Every so often, I get a kick out of looking at the National Day calendar, which reminds me of the non-official occasions I can choose to celebrate on a given day. For example, yesterday was Talk Like a Pirate Day, but I didn’t mark the occasion because that felt ridiculous.
Perhaps it is a bit of serendipity, or just coincidence (which my husband, Les, does not believe exists) that I discovered today, Sept. 20, is both National Pepperoni Pizza Day and National String Cheese Day. The two seemingly separate “events” are both going to be recognized with this insanely over-the-top deep-dish pizza that we made at our house a full three months ago. Sometimes, in the rush to get something else posted on the blog, I end up putting some delicious thing on the back burner. In this instance, it worked out, because this pizza, which I dubbed “Go Big or Go Home,” happens to be perfect for this day. The toppings included pepperoni, but also sausage, peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and a ton of cheese, and the Chicago-style crust had a circle of string cheese strips enclosed all around the edges.
We had been dreaming about a cheesy stuffed crust pizza for a while, but I had a hard time imagining how to keep thick mozzarella sticks secured inside the dough without making a square pie. My solution was to tear the string cheese into strips and then overlap the strings in layers all the way around. Why didn’t that occur to me sooner? It resulted in a perfectly cheesy, ooey-gooey pizza experience, and made it one of the most fun versions of a deep dish that we have made (so far 😉).
1 recipe deep dish pizza dough (see my previous post for Chicago Deep Dish or use your own)
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
5 sticks of mozzarella string cheese, pulled apart into about four strips for each
1 packed cup shredded whole milk mozzarella, divided
1/2 cup cooked Italian sausage (we used a spicy variety)
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped and sauteed
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped and sauteed
About 20 pieces thinly sliced pepperoni
1/2 can San Marzano tomatoes, drained and squeezed by hand
A few spoonfuls of your favorite prepared pizza sauce
Several shakes of your favorite Italian seasoning blend
Preheat oven to 450° F, with oven rack in center position.
Add olive oil to a 14-inch, deep dish pizza pan and swirl it around. Shape the pizza dough, leaving as much extra dough around the edges as possible.
Arrange the strips of string cheese, overlapped so there is plenty of cheese thickness all the way around the edges of the pizza dough. Gently stretch and pull the edges of dough over the string cheese strips and press to seal it to the base of the dough. Portion half of the shredded mozzarella onto the base and use your hands to press it firmly into the base of the pizza and also to cover the stuffed crust seam.
Layer on the cooked Italian sausage, then the peppers, onions and mushrooms. Arrange slices of pepperoni generously all over the pizza. Scatter the crushed canned tomatoes randomly over the pepperoni, and then drop a few spoons of pizza sauce in-between the tomatoes and spread it lightly.
Sprinkle the pizza, including the dough around the edges, with your favorite Italian seasoning blend. Sprinkle the rest of the shredded mozzarella, along with any remaining strips of string cheese, on top of the pizza.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling. The cheese will be lightly browned and bubbling also. Let the pizza cool in the pan for 8 minutes before transferring it to a pizza tray. We use a large pancake turner and a wide fish spatula to get under the pizza to move it. Alternatively, cut the pizza right in the pan and serve up the wedges.
If this were a normal year, the Greek Orthodox church in our city would not have had a long line of cars snaking around it this past weekend, with drivers waiting to purchase prepared food in white Styrofoam take-out boxes. It would not have been nearly so quiet, and it would not have been the impersonal experience my husband, Les, had when he picked up our Saturday night meal. The string of taillights ahead of him and the line of vehicles in his rear-view mirror were a stark contrast to a “normal” mid-May visit to the church’s annual fundraiser.
The Greek Festival should have been a noisy, three-day celebration for all ages, packed with singing, music, dancing, eating, drinking and intermittent yells of, “Opa!!!!” There would be authentic heritage costumes and colorful art for sale and scheduled history lessons inside the Orthodox Church sanctuary. But this has not been a normal year, nor was it last year, when the Greek Festival was cancelled altogether for safety reasons. This year, at least, the church gave it a go by offering drive-through pickup of its most popular food items—some prepared and some frozen. Sadly, the take-out box did not do my hot meal any favors, but I have higher hopes for the spanakopita we tossed into the freezer.
The food is one of the things I usually love most about the Greek Festival, and you can bet I will be there next year when things (hopefully) look more normal. The flavors of the Greek culture are so bold and fresh, and I cannot resist applying them to foods that don’t necessarily speak Greek, including this inspired pizza.
Les and I enjoyed this one a couple of months ago, and I am finally sharing it here on Comfort du Jour. We have a regular tradition of Friday night pizza at our house, and though we do enjoy a classic Italian sausage or pepperoni pie, you know I also love to twist them up with other flavors. Visit the Pizza Party page for a quick review if you are looking for some new topping ideas.
For this tantalizing “Big Fat Greek Pizza,” I started with my own N.Y.-style pizza dough and a simple tomato sauce base, the same as I would use on a traditional Italian pie. Next, I crisped-up bits of “Greek God” sausage, an offering of one of our local butcher counters. The sausage is full of bright herbal flavors—oregano, basil, garlic and rosemary—and I had been imagining it on a pizza for quite some time, though I’m quite sure this pizza would be just as good with no meat. I piled on spinach, red onions, Kalamatas, fresh cherry tomatoes and a whole bunch of feta, and that should have been “Greek” enough. But my favorite part was the dollops of cool cucumber-garlic tzatziki that went into place after the pizza emerged from the oven. The combination of all these ingredients was like a flavor explosion, giving me my very own Greek festival, all in one delicious bite.
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, stirred
2 Tbsp. half and half
1/4 cup diced cucumber, seeded and patted dry
1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp. fresh dill leaves, chopped (chop some extra for sprinkling over the finished pizza)
Combine ingredients and keep refrigerated until ready to serve pizza.
