Recipe: My Pizza di Scarola
Pizza di scarola is a Neapolitan specialty that was originally made for Christmas but for many decades has also been popular year-round street food in Naples. I could easily find wedges of this double-crusted escarole torta in New York pizza places when I was a kid, but I haven’t seen it anywhere in at least ten years. That’s a shame, since it can be outstanding. But time marches on, and most of the by-the-slice places here aren’t even run by Italians anymore, so their cooks probably have no idea of this wonderful creation.
Pizza di scarola is a classic, but even classics can have an improvisational side. I almost always use an olive oil crust, but a yeast dough is common too, making it more like a calzone. I really like the texture and taste of the olive oil dough best, and that’s what I used for this recipe, but I once made it with a lard crust, and that was pretty damned good too. So you really have some leeway here.
Flavoring additions that I’m familiar with can include black or green olives, capers, pine nuts, raisins, anchovies (which, I feel, are not negotiable), caciocavallo, or some other Southern cheese such as mozzarella. I flavor up mine differently all the time. If you take a look at a version I posted a few years back, you’ll see I used black olives and Raschera, a Northern (what?) cow’s milk cheese. But this time I really wanted the escarole to come forward, so I omitted the cheese completely and included only ingredients I thought would boost the greens feel of the thing. I added green olives and pine nuts, a little garlic, and anchovies of course, but I also threw in a tiny bit of both mustard and fresh thyme, not typical Neapolitan touches by any stretch, but for me they did the trick, making this version lighter while highlighting the delicate bitterness escarole gives off when cooked.
I’ve tasted versions of pizza di scarola that contained just about nothing but escarole, and I’ve sampled ones that encompassed an entire grab bag of Neapolitan flavors (including some of the first ones I made myself, in a culinary past when I knew no restraint). What’s in your pizza di scarola? I’d love to know.
My Pizza di Scarola
You’ll want a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, or a tart ring.
For the crust:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup dry vermouth
For the filling:
1 very large head escarole, washed and cut into small pieces (you’ll want about 4 cups, uncooked)
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small, fresh, medium hot red chili, seeded and minced
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
A large pinch of sugar
A big handful of lightly toasted pine nuts
A teaspoon of Dijon mustard
6 large thyme sprigs, leaves chopped
About 10 green picholine olives, pitted and chopped
1 extra large egg, lightly whisked
To make the crust: Put the flour in a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and salt. Mix the olive oil and vermouth together in a cup, and pour it over the flour, mixing it in with a wooden spoon. If the mix seems dry, add a drizzle more of vermouth or water. When you have a nice moist mass of lumpy dough, dump it out onto a work surface, knead it a few times, and then quickly squeeze it all together until you’ve got a big ball. Wrap the dough in plastic, and let it sit, unrefrigerated, for about an hour.
Blanch the escarole in a pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain it and run it under cold water to stop the cooking. Now squeeze as much water from the escarole as you can, and give it a few extra chops.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large skillet, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the garlic and hot chili, and let them soften for a few seconds. Add the escarole, the anchovies, the pinch of sugar, and a little salt. Sauté until all the flavors are well distributed, about a minute or so. Add the mustard, pine nuts, thyme, and olives, and mix them in. Let cool for about 10 minutes, and then add about half of the beaten egg, stirring it in.
Place your tart pan or ring on a baking sheet.
Cut the dough into two parts, one slightly bigger than the other. Roll out the larger part and drape it into your tart pan or ring, leaving a little overhang. Spoon the escarole filling onto the dough and smooth it down. Roll out the other piece of dough, and place it on top of the filling. Pull up the overhang, and crimp the edges all around. Make a few slashes in the top, and brush with the rest of the beaten egg. Bake until browned and fragrant, about 40 minutes. Let rest about ½ hour before slicing.