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.
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.
Until I launched this blog, the only pizzas we ever had at home were traditional, “classic” Italian pies. You know—tomato base, sausage, mushroom, mozzarella. Sometimes eggplant or spinach. I had tempted my pizza-loving man with stories of more “creative” pies I’d made in the past, but we always ended up making the usual, and it was all well and good.
But now that I’ve broken him (haha!), it seems we can’t turn away from the unconventional ideas I’ve been posting here. It started with the Buffalo chicken pizza, and we’ve worked through a couple of vegetarian pies and the couple of jerks (as in “Jamaican”). We still enjoy a classic pepperoni and mushroom pie, don’t get me wrong. But we are also knocking down the walls with all kinds of flavors, and having a lot of fun in the process of it all! (I should say at this point that my fact-checking husband, who edits this blog, reminds me that we have had white-clam pizzas as our New Year’s Eve celebration each of the last two years. But I would say those count as traditional, since they are part of the lore of Connecticut’s nationally famous New Haven pizza places, like Frank Pepe’s and Sally’s and Modern Apizza.)
And they are awesome, truth be told.
But I digress. Today, I offer another example of how I like to use up leftovers, and this adventure began on the heels of a recent backyard BBQ meal, when we enjoyed gourmet sausage (among other things) on the smoker. One of our local markets has an exclusive “sausage” department, featuring 40+ house-made specialties, and all pretty fabulous.
One lone straggler called “The Grill Master” was staring me down from the leftover shelf, along with a little bit of leftover sweet and spicy BBQ sauce that Les had whipped up for the spare ribs he smoked (he is the sauce king). There is always a plethora of cheese odds and ends in the deli drawer, and because I keep homemade pizza dough in regular rotation in this household, why not throw it all together into a smoky BBQ sausage pie? Why not, indeed.
1 ball of my New York pizza dough
1/4 cup sweet-spicy BBQ sauce
1 link smoked sausage* (about 4 oz.), cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Handful of cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 cup combined white cheddar and mozzarella*, grated
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper (smoked, if you can find it)
Smoked sausage has a very firm texture, perfect here because I could crisp up the cut edges in a skillet for even more texture and interest for our pizza. Kielbasa is a common example of a smoked sausage.
For this pizza, I used the bits of cheese we already had. If I were shopping from scratch, I would have gone straight for the cheddar on its own, or perhaps even a smoked cheddar or gouda.
Preheat the oven to 550° F, with pizza steel or stone in place about 8” from the top heating element.
In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat and saute the smoked sausage until edges are crispy and some of the fat renders. Transfer sausage to a small bowl. Add onions and peppers to the same pan and saute until soft and lightly caramelized. Add mushrooms and cook until soft and some of the moisture evaporates. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Shape pizza dough into a 14” circle and transfer it to a greased pizza pan or floured and cornmeal-dusted pizza peel.
Brush dough with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Then, spread the sauce in a thin layer, leaving 1/2” bare edges.
Scatter half of the cheese over the sauce, then distribute the peppers, onions, mushrooms and sausage. Top with remaining cheese and slide the pizza into a preheated oven for about 7 minutes, or until crust is puffy and golden and cheese is bubbly all over.
Summer has a way of flipping mealtime upside-down at our house. My husband, Les, does a lot more of our cooking during the summer because the weather and extra daylight make it easier to use the grill or smoker, and the simple fact that he’s handling a larger part of our meals gives me more time to expand our library of recipes. With him in charge of cooking outside, it also means that I have a wider array of flavorful meats, cooked and ready to use in whatever dishes capture my imagination.
Something about the summer heat also makes me crave spicy foods in particular. It could be that my body is trying to calibrate to the external temperature or perhaps there’s simply a greater tendency toward adventure and new-ness while the sun is blazing. In either case, it’s hot in our neck of the woods and I’m cooking up some spice today in the form of pizza—not one, but two pies with all the flavors and vibrant colors of the Caribbean!
If you’ve ever grown a successful garden (meaning you actually harvested vegetables rather than merely feeding the neighborhood deer, as I have), you likely know that peppers love hot, sunny weather. Even if pepper plants seem to lag behind tomatoes and zucchini at the start of summer, they always catch up when the temperatures rise. That said, these brilliant bell peppers—which I picked from the produce department, not my pitiful garden—have earned a spot on my pizzas, just by being heat lovers themselves.
Onions are a no-brainer for pizza, and for these Caribbean-inspired versions, I’ve put a little caramelization on sliced red onions to heighten their sweetness and balance the jerk-fired flavors of the sauce and other toppings.