1 link cooked and sliced Greek God sausage* or similar product (see notes)
1/2 medium red onion, sliced
1 fat handful baby spinach leaves
Handful of pitted Kalamata olives*, roughly chopped
6 or 7 cherry or grape tomatoes, washed and halved
3/4 cup fresh feta, crumbled*
Additional chopped fresh dill, for serving
If you decide to try my version of N.Y. pizza dough, note that it takes a few days’ time in the fridge, so plan accordingly. This recipe is intended for a thin-crust pizza, and my heating and bake time instructions are specific to baking on a pizza steel or stone. If you prefer to bake on a pan or at lower temperature, adjust your baking time to your preferred method.
The “Greek God” sausage I used for this pizza is a specialty product from a specific local grocery. It is a fresh pork sausage, seasoned with basil, oregano, garlic and rosemary, and we cooked (actually, smoked) it prior to using it. Any mild pork, chicken or turkey sausage would make a fine substitute, or you could easily omit the sausage altogether. The other flavors on this pizza are more than enough to elevate your happy.
Kalamata olives are specifically grown in the Kalamata region of Greece, and they are not the same as inexpensive, canned “black” olives. They are more oblong than round, and they are usually packed in a briny liquid with wine or olive oil. It’s easy to find them in jars or on specialty olive bars, if your supermarket has one. They can be a little pricey, but as far as I’m concerned, they are worth their weight in gold. Be sure to select pitted olives for this recipe, unless you find it exciting to crack a tooth.
I prefer to use fresh blocks of feta, as it has better flavor and texture than most crumbled feta. If the feta block is packed in brine, be sure to pat it dry with paper towels before crumbling, to minimize excess moisture.
Preheat pizza steel for one hour at 550° F, or the recommended temperature for your pizza stone, with oven rack about 8 inches from the top heat element. If using a metal pan, place rack in lower third of oven.
Prepare toppings: sauté red onion just until softened, then sauté spinach until wilted. Transfer both to a dish to cool.
Shape pizza dough into a 14-inch round and transfer to a floured pizza peel that is dusted with cornmeal (or place on a greased pizza pan). Brush or spray dough with olive oil, and season with kosher salt and a few twists of black pepper.
Spread tomato sauce evenly over the dough, all but 1 inch around edge.
Distribute the shredded mozzarella, then the cut-up, cooked sausage pieces (if using), onions and spinach, Kalamatas, tomatoes and feta cheese.
Transfer pizza to preheated steel or stone, and bake for about 7 minutes, until crust is golden brown and toppings are bubbling.
Arrange small dollops of tzatziki sauce over pizza, sprinkle with remaining dill leaves.
In our early months of getting to know each as slightly more than “just friends,” my husband, Les, and I took a road trip into southern Virginia for an afternoon of antiquing. He had been working on redecorating his living room and was on the search for an interesting accent table or other cool décor item. And mostly, we were both looking for new ways to hang out together.
Along the way, we found this funky table with an adjustable wooden top that screwed down into the base. It was not very practical, given that the three legs are not properly spaced out and it tipped over if you set something on it. But it was fun and different, and with a fresh coat of paint, it livened up his living space. We also stopped at a few roadside stands, browsing through fresh peaches, honey, jams and preserves, along with all varieties of handmade crafts.
The most fun thing about that day, though, was our visit to a Mexican restaurant called Chile Rojo, just inside the N.C. state line. The music and décor were lively, the food was delish and the company of this guy who once seemed so serious to me was just about the best thing going. Les and I met in a pool hall, where we both played in a 9-ball league, and our first impressions of each other (as is often the case with married couples) were not particularly positive. He thought I was flirty (for sure, I was) and a bit on the flighty side. I thought he was intense and without much sense of humor. I couldn’t have been more wrong about that second part, and it was interactions such as this road trip that really helped me see the relaxed, authentic side of this man who would, nearly two years later, become my husband.
It didn’t hurt that we both have a passion for great food and adventurous palates that make us open to trying each other’s favorite things. On this visit to Chile Rojo, his eyes scanned the menu, landing on their choriqueso dip, which he called “queso fundido.” It was a typical Mexican queso dip—creamy, melty and salty—but this one had spicy, crispy bits of chorizo sausage floating around in it, causing a flavor explosion in every bite. Truth be told, I had probably experienced this stuff at some point in my past, and maybe I had just never heard the name of it. But in the heat of that July evening, as Les and I sipped our Mexican lagers and enjoyed dragging our crispy warm tortilla chips through this queso fundido dip, everything seemed new and delicious.
That first of many road trips for us as a couple is still on my mind whenever we order queso fundido, and in honor of Cinco de Mayo this week, Les and I decided to put those fabulous flavors onto a pizza. My Real N.Y. Pizza Dough went south of the border for the occasion, as I subbed in a portion of corn flour for the usual amount of whole wheat flour, a subtle nod to the tortilla chips we like so much. Shredded pepperjack cheese provided a base for the toppings. The chorizo sausage was browned up with chopped onions, and accompanied by fire-roasted corn, pickled jalapeno and fresh slices of fresno chiles. The hot oven transformed the dollops of melty queso dip into blistered patches of ooey-gooey deliciousness, and when we pulled the pizza from the hot steel, we topped it with cool cubes of avocado and fresh cilantro leaves. Like all of our adventures, this pizza was awesome.
Oh, and it turns out Les isn’t always so serious. Thank goodness, because neither am I. ❤
2 chorizo sausage links, casings removed
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 cup cream, half and half or whole milk* (see notes)
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese (or Monterey Jack for less heat)
1/2 avocado, cubed
Handful fresh cilantro, washed and chopped
Fresh squeeze of lime
Depending on the type of dairy you use (cream, half and half or milk), you may need to adjust the ratio a bit. Cream, of course, has the highest fat content and whole milk has the lowest. I do not recommend 2% or skim milk for queso, as they don’t have the fat content to support the melted cheese. For readers abroad, “half and half” is a popular product in the U.S. that is essentially a 50/50 mix of cream and milk, and it amounts to about 12% milkfat.
