I am a big advocate for pizza at dinner parties, especially when it's homemade. If you make the dough ahead of time, dinner can be ready in less than a half-hour, and there's nothing quite as impressive as placing a steaming, fresh-from-the-oven pie in the center of the dinner table. Forget fancy centerpieces—all you need is pizza.
I make pizza almost every week for dinner so I change up the toppings a lot to keep it from getting boring. I use sausage and peppers; mushrooms with garlic and parsley; or, recently, store-bought harissa with gruyere and herb salad. That was really, really, good.
But my new favorite is a lighter, healthier take on white pizza: a thin crust topped with a layer of ricotta, a drizzle of pesto and a little red pepper flakes and parmesan. It sounds incredibly simple, and it is, but it's way more than the sum of its parts. The creamy ricotta is the perfect counterpart for the bright, garlic-y pesto, and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes adds just the right amount of heat.
For a dinner party, I'd serve the pizza with an arugula salad and something decadent for dessert—maybe gelato topped with homemade chocolate sauce or a shot of hot espresso? You could also just eat the pizza by itself off of paper plates in front of the TV and find it just as satisfying.
Ricotta and pesto pizza
Dough recipe adapted from Louise Pickford's book Grilling.
(Serves 2 to 4 people)
For the pizza dough:
1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup hot water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Sift the flour into a large bowl and stir in the yeast and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour, then add the hot water and olive oil. Stir with a spoon until it has formed a soft dough. Knead the dough with floured hands, pressing it against the bowl until it is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball and cover the bowl with a dish towel. Let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour, or until it has doubled in size. (You can also make it the night before and store it in the fridge, wrapped in plastic or stored in a large plastic Ziploc bag.)
For the pizza topping:
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
(Makes about 2 cups)
3 handfuls of basil leaves (about 3 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper, to taste
In a food processor, combine the garlic, pine nuts, and basil. Pulse until slightly pureed. Pour in the olive oil gradually, pulsing with each addition until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, parmesan, and salt. Taste as you go, making sure it's balanced. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator.
To assemble the pizza:
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Use your hands or a rolling pin to roll out the pizza on a floured surface so that it's about 1/2 inch thin. Place the rolled-out dough on a pizza stone or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a large spoon, spread the ricotta evenly over the pizza dough. Top with the pesto, then drizzle the 2 Tbsp. of olive oil on top. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the pizza is golden brown and bubbling. Sprinkle with parmesan and serve hot.