~~~Never in a million years would I have thought that I would find myself in the midst of Project Food Blog Challenge #5.  I was thrilled to make it to Challenge #2 and it seems my disbelief continues to grow each week as I move ahead with each challenge.  As expected, they are getting progressively more difficult, but this wouldn’t be a blogging challenge if it didn’t get more difficult.  I have YOU to thank for helping me get here.  Thank you to each and every one of you for your extraordinary support and encouragement each week! I hope I will do this next challenge justice!~~~

When I saw the prompt for Challenge #5, asking contestants “to put your own spin on Pizza“, my heart soared.  I heard birds singing.    Unlike doing a photo tutorial, this challenge was right up my alley.  See, I adore pizza.  It’s one of the two foods I could eat every day.  It’s one of the 3 things I would take with me if I ever got stranded on a deserted island (the other two being bagels and my cat, Wilma). Pizza is in my blood. It was, without fail, my standard meal for every Friday night dinner growing up.  It was my first real job. It’s what I even tweeted about last week. And for the record, I still don’t know how people in CT will wait 40 minutes for a pizza on a Thursday night.  In NY, if you hear 40 minutes, you laugh, hang up the phone, and dial your next favorite place on a list of 25 pizza places in the 3 mile radius of your house.  Maybe it’s the inherent lack of patience NYers seem to possess but I think  it’s more that they know they shouldn’t have to wait so long for such a staple food. And for the record, a 40 minute wait never happens anyway.

All this said, I didn’t think this challenge would be easy.  Making a pizza seems easy on the surface but when you’re pinned up against 72 other fantastic bloggers all looking for the next 60 spots, the stakes are a little higher.  Just a little.  Hundreds (thousands??) of possibilities abound for how to make a pizza.  But when Kyle and I sat down Friday afternoon to discuss what to do, we came to an almost  immediate agreement.  3 courses: appetizer, main course, and dessert. Here is our menu (all recipes are listed below):

Appetizer
Margarita Pizza
Grilled mini tomato, basil, mozzarella pizzas

Main Course
Clams Casino Pizza
Stone-baked white pizza with fresh clams and bacon over a ricotta cheese sauce

Dessert
S’mores Pizza
Stone-baked graham crust with chocolate ganache sauce topped with toasted marshmallows


The appetizer was a no-brainer for us since we love this combination in so many forms.  Classic tomato, basil, mozzarella. Even after summer tomatoes are well-passed, it’s still one that works great on a pizza since the tomatoes break down a little with the heat.  We decided to grill these mini pizzas.  Grilled pizza is a favorite around here and it’s so much easier to do with little pizzas rather than full-size ones.  And the slight bit of char on the dough really helps to bring out the dough’s flavor.  Grilled pizza is always a winner!

For the main course, I’ll admit that this is kind of out there for most people.  But clam pizza is a local favorite here in CT and most pizza places have it on their menus.  It’s not a topping, however, that a NYer would be used to seeing, though you would think that clams would be a natural choice for this Long Island girl (Suffolk, south shore) since clams in all forms are almost as much of a staple as pizza is.  But in fact, the thought of a white clam pizza made my stomach turn for years even though it’s one of the most popular pizzas sold at one of the most famous pizza places in the country, Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, right around the corner from my first apartment. Kyle has asked me time after time for a clam pizza and I resolutely responded no every time.  Until about a month ago.  Something piqued my interested and for this challenge, I was ready to make the leap to clams. And it turns out that I LOVE clam pizza!  Could it be the addition of bacon (also foreign to NYers)? Or the salty contrast with the savory ricotta cheese sauce? Whatever it may be, I’m in love! And I know this pizza made Kyle happy so that really just sweetens the deal.

Dessert came without argument during our discussion. S’mores pizza sounded outstanding but we wanted it to be a pizza you could pick up with your hands and eat like…well a slice of pizza.  It was Kyle’s idea to try making a yeast crust with graham crackers and I just happened to have graham flour in the pantry for graham crackers I’ve been wanting to make forever.  We added a bit of each to a yeast pizza dough recipe and hoped it would work. The result was amazing! A graham cracker pizza crust topped with chocolate ganache sauce and toasted marshmallows was the ultimate ending to our 3 course pizza dinner.  You couldn’t have had a better s’more from a campfire if you had tried!!

