Sun-Dried Tomato Flatbread

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I first made sun-dried tomato pesto a couple of months ago, to stuff inside chicken, along with goat cheese. I made a sun-dried tomato flatbread a week or so later, to use up a little leftover pizza dough. We really liked it, but I never made it again – so many recipes and ideas, so little time.

I decided the flatbread was too good to be a one-time thing. This time I used a whole recipe of my favorite whole wheat pizza dough, pressing it into one pan instead of two to make a fairly thick layer of bread in the finished product. You could also use half the dough, if you want a thinner flatbread. If you don’t want to make your own dough, you could pick up your favorite prepared pizza dough, or use a pre-made crust, like Boboli.

I topped my dough with a quick smear of sun-dried tomato pesto. I used a fairly thick layer of pesto, but didn’t spread it evenly – leaving it thicker in spots for a punch of flavor. After a heavy sprinkling of Parmesan cheese it was ready for the oven.

The flatbread turned out exactly how I imagined– soft bread topped with sweet yet savory, full-bodied tomato pesto, finished off with nutty, salty cheese.

I let the flatbread cool and then sliced it – I was saving it to serve the next day. If you are eating yours right away, feel free to tear off warm chunks, without waiting for it to cool.

The flatbread, like all bread, keeps really well in the freezer, and I am looking forward to grabbing a few pieces whenever I want a little something different to accompany dinner. And the next time we have people over, I’ll have a ready-made appetizer, waiting for me in the freezer. A little cheese and some wine and we are set. Heck, I might not wait until we have company.

Download or print the recipe here.

Sun-Dried Tomato Flatbread
From The Cook’s Life
Makes one large flatbread

Adjust the tomato pesto and cheese amounts to suit your tastes.

1 recipe pizza dough, or your favorite dough*
All-purpose flour, for sprinkling
½-1 cup sun-dried tomato pesto, purchased or homemade
1-1½ cups shredded Parmesan cheese, preferably not the powdered stuff

*If you don’t want to make dough, you could use a pre-made crust like Boboli. Follow the package instructions for baking.

Prepare pizza dough and let it rise once.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 12 by 17 inch half sheet pan,  two 9 by 13 inch pans or two round pizza pans.

Press the dough into the pan(s), sprinkling the top with flour if dough sticks to your hands. Try to get the dough all the way to the edges of the pan, and try to keep it an even thickness all the way across.

Spread the dough with a layer of sun-dried tomato pesto. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese.

Bake the flatbread for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough. The pesto will darken somewhat. If the pesto looks like it is burning, lay a large piece of aluminum foil over the top of the flatbread. Bake until the cheese is just starting to brown and the edges of the dough are golden brown.

Cool flatbread on a rack before cutting into strips or wedges. Or tear pieces off and eat them warm from the oven.

Leftovers keep for a day or two in an airtight container. Reheat briefly in the oven or a skillet before serving. Microwaving can make the bread chewy. Freeze for longer storage. Thaw at room temperature and reheat briefly before serving.

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Pizza Margherita

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There are as many versions of pizza margherita as there are versions of apple pie. I am not saying mine is authentic, quintessential or the best. I will say it is darn good. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment creations that turned out better than expectations – crisp, bubbly crust, milky cheese, sweet tomatoes and pungent basil, all accented by a hint of garlic.

I was looking for a different kind of dinner the last time Rich and I had a date night. Nothing really was really sparking our interest, so I started thinking about what we had on hand. Half a pound of fresh mozzarella was begging to be used, the garlic and basil were flourishing in the garden and we had a container of grape tomatoes. Pizza margherita came to mind.

It was the perfect date night meal. Rich and I assembled it together and even had time to document the process with pictures. I can take no credit for the pics. Rich did them all since I was covered in flour and dough for much of the process.

I have a pizza stone, but I don’t always use it. This time I decided to pull it out and chuck it in the oven to preheat. I wanted to get the crust as crispy as possible, since it is a star player in a simple pizza like margherita.

