Hot dog! Experiment in pizza tastes good

March 07, 2001|By Rob Kasper

INSPIRATION CAN BE dangerous, especially when it strikes right before supper.

Say, for example, you plan to make a pizza and you open the fridge and discover that there is a serious Italian sausage shortage. You scan the refrigeration shelves, looking for substitutes. A couple of pieces of last night's chicken come into focus, followed by a leftover pork roast of uncertain vintage and some slices of bacon. Down there on the bottom shelf, an old friend appears, and your mind flashes in a vision of an exciting new suppertime experience - hot-dog pizza.

That is how the night of experimental pizzas began at our house last week. I had gone through the trouble of whipping up a batch of homemade dough, had located the tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, and only then realized that I was missing the familiar upper parts of the pizza known as toppings.

I started hunting for replacements. In today's parlance this search for unconventional answers would likely be called "thinking outside the box." Actually the reverse was true; I confined my search to "inside the icebox," which is what some still call the refrigerator. Almost any item chilling in the box was considered fair game for pizza topping.

My family greeted this culinary venture the way it responds to many of my weeknight cooking efforts - namely with a sense of caution and a heavy dose of hunger. It is one thing to speculate, in the idle midday hours after a satisfying lunch, whether you would actually eat a pizza topped with pieces of hot dog for supper. It is quite another matter to consider the same question at 7 p.m., with your stomach growling.

As a concession to concerns voiced by my wife, I did not put all of the ingredients pulled from the fridge on the same pizza. Instead I put the chicken on one pizza and placed the hot dog, the pork and the bacon bits - a combination I like to call the menage-a-fridge topping - on the other pizza.

In retrospect, I see that there was another source of inspiration, in addition to the missing sausage, for my journey into the new pizza frontiers. That would be Larry Flax, one of the founders of California Pizza Kitchen, which sells pizza in restaurants and grocery stores.

Flax visited the restaurant in Harborplace recently to play host to a dinner to benefit the Safe and Sound Campaign, a nonprofit group devoted to helping Baltimore children. I ate several pizzas with Flax. One was called the cheese-steak pizza and did come close to tasting like the gooey mixture of cheese, peppers, beef and dough that tastes so good when you get the fabled sandwich in Philadelphia. Another was barbecued chicken pizza, which we sampled in two versions, restaurant and grocery-store styles. They were sweeter than most pizzas I eat, but they were surprisingly flavorful.

Fortunately, we did not taste a pizza topped with egg salad, a combination Flax said he championed within his company but had to abandon when the eating public did not warm to the creation.

Flax and his partner, Rick Rosenfield, used to practice law in Los Angeles. Like a lot of lawyers I know, Flax thinks a lot about food, especially what could be put on top of a pizza. Eventually he and Rosenfield stopped lawyering and began running an outfit based on the notion that the pizza is an open-face sandwich, and that almost anything - except fish - can be put on top of it.

Back in my kitchen, I thought of Flax as I reached for the all-beef hot dog and put a few slices on a pizza I was serving to my wife and teen-age son. I also thought of Dagwood Bumstead, the husband in the cartoon strip "Blondie," who believes that when it comes to making his favorite sandwich, the Dagwood, any fridge ingredient is fair game.

Like the ethnic geography of a big city, this pizza was divided into spheres of influence. There were the goat-cheese heights, which bordered on the bacon-bit section, which nudged up next to the valley of pork. Running through the middle of this creation was the hot-dog strip.

Reaction to the composite pizza was favorable, yet some parts of it got better reviews than others. The pork-roast section was dubbed passable; the bacon bits were said to be pleasing. But the astonishing favorite was the hot-dog strip. The teen-ager took one bite and said the medallions of dog tasted something like pastrami. I agreed that it wasn't half bad.

My wife, who also liked the pairing of roasted hot-dog slices and pizza dough, put some perspective on our favorable reaction.

Hot-dog pizza surprises you, she said, because like many other weird pizza toppings, it ends up tasting much better than it sounds.

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