Comfort Foods Make Any Crisis Look a Whole Lot Brighter

The last crumb of kugel is gone, and the leftover brisket has been put away for yet another meal. We try to hang on to the joy of the holidays, even though there are moments of bleakness. Times are tough. Ever-present thoughts of politics, recession, Israel's future and oil prices can make it all seem rather depressing.

Sharing feelings and conversations, no matter how despairing, is better than agonizing in privacy. Gathering family (and good friends) around the kitchen table to exchange remedies that will heal the world while a favorite comfort food, like pizza, is fragrantly baking in the oven, definitely has a soothing effect on the soul.

A design-your-own-pizza party is at hand, pleasing every palate, especially the kids. Using rapid-rise yeast, make the doughs just about 1 hour before the guests arrive. Roll a couple of doughs out in preparation of guests' selections of toppings, which should be set out in separate bowls.

Mix and match lightly sautéed onions, peppers, mushrooms and eggplant. Spread with sweet tomato sauce or spicy salsa. Sprinkle with herbs, cheeses and garlic.

The creative spirit conquers the doom, even if it is just for a little while. Eating out of hand, dressed in tomato-splattered aprons, creates warm, convivial informality. After all, with all that's going on, who needs to worry about which fork to use?

These are some of my favorite dough and topping combinations.

Basic Pizza Dough


1 package rapid-rise yeast
3/4 cup warm water (about 110°)
pinch sugar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
21/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

In small bowl, combine yeast, water and sugar. Let stand until foamy layer forms on top. (This is called proofing the yeast to make sure it is active.)

Add oil to yeast mixture. In large bowl combine flour and salt. Stir in yeast mixture until dough holds together. Turn out on lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and springy, about 3 minutes. Form into ball and place in oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm place about 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk. Punch down and allow to rest about 10 minutes before rolling out.

Pizza With Eggplant, Cheese and Greek Olives


1 recipe basic pizza dough
grilled or sautéed eggplant slices
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 oz. crumbled Feta cheese
4 oz. grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 500°.

Roll out dough to fit 15-inch pizza pan or two 8-inch pans. Place dough in pan and arrange eggplant in one layer over dough. Sprinkle with feta cheese and olives, and then cover with mozzarella. Bake about 12 minutes. Let rest about 4 minutes before slicing.

South of the Border Pizza


1 recipe basic pizza dough
1 cup salsa (homemade or store- bought)
1 avocado, diced
1 cup black beans, cooked and drained
1 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
3 oz. shredded Jack cheese
2 oz. grated dry Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 500°.

Roll out dough to fit 15-inch pan or two 8-inch pans. Place dough in pans and top with avocado, black beans, corn and coriander. Sprinkle cheeses over filling and bake 12 minutes. Let rest about 4 minutes before slicing.

Artichoke, Mushroom and Cheese Pizza


1 recipe basic pizza dough
2 Tbsps. olive oil
2 Tbsps. minced garlic
1 cup cooked artichoke hearts, quartered
1 cup sautéed mushrooms
4 oz. Fontina cheese, grated
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 500°

Roll out dough to fit 15-inch pan or two 8-inch pans. Fit dough in pan, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic.

Arrange artichokes and mushrooms over garlic. Sprinkle cheeses and bake 12 minutes. Let rest 4 minutes before serving.

Barbecue Brisket Pizza


1 recipe basic pizza dough
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
2 cups coarsely chopped arugula
4 Tbsps. chopped fresh parsley
1 small onion, sliced and sautéed
4 cups leftover brisket, shredded

Preheat oven to 500°.

Roll out dough to fit 15-inch pan or two 8-inch pans. Fit dough in pan and brush with olive oil. Spread with barbecue sauce. Combine arugula and parsley, and sprinkle over sauce. Arrange onion over greens and top with brisket.

Bake for 12 minutes. Let rest for 4 minutes before serving.

Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. Among the six books she's co-authored is Jewish Holiday Feasts.


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