Last night’s episode of The Next Food Network Star was dutifully watched in Lolita’s living room, and (as usual) I compared myself and my skills to those chefs/cooks/(and bloggers!) and wondered whether I could compete in that sort of arena. It’s not just the ability to cook that’s required, mind you… it’s a sense of self-awareness capable of fueling a perpetual engine of self-promotion (read: moxie); it’s a relentlessly competitive spirit that pulls no punches when reaching for the goal (read: balls); it’s either a natural propensity for living with, sharing with, relying on, and befriending others (read: to love and be loved enough to inspire loyalty), or for infuriating, thwarting, fragmenting, and antagonizing others (read: hate enough to be ruthless and devious); or it’s an adamantine emotional shell (read: practical enough to be Spartan and detached). I like to think I could rock that hizzy… that I could kick ass and take names by being in equal parts audacious, ballsy, lovable, devilish, and practical, and still become America’s sweetheart by throwing my culinary imagination and technical skill and knowledge of flavors and respect for the tongue and passion for palate pleasure into that mix of misfit but marvelous food makers and walking out the winner. But, alas, I don’t even really investigate the option – I just dream about it. Instead, I cook for you, dear readers, and for my stalwart test eater and faithful partner in life and love, the Claytonious husbandius.
My oh my, how I digress. My apologies. The point of introducing the show was to say that I decided to take up one of their challenges: to make a pizza that best defined me. When I thought about what characterizes Lolita’s kitchen, I decided it was/is an abundance of the savory and the fresh, with an unabashedly omnivorous theme. Cheeses, meats, good variety in flavor but familiarity in fulfill-ing-ness and stick-to-your-rib-ness, lots of garden herbs and quick snappy salads, where cuisine meets home-cooking, when the redneck walks the royal carpet, how the honest house special translates to a haute-couture plat du jour. And, of course, the Weeknight Wondermeal: just a few ingredients, low on cost, easy and quick to make, but goshdurndelicious. I recently bought a round pizza pan, since my rectangular cookie sheet pizza was way too big, and I’m happy to say my $6.99 at Target was well spent. And I engaged Lolita’s creative drive whilst I slipped off to sleep, to determine the following decoupage of deliciousness: a toasted EVOO’d crust topped with spiced sauteed ground lamb, nutty goat cheese, briny feta, red onion, garlic and oregano, served with a quick tzatziki sauce and salad. Homemade pizza has never been better.
Homemade Spicy Lamb Pizza with Cooling Tzatziki Salad
3/4 lb ground lamb
1 tbs each fennel seed, rye seed, cracked black pepper, dried oregano, and crushed red pepper
1 pint strained Greek yogurt
1 small cucumber, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 4 tablespoons, divided)
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
1 16oz ball pizza dough
2 tbs butter, melted
My lamb was locally harvested from a farm in New Hampshire, according to the butcher at Whole Foods. At $6.99/lb, it was an excellent price for an excellent product.
My seasonings replicated my favorite sausage spices: fennel seed, rye seed, and oregano.
I throw them, along with my black and crushed red pepper, into a hot wok with a glug or two of sizzling EVOO, and I let them toast for a moment to release the flavorful oils inside each bit of spice.
Then I chuck my lamb into the pan, and break it up into small meatball-sized chunks, allowing it to brown and absorb all the punch from my seeds and spices. When it’s cooked through, I remove it from the heat and set it aside until I’m ready to spread it on my pizza.
I didn’t see any of the chefs on the show making their own dough, and given my lack of a food processor with a dough hook (and my desire to make this quickly – being a weeknight wondermeal and all), I bought my dough from Whole Foods. It’s a pretty good product, even if it is sometimes over-proofed, resulting in air bubbles and blistering/blackening edges. Today’s dough, however, was great. I turn it out of the bag onto my floured counter, then split the lump in half to make my pizza base and some garlic rolls to go with it.
Using my hands first to form the basic shape, I then roll out the pizza crust as thinly as possible with my rolling pin. The rolls I form by hand and set onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. My pizza pan has been in my 425° oven for the past 10 minutes, getting nice and hot.
Along with my sausage, thinly sliced red onion, and 1/3 of my minced garlic (some of which I’ll save to toss with butter for my rolls, and some of which will go in my tzatziki sauce), I’m going to top my pizza with a combination of feta cheese – for salty – and goat cheese – for creamy.
After making sure all my toppings are ready for action, I very quickly remove the pizza pan from the oven, slather some EVOO over the surface, then stretch my pizza crust dough over the surface as best as possible. I drizzle some EVOO over the dough, then spread out my sausage bits, red onion, minced garlic, and cheeses. I shake some black pepper and oregano over the whole thing, before putting the pan into the oven. My oven’s two racks are on the top two slots — as far from the bottom’s heating coils as possible — so I place the rolls on the top one (since they need more room to grown), and my pizza on the bottom. Cook for 15 minutes, or until…
… the crust turns nice and brown, the meat heats back through, the EVOO sizzles, and the cheese melts (which – in the case of feta and goat cheeses – means they fluff up and turn golden brown at the edges).
I made a quick tzatziki sauce with my strained Greek yogurt, my cucumber (which I deseeded, salted, and chopped), 1/3 of my minced garlic, and cracked black pepper. This coolifying condiment, along with some shredded iceberg lettuce, will temper the heat of my lamb.
My rolls have been tossed in butter and garlic, and are fluffy on the inside and perfectly crusty on the outside. Mouthfuls of complex spice and gamey sweet meat meeting cooling cream and crisp lettuce over an almost crackery crisp crust makes for a personal pizza experience unlike any other. Clayton and I ended up topping our slices with the greens and cream, so we could enjoy our salad and our pizza in each beautiful bite. It took barely an hour to pull this meal together (and that’s with me stopping to take pictures every few minutes), and the ingredients cost less than $20. One could argue that getting delivery would be cheaper and easier, but it would in no way be fresher, and it could never be this delicious. Delivery pizza has its place in dorm rooms and at Superbowl parties, but for a true diner’s dinner, I’ll take homemade any day. And if it’s always as savory and spicy and satisfying as this one, I might just have to make it more often. As for “The Next Food Network Star” challenge, Bobby, Bob, Giada, and Susie would have asked for seconds, and maybe thirds. Hell, I did.