I always use American cheese for its incredible meltability. I’m not sure if that is a word, but I think you understand my point! Regular cheddar has great flavor on its own, but without the special enzymes that exist in American cheese, a sauce made with only cheddar will break in the heat of the oven. I purchase American cheese in chunks at the deli counter of my supermarket, rather than the dairy aisle.
Our pizzas are baked on a steel, preheated at 550°F for an hour before baking. If you bake at a lower temperature, you will need to adjust baking time, and consider turning on the broiler for a brief minute at the end, to put a nice blister on the queso topping.
Note also that this pizza is par-baked before the queso dip is added, then returned to the oven for final browning. Do not add the queso at the start of the baking time, as it will burn and may prevent even cooking of the dough.
First, the queso dip, which we love on its own, so we made more than we needed for this pizza. Without question, we will enjoy the rest on homemade nachos or just snacking with tortilla chips. If you make the queso ahead of time, note that it will become solid in the fridge. No worries, just warm on low heat to creamy consistency again, and cool to room temp for topping the pizza.
When you are ready to make the pizza, preheat the oven to 550°F if using a steel, or the recommended temperature for your pizza stone. Your oven rack should be about 8 inches from the top of the oven. If you are using a pizza pan, place the rack in the lower third of the oven to ensure thorough baking of the crust, and plan to adjust your baking time.
“Riders up!” will be the exclamation this Saturday evening, when the jockeys rev up their adrenaline to compete in the Kentucky Derby, which has long been called “the greatest two minutes in sports.” I cannot claim to know much about the horses or the race, but I do enjoy the culinary traditions that accompany this annual event. The signature drink, of course, is the mint julep, which I have globalized this year by swapping in a mint relative to create a Thai Basil Julep. The signature dish of the Derby is an open-faced beauty of a sandwich known as the Kentucky Hot Brown, created in the 1920s by chefs in the Brown Hotel in Louisville, which is also home to the Derby. The Hot Brown is an all-American spin on a Welsh rarebit, served warm with slices of turkey breast and fresh tomato, draped in Mornay sauce and topped with criss-crossed slices of bacon—all of that lusciousness is piled high on a thick slice of buttery, toasted brioche points. It’s a tradition so beloved in Kentucky, the Brown Hotel’s website has a special page dedicated to the Hot Brown.
That’s the tradition, anyway. But in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not prone to follow tradition to the letter. I am all about twisting up the classics, and I’m doing it again, moving all the Kentucky Hot Brown ingredients off the thick brioche and onto a thin crust pizza. All the proper flavors are in attendance, but in a slightly different order and a more casual presentation. You’re welcome.
I have taken one major shortcut, using low-sodium, deli turkey breast slices. The turkey, in my opinion, is not the star of a Kentucky hot brown, so I don’t need to roast my own. The smoky bacon is par-cooked, but still soft, because I know that it will take on more crispiness under the intense heat of my oven. The tomatoes are simple—just thin slices of fresh Roma, a low-moisture variety that won’t make my pizza soggy, and it will provide some freshness to cut through the richness. That leaves only one component—the Mornay—and that is where I put most of my energy for this pizza interpretation of a Kentucky hot brown. Mornay is the special sauce that elevates all the other flavors, transforming a turkey and bacon sandwich into something rich and special. And it’s easy to make, beginning with a simple bechamel.
If the idea of bechamel seems intimidating, I suppose you can blame it on the French name. Thankfully, when my Gram taught me to make it so many years ago, she just called it “white sauce,” and she made it so often that it never occurred to me to be nervous about it. Take away the fancy name and bechamel is nothing more than small amounts of butter and flour, cooked until bubbly and whisked up with milk, then accented with freshly grated nutmeg. There’s nothing fancy about it, and it is terrifically versatile. A quick stir-in of gruyere cheese and a little white pepper makes it a Mornay and transforms this turkey and bacon pizza into a Kentucky hot brown pie.
Do yourself a favor and prep all the ingredients ahead of time. Once this pizza party begins, things move quickly. Kind of like the Kentucky Derby.
1 1/2 Tbsp. salted butter
2 Tbsp. finely diced onion
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
About 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 oz. white American cheese*
2 oz. cubed smoked Gruyere cheese*
2 Tbsp. shredded white cheddar*
A pinch of ground white pepper
4 slices thin-cut smoked bacon, stretched and cut into two-inch pieces
American cheese is usually some form of cheddar, processed with a special enzyme and salts that make it ultra-melty. This is a go-to ingredient for any creamy cheese sauce I make. If you are skittish about using “processed” cheese, you can use regular block cheese, but the sauce will not be as creamy and is likely to separate and become oily during baking of the pizza.
The Boar’s Head brand of smoked Gruyere that I used here is also a processed cheese, but a regular Gruyere will work fine in combination with the white American cheese. In the original Brown Hotel recipe, a good Parmesan would be in order. I selected this cheese for the smoke flavor, to play up the smoky bacon.
I recommend using a low-sodium version of turkey breast, or fresh, home-roasted if you wish. Typical deli turkey is very salty, and it may be too much, given that the bacon and cheese sauce already have a fair amount of sodium.
For this pie, I did something a little different with my N.Y. pizza dough. I subbed in a small portion of corn flour, as a subtle nod to the bourbon in our accompanying Derby drinks. It was terrific! Never stop experimenting, friends. If you choose to use my pizza dough recipe, please note that it should be made a couple of days ahead, so plan accordingly.
