The Pizza Garden

For too many years to count, Friday night has always been pizza night at our home. Our carry-out order is half meat lovers, half supreme, and it usually comes from Pizza Hut. For me, pizza is not pizza without veggies, and for my husband, pizza is not pizza without the meat; so we compromise. We also rotate between pan pizza and thin crust, depending on our mood.

With the increasing cost of groceries, this spring we decided that a pizza garden should be on our list of new gardening projects to tackle. By using whole-wheat flour to make a very filling crust, and growing our own veggies to use as toppings, we decided we would try and bring Friday night pizza kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Because of the tornado force winds that blew through Mercer County on Ash Wednesday, I was left with a garden already prepared to substitute as a pizza garden. Our shoe garden is located in the front yard with an old water pump used as a center piece. The wind howled through our gardens that night and blew over the water pump. For several weeks, I left the pump where it lay because the weather was too bad to worry about straightening the garden.

Now that spring is finally here, I have started planning what to do with this garden. Maybe this would be the perfect place to grow the pizza garden; the shape was already right – circular – and the soil has already been amended. I re-anchored the water pump in the center of the garden and outlined the area with large rocks to form a faux crust / border around the garden. I then divided the area into eight slices, outlining the areas with smaller rocks.

Onions and garlic are the workhorses of pizza and pizza sauce. I love sliced onions all over my pizza, and the garlic gives a wonderful taste to the homemade pizza sauce. Because garlic requires such a long growing season, I typically grow this in my large veggie garden. Garlic should be planted in the fall and allowed to grow through winter, spring and summer before being ready to pick the following fall. So, the new pizza garden will get one garden slice just for onion sets.

Most pizza sauces begin with tomatoes, so these will be the backbone of the garden, but they can’t be planted until we have nighttime temperatures of at least 50 degrees. Make sure you plant tomatoes on the north side of the garden, so they will not shade out other veggies in the garden. Plum or Roma tomatoes make a wonderful pizza sauce, plus they can always be sliced directly onto the pizza crust. Make sure you supply some type of growing support for your tomatoes; either cages or stakes. The tomatoes will take up two slices of the pizza garden.

Peppers are another veggie that is essential for pizza making, either bell peppers or hot peppers, whatever your preference is. Typically, our family doesn’t like really hot peppers, so bell and banana peppers are our choice. I like to use stoplight peppers: red, yellow, and green. These make a pizza look festive. You should have at least 4 or 5 pepper plants. Just remember, we planting hot pepper, place these where they will receive the most sun. They need long hot days in order to develop their heat.

Zucchini and eggplant are two veggies you may not normally think of for a pizza, but we have learned through experimentation that these veggies give pizza a whole different taste. I will plant only one zucchini plant in a slice of the garden all by itself, mainly because this one plant has the potential to take over the entire garden. As for the eggplant, “Little Fingers” is my favorite variety. The eggplant can be slightly roasted or grilled before putting it on the pizza.

The last garden slices will be interplanted with herbs: oregano, basil and rosemary. Oregano is a perennial, so it will be given a permanent spot in the pizza garden. Rosemary is a tender perennial, so I will plant it in a pot so it can be brought indoors every fall before the first freeze. Basil is such a wonderful and useful herb, so I want to plant at least three different varieties so we can vary the taste. Extra basil can also be used to make pesto, which keeps well in the freezer.

No pizza is ever complete without the cheese, so the pizza garden cannot be complete without marigolds and Calendulas. These festive flowers are the color of ooey, gooey cheese and they will be used to fill in around all the veggies and herbs. Not only will they provide the cheese coloring for the garden, they will help with pest control on the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.Just as each slice of pizza can hold a new surprise, your pizza garden will reveal magical changes on a daily basis. You will be able to nibble tiny, bite-size tomatoes, smell the wonderful scents of herbal seasonings, and meet friendly, helpful garden critters. To finish off the summer growing season, why not host a “do- it- yourself” pizza party.

