Menu Development
Mediterranean-inspired pizzas rise in a sea of predictable offerings
By Pasquale “Pat” Bruno, Jr

The importance of and interest in foods that speak with a Mediterranean accent has never been stronger. And it is a lot more than basic popularity or diet that continues to drive this trend. Mediterranean-inspired dishes are marked by a depth of flavor and are consumer friendly.

The ingredients that would go on a Greek pizza are not unknown to a wide range of diners (of all ages). Plus, there is an Italian connection to back it using Mediterranean dishes in your pizzeria or Italian restaurant. Oregano, for example, is used widely in Greek cuisine. So is olive oil. And garlic. Herbs, olives, and cheeses are all common to the popularity and interest in this style of cooking. These are ingredients that are staples in many households, so there is a sense of familiarity, which means that there is little question as to what is going on here. To put it another way –– directly to you, the operator –– it wouldn't be necessary to bring into your inventory a whole lot of new products to launch a few tasty Greek pizzas, and it wouldn't be a big selling job either, since the ingredients are familiar and quite acceptable.

First let’s look at some of the primary ingredients that make a pizza a Greek pizza. One of those ingredients is cheese, and the most familiar to use on a Greek pizza is feta. There are many different styles of feta, and not all feta is made the same. For example, imported feta, which is made from sheep’s milk, tends to be a bit saltier than domestic feta. Domestic feta, which is made from cow’s milk, is generally milder (and not as salty) than its imported cousin.

Another consideration is the use of olives, which I believe is also a critical ingredient of a Greek pizza. Obviously the olives need to be pitted. More important, however, is the flavor and “meatiness” of the olives. I find that a combination of olives (color and style) add to the goodness and overall appeal (presentation especially) of the pizza.

It would probably be a good idea to start off by offering a Greek pizza as a special, to see how it goes. After some customer feedback you can adjust (as necessary) to incorporate certain comments and suggestions. It should simply become a matter of some subtle tweaking to get where you want to be on this pizza.

I am not only high on Greek pizza, but would suggest it might be appropriate for some establishments to dedicate an entire subsection of the menu to Mediterranean pizza. This section could include the famous pissaladiere, or onion pizza, of Nice, France; a Spanish pizza with fresh tomatoes and ham; and the Greek pizza recipes that follow. My approach would be to make this kind of big splash right off, since it would be an ideal way to attract customer attention, not to mention the signal you are sending out that you are serious about all of this.

Another way to approach this introduction of specialty Mediterranean pizzas is to set up a day-by-day selection of specialty pizzas. It might go something like this: Monday –– pissaladiere. Tuesday –– Eggplant Parmigiana Wednesday –– Greek Pizza. Thursday –– Spanish Pizza. Friday –– Seafood pizza. And so on. Keep that arrangement in effect for, say, a month or two to get your customers coming in on a particular night for that particular specialty pizza that they have grown to love.

Magnificent Greek Pizza

The flavors of Greece and the Mediterranean stand out most vividly in this pizza. However, to get the real bloom of Greek flavor you should used brine-cured Greek olives such as Atalanti (aka Royal), Kalamata, or Amfissa. An alternative would be brine-cured Greek olives from California.

Yields: One 14-inch pizza

1 14-inch pizza shell

1 pound fresh spinach, washed and trimmed of thicker stems.

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup pitted, sliced brine-cured green olives

1/2 cup pitted, brine-cured black olives

1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Put the spinach and water in a large pot and cook over medium-high heat, covered, until the spinach wilts, about 6 minutes. Drain the excess liquid from the pan. With the cover off, cook and stir the spinach for about 2 minutes to allow some of the moisture to evaporate. It is essential to get as much moisture out of the spinach as possible.

Add the olive oil, garlic, onion, oregano, salt, and pepper to the spinach. Cook and stir over medium heat for 4 minutes. Set aside.

Spread the spinach mixture evenly over the pizza crust. Sprinkle the olives evenly over the spinach. Sprinkle the feta over the pizza. Bake.

Pizza alla Greco

This Greek pizza gets its tasty kick from garlic and lemon juice. It also features authentic Greek cheeses, Manouri (nutty in flavor, and similar to the Italian ricotta salata) and myzithra. If neither of these cheeses is available, substitute kefalotyri (it is similar to Romano, and grates nicely) or kasseri.

Yields: Two 8- to 9-inch pizzas

2 pizza shells, each about 9 inches in diameter

1 pound fresh, dead-ripe Roma or plum tomatoes, sliced about 1/8-inch thick

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 pound Manouri

1/4 pound myzithra

16 oil-cured olives, pitted, sliced in half

In a large mixing bowl, toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, oregano, garlic, and lemon juice. Divide this mixture evenly between the two pizza shells.

In that same mixing bowl, combine the Manouri and Myzithra cheese. Toss to combine. Divide this cheese mixture evenly between the two pizzas.

Arrange 8 of the sliced olives on each pizza. Bake and serve.

Note: Fundamentally, the Greek family of cheeses, several of them as noted, can be mixed or matched accordingly to add authenticity to a Greek pizza. Sample each cheese first to get the idea of flavor (mild, strong, saltiness) before using and adjust accordingly.

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