I bake my N.Y.-style pizzas on a pizza steel at 550° F. If you use a stone, follow manufacturer’s instructions. If you use a pan, do yourself a big favor and buy a stone or a steel. 😉 We use a steel made by Dough-Joe, and it has been an absolute game changer for our pizzas at home.
Prepare the bechamel by melting butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the diced onion. When butter begins to brown, add flour and whisk until smooth. Continue cooking, whisking occasionally, until flour begins to brown and is very bubbly.
Add milk and whisk until blended and thickened. Continue to cook a few minutes to soften the flavor. Stir in the freshly grated nutmeg and the skinniest pinch of kosher salt.
Add the cubes of American cheese and whisk until melted. Repeat with smoked Gruyere and then with cheddar. Stir in the white pepper. Remove from heat and cover the pan so that the sauce does not form a skin. If you work ahead and refrigerate this, warm it to smooth, spreadable consistency before making the pizza.
In a cast-iron skillet, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low heat, long enough to render the fat and brown the meat, but not long enough to crisp it. Transfer bacon pieces to a paper towel to drain excess fat.
Cut the deli turkey slices into thin strips, then chop cross-wise into bits.
Spread the tomato slices onto a paper towel and season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Rinse the thyme sprigs, then pat dry and strip the leaves from the tough stems.
Shape the pizza dough into a 14-inch round and place it on a floured, cornmeal-dusted peel for easy transfer to the oven.
Spoon small dollops of the cooled Mornay sauce onto the dough, and gently even it across the dough with the back of your spoon.
Arrange the turkey all over the sauce, then the bacon and tomato slices.
Add more small dollops of Mornay, between and around the other ingredients. It’s OK to overlap the other toppings, but try not to “bury” them, and keep the dollops away from the edges of the pie.
Sprinkle all over with the fresh thyme leaves, and slide the pizza onto the hot steel. Bake for about 7 minutes, until crust is golden and crispy and Mornay is browned and bubbly.
I didn’t have much notice to plan for it or I would have announced to all of you that this past Friday was “National Make a Ruckus Day.” My husband, Les, and I have been planning various improvement projects this spring, and we had no sooner made a final decision on the color of architectural shingles we liked for a roof revamp when his phone rang just after dinner Thursday night. The shingles were in stock and the weather was right, so the crew would arrive at the crack of dawn!
The crew arrived early, and there were either six or seven of them—it was hard to tell because they didn’t stand still long enough for a headcount, and I am still in a bit of shock that their work was completed in one day. The noise was non-stop, from the stomping overhead, to the ripping and peeling sounds of the old shingles coming off, to the banging of hammers and air nailers installing the new roofing materials, to the construction-grade boombox that was blasting lively mariachi music just outside my home office window. All day Friday, both entrances to our home were blocked, and tarps stretched out across the yard to catch the refuse that was being flung from above. Les was working from home that day, so we were sequestered into our own “zones” of the house. The dog, who is terrified of any noise she cannot see, spent most of the day crammed against my knees underneath my work desk, the cat was just plain pissed that she couldn’t go outside (she didn’t understand that her life might have been at risk), and I was so frazzled about all of the above that I started contemplating tequila shots at about 2 in the afternoon.
On top of what was happening at our address, the neighbors across the cul-de-sac had a contractor show up to replace flooring in their master bedroom, and our yard crew was running a day behind on mowing and trimming, so they showed up on Friday to pretty up the common spaces.
There were trucks and trailers and service vans everywhere, and full-on RUCKUS.
There was no way I could escape the house, even to take my daily walk, let alone to make a grocery run, and so I was thankful that dinner was already planned. The whole experience of chaos, Les said, was good practice for the excitement we will experience if we follow through on remodeling our kitchen later this year. I’ve been griping about our kitchen since I moved into the house with him a few years ago, and we are finally ready to apply solutions for our lack of counter space, poor traffic flow and shortage of pantry storage. But committing to the project is scary, not only for the cost, but the time involved. Each contractor we have spoken to has said, “plan for at least six weeks without your kitchen.” And it is true—no matter what Chip and JoJo seem to accomplish in one houron HGTV—new kitchens take time, and that will be a big challenge. We will figure out how to eat, but how will I be able to sustain the blog?
There might be a lot of grilling recipes coming your way, or it could be a good time for me to catch up on the vast backlog of recipes I have made but not yet transformed into posts. Or I may turn my attention to other ideas I have had for Comfort du Jour, including fun furniture projects and artistic ventures. I’ve gotten pretty good over the years at upcycling tables and worn out chairs. Of course, I may also spend six weeks sharing nothing but cocktail recipes, which—given my low tolerance for ruckus—will probably be in hot rotation.
Anyway, we relaxed under our new roof Friday night with this pizza, our interpretation of one of our favorite take-out sandwiches. We have long enjoyed the “big kahuna” sandwich from Jersey Mike’s, which is a variation of a Philly cheesesteak, but with mushrooms and jalapenos thrown into the mix, and plenty of gooey white cheese. The sandwich is awesome (especially when we ask for extra jalapenos), but it’s so packed with ingredients that we knew that our usual N.Y. thin crust could not hold it all in pizza form.
We went with a deep-dish pie this time, beginning with the crust, adapted from a King Arthur Baking recipe. I followed the recipe nearly to the letter except for a partial sub-in of white whole wheat flour. You know I’m always going to share my honest opinion, and frankly, I did not love this crust. It was easy enough to make, and instructions were clear and complete, but the recipe called for oil and also quite a bit of melted butter, which I haven’t really seen before as an ingredient for pizza dough. It rose on schedule and baked up beautifully, but the end result, for me, was too similar to pie crust or biscuits, and not quite right for pizza. I would consider it again for some kind of vegetable tart, but for pizza I will stick with the formula offered by Jeff Mauro from Food Network. His recipe with all olive oil makes a wonderful, crunchy-but-soft crust that is so, so good on a deep-dish pizza.
