Jeremiah, Wolfgang, and Alice: America's love affair with Pizza, the ’80s revolution

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Maybe you remember the 1960s – all but the youngest Boomers do. But even if you weren’t there in person, you may have heard a bit about that tumultuous decade.

Vietnam. Woodstock. The Summer of Love. Kent State.

Social upheaval was rife throughout America, as college students occupied campus buildings (decades before they occupied Wall Street); police and protesters battled one another at the Democratic convention in Chicago, and the Civil Rights movement smoldered, then burned fiercely – in Selma. And Detroit. And Watts.

Not all the changes during that decade were violent, though. A gradual shift was happening in American tastes, as well. The can-opener cuisine of the 1950s was being replaced by something new and fresh – literally. Canned tomatoes gave way to fresh heirlooms, Cheez-Whiz in a jar to organic goat cheese, and we’ve never looked back.

The 10 years between 1974-1984 were a watershed decade for pizza. Biscuit crusts and canned anchovies disappeared, to be replaced by airy yeast-based crusts topped with fresh (and exotic) ingredients, seared to perfection in wood-fired stone ovens.

Chef Jeremiah Tower, in his book Jeremiah Tower Cooks, lays claim to creating the first of the single-serve “gourmet” pizzas – on August 28, 1974, at a birthday celebration for Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ 3-year-old restaurant in Berkeley, California.  The concept took off, and Chez Panisse’s wood-oven pizzas became wildly popular.

It wasn’t until 1982, however, that gourmet-style pizza traveled beyond northern California. Chef Wolfgang Puck, enthralled by the imaginative pizzas created by Ed LaDou at San Francisco’s Prego restaurant, promptly stole LaDou for his own new launch, Spago, about to open in West Hollywood. Over the next 3 years, LaDou and Puck created and served more than 250 different pizza  “concepts” to their Hollywood audience of star (and star-struck) patrons.

LaDou eventually went on to create the menu for California Pizza Kitchens; while Puck opened a series of restaurants all over the country, including outposts in airports and shopping malls. And gradually, pizza beyond pepperoni (barbecued chicken; spinach and garlic; roasted vegetable, et. al.) went mainstream.

I decided to experience for myself what those first signature pizzas might have tasted like. I’ve got a pizza stone, great flour, and access to a typical 21st-century American supermarket – which offers many of the ingredients that, back then, were so exotic.

And since Jeremiah claims to be the gourmet-pizza godfather – let’s start there.

Of his Potato, Fontina Cheese, and Fresh Sage Pizza in Jeremiah Tower Cooks, Tower says, “Many pizzas are more exotic or esoteric than this one, but simplicity of flavors should rule, without too many ingredients. This is my everyday (if I were so lucky) favorite.”

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Let’s check it out.

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Looks like a fairly typical recipe, eh?

PizzaTower1Wow, that’s a lot of olive oil. And I can tell by looking at the flour/liquid ratio that the dough, even using high-protein bread flour, is going to be unworkably sticky; so I cut back the water by 1 ounce (2 tablespoons). The result is a nice, smooth dough.

Note: It could be that Chef Tower measures his flour differently than we do here at King Arthur. We use the sprinkle flour into your cup, level with a straight edge method; he might simply dip his measuring cup into the flour and scrape off any excess, which can result in an extra 25% flour in each cup, compared to our method. This discrepancy is why, when you’re using a recipe from an unfamiliar source, it’s good to try to determine how the author measures his/her flour. 

PizzaTower2Once it’s risen, Tower directs that the dough be divided into four pieces, each shaped into an 8″ round.

PizzaTower3These rounds are pretty thick; but that’s OK, I enjoy thick-crust pizza.

For topping, the chef calls for thinly sliced (1/8″ thick) “yellow, waxy” potatoes (I choose Yukon Gold); Fontina cheese; fresh sage, and freshly grated Parmesan.

PizzaTower4I have to start winging it at this point; like many chef cookbooks, the directions are a bit scanty. For instance, while Parmesan is listed in the ingredients, it’s never called for in the directions; ditto salt and white pepper.

And, if Chef Tower can tell me please how to thinly slice a soft cheese like Fontina, I’ll be eternally grateful (er, greatful).

I forge ahead, brushing the crusts with olive oil, sprinkling with chopped fresh sage, then layering on the potatoes. I figure this is a good time to use the salt and pepper, before adding the cheeses.

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The pizzas go onto a hot stone in a 450°F oven immediately, without rising.

And 15 minutes later…

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…four thick, billowy pizzas. The potatoes are perfectly cooked; the cheese melted and just beginning to turn golden, without being rubbery or tough.