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And I did keep it simple, no sauce, and only olive oil and garlic, and a touch of Parmesan, in addition to the traditional mozzarella, basil and tomatoes. I did experiment with adding the basil at different times and we liked it best added during the last few minutes of baking so it didn’t burn.

All amounts in the recipe are approximate. You can’t really go wrong, unless you pile on too much stuff. I got a few too many tomatoes on some of the pizzas, so the middles were a little soggy. Use a lighter hand than you think with toppings and you will be fine.

I roll my pizza out on parchment paper when I am using my baking stone. I have had too many problems using cornmeal to keep the dough from sticking to the counter or the peel. Problems meaning folding pizza that splats cheese side down on the screaming hot stone. Parchment takes away a little of the crispness, but I’ll take it over smoke boiling out of the oven and inedible pizza. Do what works for you, though.

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Download or print the recipe here.

Pizza Margherita
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 4 small to medium pizzas

1 recipe all-purpose pizza dough, or your favorite dough recipe
olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ pound fresh mozzarella, sliced into ½-inch slices, slices cut into small wedges
1-2 small tomatoes or a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced thin or halved if cherry tomatoes
freshly grated Parmesan (not the green can stuff, please)
a handful of basil leaves, left whole or sliced into ribbons (I did some of both)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone, if you have one. If you don’t, you can still make the pizza.

Roll out a quarter of the dough onto parchment paper, if you are using a stone. If you aren’t, press or roll out the dough onto a greased baking sheet.

Top dough with a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic and scatter mozzarella over pizza. Add tomatoes between mozzarella slices. Top with grated Parmesan. Wait to add the basil, or it will burn.

Repeat with remaining dough and toppings as the first pizzas bake.

Bake the pizzas, 1-2 at a time, depending on size until the crust is brown on the bottom and edges and the cheese is starting to brown, 10-15 minutes. Times will be shorter with the stone, and will depend on how thick your crust is. Add the basil after 7-10 minutes, or wait to add it after the pizzas come out of the oven, if you prefer it that way.

Leftovers reheat well, especially in a skillet or on a griddle to re-crisp the bottom.

Date Night Flatbread Pizzas

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Rich and I had planned to go out to dinner last night and then maybe to a movie. Calvin has the day off from school today and had an overnight last night with my parents, so we were footloose and fancy free. Of course, when it came time to pick a restaurant, Rich and I were clueless. Even after running through a litany of old favorites and new possibilities, we ended up with a big, fat zero. The process of choosing was stressing us out, so we decided to stop trying to force it and make something at home instead.

Flatbread pizzas had caught my eye on several of the menus we perused. I do find that name kind of funny, and even redundant – what is a pizza, if not a flatbread, after all? But it is a recognizable thing on restaurant menus, so I’ll stick with the name, even if it offends my literal tendencies just a little bit.

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I mixed up our standby whole wheat pizza dough and let it rise while we concocted and gathered the rest of the ingredients. We had one shallot, which I decided to caramelize. It was as easy as pie to let it slowly transform to a lovely golden brown in the pan while we worked on the rest of dinner. I’m not sure why I have never caramelized shallots before, though if I had, we would have realized that a trip to the store for a few more would have been worth it. We both agreed we wanted at least twice as many shallots on our flatbreads.

In addition to the shallots, we used Jarlsberg, mozzarella, ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little diced chicken breast from the freezer, fresh rosemary from my plant in the flowerbed, thinly sliced apple, garlic and olive oil.

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We made one flatbread with garlic, rosemary, chicken and mozzarella, one with rosemary, garlic and all the cheeses and two with apple, Jarlsberg and shallots. They were as good as some restaurant flatbread pizzas we have had. And we got to make them with exactly the toppings we wanted.

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Our evening was a little more low key than our original plans, but we weren’t complaining. We got a cozy evening together, cooking, eating and spending time doing exactly what we wanted – sounds like a perfect date night to me.

