Birthdays, Car Crashes + Pizza.

Hello all, after what seems like a million years of not writing here.  I wasn’t lying when I wrote that I’d be back soon.  So here I am, feeling refreshed and eager to share some delicious pizza recipes for you. First, though, let me set the scene…

It was Keith’s birthday not too long ago; to celebrate, he and I went to Craigie on Main for the ten-course tasting menu — something I’m truly distressed to say I struggled to eat.  This may have been because I’m still not feeling well, and was certainly not a result of the food, which was as creative and flavorful as always.

Our night out wasn’t all we had planned for Keith’s birthday.  He had invited friends over to watch some fights on Pay-Per-View that Saturday night, so I offered to make whatever dinner and dessert that he wanted.  And what he wanted was pizza.

I happen to love making pizza.  I know what some of you may be thinking: But aren’t you scared of yeast?  Well, my answer to that is YesYes, I am.  I am also determined to conquer yeast, and when I do I will find the perfect pizza dough recipe to share with you.  In the meantime, I’m a bit embarrassed to tell you that I kind of really love Pillsbury‘s found-in-the-refrigerated-section-and-rolled-up-in-a-pressurized-tube pizza dough.  I’m not kidding about the pressurized tube thing, by the way.  These suckers are constructed to explode in your hand once you open them, allowing you to unfurl your dough onto your baking sheet.  If you prebake it, you’ll end up with a nicely browned and crunchy crust — and for me to say this is a big deal, as I’m one of those pizza eaters who often tosses her crusts to the side… or, more often than not, slips them discreetly onto Keith’s plate.  I always prebake my dough — 425° for about ten minutes, rotating the sheet at the halfway point — while I’m assembling my toppings, and my pizzas are always the better for it.  Give it a shot.

Since there was going to be five of us watching the fights, and because I wasn’t making any sides or appetizers, I decided to make four pizzas.  I wanted to have some variety as well as something more interesting than plain old pepperoni or just cheese.  I’d made a fantastic pizza before with sausage, mushroom, rosemary and Piave, which Keith requested; the other three were all my call.  Even though we weren’t having any vegetarians over, I included two meatless pizzas — a white pizza with rainbow chard, and a potato-asparagus pizza.  My one concession to “normal” pizzas was one topped with pesto, tomatoes and chicken sausage.

I wasn’t able to start my prep as early as I had wanted — which is what happens when you spend five hours at the car dealership signing papers on your new car* — but I wasn’t nearly as stressed out at being behind schedule as I normally would be, since I knew our friends wouldn’t mind.  Just as I was about to slide my pizzas into the oven, something completely unforeseen happened that delayed our meal even further.  And that something was a loud, earth-shattering CRASH! that  came from the street in front of the apartment… because a passing driver had swerved to miss a cat… thus crashing into and totaling one of our friend’s cars.  The impact caused the totaled car to leap onto the sidewalk and tear the bumper off of another friend’s car.  One car’s entire side had been sheared off, exposing the gas tank, and a cigarette-smoking onlooker made me so nervous I had to retreat back into the apartment.

After everyone dealt with the paramedics, police and panic, we finally were able to have dinner — at eleven-thirty.  I like eating late, and tend to do so, but even this was a bit much for me, especially as Keith and I hadn’t the chance to eat a proper meal all day… which is probably why we scarfed down the pizzas with a speed that was, frankly, both startling and disgusting.  The fact that everything came out perfectly may have had something to do with it, but that’s questionable.

Though Keith will tell you that the sausage and Piave pizza I mentioned before was his favorite, I’m sure he’ll also mention how the scallions sprinkled underneath the asparagus-potato pie gave the entire pizza a surprisingly fresh and altogether spring-y feeling.  Since I had used baby purple potatoes, it was also the prettiest of the four — though I happened to love the rustic aesthetic of my pesto pizza, which I had gussied up with baby heirloom tomatoes (I know they’re not in season, but I couldn’t resist their fat little jewel-like bodies).  My white pizza was by far the most subtle, but I think that’s a good thing, particularly after a rich pesto, a spicy sausage and zingy bits of scallion.

Of course, the key to any good pizza — in my mind, anyway — is the cheese, and I used no less than seven on these pies: chèvre, Parmesan, Piave, ricotta, a smoked fontina and a mixed-milk whose name eludes me because I was too flustered to write it down.  The recipes below didn’t call for much beyond mozzarella, chèvre, Piave and Parmesan, but I, cheese-aholic that I am, required more.  Feel free to use less cheese, if you wish.  Unless you have me over for dinner.  Then take what a “normal” person would consider sufficient, and multiply it by nine.

