Crab and Arugula Pizza

Pizza, Seafood

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When I was a boy, my dad boycotted the local pizza delivery chain. I don’t remember why, but it lasted for years. Maybe he felt slighted or overcharged. Whatever it was, the boycott created some problems for us.

First, we weren’t the type of family to make their own pizza. Also, we didn’t stop eating it. No, our demand was too high. My brother and I would have colluded against him and started a mutiny. Pizza was that important. And, lastly, pizza was one of those dinners that forced us to eat together. We couldn’t take our portions and run off. All of us had to sit around the thing, usually with a rental video playing, and devour it slice by slice. It was sort of a cohesive.

The endearing thing about pizza is that many of us have some emotion attached to it, some memory that resurfaces at its baked aroma, or some colorful association to a brand or look.

See, we took pizza seriously. My dad, a Jersey boy, imported his East Coast pizza idealism, and stuck hard to it:

NO PINEAPPLE! Period. End of story. He said that fruit didn’t belong on pizza. (Maybe the pizza chain accidentally sent us a Hawaiian?)

THIN CRUST, THIN CRUST! No one should ever deign to eat pizza with a fork. Never.

ANCHOVIES! And lots of them. It’s called flavor, kids.

The only trouble was, in the suburban area we lived, thousands of miles from real pizza pies, most people wanted the exact opposite. There was one pizzeria (I’ll never forget the “NO PINEAPPLE SERVED HERE” sign and the uncompromising New York owner), but it moved far, far away.

We jumped around from one mediocre pizzeria to the other. When we were really lucky, we traveled to the city to have traditional thin crust. I don’t know whether I preferred that to the commercial, conveyor-belt-oven pizza, but I admired my dad’s enthusiasm.

I never questioned his stalwart tastes, but now I understand them more. He had his own attachments. Memories of his own boyhood, of folding slices of pizza and scarfing them down with friends and family. Pizza, a circle, is beautiful and simply communal, and the larger the pie, the greater the community that can share it.

This pizza is a moment between my girlfriend and me, it’s a memory with my family, it’s the memory of my father, and of my mother with her parents, it’s the memory of my brother, of all of our endless memories of pizza and crab.

And now here I am, about to share a recipe, thinking of these memories, coming full-circle myself. Why is food so dear? It’s always, always a little bit of discovery and recollection, isn’t it?

I wanted to write a more succinct and useful introduction. But all you get is this verbiage. If you decide to boycott me, at least this time I’ll know why.

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Crab & Arugula Pizza

The goal of this pizza is to keep it as simple as possible, using each ingredient to complement the tender, sweet flavor of the crab.

All measurements are as you desire.

  • 12-14″ pizza crust (Lori and I really like one from Smitten Kitchen’s cookbook — start to finish in two hours)
  • Olive oil*
  • Mozzarella cheese, fresh
  • Dungeness crab meat
  • Arugula
  • Lemon zest
  • Fleur de sel (or sea salt)
  • Cornmeal

We made this on our brand new cast-iron pizza pan. If you don’t have a pan or stone, you can turn a big baking tray upside down and use that as your pizza surface.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Sprinkle some cornmeal onto a baking sheet or mobile work area. (This will help you slide the pizza onto the hot cooking surface.) Lay the rolled-out dough onto it. Drizzle a little oil on top and spread evenly around the surface. Top with shredded mozzarella. (The little ciliegine balls work well, too.)

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Bake for nine minutes, or until crust is golden and cheese has begun to brown. Top with crab meat. Return to oven and bake one minute more. Remove.

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Sprinkle evenly lemon zest and fleur de sel (or sea salt). Finish with fresh arugula.

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This is especially good with chilled white wine, such as Vouvray.

*Actually, we made crab-infused olive oil. I used a 1:1 volume ratio. Roast the shells of your crab for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse chop the shells, except the claws, which will get stuck in the blade and further its degradation. Put the shells into a saucepan with the oil and heat over low heat to 180 degrees F. Turn the heat to WARM or the gentlest flame and let cook for an hour. If the temperature rises above 200 degrees F, turn off the heat. Strain through sieve and coffee filter. It will keep for several weeks in the fridge.

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Photos by Lori Paulson

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