As simple as pizza sounds, the results of new combinations can be extraordinary. Everyone has their favorite but there are so many kinds out there to test out.  So the next time you call to put your order in or think about your next homemade pie, try something different – you may just find your new favorite!

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Grilled Margarita Pizza
source: Smells Like Home original

3 oz pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
Olive oil
3 plum tomatoes, sliced
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tbsp basil, sliced into ribbons

1. Preheat grill to medium heat.

2. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces.  Sprinkle work surface with flour and roll out dough into rounds.  Prick rounds with a fork a few times.

3. Brush 1/2 tsp olive oil onto top side of each round.  Grill olive oil side down for 3-4 minutes, checking frequently to make sure they don’t burn. When the bottoms have toasted, remove from the grill and brush the top, ungrilled sides, with 1/2 tsp olive oil, then return the rounds to the grill, ungrilled side down. Carefully sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese on each round then layer tomatoes.  After 3 minutes, sprinkle with basil and allow pizzas to cook for another 1-2 minutes or until the bottom sides are toasted.  Remove from grill, slice, and serve hot.

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White Clams Casino Pizza
source: Smells Like Home original

1/2 pizza dough recipe, store bought or homemade, rolled out to desired size and thickness
8 oz whole-milk or fresh ricotta cheese
3 oz clam juice
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 tsp dried oregano, plus extra for sprinkling
Pinch Kosher salt
1 1/2 dozen fresh littleneck clams, in their shells
6-8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 strips bacon, cooked until almost crisp and cut into 1/2″ pieces

1. Combine ricotta, clam juice, Parmesan cheese, oregano, and salt in a bowl.  If mixture is too thick to spread easily, add a little more clam juice. Set mixture aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, simmer in 1″ water and clams just until the shells begin to open.  Drain clams and cut out clams from their shells, taking care to remove the foot attached to the shell and making sure you don’t cut the clams open.

3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone set inside.  Allow the stone to heat for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle cornmeal on the hot stone and also on a pizza peel or large wooden cutting board and transfer the dough to the peel or board.  Spread ricotta cheese sauce over the dough.  Top with mozzarella cheese, garlic, bacon, clams, and sprinkle with a little oregano.

4. Bake pizza for 10-12 minutes until cheese and crust begin to brown.  Remove stone from oven and allow the pizza to rest on the stone for a few minutes before cutting it.  This will help to crisp up the crust without overcooking the pizza in the oven.  Slice with a pizza cutter and serve hot.

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S’mores Pizza
source: Smells Like Home original, ganache adapted from The Pastry Queen

For the graham cracker pizza dough:
1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) dry active yeast
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1 tsp honey
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1/3 cup finely ground graham crackers (about 5 squares)
2/3 cup graham flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 tsp Kosher salt

For the chocolate ganache sauce:
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp light corn syrup

For the marshmallows:
4 oz marshmallows, sliced

To make the dough
1. Stir together water, yeast, and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Allow yeast to bubble for 3-5 minutes.  Add in all-purpose flour, graham cracker crumbs, graham flour, cinnamon, confectioner’s sugar, and salt.  Mix on low speed until all ingredients are well-combined and then allow the mixer to knead the dough for about 8 minutes.

2. Remove the dough from the bowl and roll in an oiled bowl.  Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 30-45 minutes.

3. Sprinkle flour on a clean work surface and roll out dough to desired thickness.  Prick dough all over with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up in the oven.

To make the chocolate ganache sauce
1. While the dough rises, set a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Add all ingredients to the bowl and stir frequently until everything is melted together and the mixture is glossy.  Remove the bowl from the pan, taking care not to allow any steam to hit the mixture.  Chill for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping as the mixture cools.  You want to be able to pour the ganache onto the pizza crust so don’t let it harden in the fridge.

To put the pizza together
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone set inside.  Allow the stone to heat for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle cornmeal on the hot stone and also on a pizza peel or large wooden cutting board and transfer the dough to the peel or board.  Carefully move the dough to the stone and bake for 11 minutes.

2. Remove the dough from the oven and pour chocolate ganache sauce on top of dough to about 1 1/2 inches from the edge of the crust.  Top with marshmallows.  Turn the oven to broil and place the pizza back in the oven for 2-3 minutes.  Watch the pizza carefully so as to not burn the marshmallows.  Remove the pizza when the marshmallows are toasted to desired color. Slice with a knife (not a pizza cutter) and serve warm.

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