Thin Crust Pizzas

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We make pizza at least every two weeks, sometimes more often. I know I have posted about homemade pizza probably way more than I should, but I really like it. I loved pizza nights when I was growing up. We lived out in the country and there were no pizza places close. Unless we really made a production of it and drove forty-five minutes to a pizza restaurant, our choices were homemade or frozen. Homemade always won.

I felt like thin crust pizza the other night. I knew that the no-knead crust I have been making lately wasn’t going to work this time. It is an easy to dough to make, but it is kind of wet and sticky and wouldn’t press out as thin as I wanted. I used the recipe we always used when I was growing up instead. I have changed it over the years, as I tend to do, adding an extra tablespoon of oil and replacing most of the white flour with white whole wheat.

The ingredients are the same as the no-knead dough I have posted before, but the method is different. You knead the dough (only for 5 minutes – don’t let this discourage you from making it). And it only rises for an hour.

The kneading and relatively short rise result in a dough that is easy to handle. This is essential if you are trying to make thin crust pizza. I was going for the same thickness (thinness?) as Domino’s thin crust, or Imo’s, if you live in the St. Louis area – but with mozzarella, not provel. Sorry St. Louis-style pizza fans, this native is not a fan of provel cheese (or Imo’s pizza), no matter how you slice it. Don’t come after me with flaming torches and pitchforks, please.

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Give yourself some time to get the crust thin enough. If the dough bounces back, give that piece a rest and move on to another one. Or step back for a few minutes so both you and the dough can relax.

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Use your choice of toppings for this, but don’t pile them on, since the crust is thin and can’t bear the weight of loaded toppings (make two medium thick crusts if you really want to pile on the toppings, and bake them a little longer). We used red sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan and pepperoni for our pizzas. Calvin had a small one with garlic, olive oil, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan. Unfortunately we forgot to take pictures of the finished pepperoni pizzas – we only have pictures of Calvin’s white pizza. But you can get an idea of how the crust looks before and after it bakes.

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Download or print the recipe here.

All-Purpose Pizza Dough
From the Cook’s Life
Makes 3 14-inch thin or 2 14-inch medium crusts

This is the recipe we used for pizza dough when I was growing up, with a few tweaks. I have made it so many times that I don’t need to look at the recipe anymore.

1 cup warm water
1 package yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-3½ cups flour, approximately *
all-purpose flour for kneading
Your choice of toppings

*I use about 3 cups white whole wheat flour and ½ cup all-purpose flour. You can use entirely all-purpose flour if you prefer. Note that the dough will be whiter than the pictures if you use only all-purpose flour.

Measure water, yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil and 2 cups flour into a large mixing bowl. Stir until well mixed. Continue to add flour, about ½ cup at a time, until a soft dough forms. Sprinkle kneading surface with flour and turn dough out of bowl. Sprinkle dough with flour and knead until soft and elastic (about 5 minutes), adding flour if it sticks to your hands or the counter.

Lightly grease a large bowl. Place kneaded dough into bowl, cover bowl loosely with a wet towel or tightly with plastic wrap and set aside to rise. Dough should double in size in 45-60 minutes.

Grease pizza pans. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

For thin pizza crusts, divide dough into three pieces. For medium thick crusts, divide into two pieces. Place dough on pans and use your hands to press it out to the edges. If dough springs back, let it rest for a few minutes for the gluten to relax. Be patient, especially if you are making thin crusts. If you end up with holes, gently press the edges back together.

Top with your favorite pizza toppings. Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Lower heat to 350 and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes, or until bottom and edges of crust are browned and cheese is melted and browned.

Let pizzas cool for about 5 minutes before cutting. Serve hot. Leftovers reheat well in a skillet, on a griddle or in the microwave. Or eat them cold.

Bacon and Date Calzones

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We have homemade pizza in one form or another about every other week. We have tried all sorts of toppings, but haven’t done calzones in years. Calvin saw a commercial for some pizza place that had a crust-topped pizza. He thought it looked good and I remarked that we could do that, but ours would be better. Somehow that morphed into making calzones.

