Have you seen the Sunny Spinach Pie recipe that’s been making the rounds on Facebook links lately? (Mine included). When I made Sunny Spinach Pie for the first time recently, it was as a trial run with the intention of bringing something of a sunflower nature to my sister’s first family gathering in her “new” old country home. It’s a beautiful Craftsman home located on the outskirts of a small rural town. Her home is surrounded by fields of sunflowers. The moment I saw the Sunny Spinach Pie, I knew the presentation was perfect for what has quickly become a very special occasion in our family.
Years ago, my family, like most families these days, scattered to different parts of the country as a result of career advancements. We settled into independent lives with children of our own and eventually welcomed grandchildren, too. Early on, we all managed to return to the family farm, to pitch tents in the cow pasture (I kid you not!) and have an annual old fashion camp out like those we loved so much as children. Okay, maybe not exactly like those of our childhood – the woods had been replaced by pasture land, and the sounds of a stream were replaced by the bellowing complaints of cows (after all we were camping in their pasture). But camping is camping, right? Tents were pitched, fires built, marshmallows toasted and songs sung. In hushed voices, we told scary stories to make each other jump. Sounds like camping to me.
Unfortunately, like so many family traditions over time, life began to get in the way. Fewer and fewer of us were able to make the trek home each summer. Eventually our annual family reunions faded into fond memories. Some of us came home for Thanksgiving, others for Christmas. As our children grew and had children of their own, even the occasional Thanksgiving or Christmas spent on the farm became impossible. We forged new traditions with our adult children and young grandchildren. Family camp outs became a topic of conversation, always with the promise “maybe next year”, but “next year” became the following year, and then the year after that. The intention was sincere, but life had other plans.
Our only brother had serious health issues last year. His sisters managed to come together at his bedside, fearing the worse. As he stabilized and adjusted to life as the bionic man (fitted with a heart pump to do the work his heart could no longer do), we returned to the lives we knew, and talked once more about “maybe next year”. Then it was Dad’s turn to give us all a scare with health issues of his own. Although you would have thought my brother’s brush with death would have done it, it was Dad’s health scare that forced us all to reevaluate our priorities and put things into proper perspective. It was time to stop postponing and start planning – the time for a family camp out was well overdue. Planning our camp out was easier said then done. After all, it’s not easy to pick a date that will work for the children, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren. Finally, a date was set – the weekend after Father’s Day.
The idea was to come together for Dad, while we still had him with us. Little did we realize that a greater, more imminent reason lurked just around the corner. As an LVAD patient, you move up quickly on the waiting list for a heart transplant. There was only one more hurdle in the approval process. Hearts aren’t easy to come by, and so the transplant committee needs to be absolutely certain that the recipient of such a precious and rare gift isn’t facing additional health issues. So Brother dear underwent a battery of extensive tests – screening for every possible health issue. As the day of our family camp out neared, our brother received what can only be described as shattering news – he has an aggressive form of small-cell cancer. In the blink of an eye, our belated Father’s Day Celebration took on a greater sense of urgency. This might very well be one of the last opportunities we would have to come together, to revel in one another’s company, to reminisce about the past while forging new memories for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. Nothing compares to the relationship between siblings – your first true friends. Whatever the outcome of my brother’s uphill battle, we have time now, this moment, and we will not waste it. No regrets of “maybe next year” to make the time for the people in our lives that matter most only to discover that there is no next year.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Sunny Spinach Pie was the right theme, but the wrong filling. While the outward appearance of the Sunny Spinach Pie was well suited for the country table, its spinach filling simply would not do. Fine for me, I like spinach dishes. Fine for most everyone else, too. But Brother Dear and spinach were not a good mix. Give that man a Pepperoni Pizza any day, for any meal (even breakfast) and he’s doing a Happy Dance. However; should the slightest hint of green even try to creep onto his plate, and he’ll put as much distance between him and the green as possible. I needed to create a new Sunny Pie. One that kept the look of the original, but with a filling my brother would enjoy. I’ve kept the dough and the form of the Sunny Spinach Pie recipe while replacing the filling with typical pizza toppings. The Ricotta Cheese and egg are used only as binding ingredients, to help the rings hold their shape during the “twisting” and baking process. The results were a Pepperoni Pizza Pie that was both appealing to the eye as well as the taste buds of even the most finicky of eaters.
Sunny Pepperoni Twist
17 oz of flour
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
6 oz Pepperoni, chopped (reserve some whole for garnish if desired)
2 Cups Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
2 oz Ricotta Cheese
6 oz of grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3 Tablespoons Pizza Sauce
Italian Bread crumbs
1 Egg, lightly beaten
White Wine to thin SLIGHTLY
12-14 Slices Whole Pepperoni (if desired)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using the dough hook, knead until the dough is smooth and combined. Wrap in plastic while you make the filling.
To create the filling, mix chopped Pepperoni, Mozzarella and Ricotta Cheeses. Add egg, half of the Parmesan Cheese, salt and pepper. Mix well, then set aside.
Unwrap the dough from the plastic and divide it into two equal parts. Lay parchment paper over the round baking stone (pizza stone). Dust lightly with flour. Dust rolling-pin and dough lightly with flour. Using a rolling-pin, roll the first half of the dough out to just under the side of your baking stone, or about 12 inches. Sprinkle the first disk with a little bread crumb, remove from stone by lifting with parchment paper under the disk and set aside.
Cover the baking stone with a second piece of parchment paper. Dust rolling-pin and dough lightly with flour. Roll second dish out to about the same size as the first. DO NOT sprinkle this disk with breadcrumbs. You want to keep it somewhat “sticky”. Lift with parchment paper and remove from dish.
Invert first dish onto baking stone. Sprinkle with a little breadcrumb. This will help absorb the liquid from the filling and help to keep the bottom dough dry.
On the breadcrumb dough, make two circles with the filling – an outer circle and an inner circle “mound”. Leave room between the circles and along the edge to seal the dough. Sprinkle the filling with the remaining grated Parmesan Cheese.
Place the second dough circle over the top of the filling. Seal the edges by hand, then press with a fork. Place a small bowl in the middle of the pie over the center mound, and press lightly to make an indentation in the dough. Use your fork to press LIGHTLY around the bowl.
With the bowl still in place, cut the dough into pieces approximately just under an inch. Once the outer dough has been cut, lift each section and twist back to expose the filling. Continue to lift and until each outer slice is twisted. Remove bowl and brush lightly with egg wash. If desired, decorate center of “flower” with additional chopped Pepperoni.
Transfer pizza baking stone to oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven, loosen with thin spatula. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a round serving platter and serve while still warm. If desired, offer pizza sauce for “dipping”.
This “snack” food got two thumbs up from Brother Dear.
UPDATE: This recipe works well to create Yummy-Sunny Calzones and Beyond! . . . Just one word of advise – if filling with Pepperoni, omit the salt from the dough – it will be salty enough with the Pepperoni.