This post is my fifth entry for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. (Click here to see my contestant profile.) In this round we were challenged to put our own spin on pizza. Voting begins Monday, October 18, 2010. Follow me on twitter, facebook, or through my RSS feed to keep up to date with my progress in the competition. Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me in the first four rounds, I appreciate all of your support more than I can say!
Is there any food in the world more ubiquitous or more universally loved than pizza? I doubt it. No matter where you go around the globe you’re likely to find some local pizza specialty ranging from the more traditional to exotic flavors that you might never have thought to combine. And while we each certainly have our own preferences, in my world the perfect pizza has a thick crust that is crisp on the outside, and tender and chewy on the inside. It has just the right amount of toppings, all of which harmonize together, with no one ingredient overpowering the others. I think the reason that we all love pizza so much is because it’s so simple and casual. A few ingredients, thoughtfully prepared, flash baked, and enjoyed together with our hands; delicious, informal, and satisfying, pizza is the bread that we all break together.
This week, challenged to give you my own spin on pizza, I pondered the infinite possibilities. I thought of the incredibly delicious Philly cheese-steak pizza at the California Pizza Kitchen, and wondered how I might also reinvent a classic combination. Suddenly the idea came to me of recreating a Reuben, one of my all time favorite sandwiches, into pizza form. Yes! What a truly inspired concept. I could just imagine the great flavors, and the no doubt prestigious awards that would follow. “This invention will likely change the course of history,” I told myself, “I am the smartest human being ever to live!” Two minutes and a quick internet search later, I discovered that I was, in fact, no where near the first person to stumble upon this combination. But that’s just how it goes most of the time. It’s difficult to reinvent the wheel in the kitchen these days with such amazing foodies out there in the world.
Unwavering in my conviction, however, I scoured the recipes thinking of a way to make this dish my own. Most of what has been done with Reuben pizzas to date has consisted of a standard pizza crust, thousand island salad dressing, mounds of sauerkraut and corned beef, a mix of Swiss and mozzarella cheeses, and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. And while that all sounds perfectly delicious, most of what I found seemed more like an open faced sandwich than a pizza. I wondered how I might elevate these ingredients to create something even more special.
To start, I decided I would ditch the standard pizza dough altogether and make my own pumpernickel rye crust instead. And in lieu of using salad dressing as my sauce, I thought I could create a thick thousand island inspired béchamel. Building from there, why not throw in a little more flavor with the addition of caramelized onions, which I could sauté with the sauerkraut, laying a flavor packed foundation for the entire pizza. And what can I say? It was a tremendous success.
It really does have all of the great flavors of the classic Reuben sandwich, while still being a pizza. The flavors hit you in waves: first the tangy sauerkraut and corned beef, then the earthy crust, caraway, onions, cheese and sauce. It all comes together beautifully to create a really round, familiar flavor that we all know and love. The crust bakes up perfectly, with just the right consistency, and the thick sauce and sautéed sauerkraut prevent it from being too moist.
To make the Reuben pizzas, begin by preparing the ingredients (all of which can be made up to two days in advance and assembled right before baking):
The Dough – In the bowl of your electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or, alternatively, you can choose to mix the dough by hand), combine the dry ingredients (four cups of white bread flour, a fourth of a cup of cocoa powder, two tablespoons of granulated sugar, four teaspoons of salt, two teaspoons of onion powder, and two tablespoons of active dry yeast) and the liquid ingredients (two cups plus two tablespoons of prepared coffee, six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and six tablespoons of unsulfured molasses, warmed together for ninety seconds in the microwave) and beat for four minutes on medium speed. Gradually add two and two thirds cups of dark rye flour and enough bread flour (up to one and one third cups) to form a stiff dough. Switch to the dough hook and knead for seven minutes or until smooth and elastic. Add two heaping tablespoons of caraway seeds and mix until evenly incorporated. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and allow it to rise in a warm place for one hour or until it has doubled in volume. (This recipe yields enough to make four large, thick crusted individual pizzas.)
