There are two ways to look at pizza. Some folks think the canon was set when they took their first bite of pepperoni. Some think that even pepperoni goes too far and the only thing that should be on a proper pizza is tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and a few basil leaves. These people can occasionally be heard saying, “No. I do not want pineapple on my pizza. Why would you even ask that?”
And then there are people at the other end of the spectrum who think smoked reindeer, chanterelles and onions are a good idea on a pizza. This one’s actually pretty common fare in Finland where it is called Pizza Berlusconi, named after the Italian leader who was disgusted by the local delicacy. It would appear that former prime minister Berlusconi counts himself among the pizza purists.
When pizza is adopted to the local tastes of a region, things are almost certain to get interesting. The residents of Moscow have kicked four cheese pizza up a notch and developed their own four fish pizza. It’s called a Mockba pizza (Mockba means Moscow.) It boasts sardines, tuna, mackerel and salmon, is garnished with onions and herbs and sometimes roe, as one would expect.
Some pizzerias in the UK offer a Full English Breakfast Pizza, which is not that far from our American Meat Lover’s Pizza, but with the addition of bangers. Nothing too strange here until Burns night when haggis enters the picture. The mind reels.
Brazilian pizza is not one specific pie but is more of a national style of pizza, with a thin crust, and likely to have sliced tomatoes or ketchup instead of pizza sauce. Toppings include green peas, carrots, beets and potato sticks Dessert pizzas range from plantains to guava paste. The ingredient list may seem peculiar but the mode of service does not. Brazilians prefer their pizza rodizio-style, meaning all-you-can-eat, which is a concept many Southerners are happy to get on board with.
But the prize for taking pizza toppings out of the box, so to speak has got to go to pizza chain, Mr. Pizza, in South Korea. Their menu has a lot of options ranging from unusual to plain weird, but Grand Prix Cookie Crust Pizza has to take the cake (or cookie). It’s a shrimp and sweet potato pizza with a cookie dough-stuffed crust and blueberry dipping sauce on the side. Yum.
Things get even crazier when American companies operating in foreign countries attempt to cater to local tastes or bring American tastes to a new market, and sometimes all of the above at the same time.
Pizza Hut does memorable work in this area. Not surprising since they have offered some exceptional menu items right here in the USA. Hot dog stuffed crust pizza comes to mind. Nothing like having a big round pig-in-a-blanket encircling your pizza. Pizza Huts in the Middle East take the jazzed up crust even further. Much, much further.
Crown crust pizza is completely surrounded with small circles of dough that are attached to the main body of the pizza with little dough bridges. Each of these circles holds a hamburger patty topped by melted cheese. The middle of the pizza has cheeseburger toppings like lettuce and tomato. The whole thing looks more like a Sputnick light fixture from the 1950’s than a pizza.
This is not the only fanciful crust work Pizza Hut in the Middle East has done. They have also offered a Cone Crust Pizza which has what looks like a circle of ice cream cones surrounding the pie. The cones break off for easy munching and contain cream cheese or honey mustard chicken, or for the more adventurous pizza lover, both. For reasons no one understands, this item seems to have been discontinued.
The trend of combining other food favorites extends well beyond Pizza Hut and their hot dog stuffed crust. Taco, enchilada and cheeseburger pizzas are old news and macaroni and cheese pizza is headed in that direction. You can get your pastrami sandwich on a pizza, complete with dill pickle and putting fruit on a pizza has advanced far beyond pineapple.
The fruit on a pizza thing sometimes walks the razor-sharp line between between weird and fancy. Pear, prosciutto and gorgonzola pizza does just that and could make an excellent first course at a dinner party.
And sometimes, weird pizza is just using what’s in the house to make dinner. Brussels sprouts and bacon is an excellent example of that maneuver and Robert Day, of Yadkin County, recently conjured up a quick dinner of barbecue chicken pizza. He keeps pre-made crusts from Costco in his fridge and a weird pizza is never more than a few minutes away.
Get weird with your pizza. All the cool kids are doing it.
Barbecue Chicken Pizza
This recipe is really more of a guideline than blueprint. “It’s what I had in the house the night I made it,” said Day. It might be very different on another night, but this one was really good. All measurements are approximations from memory.
1 pre-made crust
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/4 cup pizza sauce
small can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
Brown chicken breast on both sides in a little olive oil. Cut into small, bite-size chunks. Combine with diced tomatoes and enough barbecue sauce to moisten. Smear a little pizza sauce on the crust. (The Costco crusts that Day uses come with a packet of sauce. If he didn’t have that, he said he might have made the chicken mixture a little wetter. Cover sauce with mozzarella cheese, then sauce and finally a little more sauce. Bake at 400°F. until crust is done and cheese is melted and starting to turn golden.
