and I try my best to do a good job but the flavours of the pizza that nonna Cristina made were unique. I think that what made it so especially tasty was the love and the joy she put into preparing the pizza for our family.
My granny was incredibly fond and in love of my grandfather; she would do everything she could to see him happy. Pizza di scarola, loved by everyone, was the all-time favourite of nonno Peppino.
This recipe is for her, in her memory, for all she did for our family and all the things I learnt from her in the kitchen. One among so many was the passion and the love she put into cooking.
For the dough
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 30ml warm water
- 4g dried active yeast
- 250ml warm water
- 500g bread flour (00 ideal) or all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the filling
- 8 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 big garlic cloves, crushed
- 100g black olives from Gaeta, depitted
- 40g capers (preferably di Pantelleria)
- 4 anchovies, cut into small pieces (if you don’t like them, you can leave them out)
- 1.5kg curly endives or escarole (can be found at places such as Greensmiths on Lower Marsh, or online)
- 2 tablespoons raisins (optional)
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- Extra-virgin oilive oil to line the tin and brush the top of the pizza
- Black pepper
Get a small glass and add 30ml of warm water, add the yeast and sugar and stir until everything is dissolved. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, get another larger bowl and sift the flour. Create a well and add the previously prepared yeast mixture in the middle, as well as two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.
Start mixing it in the middle with your hands while slowly incorporating some of the flour on the edges. Do so for a couple of minutes until the mixture is smooth.
In a bowl add the rest of the warm water (250ml), the salt and mix well. Pour the water and keep mixing all gradually in the middle until it gets firmer and absorbs all the flour in the bowl.
Make the dough into a compact ball shape, before moving it to a surface lightly sprinkled with flour. Let the fun part begin: the kneading!
Press the dough down with your knuckles and spread it. Take the far end of the dough and fold it a short distance toward you. Push it away with the heel of your hand. Repeat this operation for about 10 minutes until you obtain a dough that is smooth and elastic and springs back when you try to flatten it with your fingers.
Get a large bowl, line with a tea towel, sprinkle some flour, place the dough in it covered by a second tea towel. Store it in a dry place for 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 210˚C (190˚C fan) and start prepare the filling.
Wash well the escarole, rinse and chop off the stalk. Remove the external leaves.
In a large saucepan add plenty of cold water, add the escarole and a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes until all leaves are soft. Turn the heat off.
Move the escarole to a colander and drain it well. Set aside.
In a large frying pan add the oil, the garlic, the olives, the capers, the anchovies (and the raisins if you opted for them). Sauté the ingredients and stir well. Cook for a few minutes on medium heat until the garlic becomes golden. Then take it out. Add the escarole, a pinch of salt and stir well.
Cook for about 10/15 minutes until everything is well incorporated.
In a smaller frying pan add a teaspoon of oil and the pine nuts. Cook gently on low heat for a few minutes until they are golden. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan).
When the dough is ready, line an aluminium pizza pan (28cm diameter) with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
Cut the dough into two halves. Place one half in the middle of the pizza pan and with the tips of your fingers push the dough outwards so that it gets laid evenly across the entire surface of the pan. Push the dough up the edges as much as possible.
Spoon the escarole into the pan and spread it out evenly. Add the toasted pine nuts and distribute evenly across the surface.
Sprinkle some flour on a surface. Place the second half of the dough and, using the same technique, flatten it into a roughly round disc.
Move the pizza pan near the pizza dough you have just laid. Gently and with care place a hand underneath the dough; then try to flip it and move it to on top of the escarole. It may not be a perfect landing, but once the dough disk is on top, you can slowly adjust it.
With your fingers, attach the edges of the bottom and top rounds of dough, squeezing and twisting the dough to seal it well.
Sprinkle some more extra-virgin olive oil on top of the pizza and distribute it evenly with a spoon or your hands.
Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper and prick the surface with a sharp knife to make some small air holes.
Place the pan in the oven and cook for at least 40-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
When ready, take the pan out, cover and wrap it with a large, clean tea towel and let it cool a little before serving.
Eat it while it is still slightly warm. It is great at room temperature, too. You can make it the day before and serve it the next day. Pizza di scarola is pretty amazing at any time; all the time… It tastes particularly good when eaten with your best friend or better half, and a bottle of red wine. Yum yum and forever yum!