As with most near-misses in our kitchen, this pizza was still delicious. And it was extra yummy after such an unexpectedly noisy Friday.
Prepare the dough for your deep-dish pizza. This will take some time, depending on the recipe you choose.
Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add a couple swirls of olive oil and saute the onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Onions should be soft and translucent and mushrooms should be browned on both sides. Transfer vegetables to a dish and set aside.
In the same skillet, over medium-high heat, swirl in olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. When oil is shimmering, add the shaved steak, a few pieces at a time, and toss around to brown it all over. Don’t overcrowd the pan, or the meat will steam rather than brown. Transfer cooked steak to a dish and continue until all the steak is cooked. You may not use all of it on the pizza.
Make the white cheese sauce, beginning with a butter and flour roux in a medium saucepan. Heat the butter until bubbly, then add the flour and whisk together until it appears foamy and the butter is browned. Add the milk all at once and whisk constantly until mixture is smooth, thickened and lightly bubbling. Add cubed American cheese and stir or whisk until melted. Reduce heat to very low to keep sauce slightly warm and pourable while you prep the pizza crust.
Preheat oven to 450° F, with oven rack in the center of the oven.
Place your prepared deep-dish dough into a 14-inch pan (or two 9-inch cake pans), and press gently to spread the dough out to the edges and up the sides about an inch. If the dough is very springy, cover the pan for 15 minutes, allowing the gluten to relax before proceeding.
Scatter the shredded pepperjack cheese evenly over the pizza dough, and press down firmly to ensure good coverage.
Load up your toppings, including the steak, vegetables and jalapeno peppers.
Drizzle the white cheese sauce all over the top. If the sauce does not readily flow into the nooks and crannies, give it an assist with a spatula or spoon.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until the cheese sauce is browned and bubbling, and crust is a deep golden brown. Check on it at the halfway point, and tent loosely with foil, if necessary, to prevent over-browning of the cheese. Rest finished pizza about 15 minutes before using large spatulas to transfer it to a cutting board or round pizza sheet.
In case you are curious about the outcome… Wow, what a difference a day can make!
For such a short month, February has a lot going on, holiday- and event-wise. There’s Super Bowl, which is traditionally the first Sunday of the month; Valentine’s Day, which is fixed on the 14th; and Mardi Gras, which floats on the lunar calendar in tandem with Ash Wednesday. It’s enough to make even the most adept party planner a little dizzy, and for the average person at home, it isn’t easy to celebrate all three (at least, not when you’re hosting others). I’ve wanted to do some kind of Mardi Gras dish for a while, and with Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day behind us, here’s what I’ve come up with for our small celebration—all the exciting flavors of jambalaya piled into a deep-dish pizza.
As with the other two February events, it is just the two of us celebrating, and that makes it less intimidating for me. Les and I both love Cajun and Creole flavors, and he brought home some authentic spice blends from a work-related trip to “N’awlins” a couple of years ago, so I already have the right accent. We have some fabulous jazzy blues music to help us get in the mood, and I’m sure we have some beads around here somewhere. Weeknights are always great for a casual meal, and pizza has become one of my “blank canvas” foods, begging for interesting flavor twists. I’m going deep dish on this one because you cannot skimp on Mardi Gras (which translates from French to “fat Tuesday”), and I’m not sure that our usual N.Y.-style crust can handle all this excitement.
Most of the fillings are obviously traditional, from the zesty smoked andouille sausage, through the holy trinity aromatic vegetables and spices, and the plump and juicy Gulf shrimp. I omitted rice because we have quite enough carbs in my part-cornmeal deep dish pizza dough. Creole foods have tomato, so that’s an easy crossover ingredient for pizza. But what about cheese? I wracked my brain and could not think of a single regional dish that includes cheese, but on a deep-dish pie, the cheese on the bottom seems to shield the tender crust from wet filling ingredients, so I didn’t feel right skipping it.
In the end, I opted for the mildest firm cheese I could think of—one that would not clash with all these great Louisiana flavors. Monterey Jack is sturdy enough to line the pizza dough, but it melts well, and it kept my deep-dish dinner from singing the soggy-bottom blues.
Speaking of the blues, we can’t celebrate Mardi Gras without music, so go put on your favorite New Orleans jazz, or enjoy what I listened to while making this pizza:
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (mine was infused with cayenne)
2 links smoked andouille sausage, sliced or chopped (I used Aidell’s)
1 boneless chicken thigh, cut into bite-sized bits
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup each red and green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Cajun or Creole seasoning (as much as you can stand)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed
1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes, divided (see instructions)
Handful of fresh okra, sliced (or about 3/4 cup frozen sliced okra)
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Splash of veggie or chicken broth (optional, for deglazing the skillet)
4 large gulf shrimp (about 1/4 pound), peeled and deveined)
4 oz. shredded or sliced Monterey jack cheese
Let’s run through it together in pictures while you enjoy the Bluesiana Triangle, then keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.
Place a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and swirl in olive oil. When oil is hot enough to shimmer, add cut up andouille sausage and toss until edges are crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to a bowl and set aside.
Add the chicken pieces to the remaining oil and toss them about until no longer pink. Transfer chicken to the bowl with the sausage.
Add trinity plus garlic to the skillet and toss in the hot oil. Shake on Cajun or creole seasoning to suit your spicy preferences. Grind some black pepper into the pan and sauté vegetables until they are soft and translucent. Scatter the fresh thyme leaves over the vegetables.
Add diced tomatoes, okra and red wine vinegar. Toss and cook until okra is heated through, about five minutes. Turn off heat and allow vegetables to rest a few minutes, then transfer to a bowl and set aside.
