When in Doubt…Pizza

Believe it or not, pizza is a speedy go-to meal when you’re short on time…And I’m not talking about delivery.  I have the luxury of being at home, and so I can make my favorite pizza dough and let it rise {and meanwhile read some chapters or edit a paper for a class}.  If you’re on the way home from work, though, swing by your grocery store and pick up some ready-made pizza dough.  The dough is the part that takes the longest, the rest is just food creativity.

The toppings are completely up to you.  You can go traditional margherita pizza with tomatoes, cheese, and basil, or make a veggie flatbread without cheese or sauce…or a hybrid of the two with veggies and cheese.  I love the potato and onion combo I had on focaccia when I was in Italy, and so love it as a flatbread topping–except I add mixed greens and caramelize the onions.  A new favorite is leeks and artichoke hearts.

Crank your oven to 450F while you prepare your toppings, assemble, and it’s a quick 20 minute bake until dinner time!


MEATLESS PIZZA TOPPINGS

  • Servings: prepare as many toppings as you like!
  • Difficulty: easy
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I’m just going to list meatless toppings combination ideas to get your pizza juices flowing…have fun!

MARGHERITA
red sauce, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil

POTATO & ONION
very thinly sliced red potatoes, caramelized onions (thinly slice a yellow onion, sauté on low heat with olive oil, salt, and a tablespoon of sugar, stir and sauté until onions are cooked down and sweet), fresh mixed greens

LEEK & ARTICHOKE 
thinly sliced leeks (sautéed in olive oil and butter), artichoke hearts (marinated from a jar), fresh mozzarella

ROASTED SQUASH
red sauce, roasted acorn squash, mixed greens, caramelized onion, dollops of fresh ricotta, walnuts

GREEN & RED PIZZA
red sauce, mixed greens, broccoli, thinly sliced red onion, red pepper flakes, fresh mozzarella

GREEN & PEPPERY
fresh arugula, olive oil, fresh Parmiggiano-Reggiano shavings (I ordered this pizza in the piazza in Siena almost 20 years ago, and still remember it to this day as the best pizza I’ve ever had–sharp and peppery from the arugula and sharp and rich from the cheese)

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Soup and Sandwich…Gourmet

When Fall hits our small part of the world, amazing deep grey clouds roll in, full of character, and sometimes full of rain.  We had two straight days of cold, cold rain last weekend.  The weekend my husband happened to be riding in Salt to Saint, a relay cycling race from Salt Lake City to St. George.  While my boys and I drove through 200+ miles of rain, my husband and his team rode through it on their bikes.  Good thing St. George is always sunny and warm.  We met the team at the finish line with homemade cinnamon rolls, hot chocolate, apple cider, and the good ol’ St. George sun.

Just in case your Fall is starting out cold and rainy, here’s a gourmet soup + sandwich combo you are going to just love: Creamy Corn and Potato Chowder + Tomato Asparagus Tart.

Sauté the veggies for bit, add stock and let simmer until the flavors have had time to shimmy and the veggies are perfectly soft, then add the half and half at the end until warm and creamy and heated through.

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Our town’s Farmers Market runs through October, and we can still find a couple large heirloom tomatoes.  I love the vibrant colors of heirlooms–they look just like the leaves!  Mop up some of the tomato juice with paper towels while poking holes in the pastry.

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Arrange the tomatoes and asparagus, bake, and sprinkle with a little love…aka…chopped walnuts and grated Parmigiano-Regiano cheese…

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CORN AND POTATO CHOWDER

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 medium carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 medium celery rib, diced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 6 red potatoes, diced
  • 2 ears fresh corn, cut from the cob
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 3-4 cups half and half
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat the bottom of a large stockpot with olive oil and heat to medium.  Sauté the carrot, celery, onion, potatoes, and corn, with salt and pepper to taste, until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add the stock and parsley, and reduce heat to low.  Allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are soft and tender, then add the half and half at the end, to get creamy and chowder-ish.  {Be careful to not let the soup come back to a simmer or boil, or the milk will curdle and your soup will separate.}

