Sometimes I feel as though all I talk about here is the weather, so forgive me, but living in the Bay Area, it feels most of the time like we don't have any real seasons. The temperature fluctuates along a 20-degree range for most of the year, with the highs usually occurring in January and the lows in what is supposed to be summer. After a while, you get used to the lack of "normal" seasons and it can be easy to just give up looking for the signs that signal a shift from one to the next.
But nature finds a way to remind us what's up, and even here in California, where we can eat most produce year round without guilt, there are a few special items that only arrive once a year to remind us that seasons are still very much a thing. I'm thinking of the two weeks in Summer when cherries are flooding the produce aisle or the even later month when Summer shifts to fall and concord grapes make their heady, sticky appearance.
And now, as we head into mid-April, squash and zucchini blossoms are making their annual appearance, and I can stop looking for signs of Spring in plastic eggs and marshmallow bunnies. Instead, these long, green blooms with their flame-tipped crowns are here to announce that maybe the never-ending rain will stop at some point (though we don't really want that) and that elsewhere in the country the days are warming up enough that someones sister keeps obnoxiously posting her al fresco post-work chill time on Instagram. She can stop now.
As I have neither a porch nor much sunshine here I'll just content myself with my squash blossoms, and they are something to be grateful for in their own right. In the past I've stuck with a classic preparation and stuffed them with ricotta before battering and deep frying. That is certainly a delicious way to go, but with a delicate, subtle flavor, they lend themselves well to any dish that doesn't threaten to overwhelm them, and so this year I decided to pair them with ricotta on a pizza instead, topping a thin spread of pesto and finished with a gentle rain of lemon zest.
The result was 6 slices of doughy, herby, cheesy Spring almost too beautiful to eat, but somehow I managed. I hope you'll consider following suit.
Pesto Ricotta Pizza with Squash Blossoms
For the Pizza:
- 1/2 recipe pizza dough (recipe below, or your favorite store bought dough or naan)
- 1/2 cup pesto (store bought is ok!)
- 5-6 oz good quality ricotta (see note)
- 6 squash blossoms
- red pepper flakes
- fresh ground black pepper
- zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
For the pizza dough: Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
- 1 3/8 cup warm water
- 1 packet active dry yeast (3/4 tbs)
- 3/4 tbs kosher salt
- 1/2 tbs sugar
- 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- Prepare the dough: In a large bowl, mix together yeast, salt, sugar, and olive oil with the water and stir to combine. You may need to wet your hands and knead together to fully combine the last bit of flour.
- Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, until dough rises and flattens on top. Dough can be used right away or refrigerated until ready to use.
- When ready to make pizza, heat oven to its highest temperature, or at least 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone or steel place it in the oven for preheating.
- Once oven is at temperature, prepare your dough. Dust the surface of your pizza dough with flour and cut off half the dough. Dust with more flour and shape dough into a ball by stretching the top of the dough around to the bottom on all sides, rotating as you go. Place dough on a piece of parchment paper and flatten, then use a rolling pin or your hands to flatten into a 1/8 inch thick round. Transfer the parchment to the backside of a cookie sheet or a pizza peel.
- Assemble the pizza: Spread the pesto in a thin layer across the dough, leaving a 1/2-1 inch border. Dollop with the ricotta and arrange squash blossoms on top. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes to taste.
- Use the cookie sheet to carefully slide the parchment and pizza onto your preheated pizza steel or stone. Bake for about 13 minutes, until dough is bubbled and well browned. Using a long pair of tongs, pull the edge of the parchment paper to guide the pizza back onto the cookie sheet or a cutting board. Sprinkle with lemon zest and juice and a few grinds of black pepper. Cut pizza into slices and serve hot.
- This is not the time to skimp on the good ricotta. You are only using a few ounces so get the good stuff. I found an excellent buffalo milk version at my grocery store, but anything made with whole milk and located in the specialty cheese area is probably a good bet.
- If using store bought dough or naan, skip step 4.
- The pizza dough recipe makes enough for 2 pizzas, so double up on toppings or save half the dough for another pizza. The dough keeps for up to 2 weeks in the fridge, loosely covered, developing flavor all the while.