Bloomington, Indiana – my hometown, my college town, and in my opinion, one of the greatest little towns in the midwest. I could never even begin to name all the things that make me love that place so much. Thankfully since our families still live there and it is only an hour away, we visit frequently and try to work in trips to our favorite restaurants whenever possible. One that belongs near the top of that list is Mother Bear’s Pizza. They have all sorts of wonderful gourmet pizzas, as well as fantastic breadsticks that make the best snack ever after a night out at the bars (not that I would know anything about that ;)), but of all their pizzas Ben and I will always love spinoccoli best. This is a pizza with a white sauce, plenty of cheese, topped with spinach and broccoli. It may sound like an odd combination to some, but we think it is the best. In fact, this has been my birthday dinner of choice with my family for the past few years.
The more comfortable I become in the kitchen, the more confident I am in my ability to recreate a restaurant dish at home. However, sometimes the restaurant version is just so darn good that I am afraid to even attempt it, because I am sure whatever I make will fall far short of the real thing. That was the case with spinoccoli. But after we had a recent date night at Mother Bear’s, I decided enough was enough – I should at least give it a shot. Because if it worked, we could have spinoccoli at home, which would be heavenly. I always wondered if they did precooked the veggies in any way before adding to the pizza. One benefit of being from a small town is that our family knows the owner of Mother Bear’s. My brother was on a softball team with him this year and asked that very question. We learned that no, they don’t do anything to the veggies. So with that knowledge, I set out to make my best approximation of spinoccoli at home. And guess what? It totally worked. With my first bite I was blown away with just how close my version came. In fact, Ben and I both agreed that the only real difference we could taste was the crust because I used my usual favorite and we like it better anyway. Otherwise, this was right on. I’ll definitely still order spinoccoli whenever I’m in B-town but it is a revelation being able to make it at home as well.
For the white sauce:
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. flour
¾ cup heavy cream or half-and-half
1 clove garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
For the pizza:
Olive oil, for brushing
½ cup packed baby spinach leaves, torn
1 cup very small broccoli florets
2 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
2 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until bubbling and light golden, about 1 minute. Whisk in the heavy cream and garlic, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and bubbles. Remove from the heat and whisk in the grated Parmesan until completely melted and smooth. Discard the garlic clove. (Note: This will make a bit more sauce than you need for the pizza, but with a little extra cheese it makes a great dipping sauce for crust.)
To make the pizza, preheat the oven and a pizza stone at 500˚ F for at least 30 minutes. Roll out the pizza dough into a 12-14 inch round. Lightly brush the perimeter of the dough with olive oil. Spread a thin layer of the white sauce over the crust, leaving a border clear around the edge for the crust. Sprinkle the torn spinach leaves over the white sauce. Evenly distribute the broccoli florets over the dough. Layer evenly with the shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Finish with additional grated Parmesan, if desired. Transfer the pizza to the preheated pizza stone and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.
Source: Annie original, inspired by Mother Bear’s Pizza