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TOMATO AND ASPARAGUS TART

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 store-bought puff pastry
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • grated Parmigiano-Regiano to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat the oven to 425F.
  2. Prepare a large un-rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Unwrap the thawed but chilled pastry and lay on the parchment paper.  Don’t worry about rolling or cutting or spreading it at all, just unwrap and lay flat on the sheet pan.  Poke with holes, using a fork.
  3. Prepare the tomatoes–they are too juicy and will make the pastry mushy.  Prepare by slicing thinly and placing on a paper towel.  Gently press the tops of the tomatoes with another paper towel.  When ready, arrange the tomato sliced on the pastry, leaving a 1-2 inch border (this allows the pastry to puff; without the border, it won’t puff as nicely).  Top with the asparagus.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and bake until the pastry is puffed and golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.
  5. Before serving, sprinkle with chopped walnuts and freshly grated cheese.

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End of Summer Treats

Between the grocery stores putting flats and boxes of fruits on crazy outrageous sale prices, and neighbors asking us to help pick the abundant fruits falling off their trees, I have been a mad-jam-making woman in the kitchen this past week.  Got Jam?  Yes:  Strawberry, Strawberry Peach, Peach, Peach Orange, Apple Cranberry, Pear Butter…You know what I’m giving for Christmas now…Shhh, don’t tell!

Other than mad-jam-making, I’m also currently training for a half, and training hard to PR–I’m determined to run this one sub-2 hours (I was 2 measley minutes over the last half I ran, so it’s in my head now…).  I’ve upped my training schedule and cross-training schedule, and I’ve cut sugar.  So a little jam + buttermilk biscuit is a nice treat at the end of a long day.  And don’t tell me how much sugar is in jam.  It’s fruit, right??!

And after jam + biscuits, you gotta have a veggie pie.  This is a great pie to use up your summer veggies–zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper, basil.  And it makes a super pie for a crowd, or little individual pies for a small dinner.  I decided to go individual.

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Just roughly (rustically?) fit the pie dough into your pie plate or individual bowls, mix up the ricotta cheese with an egg and seasonings, layer the veggies on top, and you’ve got a veggie pie!

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VEGGIE PIE

  • Servings: makes 4 individual pies or 1 regular-sized pie
  • Difficulty: mediumish
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Adapted from Cooking Light

INGREDIENTS FOR THE PIE DOUGH

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 T sugar
  • 6 T unsalted very cold butter
  • 1/4 cup very cold vegetable shortening
  • 4-5 T ice water

INGREDIENTS FOR THE FILLING

  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced in thin rounds
  • 1 medium yellow squash, sliced in thin rounds
  • 1 medium red pepper, cut into 2-inch matchsticks
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, julienned
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 more egg, beaten (for brushing the pie dough before baking)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Start with the pie crust.  Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Cut in the cold butter and shortening.  Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture, one tablespoon at a time.  Stir together with a spoon until a ball of dough starts to form.  Continue to form using your hands, kneading the dough together in 5-6 quick smooshes (The heat from your hands will melt the butter and shortening, and your dough won’t be as flaky, so work quickly!).  Flatten the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F.
  3. Combine the ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, basil, lemon zest and juice, and egg in a large mixing bowl.  If you haven’t yet, this would be a good time to slice up the veggies.  Put the sliced veggies in a large mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Unwrap the dough and roll it out on a floured surface.  Roll into one large disc to fit a 9-10-inch pie plate, or use to cut 4 smaller discs to fit 4-5-inch round baking dishes.  Fit the dough into the baking dish, and spread the ricotta mixture over the bottom of the pie.  If you are making one large pie, pour the veggies in the pie plate, overtop the ricotta mixture.  If you are making individual pies, evenly divide the veggies among the four baking bowls.
  5. Fold the edges of the pie dough toward the middle of the pie.  Brush the pie dough with the egg and bake at 400F for 40 minutes for a large pie, and 20-30 for the smaller pies.

