Mexican Pizza


For those of you that menu plan, do you ever have a meal that for one reason or another gets pushed back to the following week again and again (and again)?  Once is certainly understandable as plans do change, but when the same meal is delayed week after week, it must be because subconsciously you’re just not feeling it.  I guess that was me with this pizza, which is a bit strange considering that the whole reason I wanted to make it was because I had tried it in a restaurant and loved it.  I had all the ingredients on hand but probably delayed it five weeks before I buckled down and just made the darn thing.  And like so many times when I put off making a recipe, I now want to kick myself in the butt for missing out on this awesome dinner.

It’s certainly a departure from a typical pizza, but in a very good way.  I used a seasoned black bean puree in place of the usual sauce, layered with lots of cheddar and monterey jack cheese (pepper jack would also be great) and topped with corn, tomato, jalapeño, onion and cilantro.  As usual with pizza, it’s very easy to adapt this to suit your tastes.  I thought this had a nice amount of spice – a little spicy, but not so much that Andrew wouldn’t eat it.  In fact, he loved it!  If you want to dial up the spice, add another jalapeño to the toppings or consider pureeing a chipotle in adobo with the black bean mixture.  This was a great meal and I can’t wait to make it again.  And next time, I definitely won’t be pushing it back to the next week.

Other yummy pizza ideas:
Spinoccoli Pizza
Caesar Salad Pizza
Chicken Ranch Pizza
Greek Pizza
Chicken Pesto Pizza

For tips on making great homemade pizza, check out my tutorial.

Mexican Pizza
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Ingredients:
Pizza dough
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. cayenne
3 tbsp. chicken broth, veggie broth or water
3 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
3 oz. shredded monterey jack cheese
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
¼ cup red onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup tomato, seeded and diced
1/3 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
3-4 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
To make the pizza, preheat the oven and a pizza stone at 500˚ F for at least 30 minutes.  Roll out the pizza dough into a 12-14 inch round.  Lightly brush the perimeter of the dough with olive oil.

Combine the black beans, cumin, paprika and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor.  Puree until ground into a paste.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  With the processor running, add the chicken broth through the feed tube until a smooth mixture is formed.  Spread the bean puree onto the shaped pizza crust in an even layer (I used about ¾ of the puree).  Layer evenly with the cheddar and monterey jack cheese.  Sprinkle the jalapeño, red onion, tomato, corn and cilantro over the cheese layer.  Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Transfer the pizza to the preheated pizza stone and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Source: Annie original, inspired by Bazbeaux Pizza

Spinoccoli Pizza


Bloomington, Indiana – my hometown, my college town, and in my opinion, one of the greatest little towns in the midwest.  I could never even begin to name all the things that make me love that place so much.  Thankfully since our families still live there and it is only an hour away, we visit frequently and try to work in trips to our favorite restaurants whenever possible.  One that belongs near the top of that list is Mother Bear’s Pizza.  They have all sorts of wonderful gourmet pizzas, as well as fantastic breadsticks that make the best snack ever after a night out at the bars (not that I would know anything about that ;)), but of all their pizzas Ben and I will always love spinoccoli best.  This is a pizza with a white sauce, plenty of cheese, topped with spinach and broccoli.  It may sound like an odd combination to some, but we think it is the best.  In fact, this has been my birthday dinner of choice with my family for the past few years.

The more comfortable I become in the kitchen, the more confident I am in my ability to recreate a restaurant dish at home.  However, sometimes the restaurant version is just so darn good that I am afraid to even attempt it, because I am sure whatever I make will fall far short of the real thing.  That was the case with spinoccoli.  But after we had a recent date night at Mother Bear’s, I decided enough was enough – I should at least give it a shot.  Because if it worked, we could have spinoccoli at home, which would be heavenly.  I always wondered if they did precooked the veggies in any way before adding to the pizza.  One benefit of being from a small town is that our family knows the owner of Mother Bear’s.  My brother was on a softball team with him this year and asked that very question.  We learned that no, they don’t do anything to the veggies.  So with that knowledge, I set out to make my best approximation of spinoccoli at home.  And guess what?  It totally worked.  With my first bite I was blown away with just how close my version came.  In fact, Ben and I both agreed that the only real difference we could taste was the crust because I used my usual favorite and we like it better anyway.  Otherwise, this was right on.  I’ll definitely still order spinoccoli whenever I’m in B-town but it is a revelation being able to make it at home as well.

