Pigs' ear pizza. The name struck me well before the actual conception of the dish. I liked the way the syllables went together, as if there could be nothing more natural in the world than a pizza topped with ears. For a while I dreamed about making the pie, but I waited until there was confluence of dough, mozzarella, and confit pigs' ears in my kitchen to begin the project in earnest.
In the beginning I topped the pizza with mozzarella, Brussels sprouts, thin slices of a duck breast prosciutto that I'd run the risk of curing in 90-degree weather, pecorino, and, of course, the pigs' ears. Save for the ears, the pizza was an homage to the beloved Brussels sprouts pizza at New York City's Motorino, where the pie is an uncannily well-conceived mixture of crisp, charred leaves of the vegetable alongside pancetta and pecorino.
I had replaced the pancetta with duck prosciutto, but the general idea—or so I thought—was not all that different from one of my favorite pizzas anywhere in the world. The resulting pizza was pretty good but not wonderful, partly due to my not being an artisanal pizza-maker by trade, but mainly because the presence of the pigs' ears drowned out everything else on the pie.
The ears had been confited in a pot of duck fat and lard so that even the cartilage in the middle of the ear was tender. For extra textural contrast, I crisped up thin slices of the ears in a pan before adding them to the pie. The flavor of the ears was porky and rich, which was both the appeal and the problem. Even though the sharper pecorino contrasted with the milder mozzarella and the Brussels sprouts displayed their roasted flavor, everything on the pie was savory. The extreme richness of the ears, even more unctuous than pancetta, had upset the delicate microcosm that is the Motorino Brussels sprouts pizza.
Back to square one. Without the crutch of a famous pie, I wondered what I'd pair the ears with. Precisely because they are so dynamic, it is difficult to match pigs' ears with other items. Usually I like to use ears as a topping for a salad of frisée dressed in lard, or enjoy the deep-fried ears on their own. But for pizza, I wasn't content to let the ears steal the show. I liked the idea of having disparate items on the pizza competing for attention so that through a seeming cacophony of ingredients, the pie would come together as a unified whole—not rocket science, as they say, but a challenge nonetheless.
For days I toyed with the idea of pairing the pig ears with other vegetables. Kale chips were delicious and crunchy, so why not try those on a pie? And what about roasted sun-dried tomatoes, whose acidity would cut through the richness of the ears? I tried many options; each time the pig ears bullied the rest of the pie.
Over time the problem turned into a minor obsession. With my chin propped into my hands and my brows furrowed, you'd have thought I was working out some sort of philosophical dilemma, but it was always just about the pig ears.
I'd run through an entire laundry list of vegetables before I remembered that pork pairs well with fruit. Apples and apricots seemed too fruity, but figs were perfect. And once the idea of thin slices of figs, roasted just enough so that their sweet juices would mingle with the fattiness of the ears, floated into my brain, the rest came easily. Fig. Fig balsamic vinegar. Fig and goat cheese. Goat cheese and basil. The final pie: pig, fig, cheese, and basil.
To intensify the flavor of the fruit, I brushed the figs with fig balsamic vinegar. The combination of goat cheese and mozzarella, so much more pungent than using the latter by itself, stood up well to the fattiness of the pork. Though pigs' ears simmered in stock would have crisped up nicely as well, the softness of the confit pork ensured that each bite of ear tore away easily with the crust instead of sliding off the pie in larger pieces.
It was, in short, the pigs' ear pizza of my dreams. All across the country pizza is being made of such greatness that I could never hope to eclipse it, but there was the satisfaction nonetheless of eating a pie that could not have been topped with better pig.
- 1 ball of dough suitable for 1 large pizza
- 2 large fresh figs, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fig balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinegar
- Goat cheese
- Fresh basil
Preheat your oven to the highest possible temperature and have your round of dough proofed and stretched out, either on a baking sheet or pizza peel.
Using a pastry brush, brush each slice of fig with the vinegar and set aside.
Very quickly take the pizza out and scatter all of the goat cheese on the pizza. Bake for 1 more minute. Top with fresh basil and serve immediately.