‘Four seasons’ pizza is right for any time of year

Wolfgang Puck/Tribune Content Agency Published May 15, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Tribune Content Agency

You may never see this pizza made the same way twice, so feel free to be creative with the four toppings.

We all associate certain foods with certain times of the year. Steaming bowls of hearty soups are perfect to warm us in winter. Ice cream, though a year-round favorite, really does the trick on a hot summer day. Hard-shelled winter squashes and pumpkin pies? Autumn, of course! The list could go on and on.

But what about pizza? Does it have a season? Well, it’s a dish best enjoyed hot, bubbling and crusty from the oven, which means it can warm you up when the weather is cold. (Though we’ve all heard from college students, and possibly remember from our own student years, the pleasures of cold leftover pizza, too.) Yet pizza, especially when made with a thin, crispy crust, can also be a lighter dish to be enjoyed when the weather is warmer, and its casual nature makes it ideal for a relaxed spring or summer meal. In the end, pizza dough is simply a vehicle for whatever toppings you choose to put on it.

There’s no better example of this point than one of the classic pizzas of Italy: quattro stagioni, or “four seasons” pizza. You may have seen it listed on the menu of an Italian restaurant and wondered what the name refers to — especially if you’ve noticed it in several different places and never found it made the same way twice. That’s because, as I’ve found, the name is more poetic than a strict adherence to seasonality.

But a quattro stagioni nonetheless aims to offer you four different kinds of toppings that more or less make reference to different times of the year. So you’ll probably find fresh tomatoes for the summer months when they’re at their peak, mushrooms for autumn, and so on. Are there any strict regulations, however, that say you have to represent all four seasons on a single pizza? None that I know of.

In fact, my goal when making such a pizza is simply to offer four distinctively different eating experiences, each on its own section of the pizza — which you divide into four separate sections by making an X of thin dough strips on top. In the recipe I share here, the four toppings are mushrooms, tomato, prosciutto and crabmeat, but you could substitute any of a wide roster of other ingredients, including shaved artichoke hearts or Yukon Gold potatoes, sauteed shrimp or steamed and shelled clams, roasted bell-pepper strips, thinly sliced salami or anything else you fancy. Just be sure to offer variety and to make enough pizzas so that every guest gets a slice from every section.

Try my version here to start out. Then branch out with your own variations. Make Four Seasons Pizzas a perennial favorite in your own kitchen!

FOUR SEASONS PIZZAS

Serves 8 to 12

Ingredients:

Pizza Dough (recipe follows)

6 ounces cultivated mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 pound cooked crabmeat

1 medium tomato

8 thin slices prosciutto, cut into julienne strips

1 1/2 cups Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)

2 cups each shredded mozzarella and fontina

2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil

1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan

Directions:

Prepare the dough at least 1 hour ahead.

Put a pizza stone in the oven, and preheat to 500 degrees.

In a saute pan over high heat, saute the mushrooms in the oil until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside. Remove any shell or cartilage from the crabmeat. Cut the tomato into 6 slices.

On a floured board, stretch out 3 dough balls to 10-inch circles. Divide the remaining ball into 6 pieces, and roll each into a 10-inch strip. Spread the sauce evenly among the 3 circles, leaving narrow rims. Evenly distribute the cheese. Place 2 dough strips across each pizza to divide it into quarters.

Garnish a quarter of each pizza with tomato, another with crabmeat, another with mushrooms and another with prosciutto.

Slide a pizza onto the hot pizza stone. Bake until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes.

Slide the pizza from the oven to a cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut into slices. Sprinkle basil over the tomato, and Parmesan over the mushrooms. Serve immediately.

Repeat with remaining pizzas.

PIZZA DOUGH

Makes enough for 3 pizzas

Ingredients:

1 packet active dry yeast

1 teaspoon honey

1 cup warm water, 105-115 degrees

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and honey in 1/4 cup of the water.

In a mixer with a dough hook, or a food processor with the stainless-steel blade, combine the flour and salt. Add the oil, yeast mixture and remaining water, and mix on low speed until the dough clusters around the dough hook, or process until it rides on the processor blade.

Turn out onto a clean work surface, and knead by hand until smooth and firm, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover with a clean, damp towel and leave in a warm spot to rise for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 equal balls. Shape each by pulling down the sides and tucking under the bottom, repeating 4 or 5 times. Then on a smooth, unfloured surface, roll under your palm until smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Cover with a damp towel, and leave to rest about 20 minutes. At this point, the balls can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

TOMATO SAUCE

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 pounds Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

1 cup organic chicken broth, heated

1/4 cup finely shredded fresh basil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the

garlic, and cook 1 minute longer. Add the tomato paste, and cook for 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and broth, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until a thick sauce forms, about 20 minutes. Strain into a clean saucepan. Stir in the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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