I remember the day I took my first bite of a fresh tomato like it was yesterday. It was a warm summer day and I was scouring the lackluster kitchen of our home in Slidell, the bayou town where I spent the majority of my early childhood, in search of the perfect late afternoon snack. I spotted a plump, fire-engine red tomato perched on top of our white laminate countertops and my eyes lit up. After years of watching television actors bite into whole tomatoes – the soft dribble of juice running down their chins as their heads tilted back in ecstasy – I was certain the fat, juicy tomato would taste like a little slice of heaven. Why hadn’t I done this before? I chomped into it, eager and willing, pushed it around with my tongue for a moment, and then immediately spit it out into the sink. I was appalled. The tomato was tasteless and mealy. There was no sweetness, there was no earth. There was no ecstasy-inducing chin dribble.
Just the stale wetness of mass-produced supermarket fruit falling from the corners of my lips.
I decided right then that I must be lacking the tomato-loving gene and that we would learn to coexist like this: They were allowed to make an appearance in my gumbos or my braised meats. They could coat bowls full of pasta. They might even be permitted to top a burger or sandwich, if they were sliced ever so thinly. But I would never – I repeat, never – hurl myself teeth-first into a fresh tomato ever again.
Today, things are a little different. A massive wave of end-of-summer, dry-farmed tomatoes spill from my garden beds. They’re so sweet, so rich in flavor, that I often find myself eating them by the handful – right off the vine – to stave off hunger in the afternoon. (Bourré shamelessly does the same when I’m not looking.) I was positively giddy the afternoon I found a massive heirloom, ripe for chomping into with a quick sprinkle of salt. And I was ecstatic when I learned that tomato leaves, which send out the most deliciously spicy, earthy scent when brushed against, are actually edible. Here, they’re featured in both the sauce and the dough, giving the most amazing earth-filled flavor to the already-damn-near-perfect combo of sweet tomato sauce and smoky buffalo mozzarella.
Maybe this recipe is a way for me to make amends with the poor fruit I ignorantly shunned for long—a classic case of a bad first impression gone awry. Maybe it’s a way for me to showcase a new part of the tomato plant that I’ve never cooked with before. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s merely an excuse to eat pizza and drink beer in the name of saying farewell to a summer that was full of bounty. Yeah, that last one’s probably it.
- ½ cup of warm water
- ½ teaspoon of active dry yeast
- ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon of very cold water
- ½ tablespoon of sugar
- ½ cup of fresh tomato leaves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon of table salt)
- 2 cups of typo 00 flour (or all-purpose flour*)
- 4 pounds of fresh tomatoes*
- salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 6-inch tomato vines with leaves
- 1 tablespoon of semolina flour (or all-purpose flour)
- mozzarella cheese
- 8 fresh basil leaves
- olive oil, for brushing dough
- The night before you’re ready to eat the pizza, pour warm water into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Add yeast and allow to proof for 5-10 minutes. If you notice your yeast hasn’t proofed (turned to a kind of foam) in the warm water, it likely means your yeast is old, meaning you’ll need to purchase new active yeast before continuing. Add cold water, sugar, tomato leaves, and kosher salt to the bowl and stir to combine. Add flour to the bowl in 3-4 increments. If you’re combining by hand, you’ll need to begin using your hands to integrate the flour about halfway through the flour pour—turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and supple, about 10 minutes; If you’re using a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, look for the dough to begin pulling away from the sides of the bowl and then knead until dough is smooth and supple, about 7 minutes.
- Coat the dough ball with olive oil, place in a large bowl (large enough for it to double in size), and cover with plastic wrap. Place dough in the refrigerator to rise overnight, about 12-48 hours (ideally, around 24).* Begin work on the sauce (see below.)
- Bring a large pot of water, filled about 5-6 inches high, to a boil. Score the bottom of each tomato with an “X” shape. (You can skip this step for the smaller tomatoes, like cherry tomatoes.) Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. When the water is boiling, add tomatoes in batches and boil for 1 minute, or until you notice the skins start to peel off. Use a slotted spoon to quickly transfer to the bowl of ice water. Repeat until all of the tomatoes are in the ice water. Discard the boiling water and return pot to the stove.
- Pull the skins from the tomatoes, discarding the skins. Add the meat of the tomato to a food processor and purée until smooth. You can also use an immersion blender if you prefer. Return the puréed tomato meat to the pot, season with salt and pepper to taste, add vines from the plant, and simmer gently for 30 minutes to 2 hours. The length of time you simmer will depend on your taste preferences and how much water is in the tomatoes. They will get sweeter as they cook, so be sure to taste test every 15 minutes or so until you reach your desired flavor and consistency. Remove vines before serving.
- When you’re ready to cook the pizza, preheat the oven to 550 degrees F and place either a pizza stone or a large cast iron skillet on the lowest rack for at least one hour. This is a good time to remove the pizza dough from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature (about 1 hour). Once your stone/skillet is heated through, remove it from the oven (carefully!), dust with semolina (or all purpose) flour, and switch the oven from it’s bake mode to it’s broiler mode on high, moving one rack to the very top portion of the oven.
- Begin to stretch your dough to fit the diameter of your stone/skillet. Be sure to work gently with the dough and don’t roll it out or else you’ll “de-gas” all of those beautiful bubbles that will puff up in the oven. Carefully lay it on the hot stone and spoon several (I used about 8-10 tablespoons) spoonfuls of fresh tomato sauce onto the surface of the pizza, spreading it around the center, but stopping roughly 1 inch from the edges. Arrange cheese and basil leaves on top of sauce and brush the edges with olive oil. Place skillet back in the oven, this time on the uppermost rack directly under the broiler, and broil until cheese is melted and dough is golden on top, about 5-7 minutes.
I prefer roma tomatoes for the sauce, but really any tomato will work here.
While this recipe calls for an overnight rise, if you’re in a pinch, you can do a “warm rise” of the dough, meaning that instead of letting it slow rise in the refrigerator for 24 hours, you would allow to rise in a warm spot in your house for 1-2 hours. The difference will be a less yeast-y flavor for the warm rise dough.
If you don’t have your own tomato plants from which to filch leaves, simply omit them from the recipe. It will still be delicious, I promise.
The tomato sauce will last for 1-2 weeks in an airtight container in your refrigerator.