What do you do, when your son says at the last minute he wants pizza for dinner, and the dough is in the freezer?
Well I don’t know what YOU do, but this is what *I* did!
I had half a can of diced tomatoes in the fridge, as well as half of a not very good recipe for pizza sauce (it was too thick and overspiced).
I had 8 lbs of potatoes languishing in the cupboard, just begging to be used. You can tell when potatoes are begging to be used. They start putting out little sprouts. Those are desperate cries for attention.
I had pepperoni and cheese in the fridge, as well as a green pepper that wasn’t getting any younger.
If only I had some pierogi, I could make that Pizza-style pierogi casserole my son likes.
Hey, wait – what’s in those pierogies? All they are is a flap of dough folded over some very bland mashed potatoes. I suppose I could cook up the potatoes and make pierogi. Or wait – quicker yet – why bother with the dough?
So having had this epiphany, I washed and sliced the better part of the lonely, languishing potatoes. I love my mandoline! In nothing flat I had about 4 lbs of potatoes sliced up and ready to go. These were a very thin skinned variety so I didn’t even need to peel them.
Again with the mandoline, making short work of dicing some onion. Too bad I haven’t figured a way to cut up bell peppers on the mandoline – by the time I’ve got them cut up enough to seed them there’s not enough left to stick on the mandoline. (SAFETY NOTE: Regardless of what superchef you’ve seen on TV slicing things on a mandoline with his/her bare hands, remember, YOU are NOT a superchef! Never ever use a mandoline without the pusher! Not if you love your fingers, and the flesh attached thereon)
So anyway. Cover a cookie sheet with foil, oil it with olive oil, spread the sliced potatoes out, and bake in a preheated 425F to 450F oven for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and layer into a large Pyrex baking dish. Dump your diced onions on top. Add “enough” pasta sauce (I used about 3.5 c). Or cut up about 6 or 8 Romas and pile them on. I was cooking with what was on hand (read: improvising) and that wasn’t one of the things in the fridge begging to be used up before they grew fur coats. I had what amounted to about 3.5 c of tomatoes and sauce when all was said and done, in a 13×9 pyrex baking dish. I wouldn’t use plain canned tomatoes unless you drain the juices off first – that will turn this into a stew rather than a casserole. I had some RIDICULOUSLY thick pizza sauce that in combination with the half can of tomatoes worked out to be about the right consistency overall. When I say ridiculous, I mean you could cut it with a knife. I’ve seen jams that were less thick. Anyway.
I added about 2 tsp fennel seeds, and roughly 1 tsp of dried basil, and oregano, sprinkled evenly over the top. Now is the time to add crushed red pepper if you would like to – I meant to but forgot. Or “Italian seasoning”, if that floats your boat.
Then I spread the green peppers on top, kind of mooshed it all flat, then added pepperoni in a single layer. On top went about 2c of mozzarella cheese.
Turned the oven down to 350F and put the whole thing in the oven. Checked after about 20 minutes – the cheese was just starting to brown. After another 10 minutes (total 30 minutes) I had a nicely browned crust of cheese on top with all that vegetable-y goodness bubbling away below.
SOME ALTERATIONS THAT SEEM LIKELY TO MEET WITH SUCCESS
You could make this with just about any dry-ish vegetable. Something like summer squash (zucchini, etc) would likely be to wet, although you might get around that to an extent by adding pasta or rice. Personally I think that would detract from the overall character of the dish (funny to talk that way about what was literally thrown together at the last minute, but nevertheless true). That’s why I roasted the potato slices instead of boiling potatoes and dicing them or something like that. By slicing and then roasting them, I dried them out quite a bit while retaining their flavor and texture.
Some veggies that would probably do well in this dish include any of the firmer squashes (such as acorn, pumpkin, butternut, etc), Florence fennel, sweet potato, and leek. Some other less familiar possibilities I haven’t tried yet include REAL yams (not to be confused with sweet potatoes which are often called yams), Jerusalem artichoke, Taro, and cassava/manioc/yucca, although I would be careful with that last – if improperly prepared it can be poisonous! If you decide to experiment with some of the more exotic examples of vegetables and tubers, be sure to research carefully how to properly prepare them. I was not aware that cassava contained cyanide ’til I looked it up.
Assuming you’re sticking with some of the more familiar veggies, cut them up, toss with olive oil, and roast them as usual for about 20 minutes in a 425F oven. You may also roast the tomatoes if you are using fresh rather than canned. Stick with a paste variety such as Roma or San Marzano – other varieties will be too wet, in my opinion. You may roast them “plain”, by themselves, or you may sprinkle with herbs such as thyme and rosemary.
Layer the roasted veggies in the bottom of the baking dish, as above.
Seasonings you might add to the casserole with the tomatoes include fennel seed, oregano, basil, and prepared Italian seasonings. I used oregano, fennel seed, and basil when I made this the first time.
Although summer squashes such as zucchini are often roasted, remember that once you layer on the cheese, you are essentially sealing this dish, just as effectively as if you’d put a lid on it. Any softer vegetable under that “lid” will start to stew in its own juices pretty quickly. I’m not saying you can’t do it – roasting will help to dry these out too, and if combined with fresh rather than canned tomatoes you might manage just fine. Just be aware that it might not work as well as some other, dryer vegetables.
SO – an ingredient list would go something like this:
4 to 5 lbs assorted roasted vegetables, cut into roughly bite size chunks.
3 c (to taste) pizza or pasta sauce, if you didn’t include fresh tomatoes above
1 med to large onion, diced (to taste)
1 large or 2 small bell peppers, diced LARGE (about 1″ to 2″)
(you may roast the onions and bell peppers with the other veggies if you wish, in which case I would cut the onions into larger chunks and add them about halfway into the roasting process because we don’t want them to turn into mush)
Pepperoni, Italian sausage, or other sausage – leave out for a fully vegetarian dish
crushed red pepper
For the roasted veggies – possibly some thyme and/or rosemary, cracked pepper
2 c mozzarella cheese, to taste
all baked as above in a 13×9 Pyrex baking dish, oiled with olive oil.
SOME OTHER OPTIONAL SAUSAGE TYPES:
Spanish (not Mexican!) chorizo
Cajun (not French, too wimpy!) andouille
linguica, a spicy Portuguese sausage that must be cooked first (it’s not dry cured). If sliced thinly it will probably cook fine along with everything else.
If you leave out the pepperoni or other sausage, definitely add some crushed red pepper (to taste) – this dish will just be too bland without something spicy.