When I was 12 — at that age when my parents deemed me old enough to both stay home alone and scrounge for my own dinner — the French bread pizza was born. Well, maybe not the first French bread pizza in human existence, but that great game-changer of 1974, the Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza.
My mom started stocking them in the freezer alongside the Swanson’s Salisbury steak and roast turkey dinners, and the Stouffer’s frozen lasagna. There was really no contest. Not only did that other stuff take far too long to reheat in pre-microwave days, but this was, you know, pizza. Pizza. That once-a-month treat was suddenly a crispy, crunchy dinner for one hungry boy sitting in front of the TV watching “The Jeffersons.”
I remember never allowing quite enough cooling time before biting into the molten center and ending up with a blister on my palate. I also recall the rough edges ripping my gums if I wasn’t careful. Come to think of it, French bread pizzas weren’t the safest things to eat, but that never stopped me.
I’ve never bought frozen French bread pizza for my own kids because it’s so easy to make. French bread pizza is that go-to — like sandwiches or quesadillas — when I want to spend no more than 10 minutes in the kitchen. It usually involves a can of good tomatoes and whatever dribs and drabs of cheese I need to clean out of the fridge.
Oh, once in a while I’ll make an actual pizza. I like to make a yeast dough with some olive oil that’s so wet I can shape the crust by merely stretching it with my fingers rather than rolling it out. I cook it on a paving tile in the oven or on my Big Green Egg, and I get plaudits for the crisp, nicely charred crust.
But the truth is I actually like French bread pizza more at home, particularly when they involve better ingredients. Rachael Ray’s website has a great recipe (seriously) that I’ve played around with. You season and chop up fresh tomatoes and roast them in the oven, adding some roasted garlic at the end. You spread this mixture on lightly toasted French bread halves and cover it with a blend of shredded gruyère and parmesan cheeses. My homemade real pizza is good; this is glorious.
The other day I had some Alon’s ciabatta bread — a big, rectangular loaf with a cornmeal-dappled crust and an airy, bubbly crumb. I cut it in half lengthwise, brushed both halves with olive oil and ran them under the broiler until they started to color. Raiding my poorly stocked fridge as best I could, I made a spread of cream cheese and feta flavored with garlic and parsley. I baked this mixture on the bread until it glazed, then topped it all with thick slices of juicy Cherokee Purple tomato and basil.
Now you may rightly say this isn’t French bread pizza at all, delicious as it sounds. But I think it still hits that French bread pizza place that I’ve been nurturing since 1974.
Here are four tips to French bread pizza success:
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog