Crafting Articles

The Kitchen Witch

Doctored-Up” Pizza

Whenever my mother was in a hurry and wanted to cut corners in the kitchen, instead of making her own marinara (for instance), she would open a couple jars of Ragu and add a can of crushed tomatoes, chopped onions, mushrooms, herbs and spices, red wine, homemade meatballs or cooked Italian sausage. By the time it was ready for the table, you never knew that this sauce had started out as an ordinary jar of Ragu. My mother called this “doctoring up” the sauce. She did this to all kinds of store-bought items. She was Sandra Lee long before Food Network. I think this is definitely a kind of magic. It’s as important to know how to improve already existing food as it is to create meals from scratch. Cooking is magic, whether you define magic as some supernatural ability to change the material world or skills gained from long hours of practice and dedication. When it comes to cooking, my mother is the high priestess of the kitchen, not that she would ever call herself that! (She is and always has been a devout Roman Catholic).

I’ve been “doctoring up” pizza lately. I love pizza. I could eat pizza every day. I’m not exaggerating. I used to work in an Italian restaurant in Cleveland called Mama Santa’s and I always ordered a pizza to take home with me as soon as I arrived at work. I would have some driving home and a slice or two before I went to bed and then several slices for breakfast. I don’t care what anyone says, pizza is the “breakfast of champions”. Without a doubt.

I would make real homemade pizza but I don’t have a pizza stone and the ancient pizza pan that I own is too old to use for baking anything anymore, let alone a decent pizza. Take a look at it:

This was my mother’s pan. When I told her I still had it, she couldn’t believe anyone would still be holding onto it. I admit that there’s some sentimentality to why I still have this pan, although I do use it as a cover for some of my larger pots and pans that do not have covers. I asked her when she got this pan and she said she couldn’t remember; it seemed like she had always had it. “Was it a gift from your bridal shower?” I asked.

No,” she answered. “I think I bought it soon after I was married. Your father always loved pizza, and there was no place to get it out where we lived.”

My mother was married in November of 1954, so that would make this pan almost seventy years old! Ya gotta admit, it looks it. If you look very closely (I don’t think you can see it from this picture), you can see hundreds of lines from all the pizzas that were cut on this pan. My mother made awesome pizzas. But of course – everything she cooked was TO DIE FOR.

Before COVID, I used to order a pizza at least once a week. I have always lived in cites that had great pizza – indeed, the City of Buffalo, where I have lived most of my life, has so many great pizza joints that you can order a pizza from a fabulous place every day of the week and never repeat a restaurant (this is true of almost every kind of food you want. Buffalo is a foodie’s paradise). But since COVID and the runaway inflation that has plagued our world since then, going out to eat or ordering takeout has become almost a thing of the past – certainly something that I only get to do once in a rare blue moon.

Naturally my love of pizza hasn’t gone away.

I have learned how to make chicken wings in an air fryer; I have learned to do my own Chinese cooking; I have learned to make poutine; I have learned to make almost all the food that I used to order and have delivered. But I still have yet to make a decent homemade pizza. One of these days, I’ll get a pizza stone and I’ll be writing a different story.

I never liked frozen pizzas but years ago, frozen pizzas were really vile. They were cardboard circles with ketchup and plastic masquerading as cheese on top, and if you got one with “pepperoni”, there would be a shiny oil slick running off it as well. I refused to eat any frozen pizza until a friend introduced me to Wegmans “Italian Classic” frozen pizzas. They’re awesome. They have a bunch of different kinds; but the point of this article isn’t to promote Wegmans pizzas. I use Wegmans because I live in Buffalo and I have a Wegmans nearby. I suppose you could use Digorno or Newman’s Own or another high-end brand. There’s a bunch of them out there.

What I do is get a plain cheese pizza. I have never liked plain cheese pizzas but you need a plain piece of paper to write on or to draw a pretty picture and it’s the same way when you’re building a pizza. You need a plain pizza.

You don’t need a pizza pan to cook one of these. You set it right on the rack once the oven is preheated. That takes care of a lot of problems right there.

I take the pizza out of the box and out of the protective plastic lining and then set it back on the box while I am building my pizza.

I have never liked plain cheese pizzas, but this doesn’t look half-bad, even uncooked!

What I put on my pizza depends on what I have on hand and my mood that day. Sometimes I plan ahead but usually I don’t. I usually just open the fridge and start pulling things out.

This is my go-to pizza lately – sliced onions, mushrooms, sliced green peppers, sweet banana peppers and black olives, covered with extra cheese, in this case New York State extra sharp cheddar.

Then the pizza is ready to be set into the oven.

On the box, it says to bake for 14-15 minutes. In my oven, with all these extra toppings on, it usually takes about 18 minutes.

When it’s done, I slide it off the oven rack onto to my mother’s old pizza pan.

Even though this is my favorite pizza at the moment, sometimes I like to get really creative. Here are some other pizzas that can be built on a plain cheese pizza:

    • Chicken wing pizza – season shredded chicken meat with the hot sauce of your choice (I like Frank’s Hot Sauce). If you want to really hurt yourself, add cayenne pepper and hot pepper flakes! Layer the meat on the pizza and bake. Garnish with blue cheese dressing.
    • Mexican pizza – layer seasoned taco meat, black olives, onions, green peppers, jalapeños, and tomato slices. After baking, garnish with sour cream and guacamole.
    • Steak pizza – layer thinly sliced sirloin steak, onions, mushrooms, and extra mozzarella cheese.
    • Shrimp in the grass – I use cooked frozen shrimp for this – I thaw out the shrimp and remove the tail. While the shrimp is thawing, I cook a half a bag of spinach and drain it well. REALLY WELL. Like, squeeze the living daylights out of it! You don’t want a soggy pizza! You also need sliced onions. Mix the thawed shrimp with the spinach and onions and arrange on the pizza. Top with grated white cheese (Swiss, mozzarella, white cheddar, etc.) *this is one of my favorites*
    • Breakfast pizza – scrambled eggs, cooked crumbled bacon, grated Cheddar cheese

Honestly, you can do almost anything you want – if you like ham and pineapple, top your pizza with that. Or make a “meat-lovers” pizza – pepperoni, sausage, meatballs, bacon. I’ve had an idea for using eggplant on a pizza – Eggplant Parm pizza, perhaps?

Anyway, doctoring up a plain cheese pizza is a great way to beat today’s inflation and to create cooking magic in your kitchen – maybe you have an old pizza pan of your mother’s, too – or some other cherished cooking tool that has been passed down and retains its magic from its original owner. There’s always kitchen witchery, whether you know it or not!

Time for a slice!


About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan but she gets along with a few of the masculine deities. She loves to cook and she is a Bills fan.

She blogs at She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.