A perfect pizza for Columbus Day
Ever since I first opened Spago high above Hollywood's Sunset Strip back in 1982 (we moved in 1997 to Beverly Hills, where we've just reopened after a complete remodel), I've been known for my pizzas. Some people give Spago credit for inventing the modern American pizza, with its wide variety of creative toppings. But that's beside the point to me.
For me, a pizza is a delicious edible canvas for a casual but artful combination of flavors and textures, shapes and colors. First and foremost, the art comes in selecting ingredients, in the right proportion, that complement each other and, in doing so, add up to a whole taste experience that's greater than the sum of the parts. The dough itself, freshly made and yeast-leavened; the sauce that lightly moistens it and adds an aromatic base; the cheeses that, singly or in combination, bring creamy and chewy richness with tangy, salty, or nutty notes; the other toppings, from vegetables to all kinds of freshly cooked or cured meats, poultry, or seafood; and other subtle yet important embellishments, such as fresh or dried herbs or crushed red pepper flakes: Each element makes its own contribution to the experience of a well-made pizza.
The choices reflect the culture from which the pizza comes. That's why the pizzas of Italy traditionally feature items like tomatoes or tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan, cured meats like pepperoni or Italian sausage, vegetables like roasted peppers or mushrooms, and herbs like basil or oregano. But American culture is justly known as a great melting pot, so it's only natural to me that pizzas here should reflect the diversity of American culture. It seems appropriate to me that we observe Columbus Day, which celebrates the 1492 arrival in the New World of an Italian-born explorer sailing under the banner of Spain, by making pizza.
In honor of Cristoforo Colombo, I'm pleased to offer you a longtime favorite Spago combination that seems to me a perfect reflection of the man's heritage. Its combination of colors -- fresh, bright green baby spinach leaves, slices of red tomato, shredded white cheeses -- recall those of the Italian flag. And an additional cheese, Gorgonzola, adds an exciting tanginess that's pure Italy.
Yet, you're unlikely to find a pizza quite like this in Italy. The combination was first suggested to me by one of my chefs at Spago years ago. I liked it the first time we made it, and the pizza quickly became one that our customers always asked for.
Try it on Columbus Day next Monday, or any time you feel like making a great pizza, and two thoughts are equally likely to come to your mind: "Viva Italia!" and "Only in America!"
SPINACH, MUSHROOM, TOMATO, AND GORGONZOLA PIZZA
Makes four 8-inch (20-cm) pizzas
1-1/2 pounds Pizza Dough (recipe follows)
1/2 cup Pesto (recipe follows)