Spinoccoli Pizza
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Ingredients:
For the white sauce:
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. flour
¾ cup heavy cream or half-and-half
1 clove garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the pizza:
Pizza dough
Olive oil, for brushing
½ cup packed baby spinach leaves, torn
1 cup very small broccoli florets
2 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
2 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
Grated Parmesan

Directions:
To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until bubbling and light golden, about 1 minute.  Whisk in the heavy cream and garlic, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and bubbles.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the grated Parmesan until completely melted and smooth.  Discard the garlic clove.  (Note: This will make a bit more sauce than you need for the pizza, but with a little extra cheese it makes a great dipping sauce for crust.)

To make the pizza, preheat the oven and a pizza stone at 500˚ F for at least 30 minutes.  Roll out the pizza dough into a 12-14 inch round.  Lightly brush the perimeter of the dough with olive oil.  Spread a thin layer of the white sauce over the crust, leaving a border clear around the edge for the crust.  Sprinkle the torn spinach leaves over the white sauce.  Evenly distribute the broccoli florets over the dough.  Layer evenly with the shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheeses.  Finish with additional grated Parmesan, if desired.  Transfer the pizza to the preheated pizza stone and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Source: Annie original, inspired by Mother Bear’s Pizza

Portobello, Broccoli and Red Pepper Melts


I found this recipe a couple of weeks ago and was really looking forward to trying it.  All day at work that day I couldn’t wait to get home and make it.  And then that evening, on my drive home, I turned onto the street that leads to our neighborhood and was hit by a very serious pizza craving.  I was thisclose to throwing the dinner plans out the window, making a right instead of left turn and picking up pizza.  Instead I persevered.  I couldn’t be happier about my decision because I ended up with a meal I am nuts about and will be a frequent repeater on our menu.  It also tasted remarkably like pizza.


How many great things can I say about these sandwiches?  Let’s see – for starters, they are easy and low-maintenance.  Also, these are loaded with veggies.  Sure, there is a bit of cheese and mayo but veggies definitely rule here.  Another bonus – this recipe also requires very few dishes.  Basically all you need is a baking sheet and a cutting board.  While the broccoli roasts, you can prep the other veggies, and when they roast you can prep the other ingredients so the time from start to “yum” is very short.  The thin spread of garlic mayo on the bread adds a lot of flavor, and melted cheese of course makes everything better.  I opted for provolone because I had some on hand and I think it was a perfect compliment, but I’m sure many varieties would work well.  This is clearly a very flexible recipe that can be adapted to veggies, bread and cheese of your preference but I am so smitten with this particular combo, I doubt I will stray from it.

Portobello, Broccoli and Red Pepper Melts
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Ingredients:
1 small head broccoli, cut into small florets
1 tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 portobello mushrooms (stems removed), sliced ½-inch thick
2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced ½-inch thick
¼ cup light mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
4 thick slices country bread
2-4 oz. provolone cheese, thinly sliced

Directions:
Preheat a broiler with a rack placed 4 inches from the heat source.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Place the broccoli on the baking sheet, drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Toss to combine.  Broil until the broccoli begins to brown, tossing once or twice, about 4-6 minutes.

Add the sliced mushrooms and peppers to the pan with the broccoli and toss to combine.  Broil, tossing once or twice, until the vegetables are tender, 8-10 minutes more.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the mayonnaise and garlic in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.  Place the slices of bread on a work surface.  Spread each slice of bread with 1 tablespoon of the garlic-mayo mixture.  Top with the cooked vegetables, then the cheese.  Line the baking sheet with a new piece of foil.  Transfer the assembled sandwiches to the baking sheet.  Broil until the cheese is melted and lightly browned, 2-4 minutes.

Source: Everyday Food, March 2008

Greek Panzanella

Why, oh why,  have I waited this long to try panzanella?  In case you are unfamiliar, panzanella is bread salad that has Italian origins.  It’s a very adaptable meal that is easily altered based on the ingredients you have around and what your taste buds fancy.  I have seen lots of variations and they all sound pretty great but none had compelled enough to actually try it.  When I saw this Greek version, it went onto the next week’s menu immediately.  I have to say it more than exceeded my expectations.  I wouldn’t exactly call it healthy since it is, after all, a bread salad and it uses a good deal of olive oil.  However, it is a really great way to get a lot of vegetables into a meal.  Tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, red onion and olives – plus feta cheese!  Yum yum.  I thought this would be a meal that I really liked and Ben was indifferent to, but he was equally impressed.  It does make a large quantity but I am so glad we didn’t halve it.  I had it as leftovers for lunch and even though the bread was a bit soggy the second day, it still tasted fantastic.  Now I’m super motivated to try more variations of panzanella.  Bring it on!