PizzaTower5Nice crumb, eh?

If you like a thick-crust, minimally topped pizza with good flavor, you’ll enjoy this. My husband and his fellow volunteer trail workers at our local state park happily ate it for breakfast.

Next – Wolfgang Puck and his signature smoked salmon pizza.

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Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza, Pasta, and More! offers the reader a wonderful assortment of some of this superstar chef’s best recipes.

IMG_4416Including his Smoked Salmon Pizza, a perennial favorite at Puck’s annual Academy Awards after-party.

Its toppings are simple: thinly sliced red onion; sour cream mixed with chopped shallots and fresh dill weed; and smoked salmon. The garnish is chopped chives and caviar.

Seeing as most of us are living on a Home Depot (rather than Hollywood) budget, I choose to skip the caviar.

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For a clearer view of the recipe, click on the photo to enlarge.

I’ve made this pizza crust more than once – it yields four 8″ crusts, thinner in the center, thicker at the edges; a nice individual size. The dough is a pleasure to work with.

PizzaPuck2So, I set the kneaded dough on a baking sheet (upper left); let it rise (upper right), then divide it into four pieces, and shape each piece into a ball.

PizzaPuck3At this point, I can bake the crusts right away; but I choose Puck’s option of refrigerating them overnight. This gives the crusts a chance to develop flavor; and besides, baking them right away doesn’t fit into my schedule today.

So – onto a lightly greased plate the dough goes. I cover it with a clear shower cap, its elastic edges nicely cinching everything shut at the bottom.

Next day – risen and ready! I carefully divide the balls, gently deflate, re-round…

PizzaPuck4…and stretch them into 8″ rounds.

See that parchment paper? Cake rounds (9″) are the perfect size for individual pizzas. Parchment makes sliding pizzas from peel to stone a no-brainer.

I brush the crusts with oil…

PizzaPuck5…and bake them for about 9 minutes in a preheated 450°F oven, until golden brown.

OK, truth be told, I mess up the recipe at this point – I’m so used to bagels with lox, cream cheese, and red onion, it doesn’t occur to me to actually read Chef Puck’s directions. Which call for strewing the thinly sliced onions atop the UNBAKED crusts before sliding them onto the oven stone.

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Oh well… Dill sour cream, then onions…

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…and smoked salmon on top, with the chopped chive garnish. I’m using Ducktrap River of Maine “pastrami-style” smoked salmon, thus the dark edges.

Actually, while the recipe calls for chives, I think fresh dill will be equally tasty. And probably prettier than these pallid, skinny chives that have wintered over in my outdoor garden.

Yes, my OUTDOOR garden, which has experienced both below 0°F temperatures and multiple blizzards over the past 4 months. And through it all, the chives have stayed green and kept growing. How do they DO that?!

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This pizza Is every bit as tasty as it looks. Wonderfully light crust, with lots of crunch and a soft interior; and the topping – well, you can never go wrong with sour cream and smoked salmon, right?

Next time I’ll try to follow the recipe and bake the onions WITH the crust.

To wrap up this salute to gourmet pizza, I’m going to the source of so much American culinary innovation over the past 40+ years –

IMG_4428Alice Waters, creator and owner of Chez Panisse, the Berkeley restaurant that started many of us thinking about our food in new and different ways.

That’s Alice in the center, flanked by two of the collaborators on her 1984 book Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, & Calzone.

From everything I’ve read, Alice is responsible in large part for the popularity of goat cheese; fresh and local to her northern California café/restaurant, it’s always been a key ingredient on her menu.

IMG_4418Thus my choice of her Leeks, Pancetta, and Goat Cheese Pizza.

PizzaWaters1The dough includes a rye starter – but not to worry, it’s not a time sink; it only rests for 20 minutes or so before becoming the basis for this light/crunchy crust.

PizzaWaters2The topping starts with “5-6 large leeks.”

Well, considering the price of leeks (as well as the fact that the supermarket produce aisle could produce only 2 leeks), I supplemented them with sliced sweet onion.

Waters suggests I “stew until tender in butter” the sliced leeks, then season them with fresh thyme.

Which is what I do – the night before. The topping needs to cool before being added to the pizza, so into the fridge it goes.

Next day, I start with the rye starter.

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Once it’s risen, I add the remaining crust ingredients.

It’s a bit too slack, so I add 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, then beat everything for about 3 minutes in my KitchenAid stand mixer, using the flat beater.

When you’re working with REALLY sticky dough, it helps to beat it for a few minutes before switching to the dough hook. See how it sticks to the sides of the bowl (upper right), but finally clears the sides (lower left) after a few minutes of beating?

