Foccacia Pizza with Arugula Pesto, Tomato and Goat Cheese

This past weekend, we braved the Grand Prix crowds (i.e. my least favourite crowds of the Montreal summer), to attend the enormous 40th birthday party of our dear friend Alan. It was well worth it. Alan is one of the kind of person who seems to know absolutely everybody in Montreal, which means that a huge, spirited crowd gathered to celebrate with him, including seemingly every person I’ve ever met. Graeme was kind enough to provide the beer for the event, while I asked Alan if he needed anything in terms of food. He told me he was worried there wouldn’t be enough savoury stuff for folks to snack on, and so off I went in search of something to make that would satisfy a large group of party goers.

The party was at a dance studio with limited kitchen facilities, so I wanted to make something that didn’t require reheating. I had also just come back into town from attending a conference, so I didn’t feel like I had time to create a million teeny hors d’oeuvres. What could be eaten cold, would be plentiful, and didn’t need to be put together portion by portion? I soon realized that the obvious thing to make was pizza.

Graeme and I have a few favourite pizza dough recipes. For your everyday pizza, covered in sloppy toppings, we keep coming back to the beer pizza crust recipe from Hellbent for Cooking. We have yet to find a better one. But sometimes I like a good rectangular bakery-style pizza, which seemed like it would lend itself well to being eaten in small portions at a party, and for that I always return to the foccacia bread recipe in my beloved Rebar cookbook. It makes an awesome foccacia, and if you slop some toppings on it, translates into a very tasty and fluffy bakery-style pizza.

I made two large foccacia pizzas for Alan’s party: one with roasted garlic, eggplant, wilted spinach and feta, and another with arugula pesto, tomato and goat cheese. I am going to post a recipe for the latter, but if you want to make the former then just make the same dough, and then cover it in olive oil, and the toppings I just listed. C’est tout! The arugular pesto is actually from the very same Rebar cookbook, grabbed from a separate recipe and plunked on top of the pizza. It is full of flavour and the most beautiful green colour when fresh. I recommend making double the amount and then saving some to throw on pasta for a really simple, tasty meal.

Foccacia Pizza with Arugula Pesto, Tomato and Goat Cheese
Adapted from various parts of Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook.
Serves 6 for a main course, many more as an hors d’ouevre.

For the dough:

1 3/4 cups warm water
1 tbsp/1 packet of yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups unbleached flour

For the pesto:
1 cup arugula leaves, packed
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Romano or other hard cheese
3 cloves roasted garlic*
1 clove fresh garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp chile flakes
1/4 tsp cracked pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

For the toppings:
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
100g soft goat cheese

To prepare the dough:
In a mixing bowl, combine the warm water, yeas and sugar, and let the mixture sit until it foams, for 5-10 minutes. Stir in the salt and olive oil, and then start adding flour, one cup at a time, mixing well. If you’re using a stand mixer, once the dough starts coming together, kneed with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and elastic. If doing it by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and kneed by hand until it gets there. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a clean, damp cloth, or plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size. [I have started refrigerating dough overnight as I have come around to arguments in favour of a slow rise, but if you want to make it all on the same day, that has worked totally fine for me too, and should take about 1 – 1.5 hours depending on the temperature of your house.]

After the first rise, punch down the dough, cover it again, and let it rise until it more or less doubles again. Preheat your oven to 350F. Place the dough on a well-oiled 12 x 16″ baking sheet. Gently (gently!) stretch the dough to roughly fit the dimensions of the pan. Cover the dough with your toppings, and make sure that as you do so, the dough as a good 15 minutes or so to puff up a bit before putting it into the oven.

To prepare the pesto:
Pulse all the ingredients, except the oil, to form a coarse paste [I just used a magic bullet for this]. Add the oil and pulse to blend.

Brush the dough generously with the pesto, and then cover with slices of tomato and dollops of goat cheese (and really, anything else you think would be tasty!). Season with a bit of salt and cracked pepper. Place the pizza in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the crust is browned just the slightest bit–be careful not to overbake!

*To roast garlic, chop the tops of the cloves and place them in tin foil with a teeny bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. Wrap with the foil and roast in a 400F oven for 45 minutes or so, until the cloves are nice and soft. Cool, and then remove the peels and enjoy!