A man named, Bob Petrillose, invented a sandwich that he named the Poor Man’s Pizza in 1960 before restaurant delivery was really a thing. According to an article at Serious Eats, the Hot Truck at Cornell University was the home of the PMP or Poor Man’s Pizza which was two halves of French bread with sauce and melted cheese turned into a sandwich. Petrillose started his Hot Truck in the 60’s and ran it for 4 decades, working late nights to satiate the college students at Cornell.
Petrillose was not only the inventor of a fantastic sandwich, but he was apparently also an incredible person. This article from Cornell’s quarterly magazine in 2009 memorializes his death with very touching tributes from many students during his 40-year career selling sandwiches from his food truck.
The internet claims that Petrillose’s French bread pizza concept was licensed to Stouffer’s. Because of this, I figured I’d pay tribute to the inventor of French bread pizza by making Poor Man’s Pizza sandwiches and document the process with recipes.
According to the Wall Street Journal (paywalled article), Stouffer’s started putting their French Bread pizzas in the freezer aisle in 1974. Guess who else was born in 1974? GUESS!?
Petrillose’s Hot Truck is now permanently closed, so none of us can try a Poor Man’s Pizza from the source, but we can certainly make something similar at home.
We should talk about that, but first I want to revisit the French bread pizza that you can buy at the store.
The Stouffer’s French bread pizzas
I wanted to relive my history with the French bread pizza, so I bought some and baked them and imagined living in a cramped college apartment. These taste just like I remember. Each pizza is way hotter than you’d think, with extra crunchy edges and a super soft and cheesy center. The middle part of the bread, under the sauce and cheese gets a bit soggy and that sogginess along with the super crunchy and crispy sides gives you a lot of fun textures to enjoy.
I asked the only person I know who is basically some sort of pizza genius what he thought about French bread pizzas and he had this to say:
“I have a super soft spot for French bread and bagel and tortilla pizza in all its MacGuyvered forms” … “it’s a real opportunity to heighten the textural element. Pizza’s big and soft and comforting in the form most people are familiar with. Messing around with texture can heighten a lot of the experience.”John Carruthers – Crust Fund Pizza
“Pizza bread” from the store
I was looking at the prepared foods section beside the deli in my local grocery store (shout out to Cermak) and I saw they had “Pizza bread.” I had been working on this blog post for a bit at the time, so I figured I’d give it a try since I didn’t have anything prepped for lunch that day.
There were ZERO instructions, but I figured for $3.99 I couldn’t really go wrong. All the pepperonis were whole instead of the fun little Stouffer’s triangles, so I fixed that with some kitchen shears.
Stouffer’s French bread pizza technique
In my research into the Stouffer’s French bread pizza, I found this Mashed.com article “We Finally Have Stouffer’s Iconic French Bread Pizza Recipe.” In that article, they suggest that a little fennel at the end is a required ingredient that a lot of people forget.
From that article they say that Stouffer’s actual ingredients/weights list/instructions is as follows:
- 2.5 ounces (5 tablespoons) pizza sauce
- Top each pizza with 1.5 ounces of shredded low-moisture mozzarella
- 0.5 ounces of sliced pepperoni, cut into quarters
- Bake your pizza at 375 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes until the cheese is melty and browning a little
I follow all of this in my recipe except for the baking time and temperature. 375 would probably work just fine though. I cook mine at 450 degrees F (232 C) for a shorter amount of time. All of this is in the recipe below.
The “French” bread
I’ve posted about this bread recipe a few times already. It’s my go-to long bread recipe now unless I need something really firm like a real French baguette.
This is also a super easy bread recipe. If you’re a beginning baker, it should be easy to jump in the deep end and become a baker with this recipe.
I try to buy Boar’s Head traditional pepperoni and slice it myself on a mandolin (WATCH YOUR FINGERS) but feel free to buy whatever pepperoni you like. The Boar’s Head brand has a natural casing which when cooked at high heat will produce the cupping pepperoni cups, holding pepperoni grease that people on Instagram like to see on their pizza. These French Bread pizzas will never get to that point, so buy the pepperoni that you like.
I’m a big pepperoni pizza fan, but for this pizza or sandwich or pizza sandwich you can use whatever toppings you’d like. Try it with mushrooms, Canadian bacon and pineapple or even just straight pizza sauce and cheese. If you have some leftover meatballs from spaghetti and meatball night, break some of those up on top and go to town.
My wife, Robin, has been making a similar sauce to this for a few years now.
Overall, this isn’t a copycat of the Stouffer’s sauce. It’s just a sauce that we both really enjoy, and it works great for a French bread pizza. Stouffer’s sauce is pretty sweet, and this sauce does have added sweetness that seems perfect for a pizza sandwich.
The sauce is easy to make, especially if you have a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, you’re going to have to chop and mash up the tomatoes with all the other ingredients.
If possible, make your sauce the night before you plan to use it, because that will give the flavors extra time to meld.
Let’s dive right in with this slideshow of the build process. This is how I build my French bread pizzas.
The French bread pizza recipe
Once you have your bread, sauce, cheese and toppings, this is a very simple recipe.
Much like the French bread pizzas you find in the freezer section of the grocery store, except you can tweak these to your liking with your favorite toppings and homemade sauce. Flip two French bread pizzas on top of each other for a great sandwich.
Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees F (232 C)
Slice your French sub rolls length wise like you're making a sandwich.
Spread a tablespoon of butter on each slice of bread and toast under the broiler until the butter is melted and the bread is browning and crisping up. This keeps the bread from getting too soggy under the sauce/cheese.
Add each slice to a baking sheet or cookie sheet, buttered side up.
Spread 3 or 4 tablespoons of pizza sauce on each slice of bread. Make sure to get the sauce all the way to the edges of the bread.
Top the sauce with cheese. Make sure you have an even coating of cheese on each slice of bread.
Add your toppings (in this case, pepperoni - but other pizza toppings would work well here too). Sprinkle the toppings around each slice for an even distribution.
Sprinkle a pinch of fennel seed around the top.
Add the sheet pan full of French bread pizzas to the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese is melty and browning a little. Depending on your oven, you might want to take a quick peek at your pizzas around the 10-minute mark.
If you want a really browned top, you can turn on the broiler for just a minute or two and broil the pizzas. BUT pay very close attention if you try this, it will go from epically toasty to tragically burned quickly if you're not paying attention.
Remove pizzas from the oven top with grated parmesan and red chili flakes (if desired) and enjoy.
I like to take two French bread pizzas and flip them on top of each other to create a super comforting, melty and gooey sandwich. You should try it too!
With that recipe you can just make a bunch of French bread pizzas and go nuts eating them or you can flip each half together and make fantastically pleasing and comforting sandwiches.
I’m not sure why I never thought about turned these into sandwiches as a college student, but it’s a great idea.
Look below for how awesome French bread pizzas look when turned into sandwiches
Make French bread pizzas. You heard me, just do it. They’re fantastic comfort food.
Pizza sandwiches are a whole different experience than pizza, they’re something else and they are great. Stick around for next week when we talk about leftovers.