The following is a food-essay I wrote for my friend Lily*, and her wonderful blog What I Ate Where, back in January of last year when I was a junior in college. As the previous recipes show, I currently have a fridge full of vegetables, fresh and gleaming, but as much as I continue to lovingly clean and slice, some part of me this past week has been hungering for something greasy. Which brings me back to this up-and-down, indisputably healthy but undeniably delicious memory- because every one needs to eat well, and because every one needs to treat themselves once in a while.
My life, before we all dispersed for winter break, 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 spare sheets, gold sneakers, rolls of paper towels, for my old black heels, since forgotten in the early hours of New Years Day in some Brooklyn dive. Old-money-now-no-money, weary glamour eating bits of 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 my boy and I had to wade through to make it to our mattress, and the deep-rooted, damn-all 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 was grilled asparagus, shake-and-bake chicken, hasselback potatoes and Mezgaldi onions.
It was a disaster from the beginning: we’d double-booked the dorm kitchen and the stove top with some club’s ethnic dinner, a crowd of girls drunkenly deep-frying pork chops in a vat of sizzling oil and Jack Daniels, who drowned out our jazz and banter with hip-hop and screaming. My friend Dan said it best, as we waited 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’m a brothel madam, a matron in an apron, a beefy-armed boarding house mistress with two sinks worth of dirty dishes and half a handle of vodka under the desk. My countertops are continuously covered in wine glasses, coffee mugs, a huge tray of baklava that draws people in like flies, and I’d one night left to entertain.
Pepperoni rolls are cheap, easy lovers, sleazy greaseballs slicked with charm and butter, hiding heart attacks in their back pockets. 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, one long stretch of bread dough rolled out with a dented can of pork & beans, rubbing it down with buttery fingers, the sprinkling of the elusively named “Italian seasoning”, and then layers of pepperoni and shredded mozzarella, both straight from the packet. Apart from the butter, spread liberally from my imagination, this felt like blasphemy, but it baked slowly, the dough rising, the however-manufactured cheese oozing out of browning corners until I forgot, and waited with a crowd of watering mouths behind me, to tear off a piece of melting cheese and meat. I sliced thinly and served the pieces up hot with a smile and a cup of warm marinara sauce. They don’t call me Grandma Claire for nothing.
Not my picture- because there’s never a pause between putting a plate of these rolls down and the oncoming frenzy of fingers and mouths and smiles!
1 package pizza dough, defrosted or fresh
1/4 stick butter, melted (or butter-flavored PAM, but that’s not going to save you)
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.
“Meal” Cost For One Roll:
pizza dough- $4.50ish
pepperoni slices- $1.75
marinara sauce- $1.50
That’s a total of $9.50! One roll yields about 6-8 servings. I’m not going to share the calorie content, because that’s not the point of treating yourself.
*Lily- and her blog’s co-author, Adrian- have two particularly excellent posts on eating well on the cheap. See their entries on Eating Poorly here and here.