Monday, September 15, 2014

MoFo Noshtalgia: Pizza Bianca

special summertime edition:
foods that remind me of special summer memories

vegan pizza bianca

Just days after my 16th birthday, I flew off to spend the summer in Padua, Italy with my parents. That trip turned out to be one of the most influential experiences of my life. My father was teaching a graduate level course in Padua for a short time, and as soon as my school had finished for the summer, my mom and I went over to join him. My mom had just been laid off, so her summer was wide open. My brother was 20 by then, and selected to have the house to himself for the summer over the option to join us for a family vacation. Ha ha!

In Padua, we had a small apartment located about a 20 minutes-walk from the city center. Padua is a wonderful city, with a huge university, some amazing historic and artistic treasures, a thriving local community, not at all over-run by tourists, and just a short distance from Venice (maybe it was 45 minutes on the train?). My dad had to work during the week, so my mom and I would spend our days together exploring the city, grocery shopping, visiting the churches and museums, and taking amazing day trips to various nearby spots. One day we went to Dante's home. Other days we went into Venice to explore. On weekends, we would take longer jaunts together with my dad - to Lake Como, or to the Italian Alps, or to Venice for the weekend. It was such a special time together.

teenaged amey had long hair

I already really liked art and drawing and painting - but that trip to Italy convinced me that I wanted to study art for reals. With the emotional passion of an adolescent, I fell in love with the early Jackson Pollocks at the Guggenheim Museum in Venice. I soaked up all the art and paintings and beauty and architecture I saw around me. I wrote poems about St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. I decided I would learn to speak Italian. This trip was the right thing at the right time, and something inside me came to life.

One of the simple joys of that trip was having just one home base all summer. We went to the same produce stand, the same laundromat, the same neighborhood stores, and we began to recognize faces and also we began to be recognized. I enjoyed flirting with the son who worked at the shop near our house.

Just down the street from our apartment was a neighborhood trattoria - offering pizzas and salads and simple restaurant fare. We went there often, and my favorite thing to order was the Pizza Bianca, "white pizza." I think it was just cheese and herbs. Maybe some garlic? But, definitely no tomato sauce. And no meat either, because I was already a vegetarian by then. I loved that pizza.

I loved it so much that on our very last day, my mom and I ordered some pizzas to bring home in my suitcase! I think maybe we froze them the night before or something like that. Then we sealed them up in plastic and foil, and tucked them in my suitcase. Our flight was arriving home on the exact day of my friend Megan's birthday, and my plan was to arrive at her party with Italian pizzas! I figured that they would stay frozen in the air...

It was all a great plan, until the airline lost our luggage. Oh noes! It was a good two or three days before we got our luggage, and my parents and I just kept thinking about those pizzas in my suitcase! ha ha. By the time we got the bags, we took the pizzas straight from my bag to the trash without ever daring to unwrap them. Alas.

Fueled by my desire to eat more of that deliciousness, Pizza Bianca was one of the very first things I ever learned to cook for myself. I learned to make pizza crust from scratch and I figured out how to recreate the now-forgotten toppings. I made it for my family and friends. This weekend, I recreated a pizza bianca for Mr VE&T and myself ... without any actual attempt to recreate the original. I just decided to make some delicious "white" toppings: roasted garlic, caramelized onions, and sauteed fennel.

In the name of efficiency, I used the premade pizza dough from Trader Joes and it worked great and was quite tasty. On top of the dough, I added a little olive oil, smeared around a bunch of the roasted garlic, spread out the caramelized onions, then carefully spread on a bunch of tofu ricotta (with a little bit of rosemary in it). On top, I added the fennel just to one half of the pizza. I wasn't sure if we would like the fennel, but we both did. This pizza was crazy good - and we have some leftover for dinner tonight too! huzzah!

Post Script: I have such a particular memory of sitting down to dinner at that neighborhood trattoria and "announcing" to my parents that I wanted to study art. And, in fact, because of that trip, I did commit to studying art and Italian. I ended up majoring in fine arts in college, and studied Italian language all four years. I spent half of my junior year of college in Florence, and I still speak pretty passable Italian today. So many friendships and influential teachers that all came out of that first trip to Italy ~ a place I now love and have returned to many times. Who knows where these things will lead when we first embark upon them?


  1. this is gorgeous! Roasted garlic tofu ricotta pizza sounds so perfect. I have to make this soon.

  2. Such lovely memories! That is hilarious that you tried to bring pizza all the way home with you from Italy! Bad luck about the missing suitcases...;)
    I was already vegan when I went to Italy more recently and so didn't get to try authentic Pizza Bianca but have made it at home and loved it too.

  3. i have fond memories of pizza too, my sicilian grandma would make the best pizza. i would like to travel one day to sicily to see where my family is from.

    i have never tried white pizza before but it looks good. trader joe's pizza dough is really good. i love the garlic one!

  4. Oh didn't your friend Megan miss out! I had a really good white pizza when we went out the other night - with caramelised onion and potato (and I don't know what else, but whatever it was, it worked!)

    This post makes me want to go back to Italy - I haven't been there for about 25 years! My son studied Italian all through school and in first year at university. I wonder if we could convince him to come with us to translate...probably not. :-)

  5. What an amazing experience! Isn't it amazing how we can find ourselves by going somewhere we've never been!? The pizza looks awesome too!


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