Deep dish pizza with Brussels sprouts and bacon
4 slices bacon
1 (16 ounce) refrigerated pizza dough, at room temperature
2 tbsp. apple butter
½ cup shredded fontina
½ cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup quartered Brussels sprouts (about 10)
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
crushed red pepper flakes
Heat oven to 500ºF. In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet set over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and crumble it. Set aside. Remove pan from heat and pour out all but 1 teaspoon of bacon grease. Press dough into the skillet, spreading it to the edge. Spray with cooking oil, then spread with a thin layer of apple butter, leaving a 1-inch border. Top with cheeses. Toss Brussels sprouts with vinegar; scatter over the cheeses. Top with bacon and season with red pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat until the bottom of the crust is crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the oven and bake until the edges of the Brussels sprouts begin to char and the dough is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cut into 6 pieces.
Dill Pickle and Hot Pastrami Deli Pizza
2 lbs. homemade or refrigerated pizza dough
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 tbsp. yellow mustard
8 oz. whole milk mozzarella cheese, shred it yourself
1-1/2 cups thinly sliced dill pickles
1/2 pound piece thick-sliced pastrami, chopped
1 tsp. caraway seeds
Preheat oven to 450°F. Prepare pizza dough to fit to the edges of a 16” pizza pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Combine ricotta cheese and mustard and spread evenly over unbaked pizza dough, leaving a 1/2-inch on the edges. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella on top of the the ricotta mixture. Top with pickles and pastrami. Sprinkle with caraway seeds. Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Slice and serve warm, and enjoy with a beer.
Pear, prosciutto, and gorgonzola pizza
If you don’t like smoked gouda, regular gouda or more mozzarella may be used instead.
1 pound pizza dough
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 t. extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1 pear thinly sliced
1/2 cup smoked gouda, shredded
1/2 cup part skim mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup gorgonzola, crumbled
3 slices of prosciutto, rolled up and sliced thinly
Preheat oven to 450°F. Spray a baking sheet or pizza stone with cooking spray. Generously spray a medium sized skillet with cooking spray and heat it over medium high heat. Add the sliced onion and cook the onion until it softens and turns golden brown (about 10 minutes). Roll the pizza dough out onto the sheet or stone. Brush the teaspoon of olive oil all over the top of the dough, then sprinkle on salt, pepper, and the fresh thyme. Sprinkle the shredded cheeses and gorgonzola crumbles all over the pizza. Finish the pizza off by placing the slices of pear, prosciutto, and caramelized onions evenly over the top of the pizza. Bake the pizza for 10-15 minutes or until it is bubbly and golden. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
Smoked reindeer pizza aka Berlusconi Pizza
This Finnish recipe uses a lot of metric measurements, as one would expect from a European recipe. Smoked reindeer meat is not found locally as easily as it is in Finland, but smoked deer meat would be an interesting substitution and might be worth a try for anyone finding themselves with a surplus of venison and a smoker on hand.
400 g chopped canned tomatoes
1 tbsp. of tomato purée
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/3 tsp. salt
one pinch of sugar
fresh ground black pepper
oregano and basil, if you like
Mix all the ingredients in a small pan (except for the black pepper) and bring to simmer for 30-60 minutes, until sauce is reduced and tomatoes are melting. Add the black pepper to taste. If you like a smooth sauce, smash the cooked tomatoes or use a blender.
3 dl warm water (about 42°C)
3 tsp. active dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
about 6-7 dl durum wheat flour
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
a pinch of raw sugar
corn meal (optional)
Pour the water into a large bowl, mix the salt, sugar and olive oil. In another measuring cup, mix the dry yeast with a small amount of wheat flour. Using a fork, bring the flour and yeast to the liquid, swirling to combine. Add the rest of the flour, being careful not to add too much and make the dough too heavy. The right moment to stop adding is when it starts to come together. Knead until you have a smooth, soft and springy dough. Place the dough in a large bowl greased with olive oil and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp tea cloth and place in a warm spot for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size. When you are ready to use it, remove the dough from the bowl, knead it on a flour-dusted surface, “punching it down” (removes the gas formed during the fermentation). Divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll the pizzas out. It is better to roll one pizza at a time, unless you have a good timing on preparing everything. Heat oven to 250°C. Sprinkle your baking tray with corn meal. If you have a baking stone, leave it waiting inside the oven. I don’t own one, so I just left my flat baking sheet heating up while I rolled the dough on parchment paper. Brush the top of the pizzas with olive oil, spoon the tomato sauce, place the toppings and sprinkle with cheese. Bake pizza one at a time until the crust is browned and the cheese is golden, about 10-15 minutes.
Cold-smoked reindeer meat and black trumpet mushroom topping:
30 g sliced kylmäsavuporo – cold smoked reindeer meat
50 g (drained weight) black trumpet mushroom preserved in salted water
about 150 – 200 g grated mozzarella cheese
a knob of unsalted butter
1 juniper berry, crushed
1 small onion, diced
fresh ground black pepper
Soak the mushrooms in water to remove the excess salt. Dry them gently and put aside. Heat the butter in a small skillet and fry the onions until soft and fragrant. Add the mushrooms, the juniper berry and pepper to taste. Cut the meat into small pieces. Brush the top of the pizzas with olive oil, spoon the tomato sauce, place the reindeer meat and the mushroom mixture, sprinkle with cheese. Add oregano if desired. Bake the pizza until the crust is browned and the cheese is bubbling golden, about 10-15 minutes.