A perfect pizza for Columbus Day

Originally Published October 4, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 3, 2012 at 9:32 a.m.
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You can prepare the pizza dough several hours or up to several days ahead.

By Wolfgang Puck

Tribune Media Services

Ever since I first opened Spago high above Hollywood’s Sunset Strip back in 1982, I’ve been known for my pizzas. Some people give Spago credit for inventing the modern American pizza, with its wide variety of creative toppings. But that’s beside the point to me.

For me, a pizza is a delicious edible canvas for a casual but artful combination of flavors and textures, shapes and colors. First and foremost, the art comes in selecting ingredients, in the right proportion, that complement each other and, in doing so, add up to a whole taste experience that’s greater than the sum of the parts. Each element makes its own contribution to the experience of a well-made pizza: the dough itself, freshly made and yeast-leavened; the sauce that lightly moistens it and adds an aromatic base; the cheeses that, singly or in combination, bring creamy and chewy richness with tangy, salty or nutty notes; the other toppings, from vegetables to all kinds of freshly cooked or cured meats, poultry or seafood; and other subtle yet important embellishments, such as fresh or dried herbs or crushed red pepper flakes.

The choices reflect the culture from which the pizza comes. That’s why the pizzas of Italy traditionally feature items like tomatoes or tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan, cured meats like pepperoni or Italian sausage, vegetables like roasted peppers or mushrooms, and herbs like basil or oregano. But American culture is justly known as a great melting pot, so it’s only natural to me that pizzas here should reflect the diversity of American culture. It seems appropriate to me that we observe Columbus Day, which celebrates the 1492 arrival in the New World of an Italian-born explorer sailing under the banner of Spain, by making pizza.

In honor of Cristoforo Colombo, I’m pleased to offer you a longtime favorite Spago combination that seems to me a perfect reflection of the man’s heritage. Its combination of colors — fresh, bright-green baby spinach leaves, slices of red tomato and shredded white cheeses — recall those of the Italian flag. And an additional cheese, Gorgonzola, adds an exciting tanginess that’s pure Italy.

Yet, you’re unlikely to find a pizza quite like this in Italy. The combination was first suggested to me by one of my chefs at Spago years ago. I liked it the first time we made it, and the pizza quickly became one that our customers always asked for.

Try it on Columbus Day on Monday, or anytime you feel like making a great pizza, and two thoughts are equally likely to come to your mind: “Viva Italia!” and “Only in America!”


Makes four 8-inch pizzas


1 1/2 pounds Pizza Dough (recipe follows)

1/2 cup Pesto (recipe follows)

All-purpose flour, for rolling dough

4 cups organic baby spinach leaves, rinsed and dried

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

2 cups shredded Fontina cheese

4 large Roma tomatoes, ends trimmed, each cut into 7 slices

2 cups stemmed, cleaned and thinly sliced cultivated mushrooms

6 ounces Gorgonzola or other blue-veined cheese, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh oregano

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Several hours or up to several days ahead, prepare the Pizza Dough. Just before making the pizzas, prepare the Pesto.

Place a pizza stone or baking tiles on the middle rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

On a lightly floured pizza paddle or a rimless baking sheet, stretch or roll out a ball of dough into a round 8 inches in diameter. Brush the dough with 2 tablespoons of the Pesto, leaving a thin rim. Arrange 1 cup of the spinach leaves on top; then, in order, top with mozzarella, Fontina, tomato, mushrooms, Gorgonzola, herbs and Parmesan.

Carefully slide the pizza from the paddle or baking sheet onto the pizza stone or baking tiles. Bake until deep golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Use the paddle or baking sheet to remove the pizza to a cutting board, and cut into wedges with a pizza cutter or a large, sharp knife. Serve immediately.

Repeat with remaining dough and toppings.


Makes 1 1/2 pounds, enough for four 8-inch pizzas


1 packet active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon Kosher salt


In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the honey and stir together. Let sit 2 or 3 minutes or until the water is cloudy. Stir in the olive oil.

In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture, and process until a ball forms.

Turn out onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead by hand until smooth and firm, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl or tray, cover loosely with a damp towel, and leave at cool room temperature until almost doubled, about 2 hours.

Divide into 4 equal portions. Work each into a ball by pulling downward all around its sides and tucking the pulled-down dough underneath, repeating 4 or 5 times. Then, on a smooth unfloured surface, roll under your palm until the top feels smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Transfer to a clean tray, cover with a damp towel, and let rest for 1 hour. At this point, the dough may be used; wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days; or frozen up to 1 month.


Makes about 1/2 cup


1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 garlic clove

1/2 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted over low heat in a small dry saucepan until golden, 2 to 3 minutes


Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend or process until smoothly pureed, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. To store any unused pesto for up to 3 days, smooth its surface, cover with a thin film of oil, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

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