Often when a recipe I’m developing takes inspiration from an original idea—in this case garlic knots—I arrive at something that is different, though perhaps not better than the original. I can safely say that in this case, the pull-apart cheesy pepperoni garlic knots you’ll be lifting from your cast iron skillet are miles better than any pizzeria garlic knot you’ve ever had. If I were to ever open up my own pizzeria or perhaps mega-chain of corporate Italian American-themed restaurants, you can bet your ass that this’ll be the first dish on the menu, and the first dish ordered by everyone who sits down. When you serve this dish at a game night, dinner party, or potluck and your friends and family reach in and tear apart the buttery, garlic-packed knots, you will thenceforth be known only as “that person who makes the awesome pepperoni bread.”
So be careful.
When I was a kid, my grandmother would take trips to Japan pretty frequently. The first thing we did after she got back (after saying the requisite hellos) was to root through her bag for the tiny gifts she always brought us. Little salty and sour pickled plum candies. Sugar-coated apricots (we called them daiji, which roughly translates to my preciousssssss). Carved wooden toys. And of course, gadgets. The Japan of the 80’s was worlds ahead of us in cool pencil-holder and fasterners-that-aren’t-staples technology. My stationery drawer was stuffed to the brim with all manner of clips, pens, cards-that-turn-into-scissors and the like.
And like any kid with a new toy, each time I got one, I couldn’t think of enough ways to use it. Hey mom, you got anything that needs fastening? I can fasten pages of paper together if you’d like. Why use that old fashioned drawstring when I can tool the top of your garbage bag closed? Or perhaps you’d like this sock permanently attached to the house plant by the window?
Remember the old Calvin and Hobbes where Calvin’s mom catches him hammering nails into the coffee table and screams at him, while he sits there confused as to why one wouldn’t hammer things when they’ve got a hammer? I get it. That’s exactly how I feel when I’ve got a new toy in my hands.
And that’s largely the impetus behind this recipe. I’d just pulled my favorite 10-inch vintage cast iron skillet out of the box it’d been hiding in for the summer when my will said to my brain: “You know what, Kenji, you’ve been unpacking boxes for long enough. Let’s play.”
My brain gave in right away.
This recipe is a result of that, and it was damned delicious too.
I’ve adored garlic knots ever since the first time I saw them, standing tip-toed up against the counter at the old Pizza Town II on Broadway. How could you not like knotted bites of tender, chewy, golden-brown pizza dough tossed in butter, flecks of garlic and herbs clinging to the nooks and crannies? Now imagine those same garlic knots, but with flecks of crisp, spicy pepperoni worked in, along with the kind of golden brown, crusty bottom that only a cast iron skillet can impart. And let’s throw in the wafting steam and moist, tender center that pull-apart breads come with, and oh, how about two different cheeses? Sound good to you?
Great, because that’s what we’ve got, and it’s damned easy to make. Here’s how it’s done.