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The Pizza Compatibility Test

I’m pretty sure there have been many terrible jokes made about how you can never trust someone fully until you know what they put on your pizza. Anchovies? What’s wrong with you? Just cheese? Okay, well I hope you’re… oh, wait, just mozzarella? Well, you do you, but I’m never ordering a pizza with you again.

I fall solidly in the “what’s wrong with you?” camp. Sure, I like traditional pizza every now and then because sometimes you need a greasy, cheesy, pepperoni pizza that will make you feel your arteries clog more and more with every bite. However, the pizza I really love barely resembles anything that comes to mind when someone asks if you want pizza for dinner. So when Jacquelynn visited my hometown back at the start of our relationship and we made plans to go to Joe Bologna’s—Lexington, KY’s most famous pizza joint—with my mom and her then-boyfriend, I was incredibly curious to see how it would go.

The thing about Joe B’s is that it’s not exactly a trendy place. It’s been there forever and the décor hasn’t been touched since I was at least five years old and going there for soccer parties. The most interesting part about the restaurant is that it’s in an old church and they left the stained glass window in when they converted it into a pizza joint. Even with that detail, it still has a hole in the wall vibe. So if you’re looking for a “weird” pizza, it’s kind of the last place you’d expect to be able to get it, but sure enough, their menu features quite a few non-traditional options.

Now, my mom isn’t the most adventurous eater and I’ll eat just about anything. So when we usually went to Joe B’s, we’d end up settling for a pretty standard pizza where the most adventurous topping might be jalapeños on my half. With the addition of my mom’s boyfriend and Jacquelynn, we got to shake things up a bit, but did I dare test Jacquelynn to see if she’d be interested in the same pizza as me? Did I dare hope I might find someone who’d forego tomato sauce, opting instead for a deliciously creamy garlic sauce with nothing but chicken and broccoli to go with it? You’re damn right I did.

Guess what? She had been afraid to mention to me that was the pizza that had caught her eye when we first sat down.

My mother was the first to comment about the pizza being “weird”, but also the first to voice how great it was that I found someone willing to eat it with me. I’d like to say she continued talking to Jacquelynn, telling her embarrassing stories of the times I would come to Joe B’s as a kid or whatever else she could dredge up from memory, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what she was saying—I was too busy eating. Hey, maybe Jacquelynn was too and that’s why the only thing we talk about from that day is the amazing pizza we would eventually try to recreate.

Our desire to recreate the pizza was born largely from the fact that we couldn’t find anything like it up here. For such a simple combo (garlic cream sauce + chicken + broccoli), you’d think someone near Cleveland would have something similar, but no. So, as we do with most things, we endeavored to make it ourselves.

The first attempts were as basic as the pizza we first had and they were delicious enough for us almost not to care that we were hundreds of miles away from the opportunity to see how close to the original our pizza was. The thing is, we wanted to find a way to make what would become our go-to pizza even better. Rosemary entered the picture, various cheeses were tried, dashes of chili powder were added to the sauce, and several attempts later, we were left with the most delicious pizza I have ever tasted in my life. And yes, I am including each and every pizza we ate during our recent trip to Italy.

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Sara and Jacquelynn’s Chicken and Broccoli Pizza with Garlic Butter Sauce

Inspired by Joe Bologna’s Italian Pizzeria & Restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky

makes enough sauce and toppings for a 12″ pizza plus an additional crust to freeze for later

Ingredients

For the crust:
  • 2 ¾ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package yeast
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary (optional)
For the sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 2 cloves of garlic, Microplaned
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ cup milk or half-and-half
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • Generous pinch of black pepper
  • Small pinch of chipotle chili powder
For the toppings:
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 chicken breast, diced small
  • 1 cup broccoli florets, diced small
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 ½ cup Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio Shredded Cheese Blend
  • Mama Francesca’s Parmesan, Basil, and Oregano

Directions

Combine warm water and yeast and let sit for five minutes. Mix olive oil, salt, rosemary, and yeast mixture with one cup of flour. Add remaining flour until dough leaves the side of the bowl, a total of 2¾ cups. Knead with dough hook in a standing mixer on speed 2 for 10 minutes or until smooth. Let rise 2 hours or until double.

