Posted on 16 May 2010 by urbangardencasual.com

How to Grow a A Taste of Sicily with a Pizza Garden

pizza-gardenBy Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

A few years ago my husband worked for a man that was from Sicily who managed a pizza parlor.

Through this business he made American versions of calzones, ravioli, and pizza.

His dishes were always in demand but his craft never really showed through until we were invited to his home.

Sal was from a small village in Sicily where his grandfather taught him how to cook using local ingredients. Fresh mozzarella from the surrounding farms, basil, and tomatoes were the staples for Sal and his family. Sal’s grandfather taught him the art of homemade pasta making, tomato sauce and how to make true lasagna but his real cooking art showed through when he made Sicilian pizza.

I have never had in my life a pizza like the one Sal prepared for my family. Fresh mozzarella, not the hard block that Americans are used to grated on their pizzas, was sliced thinly and placed on a homemade pizza crust. Sal created his own fresh romino/parmesan blend that he sprinkled on top of the pizza crust along with slices of his homegrown tomatoes, basil, oregano, and garlic.

He also showcased a simple but elegant salad of sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil with balsamic vinegar drizzled over top. This salad was perfect served with the Sicilian pizza.

Most of what Sal cooked for my family that day was freshly picked from his meager but efficient kitchen garden outside on his apartment’s deck. This garden may have been small but the flavors produced were larger than life. After my exposure to Sicilian cooking I started to grow my own Sicilian pizza garden.

This happens to be my children s’ favorite meal in the summer and in doing so they love to help plant the herbs that will make our Sicilian pizza so special. This also gives us time as a family to revisit Sicily without leaving our backyard and to remember Sal the man that introduced us to a true Sicilian treat.

This type of garden can be planted in a circular container that could resemble a pizza pan or planted in the garden along with your tomatoes. But regardless of which style you decide upon a Sicilian pizza garden is worth the work. Whether you choose a container or your garden bed this herbal garden can be very decorative.

The Sicilian pizza garden can be “sliced” much like a pizza and each “slice” can be designed to grow different herbs. Seeds or plants can be used in your Sicilian pizza garden. There are different types of herbs that can be used for this herbal garden and the herbal varieties can create visual interest to the pizza garden.

The 3 major herbs for the Sicilian pizza are basil, parsley, and oregano. Basil is a fragrant annual herb that is easily grown. Simply sprinkle seeds on top of soil and water. Genovese basil, lettuce leaf basil, or bush basil are varieties that one can plant for that Sicilian touch. Parsley is a perennial herb that can be a challenge to grow. Parsley seeds contain a chemical that prevents germination. But this can be over come with a little work.

First soak seeds for 1 day, change the water and soak for another day. Then refrigerate for 24 hours after that pour boiling water over the seeds. Once all these steps have been completed one may plant them. Plant the seeds just as you would any other seeds. Parsley can be flat leafed or curly but for this garden I recommend flat leafed or Italian. Oregano is another fragrant perennial herb that is easy to start. Again simply seed as you would any other seeds. Greek or Mediterranean oregano are varieties that work well in this type of garden.

My family’s Sicilian pizza night started out small but has turned into a large production. Red-checkered tablecloths are brought out and my little statue of the Eiffel Tower is displayed proudly even though it came from King’s Island. Opera and Italian inspired music is also played while my husband and I enjoy a glass of wine and our children sip sparkling grape juice.

A family picture that shows off our “trip” to Sicily is taken during this event and displayed proudly along with pictures of our adventures real and created for the year. This dinner picture creates a memory keeper that I then use in my childrens’ cookbooks. I write the date of the picture along with the recipe and planting directions for the Sicilian pizza garden. The recipes below will help you visit Sicily like my family has for 15 years and thanks to Sal we can taste it too.

SAL’S SICILIAN PIZZA

  • 1 package of pizza dough
  • 2 whole tomatoes
  • 2 ounces of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Blend of grated romino/parmesan
  • Fresh basil, oregano, and parsley

1. Follow dough recipe and spread on pizza pan.
2. Mash tomatoes by hand then push into oil coated dough.
3. Top with fresh mozzarella to taste and sprinkle with fresh herbs.
4. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic to taste.
5. Bake at 400F for 20 minutes.

SAL’S TOMATOE SALAD

  • Beefsteak tomato
  • Fresh basil
  • Red onions
  • Buffalo mozzarella
  • Balsamic syrup

Slice onions 3/8” thick tomatoes ¼” thick, mozzarella ¼” thick, and cut basil into ribbons.

1. Place 3 large onion rings on plate.
2. Place tomato slice on top of onions
3. Place 2 or 3 slices of mozzarella around bottom edge of tomato.
4. Drizzle Balsamic over plate.

BALSAMIC SYRUP

Place Balsamic vinegar in fry pan and reduce it to 30% of volume. Cool and use for salad above.

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