Pulling out of the Pizza Hut parking lot, waistbands loosened, a slightly sleepy feeling setting in, we prepare for another five hours or so until we get to Granny and Pa’s. We’ve been on the road seven hours already. Interactions between me and my siblings decrease, and a quiet solitude sets in. One by one, we succumb to sleep…
…My eyes crack open. Dashboard lights shine through the permeating dark. I hear the seams in the concrete going past in a regular rhythm, with an occasional disturbance in the pattern; perhaps this is what woke me. My siblings beside me breathe steadily with the slow, even breaths of sleep; it’s the only time we’ve all been peaceful together in hours. My mom in front of me, also asleep. My dad—also asleep?! I stare in the rearview, forcing my wide eyes not to blink; no, not asleep, just squinting from a long day of driving.
During our many road trips down the Eastern seaboard to visit my grandparents, Pizza Hut was a common pit-stop for my family. The pizza I make today is a far cry from the coma-inducing greasy cheesiness of a fast-food pizza (though, I’ll admit, sometimes that’s just what you want). My goal with this pizza is to provide the hearty, comfort food aspect without the need to loosen your pants or take a nap after eating it.
170 ml warm water (scant 3/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rosemary
220g white flour (1 1/2 cups)
80g whole wheat flour (1/2 cup)
250g ground beef (1/2 pound)
1 shallot, sliced
1/2 medium fennel bulb, sliced
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, ground with mortar and pestle
freshly ground salt and pepper
2 dl tomato purée (scant 1 cup)
1/2 dl red wine (scant 1/4 cup)
blue cheese, white cheddar, or other strong tasting cheese
Preheat the oven to 230C/450F with a pizza stone or baking sheet inside.
Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a large bowl and let it rest for 5-10 minutes until foamy. Add the oil, salt, and rosemary and gently stir. Gradually add the flours, stirring after each addition. When the flour is mostly incorporated, use your hands to gather it and knead until a ball forms. I do this right in the bowl. Put a bit of oil in the bowl, and roll the dough until it is lightly covered in oil. Cover and let it rest for about 30 minutes while you prepare the topping.
Tip: I like to use Swiss with a sprinkling of blue cheese.
Sauté the beef over medium-high heat until it’s almost brown. Add the shallots and sliced fennel, and sauté while stirring for several minutes until the vegetables start to soften. Add the fennel seeds and season with salt and pepper to your taste, stirring to incorporate. Add the tomato purée and wine and stir. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and remove from heat.
Tip: Pineapple is also a great addition!
When the crust has rested about 30 minutes, pat it out into a 30cm (12in) circle on a piece of baking paper or pizza peel, if you have one. Brush the outer edge of the crust with olive oil. Spread the topping evenly over the crust, and top with as much cheese as desired.
I make mine on a cool baking sheet lined with baking paper, and then slide it off, paper and all, onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet.
Transfer the pizza to a hot pizza stone or baking sheet and bake for 15-22 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and browning and the crust is crispy.