Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cheeseburger pizza

Life, so I'm told, is full of highs and lows.  It's the latter that make some of us wish we could take a mulligan. A real-time do-over.  At 27, I'll readily admit that I don't have a big list of do-overs.  Maybe not wearing these giant glasses in 6th grade or tucking T-shirts into my mom jeans...

Or wearing a denim jumper at the age of 15.  Yikes, 15.  Thank you to anyone who was my friend at that unfortunate time.

But none of those things are truly regrets worthy of a do-over.  They are part of who I was and who I've become today.  The same could be said for the cheeseburger pie.  But, before I get to the ingredients, let me back up just a little.

You see, one summer in college, I shared a house with a good friend, Nick.  (Hi, Nick!)  Being the first time I'd lived out of my parents' house and college dorms, I had no kitchen goods or know-how.  Upon learning that I'd be on my own that summer, my sweet mother promptly took me out to buy pots, pans, and even a few cookbooks so I wouldn't starve or rely on pizza every night.

News flash: We ate pizza.  A lot.  Like, three times a week.  In our defense, it was a really hot summer and the house wasn't air-conditioned, so turning on the oven was simply not an option.  So, we'd come home from our student worker jobs, one of us with a pizza, and steal away to the basement where we'd feast and play Mario Kart on Gamecube for hours.  True story.  Sorry, Mom :)

Anyway, among my new kitchen acquisitions was a Bisquick cookbook and a recipe therein for cheeseburger pie.  Being a very inexperienced cook, I should've followed the recipe exactly, but I didn't.  I used American cheese in place of cheddar, omitted the onion entirely, probably threw in some other crap that I thought would be tasty additions and... gosh, I've suppressed that memory so much that I can't recall the rest.

But it was a soggy, inedible, way too salty mess when it came out of the oven.  Nick earned his place in Heaven by eating even a few bites and, to this day, won't let me forget it.

Years later (a week ago), I found a recipe that I'd  bookmarked for hamburger and grape tomato pizza.  I suppressed the faint visions of the ill-fated cheeseburger pie and went ahead with dinner.  Man oh man, am I so glad that I did.

Literally, cheeseburger pizza!  Think of all of the normal components to your favorite cheeseburger - bun, beef patty, lots of cheese, onions and tomato slices.  Now, give it an Italian makeover.  This has totally blown all other pizzas I've ever had and made out of the water.  Without a shadow of a doubt, this was the best pizza I have ever made, e-v-e-r.

It humbly started with a whisper thin and crispy crust topped with standard sauce.  But then it got serious, people.  Mozzarella and provolone cheese because one can never have enough cheese, and provolone has always been my favorite.  The sweet onions and tomatoes roasted beautifully in the high heat and made me think "why haven't I tried topping my burgers with roasted tomatoes and onions instead of raw?"

And finally, damn, the hamburger.  The beef.  The star of the show!  That little bit of ground meat took this pizza from stellar to blow-your-mind delicious!  It was only because we wanted to have leftovers of this for lunch the next day that we didn't polish off the whole pizza in one sitting.

News flash: It was just as delish the next day, warmed up in a microwave.  That's how you know this is a legit flavor bomb, folks.

Matt and I are definitely counting the days until I make this again.  This is what I wish I'd made that one fateful summer day instead of that salty mess.  But hey, you live and you learn... how to cook, how to follow a recipe, and who your true friends are when they eat aforementioned cheeseburger pie.  I like to think I've more than made up for it since then, but I can always count on Nick to keep me humble and remember my roots :)

One year ago: Macaroni and cheese soup
Two years ago: Chewy chocolate chip cookies

Hamburger and Grape Tomato Pizza
(adapted from Ina Garten's recipe and Martha Stewart's recipe)
-serves 4

2 teaspoons vegetable oil, such as safflower
All-purpose flour, for work surface
1 pound frozen pizza dough, homemade or store-bought, thawed
3/4 to 1 cup store-bought marinara sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded provolone and mozzarella cheese
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 pound extra lean ground beef
Ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees (with pizza stone inside, if using) with rack in the lowest position.  If no pizza stone, rub a large rimless baking sheet (or a rimmed one, upside down) with oil.

On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin and your hands to roll and stretch dough into a large rectangle or circle, whatever you prefer.  Transfer to prepared sheet.  (If using pizza stone, be sure to use enough cornmeal between the dough and pan for quick and easy release.)

Spread sauce evenly over dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around.  Top with cheese, tomatoes, onions, and scatter beef over top.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bake until crust is golden, beef is cooked, and cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

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