Summer Season

Use summer ingredients to lighten up your menu

As the temperature rises, it’s time to cool things down. Give your customers the opportunity to lighten up with pizzas that are fresh, colorful and deliciously summer-fresh. There’s no need to put pepperoni and sausage on a back shelf, but summer is the perfect opportunity to menu limited-time offerings with farmer’s market appeal.

This will give you an edge over the chains, which don’t have the ability to change it up as fast as you can. By utilizing fresh ingredients sourced from local producers, it’s easy to create pizzas that have summer appeal. Think bell peppers, zucchini, etc. –– anything with fresh appeal.With proper advertising, you will be out front and on the cutting edge. Don’t forget to romance these summer pizzas with tags like “Farmer’s Market Special.” You don’t have to print new menus –– just use a chalkboard (or even a dry erase board) and let your customers know what fresh ingredients you have on hand.

And this is the time to take advantage of fresh herbs as well. Basil, thyme, oregano, mint and other herbs will add a flavor profile that will have your customers coming back for more.

Listed below are several ideas and suggestions to get you started. Keep in mind the mantra I always preach: balance. Not too much, not too little. You have a garden of opportunity to till as fresh produce comes along month after month — run with it and show your customers that you are in it to win it:

• On a baked pizza crust, overlap slices of fresh Roma or slicing tomatoes. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the tomatoes. Snip leaves of fresh basil and scatter them across the top.

• As a variety to the above, add thin slices of fresh mozzarella to the pizza for a simple margherita.

• Summer would be a good time to break out a barbecue chicken pizza! If you’re grilling meats for sandwiches and salads, there’s no reason not to add it to pizza. Though you can prep boneless, skinless chicken breasts by sautéing or grilling, it is simple to order cooked chicken strips from a reliable supplier. Now all you need to do is toss the chicken in barbecue sauce and arrange the pieces over the pizza shell. I like to add chopped fresh red onion and jazz up the flavor.

With but four basic ingredients, this pizza goes together fast, and it’s absolutely delicious. Simply by changing the type of barbecue sauce — smoky, spicy, hot — you can spice it up or down to taste. July would be a good time to feature a range of barbecue pizza (chicken, pork).

• Pizza alla oesto: there are a number of suppliers who have pesto sauce ready to use, so simply brush a baked pizza shell with pesto sauce, add fresh basil leaves to garnish and serve. If the price is right, scatter some toasted pine nuts over the top.

• Another dimension of flavor can be brought into the mix by using shredded smoked mozzarella.

PIZZA INSALATA

This salad pizza is a refreshing way to have your salad and your pizza at the same time. While the cheese pizza is baking, assemble the salad. Pizza insalata is good anytime of the year, but it is especially good anytime when tomatoes are at peak flavor. If the pizza is served as a first course, or as a salad entrée, it will serve two generously.

Yield: one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)6-7 cups mixed lettuces –– leaf, red leaf, radicchio

4-5 fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and cubed
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 14-inch pizza shell
8 thin slices provolone cheese (about 6 ounces)

Combine the lettuces and tomatoes. Set aside. Can be prepped ahead and chilled for several hours.In a measuring cup combine the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice. Whisk to combine. Add salt and pepper.With your fingers, press and form a ½-inch border around the crust. Prick the base of the crust all over with a fork.

Lay the slices of cheese over the crust up to the raised border.Bake the shell until it is cooked through. Set aside to cool (prep to this point).

Toss the greens with the dressing. Cut the pizza into wedges and space them on a large serving plate. Arrange portions of the salad between the wedges and serve. Serve grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

SUMMER GARDEN PIZZA

Yield: one 14-inch pizza
1 14-inch pizza crust
1 cup Alfredo sauce
1½ cups julienne carrots
1½ cups broccoli
1 cup julienne cucumber
1 small tomato, chopped ½ small onion, chopped
1½ cup mozzarella
Fresh basil

Ladle Alfredo sauce onto pizza crust, spreading it into a semi-thin layer. Scatter broccoli, cucumber, tomato, onion and 1 cup of carrots on top.Cover with mozzarella and a few sprinkles of fresh basil. Bake.When pizza comes out of oven, sprinkle with remaining carrots. 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.