Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Vampire B-Gone

For some people, the best part of an Italian meal is the pasta. Or the sauce. Or the antipasto. Or the salad.

For me, it is garlic bread. The kind that is absolutely saturated with butter and smells like a can of vampire repellent. Covered with a melted blanket of gooey cheese? Even better.

My husband is unnatural and wrong. He doesn't like garlic bread. He's a very bad Italian, in my opinion, but I'm willing to go with it because he is content, even happy, to eat naked slices of plain bread while I retain possession of all the butter-soaked goodness.

In my opinion, there is no better example of garlic bread the way God intended it than Schwan's Five Cheese Garlic French Bread.

Isn't it lovely? Sigh. The crust is basically just a vessel to contain the butter, and a platform for the cheese. It should come with a vial of nitroglycerin, and I just can't bring myself to care.

It's hard to get exactly the right effect at home. Too much butter and it gets soggy. Too little and it's light on flavor. Not the perfect bread and it falls apart. I've tried it a dozen different ways, and it's always paled beside my ideal. Until now.

My recent forays into the doctoring of store-bought pizza have had an unforeseen benefit. I may have made the best garlic bread ever.

I started with a plain cheese pizza. I used a store-brand rising crust. A DiGiorno knock-off. I followed the package directions for oven temperature.

And then I got out the butter. I melted 2 ounces in a small saucepan, and added the same amount of olive oil. Before it was too hot, I threw in two cloves of chopped garlic, and cooked over low heat. I threw in a tablespoon of fresh parsley from my garden, and a half-teaspoon each of dried basil and oregano. I added a dash of pepper. (I might throw in some crushed red pepper next time, just for kicks.) And most important, I watched it carefully and pulled it off the flame before the garlic turned brown. Burned garlic makes for nasty garlic bread.

When I heard Dracula pass out cold on the porch, I drizzled the fragrant mix all over the frozen pizza. Then I popped it in and...

Yeah, don't be ridiculous. Like I'd stop there. That's when I broke out more cheese. A cup of mozzarella, and a few tablespoons of parmesan. The shredded kind, not the grated stuff in a can. I'm not usually a big ingredient snob, but everybody has the hill they choose to die on, and decent parmesan is mine. At least in this instance.

Then in the oven it goes. No pizza pan. Just straight on the rack, or if you are lucky enough, on a blistering hot pizza stone, like this one.

I've actually got a professional restaurant kitchen pizza oven, a souvenir from the days when my husband actually offered some of the finest pizzas in the greater Pittsburgh area. I love it. But I find it easier to just use my regular oven with a pizza stone most of the time, and a good stone gives you almost exactly the same quality. If you can get the effect of a $1000 oven with a $36 stone, go for it.

When you're done, you get something that looks like this:

It's got everything my favorite garlic bread does, with the added punch of extra herbs and pepper, and the slight background tang of the smattering of pizza sauce, which is reduced to a condiment instead of a starring player by the garlicky butter.

There's also another perk. Eating garlic bread for dinner can get you some side-eyeing. But pizza is clearly a meal, even if it's one that will keep the Twilight crew at bay.

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