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.

Oven Crisped Zucchini

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I am always looking for new ways to make zucchini, since it is a popular vegetable with the picky eaters in the house. We first started our love affair with the dark green squash with restaurant zucchini fritti. Of course we love that one – deep fried zucchini topped with Parmesan cheese – but I am not going to make it at home. As I have mentioned before, I have never deep-fried anything and when I do it is going to be a doughnut, not a vegetable.

The latest recipe is our attempt to mirror restaurant zucchini fritti without the deep fryer. Restaurant zucchini usually has some type of coating, though not a full breading. I have seen recipes for using egg and breadcrumbs to bread the zucchini, but I don’t want to put that much work into a side dish, and I don’t like to disguise a vegetable quite that much. I settled on dredging the slices in flour with a little added garlic powder and salt.

I used my new mandolin (thanks to Rich’s mom) to slice the zucchini the long way. I am already looking for other things to slice. When I asked for the mandolin for Christmas I thought maybe I was indulging myself too much, since I already have a food processor and not a lot of cabinet space. But I love my new tool and am already thinking of new things to slice.

Our attempt to make oven baked zucchini fritti was a success the first try. We had it again last night and I think it will become a part of the side dish rotation, at least until we think of another new zucchini recipe.

Download or print recipe here.

Oven Crisped Zucchini
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 2-3

2-3 tablespoons olive oil, approximately, divided
½ cup flour, approximately
garlic powder
salt
2 medium zucchini, sliced vertically into long, thin slices
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, approximately

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets with olive oil and set aside.

Mix flour with a few shakes of garlic powder and salt. Dredge zucchini slices in the flour to lightly cover both sides. Don’t make the coating too thick. Arrange coated zucchini in a single layer on baking sheets. Drizzle slices with additional olive oil.

Bake zucchini for 10 minutes. Remove sheets from oven and turn slices over. Drizzle with a little olive oil if slices seem dry. Return pans to oven for 5 minutes. Remove any browned, crispy slices to a plate and return pans to oven for less crispy slices to finish cooking. Watch carefully at this point, as the zucchini can get too brown in no time.

Serve hot, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto

Risotto was a new dish to me in the 90s. I think the first I heard of it was during an episode of Seinfeld when they spent a long time talking about the risotto at a certain restaurant. Not long after that, Cooking Light magazine ran an article on risotto, with several recipes.

Arborio rice was impossible to find when we first started making this, at least in rural eastern Pennsylvania, where we lived at the time. We had to use medium or short grain grocery store rice, which was good, but not great. Take the time to pick up Arborio rice – it will make all the difference in your risotto.

This recipe started out with the Cooking Light version, but I have changed it so much over the years that I probably wouldn’t recognize the long-lost original recipe. I have gradually added more olive oil than the original recipe, but I don’t think I have moved beyond the ranks of healthy cooking. I’m not sure what else I have changed – probably less basil, more mozzarella, more Parmesan, shallots instead of onions and more tomatoes.

The secret to good risotto (other than using Arborio rice) is adding the broth in several parts and stirring often. You really don’t have to stir constantly. Rich will probably fight me on this one – he insists constant stirring is necessary. You will get a creamier end result if you stir constantly, but if you are juggling the rest of dinner preparations, kids, pets or a ringing phone, you won’t ruin things if you have to step away from the stove briefly, or even repeatedly.  You do have to stir as often as you can, though, or you end up with rice cooked in chicken broth instead of creamy, saucy risotto.

We love making this when we have access to fresh garden tomatoes in the summer, but we also make it in the winter with grocery store cherry or grape tomatoes. You can use other tomatoes too, but we think the smaller tomatoes have more flavor in the sad months when tomatoes are out of season. In the summer, use whatever tomatoes you can get and it will be fabulous.

Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 6

You can use fresh basil, if you prefer, but we prefer dried. The dried basil provides just a background note of flavor and really lets the tomatoes shine.

5 cups chicken broth, preferably low sodium*
1½-2 cups tomatoes, diced (or halved, if using cherry or grape tomatoes)
1 teaspoon dried basil
black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 shallots or one small onion, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup diced part-skim mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese for serving

*Use canned broth, a flavoring paste like Better Than Bouillon mixed with water, or homemade broth, if you have it. Avoid bouillon cubes – they are too salty.

Heat chicken broth in a saucepan until hot, but not boiling. Lower heat to medium low, and cover until ready to use. Combine tomatoes, basil, black pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots or onion and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté a minute or two. Add rice and sauté for several minutes. Add wine and stir until absorbed. Add hot broth, a cup at a time, stirring each addition until almost absorbed before adding more. Rice should start to get creamy and soft after 15-20 minutes. Taste rice to see if it is al dente, but not crunchy. If rice is still crunchy, add more broth or water and continue to cook for about 5 more minutes.

When rice is al dente, add tomato mixture and continue to stir and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in mozzarella cheese. Let stand, uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir to mix in melted cheese. Serve with lots of Parmesan cheese. Reheats well, though it will be thicker when leftover.

 Download the recipe here.

Pasta with Olive Oil Marinated Tomatoes

 

 

Summer is drawing to a close here in St. Louis. Yesterday and last night we were downright chilly, which means garden tomato season is coming to an end. I welcome the cooler weather, but I will miss garden tomatoes. We still have a few weeks until our first frost date, and our tomato plants are going strong, so we don’t have to give them up yet.

Pasta with Olive Oil Marinated Tomatoes highlights the sweetness of the summer tomatoes, contrasting them with slightly bitter olive oil and the nuttiness of Parmesan cheese. We make it year-round, using hothouse cherry tomatoes in the winter, but summer tomatoes make it the dish it was meant to be.

Despite the name, this dish is just about as easy as it gets. It is our emergency dinner dish when we forgot to plan anything, or we really don’t feel like cooking and don’t have the energy or the inclination to go out. We eat it as a main dish, but it would also be a great side dish to go with fish or chicken. You can add dollops of pesto, small cubes of mozzarella cheese or even diced, cooked chicken or shrimp to make it your own.

One word of advice – since the ingredient list is so short and each component really stands out, this is the place to use the best Parmesan cheese you can. We buy big wedges of Parmigiano-Reggiano at Sam’s, but you can also get tubs of shredded Parmesan or small wedges at the grocery store. Use what you can find, but at least skip the powder in the green can.

Pasta with Olive Oil Marinated Tomatoes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

Use any pasta shape you like, from bowties to rotini to spaghetti. We like the nuttiness of whole wheat pasta, but regular pasta is good too.

2 medium tomatoes or two handfuls of cherry or grape tomatoes (½ pound approximately)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt
Black pepper
¾ pound dry pasta
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Start the water heating for the pasta. While the water comes to a boil, chop the tomatoes, or cut the cherry tomatoes in halves or quarters, depending on size. Place the tomatoes in a serving bowl and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Serve hot pasta, topped with the tomato mixture. Add Parmesan cheese at the table. This reheats well, though it will be a slightly different dish, since the tomatoes will cook slightly when you heat it.

Download the recipe here.