A few nights ago, my daughter posted these pictures to Facebook:
The caption was…”This is what happens when Nana doesn’t cook. Grabbing pizza late on a Monday night after a long day at the office. And playing Blind Man’s Bluff Poker with only half the deck”….Really?
Well…I only play with half a deck…so I thought. . . high time, Nana teaches more people in this family to cook….their poor overworked Mom knows how and cooks well, but never has enough time. Dad grills like a champ, but is gone a lot (he’s a pilot). Such is the reality of most working parents. So I thought the least I could do was maybe show up to cook for them one night a week and show the kids how to cook some easy stuff, pass on a few family recipes, and keep them from the dreaded Poker Pizza Night. Do they look like they’re having fun? Nope. And just like that….a blog was born.
So the natural first thing to learn to cook was pizza! Yes, they have been making pizzas themselves for a while now….the on-an-English-Muffin kind, the frozen kind, the out-of-a-box kind….but not real EYE-TALIAN Pizza! I am a bit of a pizza snob. I lived in Florence, Italy for a year studying art and learning to live like a local. My 14 months in Firenze improved my Italian, my art, and my taste buds. Did you know that if you order pepperoni pizza in Italy…you get one with sweet peppers on it? Peperone (sounds the same) in Italian means pepper. Living there really did change the way I eat and cook…so why not pass that on. Nothing better than bubbling hot pizza …..and there was this little hole in the wall place with these gorgeous Italian men who worked there who…..well, we won’t go into that.
I also know that pizza is a good way to sneak in some veggies. If you let Cooper use the fancy chopper, he’ll eat most anything he gets to chop. Olivia will try stuff she says she doesn’t like – especially if it is disguised a little, like onions that are first sauted with a little sugar and butter. We put the veggies in a muffin tin and let folks build their own. And besides having a great time picking out their own toppings, they will generally make healthy choices.
Here’s what I like in the muffin tins: fresh pineapple chunks, prosciutto, some real peperone (chopped red or green), black olives, mushrooms, grape tomatoes..and if you want to splurge a little, some jarred artichoke hearts. Any veggie that you think the kids might like. I’ve seen carrot rounds, cauliflower and broccoli florets, and pea pods in the mix and they love it all.
Lucky for me, I can get ready-made pizza dough from my local market. This takes the guesswork, the kneading, and the mixing out of it!. . . Alora! pizza-making with the gkids becomes fast and easy… La Dolce Vita!. You can even find whole wheat pizza dough now in most stores. Look in the refrigerator section.
You can make one big pizza, but it is more fun (and saves an argument over who likes what) if you let them build their own individual pizzas. Divide the dough into 6 balls and give each kid a hunk and let them shape it into any shape they like. Cooper likes traditional round pizza, while Olivia often fashions hers in the shape of a horse…she loves horses! They can stretch it out with their clean hands, roll it with a rolling pin, or mush it flat any old way they want. To them, it’s sort of like playing with silly putty, and they can make more than one. Any left overs can get baked off, wrapped in plastic and frozen for lunches or snacks at a later date.
Also instead of high fat, highly spiced pepperoni I am substituting this healthier and more authentic choice: prosciutto – Italian thin sliced ham. Or try buying thin sliced smoked ham from the deli if you can’t find prosciutto. If you like sausage, use Soppressata, an Italian dry salami found in the deli case, or try splitting the casing on some fresh Italian Sausage links, and frying it up until it’s golden brown and crumbly. Drain off as much fat as you can.
Now for the sauce and the cheese. You can buy pizza sauce in a jar if you like it…but we generally just used fresh or canned plum tomatoes. I don’t use the juice (save that for your morning juice) and I pat the pieces dry with a paper towel first. My gkids are not wild about tomatoes, so sometimes we skip the tomatoes and/or sauce all together.
Most Americans (and most kids) like to sprinkle on pre-shredded Mozzarella cheese on the top. OK if you like that stuff…but it tastes like plastic to me – no flavor. I prefer to buy balls of fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese packed in water and slice it and place it on top of the pizza and let it melt. I like its soft gooey texture and so do my gkids. For extra cheesiness, I use a bit of shredded fontina and a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano (the best kind…not that nasty sprinkle stuff in the green can).
For a special treat for the freezer (and instant pizza supper next week), we also made a large Pizza Margherita for Mom and Dad. Simple ingredients, tomato, minced garlic, olive oil, buffalo mozzarella slices, and a chiffonade of fresh basil, plus…I added a little more shredded fontina and parmesano reggiano, just for good measure!
Once you’ve assembled all the pizzas, bake them off in a very hot oven 450-500. If you have a pizza stone, this will provide a crispier crust, but if you don’t put the pizzas on a greased pizza pan or a cookie sheet and bake off about 10-12 mintues, longer if you are making a larger pizza. At that temp, they don’t take long. Just til the cheese gets bubbly and the crust is golden brown.
Listen…I gotta tell ya…this beats Poker Pizza any time.