2010 August: Perfect Pies

There are so many ways to slice this pie –– using fresh tomatoes –– I am not sure where to begin. Is there anything more glorious, sweeter or sensual than biting into a dead-ripe tomato? I did that throughout the summer months in my youth. Those 100-plus tomato plants in our backyard garden never stopped pumping out fresh tomatoes, and I never stopped eating them. Those that we didn’t eat out of hand, in salads or on pizza (so many tomatoes, so little time) were crushed and canned into a puree for further use as the fall and winter months rolled in.

Fresh Tomato Caprese Pizza

Fresh tomato pizza is as easy as getting your hands on dead-ripe tomatoes –– preferably Roma or plum (those words are interchangeable). Roma tomatoes have a dense, meaty flesh with low moisture and fewer seeds than fresh slicing tomatoes. But, let me be clear: If I can get my hands on some ripe beefsteak tomatoes, I would use them, too.

Controlling moisture comes into play big time when making a fresh tomato pizza. So, to avoid the soggy crust syndrome, the less watery the tomatoes … the better the pie. Unless you just cannot avoid it, never refrigerate tomatoes of any kind. Cold takes too much away from the very essence of this fruit (yes, it is a fruit). Hopefully you can find space to ripen and rotate fresh tomatoes. It’s well worth the effort.

Should you slice tomatoes? Good question. With Roma and plum tomatoes being my first choice, I would definitely say you can slice — and if it fits your style of pie, then go ahead and chop or dice. My reasoning behind that relates to balance. The end user needs to get a good bit of tomato with each bite. In other words, think about a pizza that is layered with coins of pepperoni. “Coins” of Roma tomatoes will not only beef up the appearance and ultimate pleasure of the pizza, but gives something to the eater bite after bite.

Another option is to dice the Roma or plum tomatoes and let them stand in a stainless steel bowl for 30 minutes or so. Drain off any excess water. Now move ahead with a fresh tomato pizza –– maybe even this fragrant, fresh and easy one.

Fresh Tomato Caprese Pizza

Pizza Yield: One 12-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
4 large Roma tomatoes, diced, to yield 1½ cups
6 ounces (about) diced fresh mozzarella (fi ore de latte)
1 cup torn or cut (with kitchen shears) fresh basil
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste
12-inch pizza shell lightly par-baked and cooled

In a stainless steel bowl, combine and toss the tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olive oil. Brush the crust lightly with EVOO. Spread the tomato mixture evenly over the crust up to the crust edge.

Sprinkle on the grated Parmesan. Salt and pepper. Serve. No further heat or baking required.

Option: slice the fresh Roma tomatoes into rounds. Arrange the tomatoes on the olive oil-brushed crust. Sprinkle on the mozzarella. Bake. Out of the oven add the fresh basil. Drizzle on some more olive oil. Serve. 

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.