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Fav Red Sauce

I remember a few months ago starting to panic because I was making pizza for dinner, but had run out of red sauce from my freezer stash, and didn’t have any store-bought sauce in the pantry, and no car to go to the store.  And then I stopped dead in my tracks.  “Wait a minute!  Canned tomatoes?  Check.  Onions?  Check.  Garlic?  Check.  Herbs?  Check.  Well, then, get crackin’!”

Homemade red sauce isn’t too hard to pull together, and makes your meal so homey and warm.  It seems as though everyone has their favorite type of sauce–spicy, zippy, herby, and using their favorite herbs and spices.  This is a very basic red sauce–a great base–and if you prefer zippy or spicy, feel free to add your flare to the sauce!

If you don’t have access to fresh tomatoes, the one tip I would give is to use quality canned tomatoes.  I’ve used the on-sale-store-brand-99-cent cans, and it’s ok, but if you can splurge and get the Cento San Marzano brand, your dinner will be ah-mazing.  The Cento tomatoes are sweet and rich, not as tinny as other canned tomatoes, so your sauce will reflect that flavor.  {My husband once asked if we could just plant the San Marzano Breed of tomato in our garden.  I guess we could if we lived in Italy.  Pompeii, to be exact.  San Marzano is a region in Italy downwind from Mt. Vesuvius, so the soil has been enriched over time from volcanic eruption(s), making the tomatoes the benefiters.}   red sauce 3Let everything simmer together in the pot for 30-60 minutes, blend with an immersion blender, or a “normal” blender, and voila–everyone will think you slaved over a hot stove for ages.

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red sauce 1


BASIC RED SAUCE

  • Servings: makes 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from The Italian Dish Blog

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano plum tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves, or 2-3 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot and saute onions and garlic with salt and pepper to taste until the onions are soft and translucent, about 7-10 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and break up with your spoon.  Add the herbs, sugar, and half cup water, and reduce heat to low.  Let simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
  2. Puree the sauce in the pot with an immersion blender, or scoop into a blender and puree until desired consistency.

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Fav Pizza Dough Recipe

Homemade pizza dough is a cinch with 6 simple ingredients and an hour of time on your hands.  The secret with any yeast dough is giving your yeast time to bloom, and not adding your salt too quickly.  Sugar lets yeast grow and bloom; salt deactivates the yeast’s chemical reaction.  If you want a fluffy, crispy, crunchy crust {yes, pizza dough can be all three at the same time!}, take your time and give it some love…like any good thing in life.

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pizza dough helper


CLASSIC PIZZA DOUGH

  • Servings: makes three 15-inch pizza pies (or lots and lots of little ones)
  • Difficulty: medium, for the time to let rise and bake
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Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking Cookbook

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 teaspoons yeast
  • 2 cups very warm water (technically between 105-115 degrees Fahrenheit; too hot will kill the yeast, too cold won’t activate it)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4-5 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Put yeast in a large mixing bowl and pour the warm water over top.  Sprinkle the sugar overtop and let it rest and “bloom”, about 5-7 minutes.  The yeast will be fully bloomed when it’s foamy and bubbly.
  2. Add the olive oil.  Add 3 cups of flour, then salt, and stir with a wooden spoon until a thick paste has formed.  Let rest for about 5 minutes, then add flour, half cup at a time, until the dough forms a rough ball.  Dump out on a floured surface, and continue adding flour, a spoonful at a time, while kneading, until a smooth, soft dough forms.  There is no exact measurement of flour to add; too much and your dough will be dry and non-pliable, too little and it’ll be too sticky.  Add just enough so the dough is soft and smooth, and slightly moist to the touch without sticking to and coming off on your fingers.  Knead the dough for about 7-10 minutes, and form into a ball.
  3. Coat your large mixing bowl with olive oil, gently place the dough ball in the bowl, and drizzle more olive oil overtop.  Cover with plastic wrap, or the lid to the bowl–just placed lightly on top, not sealed, and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled, about 45-60 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you are using a pizza stone, place it in the oven.  Divide the dough in thirds for large pizzas, or equal-sized smaller balls.  You can use a rolling pin or your hands to spread the pizza dough into a circle shape.  If you are using a pizza stone, prepare your pizza on a floured surface (semolina or all-purpose) you can use to transfer to the hot pizza stone.  Top with desired toppings and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is crispy and brown.

