One question we are routinely asked is, “Where do you two go for great pizza in Grand Rapids?” Now, I don’t want to start a foodie riot or anything (I can picture us all now, beating each other with rolled up Saveur magazines and farmers market tote bags...) but we have yet to find amazing pizza here in GR. Our recent venture to Licari’s was a bust. We had solid pizza at Brick Road Pizza Co, but it hasn’t warranted a return trip. Right now Graydon’s Crossing offers naan pizza with tomato jam and various toppings; it’s delicious, but hardly authentic.
There’s nothing like the pizza slices we feasted on in Rome. Little walk up joints, about as big as a closet, where you’d point to the flavor you wanted and hold your hands apart to show them how big a slice you wanted. (Think of guys who demonstrate how enormous the fish was that got away.) I quickly became addicted to the zucchini blossom pizza and found a nice slice made a perfect second breakfast at about 11 am. In my wildest “win the lottery” fantasies, I would open a food truck serving Roman pizza. And gelato. And fried artichokes.
But until then, we’ll keep making pizza at home. Usually twice a month Jeremy will offer to make dinner, which always means one of his pizza “concoctions”...and I use that word purposefully, as his pizzas are usually far from the norm. We’ve had reuben pizza (my all-time fave with pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, dark pumpernickel crust, and Russian dressing), an array of vegetarian pizzas, and even more variations using whatever he finds in the crisper or pantry. Yes, I have had pizza with sundried tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, cheddar cheese, and Craisins. Most of his experiments taste better than they sound, but on occasion I have had to pick off a few toppings I couldn’t abide—the Craisins being one—though more often than not, I discover new favorite pizza toppings along the way. For instance, broccoli and sliced salami are a great combo! Who’da thunk it?
A few years ago, we were lucky enough to have a private hands-on pizza making lesson from an Italian chef in his Napa home who recommended Italian bottled water for authentic crust. Jeremy stuck with that regimen for a few months until he discovered the freshly-prepared frozen dough at GB Russo & Son over on 29th Street. The dough incredibly good, relatively inexpensive, and so much more convenient than making it from scratch. Plus, we stopped arguing over who drank the last of the Pelligrino. He typically stocks up on all the dough varieties: pumpernickel, sourdough, multigrain, ciabatta, herb, and whole wheat. A frozen dough ball takes one day to thaw in the fridge, an hour to ripen on the counter, then it’s good to roll out.
Tonight’s pizza features sourdough crust; tomato paste; oven roasted tomatoes (don’t be too impressed, they were overripe and it was the only way I could think of the save them); Italian sausage from Van Ball’s Prime Beef on Plainfield; cheap pre-shredded mozzerella cheese; and bell peppers. Relatively normal toppings for once! Jeremy’s struggled with runny pizza sauces that gum up the crust, so experiments tonight with tomato paste. I find it a bit too metallic and would recommend cooking down some marinara to thicken it first. The quality of the Italian sausage is outstanding, further reinforcing my new passion for buying meat from a local butcher.
Looking at the photo of the finished pizza, the crust looks a bit dry and might use a spritz of water or a brush of olive oil when baking to moisten it up. Regardless, the pie tastes great, is relatively cheap considering most of the ingredients are leftovers we already have on hand, and makes for divine leftovers. Do try this at home!