If your skillet has any browned bits on the bottom, swirl in a splash of veggie broth and heat to a simmer. Cut the shrimp into bite-sized pieces and toss them into the simmering broth. Cook only long enough for the shrimp to be barely done, which may only be about two minutes. Transfer the shrimp to the bowl with sausage and chicken and set aside.
At this point, if you’re working ahead, you can refrigerate all cooked ingredients, and then bring them to near-room temperature when you are ready to assemble the pizza.
Ready to bake:
Preheat oven to 450° F, with rack in center of oven.
Spread prepared dough into pan, with edges creeping up the side a bit.
Layer ingredients in the following order: Monterey jack, most of the andouille sausage, chicken, vegetables, shrimp, remaining sausage, additional diced tomatoes. Sprinkle with Cajun seasoning.
Bake 25 minutes, rotating pizza halfway through baking time. Rest pizza 5 minutes, then carefully lift and transfer pizza to a flat pizza pan or serving platter. Cut into wedges.
This is what I shouted as I was assembling this patchwork pizza, which had all the classic Italian flavors of eggplant parmesan, lasagna and spicy pepperonata. Yep, all that on a crust. But make no mistake, I did not plan it this way.
The end-of-weekend fridge clearing ritual at our house took an interesting turn last night when my husband, Les, who will never, ever turn his nose up to anything pizza or anything eggplant, suggested that we take the remnants of a sausage and eggplant noodle casserole (which was already a leftover creation), and chop it all up to top some fresh N.Y. pizza dough. After all, he reasoned, the flavors were right for pizza and we knew from experience that cooked macaroni on a thin crust pie was next level comfort food—we had tried it last summer with some leftover mac and cheese and it was awesome—plus, we had just enough scraps of pepperoni and shredded mozzarella to hold it all together. Why not?
I wish I had taken just one photo of the “original” leftover creation, which was sort of a poor man’s lasagna, made of layered cooked elbow macaroni, two leftover grilled spicy Italian sausage links, the sautéed peppers and onions that had topped the sausages on sandwiches earlier in the week, a can of diced tomatoes, ricotta mixed with Italian herbs and our favorite parm-romano blend, plus an eggplant that I had sliced, sweated and quick-roasted, and every last random slice of provolone and thin-sliced mozzarella that had been taking up space in the deli drawer. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother cataloguing the details of the casserole at the time because I hadn’t planned to share it here on Comfort du Jour, and I also hadn’t really planned on sharing this pizza. I have no specific measurements of ingredients or step-by-step photos to share. Sometimes I need to just focus on feeding us, you know? But the end result—this I must share, because it underscores the fact that one should never underestimate the power of leftovers. It’s one of the essential kitchen rules I learned from my grandmother.
Not every idea in the kitchen has to be new and interesting, nor should everything be same old, same old. But sometimes, if you play it just right, the two collide and become something unexpectedly delicious, as we learned with this pizza. We had three slices leftover, naturally, and they will warm up nicely for lunch as leftovers of the leftover leftovers.
What crazy good thing have you made with leftovers recently? Drop it in the comments section so we can all be inspired!
One of my favorite things to do with food is twist up a classic, and this effort is a big-time winner! When my husband, Les, and I began talking about making our annual White Clam Pizza for New Year’s Eve (these conversations begin in October because we are obsessed that way), the gears of my foodie brain started spinning. What would happen, I wondered to myself, if we put all the incredible, decadent, special occasion flavors of Oysters Rockefeller—on a pizza?
Oysters Rockefeller has always been a favorite of mine, an appetizer dish that feels so classic and ritzy and special. So what about a crispy New York-style pizza crust with a creamy base, briny oysters, smoky cooked bacon, earthy spinach, pungent garlic and sharp salty cheeses—oh my goodness, yes—why wouldn’t this be a thing?
Unlike the white clam pie, which is cooked sans sauce, I felt that this one needed something creamy as a base. Tomato sauce won’t do, because that isn’t a flavor I associate with oysters. It had to be creamy, but not too cheesy. One thing I have learned about fish in general is that most “melty” cheeses do not pair well, but hard, salty cheeses such as Parmesan are perfect. We remembered how tasty the roasted garlic béchamel was on the creamy garlic and mushroom pizza I developed last year—so that’s where I started for the base. Next came some homework to discern the exact right flavors that make Oysters Rockefeller so exquisite. The bacon must be crisp, but not too crunchy. The cheese should be decadent and nutty, but not stringy or heavy the way mozzarella would be. Gruyere is common in the classic appetizer, so that’s a go, and Romano has that nice salty punch. Spinach—obviously a must, and I embellished the flavor of that with a splash of dry vermouth. Finally, a generous scattering of buttery, crunchy garlic panko crumbs when the pie emerged from the oven.
All the fancy flavors of Oysters Rockefeller, on a fun and casual pizza. Served with Caesar salad and champagne, of course.
1 small handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 dozen large Blue Point (or similar) oysters, shucked*
Gruyere is a nutty, semi-hard cheese that is similar to Swiss cheese. It is a typical ingredient in the topping for Oysters Rockefeller, and I used it twice for this pizza—in the béchamel and also grated on top of the pie. Substitute with Swiss or mild white cheddar if you cannot get it.
The bacon we used was possibly the best bacon I’ve ever tasted. I wish I could give you a brand, but this was a locally produced, heritage pork we found at Whole Foods. It was uncured (nitrite-free, which is a standard in this house) and smoked with peach wood—wow. So, so good. You may not be able to find this exact kind of bacon, but substitute a good quality, thick-cut bacon with smoky flavor and not too much sweetness. This bacon was also hand-cut by the butcher and therefore very thick slices. Once cubed, it measured a total of about 1 1/2 dry cups.
Please remember that shallots are not the same as scallions, but more similar to red or sweet onion.
