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BONKERS OVER BOBOLI Pre-baked crust makes a tasty base for pizza

If you watch TV, surely you've seen the ubiquitous Vittorio -- a dark-haired young man who holds a pizza as he and his off-screen Italian mama gush about what a great discovery Boboli is.

"Eight minutes in the oven," he says cheerfully. "You never taste such a good pizza."

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From Vittorio on TV to the display racks in area supermarkets, all of a sudden everyone seems bonkers over Boboli.

The pre-baked Boboli (BO-bo-lee) looks like a pizza round with a bumpy crust. It tastes like bread seasoned with garlic, olive oil and cheese. And it smells a tad yeasty.

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Try it, the promoters said, you'll like it. They were right. It's fast, convenient and makes a more flavorful and interesting pizza base than the plain shells you can find in the dairy case or the harder-to-find and flatter focaccia (foh-CAH-chee-ah) flatbread that is available in gourmet stores. And the price is right -- $2.19 for a pair of 8-ounce shells and $3.19 for a 16-ounce shell.

This shelf-stable product will stay in top quality for about a week after you buy it. It's best fresh, but it also freezes beautifully. Buy several and freeze them for one of those nights when you don't know what to cook. No need to use special wrapping; the original package should protect against freezer burn. But allow the dough to defrost before baking so you won't throw off the cooking time.

When I experimented with Boboli, I let the contents of my refrigerator determine the recipe. A couple of tablespoons of pasta sauce served as the base. Then I sauteed the remains of my produce drawer -- garlic, green onions, peppers and mushrooms -- in olive oil. I added the sauteed veggies, some mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and popped it on a cookie sheet in the oven. Eight minutes later, it was ready to eat.

Cooking times may vary from five to 10 minutes, depending on your oven, says Marlene Sorosky, a Hunt Valley cooking teacher and cookbook author who is serving as the national spokeswoman for Boboli.

"You really can't ruin Boboli, she says. "But baking it until it is crisp makes a big difference. If it's under-baked, it's too soft. I found the weight of the toppings didn't make any difference in how it came out. Raw shrimp didn't make the crust soggy."

Boboli can be used for everything from garlic bread to tiny appetizers with gourmet toppings. She's even had success with a dessert pizza made with fresh peaches, almonds and caramel flavoring.

Although Boboli has recently arrived in grocery stores in the Northeast and Midwest, it has been available to restaurant food service nationwide for the past couple of years and in California since the late 1970s. A California entrepreneur sold the Boboli formula to General Foods in 1985 for $3.6 million. These days, the distributor is the Kraft/General Foods Entenmann's division, which delivers Boboli fresh to stores daily.

Here are some Boboli recipes developed by Marlene Sorosky.

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Pesto, brie and shrimp pizza

Makes eight servings.

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 jalapeno chili, seeded

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts

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3/4 cup loosely packed cilantro

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 Boboli (16 ounces) Italian bread shell

1/2 pound uncooked medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

1/2 cup finely chopped Brie, rind removed

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1/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

To make the pesto, chop garlic and jalapeno in food processor with metal blade until finely minced. Add Parmesan and nuts; process until ground. Add cilantro and pulse 3 or 4 times until coarsely chopped. Add oil and salt and pulse until distributed.

Place Boboli on baking sheet and spread the pesto evenly over the top. Arrange shrimp in circles over the pesto. Distribute Brie over shrimp and sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake for 10 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through. Let cool a few minutes before slicing.

Warm caramel peach and almond pizza

Serves eight.

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1 recipe double cream topping, see recipe

4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter or margarine

1/2 cup golden brown sugar, packed

1/2 sliced almonds

1 Boboli (16 ounces) Italian bread shell

CARAMEL PEACHES:

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3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/2 cup golden brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon golden rum

8 medium firm, ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced

Make double cream topping and refrigerate until ready to use. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Melt butter and sugar in a microwave on high for 1 minute or in a saucepan over medium high heat. Stir in almonds. Spread over Boboli beginning with the outer rim, working toward the middle. Do not spread the almond mixture in the center 2 inches of the shell; the mixture will melt into the center while it bakes. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until the sugar is melted and bubbling.

Meanwhile, make caramel peaches by melting butter and brown sugar in a large skillet over moderate heat. Add rum. Cook, stirring until mixture comes to a full boil and is syrupy. Add peaches and cook, stirring, until heated through. Remove from heat.

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Cool baked Boboli for 5 minutes; slice and place on dessert plates. Spoon peaches and sauce over. Top with a dollop of double cream topping.

Double cream topping

1 cup sour cream

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup whipping cream

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2 tablespoons peach schnapps

Stir sour cream, sugar and vanilla together in a small bowl. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add sour cream mixture and continue beating until soft peaks form. Add sour cream mixture and continue beating until firm peaks form. Mix in peach schnapps. Refrigerate until serving, up to 3 hours.

This pizza is adapted from one served at Square One restaurant in San Francisco.

Caramelized onion, walnut and blue cheese pizza

Serves eight.

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

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5 cups thinly sliced red onion (about 5 medium onions), see note

salt and pepper, to taste

1 Boboli (16 ounces) Italian bread shell

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

1/2 cup walnut pieces

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add onions and cook slowly over low heat, stirring occasionally until soft and golden, about 30 minutes. Season generously with salt and fresh black pepper. Cool. (The onions may be refrigerated for several days, if desired.)

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Spread the onion mixture over the Boboli. Sprinkle with cheese and walnuts. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool 2 minutes and serve.

Note: To save time and tears, the onions may be sliced with the No. 2 slicing disc of the food processor.


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