Romanesca cauliflower (or Romanesco), with its mesmerizing patterns of perfect, pea-green fractals, is by far the sexiest vegetable at the farmstand this season. Its flavor is similar to white cauliflower—mild and nutty—so it benefits from the umph of stronger ingredients and seasonings like herbs, salt, and olives.
In this pizza, I wanted to emphasize Romanesco's unique shape and texture, so I kept things simple with a smooth olive pesto sauce and crumbled feta cheese. The end result looked just like an alpine forest landscape viewed from the airplane window, and it tasted earthy and verdant, warm and bold. Though the flavors would suggest a Mediterranean feel, John and I both agreed that it was much more Lord of the Rings than Mama Mia!. A trick of the eye, perhaps?
Romanesco Pizza with Olive Pesto and Feta Cheese
Makes one 12-inch pizza
- 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
- 1/2 cup green olives, pitted
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 heaping tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
- 1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 3 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
- 1/3 to 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium (1-pound) head of Romanesca cauliflower
- 1 (14- to 16-ounce) ball Basic Pizza Dough (or pre-made dough)
- 2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
Place your pizza stone (if using) on an oven rack about 8 inches from the broiler. If you plan to cook your pizza on a baking sheet, place a rack in the middle of the oven (you do not need to preheat the baking sheet). Preheat the oven to 500°F and let it heat up for at least 30 minutes while you make the dough and/or prepare the toppings.
To prep the toppings: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the olives, thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, and pine nuts. Pulse the mixture until the ingredients are all finely chopped and the mixture is uniform in texture, then, with the processor running, stream in the oil until the pesto is creamy and spreadable. You will need at least 1/3 cup of oil. Season the pesto with black pepper and set it aside. (You'll only need 1/2 cup of the pesto for your pizza; store the rest in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.)
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Drop the Romanesco florets into the boiling water, let the water return to a boil, and then cook for 2 minutes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, drain the Romanesco, and dump the blanched florets into the ice water. Let the florets soak for 3 to 5 minutes, then drain them and set them aside until you're ready to bake the pizza. (This process will slightly cook the Romanesco and lock in the bright lime-green color.)
To stretch/roll out the dough: Dust the ball of dough with flour and place it on a well-floured work surface. Using your hands or a rolling pin, gently stretch or roll the dough into a 12-inch disk.
If you’re using a pizza stone: Dust a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet generously with flour or cornmeal. Place the dough disk on the prepared peel.
If you're using a baking sheet: Spray the baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the dough disk on the prepared baking sheet.
To top the pizza: Spread 1/2 cup of the olive peso evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Arrange the Romanesca florets on top of the pesto, and sprinkle the pizza evenly with the feta cheese.
To bake the pizza: If you're using a pizza stone, 10 minutes before you are ready to cook the pizza, increase the oven heat to broil. Slide the pizza from the peel (or inverted baking sheet) to the hot stone using quick shimmying movements. Broil the pizza for 5 to 7 minutes (3 to 5 minutes in a gas oven), until the bottom of the crust is crispy, the cheese has melted, and the top is blistered. Using the peel or inverted baking sheet, transfer the cooked pizza to a cutting board. If you are making more than one pizza, allow the pizza stone to reheat under the broiler for 5 minutes before you cook the next one.
If you're using a baking sheet, do not increase the oven to broil. Place the baking sheet on the rack in the middle of the oven and bake at 500°F for about 10 minutes, until the crust is crispy, the cheese has melted, and the top is blistered.
Remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool for at least 5 minutes, then slice and serve.