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There Are Some Things You Just Have To Do Yourself

There are some things you just have to do yourself.  You know, like when the cheapest hardscaping bid comes in three times over budget.  It’s in that moment that you and your husband look at each other,  shrug, and say, “Well, I guess we’re gonna do this.”  This is my apology and excuse for the blog-neglect.  We have been spending the last two weeks turning our backyard from a sandpit into a hardscaped wonder.  {See exhibits A and B, C, D}

20151029_112946 20151109_171314 20151113_173925 20151116_101440I’ve pretty much neglected everything.  {Except the dishes.  And throwing fruit snacks at my kids.  I have standards.}  We aren’t done yet…but we are thinking maybe one more weekend of hitting it hard.  And then we can go back to our normal routine.  {And I will cook again, instead of pulling frozen leftovers from the deep corners of the freezer.}

So back to other things you should do yourself…

I can count on one hand the number of times my mom bought pizza growing up.  Or bought any “store-bought” foodstuff, for that matter.  I remember once begging for chicken nuggets from a fast food place, and she went ahead and made her own batter-covered chicken breast chunks and fried them up for us for dinner.  “Store-bought” cookies and 2% milk were a treat only at a friend’s house–“Cookies?!  We can make those at home!”  My mom would always announce, walking us straight past the cookie aisle in the grocery store, and over to the 10 cent fruit roll-ups we were allowed as our treat.  And as far as milk was concerned, “Whisking milk” was on the monthly chore list…we grew up making and drinking the more cost-effective powder milk.

Is it any surprise that I have culinarily turned into my mom.  {Is it any daughter’s surprise, really?!}  Today, I would only go near a fast food place by necessity–and by necessity, I mean we’ve been hardscaping for hours on end and my boys are melting down; when my boys ask to buy a treat at the store, I turn my nose up and say, “Nah…we can make that at home!”  One difference is we drink almond milk, not powdered milk.

And pizza?  Pizza is best homemade.  Unless you are in Italy, of course.  Then always go out.  If you’re staying in, do my mom’s favorite toppings–she calls it Cupboard Pizza.  Unload whatever leftovers or cupboard surprises you have, throw on some cheese, and you’ve got a good dinner.  I don’t think I’m even going to post a recipe here, to be honest.  Use your fav pizza dough recipe, and fav red sauce, and top with your cupboard surprises…{I’ll post my fav pizza dough and red sauce recipes as other posts later.}

My leftovers?  Why, pumpkin, of course.  I had some leftover roasted pumpkin from pasta, and some leftover maple-roasted pumpkin from the salad.  I love these colors–very deep and autumn-ish.

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Before the bake

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After the bake

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Tomato Tart in a Little Green Dress

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How I ended up in Italy 3 weeks after graduating from high school is a long story.  The biggest part probably being the amazingly gracious family friends that agreed to host this lost girl who thought she would find herself amongst the cobblestoned streets and olive oil-scented air.  While the rest of my graduating class was living up the last summer of teenage “freedom” before starting college, I was working as a nanny for an Italian family in a small riverfront town.  While the mom of the family I worked for was not the typical Italian mama (no flour-dusted embrace, tomato-stained apron, hands waving “Mangia!  Mangia!” (Eat!) ), the upstairs neighbor was.  She made homemade gnocchi and pesto and tomato sauce, and brought it all down for the blonde American to taste.