Punch down, divide the dough in half, and let rest until you can roll or pat into a pan shape. I use a pizza stone, but you can also bake your pizza on a baking sheet. Just make sure to oil the bottom of the sheet to help crisp the crust. You only need one half of the dough for this recipe; you can refrigerate or freeze the other half for later. Pre-bake at 375℉ for 20 minutes.

While the crust is pre-baking, make the sauce. Begin by melting the butter, along with the olive oil on medium heat. Once melted, toss in the minced garlic and fresh rosemary. Reduce heat to low and cook until fragrant and garlic is golden, about 5 minutes. Raise the heat up to medium-high. Mix the broth, wine, milk, and cornstarch together in a liquid measuring cup. Add to the pot. Keep stirring until it comes to a boil. Toss in the salt, pepper, onion powder, and chipotle chili powder, and continue stirring. The sauce will thicken quickly, so continue to stir. Once the sauce is thickened, remove from the burner, and set aside.

Once your sauce is ready, prepare your toppings. Coat raw chicken generously with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and broccoli and cook until cooked through and broccoli is crisp-tender, 5–7 minutes.

Add sauce, chicken and broccoli, shredded cheese blend, and generously sprinkle with grated parmesan and return to the same temperature oven. Continue to bake for 20 or when cheese is melted. May broil for last 1 minute to brown the cheese.


Sara and I have spent the last three years getting to know each other and falling in love over food. In this series, we share some of those formative moments in our relationship with you and the recipes that still mean a lot to us. She’s sharing our story, I’m cooking—and writing—about the food. As an additional note, Sara also blogs general musings and about her Halvarian Ruin series at http://saragaines.com.

Sara and I have spent the last three years getting to know each other and falling in love over food. In this new series, we’re going to share some of those formative moments in our relationship with you and the recipes that still mean a lot to us. She’s sharing our story, I’m cooking—and writing—about the food. As an additional note, Sara also blogs general musings and about her forthcoming novel at http://saragaines.com.


My first date with Jacquelynn was filled with the same amount of anxiety all first dates are. Actually, no, that’s a lie. There were a lot of reasons why it was different than any other first date either of us had been on. For starters, it was technically her first “first date”. Like many people, she and her previous partners had been friends and then one day they realized there was more to it then that and all of a sudden, relationship!

For me, well, let’s just say I was no stranger to first dates. I was, however, not so used to caring as much as I did on that first date with her. As annoyingly clichéd as it might be, I knew there was something different about her – I had already talked to her enough to know this would be different from a lot of the first dates I had gone on. So when I was getting ready to meet her and take her out, I probably checked the grimy mirror in my college house a thousand times while I waited until it was time for me to leave. You know, just in case I messed up my make up or my clothes suddenly changed in the two seconds that had passed since the last time I looked. Still, I hid my nerves better than she did.

When it was finally time for me to pick her up, we realized that our whole plan for a date night was centered around a movie we had mentioned wanting to see (to be honest, when we first discussed plans, it wasn’t really established that it was going to be a date). So we were sitting there and she starts listing off restaurants within walking distance of the theatre. An Italian place that would certainly pass for a good traditional date, a chain restaurant she mentioned I think mostly to test whether or not I was worthy of taking to dinner, and then hesitantly, Jacquelynn mentioned a place she absolutely loved, B Spot.

Now, for those of you who don’t live in the Cleveland area and who don’t know the name Michael Symon, just know I was in the exact same boat as you at this point. Jacquelynn, on the other hand, knows her food (and has spent the last three years opening my eyes) and knows that if you want a good burger, B Spot is the place to go around here. Her only problem was that a burger isn’t exactly what you’re told to picture when you’re dreaming of an amazing first date. So even though her eyes lit up as she started telling me about the specially blended meat that goes into each burger and the fact that they fry their rosemary shoestring fries in delicious, delicious duck fat, I could practically see her palms start sweating over having mentioned something so “low-brow” as a burger for a first date.

