Add more comfort foods to your winter menu
With all of the chaos happening in the world right now, I’ve been actually looking forward to winter. Yes, I know it won’t magically wipe away all of the problems that seem to grow daily. But in a small way it seems like a clean slate. The fires will be out and the colder months are a time to slow things down a bit. It also means a change of season and produce, an opportunity to mix up your menu. Who knows exactly what will happen in this Covid world, so it’s a good idea to be prepared by adding a few extra comfort foods to your rotation as well as items that can easily be made to go.
While the winter months don’t offer the abundance of produce that summer provides, there are certain vegetables that we can count on. Greens, for one. This is a great time to play around with some of the heartier varieties. Kale, of course, but there are so many more. Collard and mustard greens, escarole, chard and arugula. The great thing about greens is that they are so versatile, not only on a pizza but throughout your whole menu. They can go on before the pie is baked or topped after it comes out of the oven. You can sauté them with garlic, olive oil, chili flakes and lemon as a side dish or massage them with a bright vinaigrette for a salad.
Then there are potatoes. Definitely my second favorite carbohydrate after dough of any kind. In Italy, pizza con patate, or pizza with potatoes, is seen all over. You can slice the potatoes super thin and layer them on top of the dough, seasoned with some rosemary, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Alternatively, they are great mashed up with bacon and chives. You can even mix potatoes into the dough itself to create a more tender crumb. One of my recent favorite combinations is paper thin potatoes with roasted poblano peppers and garlic. If you have a deep fryer you can dress it up a little more by frying a few slices of lemon as a garnish.
In the same family as potatoes are other root vegetables. While I don’t love turnips as much as potatoes, they are fantastic as base vegetables. Use them in side dishes or cooked down with braised meats. The winter months are definitely a time for slow cooking so if your shop has the capacity to offer up some meat or vegetable entrees other than pizza, I can’t imagine a better time.
Winter squash is another vegetable that can be prepped in numerous different ways. It is fantastic roasted and pureed as a base for pizza or cubed as a topping. It can be made savory or sweet. I’ve done different events the last few years and made a variation of a squash pie for both. The first year I did roasted butternut with Swiss chard, caramelized onions and a balsamic reduction. Last year I changed it up with roasted Delicata squash with broccoli Raab, stracciatella, Calabrese honey and spiced pumpkin seeds. The great thing about a lot of the heartier winter vegetables is that you don’t need to add meat, they hold up just fine on their own. If you’re putting roasted squash on a pie it just makes sense that you would also use it as a side dish or as a component in a salad.
I’ve noticed in the colder months and all summer during the pandemic, that our sales of cooked vegetable sides have gone way up. People feel safer eating something that has been fully cooked or has the potential to be reheated. Comfort and safety sold in a side of Brussels sprouts.
Brussels sprouts are one of those vegetables that, as a kid, you are not supposed to like. However, as you become an adult you realize they are simply one of the best things ever. My friend Susan first re-introduced them to me, cooking them down with bacon and leeks. They are also amazing bathed in brown butter or flash fried with capers and lemon. While they are not in the traditional mix of pizzeria veggies, Brussels are a sleeper ingredient on a pizza. We toss them together with other roasted veggies and spinach or pair with pancetta and onions. They can also level up a marinara with roasted garlic and Italian white anchovies.
All summer I’ve been talking about adding a take-and-bake lasagna to my menu. It seems like the perfect meal for the times. The layers of ricotta, mozzarella, sauce and pasta just scream comfort to me. If things get bad again, it is also something that customers can easily pick up early in the day and cook at home. If you’re pizzeria is like mine, with our only source of cooking being our pizza oven, having menu items that we only assemble but don’t bake off is also a huge bonus.
Whether the winter months encourage you to add more items to your menu or just change up the ones you already have, there are plenty of options to play around with. The colder season entices people to buckle down. I’ll be the first to admit that with all of the chaos happening, all I want after work is a nice glass of whiskey and a huge hit of comfort.
Potato and Poblano Pizza
Audrey Kelly is the owner and pizzaiola at Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage in Boulder, CO.