Getting past the fear and coming up with new and crazy ideas for great homemade pizzas you can make with your own two hands
I was at the Pizza & Pasta Northeast trade show last weekend in Atlantic City. (I know! You're getting New Jersey jealous, aren't you?)
There was a session on the last day, last session of the day, which always seems like the place for a straggler session of some kind. Somewhere, a show administrator was saying, “What can we put here in the last slot that nobody wants to teach and nobody wants to go see so we keep at least two people out of the bar as long as long as possible?”
Nothing could have been further from the reality of that session.
Melissa Rickman, a New Jersey transplant to Fort Lupton, Colorado, operates an award-winning restaurant called Wholly Stromboli, an “East Coast eatery.”
Her last session on that last day was called, “Creative Uses For Leftover Dough.” Of course, as a home pizzamaker, I’m thinking, That’s a laugh. When do I need to figure out what to do with leftover dough? I typically make enough dough for three pizzas and freeze what I don’t use.
But let’s go and see what she does.
As Ms. Rickman described how she came up with several new ideas, I thought: This is no different than what a good home cook does in the kitchen. I’ve certainly done it myself. The quantities are just bigger in a restaurant.
For example: she had leftovers of something calls her Italian Divorce Soup.
It was somehow reassuring yet disappointing that I’m not the only person who decided if there’s an Italian Wedding Soup, that maybe there should also be an Italian Divorce Soup.
(Note: be prepared. Your great new idea has probably been done before. It’s like sex. It might seem fantastic and unique while you’re doing it, but other people have been doing it a lot longer than you have, and you’re just one result.)
So Ms. Rickman looked at all this leftover soup. And she had a bunch of leftover meatballs — too many to throw away without losing sleep.
And she looked at her leftover pizza dough. And she said, “Pizza pot pie!”
Now, I’ve been saying those three words to myself for over a year. I’m a sucker for a pot pie, and a pizza pot pie is just a natural, I think
Sauce meets meat under a crust. Yay!
The difference is that Melissa Rickman actually got past the mere thought and made it real.
She also passed out fresh pizza pot pies for us to sample. She’d made them right there in the big, three-deck, microprocessor-controlled Polin demo oven on the show floor.
And it was good.
No, actually, it was great. It was everything I imagined a pizza pot pie should be.
And it was born of a situation: “I have this in the fridge. How do I not waste it?”
I’ve done it plenty of times with my own leftovers. That’s how I’ve made a lot of fun, one-shot soups that will probably never happen again.
But I know people who insist they cannot make anything in the kitchen without having a recipe. Granted, some things like pizza dough don't work without a specific formula.
But food is not to be feared. And it's fun to just try things and see what happens.
Just ask yourself, what fun things have I got in the fridge and how can I combine them?
Sometimes it’s fresh, new ingredients. Other times, it’s leftovers.
Either way, it’s a little like an episode of Food Network’s Chopped, only without all the cameras and kitchen equipment is a lot more crappy.
Granted, if you have kids, your panel of judges is going to be a lot more harsh than Alex Guarnaschelli giving you that heavy-lidded death stare while Scott Conant is once again yelling at you to salt your pasta water.
The difference is that your home judges are also stuck with you. They can’t send you packing. If they don’t like what you invent, they can just go hungry.
Anyway, here’s a perfect example of how I just came up with a new pizza idea.
We’ve been watching Stanley Tucci‘s show, Searching For Italy. He was in Rome, and there was endless pasta. People were swimming in pasta. And they were simple, simple, pasta dishes—and moderate portions. Not Olive Garden bottomless, eat-until-buccatini-comes-out-your-ears portions.
Spaghetti carbonara. Spaghetti caccio e pepe. And the one that caught my eye, rigatoni Amatriciana.
I know, you’re asking yourself which of the Spice Girls is she? Amatriciana Spice had red hair and was the femme fatale with a salty, come-hither-so-I-may-destroy-you smile.
Amatriciana is essentially a tomato sauce with onions, garlic and guanciale.
If you don’t know guanciale, he’s not the missing Backstreet Boy. Guanciale is a hog-jowl bacon, and is very common in Italian cooking.
It’s not so common in American cooking, which is why it’s so expensive—currently ranging from $30 to $100 a pound on Amazon. “Let’s see, which do I need more? Guanciale or a mink bathtub liner? I can pick one but not both.”
That is, unless you live here in the south, where pig is king.
You can stumble into your local supermarket and buy smoked hog jowl for $1.69 a pound
And it’s enough jowl to last for months. An unsliced hog jowl is the size of a deflated football. But it tastes better.
Anyway, I looked at a recipe for spaghetti Amatriciana. And I’m thinking, Yeah!
Onion, garlic, tomatoes, jowl, salt, pecorino Romano—this is a winner.
I just need to up the jowl count, and par-cook it before putting it on the pizza so the whole thing doesn’t swim away in a pool of hot hog fat.
And then I think, Wait a sec.
I can’t be the first person to try this.
And a quick search reveals yes: I am not the first person to try this.
But a pizza Amatriciana still sounds great. It seems there are other recipes for it, so someone else has done the proof of concept for me.
It’s not a complicated process to come up with ideas. Sometimes, execution can be tricky.
But don’t be afraid to take a stab at something that sounds good to you.
But always beware the hog fat. It must be managed or your pizza is swimming.
I’ll let you know how the pizza Amatriciana comes out when I try it this weekend. It’s The Fabulous Honey Parker’s birthday. So she gets the pizza of her choice, along with this Amatriciana surprise.
Honey’s a sucker for a pizza pesto, and she also likes pizza mastunicola, which is the earliest form of pizza as we know it: pizza topped with lard, olive oil, salt, Parmigiano Reggiano, and anchovies. She prefers white anchovies, so there will be that.
Until next time, be inventive and free the pizza!
Have you embarked on your pizza adventure yet? If you’re thinking about spinning flour, water, salt and yeast into cheesy discs of delight, check out my simple and silly how-to manual for making pizza happen: Free The Pizza—A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have.
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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