Greek Panzanella
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Ingredients:
For the salad:
2 tbsp. olive oil
6 cups French bread cubes (1 inch)
Kosher salt
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced ¼-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, large diced
1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
½ red onion, sliced thin
6 oz. crumbled feta cheese
2.5 oz. can sliced black olives, drained (kalamatas would also be good if you like that sort of thing)

For the vinaigrette:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1¼ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

Directions:
To prepare the salad, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan.  Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt; cook over medium-low heat, tossing frequently, for 5-10 minutes, until nicely browned.  Remove from the heat.

Combine the cucumber, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onion in a large bowl.  To make the vinaigrette, combine the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Whisk in the olive oil to create an emulsion.  Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables.  Add the feta, olives, and bread cubes.  Mix together lightly.  Set aside for 30 minutes to let the flavors blend (if you can wait that long!)

Source: barely adapted from Smells Like Home, originally from Ina Garten

Eggplant Parmesan Panini

A great source of recipe inspiration is restaurant menus.  The better I get at cooking, the less we eat out when we could make the same thing for less money at home.  Last fall I went to a local restaurant for several work-related lunches, and after trying their eggplant parmesan panini, I could never bring myself to order anything else.  I am always a sucker for grilled sandwiches, and in fact this is the sandwich that is responsible for me liking eggplant in the first place.

To make these at home, I made my regular eggplant parmesan recipe one evening and prepared extra slices of the breaded and baked eggplant to use for the sandwiches a couple nights later.  At least for me, breading and baking the eggplant and then making it into a sandwich just seemed like too much work for one weeknight dinner but the leftover method worked just fine.  Of course you can make these in a regular skillet, but I just love the great flavor and pretty grill marks that come from my cast iron grill pan and panini press.  These were definitely a hit with our family, and Andrew ate so much that I ended up having to make extra sandwiches just so I could have dinner myself!

Eggplant Parmesan Paninis
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Yield: 2 sandwiches
Ingredients:

4 slices artisan bread, such as sourdough or Italian
Olive oil
Sliced mozzarella cheese
Breaded and baked eggplant slices
Prepared marinara sauce
Fresh basil, roughly chopped

Directions:
Heat a well-oiled grill pan/panini press over medium-high heat.  Lay out bread slices on a work surface.  Brush one side of each piece of bread lightly with olive oil.  Flip over so non-0iled side is facing up.  On two of the bread slices, layer mozzarella cheese and baked eggplant slices.  Spoon a thin layer of marinara sauce over the eggplant slices and sprinkle generously with chopped basil.  Top with the remaining bread slices, so that the oiled side is facing outward.

Cook the sandwiches on the preheated grill pan until warmed through, so that the bread is nicely browned and cheese is melted.  Serve immediately.

Source: Annie’s Eats, inspired by R Bistro

Four Cheese Ravioli

Even though we are very much into the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we’re not so much into the going out for dinner and paying too much for a meal I could have made easily at home.  Plus, for me so much of the fun is in the planning and preparation of a nice meal.  I always look forward to coming up with a special meal to celebrate the occasion.  Homemade pasta is certainly an impressive entree that is not nearly as difficult as many people think.  Even filled and shaped pastas like this heart-shaped ravioli are easy and fun to make.  (On that note, are there readers that would be interested in a homemade pasta tutorial?)

I have been making this particular ravioli filling for quite a while, and it is always a winner at our house.  You could certainly use any combination of cheeses that appeals to you.  I’m of the opinion that four cheese anything is going to be delicious 🙂  Homemade pasta sauce is definitely the way to go here, but I haven’t found one I am completely in love with just yet.  I do have a couple of prime contenders that I plan to try soon, and I will share “the one” as soon as I find it.  The recipe below will yield quite a lot of ravioli (exact amount will vary just depending on the size you make them).  I halved it for our family of three.  Enjoy!

Four Cheese Ravioli
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Ingredients:
½ cup part-skim ricotta
½ cup shredded mozzarella
½ cup shredded fontina
½ cup shredded parmesan
1 clove garlic, finely minced
¼ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. dried basil
¼ tsp. dried parsley
¼ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 batch fresh homemade pasta
Marinara sauce, for serving

Directions:
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, mozzarella, fontina, parmesan, garlic, and spices.  Mix well to blend.  Roll out homemade pasta into long, thin sheets.  To make heart-shaped ravioli, use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out pasta shapes.  Place about 2 teaspoons of filling in the middle of  half of the heart shapes, leaving a clear edge around the perimeter.  Dip a finger in water and lightly brush around the edges of a heart topped with the filling.  Place one of the remaining pasta hearts on top and press the edges of the pasta shapes together to seal around the filling, being careful to press out any excess air.  Repeat with the remaining dough shapes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Cook the ravioli until al dente, about 5 minutes.  Serve in warmed bowls with marinara sauce.