I was probably the only person on earth, in Italy, who did not like olives, prosciutto, and pesto.  All that homemade green golden goodness just upstairs from me–and I took one taste of pesto and thought it was…thick.  I’m not sure how else to describe it!  It was a totally new flavor, and I simply did not like it.  Silly American.

My palate has grown up since that summer oh so many years ago, and I have to say pesto is now one of my most favorite ways to dress up any meal.  Seriously.  It’s like the little black dress of condiments…Little green dress.  You thought salmon wrapped in puff pastry was good?  Try spreading some pesto on the salmon before wrapping it up, and you can now charge your guests $10 more per plate.  A spoonful of pesto will make your Minestrone soup sing.

Put a little green dress on a tomato tart, and you will instantly become the belle of the ball.  I have brought this Tomato Pesto Tart to numerous get-togethers and brunches, and it has always disappeared within the first 60 seconds, and I have had to recite the recipe from memory to countless tomato-pesto-tart-wanna-be-makers.  And now, the secret is yours!

The key to a flaky whole wheat pie crust is keeping your refrigerated fats cold and your ice water ice cold.  When you use your hands to pull the pie dough together, you are going to knead it just enough, so the heat from your hands doesn’t heat up the butter and shortening.  You want to see “butter lumps” like this in your dough, then you know it’ll be extra flaky and crispy for your tart.  Gently fit it into your tart pan and get it ready to blind bake.  You can use a tart pan with the removable bottom, but I wanted to use this white porcelain one (mainly for aesthetic purposes).tomato pesto tart dough tomato pesto tart shell 2 tomato pesto tart shell 1

While your tart shell is blind baking, just whip up the rest of your ingredients–fresh garden tomatoes, your favorite pesto, fontina cheese, a little plain yogurt (or sour cream, or vegan mayonnaise) and then bake again until it all gets melty and your kitchen smells like a small corner of Italy.

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Serve with a little side salad and your dinner will be of the amazing-rave-to-all-your-neighbors sort.

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TOMATO PESTO TART WITH WHOLE WHEAT CRUST

  • Servings: makes one 8-10 inch tart
  • Difficulty: easy if you've made pie crust before; medium if it's your first time making pie crust, as it adds another element to the recipe
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 INGREDIENTS FOR THE PIE CRUST
(This recipe will make a double pie crust; for the tart, I just cut it in half)

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons ( 1 1/2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup very cold vegetable shortening
  • 8-10 tablespoons ice water

INGREDIENTS FOR THE TOMATO TART

  • 1 cup fontina cheese, finely shredded and divided in half (you can substitute mozzarella)
  • 3 medium tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt (or sour cream, or vegan mayonnaise)
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons pesto
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2-3 fresh basil leaves, julienned

DIRECTIONS

  1. Start with the pie crust.  Place flours, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and mix well.  Dice the cold butter and add with the shortening to the flour mix.  Cut in with a pastry cutter until pea-size.  Add 4 tablespoons of ice water to the dough and stir with a spoon until it starts to stick together.  Add 4-6 more tablespoons until most of the dough is a ball.  Dump out on a floured surface and knead just until the dough forms into a ball.  Flatten into a disc, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425.  Roll out the pie dough on a floured surface into a 12-inch circle.  Fit the dough into an 8-10 inch tart pan and prick the bottom with a fork.  Fit a large piece of parchment paper into the pie shell and fill with beans or pie weights.  Blind bake for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, slice the tomatoes and let rest on a paper towel to absorb extra liquid.  Stir together half of the shredded fontina cheese, yogurt, parmesan cheese, pesto and pepper.
  4. When the tart shell is done baking, sprinkle with the remaining shredded fontina cheese and let stand for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted.
  5. Arrange the tomato slices over the cheese. Spread the pesto yogurt cheese mixture over the tomato slices, leaving a 1″ border around the edge.  Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is golden.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  Sprinkle with fresh basil before serving.

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