As a former latchkey kid, a name given to those in my generation who spent time after school alone at home because their parents were both at work and therefore had a key to get into the house, snacks such as frozen pizzas were often available.
Sure, pizza that comes in a box and needs to be cooked in your oven has as much in common with a fresh pizzeria pie as a fast-food roast beef sandwich has to slowly smoked brisket. But once you acquire that taste and appreciate it for its own merits, it can be quite satisfying.
Now, most of the frozen pizzas on offer in our home were the thin-crust style with only cheese and a sweet tomato sauce, though sometimes a fancier version would make an appearance. This would be the French bread variety, which took thick and tender slices of French bread and use it as the base for the pizza instead of a crust. And since most frozen pizzas in the 1980s had crusts that were as exciting as cardboard, a fluffy toasted slice of bread was quite the improvement.
While a French bread pizza was exciting to unpack and bake, once I began cooking on my own, it didn’t take long to discover that making one from scratch yielded equally delicious results. I know—it seems like such an easy concept, though when you’re first using your beginning baking skills, any discovery is exciting. And even though I make from-scratch crusts for my homemade pizzas these days, sometimes the quick and easy appeal of a French-bread pizza works.
When I lived in New York, one of my favorite pizzas to order was one from a place called Two Boots. The concept was that the boots in question referred to Italy and Louisiana, and so there were some Cajun-Italian fusions on the menu, such as with their pizza called the Bayou Beast.
The Bayou Beast was their homage to Cajun country, and it was topped with crawfish tails, shrimp, and andouille sausage, along with jalapeños, molten Mozzarella, and a lively tomato sauce that had a kick from ginger and peppers. I loved this pizza and ordered it often since finding crawfish in New York was a challenge, and Two Boots appeared to have a solid source.
Making homemade pizzas has long been something I enjoy, though I hadn’t recreated the Bayou Beast yet. With all the ingredients on hand, I decided to change that. I also had a loaf of fluffy French bread, which is not to be confused with a thin, crusty baguette, as the French loaf is wider and softer bread and it makes for excellent garlic bread, and decided to make my rendition of the Cajun-style pizza into a French bread pizza.
In Cajun cuisine, French loaves of bread topped with seafood and melted cheese are a tradition, so adding tomato sauce and the crawfish, shrimp, and andouille wasn’t too far of a stretch. For my sauce, I used a simple recipe that used tomato paste, herbs, and aromatics. To emulate the lively one from New York, I also added ginger and cayenne.
Before layering on the pizza toppings, I first spread the split French bread with oil and a garlic salt blend and toasted it to improve the final flavor and help mitigate any sogginess. The toppings were then added and the pizzas were baked until brown and bubbling. To finish, I sprinkled on some more herbs and Parmesan cheese.
These cheesy pizza toasts are quick to prepare and got a fun dinner on the table in little time. Indeed, once you make the sauce, it takes almost as much time to create a fresh French bread pizza as it does to heat one that’s frozen, which makes it a fun dish for a weeknight or a lazy weekend.
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Cajun French bread pizza
For the sauce:
- 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- ½ cup water
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried parsley
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch cayenne
- ½ teaspoon sugar, optional
For the pizza:
- 1 (16-ounce) loaf French bread
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 8 ounces small shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 8 ounces crawfish tails
- 16 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 links andouille sausage, cut into 1/4” rounds
- 2 jalapenos, stemmed and sliced
- Parmesan cheese, for serving
- Crushed red pepper, for serving
- To make the sauce, spoon the tomato paste into a mixing bowl. Pour ½ cup water into the can (it will probably fill the can), swirl it around, and pour the water into the mixing bowl. Add the oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, dried basil, dried parsley, salt, ginger, pepper, and cayenne then stir until well blended. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding sugar if you feel it’s too tart. This can be made up to 1 week ahead if stored in the refrigerator.
- For the pizza, heat the oven to 400°F and line a sheet pan with foil.
- Take the loaf of bread and slice it in half crosswise, then slice each piece in half, lengthwise. You will now have 4 pieces. Place the bread on the sheet.
- Stir together the garlic powder, oregano, and salt to make a garlic salt blend.
- Spread each piece of bread with ½ tablespoon of the olive oil, reserving the remaining tablespoon. Take half of the garlic salt, and evenly sprinkle it over the bread. Place the bread in the oven and cook for 10 minutes or until it’s just beginning to brown and crisp.
- Meanwhile, place the shrimp and crawfish in a mixing bowl, and toss them with the remaining olive oil, garlic salt blend, and lime juice.
- Remove the toasted bread from the oven. Spread evenly over each slice the pizza sauce. Top each with the shredded cheese.
- Lift the shrimp and crawfish out of the bowl with a slotted spoon to remove any excess liquid, then layer on top the cheese the shrimp, crawfish, sausage, and jalapeños.
- Return the sheet to the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Turn on the broiler, position a rack 6 inches away from the heating element, and broil the pizzas for 1-2 minutes or until browned and bubbling.
- Serve immediately with parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper, and more garlic and oregano, if desired.