That’s when I reminded her we were seeing a comic book movie.

With her fears eased and my stomach growling (I hoped not too loudly), we made the final decision that we would completely abandon the thought of a “fancy” first date. As Jacquelynn promised, the burger was amazing. Cooked to perfection and greasy enough to require about twenty napkins, it was an easy thing to rave over during our conversation and in the back of my mind, I was hoping even more that our date went well because I immediately wanted another (both a burger and a date, but I knew I wanted the second.. and third… and fourth date long before I left my house that day).

Fast-forward many months and Jacquelynn and I were living together, suddenly having to feed ourselves every night. As we tried to figure out what kinds of meals we would make, both of us immediately remembered that first date and how much we enjoyed something so simple as a burger. So with the idea of making something with some nice emotions attached to it, one of the first things we tried to make was a burger as good as the ones we’d tasted at B Spot. Long story short, trying to make a burger like that when all you have is whatever ground beef you can find at the store is pretty much impossible. Sure, the beef burgers we had weren’t bad, but they sure as hell weren’t what we wanted. So, we decided to get a little more adventurous.

Abandoning beef altogether, Jacquelynn began experimenting with different ground meats. We’ve had turkey, bison, elk, and whatever else we could find, but the one burger that really stood out to us was the lamb burger detailed in Jacquelynn’s recipe. These lamb burgers have become our go-to burger when we’re looking for a date night in or even when we just want something comfortable and delicious. Wrapped in crispy prosciutto, topped with fresh mozzarella and basil with a drizzle of balsamic to finish it off, these burgers can’t even compete with anything else we’ve made at home.

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Prosciutto-Wrapped Lamb Burgers with Basil and Fresh Mozzarella

makes 2 generously-sized burgers

Ingredients

  • 2/3 pound ground lamb
  • 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped, flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • fresh basil leaves
  • fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • hamburger buns

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Directions

Start by rehydrating the sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl with enough white wine just to cover the tomatoes. If necessary, taste the wine to make sure it is (or isn’t) what you want to drink with dinner. If you’re like Sara, she honestly doesn’t know what to do with anything other than a red and likes to taste-test out of sheer curiosity. The tomatoes can sit off to the side while you gather the next ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs, parsley, egg yolk, milk, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Add the lamb and sun-dried tomatoes and use your hands to combine just until ingredients are incorporated throughout; do not over mix the meat. Divide the mixture into two burgers and press into patties whose diameters are slightly larger than the buns you’re using. The patties shrink slightly as you’re cooking them and while it might take some practice to get the right proportions so the patties end up the perfect size for their buns, you definitely don’t want your first bite of this burger to be nothing but bread because you made the patty the size of the bun before you cooked it. Once you’ve determined the appropriate size, place one burger in the center of a slice of prosciutto. Wrap the prosciutto around the edges as best you can and then use a second piece when you inevitably can’t reach around the whole patty.

Place a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and heat for 2 minutes. When the oil is hot, place the lamb burgers in the pan and cook until prosciutto is golden, 6–8 minutes. Flip the burger, and cook an additional 2 minutes. Place a mozzarella slice on each burger and cover with a lid and continue to cook until burger is cooked to your desired doneness and mozzarella is melted. We’ve found that a total of 6 minutes on each side cooks the meat so it’s no longer pink, but leaves the burger perfectly juicy.

While the burgers are cooking, spread butter onto buns and toast until golden brown. I use a toaster oven, but you can also put your buns in a conventional oven, 3 to 4 inches under the broiler. Broil the buns for about 30 seconds, or until they are light golden brown. Watch carefully, as bread goes from lightly toasted to completely burnt quickly.

When the mozzarella is melted and buns are toasted, remove the burgers from the pan and begin to assemble. Top each burger with 2–3 basil leaves, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.

Notes

Use a full-flavored extra virgin olive oil for this recipe because you’ll really get a chance to taste it, especially for drizzling over the buns at the end. My favorite—and a great value—is Trader Joe’s Greek Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Mama Francesca’s Parmesan, Basil, and Oregano is a great choice for the grated Parmesan in this recipe because the basil in the cheese echoes the leaves you’ll put on top.

