Food plays a big part in tradition, I think. Just as you have your favorite Thanksgiving side, Christmas cookie or cake for your birthday, other occasions seem to adopt their own unofficial rituals. Even a spectacle like the Super Bowl, over time, attracts its own food rituals. Beyond the obligatory chips & dip and hot wings, our family has adopted its own food ritual for the big game: The Pizza Loaf. A cross between a calzone and a miracle, The Pizza Loaf has been part of our family tradition for as long as I can remember. My mom has been making this treat for at least 30 years and now it’s a must-have for me on Super Bowl Sunday. My mom says she got the recipe from my grandma (my dad’s mother) and she, apparently, got it out of a magazine. I don’t know if there originally was a specific association with the Super Bowl — perhaps The Pizza Loaf *does* look a little like a football, all laced up. If you squint. A really long, delicious football filled with cheese. Whatever the case, it’s always a big hit and it just stuck with us.
While the Super Bowl has its own excitement, I can’t help but think that, for us, the excitement is that it’s time again for one of our favorite food rituals. Even though we’re many miles apart, from year to year my mom and I are walking through the steps of continuing this tradition in tandem. Phone calls, emails and now texts of, “Got your dough out yet?” or “Mine’s in the oven already!” keep us both on track. A shared experience of tradition, years and years later.
(Fun fact: Way back when, I submitted this recipe as part of an iVillage Solutions book, Heirloom recipes: best-loved recipes from generation to generation, so if you happen to be familiar with that vintage classic, this may look familiar to you as well. Without the awesome pictures and witty commentary, of course.)
Super Bowl Pizza Loaf
Serves: 6 to 8 (or one super hungry man)
1 loaf frozen bread dough (or your favorite homemade dough)
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 large onion, diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 6oz can tomato paste
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
(Optional: other pizza toppings that you enjoy, such as pepperoni, green peppers, olives, mushrooms, etc.)
Thaw bread dough according to package instructions and allow to rise until doubled.
Once dough is ready, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare filling by browning sausage in skillet with onions until sausage is no longer pink and onions are softened. Drain any grease from pan, then add garlic, oregano, tomato paste and salt & pepper. Stir to combine and heat through. You may wish to add a tiny amount of water if the mixture seems too stiff. Allow to cool slightly.
While the filling cools, place dough onto floured surface and roll out to 1/4 inch thick into a 20×10 inch oval shape. Place dough onto cookie sheet (you may wish to spray lightly with cooking spray) and brush with butter. Place filling in a narrow column down the center of the dough. Top with cheese. With a sharp knife, cut slits down one side of dough (the long edge), approximately 1/2 inch apart and about one inch from the filling. Repeat on other side. Starting on one end of the loaf, pull strips up from each side to weave together to seal in the dough. Brush with butter and bake approximately 30 minutes, or until crust is golden and cheese is bubbling.
Cool for 10 minutes. Slice with serrated knife and serve.
— I believe the original recipe called for using more ingredients such as mushrooms and peppers in the filling. When we were growing up, none of us liked that stuff, so we never used it and I still to this day prefer the “classic original” with just sausage, onions and cheese. That said, I’ve made “supreme” and pepperoni versions of this and it all comes out great.
— Please feel free to use your favorite pizza dough recipe or dough you purchase at the grocery store. While I love making my own pizza dough, I think specifically using a white bread dough seems to give this a softer texture that works better in this recipe.
— Don’t worry too much about the size or about your lacing ability when weaving the loaf together. You can braid it or just tuck the strips together. You can tuck the ends of the strips inside the loaf or let them stick out. I prefer the latter because then you can pull these crunchy/doughy bits off and snack on them. To me, it’s part of the experience.
— While this does make a pretty big loaf o’ pizza, I usually like to double up and make 2, even if it’s just a few of us. It’s great for leftovers and does freeze well.
— I kind of like the giant monstrosity that it is, but I bet it would be cute to make mini-loaves as well.
It should come as no surprise that in the winter it snows in many parts of the world. Still, that doesn’t stop the incredulous gnashing of teeth and non-stop coverage of every snowstorm and flurry. It’s pretty amusing albeit overdone. I think a whole feature on DC’s “Ice Cream Cone Man” is taking things a bit too far, though. On second thought, I *do* enjoy a good scoop of pistachio every now and then.
