When we spent six months living in Porto Ercole, on the coast in southernmost Tuscany, we were regulars at a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria called Grano where they sell pizza a taglio – long trays of fresh out of the oven pizza, cut into squares and sold by the slice. This particular topping – ‘red pizza’ with salsa verde – is inspired by one that you can find at Grano: tomato sauce, anchovies and salsa verde, a zingy, bright sauce of parsley and capers.
At Grano they cook the salsa verde directly on the pizza, but I love it even more when it’s spooned over the pizza in fresh dollops as soon as it comes out of the oven. The salsa verde packs quite the punch – and you won’t even miss the cheese.
The salsa verde recipe below, which is adapted from a recipe from one of my favourite old (it was printed in 1891!) cookbooks, Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, makes about 200 grams (or 1 cup) of salsa, which is much more than what you’ll need for topping pizza but it is so good, you’ll want to have extra handy. It keeps well in a glass jar in the fridge and is a great sauce to have on hand for topping anything from simply grilled fish or meat to boiled eggs to boiled new potatoes. It’s even good on toast.
A note on the ingredients: go for capers packed in salt rather than in brine, if you can, the flavour is superior. The same goes for the anchovies. Salt-packed anchovies are always my preference, even if anchovies preserved in oil are more convenient. Just don’t skimp on soaking these ingredients properly before using (see the note in the recipe) – and taste for seasoning before adding any extra salt.
If you’re having this as a snack or aperitivo, this amount will serve six. As a meal, it serves two hungry people who want their own whole pizza.
IngredientS (SERVES 2 hungry people)
For the dough
20 g (3/4 oz) fresh yeast, or 7 g (1/4 oz/21/2 level teaspoons) active dry yeast
280 ml (91/2 fl oz) lukewarm water
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, extra for dusting
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
60 ml (2 fl oz/1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
Handful of semolina for dusting
For the salsa verde
1 salt-packed anchovy (or 2 anchovy fillets in oil; see below)
½ garlic clove
100 grams of flat leaf parsley
10 basil leaves
2 heaped tablespoons of salt-packed capers
juice of 1 lemon
60 ml (¼ cup) extra virgin olive oil
For the toppings
240 g (8 oz or 1 cup) tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)
6 salt-packed anchovies (or 12 anchovy fillets in oil; see below)
125 ml (½ cup) of salsa verde (recipe follows)
extra-virgin olive oil as needed
Stir or crumble yeast into the water in a mixing bowl and let it sit for 10 minutes to soften. Sift the flour into a wide bowl with salt and pour over the yeast and water mixture, plus the olive oil. Mix together to create a smooth but sticky dough. Knead on a lightly floured work surface until elastic and no longer sticky, a few minutes.
Place the ball of dough in a large, lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean, damp tea towel (dish towel) or plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place free from draughts until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour (alternatively, keep it in the fridge and let it rise 8-12 hours or overnight).
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 250°C.
If using anchovies packed in salt, rinse them under running water to remove any excess salt then place them in a bowl of fresh water to soak for 15 minutes – see below for removing spines. Do the same with the capers if using capers packed in salt. If using anchovies preserved in oil, drain them on paper towels (kitchen paper) until ready to use.
For the salsa verde, blend the anchovies, onion, garlic, herbs, capers and lemon juice together thoroughly with a food processor or stick blender, and add the olive oil until you have a paste-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper. For the pizza, stir about 125 ml (½ cup) of salsa verde into about 60 ml of olive oil so that it is a little more fluid. Set aside.
In a small bowl, season the passata with a generous pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper. Set aside.
Divide the dough into two even portions. Work with one at a time (keeping the rest of the dough covered) on a work surface dusted with semolina (or flour). Roll or stretch out the dough to a thickness of about 3 mm in the middle (the edges can be thicker) and transfer to a rectangular baking tray or a round pizza tray.
Spoon over the tomato passata mixture to just lightly cover the base, leaving a 2cm (¾ inch) border around the edge. Place the anchovy fillets evenly here and there over the pizza and drizzle over some olive oil. You can bake the pizze one by one, on the lowest shelf possible, but if you’d rather have them ready at the same time, position the two pizze on two shelves in the oven, one on the lowest shelf possible, the other in the middle of the oven. Bake for a total of 12-15 minutes, swapping them around halfway. The crust should be golden and crunchy and the top should look almost dry, with the anchovies sizzling.
Remove from the oven and spread over dollops of salsa verde here and there and serve.
Note: This dough can easily be frozen – double wrap the portions well in plastic wrap and freeze. When you want to use it, thaw in the fridge overnight or on the kitchen bench for a couple of hours. Let it come to room temperature before using as normal.
Using salt-packed capers and anchovies
To prepare salted capers for a recipe, first, rinse off any excess salt under running water, then place capers in a bowl full of fresh water and let soak 15 minutes. Once a jar is opened, any remaining salt-packed capers not used for the recipe should be stored in the refrigerator. It keeps very well.
Anchovies packed in salt are ‘fresher’ and fleshier and should always be stored in the refrigerator. They do need a little more attention and care in preparing them for dishes but you’ll find it’s worth the (tiny) bit of extra effort. First, they need to be rinsed of any excess salt very well and soaked like the capers for 15 minutes. This will soften them so they are a more pliable. Then their spines need to be pulled out – starting from the tail end, split them lengthways by pulling them apart, then you can remove the spine and you will have two anchovy fillets ready to go.