You know what day it is … It’s Food Story Friday! So sit back and enjoy this fabulous food story from Claire at Elegant Eating :-)
My college life, before we all dispersed for winter break 2010, was quite the introduction to slovenly living. With an emptier fridge and fewer bookshelves, we could have been bohemians, evenings beginning with the usual rummaging through pockets furniture for change to buy a five-dollar bottle of wine to share, rummaging through our brains for any warm way out of the same-old weekend spend inside trying not to get frostbite in my friends’ rooms and trying not to die in mine, a box of a space directly above the building’s boiler. By that time, every New Year’s resolutions were long gone, and we’d given up most things, except our very weary attempts at showing to class glamorous in that weather inevitably arriving with slush and dirt caked up to our thighs from fording the Hudson Valley slopes and swamps. We all eventually surrendered our stomachs to the notorious dining hall again, dulling our minds and taste buds while eating cafeteria bean slop out of cups in the backs of classrooms, dreaming of sushi and champagne.
With the end of the semester, inevitably, came sleeplessness, frozen fingers, a feet-deep swamp of belongings I had to wade through to make it to our mattress, and the deep-rooted frustration that comes from the severe lack of real, hearty meals. Against everyone’s better judgment, it was out of this pure, raw need that I planned a dinner party in the midst of finals. I wanted to gather together a group of favorites and feed them, fill them with the fresh and heavy, leave them feeling fat and happy. The menu I eventually devised was this: grilled asparagus, shake-and-bake chicken, hasselback potatoes and Mezgaldi onions.
It was a disaster from the beginning: we’d somehow double-booked the dorm kitchen and the only stove top in the building meant for more than a hundred students- with a planned college club dinner event, which seemed formal at first glance, but turned out to be a formal-sounding excuse for a party in a place Security was unlikely to include in its nightly rounds.
Noise drowned out both banter and the jazz we had going streaming from a radio a friend of mine had brought down from his room in an attempt to create what he half-jokingly referred to as “ambiance.” I’m not the best double-tasker on my best day, and the club head turned out to be someone I had dated briefly. I’d ended things in what I very awkwardly found out via social media later wasn’t the smooth interaction I’d thought, and I wasn’t sure whether my discovery of this had made its back way over the imagined grapevine…So, we worked very closely over the small stove, both with tangible unease, neither sure if we should attempt a conversation- or whether I was just imagining the tension in my head.
Each pork chop into the club’s soup pot of boiling oil and whiskey was a small explosion burning into my concentration and burying itself behind my temples. Since there was blaring music and, by the time dinner was “ready,” about 50 students too many trying their best to dance in such a sterile, modernist environment, my friends and I gave up on talking, and time continued on and on with just waiting. My friend Dan summed up the situation best, during a seeming-eternity of waiting quietly beside our prepped ingredients for an hour for the counter to free up, looking ruefully at our platter piled high with breasts, “Raw beef looks good, but raw chicken just…I don’t want to sink my teeth into that.”
In the hassle over sharing the oven, the potatoes came out undercooked, the onions too sweet, and the asparagus cooled thirty minutes before I completed the rest of the dinner. The chicken was the fall-back savior- rolled in beaten egg, rubbed with flour, paprika and chipotle, and gently simmered in butter, it came out gorgeously tender, flavorful, juicy. A dish, that, for all its name, is neither shaken nor baked, is easy, cheap, and without fail a wowzer, as any spices in the flour turn out equally delicious. But we were a harried group, hurried, bored and hungry for too long, and I was left with the need for a gluttonous, rich meal still unsatisfied.
But I was well-known for taking care of people- whether they wanted to put on their coats in the cold or to have an adequate sleep schedule or not- and my best and worst trait are exactly the same: I am incredibly determined, and when I have my mind set on a goal, I will not be dissuaded. And this existed in combination with a forceful drive toward hospitality that, some could say, was clearly number one priority to all else in an unbelievable, but unrepentant and unwavering defiance of logic. I was out of free time, common sense, personal resolve, was almost broke, and simply ravenous- and I’d one night left to entertain.
Pepperoni rolls are cheap, easy crush-worthy greaseballs, slicked with charm and butter, hiding heart attacks in their back pockets if you surrender yourself more than once in a long while to the tantalizing combo of rich, hot tomato sauce and gooey cheese wrapped in love (aka bread and butter)…But this situation was the kind of reason treats like pepperoni rolls were even invented. And the recipe promised me a real crowd pleaser, the-bang-for-ya-buck where the kids wouldn’t know what hit ‘em.
On our worn kitchen counter, I stretched the length of pre-bought bread dough out with a dented can of pork and beans, rubbed it down with melted-buttery fingers, sprinkled the elusively named “Italian seasoning,” and then followed with layers of pepperoni and shredded mozzarella, both straight from the packet. Apart from the butter, spread liberally from my imagination, the assembly of all the pre-fabricated bits felt at first like blasphemy. But as it baked slowly, the dough and aroma rising, the however-manufactured cheese oozing out of browning corners, I forgot, and instead waited with a crowd of watering mouths behind me, brought by the smell from their studying and bedrooms to tear off a piece of melting cheese and meat.
I sliced thinly and served the delicious pieces up hot with a smile and a cup of warm marinara sauce. They don’t call me Grandma Claire for nothing.
- package pizza dough, defrosted or fresh
- 1/4 stick butter, melted
- 1/2 package pepperoni slices (or you can throw it all in, why not)
- 1 package shredded mozzarella
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 tsp Italian seasoning or dried basil
- 1/2 jar marinara sauce, for serving
- Preheat oven according to directions on dough packaging. Cover a baking pan in foil.
As the above story describes, roll out the dough into a long, rectangular shape until no more than 1-inch thick (and less is better). Brush dough liberally with the melted butter.
Layer on the shredded mozzarella, until dough is no longer visible. Cover with a careful layer of pepperoni.
Shake on the remainder of your cheese, and follow with the leftover pepperoni. Sprinkle with dried herbs.
Carefully, starting with one end of the dough and making your way to the other side, roll the dough up, making sure not to spill out the layers of cheese and pepperoni. If you’d like, you can use an egg wash here to seal up the end piece of the dough to the rest of the roll- but if you’ve no eggs on hand, you can just brush on more butter and stand the roll on the baking pan with the dough’s end side facing down.
Bake pepperoni roll according to dough packaging. Take out when browned, but not burnt. Fill a small serving dish with the warmed marinara sauce, to be used as a dip. Serves a small party, but goes fast.