The chain restaurant I worked at in high school had a secret menu. It wasn’t like the In-N-Out secret menu which everyone kind of knows about. We didn’t publicize it or even publish it anywhere. But if you wanted an “old” menu item, it was probably still on our point-of-sale software and we could get it for you. And by you, I mean me. I was addicted to the Caesar Piadina, something that got kicked off the menu shortly before I started working there.
Despite the fancy name, this is essentially a salad pizza using a white pie and a mound of caesar salad. In the middle of a long shift when it’s hot and dirty and cramped in the kitchen waiting for orders to come out, I’d take my plate and hide in the dry goods area, stealing enormous bites between tables. I even loved the gloopy salad dressing that came in enormous tubs and was always sort of congealed before it got mixed into the greens. For a 17-year-old, it was heaven.
But that chain didn’t exist near my college or out in San Francisco so it’s been a while since I’ve had my fill of pizza topped with caesar salad. I’d almost forgotten about it until a friend ordered a salad pizza from a random pizzeria during a trip to Los Angeles. It tasted nothing like the piadina except for being salad and pizza together but it still reminded me of all the meals spent lounging in the back or hiding at an empty table during a slow shift. The desperate attempt to get the salad to stay on the pizza slices which, while futile, is still worth it. Plus, I remembered all the rolls I ate dipped in Caesar dressing while waiting for takeout orders to be picked up. Then I felt a little sick.
For years I assumed Piadina was a bastardization of an Italian word that some marketing guy had come up with. But while flipping through an issue of Food and Wine, I stumbled across a recipe for a “Piadine” that looked like a more authentic version of the dish I ate during almost every shift in my short stint as a waitress, albeit with different flavors and minus the salad on top. That was all the encouragement I needed to recreate this and upgrade the dressing to something less likely to hold its shape when spilled. Secret menu be damned.
Makes one large pizza
Here’s the thing about making pizza: while homemade dough can be excellent, store-bought dough that you roll out is just as good. So if you’re short on time or ingredients for dough, just pick one up at a local pizzeria/grocery store and save some time.
The original recipe actually was a chicken caesar dish but at the time I didn’t eat meat and I couldn’t bear to break with tradition when I recreated it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t. You can top this salad/pizza any way you want. This rendition isn’t even that much like the original. The really great part is hot pizza with cool salad. The rest is your choice.
For the pizza:
Recipe adapted from Ratio
10 ounces all purpose flour
3/4 cup warm water (somewhere around 100F)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tbs olive oil (1/2 oz)
1/4 tsp yeast
1/4 cup diced tomatoes (or slices of grape tomatoes)
2 tbs grated parmesan
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs caesar dressing (see recipe below)
For the salad:*
1 head romaine, chopped or ripped into bite sized pieces
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp mayo**
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan + 1/4 cup grated parmesan to toss with the salad
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
In the bowl of a stand mixer (you can do this by hand but it takes a lot of work) mix the flour, water, yeast, and olive oil. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes while the yeast dissolves and foams a little. Then add the salt and stir the dough briefly to combine all the ingredients. Then, using the dough hook, knead the dough on medium until it’s smooth and soft, about 10 minutes. You can knead it by hand but it takes a lot of muscle. Better option is to go for store-bought dough.
If you make the dough yourself, let it rise for about an hour before using it. You can certainly let it rise for longer but it’s not necessary; if you leave it for more than a few hours, keep it in the fridge.
While the dough is rising, take care of the dressing so the flavors have some time to meld. Crush the garlic and chop it finely with the anchovy and salt. You can use the flat of the knife to really crush everything into a paste. Once the garlic and anchovy are well combined, place them in a small bowl and add the lemon juice, mayo, oil, parmesan, and pepper. Whisk everything together until combined then taste to see if needs anything (more lemon for acidity, more salt to boost flavors, more mayo to help emulsify it, etc).
When you’re ready to use the dough, flour a large surface and preheat the oven to 500 (or preheat an outdoor grill). If you’d prefer a thinner crust pizza, cut the dough in half and roll out each half. Roll the dough out until it’s less than 1/4 inch thin and about 12-14 inches in diameter. Transfer it to the oven, either directly onto the grill grates or on an upside-down baking sheet placed in the oven, and bake for 2-3 minutes – keep a close eye on this or it will burn. Then remove it from the oven/grill and top with oil, 2 tbs of caesar dressing, parmesan, and tomato (if you do this on the grill, make sure to top the grilled side first so you can cook the un-grilled side). Cook it for another 2-4 minutes, until the dough is crispy and the tomatoes are soft. Remove it from the oven/grill and let it cool slightly.
While that’s happening, toss the remaining dressing with the romaine and the parmesan. Pour the salad over the pizza and cut it into slices to eat. This is something that’s better when it’s freshly made; leftovers get a little soggy.
* You’ll get enough salad dressing for both the salad and the dough from this recipe and maybe a little bit extra
** A lot of caesar dressing recipes, like this one, use a raw egg, but I’ve realized it’s often easier to just use a little bit of mayo which, let’s be honest, is just egg and oil anyway.