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Yes, pizza. I know that pizza is Italian, not Mexican.
But I can give you several good reasons why it can be the perfect food for your own Cinco de Mayo party, whether you're hosting a big gathering or serving a small family meal.
Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the U.S. these days tend to be all about easy-to-make casual foods that go well with beer or margaritas (or soft drinks for the kids).
Pizza certainly meets those requirements.
Add the fact that pizza today has a much broader definition than it had a few decades ago, when cheese, pepperoni, meatball, sausage, and anchovies were the main options. I'm proud to say I've played a part in California's continuing expansion of what pizza toppings could be.
From the moment I decided to include a pizza oven when I first opened Spago on L.A.'s Sunset Strip in 1982, I've thought of pizza dough as a blank canvas on which to paint all sorts of culinary pictures.
I love to top pizzas with smoked salmon, barbecued chicken, scrambled eggs, duck sausage, and all sorts of other ingredients. So why not spicy chicken breast marinated with jalapeno chilies for a pizza with real Mexican pizzazz?
After all, when you think about it, pizza isn't very different from Mexico's quesadillas, tortillas folded around melted cheese and cooked on a grill or griddle. Just substitute pizza dough for the tortilla and cook it in the oven.
I include here my favorite recipe for homemade dough.
Be sure to allow several hours for mixing the dough and letting it rise, though you can make the dough up to two days ahead.
If you're short of time, feel free to substitute ready-to-bake yeast-leavened dough from the supermarket freezer or refrigerator case.
Whatever kind of dough you use, I also recommend that you cook the pizzas on top of a pizza stone preheated in your oven. These ceramic tiles, found in many cookware stores, help replicate the intense, dry heat of a true pizza oven, yielding crispier, more perfectly cooked pizzas. (Be sure to review the manufacturer's instructions for safe handling and cleanup of the stone or tiles.)
Feel free to play with the toppings as much as I like to do. You can add grilled or sauteed vegetables; substitute milder or hotter chilies; or use shrimp, steak, or pork instead of the chicken. Or put out a variety of different Mexican-inspired toppings and let guests create their own pizzas.
Whatever you do, I promise you one thing: Pizza-making will feel like a real fiesta!
Spicy Chicken Mexican Pizza Recipe
Makes 4 8-inch pizzas, 4 to 8 servings
- 1 pound boneless skinless organic chicken breast, cut into small bite-sized cubes
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 3-1/2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 teaspoons chopped organic jalapeno pepper
- Pinch chopped fresh cilantro
- Pizza Dough (recipe follows)
- All-purpose (plain) flour, for shaping pizza dough
- 3 cups shredded organic mozzarella cheese
- 2 cups shredded organic fontina cheese
- 1 pound Roma (plum) tomatoes, about 6, cored and cut into thin slices
- Chopped chives, for garnish
- 4 teaspoons freshly grated organic Parmesan cheese
Put the chicken in a bowl and toss with 1/2 cup olive oil, the lime juice, jalapeno, cilantro, and a little salt. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
In a skillet large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer, heat the remaining oil. Saute the chicken until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.
To prepare each pizza, dip a ball of dough into flour, shake off excess, and place on a clean, lightly floured surface. Stretch the dough, pressing down on the center and spreading it into an 8-inch circle with a slightly thicker rim. Or use a small rolling pin to roll out the dough.
Place a pizza stone on the upper shelf of the oven. Preheat the oven to 525 degrees F.
Transfer the rolled out pizza dough to a lightly floured baker's paddle or rimless baking sheet. Lightly brush the dough with oil and top with mozzarella, fontina, tomatoes, chives, Parmesan, and chicken. Slide onto the stone and cook until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
PIZZA DOUGH Recipe
Makes enough for 4 pizzas
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water, 105 to 115 degrees F.
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 3 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
Put the yeast in a small bowl and stir in 1/4 cup of warm water and the honey. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour and salt. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and remaining warm water and mix on low speed until the dough clusters around the hook, about 5 minutes. (Or use a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade. Pulse the flour and salt together a couple of times, add the remaining ingredients, and process until the dough begins to form a ball.)
Turn out onto a clean work surface and knead by hand for 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth and firm. Transfer to a large, lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with a clean, damp towel, and let rise at warm room temperature for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 equal balls. Work each into a compact, even shape by pulling down the dough around its sides and tucking it under the bottom, repeating s 4 or 5 rotations. On a smooth, unfloured surface, roll the ball under your palm until the top of the dough feels smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let rest 15 to 20 minutes. At this point, the balls can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
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