Pizza with Crispy Kale, Smoky Bacon, Clams and Saffron Aoili

Autumn, Savory Recipes • 28 Oct 2013

If there ever was a scent that was tangible, a scent that hovers and binds and infiltrates, it is that of yeast. It is a visceral scent, sometimes comforting, sometimes dubiously strong, but always all-encompassing. Mostly the smell of yeast is solacing, evidence of warmth and duodenal wholesomeness. There’s no mistaking the scent of yeast.

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A doughy, yeasty mass clings to the countertop, and I work my fingers into its plump flesh. I sink them in and retract, kneading and folding. My dough yields a bit and I can sense the friction, a modest give and take, against my gluten-crusted hands. I stretch and stretch and the dough curls and swells around the edges. I work quickly to get my pizza in the oven before diminution overtakes our dinner.

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As the pock-marked, ebullient dough bubbles and the dimpled, soft flesh metamorphosizes into crackly steam-filled pockets, we wet our palates with some of the mise en place: greasy, crispy kale that shatters against the teeth and sweet, smoky bacon, both chewy and crackly under our gums. The pizza crust is well seasoned with slick olive oil and chalky sea salt crystals and the juices from the fatty bacon and succulent, toothsome sea-scented clams infiltrate the yeasty crust.

A suspiciously à la mode catalogue of ingredients, yes; but I swear, this pizza is sui generis. I cannot consume enough curly, astutely evergreen kale in the fall. A motley variety idles on a shelf at our food coop, tendrils overflowing and practically tickling your hip bone as you saunter through the produce aisle. I always stock our seasonal fridge with kale for salads and soups and stews. I contemplate the irony of a refrigerator draped in handsome green, just as the green leaves beyond our front door abscond for the winter.

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As the bacon crackles on the stove, emitting a smoky maple aroma, I clean my Littleneck clam shells with a scrub brush under a steady stream of cool water. I let them soak in a cold bowl of water to remove any grit. The clams, which I steam briefly in salt water, will further cook in the oven atop the pizza dough, releasing their sea salty juices, mingling with the unctuous bacon fat and filling the cavernous cracks of the tawny, swelling dough.

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Before we can sink our teeth into the tongue-teasingly hot pizza, I pile on the crispy kale and drizzle the pie with thick ribbons of garlicky saffron aioli. Saffron and clams are an auspicious, harmonious pairing. Together with the kale and bacon, the pizza is an emblem of autumn, a warming, belly-filling meal.

We inhale our pizza, the flavors happily melding on our tongues, the scent of warm yeast still permeating the air, the tangible evidence of the practically-animate smell on our plates.

Pizza with Crispy Kale, Smoky Bacon, Clams and Saffron Aioli

Saffron Aioli:
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon hot water
1 large egg yolk
1 small garlic clove, minced into a paste
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pizza:
4 large curly kale leaves, stems removed, washed and thoroughly dried
3 teaspoons oil for roasting kale
Salt to taste for kale
7-8 slices thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
2-3 pounds fresh Littleneck clams
One ball pizza dough, about 15 ounces, at room temperature (I like this Mark Bittman recipe)
Otherwise, high quality store bought dough is fine)
All-purpose flour for dusting work surface and baking try
Olive oil for drizzling on raw pizza dough
Salt to taste for pizza crust

1. To make the saffron aioli, crumble saffron threads into hot water and let steep for about 5 minutes. In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the saffron threads and water, egg yolk, garlic, salt, cayenne and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Whisk in olive oil on high speed, one drop at a time. When the aioli begins to thicken, begin adding olive oil in a slow but steady stream while continuing to beat. (If the mixture does not incorporate, stop adding oil and continue to beat. If the aioli still does not emulsify, beat in a few drops of water. Once the mixture is blended, continue adding oil in a steady stream.) Once oil is fully incorporated add remaining lemon juice. Turn off the mixer and add finished aioli to a squeeze bottle and refrigerate until ready to use. This should be done a day in advance so the aioli can cool. You will have some extra aioli.

2. Scrub and clean the clams, discarding any that are open. Soak in cold water for about an hour to remove impurities and sand.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, toss kale leaves with about 3 teaspoons olive oil, or enough to barely coat the leaves. Spread evenly on a baking sheet, sprinkle lightly with salt and cook for about 13-15 minutes, until very crispy but not browned. Remove from oven to cool and set aside. Turn up oven to the highest temperature, about 500 to 550 degrees. If using a pizza stone, put it in the oven on the bottom rack for at least 30-45 minutes before baking pizza.

4. While the kale roasts, cook the bacon in a sauté pan over medium heat, stirring until the bacon is crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper towel lined plate to drain.

5. Drain the clams and rinse under cold water. Add them to a large pot with 1/4-inch of salted water. Cover pot and steam over high heat for about 2-3 minutes, just until the shells begin to open. Do not cook clams through- you just want them to open slightly to make shucking easier. Remove clams from pot and cool slightly. Open the shells and remove clam meat. If the clams are large, chop them roughly.

6. Sprinkle flour onto a pizza peel if you are cooking your dough on a stone. Otherwise sprinkle flour onto a clean work surface. Using your hands, work and stretch the dough into a round circle, about 12-inches. If you are using a metal baking sheet, transfer the dough to a flour dusted baking sheet.

7. Lightly brush the rim of the pizza with olive oil and drizzle a very light stream of oil onto the rest of the dough. Spread the whole Littleneck clams and the bacon evenly onto the pizza (if you are using large clams, make sure to roughly chop the meat before scattering it onto the pizza).

8. Slide the baking sheet onto the bottom rack of the oven, or if using a stone, transfer using the pizza peel.

9. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until the dough is golden and the clams are cooked through. Let the pizza rest for about 4 minutes and top with crispy kale. Drizzle aioli over the pizza to taste. Serve immediately.

2 Responses

  1. Babbo

    Fantastic recipe, and love the photos.

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