Within certain restrictions, the crowd I serve is pretty adventurous in their dining proclivities. I generally make something I would like and hope that my wife and any guests we have agree with my tastes, and it seems to usually work out well.
We had over friends this last weekend, however, who presented a bit of a challenge. One is adventurous enough in her tastes, but her husband is a little more conservative with his food. He's not likely to eat monkfish liver croquettes or samosas filled with ratatouille or any other "weird" food.
A good cook works to please his or her audience so I tried to come up with a dish that would make him comfortable and that would be acceptable to everyone else as a little different and unusual.
In Chicago, on Clark Street is a cozy restaurant called the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company. Unlike most Chicago pizza places, they are famous not for a Chicago-style deep dish pizza, but for a pizza pot pie. Pizza ingredients go into a bowl, which is topped with Sicilian bread dough and baked. When it comes out of the kitchen, the waiter inverts the bowl onto a plate, and the pizza filling flows out onto the bread, which is now a crust. It's a neat idea for a dish.
I wasn't going to try to recreate that dish exactly for a dinner with friends because I've never made Sicilian-style bread like that. Instead, I used a sheet of reliable puff pastry to form the "crust" for our bowls of pizza. I think it worked well, and our guests apparently agreed. Plates were cleaned, bellies filled, and a successful dinner with friends enjoyed.
UPDATE: - Chicagoist visits Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company today (2/21/06). Coincidence? Hmmmm...
Pizza Pot Pies (recipe makes 4)
Pizza sauce (my recipe below)
4 oz. shredded mozarella cheese
1 oz grated Parmesan cheese
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, 12" square
Pre-cooked toppings which may include green pepper, Italian sausage, sauteed garlicky mushrooms, onions, pepperoni, pineapple, ham, etc...
Barrett's Pizza Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large or 1 medium white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 28 oz. cans organic tomatoes (crushed or whole)
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 bay leafs
salt and pepper to taste
About 30 minutes before you start cooking, take the puff pastry out of the freezer and leave at room temperature.
I prepped the ingredients as the sauce was simmering. I don't get too specific on the toppings, because everyone likes their pizza a little different. We had three different types of pizza pot pies, including one sausage with mushroom, one pineapple with onion, and two green pepper and mushroom. The key is to pre-cook the toppings, browning the sausage, sauteeing the green pepper with a little onion and garlic, perhaps, mincing the pineapple, so that when you are ready to put the pies together you can let each person customize their dish to their personal preference.
To get the sauce started, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan. When hot, add the onion and garlic and sautee until the onions start to go translucent. Add the tomatoes and paste and stir well. Using a potato masher, mash the tomatoes until you get a nice chunky sauce consistency. It will seem too watery but we'll cook it down. Add red wine and stir. Add the oregano and bay leaf and a little salt and pepper. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
Prop up a lid on the saucepan with a wooden spoon to let steam excape. Stir the sauce every few minutes, scraping the bottom with the wooden spoon to ensure no burining occurs. Propping the lid up lets steam and water escape from the sauce, letting it thicken. Reduce heat and cook over medium heat until the sauce has reduced by 1/3 and is much thicker and more like pizza sauce consistency.
Prep your toppings while the sauce reduces, but don't forget to stir the sauce every few minutes. It may take 20 minutes to 45 minutes to reduce, depending on your tomatoes.
Whent the sauce has reduced, taste it, adjust the seasonings, remove the bay leaves, turn the oven on to 375 F, and prepare to assemble the pot pies.
In four individually-sized oven-safe bowls, place a big handful of mozarella cheese - about 1 oz. per bowl. Add a ladleful of sauce, leaving room for toppings. Add toppings as you desire. The classic combination would be sausage, mushrooms, fresh onions, and green pepper, but fit your tastes.
Stir the ingredients lightly, and if there is room, add a little more sauce. Repeat with three other bowls.
Flour a work surface lightly. Roll out the puff pastry, and cut it into 4 individual squares. Place a square on top of each bowl, covering it completely.
Put a little bit of the distinguishing toppings in the center of each crust so you know which pie is which later, and sprinkle 1/4 oz of grated parmesan on top of the crust.
Place the bowls on a large cookie sheet, and bake in the middle of the 375 oven for 23-30 minutes until the puff pastry crust is golden brown.
Bring the bowls to the table along with a big plate for each person.
To serve - using oven mitts or other protection to handle the bowls, press a plate upside down on top of a bowl. Turn the bowl upside down and invert the contents of the bowl onto the plate. Remove the bowl. The crust will now be on the bottom and the toppings on top. Makes for a great presentation.
Serve with a green salad.