Pizza night

Dan and I had some friends over for recently for dinner, and while that’s usually an excuse for me start ripping through cookbooks and narrowing down the endless list of recipes I’ve been meaning to try, all I wanted to eat was pizza.  I’d been sick all week, had just spent the morning at those not-to-be-named big box home supply stores on South Philly picking out bathroom tile and shower heads, and it was a cold Saturday night.  I wanted pizza.  Totally fair, right?  But could I order up a couple of pies from Marra’s or FrancoLuigi’s and not feel like I was shirking my hostess responsibilities?   Was that totally lame?  How do I reconcile my pizza passion with wanting to provide a fun, tasty, home-cooked meal for my guests?   The answer came to me in a cloud of Theraflu and gray floor tiles: Make-your-own pizza party.

Brilliant.  It would be fun, creative, and delicious – totally perfect for a Saturday night with friends.

To start, roll out some dough – store bought or hand made – into personal sized pizzas.  We pre-baked ours on a pizza stone at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.


The toppings are the real fun part – so use what you like.  Based on what was hanging around in our cupboards, we laid out: heart of palm, crispy tempeh bacon, red onions, kalamata olives, steamed broccoli, sautéed mushrooms, tomato sauce, pea shoot and walnut pesto (vegan, see below) and mozzarella cheese (of both the whole milk and vegan varieties).   We didn’t have any on hand, but roasted brussels sprouts would have been a slammin’ addition to the topping bar.  I love them on a pizza mixed with a little veggie bacon.

When guests arrive, invite them to take a pizza shell, add desired toppings, and put back in the oven for 10 – 15 (we did up to 20 minutes (depending on how crispy you like your crust).

We served the pizza with a green salad, (though in this case, I think the salad was just an excuse to toast up some gigantic croutons) and some cookies and cream (vegan) cupcakes.


And the recipes:

Pea shoot and walnut pesto:In a food processor or blender combine pea shoots (roughly 2 handfuls), basil (again, 'bout 2 handfuls), garlic (2-4 cloves) and pulse until roughly combined.  Add toasted walnuts (I used about half a cup) and pulse until walnuts are just chopped and incorporated.  With motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil; blend until well combined. Scrape pesto into a bowl.

Green salad with roasted tomatoes and croutons

For the Dressing

    • 1 small shallot, minced


    • 2 -3 tbsp. lemon juice


    • 2 tsp. mustard


    • ½ tsp. sugar


    • Large pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper


    • olive oil

For the Salad

    • 5 or 6 slices good bread, cut into 1-inch pieces (I used focacia)


    • Olive oil


    • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


    • Good balsamic vinegar


    • 12 tomatoes – cherry, strawberry, or roma


    • 1 tsp. sugar


    • 12 basil leaves, julienned or torn


    • 3-4 handfuls lettuce leaves


    • ½ cup ricotta salata or feta broken into big crumbles (optional)

Make the Dressing
Mix shallot, lemon juice, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper in a wide mouth jar or other salad dressing making vessel.  Add the olive oil to taste.  Cover and shake or mix like hell with a whisk or fork.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Make the Salad
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.  Place the bread cubes on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle a large pinch of salt over top and a few grinds of black pepper.  Toss well with your hands.  Place in the oven and bake until starting to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Set aside to give time to firm up a bit.

Turn the oven up to 425ºF.  Slice each tomato in half.  Set aside a few of them of them and seed the others (though I didn’t take the time to seed mine and it was just fine…).  Place on small baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, sugar (to help with caramelization), salt and a couple grinds of pepper.  Toss gently with your hands.  Carefully drizzle on just a bit of balsamic vinegar.  Bake until dark, caramelized and slightly collapsed, about 25 minutes.  Remove and set aside.

Place the croutons in a salad bowl.  Scrape the tomatoes and any juices over top.  Chop up the raw tomatoes and add them to the bowl along with the basil and the lettuce.  If using cheese, scatter it over top.  Dress the salad according to your taste, and toss carefully.  Add more dressing as needed.

Recipe for the vegan cookies and cream cupcakes can be found at the Peas & Thank You blog, a great resource for all kinds of vegan ideas. In fact, here I am with the computer on the kitchen island following that recipe: