I have a confession to make. WARNING: This is not a pretty story. The nutrition police will pull up at my door as soon as the secret gets out. Heck, the dreaded Center for Science in the Public Interest—those folks who’ve proclaimed Chinese food, Campbell’s soup, and Starbucks Caffè Mocha dangerous to our health—will come knocking.
But here it is: I love pepperoni pizza.
Not only pepperoni pizza. But “meat lovers’ ” pizza, pizza topped with sausage and salami and pepperoni, with maybe some hamburger or slivers of ham slipped in for interest. I love to pile meat on top of a thickish crust, chewy yet still light, pocked with air holes. I love splashing olive oil into the pan before I put in the patted-out dough, so the bottom of the crust is ultra-crisp and golden brown, just like a Pizza Hut pizza. Dare I say it? I love Pizza Hut. Especially their Italian sausage personal pan pizza.
Whew! I feel better, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest. For any of you vegetarians who haven’t stopped reading yet, may I quell your disgust by saying I also love buttercup squash, potato curry, stir-fried asparagus, kale sautéed in garlic and olive oil, and a host of other no-meat treats. I’m an omnivore; there’s not much I don’t like. Rutabaga is the only thing I can think of at the moment.
But back to the pizza. King Arthur’s recently departed marketing manager, Matt Marrazzo, was always my culinary partner in crime. We taste-tested different flavors of Kettle Brand potato chips regularly; Spicy Thai was our favorite. We compared recipes for eggplant Parmesan, for sausage and meatballs. And Matt loves pizza just as much as I do. In fact, this pizza was born when I asked him what kind I could make for his birthday, and he described a pie heavy on the meat, thick and cheesy. I made it, incorporated my own twist (cheese inside the crust), and it’s since been dubbed Matt’s Meat Lovers’ Pizza.
Matt left King Arthur a couple of months ago to work for his family’s business. Big mistake, buddy; you’ve been missing quite the elaborate feasts here lately, what with baby showers, farewell luncheons, and birthday parties galore. Let it not be said the employee-owners of King Arthur Flour don’t know how to celebrate any occasion with food! But I’m happy to say your memory lives on, every time I make Matt’s Meat Lovers’ Pizza. (Now, if only I could get someone to taste-test potato chips with me…)
King Arthur all-purpose flour, salt, water, olive oil, yeast—pizza dough is pretty basic. I've used some semolina here because it seems to add a bit of chewiness. I've also used Pizza Dough Flavor—which, if you haven't tried it, what are you waiting for?! Really, it gives dough that special “pizza parlor” flavor.
Here it is, kneaded. Notice it's not absolutely completely smooth; that's because it's going to rest in the fridge overnight, and the gluten will keep developing as it rests. If I kneaded it fully before refrigerating, the gluten would over-develop and make the dough hard to press flat. You've been there, right? The crust that keeps springing back as you roll? Keep reading, I'll show you what to do about that.
The dough goes in a big plastic bag, greased inside. An overnight rest in the fridge (or an up-to-36-hours rest) enhances both flavor and chewy texture. You can skip this step if you're in a hurry, but it actually makes the recipe more flexible; make the crust up to a day and a half ahead, then shape and top it when you're ready.
Now comes the fun part: picking your favorite cheese to knead into the crust. This is Cabot's jalapeño cheddar. Or maybe it's chipotle cheddar; I enjoy them both. Anyway, you want to cut the cheese into small cubes. Once I make the initial slices, I find it's easier to put the knife down and cube cheese with a pair of scissors.
Put the dough on a baking sheet that you've A) sprayed with non-stick vegetable oil spray (so the pizza doesn't stick), and B) coated with olive oil, for a crunchy-golden bottom crust. Flatten it till it starts fighting back. Walk away.
When you come back, 15 minutes later, you'll find you can probably push the dough all the way out to the edges of your half-sheet (18” x 13”) pan. The cheese chunks will begin to break through; that's OK. Cover the pan with greased plastic wrap, and let the dough rise while you're preparing the toppings.
You may not be used to doing this, but I always pre-bake the crust a bit before adding the toppings. That ensures the crust is fully baked (particularly a thick crust), without the toppings being overdone. I've baked this crust for 8 minutes; notice the melted cheese starting to poke through the top.
Bake the pizza for 15 minutes or so. When it's properly golden and melty and aromatic, take it out of the oven, and transfer it to a rack. If you leave it in the pan, the bottom will steam and get soggy.
And there you have it, Matt's Meat Lovers' Pizza. Matt—you're missing it! And we're missing you.
DAFFODIL WATCH: Progress—these plants just won't take snow for an answer! After wild weather over the weekend (snow, sleet, snow, freezing rain, snow... the classic “wintry mix”), my burgeoning daffodils greeting a sunny Monday morning with enthusiasm.