Pizza with Lemon, Smoked Mozzarella & Basil

pizza with lemon, smoked mozzarella & basil

As much as I love lemons, the thought of placing them atop pizza never would have crossed my mind. Squeezing a wedge of lemon over a slice of white clam pizza — that’s natural; biting into whole slices of lemon, rind and seeds included — that takes some convincing.

But the story and photo of Kesté’s Pizza Sorrentina, a Neapolitan pizza topped with lemon slices, basil and smoked mozzarella, in the WSJ a few weekends ago sent me racing off to the store to find smoked mozzarella. Story goes that this pie was invented in Naples by a great pizza maestro’s daughter who created it for her lemon-adoring mother.

Never would I have imagined this group of ingredients to work so well together, but they do. And it makes sense. Lemon cuts the smokiness of the mozzarella; basil, even after seven minutes in the oven, adds a touch of freshness. The bites with lemon slices are big — tart and tangy and refreshing all at the same time; the bites without beg for one. But the beauty of the pizza lies in the balance: it would be a shame to overdo the lemon, to be flinging pieces aside rather than longing for more.

For lemon lovers, of course, this pie is a winner; but skeptics beware: it’s beguiling enough to win you over, too.

smoked mozzarella, basil, lemon

lemon slices

smoked mozzarella

lemon pizza, unbaked

Pizza Sorrentina

Source: WSJ: Pizza with a Twist

Notes: I used the Jim Lahey pizza-making method with tipo 00 flour, which I wrote about more extensively back here. If you want to use the Kesté dough recipe, find it here. Also, if you don’t have the 18 hours required to make the Lahey dough, this Todd English recipe is fantastic — it was my favorite for many many many years:

Topping for one pizza:

6 thin lemon slices (as thin as possible)
3 ounces smoked fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
5 large leaves fresh basil
extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Jim Lahey Pizza Dough:
Source: Bon Appetit

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (1000 grams) plus more for shaping dough
4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

1. Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball. Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72°) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).

2. Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to center to create 4 folds. Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.

3. Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap and chill. Unwrap and let rest at room temperature on a lightly floured work surface, covered with plastic wrap, for 2–3 hours before shaping.

To Make the Pizzas:

4. During the last hour of dough’s resting, prepare oven: If using a pizza stone, arrange a rack in upper third of oven and place stone on rack; preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500°–550°, for 1 hour. If using a baking sheet, arrange a rack in middle of oven and preheat to its hottest setting, 500°–550°. (You do not need to preheat the baking sheet.)

5. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust dough generously with flour and place on a floured work surface. Meanwhile, soak lemon slices in water for 15 minutes, then pat dry.

6. Place dough on a rimmed baking sheet and stretch, using your fingers, until it is approximately 8 to 10 inches in diameter. Distribute 3 ounces cheese over the surface, leaving a 1-inch rim. Arrange 6 lemon slices over cheese and tuck in 5 basil leaves, then drizzle everything lightly with oil, including the rim. Place on highest rack in the oven and bake until puffy, about 6 minutes; then turn on the broiler and broil until the crust takes on some color, 30-60 seconds. (Note: I skipped the broiling step.) Remove pizza from oven and serve. Repeat with remaining dough.

pizza with lemon, smoked mozzarella & basil


  1. says

    You always preempt the random questions I am planning to e-mail you about! I read this article in the backlog of WSJs I have on my desk at work and thought “Lemon on pizza?” Hmm… not sure how that would work. Well, you have answered my question and now I will have to give this a try!

    • says

      Sarah — you are on to something! If only I were back in CA where I had an endless supply of Meyer lemons thanks to our neighbors. I’ll have to pick some up at the store next time I get there.

  2. says

    This reminds me of a really unlikely but delicious pizza I had in Australia a few times – it was called The Aegean and was topped with prawns, fetta and thin slices of lemon. I don’t usually like seafood on pizza but somehow the prawns stayed juicy and tender and the salty feta and sharp lemon were the perfect combination.

  3. Katykat says

    This looks awesome, perhaps with my lemon tree, I will be inspired to actually make this! (I still haven’t tried to make my own pizza before, I fear it after how long it took me to help you perfectly place pieces of gorgonzola around that pizza you and I made together :))))

  4. says

    The pizza is topped with everything that I like the most and that my kitchen never get’s short of! I am still not sure about bitting a wedge of lemon but I am definitely willing to give this a try :)

  5. says

    I just made a recipe from Melissa Clark’s column – the one with delicata squash and roast chicken covered with lemons – and now have a new found appreciation for lemons in cooking. This pizza idea, albeit a bit out there, sounds absolutely incredible. I can’t wait to try it. I’m still using the Todd English dough that you introduced me to, it’s just so easy and good, however, it just might be time to try something new…! Great post!

  6. Liz says

    I was prepared for this to be good, but I was not expecting this to be one of the best things I have ever made. Apart from the unusual and uncommon flavor combination, the Leahy crust is a miracle. I have made the Figs crust recipe, and it is superb. I never thought I would need another, but this one–and I do think the flour makes an enormous difference (I ordered mine on Amazon)–makes the best crust ever, surpassing restaurant crusts that critics rave about. I hope your readers will buy the 00 flour and try the recipe which takes three minutes to make and makes a dough that is easy to shape. I did find that the first day results, ie after the dough sits for 18 hours made the best crust. I made pizza three days in a row, and while the crust on days 2 and 3 was excellent, day 1 defies explanation of how perfect it was: puffy and chewy, light and bubbly. I felt like a master baker. Actually I felt like the master baker’s god!

  7. Jane says

    Made this for friends tonight as it is Friday Night Pizza Night and it was awesome. This will be a keeper recipe that totally impresses friends/family and is so very good at the same time.

  8. says

    That’s a flavor I haven’t ever thought of either. Imagining and looking at it, I’m thinking it must have been great, but we don’t get that sort of lemons in India, its mostly the way tarter limes that we have. So there’s no chance of me trying this anytime soon. I’ve still bookmarked it though, it looks that good :)

    • says

      Explody Full — I think it will work with normal mozzarella. The smoked kind definitely offers an interesting flavor combination, but I think if you use some good mozzarella, it will be delicious, too! Also, I have been making gnocchi, baking the potatoes and everything. I can’t wait to blog about it, once I get my butt in gear!

    • says

      Explody Full — alas I have not! I need to. They store remarkably well, so I haven’t felt enough of a push from them yet if you know what I mean. I will report back as soon as I do!

  9. says

    I have fallen for you, your creativity and your skills of writing and taking pictures….

    “The bites with lemon slices are big — tart and tangy and refreshing all at the same time; the bites without beg for one.”

    Man… I want a pice of this!

    • says

      Haha, I love it. Throwing lemon slices on pizza was a revelation. And the smoked mozzarella is key, too. SO jealous you actually got to experience Kesté pizza firsthand. I’m heading to NYC in May. My only goal is to eat Kesté pizza.

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