2011 June: PERFECT MARRIAGE

As Americans continue fighting the battle of the bulge they often look for healthier menu items that still satiate the appetite. Enter insalata pizzas, which turns ordinary pizzas into a more healthful bite by adding salad elements –– without skimping on taste. Insalata pizzas also add visual appeal to menus and on marketing materials. Onesto Pizza & Trattoria in St. Louis, Missouri, began selling insalata pizza specials in the summer 2008. “We wanted something unique and different like no one else was offering in St. Louis,” says Michele C. Racanelli, director of media and community relations at Onesto Pizza & Trattoria. “At first the customers were a little confused. The majority had never heard of it. At least half of the people tried it though, and they were hooked.”

The salad pizzas became a staple spring/summer special. Popular choices include the Queen Margherita, which tops a cheese pizza with organic mixed greens, basil and housemade roasted garlic and basil dressing. “It is awesome,” says Racanelli. “The Queen Margherita is our most rustic, simple pizza. We paired it with our most popular house salad. The farm fresh mixed greens and roasted garlic basil dressing compliment each other. Fresh basil enhances and mixes well with the greens.”

Another popular pie, the picnic pizza, starts with a base of housemade barbecue sauce that is topped with house-smoked chicken, fresh jalapeño, caramelized onions, housemade bacon, mozzarella and cheddar cheese. After the pizza is baked and sliced it is topped with a mixed greens and roasted corn salad that’s tossed in housemade ranch.
The beauty of an insalata pizza, says Racanelli, is placing the salad on the pizza right when it’s out of the oven so the salad stays fresh and cold while the pizza remains crisp and piping hot. Tossing the salad with dressing prior to placing it on the pie also prevents the crust from becoming soggy.

The B.L.T. pizza has been a staple menu item at Georgio’s Pizza in Pensacola, Florida, for several years. To prepare, pizza dough is topped with Canadian bacon and American bacon crumbles. After that bakes, it is covered in mayonnaise mixed with shredded lettuce. Chopped tomatoes signify the final touch.
“It is amazing how much the pizza tastes like a B.L.T. sandwich,” says owner Carl Hixon, who estimates that his total food cost for a medium B.L.T. pizza is $4.40, and it sells for $15.99. “We put our ingredients on the heavy side, but we charge more for the pizza,” Hixon adds.

Operators can get creative with how they market insalata pizzas. For example, at Azzurro Pizzeria & Enoteca in Napa, California, the popular Manciata is a “handful” of just-?baked pizza dough with a salad on top. (Manciata means “handful” in Italian.) Manciata varieties include the Italian (romaine, salami, provolone and pepperoncini with oregano vinaigrette), Caesar (romaine, Caesar dressing), spinach (roasted peppers, mozzarella and citrus dressing), and arugula (red onion, bleu cheese cheese and red wine vinaigrette).

Michael Gyetvan, chef/owner of Azzurro Pizzeria & Enoteca sources fresh, seasonal ingredients — local whenever possible. “In the summer we feature our B.L.T. Manciata, with locally grown heirloom tomatoes, blue cheese dressing and artisan bacon. Our meatball Manciata special is very popular with families with kids,” he says. “It’s fun to come up with great new toppings, depending on what’s available to us at any given time.” To prepare a manciata, Gyetvan bakes the dough to the consistency just under that of a pizza. “The crust holds up great under the toppings, but is still soft enough to fold,” he says. Diners are encouraged to fold and eat manciatas like a sandwich.

Manciatas represent about 25 percent of sales as compared to traditional pizzas; however, Gyetvan says that number is slightly skewed during lunch, when a Manciata and an ice tea is a very popular order. No doubt, insalata pizzas are a great menu addition during patio season. Racanelli encourages operators to add them to their menus. “It’s worth the risk,” she says. “You can charge a little more and for those guests who might not normally order the salad and the pizza — you are giving them the best of both. They are now trying two menu items rather than one. I found some of those customers come back and try a full salad with a pasta or other special.”

Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.