Food writing is, to great extent, an exercise in reviving and repurposing nostalgia. But what if it’s nostalgia that no one asked for? This is our task today, as we revisit the fraught, vaguely aggro mid-to-late 2000s food scene.
It was a time, people. Food media was ascendant. Every restaurant felt it had to “elevate.” Trendy ingredients ruled the day, and perfectly respectable bars became ... ugh ... gastropubs. For a very brief moment, people used that word without fear of ridicule. Luckily, like rap-metal, all the gastropubs are dead now and can’t hurt you.
But it wasn’t all bad. We got a very specific pizza style out of it. And so today, we resurrect the unjustly forgotten flatbread pizza via sheer will and culinary necromancy.
Now then, may I offer you a predatory adjustable-rate mortgage before we begin? No? Onward!
Defining the flatbread, a pizza style no one wants to claim
Every pizza style tends to have its pillars, producers who help give form to, champion, or preserve a beloved interpretation. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be beloved. But in the case of flatbread pizza, none of the coked-up bar GMs or sweaty-palmed restaurant group partners of the early aughts seem to be stepping up to claim credit. So let’s just go ahead and set terms.
- Flatbread pizza was either ovoid or rectangular in shape. Never square or round. Every piece has some crust AND its slices are square-cut. This is what Kepler meant by the term sacred geometry. I think.
- Flatbread pizza came in two crust types: slightly thick and bready or shattery and slightly too chewy at the untopped edges.
- Flatbread pizza is first and foremost a showcase for toppings that reuse the “elevated” kitchen ingredients and charge a premium for it: balsamic whatnot, salumi ends and trimmings, the bottom of the sauce bottle, various pickles, the fancy vinegar the chef ordered too much of.
- As a menu item, it falls short of entree and is perhaps too generous as an appetizer. Sometimes filed under its own section of the menu, sometimes under “SHAREABLES,” a term whose use should be a prosecutable offense.
- You were never served flatbread pizza on a plate. You got it on a sheet pan, a fraternity-paddle-looking thing made of composite material, or a piece of wood that definitely wasn’t getting run through the dishwasher. NO PLATES.
Let’s make the flatbread pizza of our past
A bit of context: I’ve had this recipe (and the sauce recipe) since the week before I saw MGMT for ten dollars at a local club. If there is such thing as D.O.P. for a point in time, I am awarded it here. As with all protected origin recipes, I am an absolute bastard about you changing any part of it.
- 480 grams high-gluten flour or bread flour
- 3.5 grams instant yeast
- 6 grams sugar
- 7.5 grams kosher salt
- 25 grams olive oil
- 280 grams (roughly 10 ounces) warm water
- Olive oil, to brush
Mix the dry ingredients in a food processor fitted with a dough blade and pulse to combine. Add the water and olive oil and process until the dough combines and the ball rides the blade for 30 seconds. Let dough rest 20 minutes, process for another 30 seconds, and divide into equal 200(ish)-gram balls.
I’m usually of a mind that the more cold-ferment time, the better. But revisiting this both ways convinced me that this dough hits home best when baked fresh. You can, however, feel free to store dough balls oiled and covered in the fridge if you’d rather give it time.
You are not allowed to touch my flatbread pizza sauce recipe
I will know, even if you don’t think I do.
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
- 6 ounces tomato sauce
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teapsoons dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 teaspoons malt vinegar
- Salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
Combine everything but the last two ingredients. Simmer 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are good and fally-aparty, then immersion blend and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.
Let’s make a pizza before our screening of National Treasure: Book of Secrets
You have two options with this dough: You can do the puffy/soft bread approach, or the crispy/crunchy route. It just depends on how you get the dough ready. In both cases, you’ll be rolling out to a roughly 12"x9" ovoid shape. (You can trim the edges into a very neat rectangle if you like, but this is a real try-hard move, even for the gastropub era.)
For a softer pizza: Roll out the fresh dough to a 12"x9" ovalish shape. If you’re using refrigerated dough, remove it from the fridge at least 2 hours before baking. Dock the dough and brush the edges with olive oil before topping and baking.
For a crunchy boy (option 1): Roll out as above, omitting the olive oil step. Don’t add toppings. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight. Top and bake the fridge-temperature dough directly, without letting it come to room temperature.
For a crunchy boy (option 2): Use a pasta roller to roll the dough ball to 1.5mm thin (setting 4 on my decades-old Marcato, but machines vary). Widen to 9" with a roller, dock, brush the edges with oil, top, and bake immediately.
Do not combine crunchy boy tactics 1 and 2. That way invites forbidden crunch. Or do it, whatever, I’m not the boss of you.
Flatbread pizza toppings that are both period-appropriate and delicious
The right ratio for this pizza is right at 3.5 fluid ounces of sauce and 100 grams of freshly shredded low-moisture, full-fat mozzarella. And since we’re dragging a vibe no one asked for into the 2020s, it’s important to choose the right toppings.
“It was the decade of the beer braised short rib.” Damn if that’s not true. Prometheus was originally chained to a rock for spilling imperial stout into a cooking pot while humans were watching. It was a whole thing.
That was a good start, and for the rest of my toppings I turned to my stack of beat-to-hell Moleskine notebooks. I’ve written down recipes for every single thing I’ve cooked since 2006, apparently to prepare for this exact moment. And from those lauded archives we have also pulled:
- Pickled things that might not need to be pickled.
- Goat cheese, the fastest-growing non-bovine livestock cheese of 2006.
- Asparagus, treated sort of badly.
- Cream sauce applied via very fancy drizzle.
- And more!
In the proper frame of mind, we offer these pizzas to eat while you openly dread that at any moment, Crazy Town’s “Butterfly” might start playing over the speakers.
Flatbread pizza #1: Terrible Ed Hardy Shirt
- Beer-braised short ribs (salt, pepper, sear, braise 1 hour in barrel-aged stout at 325), meat diced
- Horseradish cream sauce (1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup olive oil, 3/4 teasponn granulated garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, kosher salt and black pepper to taste)
- Chopped curly parsley
Flatbread pizza #2: Netflix But in the Mail
- Barbecue chicken (1 chicken thigh, seasoned with 1 tablespoon barbecue rub and cooked in olive oil in a cast iron for 3 minutes per side, shredded and mixed with 1/4 cup barbecue sauce)
- Pickled red onion
- Pickled pineapple
Flatbread pizza #3: That Time Three 6 Mafia Won an Oscar (Which Ruled)
- Goat cheese, piped on top of the mozzarella pre-bake
- 2 stalks asparagus, shaved
- Red/orange/yellow sweet peppers, pickled
- Fried shallots, to top post-bake
- Fig vinegar, to serve as a fancy-lad condiment
Bake each pizza at 425 degrees on an oiled baking sheet, or a preheated stone or steel, for 15 minutes. (The latter will give you much crispier crust.) Rotate halfway through to ensure even baking. Cut into eight equal slices and serve.
Thank you for traveling back in time with me. I’m sorry we didn’t get to bet on the 2008 Cubs absolutely blowing it. Next time.