We agonized for weeks about the oysters, wondering whether we could purchase them fresh in the shell from a local restaurant that specializes in them, but we kept bumping into the same issue—for food safety reasons, no purveyor would sell them shucked but still in the shell. We had two options—either shuck them ourselves at cooking time (this is not for novices, which we are) or buying them already shucked, by the pint. We opted for the latter and they were fantastic. The container had more oysters than we needed for our creation, but don’t you worry—the extras will pop up on a salad or something very soon.
I have learned (the hard way), when it comes to special recipes that I’ve never made before, that it is best to work ahead so that stress is minimized at cooking time. For this reason, I have broken the instructions down into segments, beginning with the béchamel base and the cooked toppings. It’s nice to have them done, out of the way and the kitchen cleaned up before the real cooking begins. The pictures tell most of the story, but keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF version of the instructions for your recipe files. I hope you’ll make it!
Béchamel and cooked toppings
This is the same base I made for the creamy garlic and mushroom pizza I introduced back in the summer. A béchamel is one of the simplest and most adaptable things you can make in the kitchen—master this, and you’ll find yourself whipping up all kinds of creations. I only needed a small amount for this Oysters Rockefeller pizza, and I ended up not using all of it. When cooled, the béchamel is somewhat thick and difficult to spread, so check the photos to see how I managed to get it evenly onto the dough.
If you’d like, you can make the béchamel and cooked toppings a couple of days ahead. Be sure to bring all ingredients to room temperature when you’re ready to build the pizza.
Ready to assemble this masterpiece?
There’s a downloadable PDF at the bottom of this post, but I always think the pictures are more interesting. 🙂
Of all the New Year’s Eve traditions my husband, Les, and I have established together, this pizza is the most eagerly anticipated. We start talking about it weeks in advance of the holidays, and build our entire holiday meal plan around it. Our recipe is drawn from Les’s memories of living nearly two decades in the New Haven, Connecticut area, where Modern Apizza and Frank Pepe’s reign supreme. The region is home to great pizza as well as fresh seafood, and the white clam pie is a terrific mashup of the two.
Topped with salty, slightly chewy littleneck clams and accented with fresh oregano, garlic and a copious amount of fluffy shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese, the white clam pizza meets every expectation for a casual meal, but with special ingredients and festive occasion flavor.
Les and I began this ritual of serving white clam pizza on New Year’s Eve 2018, only three years after we officially became “a couple.” Although we had been dating seven months by the end of 2015, I had been in stubborn denial about my feelings and held onto deep fears about being in this (or any) relationship. I’ll spare you the personal drama (which feels a little silly to me in hindsight) but share that it was a “When Harry Met Sally” movie finale kind of moment that turned it all around for me on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. I had broken up with Les, for at least the fifth time, and when I came to my senses—only about 15 hours later—he had already committed to plans with a friend for New Year’s Eve. It was too late for us to spend the holiday together, but there was great comfort in knowing that the first day of 2016 would be a real and new beginning. He proposed the next summer, and the rest is our history in the making.
Today, New Year’s Eve still feels more like an anniversary to us than our actual wedding anniversary, and because we both enjoy being creative with food, it makes perfect sense that we would build that into our annual celebration. We love pizza in all shapes and forms, so much so that I gave Les a pizza ornament this year for our “Christmukkah” tree, which is also decorated with ornaments representing wine, Star of David, bourbon, bacon and a chocolate-covered strawberry. Oh, and billiard balls. What else can I say? This is us. 😊
This pizza does not have a red sauce, nor mozzarella or sausage. It is an amazingly short and simple list of ingredients that amounts to spectacular flavor. Use deli-quality cheese and shred it yourself. Get the freshest littleneck clams you can find, or choose another quahog type of clam, as close to littleneck size as possible. Follow the fishmonger’s recommendations for keeping them fresh, and the rest is easy.
As with any good pizza, the crust is crucial. If you don’t already make your own dough, I hope you’ll give my recipe a try, not just for this pizza but for all your pizzas. There is something very satisfying about making the dough by hand, and mine is achieved with the help of my beloved sourdough starter though I offer a yeasted option, too. Either way, the dough is easy enough to make but does require a few days advance, as the ferment takes place in the refrigerator. Let the dough come to room temperature before proceeding and have fun with it!
2 cups very finely shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese (preferably grated at home)
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling before baking
The photos tell the story, or keep scrolling for written steps as well as a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.
Preheat oven and pizza stone or steel to 550° F for at least one hour. Place rack about 8 inches from the top heat element.
Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil over medium-high heat. You don’t need a lot of water in the pot; enough to just cover the clams.
When water boils, carefully add clams to the pot. Boil 2 to 3 minutes, until clams pop open. Immediately drain clams into a colander, rinse with cold water and cool until shells are easy to handle.
Use the tip of a sturdy knife to pry the clams all the way open and remove them from the shells. Drain clam meats on a paper towel until ready to make the pizza. If you’re working ahead, I’d recommend covering the clams on a plate in the fridge.
Shape pizza dough to a 14-inch round and place it on a floured pizza peel.
Spray or brush pizza dough with olive oil, then season it with salt and freshly ground pepper. Scatter a small handful of Pecorino-Romano on the dough, and then sprinkle the garlic and oregano over the entire dough.
Arrange the drained clam meats over the dough. Toss the remaining Pecorino-Romano over the entire pie, covering the clams and allowing the cheese to get right up on the edges of the dough.
Drizzle the pizza with extra virgin olive oil.
Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone or steel and bake about 6 minutes, until crust is golden brown on the edges and cheese is bubbling.