Rich had seen a menu for a local restaurant that only does calzones, with a fig and bacon version that intrigued him. When I made these, we didn’t have any figs, but we had a lot of dates, so I thought we would substitute. I wasn’t sure about the combo, so I used only a few bits of date and crisp bacon in each small calzone. As soon as we ate our first ones, we realized that we had made deconstructed bacon-wrapped dates in a pocket. Next time I will use more dates and bacon to really get the flavor.

The rest of the filling was shredded mozzarella, roasted garlic, ricotta and olive oil. Calvin had his without the dates and bacon, to make inside out white pizza. We made extras of his for him to have as after school snacks (and because we ran out of bacon).

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The instructions and assembly seem like a long process. You can do this in steps – make the dough the day before or in the morning, cook the bacon and chop the dates when you have a minute, shred the cheese and chop the garlic ahead of time. If you aren’t doing it all at once it won’t be as daunting.

As you can see from the pictures, our calzones are irregular shapes. Calvin was helping me and the goal was to get dinner made so we could eat. Aesthetics went out the window in favor of teenage help to get dinner on the table. And, as always, they tasted just fine, even if they weren’t pretty.

The following recipe doesn’t have exact amounts, because I was winging it, which you should too. Use what you have and see what works. Just remember not to fill the calzones too full or you will have leaks. Not that leaking cheese is all bad, since it browns on the pan and makes a nice addition to the calzone, but sometimes it makes a pathway for all of the filling to escape, leaving you with an empty shell.

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Have fun with your calzones and post in the comments if you have a favorite filling idea.

Download or print just the recipe here.

Bacon and Date Calzones
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 10-16 calzones, depending on size

I am giving only approximate amounts, since I didn’t measure and you need to adjust to your tastes.

1 recipe whole wheat pizza dough, mixed and risen (or your preferred dough)
Olive oil
Garlic, roasted and mashed, or minced if raw (4 cloves roasted, 1 or 2 if raw)
4-8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
6-12 dates, diced
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella
½-1 cup ricotta, whole milk preferred (do not use fat free)
Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease.

Divide dough in half on a floured surface. Cover one half of dough to keep it from drying out while you work with the other half.

Roll dough out to a rough square or rectangle, about ¼ inch thick. Cut dough into 5-8 squares – size will depend on how big you want your calzones.

As you fill your squares, be sure to keep the edges free of any toppings so the dough will stick together when you seal the filled calzone. Drizzle about ½ teaspoon of olive oil in the middle of half of each square (the other half will be the top and gets no filling).

Spread a little garlic on each oiled square. Top garlic with bacon, dates, a little mozzarella and a tablespoon, or less, of ricotta.  Add a sprinkling of Parmesan to each calzone. Make sure you don’t over-fill your calzones, or you will have trouble encasing the filling in the dough and you will have leaks.

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Fold the empty side of dough over the filling of each calzone and press the edges to seal. Use a little water as glue if the dough doesn’t stick to itself. Transfer the calzones to the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle each with a little more Parmesan, if desired. Prick the tops with a fork to make steam vents.

Repeat steps with remaining dough and topping ingredients.

Bake calzones for 15-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bottom. Baking time will depend on size. Check them after 10-15 minutes to make sure they aren’t getting too brown.

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Let calzones cool on baking sheet about five minutes before serving. These store well – reheat in the oven or a toaster oven for best results.

Bagel Pizzas to the Rescue

I work at home, which means I have free rein when it comes to making lunch for myself during the week. Most of the time I reheat leftovers from last night’s dinner –all the prep and the dirty dishes are distant memories, and lunch is just a microwave minute away. However, there are always days that there are no leftovers and I have to make do with peanut butter and jelly.

Last week I opened the fridge to see what I had to work with. Several nights of minimalist dinners had left precious few leftovers. I was faced with some white rice and three oven French fries. Who saved three fries? I probably did, because I hate to throw anything away. There was also about a quarter cup of pizza sauce – see previous sentence.