Source: adapted from Good Things Catered

Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza


My first time trying Chicago-style pizza was actually not all that long ago.  I was in Chicago (duh) less than two years ago to take a portion of my medical boards.  I made it through the eight-hour day of testing and really needed some relaxation, but since we had three-month old Andrew with us at the time, a nice dinner out in the city just wasn’t in the cards.  We walked to pick up a pizza from Pizzeria Uno, went back to our hotel room, and pretty much devoured it.  It was a wonderful way to calm down after a very stressful day.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the pizza other than that it would be deep-dish, so I was surprised to see the sauce on top of the cheese.  Now I know that’s part of what makes it Chicago-style.  But it was good – and so was this homemade version.  The thick, tall crust serves as sort of a bowl for all the yummy toppings and sauce.  I tried a different deep dish recipe a while back that was just “eh”, but this version is definitely a winner.  The crust was fabulous – soft, flaky and buttery, but sturdy enough to stand up to all the cheese and sauce on top of it.  The original recipe yields two 9-inch pizzas but I made just one for the three of us.  Next time I might make both and try freezing one, since it would be a nice thing to have around when for a last minute meal.

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza
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Ingredients:
For the dough:
1½ cups plus 2 tbsp. (8 1/8 oz.) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1 3/8 oz.) yellow cornmeal
¾ tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/8 tsp. instant yeast
½ cup plus 2 tbsp. (5 oz.) water, at room temperature
1½ tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

For the sauce:
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. grated onion
Pinch of dried oregano
¼ tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
2 tbsp. fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1½ tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper

For assembling and topping:
2 tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. mozzarella, shredded (about 2 cups)
¼ oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 2 tbsp.)

Directions:
To make the dough, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook on low speed.  Mix until blended, about 1 minute.  Add the water and melted butter and continue mixing on low speed until fully incorporated, 1-2 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally.  Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is glossy and smooth, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, 4-5 minutes.

Using your hands, coat a medium bowl with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil.  Transfer the dough to the bowl, turning once to coat with oil.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled, about 45-60 minutes.

While the dough is rising, prepare the sauce.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion, oregano, and salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in the tomatoes and sugar and increase the heat to medium-high.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer until reduced to about 1¼ cups, about 25 minutes.  Off the heat, stir in the basil and oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To laminate the dough, turn the dough out onto a dry work surface and roll into a 8- by 6-inch rectangle.  Using an offset spatula, spread the softened butter over the surface of the dough, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges.  Starting at the short end, roll the dough into a tight cylinder.  With the seam side down, flatten the cylinder into a 9- by 2 inch rectangle.  Fold into thirds like a business letter, pinch the seams to form a ball, and return to the oiled bowl.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator until nearly doubled in size, 40-50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425˚ F.  To assemble, coat a 9-inch round cake pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Transfer the dough ball to a dry work surface and roll out into a 13-inch disk about ¼-inch thick.  Transfer the dough to the pan.  Lightly press the dough into the pan, working into the corners and 1 inch up the sides.  If the dough resists stretching, let rest 5 minutes before trying again.

Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the surface of the dough.  Spread the tomato sauce over the cheese and top with Parmesan.  Bake until the crust is golden brown, 20-30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Yield: 1 9-inch deep-dish pizza

Source: adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, January-February 2010

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant is one of those vegetables that I have supposedly disliked for a long time, though to be honest, I don’t think I’d ever really tried it.  In college one of my friends ordered eggplant Parmesan at dinner and I tried a bite, and it was good.  I filed that away, but didn’t really have it again until this year.  I’ve been going out to a lot of work-related lunches at a restaurant with an eggplant Parmesan panini on the menu.  I ordered it once, and now I get it every single time.  It’s phenomenal!  I don’t know where my mental dislike of eggplant came from, but I’m glad it’s over now.  I decided to try a classic eggplant parmesan recipe to truly appreciate it.  Of course it’s delicious – anything breaded and covered with sauce and cheese is bound to be awesome!