It’s long been said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Just don’t tell that to our dog, Nilla, who learned at age 10 how to politely request the fresh vegetable treats she loves so much. She latched on quickly to my command of “where are you supposed to be?” It usually only takes one ask to get her to back up out of the kitchen and plop down into position in the doorway to receive her healthy snacks, which she catches in mid-air at least 95% of the time. I love that about her! ❤
And you better not tell my husband, Les, about new tricks, either. Because just last week, this N.Y.-born-and-raised-pizza-snob hubby of mine was scarfing down on a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Who’d have thunk it? (He tells me he has enjoyed Chicago pizza before, just not in the five years we’ve been together. Wait, does that mean I’m the old dog?) 😉
Distinctly different from a classic New York pie in so many ways—the tender crust, the order of layering the toppings, the longer time in the oven—this deep-dish pizza reminded me of a meat and cheese casserole with a crust that was crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy inside. After two-plus years spent tweaking my technique for a perfect New York thin-crust pizza, you may wonder what inspired me to give this deep dish a go. Easy, a sign in the supermarket announcing that the baking pans were 30% off! I’m a sucker for a sale, and the truth is I’ve wanted to try a deep-dish pizza for a while but refrained, given Les’s loyalty to the thin crust. Turns out, Chicago is a fine place to enjoy a pizza! He loved it (actually, we both did), and we are already dreaming up ingredient ideas for the next one. I want to make a deep-dish pie with roasted broccoli, bell peppers, onions and mushrooms, mmm.
As with so many recipes, what’s traditional or correct for Chicago-style pizza depends on who you ask, and the internet is jam-packed with declarations about authenticity. My first go-to was Food Network celebrity chef Jeff Mauro, the self-proclaimed “Sandwich King” who also happens to be an expert on Chicago foods because he’s lived in the area most of his life. His recipe for Chicago-style deep dish caught my eye, mostly for its simplicity but also for the kudos given by commenters on the Food Network site. I tweaked it a bit (don’t I always?), swapping in some cornmeal and whole wheat flour—for texture and nutrition, respectively—and embellishing with topping ingredients that suit our taste. Or maybe for this style pizza, I should call them “filling” ingredients rather than toppings, because it all bakes down into a delicious, melty mass. Yes, this is a fork-and-knife kind of pizza, a whole new level of comfort food for our Friday night quarantine pizza party.
You will need a deep-dish pizza pan or a large (12-inch) cast-iron skillet for baking this pizza. Note that the recipe requires a lengthy rise time on the dough, so you’ll want to plan ahead to stay on schedule for dinner. I hope you enjoy it!
Does your yeast packet say “instant?” If so, skip the first instruction step for blooming the yeast in warm water. Only “active dry” yeast requires blooming. Instant yeast may be added directly with the flour.
If you’re a sourdough nerd like me, here’s how I converted the recipe to accommodate 4 ounces of ripe sourdough starter: omit the yeast (or only add a small amount to boost rising action), reduce AP flour to 10 ounces and water to 9 ounces. Skip the step of blooming yeast. My starter had not been fed in a few days, so I added 1/2 teaspoon of instant yeast. I did not need to adjust the rising time.
If you prefer an all-white flour crust (first of all, you’re missing a lot of flavor), adjust the amount of all-purpose flour to 18 ounces. (about 3 1/2 cups).
Jeff Mauro’s recipe suggested adding the bulk sausage in raw form, but I couldn’t get behind this, so I crumbled and browned it lightly in a cast-iron skillet, then cooled it before topping the pizza.
Mix 1 cup water, active dry yeast and sugar in a bowl and let it rest a few minutes until foamy on top. If using instant yeast, skip to step 2.
In a stand mixer or large bowl, combine yeast mixture with flour, cornmeal, salt and remaining water (and sugar, if you didn’t use it to bloom the yeast). Mix until a soft, shaggy ball of dough forms. Pour in olive oil, cover and let rest about 15 minutes.
Knead in olive oil until dough is soft, smooth and sticky. This should come together within about 3 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled clean bowl, cover and let rise at room temperature until it’s doubled in size. This may take up to 6 hours, depending on the yeast method and the warmth of your kitchen. If you want to speed it up a bit, put the covered bowl in the oven with the oven light on, and check on it at the 3 hour mark.
Prep the other pizza ingredients by browning sausage, onions and peppers. Sauté spinach leaves until wilted and moisture is cooked out of them. Slice or shred your cheese. Drain the can of tomatoes, reserving puree and juice for another purpose. Set all topping ingredients aside until dough is ready to bake. Keep the cheese in the fridge until it’s time to bake.
Preheat oven to 450° F, with a rack in the center position of the oven.
Spray your deep dish pan or skillet with olive oil spray and transfer risen dough to the pan. Using your hands, spread dough out across the pan, gently stretching to meet the edges and up the side of the pan. The dough may spring back a bit but this is OK. Cover with a clean towel for 10 minutes to relax the gluten then proceed with the dough shaping. If you’re using a 12-inch skillet, you may only need about 3/4 of the total dough.
Layer the sliced mozzarella all over the bottom of the pan, on top of the dough, with edges of the cheese overlapped for good coverage. I ran out of slices and filled in gaps with shredded mozzarella—no big deal.
Scatter the browned sausage crumbles evenly over the cheese, then layer on the sautéed onions, peppers and spinach. Finally, arrange the pepperoni slices evenly around the pizza.
Use your hands to squish each plum tomato slightly, and arrange them all over the top of the pizza. Spoon the pizza sauce into the gaps between tomatoes.
Liberally sprinkle the parm-romano blend cheese completely over all the pizza toppings, and finish with a swirled drizzle of olive oil. I saved the grease from browning the sausage and drizzled that on top. No sense wasting that flavor, right?
Slide pizza pan into the oven and bake 25 minutes, until crust is evenly browned and parmesan cheese is golden and bubbly. Give it a turn at the halfway mark for even baking. Allow pizza to rest at least 5 minutes, then carefully slide it out of the pan to a pizza sheet for serving at the table. My husband is good at this part, and he was able to move the pizza using two large spatulas on either side of the pie. If it’s too difficult, cut and serve directly from the pan.