The buns pictured are homemade, based on Ashley Rodriguez’s recipe from her blog, Not Without Salt. The only modifications I made were the use of bread, rather than all-purpose, flour, and 2 tablespoons of butter brushed over the top rather than one.

I cooked my burgers for 6 minutes on each side, which leaves the burgers completely cooked through and not pink, but still remaining moist. That said, cook your burgers to whatever level of doneness you prefer.

If you’d have asked me to describe the person that I hoped to spend the rest of my life with when I was sixteen, that person would look nothing like Sara. She, for starters, probably wouldn’t have been a she, she probably wouldn’t have curly, blonde hair, and she she probably wouldn’t have been an athlete either. But for all the things I didn’t expect and have come to love and respect quite deeply about her, one of the most eye-opening has been dating a Southern woman. Before I get much deeper into my story, a little background. I’m a Northerner. Completely and entirely. My grandparents on both sides were Clevelanders, relatively late-wave immigrants and the last time I heard a drawl when I wasn’t watching Fried Green Tomatoes or a terrible, 5 AM rerun of Designing Women was…well, probably never. Sara, on the other hand, is a Southerner through and through. She grew up in Kentucky and she has family history in other places in the South too. Now, lest you protest that “Kentucky isn’t the South,” let me tell you something: you’re wrong. I know that you’re wrong because I thought the same thing. Kentucky is next door for pity’s sake, but it is more like Charleston or Atlanta or New Orleans than Cleveland a thousand times over. And on top of all that, Sara’s family has been here forever so she identifies more with the South than she does with any Old World traditions anyway. So, here we are. A Northerner and a Southerner right there in the same house.

Now, I have a terrible habit of romanticizing the American South. Thanks to Gone with the Wind and promises of pretty Southern women and gallant Southern gentlemen, I pretty much thought that charm oozed from the pores of anyone born south of the Mason-Dixon line and that they all talked with that syrupy Georgia peach drawl. I suppose if I was going to have any preconceived notions, erring on the side of almost-entirely-fictional antebellum plantation life is marginally better than assuming that everyone in the South drives a rusted out pickup truck with a Confederate flag decal painted over the back window, but I still recognize the incredibly problematic views I have. I just didn’t realize quite how damaging my thoughts were until I met my girlfriend. It turns out—shocking no one, I’m sure—that neither of these stereotypes is completely true although there are grains of reality in there if you tease out what’s right and what isn’t.

Sara can make a fantastic blackberry cobbler and drinks good, Kentucky bourbon. Those things are true. She’s also extraordinarily polite, especially to people older than she is, and addresses people she doesn’t know well as “ma’am” and “sir,” a tradition we’ve long since lost in the curt, cold North.

Something else that’s true is that Sara took great pains to hide her mild accent when she moved north because people make all kinds of assumptions about the intelligence of people who speak that way. She still has a few holdovers in vocabulary but unless you’re listening very closely, you wouldn’t notice that she’s not originally from around here. It didn’t even occur to me that she might have an accent until I heard her mother speak and was surprised when I heard her streeeeetch out all her vowels. It makes me a little bit sad to think that Sara will likely be the last one in her family line to speak with an accent and that unfounded stereotypes are what drove her to drop it. I lament that my father let go of his Hungarian traditions as well; stereotypes are what drove him to assimilate too. I realize now that the thoughts that I still harbor about Southerners—even if those thoughts are largely that Sara can be incredibly charming when she wants to be—contribute to people like her and like my dad forgetting their customs and language and I’m trying harder to appreciate honestly what makes us different.

Sara’s still teaching me to cook with cast iron—I don’t think I’ve made anything in a skillet that I haven’t burned yet—I’ve picked up a habit of saying “all y’all,” or “you all” when referring to a group of people, and we still fight about whether it’s “crawdad” or “crayfish.” Every day I encounter her Southern habits and I’m thankful that she’s patient while I adjust my preconceived notions about what that means.

*and other stereotypes