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Pizza production a thing of beauty
It was a late lunch suitable for the pages of a magazine. If Martha Stewart would have been in attendance, I don’t think she would have had one single complaint. A rustic table was our canvas and hand-painted Mexican stoneware made it presentable. Italian sodas, a variety of cheeses and produce from the Holdrege Farmer’s Market were offered upon the table along with high hopes and hearty appetites. The backdrop was pure Nebraska with mighty cottonwood trees swaying in rhythm while overlooking a still lake the color of moss. As the little Weber grill was being prepped, flecks of cotton drifted through the air as softly as snowflakes.
When you think of alfresco dining, the image you conjure up usually doesn’t include rural Nebraska in July. Outdoor dining is often reserved for seaside bluffs and Tuscan villas, places that don’t have to battle with unbearable heat and biting horse flies. That being said, sometimes we are graced with a few rare summer days that make it possible to escape the confines of air conditioning and enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. This was one of those days.
The reason for our picnic was to celebrate and savor a new Rural Foodie find. Recently, I had ventured to McCook, Neb., to do a story on Matt Sehnert and the pizza crusts he produces at his bakery. I left that day with ample notes, some photographs and enough par-baked crusts to officially throw a pizza party. I may have also had in my possession some Sehnert’s Bakery donuts and a slice of cheesecake but those items didn’t seem to make it home. I can’t be trusted with baked goods. Feeling inspired after my meeting with Matt and armed with a grill and my recent acquisition of pizza crusts, I set out to highlight the flavors of summer and the quality of a locally made product.
The ingredients are the star
I quickly learned it was hard to make a bad pizza when your main ingredient is a Sehnert’s crust. Since they are made with flour from the local Wauneta Roller Mills and contain no preservatives, their freshness speaks for itself. After removing them from the freezer, the crusts are ready to bake in the short amount of time it takes you to assemble your ingredients; a perfect option for a great meal in a pinch. Since they are par-baked, it only takes a few minutes to fully cook the crust and your toppings. This is why Sehnert’s crusts should be a staple in everyone’s freezer.
The prospect of designing your own pizza appeals to people and it’s a great way to personalize your dining experience. For this particular meal we were going to prepare three pizzas and we took full advantage of summer’s bounty, creating a fresh pesto and tomato sauce as a base. A farmer’s market stop provided most of our ingredients and we filled in the rest with a quick trip to the grocery store for some cheeses, charcuterie and marinated artichoke hearts. The rest was left up to the person manning the grill and good old-fashioned luck.
For our first pizza we started off with a Sehnert’s 12” thin crust and a smear of basil pesto. Roasted mushrooms and bell pepper strips adorned the crust while thin peels of Asiago cheese were placed on top. Once transferred to the piping hot pizza stone in our grill, the initial sizzle of the crust ensured a crispy result. Ten minutes later the pizza was done and with some fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of good olive oil it was ready to serve. It was effortless and near perfect; two things a home cook strives to achieve. The freshness of the toppings and the tartness of the cheese combined beautifully with the light smoky char of the thin crust.
We were in for a treat
If the first pizza was any indication of the rest of our meal, we were in for a treat. For the second round we utilized a Sehnert’s 9” thick crust and a base of homemade tomato sauce. Earlier in the day, we had cooked thin rounds of pancetta upon the pizza stone for an alternative to the traditional pepperoni. Green bell peppers and buffalo mozzarella were the only other ingredients required to complete this pie. It was placed upon the grill to work its magic. Again the result was delicious and this time you could really taste the flavors of the dough because of the thickness of the crust. Even with nuances from the grill, you could still recognize the notes of fresh flour and yeast. You might think it’s the toppings that make a pizza, but, in this case the crust was the star.
At this point, we needed a palate cleanser so a fruit course was served. Slices of cold farmer’s market cantaloupe were wrapped in prosciutto and complimented with a sprinkle of julienned strips of basil leaves. There is something truly spectacular about cold melon on warm summer days. This pause gave us a moment to not only step away from the heat of the grill but to also take in our environment. The sun was starting its long journey to the west and it was this lighting that illuminated the wings of the mayflies as they were drifting in and out of the tall prairie grass. What a fabulous dining room!
This pizza may have been our favorite
For our third and final pizza, we went back to the Sehnert’s 12” thin crust and again applied a thin layer of pesto. Roasted mushrooms and marinated artichoke hearts were covered by a layer of Asiago, Parmesan and Romano cheeses. We added a few strips of bell pepper for sweetness. With the briquettes still radiating descent heat, it took only a few minutes for the pizza to cook. One bite and we agreed that this pizza may have been our favorite. The layers of complexity provided by the different cheeses married well with the tanginess of the artichokes. And like the others, this crust held up beautifully and was crisp and flavorful.
We moved to another light offering to end our epic outdoor lunch. Simple salads with locally grown tomatoes, fresh herbs and wedges of iceberg were drizzled with Creamy Romano dressing from La Casa Pizzaria in Omaha. With this dressing, another Nebraska-made product was a perfect complement to our meal. An ending such as this required no dessert. However, if I were to have planned for a sweet finale, I can’t think of anything better than a Sehnert’s crust baked with a little butter, cinnamon, sugar and thinly sliced apples for an impromptu galette. How could you go wrong?
As our meal concluded we held up a glass to Matt Sehnert and the pizza crusts the Sehnert’s Bakery prepares with such love and attention. More than being thankful for our unusually pleasant weather, we were appreciative to learn that more quality food is accessible in our region. To know that we can support a Nebraska bakery which utilizes local flour to create freshly made pizza crusts is worth celebrating. I encourage you to plan a meal around this awesome product.
Martha Stewart may not have been at our rural harvest table for lunch but I think she would have been proud.