A few notes:

  • Each recipe makes one pizza.
  • I’ve omitted the key ingredient of dough; as you now know, I like Pillsbury, but any dough — store-bought or home-made — is more than fine.
  • I bake my pizzas in a 425° oven for about fifteen to twenty minutes, rotating at the halfway point, or until the crust has taken on a nice golden brown color.
  • If you don’t have any pesto from the summer stored in your freezer like I do and don’t want to make your own, store-bought will do.
  • I roll my dough out on the backs of oiled, parchment-papered 9 ½ x 13 inch rimmed sheet pans.  The oil and parchment paper  are both critical, as your pizzas will otherwise absolutely adhere themselves to their baking surfaces.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • When cool enough to handle without cursing and burning yourself, carefully slide your pizzas onto a cutting board to slice.  Then arrange your pieces onto a serving platter — which, in my case, are two oversized cookie sheets.
  • Pizza wheels are the devil.  They’ll just drag your nicely-arranged toppings across the entire pie and you’ll end up with a ridiculous mess.  Just use a nice, sharp chef’s knife.

Asparagus, Fingerling Potato + Goat Cheese Pizza, adapted from Bon Appétit

5 ounces fingerling potatoes (I used baby purple potatoes)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
4 scallions, thinly sliced, divided
1 1/3 cups grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese (about 6 ounces)
4 ounces soft fresh chèvre, crumbled
8 ounces asparagus, trimmed, each spear cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 2- to 3-inch pieces
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Place potatoes in small saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Sprinkle with salt. Bring to boil and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Cool. Cut potatoes into thin slices.
  2. Mix 1 tablespoon olive oil and garlic in small bowl. Brush garlic oil over pre-baked pizza dough. Sprinkle ¾ of scallions over the top,  followed by the mozzarella; leave a ½-inch plain border. Top with potato slices and goat cheese. Toss asparagus and 1 tablespoon oil in medium bowl. Arrange asparagus over pizza. Sprinkle with Parmesan, then lightly with salt and generously with pepper.
  3. Bake pizza until crust is golden brown and asparagus is tender, about 18 minutes. Transfer to cutting board. Sprinkle with remaining scallions.

Pizza Bianca with Greens, adapted from Bon Appétit

for the seasoned oil:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

for the topping:
1 bunch rainbow chard, ribs cut away
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced

8 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
4 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
¼ cup smoked fontina, grated
¼ cup Parmesan, grated
½ cup ricotta
fresh minced herbs such as rosemary and thyme (which I used, since that’s what I had)
1 large garlic clove, minced

  1. Prepare seasoned oil.  Mix oil, garlic, and red pepper in small bowl. Let stand 1 hour, ideally on a warm surface like the top of your stove.
  2. Cook chard in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water; drain. Squeeze dry, then coarsely chop. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add chard and stir 1 minute. Season to taste with salt.
  3. Take your rolled-out-onto-an-oiled-and-parchment-papered-pan dough and brush the surface with most of your infused oil.  Sprinkle mozzarella over dough, leaving ½-inch plain border.  Spread chard over mozzarella; top with goat cheese, fontina and Parmesan.
  4. In a small bowl, combine ricotta, herbs and garlic.  Strategically dollop over chard and cheeses.  Brush crust edge with the seasoned oil, saving 2 tablespoons to drizzle over pizza.
  5. Bake pizza until crust is golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Serve with crushed red pepper.

Pizza with Pesto, Chicken Sausage, Heirloom Tomatoes + Two Cheeses

1 cup grated fresh mozzarella
½ cup mixed-milk cheese, grated
a good selection of baby heirloom tomatoes, or grape tomatoes, sliced
5 tablespoons basil pesto
2-3 links sweet chicken sausage, casings removed and chopped

  1. Spread pesto over prebaked dough, leaving a ½-inch plain border and sprinkle with mozzarella. Arrange tomato slices over mozzarella, then scatter sausage over mozzarella.  Finish by sprinkling mixed-milk cheese over the top.
  2. Bake pizza until crust is golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Sausage, Red Onion + Wild Mushroom Pizza, adapted from Bon Appétit

2/3 cup finely grated Piave or Parmesan cheese
2 ¼  teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, divided
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
Coarse kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 ½ hot Italian sausages, casings removed
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
7 ounces fresh wild mushrooms, thickly sliced (I use a mix of shiitake, cremini, portobello and oyster.)
1 ¾ cups coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese, divided
Chopped fresh parsley

  1. Sprinkle prepared dough with 1/3 cup Piave cheese, ¾ teaspoon rosemary, and ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper; sprinkle with coarse salt.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage. Sauté until brown, breaking into ½-inch pieces with back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to bowl. Add onion to skillet. Sauté until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes; transfer to plate. Add remaining ½ tablespoon oil to skillet. Add mushrooms and remaining ¾ teaspoon rosemary; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until brown, about 5 minutes. Leaving ½-inch plain border, top dough with ¾ cup mozzarella, remaining Piave, then onion, sausage, and mushrooms.
  3. Bake pizza until crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes total. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.
* Yes, I’m now behind the wheel.  Hold on to your hats.
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