The four seasons come and go, and all pizzas thrive and grow.~ Confucius (translation disputed)
Honoring the Change of Seasons
Spring is in the air. To honor the changing of the seasons, we decided to make a vegan version of Pizza Quattro Stagioni. Four seasons pizza is popular in Italy and for good reason. Traditionally you split the pie with one person. Each person gets half of each quarter, topped with different ingredients representing the four seasons. It’s like having four pizzas in one, which we think is brilliant.
Representing the Four Seasons as Toppings
This is an easy recipe to make vegan. Traditionally the four seasons are artichokes (spring), tomatoes and basil (summer), mushrooms (fall), and olives (winter). Many Italians add ham to their fall quarter and prosciutto to their olives in winter. We debated using faux meats as substitutes, but decided to let the beauty and flavors of the vegetables stand on their own.
One thing we have learned in making our own pizza is that you need only a small amount of each topping ingredient to cover your pie. For example, we only needed 1/2 a tomato, 1/2 a small can of sliced olives, 1/4 of a medium sized onion, 2 mushrooms, and 3 cloves of garlic (we like a LOT of garlic!). Since we are using such small amounts, we try to buy the best quality ingredients we can afford, organic if possible.
Before our pizza making adventure began, neither of us could remember when we had last eaten an artichoke. My mom steamed them for me as a child and served them with a side of melted butter and salt. They were one of the only veggies I asked for as a child, but as an adult making them seemed like work.
We live in California, not far from the central coast, where good things like artichokes and garlic are grown in such abundance that whole towns smell like savory home cooking. I’m embarrassed to say that despite the abundance of fresh artichokes in season right now, we opted for store bought. To make cooking prep easier, we used quartered artichokes stored in oil and herbs imported from Spain. The spring artichoke section of the pizza was my favorite.
Below are some photos from Monterey, not far from Gilroy, the garlic capital of the USA.
When we were in Italy we loved munching on a simple Neapolitan style marinara pizza, wood fired in a brick oven and topped with the freshest tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and a few fresh basil leaves. We wanted to start this blog on day 1 by recreating this classic recipe. We looked for basil in our favorite supermarkets and they either didn’t have it or it looked wilted and sad. In today’s world, it’s tempting to forget that produce and herbs are seasonal and that good things come to those who wait.
I was listening to this podcast by A Couple Cooks and Alex said not to build a recipe around basil in February because it’s out of season. Oops!
Since basil is not available right now, we decided to spruce up the summer section with some slices of sundried tomatoes and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. To give the whole pizza a unified taste, we used a simple base sauce– a few tablespoons of jarred organic tomato paste, thinned with water, with a dash of salt, dried sweet basil, and dried oregano. We also used some hand-torn globs of Mikoyo’s Mozzarella Cheese. If you are lucky enough to have this brand in your grocer’s fridge, I highly recommend her products. She doesn’t use any fillers and the taste and texture is far superior to dairy-based cheese.
Mushrooms are a fat-free, low-sodium, low calorie wonder food packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Still, my partner and I both have some mushroom aversions. Over the past decade they have become an increasingly popular meat substitute, used in burgers, stir fries, and just about any dish that would otherwise call for animal protein. Having had some really bad portobello mushroom burgers in the past, I mostly avoided them. Happily this pizza journey has brought them back into our kitchen.
For this recipe, we sauteed them along with diced onions and garlic and a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. The result was delicious, my second favorite pizza season.
Olive trees have been cultivated in the Mediterranean for 7,000 years. Sadly, due to climate change, Italy’s olive groves suffered a 57% decrease in production in 2019. California crops were cut in half in 2018 due to early frost, which because of climate change may become the new normal. Olive oil prices have risen the last few years and artisanal olive oil now sells for upwards of $50.
Pizza purists would balk at the idea of using canned black olives. But they are less expensive than other varieties and they remind me of the pizza of my youth, when I roller skated to USA Pizza at the mall after watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. To give the canned olives a tastier companion, we added a few sliced Kalamata olives. If I re-made this recipe, I would splurge on only high quality olives. Lesson learned.
We used this recipe for 15 minute pizza dough from Life as a Strawberry. It’s my go-to, never fail dough recipe. I made it a day in advance, let the dough sit at room temp for 3 hours, and then put it in the fridge, covered overnight. It’s best to let dough come to room temperature for 1-3 hours before using it, but we only had 30 min and it was fine.
The Taste Test
We liked the novelty of this pizza. My favorite seasons were spring, fall, summer, winter. My honey liked the seasons in order, beginning with the summer tomato section. We’d definitely make this style pizza again, aiming for summer, when basil is in season.
Note: this pizza pairs especially well with two glasses of Chianti. Buon Appetito.