And of course, I couldn’t label these pizzas “Jamaican jerk” without the signature notes of allspice, hot peppers, ginger, thyme and scallion. I’ve incorporated all of the above, either in whole ingredient form or in sauce and seasoning, but gave each pie its own personality. The first is decidedly spicy and savory, featuring smoked pork shoulder, jerk rub, sweet and hot peppers and two kinds of onions. The other leans to the sweet-fruity-spicy side, with plump, juicy shrimp cooked in garlic butter, lime and cilantro—plus sweet and hot peppers, onions and a generous smattering of tropical grilled pineapple.
Put on some steel drum music, pour yourself a Red Stripe and join me for a taste of the Caribbean, Comfort du Jour style!
Sprinkle of fresh or dried cilantro leaves* (optional)
1 red bell pepper, cut into lengthwise slices
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut into lengthwise slices
1 small red onion, sliced into rings
1 large jalapeno pepper (seeded), some diced and the rest sliced into rings
3/4 cup grilled pineapple chunks*
1/2 brick pepper jack cheese, freshly shredded*
Hot BBQ sauce for brushing pizza dough*
Dough of your choice – I recommend fresh dough rather than one of the pre-baked crusts. Some pizza restaurants will even sell you some of their pizza dough, so it’s worth asking!
Jerk seasoning – My go-to jerk seasoning is technically a wet rub that seasons the meat but also moistens it. If you have a dry or powdered seasoning, use less of it and mix it with a bit of canola or coconut oil before applying it to the meat.
Pepper jack cheese – For these pies, I used an 8 oz. brick of pepper jack, divided between the two pizzas, and I shredded it myself (not the bagged stuff). If you’re already having hot flashes over the other ingredients, you could cut out the pepper and use Monterey jack instead. You could also omit the cheese entirely, but I like the way it holds together the other toppings.
Cilantro – If you’re among the roughly 20% of people born with the “I can’t stand cilantro” gene, simply leave it out or substitute thyme or parsley. Here’s why you hate it, by the way.
Grilled pineapple – I grilled a whole cut-up pineapple because I had plans for multiple dishes. If you’re only making this pizza, I’d recommend getting a small container of pre-sliced fruit from the prepped-for-you section of the supermarket. 2 or 3 slices is all you’ll need. Used canned as a last resort.
BBQ hot sauce – Choose what you like, but consider the ingredients to complement the other stuff on the pizza. For example, there’s probably a better recipe than this one for a hickory-maple-chipotle-mustard BBQ sauce.
We found this one, which contains vinegar, onion, brown sugar and habanero (all of which are also in jerk seasoning), plus tomato paste, whiskey and ghost pepper. It echoed the topping flavors and was a perfect base for both pizzas, and another layer of wicked-good heat, which always makes Les happy.
Instructions – Jerk Pork Pizza
Preheat oven and steel to 550° F (see notes below for stone or pan baking)
Pull the pork apart into bite-size strips, and sauté them in a hot skillet with some olive oil, until edges are crispy. Then, toss them in jerk seasoning to coat thoroughly. Transfer the pork to a bowl.
Heat olive oil in the same skillet, and sauté onions and bell peppers until soft and lightly caramelized. Season with salt and pepper.
Shape pizza dough into 14-inch circle and place it on a greased pizza pan or flour and cornmeal-dusted peel, then brush on a very thin coating of BBQ hot sauce and season with more black pepper.
Sprinkle half of the pepper jack cheese over the dough, then top with pork, jalapeno, onions and peppers. Scatter the remaining cheese and sprinkle with all the scallions. Slide the pizza onto a hot steel or stone, about 8” from the top of the oven. Bake at 550° F for about 7 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. If using a pizza stone, follow temperature instructions from the manufacturer. Some pizza stones may crack at this temperature.
If using a pizza pan, place the oven in the middle to lower third and allow more time.
Instructions – Jerk Shrimp Pizza
Preheat oven and steel to 550° F (see notes below for stone or pan baking)
Sauté the prepared shrimp in butter with the fresh garlic and cilantro, but only for about a minute, as the shrimp will cook further in the oven. Remove from heat, cut each shrimp in half if they are larger than a quarter, and squeeze a section of lime over them. Transfer to a bowl.
In the same pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté the bell peppers and onions until soft and lightly caramelized.
Shape pizza dough into 14’ circle and transfer to greased pizza pan or flour and cornmeal-dusted peel. Brush a light coating of BBQ hot sauce onto the dough, then sprinkle on half the cheese, followed by the onions and peppers, jalapeno, shrimp and pineapple bits. Scatter the remaining cheese over all toppings and slide the pizza onto a preheated steel, about 8” from the top of the oven.