This meal definitely takes some time to prepare, so it’s not really suitable for a weeknight unless you want to eat late.  It’s really fun to make though.  I automatically like any recipe where you work to get excess liquid out of vegetables (like tzatziki sauce or shredded zucchini).  We loved this so much, it’s right up there with our beloved chicken Parmesan and we actually can’t decide which we like better.  My only change was to cut the original recipe in half (halved version below), but between the three of us there were no leftovers!  I did notice that I was a bit short on the breading and had a few leftover slices of eggplant, so I have altered the recipe below to correct this problem.  I know I’ll definitely be making this again and again, and I can’t wait to make it into a panini next.

Eggplant Parmesan
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Ingredients:
For the eggplant:
1 lb. globe eggplant, cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick rounds
1½ tsp. kosher salt
6 oz. high-quality white bread, torn into chunks
1½ oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, about ¾ cup
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. pepper, divided
¾ cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
3 tbsp. vegetable oil

For the tomato sauce:
1½ (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt and ground black pepper

4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)
½ oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)
Fresh basil leaves, torn, for garnish

Directions:
To prepare the eggplant, toss the eggplant slices with the kosher salt in a large bowl until combined.  Transfer the salted eggplant to a colander and set the colander over the now empty bowl.  Let stand until the eggplant releases at least 1 tablespoon liquid, 30-45 minutes.  Spread the eggplant slices on a triple thickness of paper towels (or layers of clean kitchen towels); cover with another triple thickness of paper towels.  Press firmly on each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.  Wipe off any excess salt.

While the eggplant is draining, place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 425˚ F.  Pulse the bread in a food processor to fine crumbs (about 15 1-second pulses).  You should have about 3 cups.  Transfer the crumbs to a pie plate and mix in the cheese, salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; set aside.  Wipe out the bowl of the food processor.

Combine the flour and ¾ teaspoon pepper in a large zipper lock plastic bag; shake to combine.  Beat the eggs in a second pie plate.  Place about half of the eggplant slices in the bag with the flour; seal and shake to coat.  Remove the slices, shaking off the excess flour.  Dip in the eggs, letting the excess run off.  Coat evenly with the bread crumb mixture.  Set the breaded slices on a wire rack.  Repeat with the remaining eggplant until all the slices are breaded.

Remove the preheated baking sheet from the oven.  Add the vegetable oil to the sheet and tilt to coat evenly.  Place the breaded eggplant slices on the baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake until the eggplant is well browned and crisp, about 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 10 minutes and flipping the slices after 20 minutes.  Do not turn off the oven after the slices are baked.

While the eggplant is baking, prepare the tomato sauce.  Process about half of the diced tomatoes in the food processor until almost smooth, about 5 seconds.  Heat the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and the garlic is light golden, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the processed tomatoes and the remaining diced tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened at reduced, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble the dish, spread ½ cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish.  Layer in half of the eggplant slices, overlapping the slices to fit.  Spread with another ½ cup of the sauce.  Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella.  Layer in the remaining eggplant and dot with the remaining sauce, leaving the majority of the eggplant exposed so it will remain crisp. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and the remaining mozzarella.  Bake until bubbling and the cheese is browned, 13-15 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes, scatter the basil over the top, and serve.

Source: adapted from The New Best Recipe from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated

Tomato Mozzarella Basil Tart

I think we all know by now that most dishes featuring tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella are bound to be a hit, right?  Right.  There was no doubt in my mind that we would love this tart, and we certainly did!  After all, pizza margherita with tomatoes and herbs from our garden is one of my favorite foods ever!  This has a basic tart dough that is kicked up a notch by the addition of finely minced basil and garlic directly into the dough, which is a genius idea if you ask me.

I have been wanting to make a tart with tomatoes and mozzarella for quite a while, but knowing how both of these ingredients can release a lot of liquid when cooking, I was unsure of how this would turn out.  Once I saw this recipe though, I knew I had to at least try it.  I decided to use all cherry tomatoes because when sliced, the seeds inside squirt right out on their own, so you don’t have to spend any time removing it yourself.  Plus they look cute!  When I went to rotate the tart halfway through baking, I noticed that indeed it had started to collect some liquid on top so I just used a paper towel or two to wick off the excess moisture via the wonders of capillary action (high school science, anyone?)  It worked wonderfully and the tart went on to bake up with great results.

