Wednesday, November 28, 2007

French Bread Pizza

(Sorry for the delay in posting; holidays and everything kept me busy! —lar3ry)

When the kids were very young, Sandra and I had two vastly different work schedules. She worked from about 3pm until 11pm at night (evening shift), and I worked during the day. We usually had a babysitter watch the kids between the time Sandra had to leave for work, and the time I got home, although we sometimes used day care instead.

What this meant was that I was responsible for feeding the kids their supper. When they were in the "baby food" ages, I had a selection of a few pre-made foods for the kids. Sandra used to joke that I wouldn't feed the kids anything I wouldn't eat myself, and that was actually mostly true. The kids ended up eating a lot of mashed banana, sometimes carrots, and some rice cereal for the most part.

When the children were old enough for "real food," they progressed quickly from Cheerios and other bite-size items to more sophisticated items like soups and pizza.

Now, I've already explained history with pizza in another blog entry, and I won't repeat myself here. Needless to say, I knew that the kids loved pizza, and it wasn't in my heart to avoid it. For a time, those "Red Baron" mini-pizzas that you could cook in a microwave were popular, but they started to get repetitive. Another frozen pizza that I seemed to always have liked is Ellio's (the square pizzas), but they weren't a big hit with the girls. A small pizza from the pizza place just down the road from my house was cheap enough (about three dollars for a plain pizza), that I occasionally chose that as well.

At the time, I was working in Boston's North End in a building that sits right across the street from the Paul Revere house on North Street. The North End is a well known Italian neighborhood, and has many block party "feasts" throughout the year.

On my way home, I would walk from my office, through the North End, towards the Boston Garden, and pick up my commuter rail at North Station. The trek through the North End had me passing a number of bakeries, and one day as I was passing by, I saw a large loaf of French Bread. That got me to thinking about French Bread pizza—something that Sandra and I may have had once or twice, but I don't think we ever made it from scratch. "How difficult could it be?" I asked myself, and I purchased a fresh loaf on my way home.

I love fresh bread, and it was a big act of self-control that kept me from eating the bread while I was sitting in the train on my way home. However, I had a couple of hungry pizza-eaters to feed, so good ol' dad kept his appetite at bay and the loaf made it safely through the train ride in one (complete) piece. Driving home, I stopped at the grocery store to purchase some pizza sauce from a jar (I wasn't that familiar with making my own pizza sauce), and some shredded mozzarella.

I was set.

At home, I cut the bread, added the sauce and cheese, and popped it into the oven until the cheese melted (about 400 F for about ten minutes).

The kids loved it!

I did, too, although I simply made mine without the sauce and cheese—toasted French bread!

Over the years, I varied the recipe a bit, sometimes using leftover (homemade) spaghetti sauce, sometimes adding cooked sausage or slices of pepperoni, and this was always a quick, easy meal to make.

A couple of years ago, while watching Rachael Ray on Food Network's "Thirty Minute Meals," I saw Rachael make what I thought was a French Bread Pizza on Steroids. Of course, she had her own name for it (shown below).

I've made this myself, although I did my own take on the recipe, as neither Sandra nor I wanted the pepper, spinach, or ricotta. Still, Rachael's recipe was a great starting point for a whole new era of French Bread pizza at my house. It's still a quick and easy meal.

Super Stuffed French Bread Pizza Rustica

Source:Rachael Ray—30 Minute Meals—Food Network
Prep Time:10 minutes
Cook Time:25 minutes
Yield:4 servings


1 (2 foot long) loaf French bread

1 pound sweet Italian sausage

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

1 package frozen chopped spinach defrosted and squeezed dry

Salt and pepper

1 ½ cups part skim ricotta

½ cup grated Parmesan

½ pound sweet sopressata, from the deli, sliced thick, chopped

½ stick pepperoni, chopped

1 sack (10 ounces) shredded mozzarella

1 sack (10 ounces) shredded provolone

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Split bread lengthwise and hollow it out. Cut in half across, making 4 shells for pizzas.

Heat a skillet over medium high flame and brown sausage in extra-virgin olive oil. Brown and crumble sausage. Add red bell pepper, onion and garlic. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, add spinach. Remove mixture from heat and season with a pinch of salt and black pepper, to your taste.

Transfer to a bowl. Combine sausage and veggies with ricotta, Parmesan, sopressata and pepperoni. Fill bread shells and top with mounded mozzarella and provolone cheeses. Place in hot oven on cookie sheet and bake until cheese melts and bubbles and bread is super crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes. Top pizzas with oregano and hot pepper flakes. Serve immediately, or snack all night!

Bon Appetit!

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