Pepperoni-Pizza “Very Warm” Pockets
You may front like you never liked Hot Pockets. But if you grew up in the ’80s, you know you did. When you eat junk food long enough, you start to get snobby about it. After downing mad Hot Pockets, I learned that if I cooked them in the oven the crust would turn out crispier and that the best variety by far was pepperoni pizza.
Then one day, I didn’t like Hot Pockets, even the pepperoni pizza ones. For a while, I was stuck in this weird place where I had affection for certain foods but no longer liked eating them. So I set out to improve the Hot Pocket—since I’m legally obligated to change the trademarked name, I’ll call mine “Very Warm” Pockets—but not by so much that it became something else and I lost what the sixth grader in me had loved.
The result might be my greatest achievement to date as a cook. I hope it goes without saying that you shouldn’t get all bougie with the cheese and pepperoni for this recipe. If you’re at a store where the staff pronounce mozzarella the Italian way, then you should probably go somewhere else. Not only would the expensive stuff get drowned out by all the other flavors, but it wouldn’t melt in the nostalgic stretchy way.
Vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray
1½ cups Pepperoni Marinara (see recipe), at room temperature, plus extra, warmed, for dipping
¼ pound non-fancy mozzarella, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
8 defrosted frozen plain roti paratha or roti canai (available at Asian markets and online)
- Preheat the oven to 450°F and lightly oil or spray one very large or two medium baking sheets. Combine the 1½ cups of marinara and the mozzarella in a bowl and stir well.
- Form one pocket at a time: Keep the roti between the plastic squares it comes in (the roti is very sticky) and put it on the counter. Use your palm to stretch the roti slightly, starting in the center and applying gentle pressure as you move toward the edges.
- Peel off the top layer of plastic and spoon ¼ cup of the marinara mixture in the center of the roti. Holding the two corners of the plastic square that are closest to you, fold the roti over the filling to form a semicircle, gently forcing the air out but keeping the filling in. If a little filling seeps out, just wipe it off with a paper towel. Firmly press the rounded edge of the roti to create a seal.
- Repeat with the remaining marinara mixture and roti.
- Put the pockets on the baking sheet, leaving some space around each one.
- Use a sharp knife to make three slashes through the top of each (so they don’t burst in the oven), cutting through the roti layer and leaving ½ inch or so separating the slashes. You can bake them right away, keep them covered in the fridge for up to 12 hours, or freeze them (see Note).
- Brush the tops with a very thin layer of vegetable oil or coat with cooking spray.
- Bake until the outsides are golden brown and puffy, 10 to 15 minutes. Let them cool slightly before you eat and serve with extra marinara alongside for dipping.
To freeze the unbaked pockets, put them uncovered on a plate in the freezer just until frozen, then transfer to bags with parchment paper separating the hot pockets. Freeze for up to 3 months. Bake the frozen pockets in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes, until they’re thawed. Brush the tops with oil, raise the oven heat to 450°F, and bake until golden, about 8 minutes more.
Makes about 4 cups
Growing up, most of my homeboys were from church, our friendships cemented during Bible study. We were all Asian, in need of the company of others like us but also excited to be away from our eye-rollingly foreign families.
Our youth pastor must have sensed this, because after class he took us to Pizza Hut, God bless him. Remember how back in the day you could actually sit down at a Pizza
Hut? I’ll never forget the smell when we stepped in, the tomato-and-pepperoni sharpness that was so different from the smell of vinegar and soy sauce we all knew well.
As pathetic as this sounds, this—not some checkered tablecloth joint called Gino’s or Sal’s—is where my love for red-sauce Italian food comes from. And this sauce, which I ripped off from my man Mike Isabella, a fellow Top Chef contestant, is just as comforting to me as my mom’s chicken adobo. The salty tang of pepperoni and the brightness of chopped pickled cherry peppers get any pasta poppin’. But my favorite way to eat it is as a dip for English muffins. Just add ½ pound of cubed unfancy mozzarella and heat until the cheese has fully melted.
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ pound thinly sliced pepperoni, finely chopped or pulsed in the food processor
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 cup diced (¼ inch) Spanish onion
2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
½ cup finely chopped drained B&G pickled cherry peppers (including seeds)
- Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the pepperoni and chile flakes and cook, stirring, until the pepperoni releases plenty of fat, about 5 minutes. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until the oil releases again, about 5 minutes more.
- Push the onion, garlic, and pepperoni to one side of the pot and let the oil pool in the other. Stir the flour into the oil, then stir everything together. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and pickled peppers and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the flavors come together.
- The sauce keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Excerpted from the book ASIAN-AMERICAN by Dale Talde with JJ Goode. Copyright © 2015 by Dale Talde, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.