On vacation in South Carolina last week – one for the books I might add – the girls and I were riding our bikes over a bridge, the golden marsh stretching out for miles on both sides of us, Abby turned to me and said “What if for dinner tonight we turned pizza into a salad?”
“You mean salad pizza?” I asked, spring breeze whipping our hair back.
“No,” she said. “I mean a salad that has all the flavors of a pizza.”
I couldn’t believe she was thinking about dinner. Not only was there so much else to think about — that grand pair of egrets standing tall in the reeds for starters — but we were riding off an absolute marathon lunch from our favorite Lowcountry Charleston restaurant, Hominy Grill. It was the last day of vacation (Andy had left the day before) and we had christened it the “leave it all on the field” lunch. As such, there was pimento cheese, country ham, boiled peanuts, mile-high biscuits, grits, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes with ranch, macaroni and cheese, fried catfish sandwich. We bought two slices of their chocolate chess pie to go because we thought we were too full, only to devour an entire slice in the takeout container as we waited for the server to run my credit card.
But she was her mother’s daughter, I guess, so dinner was on her mind.
“Tell me what you mean?”
“Well, I feel like pizza, but after all that fried food, I also feel like something fresh. We could get really crunchy lettuce, add some tomatoes and mozzarella, then make croutons—“
“—out of pizza dough?” I added.
She looked at me with the kind of admiration usually reserved for, like, Lorde. “Mom, that is exactly what we should do.”
We were right near the market, and realized that everything we needed for the meal would fit in my bike basket: pizza dough, tomatoes, greens, little bocconcini balls. We already had dressing ingredients.
As much as I love making dinner, I will tell you what I do not what to be doing on my last night of vacation, when it’s near 80 degrees and there’s a beach bike ride beckoning us at all times of day: Spending too much time in my kitchen. We made a pitstop at the house so the pizza dough could warm up on the counter while we continued riding. Later, it took about 20 minutes to put together the meal, roughly the amount of time it took to bake the dough into focaccia croutons.
Naturally, Abby had some strong opinions about the croutons. Mom, you want to make sure they’re smaller, bite-size. The idea is to get a taste of everything on one fork. You are 100% correct, I told her.
Dinner is served.
I would understand if you bookmarked this until tomatoes are in season. But that’s an awful long time to wait. Serves 4.
1 16-ounce store-bought pizza dough
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 head Bibb lettuce, washed and torn into pieces
1 container grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 container bocconcini (small mozzarella balls), halved
1/4 red onion, sliced in super thin slivers
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper
Freshly grated Parm to taste
Make focaccia croutons:
Place pizza dough in a bowl and let sit on counter for about two hours before you want to make dinner. Preheat oven to 450°F. Brush half of olive oil on a rimmed cookie sheet, then press pizza dough flat so it stretches to the corners — or as close to the corners as possible. Brush with remaining olive oil and, using your fingers, press dimples into the surface. (I didn’t do this, but you can.) Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake 15 minutes until it looks a little browner than gold. (I was after a little crunch.) Remove, let cool, then chop into bite size pieces.
Meanwhile, while focaccia bakes, add lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and bocconcini to a bowl. In a separate container, whisk together red wine, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper. After focaccia croutons have cooled a bit, add them to the bowl. Drizzle vinaigrette on top and toss everything together. Top with Parm and basil if using. Serve.
In the Apropos of Nothing Department: We had a beach picnic the night before — I grilled some chicken, packed a few salads, made a Gin & Tonic roadie for myself in a martini shaker. As I’ve written before, usually I dread eating on the beach (it’s one of those things that sounds so much better in theory than in practice) but this one was excellent. We stayed almost until the sun went down.