This dish came about as a way to use up some of the large bunch of basil that I picked up at the farmers' market. But we wanted to do something a little different. So I decided to throw in some mint. And then I saw a Mario Batali pesto recipe online that used a serrano chili, so I threw that in as well. We also got the idea to throw in fennel seeds from the Batali recipe. We were out of pine nuts and I wasn't feeling like pistachios or walnuts, so we used blanched almonds instead. Alex wanted to use the pesto for sandwiches, but I thought that pizza sounded like a better idea. I just wasn't feeling sandwich-y. And then I started thinking that if we were going to make a pizza, we should make it a vegetable pizza with lots of produce from the farmer's market. I love the farmers' market. So we defrosted a ball of pizza dough. And then I started thinking that a ciabatta pizza would be even better than a typical pizza. So we picked up a loaf of ciabatta at the farmers' market. And we will use that ball of pizza dough to make another pizza later in the week - I'm thinking pizza with zucchini and speck. When I told Alex my idea for the zucchini and speck pizza his response was "don't you ever eat normal pizza?!?!" Whatever. I have tried that combination at a restaurant near my office called Pizzarte (where the zucchini and speck pizza is their signature pizza) and it's delicious.
The thing I loved about this pizza is how easy it was to put together and how tasty it was. The veggies were fresh and flavorful and made me feel virtuous, even though I was eating pizza. And I really liked how the ciabatta got nice and crusty and crispy. The dish was also mildly nostalgic - it reminded me of the french bread pizzas I used to eat. Alex's favorite thing about the pizza was the pesto. It was very flavorful - a little spicy, a little salty, and nicely herbaceous. I think the pesto worked wonderfully here, but it would work really nicely on sandwiches and on pasta too. I always find pasta with just pesto to be a little boring, but this pesto is a little kickier than most, so it might work.
Recipe after the jump!
Veggie Ciabatta Pizza with Spicy Basil-Mint Pesto
1 cup fresh basil leaves, lightly packed, washed and spun dry
1/4 cup mint leaves
2 small garlic cloves, peeled
1 serrano chili, stem and seeds removed, and roughly chopped
1/2 tbsp crushed red pepper ﬂakes
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp sliced blanched almonds
1/4 cup evoo
2 tbsp cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
For pizza:1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup zucchini, julienned
1/2 cup red bell pepper, stems and seeds removed, and julienned
10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 loaf of ciabatta, sliced in half horizontally (the best way to do it is lay the bread on the counter and place your hand on top of the loaf, and slice parallel to the counter)
fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced or grated
Combine basil, mint, garlic, chilis, red pepper ﬂakes, fennel seeds and almonds in a mini food processor and pulse. Add the evoo and pulse to create a thick creamy paste. Add cheese and pulse to mix well. Season to taste with salt and additional cheese. If you aren't going to use the pesto right away, cover with a thin layer of evoo in a tupperware and seal. It should last at least a few days in the fridge.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat a medium saute pan over moderate heat. Add 1 tbsp evoo. Add onion, zucchini and bell pepper. Saute, stirring regularly, until veggies are beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Season with s&p. Add cherry tomatoes. Saute, stirring, until tomatoes begin to soften, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Place the bottom half of the ciabatta on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread liberally with pesto and top with mozzarella. Season lightly with s&p. Roast in the oven until the cheese melts and bread begins to crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, stop with sauteed veggies, and roast another 2-3 minutes.