Yesterday we woke up and realized (with delight) that we had a whole Sunday ahead of us with nothing on the agenda. Malibu was gray and foggy, so we decided to get in the car and drive an hour up the coast to Santa Barbara. As a Texan, I have not gotten used to the fact that we can spontaneously drive an hour or two to countless beautiful places and get home in time for dinner. Ojai, Santa Ynez, Laguna, even Palm Springs? California feels like our weekend playground and I’m here for it.
Anyway, once we got to Montecito, we had a great time exploring the city, strolling through Butterfly Beach, and most of all, going to a pizzeria I’d heard of. Bettina, which serves wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza, along with salads and sides filled with fresh California produce. It was difficult to choose between margherita or pepperoni with wildflower honey from Ojai, truffled cheese and maitake mushrooms, or caramelized onion with chorizo and castelvetrano olives. Once we place our order, I couldn’t resist folding one of the menus and putting it in my bag (calm down, it was a paper menu!)
You see, as much as I love an amazing charred pizza crust, equally important in my quest for the perfect pizza is discovering those ingredient combinations that magically come together as much more than the sum of their parts. They are often simple – it’s hard to whip up a great margarita with fresh tomatoes and great mozzarella – but other times it’s a surprising combination of sweet and savory, fresh and savory that leaves you sighing with pleasure and wanting more. Which is exactly what happens when I eat my Caramelized Onion Prosciutto Arugula Pizza, a pizza I’ve been making and loving since 2010. (Is that the motto of my new pizzeria? Hmm …) Let’s get into it.
The caramelized onion sauce
Sweet and caramelized onions that cook for a full hour are the secret behind this amazing pizza. And once you realize how simple and delicious it is to make caramelized onions, you can start doubling your batch to have a few stored in a mason jar in the fridge at all times. I like to keep them on hand to spread on toast, to serve on pasta, or to use as a base sauce for this caramelized onion and prosciutto pizza.
The secret to perfecting caramelized onions is patience. Add the thinly sliced onions to a skillet with a teaspoon of salt and sugar, plus a pinch of thyme and a drizzle of balsamic, then simmer for at least an hour. You can always add a splash of water to the pan if they start to dry out. You know that caramelized onions are done when they are golden brown and candied. The only tricky part is not eating them all straight out of the pan with a spoon.
For this pizza, I like to use a fresh and creamy mozzarella; You can rip it with your hands or cut it into thin slices so that they melt over the onions. If all you have is the previously crushed Mozz, that’s fine. Just add a thin layer that will melt and still be super delicious.
How to perfectly grill a pizza
I learned this technique on how to grill a pizza when I attended a “culinary bootcamp” at the CIA in Napa Valley many years ago. Our chef instructor gave us a rundown on how to get that charred crispy crust even if you don’t have a pizza oven using your grill, and I’ve been doing it this way ever since.
The secret lies in preparing a two-sided grill, which means that you heat one side to the maximum heat possible, while keeping the other side of the grill simmering. The goal is to use the high heat side to get the charcoal and then move it to the simmer side to fully cook the pizza and melt the cheese without completely burning it.
The recipe card below explains how it’s done, but it’s even easier to see it in action – take a look. my video on IGTV here (I’ll post it tonight!)
Another tip for perfectly grilling a pizza is to keep the grill lid closed as much as possible. This means working quickly when putting the pizza on the grill and also adding your toppings. When the grill lid is closed, it creates convection heat that more closely simulates the kind of heat you would get in a pizza oven. Which in layman’s terms simply means YUM.
Finish with freshness
When I make a pizza that includes ingredients on the richer side (like caramelized onions, mozzarella, and prosicutto), I have to balance it with bright and spicy raw ingredients added last. After adding handfuls of arugula and thinly sliced strips of proscuitto (I prefer to add prosciutto after cooking as it can taste a bit “juicy” when cooked), I add a splash of lemon and a little lemon zest, plus a little grated Parmesan and a dash more EVOO.
I really have nothing else to say about this pizza other than: it’s perfect! If you don’t have a grill or prefer to make this indoors, come here to see my method of baking your pizza in the oven (as well as my equally drool-worthy spinach and ricotta pizza recipe). You’re looking for my foolproof homemade pizza dough recipe, find it here!
Scroll forward to see the recipe for this Caramelised Onion Prosciutto Arugula Pizza …