Growing up, the closest I ever got to preserved lemons was the quart-size Mason jar of plastic lemons that my mom kept on the kitchen counter as decoration. It wasn't until I became a cookbook editor that I discovered they were a real culinary ingredient, and it wasn't until just last week that I finally tasted them for myself . . . on a pizza, no less. A friend and I were checking out a new-ish Italian restaurant in South Philly, known for their giant wood-fired oven and exceptional pizzas (among other things). When I saw that one of their seasonal offerings involved preserved lemon, I figured the stars had finally aligned.
To what would have otherwise been a traditional white pizza, the preserved lemons—scattered over melted clouds of buffalo mozzarella—added a distinct lemony scent and savory tang. It seems that the preserving process dials down the pucker of the fruit while deepening the flavor and somehow retaining the fresh citrus aroma.
For my version of this ingenious pizza, I brushed the dough all over with garlic oil and topped it with grated fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced preserved lemon, and a few grinds of black pepper. Then, when it came out of the oven all bubbly and hot, I scattered a couple tablespoons of chopped fresh basil over top.
I bought my preserved lemons at a gourmet grocery store, since making them myself would have taken at least 3 weeks. However, if you're feeling so inclined, here is a ridiculously easy recipe for preserved lemons, from Marisa at Food in Jars.
White Pizza with Preserved Lemon and Mozzarella
Makes one 12-inch pizza
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 (14- to 16-ounce) ball Basic Pizza Dough (or pre-made dough)
- 4 ounces mozzarella, grated
- 1 preserved lemon, thinly sliced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
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: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and let it sizzle for 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool slightly.
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: Brush the garlic oil all over the dough, making sure to get the edges. (You probably won't need all of the oil; just brush it on until all the dough is lightly coated.)
Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the oiled dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around, and then arrange the lemon slices on top of the mozzarella. Grind some black pepper over all.
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 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 and the top is blistered.
Let the pizza cool for at least 5 minutes, then sprinkle the basil over top; slice and serve.