And look at that finished dough – how wonderfully supple and elastic it is.

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The recipe calls for the dough to rise for 2 hours in an unlit oven with the light on.

Ninety minutes is all it takes for the dough to blow right out of its bowl.

Time to preheat the oven to 450°F – with its baking stone inside, of course. Remember, we’re trying to mimic the wood-fired stone ovens all these chefs use.

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Waters calls for shaping the dough into a 12″ or 14″ round, though she also notes that you can “feel free to make it any shape you wish.”

I choose an oval; since a 12″ round translates to a 9″ x 13″ oval, and a 14″ round has the surface area of a 10″ x 15″ oval, I go somewhere in between the two. Note that I do this on a large piece of parchment; when it’s time to get this pizza into the oven, I’ll simply slide it onto the back of a baking sheet, and “jerk” it onto the baking stone.

So – the recipe calls for the stewed leeks (and onions) to be mixed with 3 ounces of crumbled goat cheese. Check. Onto the crust they go, followed by 3 slices of pancetta, cut into small pieces.

I’m wondering whether I’ll be able to find pancetta at the supermarket. After a long meander around the store with a friendly but confused employee (a journey that includes side trips down the baking aisle and through cleaning supplies), I find it on my own: in the packaged cold cuts case.

Like the leeks, this Italian-style bacon isn’t inexpensive; feel free to substitute regular American bacon, if you choose.

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Once the crust is topped, into the oven it goes. About 18 minutes later, its crust and toppings are both golden brown.

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“Garnish with a little extra-virgin olive oil,” suggests Alice.

I do what I’m told.

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Marvelous!

I can feel the crunch at the edge, and the softer give at the center as my pizza wheel slices through this tasty creation. The cheese, onion, and mere hint of smoky bacon play very nicely together indeed.

And that’s it – a casual exploration of how smoked salmon, leeks, goat cheese, Fontina, pancetta, dill weed, and other “beyond the pale” ingredients first made their way into the American pizza pantheon.

What’s your favorite fresh/local/unusual pizza topping? Share your thoughts in “comments,” below.

Have you enjoyed this post? Read about pizza’s anchovy-laden American birth in America’s love affair with pizza: in the beginning.

 

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Adele

    PJ! Your article today started my life passing before my eyes. Interesting times, those. And you mentioned the gut wrenchers. ( how about bubble gum music to lighten things up?…)
    As for pizza I grew up in a Sicilian household where we knew about thick, thin, and even what they called gourmet because that’s how pizza is served ‘over there.’ I think we were spared the velveeta, but had many English muffin pizzas for Saturday lunches. A little left over ‘gravy’ some mozzarella and the broiler!
    Can’t wait to try some of these.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Adele, lucky you, growing up in strong foodie culture – Sicilian cooking is wonderful. And you know – I still enjoy those English muffin “pizzetta,” as my MIL calls them. Thanks for connecting here – PJH

  2. Joy L.

    Do you have a suggested recipe for flavorful, thin crust pizza dough that doesn’t fight back being patted out cracker-thin?

    Reply
  3. Karen

    I buy pancetta sliced to order from the deli at my local markets. When I’m in the mood for something a little different, I like pizza with just a dab of barbecue sauce (a little goes a long way taste wise) chopped grilled chicken, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese. Yum!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      This is a real favorite at our house too Karen. Try it with BBQ and pulled pork sometime! ~ MJ

  4. smwgoodwin

    The article says that gourmet pizza didn’t leave Northern California until 1982. But I remember when Al Forno first opened in Providence, Rhode Island, and all they served was individual pizzas made entirely with fresh ingredients. It must have been around 1980. By 1982 they were already a destination restaurant–I’ll never forget my very first fresh spinach sauteed in olive oil with garlic there. And I am pretty sure they launched grilled pizza. In those days it wasn’t easy to find a restaurant that cherished vegetables and freshness.
    Thanks for these great recipes!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      However and whenever it exactly happened, we’re so glad it did! Can’t wait for my next pizza night. ~ MJ

  5. jeff baker

    Baking or cooking with cold ingriedients makes things more difficult. When baking a pizza only a few minutes, let your ingriedients come to near room temperature before combining them. Sauce, dough and toppings included. You’ll like the results.

    Reply
  6. Lckansas

    Love to add sauerkraut, with a seasoned sauce, corned beef or pastrami and a mixture of mozzarella and Swiss is terrific.

    Reply
    1. Kirk

      This is only place I have seen sauerkraut — one of my favorite toppings — mentioned. Really, it’s a natural addition with all that cheese and meat. I love it.

