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.