I created this beet pizza recipe almost two months ago and have been struggling ever since to find the words to go with it. Then suddenly, when I opened the kitchen window this morning to a shiver of cool, fall air, I realized two things: 1) Now’s the perfect time for an earthy-sweet, roasted vegetable pizza like this one, and 2) If I keep trying to write the perfect post, it’ll never get out there.
So here it goes. My infant son, Jack, had open-heart surgery almost exactly three months ago—to repair a defect that would have taken him from us before his first birthday—and it changed the way I look at everything, including this blog. [Don’t worry: This post is long, but there’s a happy ending and a delicious recipe waiting for you at the end.]
Our Bumpy Ride into New Parenthood
We’d known about Jack’s heart defect since I was 20 weeks pregnant, which might make us luckier than parents who learn about these things in the delivery or recovery room (like Jimmy Kimmel). But it meant that our first few months of parenthood was a blur of medical appointments, feeding struggles, and constant monitoring of weight and breathing and complexion—all on top of the cliché sleepless nights and endless loads of laundry. Among the snuggly baby photos on our phones were videos of our son’s bare chest while he slept, which we’d use to chronicle his rapid breathing for the doctors. We threw around words like “a/v canal defect” and “chest retraction” and “echo-cardiogram” like they were nothing.
At just over three months old, Jack was admitted to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) because of weight issues associated with heart failure, and after two-ish weeks of monitoring and tinkering with different meds, a world-class surgeon named Dr. Spray operated on him to close up two holes and repair a central valve in his heart. A nutshell synopsis of the most excruciating hours, days, and weeks my husband and I (and our families) have ever experienced, as we knew there was about a one-in-thirty chance he wouldn’t make it through surgery. We took Jack home on the 4th of July, the day after his 4-month birthday. A few scrappy months later, just two weeks ago, our pediatrician declared triumphantly that we now have only “normal baby things” to discuss, like starting solid foods and baby-proofing the house for our soon-to-be crawler. And on life goes.
When he’s old enough to ask me about his scar, I’ve decided I’ll tell him it’s his exclamation mark—proof that he’s extra special or something cheesy like that. I like to envision this conversation happening around the table on Thursday night, as the three of us sink into melty slices of fresh-made pizza. In reality, I know it’ll take place in a bathroom stall in Target with a line of crossed-armed women as witnesses, while I try to simultaneously pee and dissuade him from poking his head under the divider wall. Either way, it’s a conversation I know is coming, and when it does, I want to be prepared. I want Jack to know that there will always be a time to ask questions, share stories, air his grievances, tell us his hopes and dreams. In my house, growing up, that was at the table. And the best conversations always sprung up around a meal we created together.
What this all means for Thursday Night Pizza
This week, for the first time since Jack was born, Thursday Night Pizza was fun again. I made two different pies on the grill, a plain one and a pear-pecorino beauty that I’ll post next week, and the three of us sat around the table, Jack babbling and John and I chatting about whatever came to mind. We eat dinner together at the table every day, but there’s something different about pizza night. Is it the variation? The fact that explaining the toppings becomes a conversation on its own? Or is it that it feels like an occasion—something to look forward to amid hectic weeks of work and baby wrangling and other obligations?
When I started this blog three-ish years ago, it was a testing ground for seasonal flavor pairings and pizzafied classics like borscht, mac and cheese, and tacos. The weekly ritual part—the togetherness shtick—was just a welcome residual. But now that the dust has settled and Jack is big enough to sit at the table and join in, I feel a shift coming. I want Thursday Night Pizza to be more than just an index of recipes; I want it to be an inspiration. Couldn’t we all use an anchor like pizza night to slow things down and come together?
Life is precious. It’s a lesson that slapped me hard in the face this year. And I want Jack to know that, in the most unpredictable times, there will always be Thursday night pizza (even if it isn’t always on Thursday).
Keep scrolling for that beet pizza recipe I promised!
- 3 medium red beets, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
- ¼ lemon
- 1 (14 to 16-ounce) ball Basic or Slow-Rise Pizza Dough (or pre-made pizza dough)
- 1 tablespoon slivered almonds
- 4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
- Handful of baby arugula
- Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
- Place your pizza stone or steel (if using) on an oven rack in the middle of your oven. If you plan to cook your pizza on a baking sheet, just place a rack in the middle of the oven (you do not need to preheat the baking sheet). Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- To make the beet sauce: Place the beets on a large rectangle of foil, drizzle with some olive oil and season with a little salt. Fold up the foil into a sealed packet and roast for 35 to 45 minutes, until the beets are fork tender.
- Dump the roasted beets into the bowl of a food processor and add the 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the ¼ tablespoon of salt, and the mint. Squeeze the lemon juice over top. Process until the beets are broken down and the mixture resembles a smooth sauce. Taste and add more salt and/or lemon juice as desired. Increase the oven temperature to 500°F or as high as it will go.
- To stretch out the dough: Place the dough on a clean work surface and, using your hands, gently stretch it into a 12-inch square or disk, making sure that it retains the same thickness throughout (more or less).
- If you’re using a pizza stone or steel: Dust a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet with flour or cornmeal. Place the dough disk on the prepared peel.
- If you’re using a baking sheet: Spray the baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the dough disk on the prepared baking sheet.
- To top the pizza: Spread the beet sauce on top of the dough, leaving a ½ to 1-inch border all around. Sprinkle on the almonds and goat cheese.
- To bake the pizza: If you’re using a pizza stone or steel, 10 minutes before you are ready to cook the pizza, increase the oven heat to broil. Slide the pizza from the peel (or inverted baking sheet) to the hot stone or steel using quick shimmying movements. Broil the pizza for 6 to 8 minutes until the crust is golden and the cheese begins to brown in spots. Using the peel or inverted baking sheet, transfer the cooked pizza to a cutting board. If you are making more than one pizza, allow the pizza stone or steel to reheat under the broiler for 5 minutes before you cook the next one. If you’re using a baking sheet, do not increase the oven to broil. Place the baking sheet on the rack in the middle of the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, until the crust is golden and the cheese begins to brown in spots.
- Remove the pizza from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes, then scatter on the arugula and give it a drizzle of balsamic. Slice and serve.