  7. leo g king

    as a kid growing up i was lucky enough to live in an area where there was many italian families with kids my own age.we were close friends and i got invited to thier homes often.i was taught by an old italian couple how to make the perfect sauces and meat-balls.i was just a young kid but learned my lessons well.they use to make the best pizza that money could buy and i have eaten many of thier creations.my favorites always have to have anchoves and a good strong cheese .my mouth is watering just thinking of those days with all the good foods of that era.[no gmos]i am 82 yrs old but still want to eat as i did growing up.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Thanks so much for sharing your memories Leo. I bet you are quite the cook! ~ MJ

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Sorry Arlene, we can’t actually link a printable version from the blog photos. It’s pretty short, so a nice note card should fit the recipe well. ~ MJ

    2. Anne

      The recipe shown above only provides ingredients and directions for the dough. Can you provide the whole recipe so that we can duplicate the toppings as well? Thanks!

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Anne, I’m not comfortable simply copying an entire recipe from a book into this post; it feels a bit awkward, copyright-wise. My hope is that with the dough recipe and my description, you could replicate the toppings; they’re all simple combinations. Or, if that’s not possible, that you could get the books from the library – which would make the authors happy, to know you’re reading their books; and which is what I did. PJH

  8. Justin Sherrill

    That note about the onions and how you’re supposed to put them on the pizza before baking makes me think: are there any plans to include frozen pizzas in this series? I’ve been freezing homemade crusts for some time, but I’d be happy to speed up the whole process.

    I’m sure it’s perfectly possible to construct a finished pizza then freeze for later – but I’m happy to let someone else do it first, with pictures.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      I’m not sure if PJ has freezing plans in the series, but you and I will both be interested to see. ~ MJ

    2. Irene

      I make and freeze unbaked and partially baked pizzas all the time. You can let the pie defrost before baking or bake it frozen and add a little to the cooking time. Great results all the time. Once the pizza is frozen on a parchment lined baking sheet, I remove the pizza and parchment from the baking sheet, wrap well in foil and return to the freezer (the baking sheet is no longer needed at this point) for longer term storage.

  9. Sarah Heat

    My current favorite “artisan” pizza is good crust, topped with crushed canned san marzano tomatoes and salt and baked. Then top with torn burrata, prosciutto, and arugula. Drizzle with olive oil.
    This one is all about the cheese melting after the pizza is baked, and it’s so good!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Oh, my, burrata on pizza – I’m there. Just had burrata for the first time this past week; what a decadent experience… And the San Marzano tomatoes, of course. I’ve loved making Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce, which calls for San Marzanos. Thanks for the inspiration, Sarah! PJH

  10. james

    When i want to thinly slice soft cheese (like fresh mozarella), I use an egg slicer. (Or my deli slicer, but those are amazingly common here in germany). Perfectly even, thin, slices.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      James, that’s a great idea – I even have an egg slicer. Didn’t think of that. Thanks! PJH

  11. jane

    So I made pizza dough using bread flour and it ended up tasting like card board pizza you would buy frozen. Haven’t used the bread flour since. What did I do wrong? I used the amount of flour I would have used if I was using regular white flour. Thanks for your help.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Jane, the flavor difference between bread flour and all-purpose is non-existent, so it must be something else. Are you sure you added salt? Pizza crust without salt tastes like cardboard. One other possibility – since bread flour generally rises more strongly than AP, perhaps your bread flour crust didn’t rise for as long a time as your AP crust. The longer yeast dough ferments (rises), the better its flavor. I’d try it again, though, making absolutely sure you add salt – generally speaking, a scant 1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour. Good luck – PJH

  12. Linda Gibson

    If you’re near a Trader Joe’s, look for the frozen leeks. Considerably cheaper than fresh and fine for cooking.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Linda, thank you – I’ll do that next time I’m in TJ’s (which, thankfully, is quite close by). PJH

  13. Lisa

    There is a local pizza restaurant that has a pizza with fig preserves spread thinly on the dough with goat cheese, mozzarella, prosciutto, and a little onion added on top of the preserves. It is so very good! It’s my favorite pizza and easy to recreate at home.

    Reply
  14. sharon

    Todd English has a recipe for pizza with dried figs, balsamic vinegar, proscuitto, and gorganzola. It is awesome. It has the whole sweet/salty thing going on. the recipe is in his Figs cookbook. I have made it dozens of times.

