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.

Cheese Stuffed Shells

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Stuffed shells are another regular on our weekly dinner menu. Everyone likes them, they are easy to make and they can be made ahead. This is another childhood favorite of Rich’s. His mom almost always makes a double batch and freezes half for another meal. She likes to freeze the whole casserole, complete with sauce. I prefer to freeze just the shells in a zip-lock bag to save freezer space. When I want to bake them, I just put the frozen shells in a sauce-filled casserole dish and add about 15 minutes to the baking time.

Making the recipe as written will leave you with half a container of ricotta cheese. I can only get it in one-pound containers (well, 15 ounces, with shrinking packages these days). It keeps in the fridge for a long time, or you can use it in bacon and date calzones, on white pizza or do like the container I have suggests and mix it with vanilla and honey for a fruit dip. I like to use whole milk ricotta, it has only two more grams of fat per serving than the light and it tastes so much better. Don’t use fat-free. Trust me.

These are strictly vegetarian. You can always serve them with meat sauce or meatballs if you like. You can add spinach or garlic to the filling for another variation. For my sauce, I usually buy unseasoned crushed tomatoes and add my own garlic, basil and spices. I like the control. Use whatever sauce you prefer.

Speaking of sauce, I bake the shells on a bed of sauce, with none on top. My sauce-phobic family prefers them that way, though I top my serving at the table with the extra sauce from the bottom of the casserole dish. If you like sauce, you can put some on top before you bake them, or have extra on hand to serve at the table.

Download or print the recipe here.

Cheese Stuffed Shells
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

This is easy to double to serve a crowd or to freeze half for later meals. If freezing, you can either make two complete casseroles and freeze one, or just double the shell portion and freeze them in a zip-lock bag without the sauce. Add frozen shells to sauce and add about 15 minutes to the baking time. If freezing entire casserole, thaw in fridge overnight before baking.

Shells:
½ pound large pasta shells
½ pound grated mozzarella cheese
½ pound ricotta cheese
1 egg

Sauce:
2 cups crushed tomatoes, low-sodium or no salt added, if possible
1-4 cloves garlic, diced
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons dried basil
paprika, few dashes
cayenne, few dashes
salt
pepper
OR
2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce

For Serving:
Parmesan cheese
Tomato sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package directions, subtracting a few minutes from the cooking time so pasta is very al dente. It will cook more later in the oven. Drain pasta and set aside to cool while you make the filling.

Combine mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese and egg. Mix well. Set aside.

Mix sauce ingredients together and spread in the bottom of a medium-sized shallow casserole dish.

Fill each pasta shell with about two tablespoons of cheese filling. Arrange filled shells in a single layer on top of tomato sauce.

Cover shells with foil and poke a few holes in the top to let steam out. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted and hot. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese and extra sauce, if desired.