While the snow story hasn’t been as astounding here as it was last year, the weather has been chaotic enough to knock out the local schools for 3 days now. Luckily we’ve been able to stay pretty busy and, more importantly, safe and warm inside. Of course snow days are also great for lolling around the Internet, soaking up random goodness. A few things that have caught my eye:
- I recently shared this fun map with Liz — a list of what food is representative of each state. Some are real head scratchers, but entertaining nonetheless. Another map of the US has surfaced and this one is a little less light-hearted, but still pretty interesting: The United States of Shame. Want to know what fascinating statistic places your state dead last in the rankings? Here’s your chart. I was a little surprised to see that Virginia has the highest number of alcohol-related motorcycle deaths, but after looking at some of the other states’ claim to shame, it could have been a lot worse. Don’t drink and drive and always wear a helmet (on your bike that is, but if you need it around the clock, that’s ok, too.)
- We’re quickly approaching February and hearts abound, whether you prefer them in foil doily form or conversation style. I found some cute and easy heart-shaped crafts that I definitely want to try: 3-D Paper Hearts courtesy of Happy Clippings, Crayon Hearts via Martha Stewart and this Woven Heart Pattern from the Basket Maker’s Catalog.
- If you’re looking to get someone a great Valentine’s day gift (ahem), this would be an awesome treat for anyone who loves trying new things and appreciates well-crafted food: Valentine’s Day Handmade Food Gift Box from Eat Boutique. It looks like a great assortment of yumminess and while I’m not a fan of beets (sorry Schrute Farm!) this more than makes up for it: Bacon-Coffee Caramel Popcorn with Candied Bacon. I know many are growing tired of the bacon frenzy and feel it’s jumped the shark. I kind of feel like those people are insane, though, and I say bring on the bacon!
- While Maryland, DC and Virginia duke it out over whose fault it is that the recent snowstorms caused so much mayhem and foolishness, one of my NYC colleagues is focusing on the beauty of the snow with a roundup of these lovely snapshots.
This weekend was a nice relaxing few days. Of course too short, but that’s how it goes with weekends, I suppose. With the weather being the deep freeze that is late January, it was the perfect opportunity to hibernate for a few days, indulge in hearty comfort food and watch some football. The football didn’t turn out too great (we were rooting for the Bears and the Jets, sigh), but I think the hibernating and eating portions of the weekend more than made up for it.
I have found a few interesting recipes in the January/February issue of Everyday Food and this slow cooker spicy buffalo pulled chicken sounded perfect for a football day. The site doesn’t have the recipe listed yet, but there are some great instructions and photos for this dish here. The ingredients are simple, and mixing both chicken breast and thighs helps to keep the texture and flavor of the meat just right. The seasoning and sauce were what you’d expect for a pulled bbq sandwich, although for picky eaters, you may want to puree the onion, pepper, tomato and seasonings before adding to the meat. I made this recipe mostly how it was printed, but added extra hot sauce, used diced tomatoes instead of crushed and added a little extra chicken breast that I had already poached from making stock. Toward the end of the cooking time, I took the lid off of the crock pot and let some of the liquid evaporate, to thicken up the sauce. This made quite a bit, even considering the extra chicken I tossed in, so have been able to plan on some leftovers.
It doesn’t seem right to have a spicy barbecue sandwich without some cool, creamy cole slaw. I mixed a quick batch together and my new Kitchen Aid slicer/shredder attachment made quick work of all the chopping. (Thanks to my mom for this great gift!)
The barbecue and slaw were great, but what really pushed this over the edge was the bread. Oh, the bread. I don’t generally buy sandwich rolls and figured, how hard can it be, really? I know you may think it’s crazy, but it was completely stress-free and completely worth the minimal amount of effort.
King Arthur Flour has an easy-to-follow recipe here. I imagine you could take this basic recipe and do any number of yummy things with it. This makes a really wonderfully textured, yet tender roll with just the right amount of crusty goodness. I happened to have sesame seeds to add on top, and I think it definitely took it up a notch, but if you don’t have them, it will still be good. I promise.
For a great tip on how to shape these beauties, check out the knot method on Pinch My Salt. It worked perfectly for me, although I think these rolls would be just as tasty without any manipulation.
I know a lot of people are intimidated by bread, especially when it doesn’t involve a bread machine, clever tricks or fancy equipment. I’ve said it before and I will say it again — making your own yeast bread is really quite straightforward. But let’s just keep that between us so my family will continue to think I am some kind of magician.