I have decided that it is a very good thing to date a man who eats a lot of pizza. And if this man also drinks a lot of wine and eats a lot of cheese—even better!
In two sentences, that’s a pretty good summary of Matt: pizza, wine, cheese. I like all those things too, so we get along really well. Surprisingly, though, until his last visit, we had never made pizza together. We made calzones together a few years ago, and they were seriously outstanding, but pizza was a new one for us. I don’t think we’ve eaten much pizza together, though I do remember having one for lunch during what one might call our first “date,” which turned out to be three days long since he was visiting me from far away. It was a pretty awesome date.
The pizza idea came about as we were fishing around for ideas about what to make for dinner on a Saturday night. Matt already had the wine selected, and I asked him to make this crazy delicious salad that I desperately hope to codify in recipe form. We needed something more, though, something with some heft and calories. Matt declined my suggestions for quiche or frittata, but I still wanted something round and friendly that would feed us well. Pizza was my next suggestion. I recalled a Vegetarian Times recipe that made a deep-dish pizza in a cast-iron skillet, so I suggested we do the same. Matt said yes.
So we went shopping, and we bought all sorts of uppity vegetables like leeks and radicchio. We hit the cheese stand and bought three(!) different cheeses. Finally, we wandered over to the baking aisle and found something that has changed my life: pizza dough yeast. Oh yes.
This stuff is seriously awesome. It comes with a cute little recipe on the back for making the dough, and it bakes up into a chewy delicious crust, a little crispy on the edges and almost plush in the center. But what’s really life-changing about it is that it makes a dough that requires no rising time. NO RISING TIME! This yeast means that a homemade pizza crust is now possible for me on weeknights when I’ve got just enough time to assemble and bake a pizza, but I certainly do not have the patience to wait for a dough to rise.
The dough is pretty forgiving too, which is wonderful. I made a pizza earlier this week, and I forgot to add the oil to the dough until I was almost ready to knead. I think the oil adds a lot to the flavor and texture of the dough, so I didn’t want to leave it out. To incorporate the oil, I put the dough back in its mixing bowl, added the oil, and kneaded the oil into the dough for a minute or two, then I plopped the dough back on the counter and commenced the “actual” kneading. Problem solved, and my crust was delicious.
I should probably explain how we built our deep-dish pizza, because it was really tasty and it might make you hungry enough to try this at home. First, in a cast-iron skillet, we cooked a regular onion in some olive oil, letting it caramelize just a touch before added a chopped leek. We let the leeks soften and relax, then I added three handfuls of baby spinach. The spinach wilted into the pan, then we threw in a few chopped cloves of garlic and cooked them just a touch—maybe 30 seconds, just long enough to let things get really fragrant. Then I scraped all the vegetables out of the pan, we made the pizza dough, Matt got flour all over my kitchen, and he worked the dough into a large circle. We placed the circle inside the skillet, making high sides to create that deep dish effect, and then we filled our pizza.
At the store, we had picked up Fontina, fresh mozzarella, and Maytag blue cheeses. Into the pizza crust we layered Fontina, vegetables, and fresh mozzarella, and at the end, a few nubs of Maytag blue were scattered over the top. To gild the lily, we sprinkled paprika (which makes everything look dazzling), and on one half of the pizza, Matt scattered a few rounds of something sausage-like. (As an aside, can someone please tell me the difference between sausage and salami?)
To make sure our deep-dish pizza cooked thoroughly, we gave it a good 20 minutes—maybe a little more—and the house smelled fantastic. Then we sat down and complimented each other on our awesome meal, most of which was made by Matt. The man knows his pizza, he knows how to cook, and he knows how to win a girl’s heart. He’s a triple threat, but it’s only my waistline that’s in danger.
Sometimes, after I’ve made something really delicious, I just know I’m going to make it again as soon as possible. The pizza is one of those examples—I made another one on Monday. This time, I mixed things up. The biggest change I made was using a tomato sauce, which is worth remembering so I’ll give you the recipe below. I worried that the sauce might make the pizza too wet, but it was tasty without being soggy. If we’d had something tomato-ish on hand, I think Matt and I would have added it to our pizza, but we didn’t think of it until we were home again.
For my pizza, I followed our outline as well as I could, though I had to improvise with whatever the fridge had to offer. I made my tomato sauce and cooked leeks with garlic, again in the skillet so that the dough picks up that wonderful onion-garlic flavor when the pizza is assembled. I used two cheeses, the Fontina and Maytag blue left over from the first pizza. To assemble the pizza, I scattered a generous amount of shredded Fontina on the bottom, spread the tomato sauce, spooned the vegetables on top, then finished with more Fontina and some nubs of Maytag blue. Into the oven, 20 minutes or so, and out came another gorgeous pie.
I have to say, I never would have thought to top pizza with blue cheese. It was an inspired addition, perhaps serendipitous too, because I remember being thrilled to find Maytag blue at HEB and I added it to our basket just because. I didn’t have any particular plans for it other than to put it in our bellies—the pizza idea was all Matt’s. It works deliciously because it adds such distinct, powerful flavor with a tiny amount of cheese, and its savory stink plays well with the demure sweetness of the leeks.
After writing this post, I’m not sure whether to be hungry for another pizza or to think about how much I miss Matt. I’m ready for him to come back to my kitchen and cook with—or for—me, whichever he prefers. This time I’ll be ready to clean flour off the coffeemaker after he’s done cooking. And instead of trying to help, I might just sit back and drink my wine, watching him work his magic with the food. It is one of his sexiest tricks.
Quick Pizza Sauce
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Makes enough for one deep-dish pizza (made in a 10-inch skillet)
The original recipe called for tomato paste, which I didn’t have on hand. What I did have on hand was canned diced tomatoes, which I think worked reasonably well. I’ll provide both versions, and when I get around to trying the tomato paste version, I’ll report back in the comments.
This recipe is a great option for an impromptu pizza sauce. It’s good enough that I might even consider trying to keep tomato paste on hand for weeknight pizza cravings.
1 cup canned diced tomatoes or 1 6-oz. can of no-salt-added tomato paste
2 tbsp. finely minced onion, optional (I didn’t add the onion because I was out of onions, but I’ll try this in the future)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
1) Mix everything together in a bowl.
2) If using diced tomatoes, pour the sauce into a small saucepan. Bring the sauce to a bubble and let it simmer for 5 minutes or so to thicken.
3) Spread the sauce on your pizza crust and finish assembling your pizza.
PS Happy almost-birthday and happy NEW BABY to my dear friend and loyal reader Nicole. I’m so, so happy for you!