Let’s imagine that you have a craving for pizza. (Wait, you really do? It’s like I read your mind; let’s be friends.) Okay, now that you’re thinking about how delicious pizza is—with all that chewy crust and savory sauce—you might start thinking that you maybe want some garlic bread, too. (Look, you’re in good company—there’s a reason so many pizza delivery places throw garlic bread twists in with your order.) So pizza craving, check. Garlic bread craving, check. And then you think, while we’re on the topic of carbs, let’s just go for the trifecta (YOLO), and you start imagining the first bite of a buttery, soft roll—warm from the oven. The kind that would be like a simple dinner roll meets a Parker House roll meets…an entire slab of butter.
So now you’re really hungry, but what are you going to do, order a pizza and whip up a batch of bread and quickly make a little garlic bread in the toaster oven? Yes, you could do this. No, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re feeding 8 teenage boys and have a lot of patience and time on your hands.
Do you see where this is going? I hope so. Instead of having three separate delicious things, just make one really incredible recipe that takes the nicest parts of each.
Here’s how it works: You’ll make a really basic, easy-to-work-with bread dough. This recipe is one of my absolute favorites to use as a blank canvas because it yields such fluffy, delicate results. You could easily just leave them plain, or you can fill them with anything you like (crumbled bacon, any kind of cheese, chopped fresh herbs, and so on). But to satisfy this pizza/garlic bread situation, today you’ll make a garlicky, herb-infused tomato sauce and stuff each roll with that. Sauce is perhaps a strong word: It’s more like a salsa almost, as you don’t want it to be too liquidy or it’s tricky to stuff the rolls without making a mess.
Now, I don’t always use cheese, and I didn’t in the ones you see pictured here, but if you want to really get that pizza vibe, add some shredded mozzarella (fresh is best) to the filling of each. Cheddar and Provolone and fresh ricotta are also really great inside—use a mix!
But even without the cheese, the addition of dried oregano and dried basil mimic the flavor of a New York slice of pizza so perfectly.
Better-Than-Pizza Tomato-Stuffed Garlic Buns
Makes 12 rolls
For the dough
3 ½ cups (418 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 ½ teaspoons instant yeast
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
For the filling & topping
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced, divided (to taste)
1(14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dried basil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (for the topping)
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated cheese, like mozzarella or Provolone (optional)
Combine all the dough ingredients plus 1 1/4 cups (283g) lukewarm water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until combined, then knead using the dough hook until the dough is very smooth (the dough will be quite sticky; that’s okay), about 10 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a large, lightly greased bowl and cover loosely. Set aside to rise for about 90 minutes, or until almost doubled in size.
While the dough rises, make the filling. Heat the olive oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add 3 cloves' worth of minced garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and all the remaining ingredients (except the butter) and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens a bit. Use a spatula to press down on the diced tomatoes as they cook, which will help make the consistency slightly less chunky. Set the sauce aside to cool while the dough finishes rising.
When the dough has risen, grease a 9-inch round baking pan. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces; each piece should weigh about 60 grams.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, shape it into a flat circle. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of the dough, topped with grated cheese (if using), then carefully pinch the dough up and around the filling and pinch firmly to close. Place the dough ball, pinched side down, in the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
Cover loosely and let the rolls rise for about 1 hour, or until quite puffy.
When the rolls have almost risen, preheat the oven to 350°F.
While the oven preheats, make the topping. Melt the butter in a small bowl. Using the flat side of a sharp chef’s knife, mash the remaining 2 cloves of minced garlic into a purée. Stir the garlic purée into the melted butter. Brush the garlic butter liberally over the tops of the rolls, reserving about a quarter of the butter to use after they bake.
Bake the rolls for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and brush the remaining garlic butter on top.