The rice and oven fries weren’t doing anything for me. What I really wanted was the pepperoni pizza that we had made over the weekend, which was, sadly, gone. The pizza sauce started me thinking about the bagel pizzas I lived on in college – white bagels, fat free mozzarella cheese and sauce. In my defense, it was the fat-phobic 90’s and whole grains weren’t big yet.

I had whole wheat bagels in the freezer, along with turkey pepperoni. And there was part of a chunk of mozzarella (not fat free!) in the cheese drawer. Lunch was looking better and better.

I didn’t feel like a thick “crust,” so I sliced each bagel half into two horizontal slices and topped them with my bounty while the toaster oven preheated. A few minutes’ baking, with a finish under the broiler, and my 21st century bagel pizzas were ready – crispy on the bottom, topped with just a touch of garlicky tomato sauce, browned cheese and pepperoni that was just crisping on the edges. Take that, boring PBJ!

You may not have the chance to be creative at lunchtime during the week, but take the time to let your imagination free on the weekends. Use those little bits of leftovers in the fridge and freezer as inspiration – perk up grilled cheese sandwiches with that last bit of deli ham or turkey; add the last slice of cheese to your tuna sandwich and make a melt; or use the last dabs of vegetables from last night’s dinner in an omelet. And if you think of anything I can do with three oven fries, let me know.

One Zucchini and Three Tomatoes Lead to Pizza

 

Last Saturday we were trying to decide what we wanted to make for dinner. We didn’t really want to go to the store, and we wanted to make something new and different. We decided on pizza, but we wanted to change up the toppings to make something more interesting than our usual pepperoni or pesto pizza.

Part of cooking, and coming up with new recipes, is thinking about what you know how to do and how you can change it. This doesn’t always work if you are trying to change a baking recipe, since the ratios and chemistry matter – but with pizza or most dinner recipes, you don’t have to be as careful. Start by looking through pantry and fridge to see what you have on hand.

Our kitchen search uncovered one zucchini, a few small garden tomatoes, garlic paste, part of a container of fresh mozzarella pearls, a small chunk of part-skim mozzarella and a big chunk of Parmesan (Sam’s is a great place to get this for a great price).

The garlic paste was left over from our anniversary dinner at a tapas restaurant (Modesto for you St. Louis readers – definitely worth a trip). One of the dishes we ordered was fried garlic. We had expected to get a plate of chopped garlic that had been cooked with oil. We were surprised when we got several skewers filled with deep fried whole garlic cloves. They were sweet and nutty, but with a definite garlic kick when smeared on bread. We ate about three cloves each and had at least 20 to take home. I mashed them with a fork, and froze the resulting paste to use later – tripled bagged to keep the aromas from invading the freezer.

The paste was too thick to spread on our soft dough, so I mixed it with a little olive oil, but it was still too stiff. I didn’t want to add more oil, so I added a bit of white wine. Then I added some grated Parmesan for flavor, which made it too thick again. More wine and it was ready to spread.

We topped the garlic paste with thin slices of the zucchini and tomatoes. I wanted to avoid any possibility of crunchy zucchini, so after I sliced it, I spread it in a single layer on a plate and microwaved it for a couple of minutes, until the slices were starting to soften. We topped the veggies with a scattering of mozzarella pearls and a thin layer of grated part-skim mozzarella. A dusting of Parmesan and it was ready for the oven.

 

The pizza surpassed our expectations by a mile. The edges of each zucchini slice crisped, and the cheese on top of them browned – resulting in zucchini chips right on top of our pizza. The garlic sauce was the star of the show, though. Even after baking at high heat we could taste the wine, which added a nice flavor dimension. The garlic was a definite presence, but not overpowering. I am definitely going to experiment with roasting a head of garlic or sautéing minced garlic in olive oil to try to recreate the garlic paste without having to deep fry it.

The next time you are looking for ways to bring some interest to your meals, let the inner adventurer free. Think about dishes you have had in restaurants, or recipes you have read. Use the contents of your fridge, pantry and freezer for inspiration. You never know what new favorites you might create.