Don’t forget, Christopher Columbus was Italian. Although his voyages were sponsored by the Spanish, some of the expenses were underwritten by investors from his hometown, Genoa, one of Italy’s great maritime republics at the time.
So I’m thinking there’s no better way to commemorate “Cristoforo Colombo’s” sighting of the Americas than eating Italian over the Columbus Day weekend (or, if you want to be a stickler, on October 12). Specifically, a caramelized onion, mozzarella and pancetta pizza from the Ligurian coast.
On a visit to Genoa shortly before Columbus Day, I saw an elaborate floral display depicting the the Pinta, the Niña and the Santa Maria. You can also see the site of what is reputed to be Columbus’s childhood home, renovated in 2001 with the help of the American Women’s Club of Genoa and the National Italian American Association.
As the story goes, Columbus’s father was a wool weaver and the young boy may have worked at a family cheese stand before setting out to sea. I’m buying into the idea that Columbus was a cheese monger at heart and figure that if he were alive today, he’d really like this glazed-onion pizza from Portofino, only a short ferry ride from Genoa.
Portofino Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Pancetta
(from Piatto Unico: When One Dish Makes a Real Italian Meal)
Makes one 16-inch pizza or two 9-inch pizzas
2 ounces pancetta, diced small (about 1/3 cup, packed)
Extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
½ to 3/4 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 pound pizza dough, at room temperature
2 to 3 cups grated fresh mozzarella
1. Line a lower oven rack with quarry tiles or a pizza stone (if you have either) and preheat the oven to 500°F or the maximum temperature. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, sauté the pancetta in 2 tablespoons olive oil until it has rendered most of its fat but is not crisp, about 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove to a small bowl.
2. Add the onions to the pan; add up to 1 tablespoon more oil and cook until soft and the edges are beginning to bronze, about 15 minutes altogether. Add the sugar and salt. Continue to cook until the onions are a medium golden (they will brown more in the oven); cool to lukewarm.
3. Lightly oil a pizza pan or baking sheet. Gently stretch and pat the dough into a 16-inch round or two 9-inch rounds. Sprinkle the cheese over the dough. Spread the onions on top; sprinkle with the pancetta.
4. Place the pizza pan on the rack with the tiles for 5 minutes. Once the crust has firmed up, slide it directly onto the tiles. Bake 5 to 7 minutes longer or until the crust and topping are browned.