My youngest son, Landon, does not like pizza. Yup, it’s true. Seriously. I know. I have never heard of a kid who does not like pizza either. So I have set out to find a pizza that will live up to Landon’s expectations. I have tried delivery pizza on Landon, frozen pizzas, even the now dreaded ‘pita’ pizzas that I used to make growing up. Nothing that I have tried has satisfied Landon’s taste. Unfortunately, this pizza does not meet Landon’s far-too-high-for –an-eight-year-old expectations either. It does, however, meet my standards – well, to a point.
Let’s start with the crust. Refrigerated pizza dough. Really? Like the stuff from a tube that pops when you whack it on the counter? In Bon Appétit magazine? Is this a joke? Sadly, this is what the recipe calls for. Reluctantly, I forced myself to visit the refrigerated section of my grocery store where all those little blue tubes are lined up so perfectly. I could tell that the devilish little dough boy on the packages were taunting my three year old – egging her on to grab hold of one of the slender tubes of pop-up pizza dough and bang it on the front of the cart. Don’t let that cute little giggle fool you; he is a trouble maker, for sure.
So from the get-go, I was far from impressed that I would be using pizza dough from a tube as a base for this recipe, but I trust Bon Appétit, so I went with it. No wonder they tell you in the recipe that you need to pinch closed any ripped pieces of dough, that dough looks like a tattered rag once the tube is pulled open – not a pretty sight, that is for sure. Thankfully, the cheese mixture and lovely little dollops of spicy tomato goodness hide any imperfections that the pop-up pizza crust has.
Now, I am not a fan of fresh herbs that are cooked to death. As far as I am concerned, you might as well use the dried stuff. Why on earth would you want blackened shards of overcooked basil on your pizza when you can just scatter them on the pizza after it has cooked? Reluctantly, again, I added some fresh basil to the cheese mixture as instructed and reserved some for sprinkling on the pizza afterwards. I could not, however, follow the recipe to a‘t’ – that is just not my style (I still have a little rebellion left in me 😛 ), so I opted to completely leave the fennel seed out of the tomato mixture (ok, so the real reason I left it out was because I didn’t have any fennel seed to begin with, so what!).
Overall, the pizza was satisfying, that is, until you get to that outer layer of crust, whose canned flavor is left unmasked. I do not usually have great success with using fresh mozzarella, because it usually ends up being too watery, but the mixture of half low-moisture shredded and half fresh mozzarella proved to work well. The best part of this pizza, by far are the fresh tomatoes whose juices have exploded to create this rich, intense tomato flavor. The crushed red pepper leaves a lingering heat, while the garlic offers a pungent bite. As far as I am concerned, the pizza dough and cheese is just a delivery vessel for that intense tomato mixture – which is the star of this dish by far.
- 1 13.8-ounce tube refrigerated pizza dough (will NOT use tube pizza dough next time – this pizza is too good for that!)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 12-ounce bag cherry tomatoes, stemmed (I used 9 oz grape tomatoes)
- 1 garlic clove, pressed (Minced it – who has space in their kitchen for single purpose gadgets?)
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely crushed in plastic bag (I left this out – and frankly, didn’t miss it a bit!)
- ¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (I used about ⅛ teaspoon – the heat lingers)
- 1 4-ounce ball fresh mozzarella in water, diced (I diced mine very small to allow the water to evaporate rather than soak the pizza)
- 4 ounces whole-milk mozzarella, diced (I used part-skim – who needs all that fat?)
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh basil leaves plus small leaves for garnish
- Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 425°F.
- Unroll dough on heavy large baking sheet; pull to about 12×8-inch rectangle, pinching any tears to seal. Fold over edge of dough to make border.
- Heat large skillet over high heat 2 minutes. Add oil, then tomatoes; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until tomatoes are charred and beginning to break down, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer to large bowl. Mix in garlic, fennel (if using), and crushed red pepper. Using back of fork, crush tomatoes in bowl, leaving large chunks intact. Season mixture with salt and pepper.
- Toss cheeses and chopped basil in medium bowl.
- Sprinkle cheese mixture evenly over dough, right up to border.
- Spoon on tomato mixture in dollops, leaving some cheese uncovered.
- Bake pizza until crust is crisp and brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
- Garnish with basil leaves.
- Tip: Start watching your pizza after about 18 – 20 minutes.