To control weeds and conserve moisture, lay a two-inch layer of straw or shredded bark around each seedling, but do not cover the stems. Poke your finger into the soil each day and if it feels dry, water deeply. Feed your plants once a week with weak manure tea and once a month, add some deep compost around the plants and work it into the top few inches of soil.

To encourage tall, spindly plants to become bushier, pinch off the top few inches of each plant at a leaf node – the spot where buds and leaves are formed. Deadhead marigolds and Calendulas to keep them blooming. Do not allow herbs to go to seed because this decreases herb production; pinch off any flowers that form on the herbs.

At harvest time, ripe tomatoes should almost fall off the vine when they are twisted. Zucchinis can be used in the pizza sauce, or sliced and grilled for a crispy topping. The zucchini flowers can also be used as a topping. Eggplants and bell peppers can be damages very easily if you tug them off their plants. The easiest way to harvest these veggies is by clipping the fruit with a small portion of the stem still attached. Onions and garlic can be pulled from the ground without removing their tops. Pick Calendula flowers and lay them facedown on sheets of newspaper or paper toweling to dry. Snipped sprigs of rosemary, basil and oregano can also be gathered on sheets of newspaper. Make sure to rinse all the veggies, flowers and herbs and pat them dry before using them to assemble pizzas.

When the garden begins to supply you with fresh veggies, plan a pizza party for a Friday night. Pizza dough and sauce can be pre-made the day before and you can encourage your guests to go to the garden and pick their own pizza ingredients. Supply everyone with a cutting board and sharp knife and encourage them to prepare the veggies and decorate their own pizza crusts.

Throw the pizzas on a stone and cook in the oven until golden and bubbly, or try cooking the pizza on your outdoor grill. Pop open bottles of soda and enjoy family, friends and good times.

 

Bobbi’s Pizza Dough

1 cup warm water

1 package active dry yeast 

2 ½ to 3 cups of all purpose flour; bleached or whole wheat

½ tsp salt

2 TBSP olive oil

Combine water, yeast and 1 ½ cups of flour in a large bowl – mix well. Gradually add oil, salt and remaining flour. With a wooden spoon, combine ingredients until dough holds its shape. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic – about 5 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise until it has doubled in size – about one hour. Place covered bowl in refrigerator overnight. An hour before cooking your pizza, remove dough from the refrigerator and preheat oven to 450 degrees, (you can also cook dough outside on the grill). Punch a hole in center of the slightly risen dough and let rise for another hour. On a lightly floured surface, divide dough into 3 or 4 pieces. On a piece of parchment paper, using your fingers, spread dough out into an 8 inch round, slightly rolling edges to make a crust to hold the pizza sauce. After building pizza with your favorite toppings, cook in oven for 12 to 15 minutes.

 

 Bobbi’s Pizza Sauce

2 ½ pounds of Roma tomatoes (about 12 to 15)

4 TBSP olive oil

2 onions; peeled and sliced

3 cloves garlic; peeled and slivered

2 bell peppers; cored, seeded and diced

1 tsp salt

 ½ tsp cracked black pepper

1 TBSP sugar

3 TBSP fresh basil leaves; chopped

1 TBSP oregano leaves; chopped

2 sprigs rosemary; chopped

 Cut tomatoes into quarters and place in 3-quart saucepan. Mash with a potato masher, cover and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Pour tomatoes through a food mill to remove seeds and skin; set aside. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat; add onions and cook until softened and golden brown. Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add bell peppers, salt, pepper and sugar; cook, covered, over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Then add milled tomatoes and continue cooking, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add basil, oregano, and rosemary and cook 10 minutes more until sauce thickens. Let sauce cool and then add more salt to taste. Refrigerate for 24 hours before use; sauce will develop a deeper flavor and thicken a bit more. (NOTE: cooking times vary depending on juice content of tomatoes.) Leftovers can be frozen for later use.

 

 

 

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    […] tagged roma pizzaOwn a WordPress blog? Make monetization easier with the WP Affiliate Pro plugin. The Pizza Garden saved by 9 others     seansvoice bookmarked on 04/30/08 | […]


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