Bake at 550° F for about 7 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. If using a pizza stone, follow temperature instructions from the manufacturer. Some pizza stones may crack at this temperature.
If using a pizza pan, place the oven in the middle to lower third and allow more time.
The savory, earthy flavors of this non-traditional pie will transform your ordinary pizza night into something far more elegant. The two different kinds of mushrooms provide a meaty texture in every bite, leeks and spinach add depth of flavor, and the trio of cheeses are in pleasantly sharp contrast to the creamy béchamel base.
I recommend prepping all the topping ingredients as much as a day ahead of time, as assembly of the pizza moves quickly and you won’t want to wait one extra minute for a bite of this!
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch white pepper
1 whole bulb roasted garlic
1 leek, cleaned and sliced thin (white and light green parts only)
4 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned, sliced and sautéed
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, sliced and sautéed
2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or dry vermouth, which is what I had open)
1 fat handful fresh baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup extra sharp white cheddar cheese (try Cabot’s “Seriously Sharp” or Trader Joe’s “Unexpected Cheddar”)
Make the béchamel by melting butter in a small skillet, then sprinkle in flour and cook until bubbly. Add the milk and whisk until smooth and thickened. Season with fresh nutmeg and white pepper. Squeeze entire bulb of roasted garlic into sauce and whisk until fully incorporated. Remove from heat and set aside to cool (or refrigerate until ready to make the pizza).
Place a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, swirl in about 2 Tbsp. olive oil and sauté leeks until cooked down and lightly browned. Remove from heat. Sauté mushrooms in two batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Add a small amount of additional olive oil if needed. When all mushrooms are finished, remove them to a bowl, then de-glaze the skillet with wine or vermouth and scrape up all the browned bits. When liquid is almost fully evaporated, add spinach leaves and cook until wilted.
Shape pizza dough into a 12- to 14-inch disk. Remember how we do this?
Drizzle or brush the dough with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Carefully spread the roasted garlic béchamel onto the dough, and spread it out to within 1/2” of the edges. Distribute leeks, cremini mushrooms, spinach and shiitake mushrooms onto the pie, then scatter all cheeses evenly over the top. Add a quick shake of crushed red pepper, and slide it onto a steel in a 550° F oven for about 8 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly.
For baking on a pizza stone, follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding maximum temperature. Some stones will crack or break at higher temperatures. For baking on a pizza pan, lightly grease the pan before placing dough on it, and bake in the lower third section of your oven for a few minutes longer than recommended in the above recipe. We do all our pizzas on a baking steel by Dough-Joe, and it is the best thing that has ever happened to our homemade pies.
Before I present my recent addition to the Meatless Monday lineup of recipes, some unfortunate news—it looks like my garden isn’t going to make it this year. After only four weeks in the soil, so many of my tender plants have succumbed either to the deluge of rain we had over Memorial Day or the woodland critters who have decided to munch on the leaves. The yellow squash is withering, its stems split wide open from too much water. The zucchini vine is missing several of its broad protective leaves, having fallen victim to the hungry deer. And at least three of my red bell pepper plants are nothing but stubs. Though the deer don’t particularly care for the fruit of the pepper plants, they’ve made it clear they don’t mind snacking on the tender leaves and blossoms. What’s left of the garden is looking sad and puny, and I fear the nutrients in the soil have washed away with last month’s rainwater. Poor plants hardly stood a chance.
The happy news is that I’ve been able to find some fresh and good-looking vegetables at the market, a little ahead of season, and I’m not going to waste any more time wishing for my beloved ratatouille. On the contrary—I intend to enjoy it in as many different ways as possible. The dish is a favorite of mine, though I didn’t really become acquainted with it until I was well into adulthood. In case you have trouble remembering what’s in ratatouille, let me share with you a simple word trick that makes it easy. Several years ago, during the season five competition of the “Next Food Network Star,” finalist Melissa D’Arabian (who went on to win the title that year) shared an acronym that perfectly describes ratatouille.
“Just remember E-Z-pot,” she told the judges. Eggplant, zucchini, peppers-onions-tomato, easy to put together and made in a pot. That’s a perfect description, and also an easy way to jot down the ingredients on my grocery list.
Ratatouille, in its most rustic, southern-French form, is a hearty, chunky summer vegetable stew, seasoned with garlic and fresh herbs—a satisfying meatless meal made complete with a piece of crusty baguette and a glass of Provençal wine. In a fancier version, you might see ratatouille assembled in a striking pattern of layered thinly sliced vegetables, elegantly stacked with a garlicky tomato sauce and fresh sprigs of thyme.
