The texture of spinach leaves, dry and dusty when raw, mushy when cooked, discourages many people from including it in their meals. This is a great way to get people to eat spinach with gusto. It can be an easy weeknight dinner when a prepared crust, jarred peppers and a bag of prewashed spinach are used. Or it can make for a great family weekend activity if the cook chooses to use homemade crust and fresh spinach and peppers. Either way, the fragrance of the baking pizza will draw everyone to the dinner table.
- 1 large bunch spinach
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium cloves garlic, cut into thin slices
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch plus 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 small red bell pepper or a small (6-ounce) jar of roasted red peppers, drained
- Flour, for the work surface
- 1 pound homemade or store-bought pizza dough
- 1 tablespoon cornmeal, for dusting
- 2 tablespoons homemade or store-bought basil pesto
- 1/2 small fennel bulb (outer layers removed and stalks trimmed), cored and cut into thin slices
- 1/2 small red onion, cut into thin slices
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and place a pizza stone on it (if using); preheat to 450 degrees.
Pull the large stems off the spinach leaves and tear the leaves into large pieces (about 4 cups). Wash and drain the spinach leaves several times until all the sand and grit has been removed. Spin in a salad spinner until the leaves are fairly dry.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the skillet then the garlic. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, to flavor the oil; do not let the garlic burn.
Add the spinach and cook for about 3 minutes, so the leaves are wilted and any remaining water has evaporated. Season with a grind of black pepper and a pinch of sea salt. Transfer the spinach to a medium bowl.
If using a fresh bell pepper, cut it in half lengthwise and discard the ribs and seeds.
Wipe out the skillet then return it to the stove, over medium-high heat.
Place the pepper halves in the skillet, skin side down. Sear for several minutes, watching closely, until the majority of the skin is blackened. Transfer the pepper halves to a paper bag and seal it until the peppers have cooled. Discard the blackened skin, then cut the peppers crosswise into thin slices.
Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the pizza dough to a 12-inch round. If using a pizza pan, dust it with cornmeal. If using a pizza stone, dust a pizza peel with cornmeal.
Carefully transfer the dough to the pan, or on a pizza peel. Crimp or roll the edges all the way around the dough. Place in the oven or transfer to the pizza stone and bake for 6 minutes.
Remove from the oven and drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil over the crust, using a pastry brush or your fingers to spread it evenly. Sprinkle the crust with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
Spread the pesto over the crust, leaving a 1-inch margin around the edges. Evenly distribute the cooked spinach, fennel, onion and bell pepper over the crust. Lay the mozzarella slices on the vegetables, but don't completely cover them. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top.
Return the pizza to the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese just begins to brown. Cut into slices; serve hot.
From Cynthia A. Brown, assistant director at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria.
Tested by Cynthia A. Brown.
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