Overripe persimmons, chevre, garlic and basil fuse with a homemade crust making a deliciously unique pizza.
By Suzie Castello
March brings the gift of Japanese persimmons to southwest Brazil. Seeing the market shelves full with deep red costatas and bright orange fuyus, and neighborhood trees bending heavily with fruit is a delight. It also indicates that fall is here. I suppose the arrival of persimmons, or caquias the are called locally, are a sweet consolation for the end of summer.
When the persimmons come into season, like zucchinis or locusts, its as a huge load all at once. Around the third week of March there is a sudden scramble to find solutions for the sudden overabundance of persimmons. A few years ago I had some friends over to gather around the wood-burning oven to enjoy wine and pizza on one of our last summer nights. One guest arrived with a panicked look on his face and a heavy bag of weepy fruit splitting in their skins. The sweet mass needed to be consumed at once. I understood the panic. Persimmons are so good, and they only come once a year. It would be a shame to lose any of them. So we did the only natural thing. We put them on the pizzas.
Thankfully, I had planned to serve that evening an excellent chevre from a local producer. I had previously experimented putting persimmons and chevre together in an arugula salad, so I thought, why not put them together on a pizza? I put olive oil, persimmons smashed in my hands, sliced roasted garlic and dollops of the soft brique-style chevre on a homemade dough. The persimmons reacted marvelously in the dry heat of the oven, turning to jelly as they fused with the crust. The cheese didn’t melt and run like a mozzarella, but held firmly in the heat, slightly toasting on the surface. The garlic, already roasted, gave a mild dimension to the flavors, keeping the pizza off the dessert menu. After pulling the pizza out of the oven, I added fresh whole basil leaves (the small-leaved, tropical basil that has an acid kick) on top before serving. The pizza disappeared in seconds. The second one I made the same way, with the addition of roasted dedo-de-moçachili pepper cut very finely. The hot-and-spicy fans cheered for more. We went through half the bag of persimmons that night. The rest ended up, as most of the persimmons in this house do, over pancakes, in salad, atop ice cream sundaes or held between juicy fingers and eaten drippily over the kitchen sink.
The persimmons in the photos are costata. The pizza dough is one I have been making for years. It works well in either a wood-burning or traditional gas oven. I have never tried it out in an electric oven, but I imagine it would do well. I have that letting the dough sit in the refrigerator for a few days helps it develop a better flavor. It also freezes very well.
Suzie Castello is an American writer living and raising a family in a small town in the mountains just outside Rio de Janeiro. She writes about finding ways to cook, with the regional ingredients, dishes that tell her life story, from childhood in the States to travels abroad, and anything new discovered along the way. She is also the Editor of Da Minha Cozinha, a Portuguese-language blog about honest home-cooking.