My one issue though was with the baking of the crust in relation to the other ingredients.  For many tart and pie recipes, sweet or savory, the recipe will call for blind baking the crust – essentially baking the empty crust without any filling for a short time to help achieve a nice texture on the bottom portion.  If the filling is simply place directly onto the crust and baked with no pre-baking of the crust (as indicated in the original recipe), the bottom doesn’t crisp up quite the way it should.  I have made enough tarts to have known better, but I decided to stick to the recipe for this first run and just popped it right into the oven, toppings and all.  I should have gone with my instinct.  It was bearable, but the texture would have benefited greatly from a little blind baking.  You live and learn, right?  Texture aside, this was a fantastic meal and Ben declared it, “Like pizza but better!”  While nothing beats pizza in my book, I loved this and think it would make an elegant addition to a brunch, a nice light lunch or a dinner.  I also think it would be wonderful made in mini-tart pans for individual servings.  Enjoy!

Tomato Mozzarella Tart with Basil Garlic Crust
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Ingredients:
For the dough:
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
1-2 cloves garlic
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. kosher salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 8-10 pieces
4-5 tbsp. ice cold water

For the filling:
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
Ripe cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 tbsp. minced fresh basil

Directions:
To make the dough, combine the basil and garlic in the bowl of a food processor.  Process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until finely minced.  Add the flour and salt; pulse briefly to combine.  Add in the chunks of butter and pulse about 10 times, or until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbs.  Add 3 tablespoons of the water and pulse a few times to incorporate.  Add 1 more tablespoon and process for several seconds to see if the dough forms a ball.  If not, add the remaining tablespoon of water and process until a ball of dough forms.  Remove the dough, flatten into a 5-inch disc, and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When you are ready to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 425° F.  Transfer the chilled dough to a lightly floured work surface and roll out into a 12-inch circle.  Lay the dough over a 9-inch round tart pan and press it into the sides.  Trim the excess dough as needed.  (I use this to reinforce the edges.)  Lay a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper loosely over the tart dough and fill the center with baking beads.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and carefully remove the foil or parchment and baking beads.  Return the empty tart shell to the oven to bake for 5 minutes more.  Remove from the oven and lower the heat to 375° F.

Layer the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell with the sliced mozzarella.  Arrange the cherry tomato slices on top of the cheese in a single even layer.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Top with freshly grated Parmesan and minced fresh basil.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned in places.  About halfway through baking, rotate the tart 180° and wick off any excess moisture that has collected on top with a towel if necessary. Allow the tart to rest at least 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Source: adapted from Pink Parsley, originally from Ezra Pound Cake and The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook

Veggie Quesadillas

The thing I love about this time of year is that my garden is finally producing like mad.  I know some people lament having so much produce on their hands because they don’t know what to do with it all but so far I have not had that problem.  I thoroughly enjoy finding ways to enjoy all of our fresh veggies and herbs.  Normally one of my go-to quick and easy dinners is grilled veggie paninis, but given my surplus of jalapenos and tortillas in the fridge, I wanted to do something with a Mexican twist and these quesadillas were a natural choice.  I was able to use up tomatoes, zucchini, a jalapeno and bell pepper from our garden.  Even though quesadillas can be one of the least healthy choices at a restaurant, you can make them much healthier when you make them at home by using less oil and less cheese.  Don’t get me wrong, I still used plenty of cheese, but not compared to the mountain they use in restaurants.  This is a great dinner to use up any odds and ends of produce in your fridge since they are easily adaptable to what you have on hand.  Enjoy!

Veggie Quesadillas
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Ingredients:
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ medium yellow onion, chopped
½ bell pepper (any color), chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
¼ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. fajita seasoning
½ small zucchini, chopped
4 oz. button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup fresh corn kernels
1/3 cup black beans
1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
3 10-inch flour tortillas
Shredded Mexican cheese

Directions:
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion, bell pepper and jalapeno pepper to the pan and sauté until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.  Mix in the cumin, cayenne pepper, and fajita seasoning.  Add the zucchini and mushrooms to the pan and sauté about 3 more minutes.  Mix in the corn, black beans and tomatoes and cook 1 minute more.  Remove from the heat.

Lay out tortillas on a work surface.  Brush one side of each tortilla lightly with oil and flip over.  Evenly distribute the vegetable filling between the tortillas, spreading it over one half of each and leaving a ½-inch border clear.  Sprinkle shredded cheese to taste over the veggie filling.  Fold the empty half of each tortilla over the filling into a semicircle.

Heat a lightly oiled skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat.  Cook quesadillas, flipping halfway through, until both sides are well browned and cheese is melted.  Repeat with remaining quesadillas until all have been cooked, and cut into triangular sections.  Serve immediately with salsa and sour cream, if desired.

Source: Annie’s Eats original