2012 April: Forbidden Fruit?

Hawaiian Pizza and its variations broke the mold years ago, combining sweet, tart pineapple with savory, salty ham to create a menu favorite across the country. While pineapple has become a mainstay on many pizzerias’ toppings lists, there is a world of fruits just waiting to find their way onto your pizzas.

Mango, cranberries, apples, cherries, figs, avocados and even watermelon might be just what you’re looking for to ignite a wave of enthusiasm from your customers. Watermelon, for instance, may seem like an odd pizza topping. But when Executive Chef Jason Sondgroth at Paesanos in Sacramento, California, paired watermelon with prosciutto, feta and a balsamic reduction, it became a wonderland of palatable sensations.

He says he wanted to create something that was reminiscent of a picnic. It became an instant hit, along with another creation: the Gorgonzola & Fuji Apple Pizza with olive oil, garlic, caramelized onions, spinach and mozzarella. If you are already offering fruit-based, house-made desserts, it’s as easy as creating a crave-able pizza, making those fruits available on the pizza line and training your pizza maker to get the right formula down and your servers to entice adventurous diners. What should you think about when it comes to incorporating fruit on pizza?

The flavor combination is key. It’s a balancing act, according to co-owner and chef Brandon Case of Peel Wood Fired Pizza in Edwardsville, Illinois. Working with co-owner Patrick Thirion, Case says, “we like to pair the sweet and savory together and the hot and cold together.” For some pies, the fruit is baked right in, while for others, Case says, chilled fruit is used as a garnish. Either way, Case says the options enhance Peel’s menu offerings and carry a similar food cost to many of the other vegetables his restaurant uses.

Last fall, the Crème de Brie Pizza debuted on Peel’s menu with prosciutto, Granny Smith apples, Brie cheese and fresh sage. Case says it’s a lighter style pizza that customers responded so well to that it will stay on the menu through the next cycle this year. Peel introduces many of its fruity concoctions through its chef’s specials, like the Wood Fired Chicken and Strawberry Pizza. The slightly smoky flavor of the chicken really pairs well with the strawberries, as well as many other fruits, Case says. John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio, experiments often with various fruits. He finds they hold several benefits. “Fruit is a champion because it acts as a palate cleanser, flavor enhancer and intensifies savory flavors all at the same time,” he says. When looking for the right accompaniment to fruit, Gutekanst says, consider the following meats:

prosciutto
bacon
pancetta
guanciale

“These go great as long as you have a perfect combo of additional strong, sharp and ‘stinky’ flavors,” Gutekanst says. He suggests:

gorgonzola
Stilton
Taleggio
aged Manchego

To enhance the texture, Gutekanst suggests giving the pizza a little nutty crunch with walnuts, almonds, pecans or cashews. Vegetables like arugula, spinach, sunflower sprouts and watercress can add an extra bite. Using fruit on pizza does result in one baking issue: water. “Baking is always a challenge with water,” Gutekanst says. “That’s why I prefer to use dried fruit and rehydrate in hot water.” Gutekanst says rehydrating is easy — plus dried fruit is packed with flavor. “The best thing is that this gives you double intensity of dried fruit and a limper, more digestible fruit,” he says, adding that he buys bags of dried mango, blueberry, cherry and cranberry and rehydrates them overnight. Is your mouth watering yet with the flavor combinations available? Experiment with an original pizza in your shop. It may hit big.

The Purple People Eater

John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio, says “I’ve been turning to fruit more and more these days as a complimentary or juxtapositional flavor, especially for salty and spicy pizza toppings.” He has created numerous insatiable pizzas that incorporate a variety of fruits. Try this sweet and spicy pizza:

1 dough ball
1 medium to large onion
3 chipotle peppers from a can with adobo sauce
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup dried blueberry
5-8 leaves of raddichio del Traviso (regular raddichio will do in a pinch) slice thin or thick depending on what you like
1 rasher of thick-cut bacon, cut into thin batons
5-7 ounces of fresh curd torn into chunks
Toss onions with olive oil in oven proof pan. Tear the chipotle peppers up and add to the pan with a small amount of adobo sauce (1 tablespoon). Heat in the oven for 12 to 16 minutes, tossing halfway to incorporate flavors. Remove from oven and toss dried blueberries, then put back in oven for 5 minutes until onions are limp. Remove and toss again, then put into a small container and cover to let the blueberries rehydrate with the steam.

Place chipotle mix on the dough, then place the sliced raddichio, the bacon and the fresh curd. Bake.

Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.