Brown Turkey Fig, Guanciale and Maytag Blue Pizza

“That’s the best pizza I’ve ever tasted”,  my wife said to me as she took a bite of  this pie on a sunny October afternoon. I was somewhat put off by her excitement-as if she was actually saying “You mean to tell me that YOU made this pizza?” After snarfing down a slice, I couldn’t disagree, this pizza really is great!

The pizza in question is festooned with my crowning achievement in agriculture this year, which means I grew something that didn’t die a horrid shriveled death. The Brown Turkey fig tree that my son Sam and I planted (he calls it “Little Grumpy”) had actually produced fruit: little teardrop-shaped orbs of sweetness.

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My introduction to the savory-sweet contrasts of a fig pizza was in Sorrento, Italy, where I shared a prosciutto and fig pizza with my wife on our first trip there. On top was shaved Parmesan and rocket (arugula) drizzled with unfiltered olive oil, and balsamic-soaked raisins. The taste of that pizza (and the one in this recipe) flies gloriously through the whole spectrum of salty, sweet, sour and bitter, which, along with the crunchy textural quality of the crust, is a whole dinner unto itself.

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Figs are originally from western Asia. From excavations, they are known to have been around since 5000 B.C. In Italy, the best known varieties are the Gentile Bianco from Liguria, the Verdello, Ottato, and the Brogiotto Bianco. The Italians usually eat them fresh or paired with Prosciutto di Parma. Figs are frequently sun-dried, which gives them five times more calories by weight than when fresh. Italians also  soak them in blood orange juice and honey, or boil them with honey and cover with chocolate.

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The Brown Turkey fig has much more sophisticated names such as Aubique Noire, Negro Largo and San Piero. It is originally from the Provence region of France. Some sources describe the flavor as “insipid,” but not my figs. More teardrop shaped than round, they explode with sweetness.

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In usual Pizza Goon form, I ate wayyyy too many of the figs and had to bolster the pizza with a few black Mission figs from California (so much for a sustainable pie). This pizza also consisted of an adventurous grilled guanciale (pork jowl), roasted sweet red pepper, Maytag blue cheese, fresh mozzarella, baby arugula and a balsamic glaze straight from heaven.

If you do not have fresh figs, use Dalmatia Fig Jam from any specialty store or (and I know I’ll get hell for suggesting this…) buy some Fig Newtons and ever-so-gently cut the breading off of the sides. Scrape the middle into a bowl, add a little water, whisk and…yuk-a-voila, faux fig jam is born.

If you have a great fig pizza recipe, please send it and I will publish it.

Using the Easy Dough Recipe, make two 7 ounce dough balls

Guanciale or pork jowl (or 5 slices of cooked bacon, cut in matchsticks)

1 medium red bell, sweet Italian, or Toro pepper (see Toro pepper pizza)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons crumbled Maytag blue cheese

3 to 4 ounces fresh mozzarella (5 small balls of Ciliegini brand)

15 leaves of baby arugula

6 to 8 fresh figs

Balsamic glaze for drizzling

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Pre-heat the oven to 475 degrees, with a heavy duty upside-down cookie sheet in the middle rack.

Fire up the grill to high.

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Slice approximately 2 centimeters of the skin off the guanciale or pork jowl. Turn the jowl on its back and slice 4 to 5 thin (quarter sized thickness) slices.

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Place the pork on the grill and wait for the action to begin. (This practice is inherently unsafe. Why? The pork fat will drip onto the drip pan or coal and start a fire. So be careful.) The jowl will not start flaming until you turn it over. Place the pepper on the slices to get greasy and help burn the skin off and incorporate the porky flavor into the pepper. Keep an eye on the slices as they will flare up. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes or until the jowl is browned around the edges. The pepper will take a little more time to become blackened and devoid of structure.

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Put the pepper in a paper bag or bowl with plastic wrap over the top to steam for 10 minutes. Peel the skin off of the pepper, starting at the top, where you can get ahold of the skin. Without running water over the pepper, finish peeling it. Pull the stem and core out and shake off the seeds. Cut in strips lenthwise down the pepper.

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Cut the guanciale into matchsticks the same size as the peppers.

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Cut the figs into 3 slices each, by first cutting off the stem and slicing vertically down the figs.

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Roll out the dough per the instructions in the recipe. Brush the crust with extra virgin olive oil.

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Place the Maytag blue cheese, then the mozzarella, on the oiled crust.

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Place the guanciale on the cheese, followed by the red pepper strips.

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Place pizza in the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

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Wait for 4 minutes to top with the arugula and fig slices.

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Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve one of the best fruit pizza recipes I’ve ever tasted.

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