´╗┐ Wine Imbiber » On the Food Trail in Santa Barbara
22 Apr


On the Food Trail in Santa Barbara  Print

As Rich mentioned in an earlier post, we spent last Saturday tasting our way through Santa Barbara County. We love both the wines and food of the area and always seem to find something new whenever we visit. This time was no exception. Surprisingly, our latest discovery was found in one of our old haunts. Intermezzo (located in downtown Santa Barbara) is a great little wine bar/bistro that also serves cocktails and traditional wine bar fare. We tried a few things off the menu, including a dessert that came from the Wine Cask, their affiliated restaurant next door. All of it was wonderful, but one dish really hit the spot for both of us. They call it Tuscan Style Flatbread with Jamon Serrano, Heirloom Tomato and Wild Arugula. Depending on your point of view, it’s either an open-faced sandwich or a pizza. I decided to recreate it for our kids the next day, but ended up with a slightly different version due to lack of availability of some ingredients. It was still tasty, though, and only one of the kids picked off the greens and tomato. That elevates it to an instant hit in our house, but anything that’s served on grilled pita and has melted cheese on it is guaranteed to be an automatic winner around here.

As you’ll see by my recipe, there are many substitutions that can be made, all dependent on what’s available to you in your area. Speaking of areas, the names of some of the ingredients might also vary. For instance, pita and flatbread are interchangeable for this recipe. The difference between the two is pita is made with yeast and flatbread is unleavened (no yeast). This enables the pita to puff up when it is baked, causing the dough inside to separate. This creates the characteristic pocket that allows pitas to be opened and stuffed for sandwiches. Flatbread is exactly what the name implies, and if you’re trying to make a sandwich with it, you either have to fold it over the filling or use two pieces of it. Many different cultures use pita as part of their daily food rituals, and each varies greatly from the other as to how they use it. I like to get home-made pita from my local Greek fast-food restaurant. It’s more expensive than the pita from my grocery store, but the taste and texture justify the extra cost. Trader Joe’s sells flatbread that is pretty good and I’ve also noticed that the Whole Foods in our area has been carrying a close to home-made pita that they probably buy locally from a bakery.

Jamon Serrano and prosciutto are cured hams, one originating in Spain and the other in Italy. Serrano ham has a deeper flavor and firmer texture than prosciutto, but I wasn’t able to find it so the readily-available prosciutto worked out just fine.

Heirloom tomatoes aren’t yet in season here, so I tried a new tomato variety called Rosso Bruno, which were quite good and only slightly more expensive than the vine-ripened variety. They are oddly colored (like some heirlooms are) but full of that true tomato flavor that you’d expect from something grown in your own garden. For some reason, cherry-sized heirloom tomatoes are already available, so I also chopped up a few of those for added color.

Any quick-melting, mild white cheese works well for this recipe. I used circular-sliced pieces, which covered the pita evenly when it melted. I also used my panini press to grill the pita on both sides. Then, I put the cheese on top and held the lid of the press down close to the cheese until it melted. Not only did it save time, but it can’t be beat for even browning and melting.

Regular arugula can be substituted for the wild type, as the only difference seems to be in the shape of the leaves—not the flavor. Any salad greens could be used, though, as well as any light dressing. I would suggest using baby-sized greens, or at least chopped ones. These pizzas can quickly become unmanageable when cut into servings, so stick to smaller pieces and thin slices for any of the ingredients.

WI wine recommendation: We enjoyed this with a glass of Cremant D’Alsace Rose, Dom. Allimant-Laugner N.V., which has a light rose color and a crisp, zesty flavor that makes a perfect brunch champagne.

Tuscan Style Pita Pizzas

Tuscan Style Pita Pizzas

12 pitas (preferably thick, home-made style)
2/3 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced and cut into pieces
24 slices provolone or other mild white cheese
6-8 Rosso Bruno or heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
5 oz wild arugula or other small salad greens
Italian vinaigrette

Cut the tomatoes into thin slices, about 1/8″-3/16″ thick. Lightly dress the greens with the vinaigrette and toss them to coat evenly. Set both aside.

Grill the pitas on both sides. This can be done in a pan on a cook top (over medium-high heat) or in a panini press. If using the pan method, brush both sides with olive oil to ensure even browning. The oil isn’t necessary for the panini press as it will brown both sides nicely without oil.

After one side of the pita is grilled (if using a pan), flip it over and layer 2 slices of cheese on the already grilled side and continue cooking over medium-high heat until the cheese melts. If using a panini press, once the pita is grilled, leave it on the press (lift the lid up) and layer the cheese on top of the pita. Carefully lower the lid so it hovers about 1 inch above the pita. If you hear a sizzling noise, it means that the lid is too close and making contact with the cheese, which you don’t want. The cheese will melt quickly enough so don’t worry about your arm getting tired holding the position.

After the cheese has melted (for either method), remove the pita to a cutting board. Put an even, single layer of tomatoes on top of the melted cheese followed by a mound of the dressed greens. Cut the pita into halves or quarters, whatever serving size strikes your fancy. Place the prosciutto pieces on top of the greens. I use a pizza cutter to cut the pieces and find that it is easiest to put the prosciutto on after cutting the pita as the prosciutto just gets tangled up in the blade without cutting through. For best results, serve immediately while the pita is still hot and crispy and the cheese is melted and gooey. The cool, crispness of the tomatoes and greens contrasts nicely with the warm parts of this pizza. Yummm!

Comments (3)

Catherine, The Blushing Hostess said:

I’ve a huge patch of cultivated arugula in the garden right now and I am going to go somewhere like this withit… my previous fave was fig preserves/ arugula. toasted walnut/ shaved parm/ gray sea salt…. we eat this with a bold andpunchy wine, but not a purple wine, never a purple wine….yuuuuuuum. Enjoy! Catherine, over at Blushing Hostess

Leah said:

Catherine, another variation I’ve tried making (after tasting at the sample booth at Trader Joe’s) is a mushroom-arugula quesadilla. Just saute up some sliced mushrooms and onions in a bit of olive oil. Layer them along with some arugula on top of the bottom half of a partially-grilled quesadilla. Top with the second tortilla, flip, and continue grilling until brown and crispy. Tastes great with sliced avocado and chopped tomatoes or salsa. My kids have a favorite similar to your previous fave: plain crackers topped with wild strawberry jam and thinly sliced Manchego cheese. The sweet jam contrasts nicely with the slight saltiness of the cheese.

Catherine said:

I will give the quesdilla a try too since the arugula is bigger than life now, finally, a good arugula season! And one more good tidbit to share with you as long as you have your flatbread crusts out: I love a salsa topped pizza with manchengo, arugula, and peppadews… oh, where is my pizza dough when I need it? Have a great weekend!