    He also has a recipe in the same cookbook for asparagus, ham, and carmelized onion pizza with cheese. i have made that dozens of times too. It is great.

    i always make these using a dough disk. i bought it from King Arthur about 12 or so years ago. I put the pizza right on the dough disk and put it on the baking stone. When i bought the pizza stone the phone rep asked if i wanted the dough disk too. she said-i’d love it. I am so glad I listened to her. I was disappointed when King Arthur dropped the dough disk. I treat mine like gold because I don’t think i’ll ever be able to replace them. i have never seen that item any where else. it is fantastic. Easy to get the pizza in and out of the oven.

    Reply
  15. Adele

    Sharon–eBay where else!! (I had to look up Dough Disk because I didn’t know what it was, but it’s a fabric covered round? Found new ones on eBay.

    Reply
  16. SW

    Fresh figs, caramelized onions, prosciutto, gorgonzola, a light sprinkling of thyme and rosemary. Best in all the world!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Oh, you’re killin’ me! I LOVE that combination of figs (or dates) with a strong cheese. Plus caramelized onions. And prosciutto. And the perfect herbs. (Did I mention you’re killin’ me?!) :) PJH

  17. "Mandi F."

    An excellent post. PJ, did the rye starter give the crust a distinctly rye flavor? If not, wonder if adding a little deli rye flavor would up the taste. I’m thinking a reuben pizza with a rye crust might just hit the spot.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      No, Mandi, I didn’t taste any rye, per se; it tasted a bit “whole grainy,” but honestly, as you intimate, our perception of rye is usually the caraway or other flavors often associated with it. Indeed, deli rye flavor would be nice if you were adding Reuben-type toppings – go for it! PJH

  18. Lydia Lepic

    In East Texas, we have a local barbeque chain called Neely’s that’s been around for over 80 years. Their signature sandwich is the “Brown Pig.” A local pizza place in Daingerfield, owned by a Neely, has the most amazing pizza featuring the family BBQ: The Brown Pig Pizza. Barbeque on a pizza might sound weird (how in the world can smokey pork in a tangy BBQ sauce play well with cheese and pizza sauce?) but from the first bite into the crunchy crust…Oh man, it is the most heavenly, meaty thing I’ve ever eaten! If you want to step outside the box, just visit Fran’s Barbeque and Pizza.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Lydia, this sounds perfectly delicious. Pizza and barbecue – a marriage made in heaven! Wish I was in East Texas, I’d come join you for a slice… :) PJH

  19. Josephine

    I grew up on gourmet pizza in the 70s in SoCal. My very favorite was one my mom made – breakfast pizza (and it’s still one of my favorite comfort foods). Bacon, onion and cheese topped pizza that is finished with an egg right in the middle, and a sprinkle of chives. Keep the yolk soft and runny – yum!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Josephine, this sounds like a pizza the bakers in our bakery make for themselves for their morning break – I often wander through and see the scanty remnants on a rolling rack! Now you’ve inspired me to make it myself… thanks! PJH

  20. Mary O'Brien

    PJ, you did it again! How did I miss this post for 3 days? I love, love, love pizza but can’t make a decent one for the life of me! This post has my mouth watering and my head spinning. My husband forbade me ever making pizza again, but I have a lovely pizza stone and huge paddle from KAF just sitting in the pantry. I am going to throw caution to the wind and give it another try. If it works out, he’ll never remember the moratorium on home made pizza. If it doesn’t, I may have to list my pizza stone and paddle on Craigslist! Not going down without a fight!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      This really made me laugh Mary! You can do it! Prove your husband wrong and leave him begging for another slice. Elisabeth@KAF

    2. Mary O'Brien

      Well, I did it! I used Jeremiah Tower’s dough recipe and created two glorious pizzas, one pepperoni and another artichoke and pancetta. I have arthritis in my hands and can’t knead dough, but my Zojirushi bread machine was happy to do it for me. Came out perfect and so easy to work with. I made pizza two days in a row and my husband loved it! Here’s proof.

      http://www.theeggfarm.com/blog/2014/03/20/at-long-last-pizza/

      The KAF team rocks!

  21. waikikirie

    I realized I am a little “late to the party” but I’ve been having computer problems……..Had to comment, as pizza is a favorite and I LOVE all the blogs about it. Our favorite pizzas is one that I’ve recreated after a vacation in Hawaii. We had visited the Kona Brewery on the ‘Big Island’ and had the Puna Pie as recommended. We enjoyed it so much that I had to try making it at home. I brush, with a light hand, the partially baked (homemade of course) crust with garlic infused olive oil. Then place fresh mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, goat cheese, parmesano reggiano, roasted garlic and fresh thyme leaves. Bake in high oven (or outside on the grill) until cheese is melty/googy and crust is brown. Drizzle top with a little more oil before serving. DELISH!!!

    Reply

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