Thursday, March 4, 2010

How to use fresh mozzarella in winter - Pizza Scappata

Laurent’s father is a stereotypical Italian in many ways. First of all, cheese plays a big part of his cooking: he always has at least five different kinds of really good cheese in his fridge. But another of his “Italian” traits is that he is extremely generous – including with his cheese. Whenever Laurent and I come over for dinner, chances are we will return home with a brick of parmesan, a wedge of Oka (often mushroom-flavoured, because he knows I love it), a cylinder of provolone, or a slab of smoked Jarlsberg.

Fresh mozzarella is also a regular part of our loot. In the summer, we rarely get very creative with it, and almost invariably turn to the classic Caprese salad. But in the winter, good tomatoes are hard to find. Furthermore, when it’s chilly outside, I find myself less easily satisfied by a cold dinner: I need something hot to warm myself.

So, how do you make a hot dish with fresh mozzarella, without altogether killing its flavour? Because it seems like a waste to just use it in a gratin or casserole, where grated dry mozzarella (or any number of other cheeses) works just fine…

We recently found a solution in Josée di Stasio’s Pasta Et Cetera: a recipe for pizza scappata. “Scappata” means “escaped,” or “runaway.” Basically, this is a pizza without the dough (which has “escaped”): you make your tomato sauce in a shallow pan, gently melt the mozzarella slices, add seasonings, and you’re done! All you have to do is scoop up the mixture with rustic bread… or homemade focaccia, if you happen to have a little time on your hands.

It’s a ridiculously simple recipe, but it’s just so comforting and homey, we keep coming back to it. Josée di Stasio keeps her flavours basic, with just a little fresh basil. But winter doesn’t just make me want warm meals, it also makes me crave strong flavours and spices. So I like to add things like anchovies and red pepper flakes. Anything works, as long as you can scoop it up easily.

Pizza Scappata
Adapted from Pasta Et Cetera à la Di Stasio

Serves 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as a meal

2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, cut in half
One 540 ml (19 oz) can of diced tomatoes
2 tsp tomato paste
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
6-8 preserved anchovy filets, drained
A big handful of basil leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
A dash of hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco (or substitute with red pepper flakes)
Crusty bread (or focaccia), for serving

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the garlic and let it flavour the oil for a few minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add the canned tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the tomatoes are soft. Stir in the tomato paste and the pepper sauce (or red pepper flakes), and continue cooking until the mixture is slightly reduced. Remove the garlic and discard.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Thinly slice the mozzarella and place the slices over the tomatoes, in a regular pattern. Without stirring, let the cheese melt (cover the skillet with a lid if necessary). This should take 1-2 minutes. In the meantime, coarsely chop the anchovies and sprinkle them over the mixture.

When the cheese is completely melted, remove the skillet from heat. Shred the basil leaves and scatter them over the pan. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve immediately. Eat directly from the pan, scooping up the mixture with the bread.


  1. That is insanely easy. Thank you for sharing. Getting a loot of cheese, lucky you!

  2. I so love good food like this: easy yet so tasty!!

    I only eat fresh Buffalo's mozzerella! MMMMMM,...

  3. I feel like I hit the jackpot with this find! Thanks for a great idea and even better recipe! I almost never feel all that motivated to make a pizza but a sauce to dip crusty bread into, that's a different story! Especially with some good wine to go with it, my, what a wonderful evening in perspective.Please thank you father-in-law from me. (PS My great grandmother was from Trieste)

  4. nice! thanks for introducing scappata to me. I always get a bit aggravated when my bf asks me to make pizza for dinner... i mean, i'm the one who has to put up with the kneading and rising! I will definitely try this on the next pizza night, it will make my life so much easier :D

  5. You're so lucky to get all those lovely cheeses! But then I am the kind of person who thinks there can never be enough cheese in whatever... to Tom's dismay I might add. But this looks absolutely delicious although I can't wait to be able to have caprese again in warm lovely weather outside with a nice glass of wine and... ooo, I'll shut up now... :)

  6. Ohhhh it so good.Am in for anything with Mozarella!