I am a very big fan of store-bought recess meals, both as a product and a concept. The no-cook, assemble-and-eat boxes of food are convenient, customisable, and fun for all, including actual school children and those who are just children at heart.
Photos by Claire Lower.
Though I am prone to consuming the occasional store-bought specimen while inebriated, I actually prefer making my own snacks and lunch box treats, as it allows for better ingredients and a bit of creativity. Making your own cheese and cracker kit is pretty simple, but what about mini pizzas?
Last week, when all of the writers came together for a glorious meeting in New York, I found myself in a bodega with Beth and Patrick, looking for bottles of water and nourishing snacks. I grabbed a Lunchable and later, while shoving stacks of too-round turkey slices and processed cheese in my mouth, I thought, 'Why don't I eat these more often?'
Now, I know that some of you are going to accuse me of messing with perfection. "This is unnecessary," you say. "Just buy some." But let's be real for a moment: Though convenient, store-bought recess snacks never tasted that great, and any mouth joy you did experience was due to a good bit of sugar and a whole mess of salt. (Also, full disclosure: I was home schooled, and thus always had access to a toasted oven, and used to heat my lunch box meals before consuming. When I realised most children did not do this, I was horrified.)
YEAH THAT'S PINEAPPLE HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW
Anyway. My point is you deserved better as a child, you deserve better now, and making your own lunch box pizza is actually a whole lot of fun. We will now walk you through the process of building the most high-end recess snack you've ever experienced, addressing and optimising each component for maximum deliciousness.
You knead a strong foundation
The easiest way to do this would be to buy or make actual pizza dough, and then just make little rounds, but I wanted something that approximated the flat and chewy crust of my youth, and I wanted something that would still be tender straight from the fridge. I also wanted something that was fairly easy.
For all of these things, I turned to the Minimalist Baker's Garlic Herb Flatbread, though I did make a few modifications, omitting the rosemary and thyme and using all plain flour, instead of plain and spelt. To make these little rounds of excellence, you will need:
- 2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon organic cane sugar
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for coating bowl
- 3/4 cup warm water
Combine all of the dry ingredients with a whisk, then make a little dent in the centre and added the olive oil and half a cup of water, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine. You may need to add a little more water to form a dough, but once it's all pretty much sticking together, transfer it to a well-floured surface and knead until you get a nice elastic mound. Drizzle a little olive oil in a bowl, toss the dough ball around in there to coat, and then cover and let it rise for an hour.
Remove the dough from the bowl, divide it into 12 roughly even pieces, and let those pieces rest for about half an hour. Once they're well rested, roll them out into 10 to 13cm rounds, then fry over medium-high heat until crisp on both sides. (Use an oil with a high smoke point; I used duck fat.) These flat breads will not be foldable like the Minimalist Baker's, but that's good, because they need to be sturdy enough to get pizza toppings to our mouths.
The most off-putting portion of cold pizza is cold pizza sauce. Pizza sauce is supposed to see some heat - you know, when you cook the pizza.
What we need here is not a sauce, but a spread that is meant to be consumed cold. We need something thick and loving - something that grabs the cheese, clutches it to its bosom, and whispers, "You're safe now; I've got you." Luckily, we can easily make just that, using this excellent cherry tomato spread from Food52. (Again, I made a mod, and swapped cayenne for chilli flakes, as chilli flakes belong with pizza.) To make your own, you will need:
- 800g ripe cherry tomatoes
- 6 garlic cloves
- ¼ cups olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
Preheat your oven to 204C. Halve the tomatoes and add them to a small dutch oven, along with all of your other ingredients. Give everything a stir, and pop it in the oven, covered, for an hour. Uncover, give everything another stir, and cook for yet another hour to let everything reduce. Remove the dutch oven from the oven, let it cool a bit, then hit it with an immersion blender (or throw it in a real blender) to smooth it all out. Place the sauce in cute little containers until they're ready for use.
I actually have nothing against shredded mozzarella and pepperoni rounds, but both fall a little flat when consumed cold. Sub-par mozz is fine if you're melting it, but that is not the path of the packed lunch, and pepperoni just doesn't do it for me unless it's rendered into a charming little grease cup. (Related: If you are one of those people who blots their pepperoni pizza, we are not sexually compatible.)
Anyway. Since we are going to be eating this situation cold, I urge you to invest in quality meats and cheeses that need not hide behind heat. Some of my favourites include:
- Charcuterie: Prosciutto is a delicate, wonderfully fatty piece of ham that needs no heat treatment, and is therefor my number one pick, but any of the fancy meats that give Dave Brooks class-related anxiety will work.
- The good cheese: Get real, fresh mozzarella - preferably Ciliegine - and slice or tear them into little pieces. Don't stop there though. Grab some real parm (with visible crystals), and sprinkle that on for a nice contrast in taste and texture.
- Non-meats: You don't really need 'em, but I like a nice accent fruit or vegetable. Again, keep in mind that this all meant to be eaten cold, so pick marinated mushrooms rather than fresh, reach for a briny olive, or use up last night's roasted vegetables. You can also borrow my favourite - pineapple - which not only adds a nice pop of bright acidity and sweetness, but also gives you the thrill one can only achieve by defying Daddy Bourdain.
Then you are ready to place all of your carefully cooked and curated ingredients in an adorable little box, and set it in the fridge until lunch time. Yes, this is a fairly elaborate route to recreate a childhood lunch, but haven't you ever heard of a passion project?
And before you ask, these hold up quite well in the fridge. In fact, Sober Claire set one in the refrigerator before heading out for a few cocktails, and Drunk Claire was very thankful. Not only was the Lunchable delicious, but it brought comfort to my soul in the way that nostalgic food tends to do, and all food - even packed lunches - should bring comfort.
Get out those calculators and sharpen your 2B pencils - it's Back-to-School Week! Going far beyond the classroom, Lifehacker is bringing you genius tricks and ideas on how to start routines, brush up on old skills, or learn something new this year.