The old adage about April showers holds true even here in Memphis, where the fourth month ranks second only to the last in average rainfall. And with the rain comes this familiar scenario: the child who stares at a dreary sky on a wet afternoon and complains that there’s nothing to do. My first impulse is usually to snap, “There’s always something to do,” and assign chores or hand my kids a book or some crayons and paper. But sometimes they really do need a little help.
William Steig’s wonderful Pete’s a Pizza offers a rainy-day alternative. In response to Pete’s whining, his dad proposes a game: they’ll make a pizza out of Pete. First, Pete is kneaded and tossed, laid on the kitchen counter, covered with oil (water), dotted with tomatoes (checkers), and sprinkled with cheese (torn-up paper). But after cooking on the couch, this pizza does not want to be sliced, and a chase ensues, culminating in a giggly pizza getting a hug from its baker. By the time Pete is caught, the sun has come out, and he goes out to play with his friends.
There’s a lot to love here, though we all know in real life the sun doesn’t usually emerge conveniently after the first round of Pete’s-a-Pizza, and the kids will yell, “do that again!” endlessly until we wish we’d never started it. But it does remind me how much fun it can be to make pizza with kids. I’ve written here before about doing it the “right” way with homemade dough and nice cheese. However, out of respect for the limits of parental patience in the face of rainy weather, stretchy dough, and restless kids, this time I’m going to talk about doing pizza the easy way.
Kids like me used to make “pizza” with spaghetti sauce (in my house it was actually ketchup), American cheese, and English muffins. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, or even with calling it a pizza. However, I think we can fake it a little better without inconveniencing ourselves too badly. Pretty much any grocery store carries pita, flatbread, or flour tortillas. Any of these will serve as a base for a kid-built pizza. I do prefer pita, though, for its ability to hold some olive oil in its nooks and crannies — just like an English muffin.
Briefly toasting the flatbread before applying olive oil and sauce helps prevent a soggy crust. A light hand with toppings is also important, since these thin breads can’t support double pepperoni meat-lover servings.
Once the ingredients are out, let the kids take over. Aside from using the toaster oven or broiler, all the steps in this recipe can be done by a child who can paint or paste. And then it can rain all it wants, because the kids will have something to do.
Pete’s a Pita Pizza for 4 people
4 whole-wheat pitas, tortillas, or other flatbreads
2 tablespoons olive oil, in a bowl
1 cup pizza sauce or other non-chunky spaghetti-type sauce
2 cups shredded cheese, your choice (we like mozzarella but Colby and cheddar are good, too)
Toppings: set out sliced black olives, strips of bell pepper, pepperoni or ham, small broccoli florets (lightly steamed if your kids prefer them a little softer), or anything else the kids deem tasty
Preheat on the broiler or toaster oven. When it’s hot, toast the pita for no more than a minute on each side, just enough to firm it up a little. Now a child can brush one side of each pita with olive oil. Follow it with ¼ cup sauce, spread to cover all but a thin rim around the pita’s edge.
Diners can now customize their own pitas with the protein and veggie toppings of their choice. Finally, sprinkle each with about ½ cup of cheese. Place in the toaster oven or broiler on a cookie sheet lined with foil, and toast till the cheese is bubbly. Check often, because broilers and toasters are wildly different. Cool for several minutes, then cut into quarters (I use kitchen scissors).