This, this mash-, roast-, horseradish-, bangers-, crisps-, and goose fat-free, is one of my favorite things I ate while I was in the UK, and it’s not even British. Technically speaking, it was from a Venetian small plates restaurant, although I came to associate meals with generous helpings of gorgeously cooked spinach with the UK, as it appeared, to my delight, on so many plates. I had spinach tangled with a duck breast at a gastropub in what felt like the middle of nowhere, spinach in small tufts on another pizza (this one alongside a perfect pint) my first jet-lagged night in town, and a perfect amount of spinach at a pub on a Sunday afternoon, kissed with the horseradish sauce that had been ladled, to my glee, over my roast, but this was my favorite.
Here, spinach that has been wilted and squeezed, is re-plumped, so to speak, with creme fraiche, parmesan, salt and pepper, and is generously spread over a tiny pizza. An egg centers on this pile (and sometimes around it, at least in my kitchen) and the whole mess is baked together until the edges of the pizzette are brown, the spinach is tender, with a slight gratin-like effect, and the egg is white at the edges and just-runny-enough in the center and I think it might be my perfect meal. I would have it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner almost any day of the week (also in the rain, on a train, on a boat, with a shark…) and now that I’ve discovered that glorious late-season spinach still exists at markets around here, I might just make it happen.
The restaurant, by the way, is called Polpo and they have one of the most gorgeous cookbooks I’ve ever seen, with a raw binding almost haphazardly stitched with thin red thread. What’s between the covers seemed so simple to me that the first few times I saw it (on book tours, needless to say, you spend a lot of time in bookstores) I dismissed it, thinking it had nothing to teach me. Silly Deb. It took only one visit to the Soho location, one tiny crisp, cold runner bean salad with walnuts and pesto, to remember that some of the best meals in the world are deceptively simple with suspiciously short ingredient lists. Within these confines, great cooking shines.
One year ago: Apple Cider Caramels (and a little book I wrote was released!)
Two years ago: Gingersnaps (it is so gingersnap season again)
Three years ago: Spicy Squash Salad with Lentils and Goat Cheese and Buckeyes
Four years ago: Baked Chicken Meatballs and Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats
Five years ago: Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce and Pink Lady Cake
Six years ago: Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup and Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Tart
Seven years ago: Easiest Baked Mac-and-Cheese and Bretzel Rolls
Spinach and Egg Pizzette
Adapted from Polpo by Russell Norman
Yield: An awkward 5 to 6 small pizzas; each could be a light meal with salad or soup; 2 would make a hearty one
The original recipe for these pizzette is in strictly conversational terms — a handful of this, a spoonful of that, pinches, knobs, golf balls. I attempted to put this in more measured terms, for your shopping convenience, and also for nervous cooks that prefer specific measurements when blind-cooking something new, however, you can nudge this recipe this way and that — using more or less dough, spinach, cream, cheese, etc. I liked it just like this, however.
The original recipe calls for a pesky thing — small eggs. They’re available here, but not terribly much. The large eggs that I actually used absolutely spilled over the edges of the pizza, and it was kind of annoying, annoying enough that I forgot to take pictures at the end. I even attempted plopping the yolk on and only pouring in a little of the white, which worked better but, as you know, most egg whites like to stick to each other and pouring just a little off wasn’t easy. (You could whisk it to loosen them first, but really, how many steps should we add here to what was once a fairly dead-simple recipe?) Instead, I’m going to advise you to hold back a little of the egg white if you can, and bake the pizzas on parchment, so that if the eggs spill over a little, and they probably will, so be it — it will taste no less delicious. This is still, to me, the perfect breakfast, lunch, or dinner meal.
About a 3/4-recipe of Lazy Pizza Dough or 5 to 6 golf ball-sized pieces of pizza dough of your choice
About 1 pound fresh spinach with stems or 10 ounces baby spinach
1/4 cup creme fraiche
1 small garlic clove, minched
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan, plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
5 to 6 (one per pizza) small eggs, if you can find them, or the next smallest that you can find
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, to finish
Heat oven to 500 degrees. Place parchment paper* on tray and sprinkle with cornmeal. Stretch pieces of dough into 6 to 7-inch thin, round-ish shapes.
If using grown-up spinach, remove coarse stems. No need to remove stems from baby spinach. Wash and drain spinach leaves but no need to fully dry. In a large skillet, cook spinach with water droplets still clinging to the leaves (if it seems too dry, add another tablespoon or two of water to the pan) until spinach just wilts. Plunge spinach in cold water, then transfer it to a colander. Press out as much liquid as you can, then squeeze the rest in small fisfuls.
Transfer to cutting board and chop spinach into small bits. In a bowl, combine it with creme fraiche, garlic, parmesan, salt and pepper.
Divide spinach mixture over each dough round, spreading almost to the edges, thinning it slightly in the center with a spoon to make an indentation to help hold the egg in place. If using small eggs, crack one into the center of each pizzette. If using larger eggs, separate the egg. Add yolk to center of spinach, then pour in egg white carefully, so not to add so much that it floods the pizza. However, if it does spill over, don’t sweat it, that’s what the parchment is for.
Either bake pizza directly on parchment covered trays or slide parchment onto pizza stones for anywhere from 6 to 8 minutes (in a very robust oven), to 10 to 13 minutes (in a regular one)**, until egg white is set and the yolk is still loose. As soon as you remove the pizzette from the oven, add a grind of black pepper, very thin drizzle of olive oil and scatter some extra parmesan over it. Eat immediately.
* Technically speaking, parchment paper should not go in an oven hotter than 450 degrees, but I’ve found that nothing bad happens, it only gets a little brown at the edges. Without the parchment, any egg run-off tends to cement the pizzette to the pan, no fun at all.
** The baking times are especially finicky here. These will work for most people, however, if your egg becomes too cooked before the pizza is remotely golden at the edges, you might want to add it later in the cooking time. Be especially cautious of this if using small eggs.