If you’re a fan (as I am) of the Disney-Pixar film Ratatouille, you probably can’t help but recall the scene near the end, in which harsh, unemotional food critic Anton Ego takes a single bite of such an elegantly presented ratatouille, prepared by Remy—a rat (yes, a rat) who defied convention to follow his dream of being a chef. In a fraction of a moment, the stodgy Ego is transported back in time to his mother’s kitchen, where, as a young boy, he created his early memory of the rustic dish considered by many to be “peasant food.” One taste brought back all the feelings for him, and the incident changed his mind and his heart. For real, that one scene sums up Comfort du Jour. I’m even crying a little bit right now.
Today, I’m taking the rustic, casual approach to ratatouille and adding yet another twist. We are going to put those fresh garden flavors onto a pizza. I’ll send hubby out to the grill with the eggplant, zucchini and red bell pepper to reduce their moisture and bring out the best of their flavors. The onions will be pan-caramelized with fragrant herbs de Provence, and just for the heck of it, I’m tossing in some sautéed mushrooms. With the application of ratatouille’s classic flavors on a pizza crust, I’m sort of visualizing the south of France knocking on neighboring Italy’s door to borrow a couple of ingredients. A simple Italian tomato sauce will lay on an airy, rye-infused crust (sourdough, naturally), with a combination of gruyere, parmesan and romano to punctuate the grilled vegetables. Wow, it’s making me sooo hungry.
You don’t have to make your own dough to enjoy this pizza—before I made my own bread, I favored the Boboli pre-made crusts. There’s no judgment here if you want to use a pre-made pizza dough or other favorite crust and just focus on the flavors of the vegetables. Or trade in the crust altogether for a fresh bowl of hot pasta, tossed with the grilled vegetables and herb-infused sauce. Or really merge Italian into it by serving it on risotto or polenta. Re-imagine it exactly however you like. Isn’t that the beauty of comfort food?
1 ball rye pizza dough*
1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2″ rounds, salted and sweated*
1 medium zucchini, cleaned and sliced 1/4″ thin, lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into wedges
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 large sweet onion
4 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thick
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
1 bulb roasted garlic
1 tsp. herbs de Provence seasoning*
2 oz. dry white or rose wine
2 oz. finely shredded gruyere cheese
2 oz. coarsely shredded parmesan and romano blend cheeses
3 Tbsp. prepared pizza sauce (we love Dei Fratelli brand for its authentic, simple flavors)
If you wish to make the rye pizza dough, follow my instructions for My Real NY Pizza Dough but swap out the sourdough starter with equal amount of starter fed with 100% rye flour. Allow the starter to ferment 14 hours at room temperature before building the final pizza dough.
An hour or so ahead of preparing the rest of the dish, spread a double layer of paper towels on a baking sheet, salt liberally and arrange the eggplant slices. Salt the tops of the slices, cover with additional paper towels and place a weighted baking sheet on top. This will draw out the moisture and remove any bitter flavor from the eggplant before you grill it. After the “salt and sweat” period, use a damp towel to wipe off all excess salt.
Herbs de Provence is a classic French blend of herbs and seasonings, including thyme, savory, basil, lemon and a hint of lavender. You can make your own, but it’s easier to pick up a bottle of McCormick or any other brand at the market. Take note of the salt content so you know how to adjust your recipe.
Spray or brush eggplant slices, zucchini and bell peppers with extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and grill at 350° F for approximately 10 minutes, or until they reach your preferred level of caramelization. We let them go until they were lightly charred, but still tender.
Place the grilled peppers in a bowl, cover with foil and wait 15 minutes until the skin is loosened enough to peel away. Cool all vegetables and chop into large, rough pieces.
Place a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and sauté onions until they are softened with charred edges. Sprinkle onions with salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp. herbs de Provence. Remove onions to a bowl, and repeat the same process with the sliced mushrooms, seasoning with remaining herbs de Provence.
In the same non-stick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over low heat. Add the cherry tomatoes and heat slowly until tomatoes are soft enough to burst when pressed. Continue to cook until tomatoes are broken down and saucy and squeeze the roasted garlic into the pan.
Season with salt and pepper, add dry wine and simmer until liquid dissipates. It should have the texture of a soft jam. Set all ingredients aside (or refrigerate them) until you’re ready to make pizza.
Time to bake!
Shape pizza dough into a 14” circle. Brush or spray with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Swirl on tomato sauce, parmesan and romano, sauteed and grilled vegetables, then finely shredded gruyere. Finish the pie with the roasted garlic-tomato mixture and slide into a very hot oven on a preheated pizza steel or stone.
We bake our pizzas on a steel at 550° F for approximately 7 minutes. Please use the temperature and time best suited to your method.