Occasions when having this dish in your back pocket is handy: post-game Little League gatherings, movie nights, midnight study sessions, football playoff parties, birthdays bashes – need I go on? If you’ve got a pizza-loving crowd, this appetizer is there for you. Here’s how to put it together.
Use low-fat mozzarella: There are few occasions when I actually recommend low-fat cheese, but this is one of them. Look for low-fat, low-moisture mozzarella cheese – don’t get fancy. This cheese holds its shape better in the heat of the oven and stays neatly contained within the ball of dough. Anything else tends to bubble out of the bread and you miss out on the cheesy middle.
Take the time for sauce: It’s worth it to make the simple tomato sauce. You can substitute canned or jarred sauce if you’re in a rush, but with all the other shortcuts, I like the flavor and texture of a sauce you make yourself. It doesn’t add much time, and it can simmer on the stove while you assemble the pizza bites.
Serve it up: Nestle those pizza bites down in the sauce, right in the pan, and bake until the sauce is bubbling and the tops of the bites are browned. Serve it straight from the pan, but be sure to let them cool a bit first! When the pan is cool enough to safely touch, and the bites themselves are no longer quite so steamy, then you can carry it to the table and let the crowd dive in.
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For the sauce:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
For the pizza bites:
8 ounces low-fat, low-moisture mozzarella cheese
1 (14- to 16-ounce) ball pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
24 to 30 slices pepperoni (optional)
Place a rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Warm the oil in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook until the shallots are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the salt and the crushed tomatoes, and stir to combine. Let the sauce come to a rapid simmer, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer while you prepare the pizza bites.
Cut the block of mozzarella in half. Cut one half of the block into 24 cubes roughly 1/2 inch in size. Grate the rest of the mozzarella on the large holes of a box grater.
Turn the pizza dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Cut the dough into 24 more or less even pieces using a pastry scraper or a chef’s knife.
Flatten one of the pieces of dough in the palm of your hand and place a cube of cheese in the middle. Wrap the dough around the cheese and pinch the seam closed. Lay the ball seam-side down on the floured counter. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and cubes of cheese. Flour your hands as needed to keep from sticking.
Remove the skillet of sauce from the heat. Carefully arrange the balls of dough in the pan, seam-side down and spaced slightly apart.
Fold pieces of pepperoni in half and tuck them between the bites, if using. Sprinkle as much of the shredded cheese as you like over the top.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the bites are puffed and golden-brown on top, the shredded cheese has melted, and the sauce is bubbling around the bites.
Cool at least 10 minutes, until the sauce is no longer bubbling and the skillet is safe to touch. Serve straight from the skillet.
Yield: 8 to 10 as an appetizer.