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Homemade Pizza Rolls

[Photographs: Donna Currie]

I love a challenge. When I was urged to create a recipe for homemade pizza rolls for a Super Bowl snack, I knew it'd be an interesting project. But first I had to sample the pizza rolls from the freezer section. Apparently they're now made by a company called Totino's. The last time I ate them, they were made by Jeno's.

Yes, it's been that long.

I was a little surprised there weren't more flavor options. I mean, pizza comes in a multitude of flavors, but the only options I saw were pepperoni with sausage or plain pepperoni. No vegetable option? No mushrooms? Nothing spicy? I guess that's just another reason for making your own.

The ingredients list reads like a novel. There aren't that many ingredients in my fridge! It seems impossible that anything that small could have that many components.

But how did they taste? "Not as bad as I expected," my husband said. I found them oddly addicting, in a curious sort of way. I kept nibbling at them, trying to figure out what they reminded me of. Pizza? Um, no. Well, maybe, sort of. Vaguely.

I knew I could do better with the filling. I did a classic sausage and cheese filling, with tomato sauce—next time I'll get more creative. I used my "cheater" pizza sauce (tomato puree seasoned with Penzey's pizza seasoning). I mean, really, they're pizza rolls. No need to pull out the fancy stuff.

The crust had me puzzled, though. What the heck was that? The pizza rolls are baked, but the crust-like stuff seemed like it was precooked in some way. And maybe a little greasy. Fried? Hmmmm. At first, I tried avoiding the frying part. Like oven-fried chicken or baked potato chips, I thought I might be able to create a crust that would bake up brown and tasty, somewhat similar to the pizza rolls.

But no, that wasn't working. I managed to create a crust that was crunchy and brown and tasty, but cracker-like. I kind of liked them, but they still weren't close enough to the original.

So I relented. Frying. It had to be done. Since I didn't want to waste a bunch of oil on deep-frying, I shallow-fried the little devils. Worked just fine, and they weren't greasy at all. And they got all puffy and blobby and interesting looking.

The filling only gave me one little problem. The first time I made them, I put the cheese and meat on separately, then dolloped on a bit of sauce. That didn't work—it left too much air in the center and the rolls puffed up too much when cooked. I knew better, but oh well. I then tried mixing the ingredients—this worked like a charm.

The dough is more like a pasta dough than a bread dough. It's stiff. While it could be kneaded and rolled by hand, it would be quite a bit of work. I used a food processor to mix the dough, and the pasta roller on my Kitchenaid stand mixer to do the rolling. A hand-cranked pasta machine would be fine, too. Rolling pin would work, if you like that sort of thing.

These pizza rolls are good right from the pan, and come with the same warning: this filling is molten hot. You can also make them in advance, refrigerate, and heat them in the oven to serve. I imagine they'd freeze well, but the Super Bowl isn't that far away.

I figured these needed a good Italian name, so I took a little poetic license with my own name: Dona Maria's Pizza Rolls.

About the author: Donna Currie has been cooking for fun and writing for pay since the days when typewritten articles traveled by snail mail. When she combined those talents in a food column for a newspaper in her area, she realized that writing about food is almost as much fun as eating. She launched the blog Cookistry and has now joined the Serious Eats team with a weekly column about baking.

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