The Sauce – To make the sauce, melt eight ounces of butter in the bottom of a saucepan and whisk in one half of a cup of all purpose flour, cooking this mixture for two minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in three cups of whole milk, and simmer until the mixture is thick. Off of the heat, add one third of a cup of Parmesan cheese, a half a teaspoon of granulated garlic, a half of a cup of ketchup, a half of a cup of sweet pickle relish, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoon of chipotle flavored Tabasco, three tablespoons of coarse grain Dijon mustard, and a half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.
The Onions/Sauerkraut – In the bottom of a large saucepan add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Over medium low heat, slowly cook three sliced, large yellow onions, a half a teaspoon of salt, and a half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper for approximately thirty minutes, or until the onions begin to turn a deep golden brown. Add fifteen ounces of sauerkraut with its liquid, and continue cooking until the mixture is dry, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan along the way.
The Meat – Purchase one pound of thinly sliced corned beef at your favorite local deli counter, and cut it into long strips.
The Cheese – Grate one pound of good quality Swiss cheese, and have two tablespoons of caraway seeds at the ready.
To assemble the pizzas, start by heating a pizza stone in a 500° oven. (Don’t have a pizza stone? Never fear. Turn a thick, stainless steel baking sheet upside down, and place it on the middle rack of your oven, and allow it to heat for fifteen minutes.) Divide the risen dough into fourths, and roll out each into approximately nine inch rounds (the dough should be thinner in the middle and thicker along the outside edge). Place the rounds on a rimless baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Spread the dough with a generous amount of the sauce (three or four tablespoons), and a thin layer of the caramelized onion/sauerkraut mixture. Top that with a layer of corned beef, a fourth of the shredded Swiss cheese, and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. Brush the outside crust with extra virgin olive oil, and transfer the dough onto your preheated pizza stone (or baking sheet) and bake for approximately twelve minutes, or until the crust is golden brown, firm to the touch, and the cheese is melted. Serve it with a sprinkle of freshly chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, a frosty pint of your favorite beer, and dinner is served.
The rich flavors, brown bread and beer really say autumn to me. And in a continuation of those flavors, inspired by all of the perfectly ripe fresh local apples filling up the farm stands, I decided I would drive home the tastes of fall by creating little apple cheddar dessert pizzas. But after making the Reuben from scratch, I wanted to give myself a break and so I took a little help from the store.
To make the apple cheddar pizzas, roll out store bought pizza dough to one fourth of an inch of thickness. Cut out four six inch rounds (I use a sharp knife and a saucer as my template) and line them up on a corn meal sprinkled, parchment lined baking sheet. Dust each round of dough with approximately a teaspoon of granulated sugar. Spread a tablespoon of good quality apple butter on the top of each, leaving a half an inch border around the edge. Top that with thinly sliced apples (which have been par cooked for about one minute in boiling apple cider and tossed with freshly squeezed lemon juice). Brush the apple slices with real maple syrup (preferably grade A dark amber), and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Add a handful of grated sharp white cheddar cheese to each, along with a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves. Bake at 500° for ten minutes or until the crusts are golden and the cheese is melted and beginning to brown.
These apple cheddar pizzas strike just the right balance between sweet and savory. The sweet maple syrup, spicy apple butter, crunchy pecans, tangy apples, grassy thyme, and salty cheese all compliment one another beautifully; and the crispy thin crust provides the perfect platform, and a terrific contrast of textures. They are simple, rustic, easy to prepare, and make for the perfect, delicious end to any autumn meal.
I am reminded at times like these that food doesn’t have to be groundbreaking in order to be delicious. When I am looking at recipes I often find that I am not searching for a dish to prepare as much as I am looking for inspiration for a dish that I’m making. Recipes are like road maps. You can follow them, and they will certainly get you to where you need to go, but it’s when you finally put them down that the real fun of the adventure begins. By re-imagining ingredients, mixing and matching flavors, juggling spices, and tasting along the way, you can create your own fantastic new spin on any recipe. Here in my kitchen, this is how I spell delicious. In your kitchen, it’s entirely up to you!