Posts Tagged ‘Pizza’

We tried this amazing smoked mozzarella from Chapel Hill Creamery on a pizza before and we loved it. So on our latest trip to the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, I got a craving to try it again. This time we combined the smokey, chewy, flavorful cheese with fresh asparagus, and it was a killer combination.

My pizza is more like a flatbread, and is layered as follows: Trader Joe’s pizza dough, rubbed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt (only a little since this cheese is pretty salty) and pepper, layered with generic mozzarella (specifically Harris Teeter’s 5 Cheese Italian blend), topped with slices of the smoked mozzarella and trimmed asparagus spears.

The directions on the TJ’s dough says to cook the pizza at 375, but some friends of  mine recently made the same pizza dough and baked it at a much higher temp and I thought it was a big improvement – much crispier and fluffier crust. So I’d recommend baking this at 425 for a shorter period of time (ours takes about 12-15 min).


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Zucchini and Olive Pizza

Here’s a new pizza creation, conceived after I’d been having a craving for some veggies after all the heavy eating of the holidays.  I had some olive tapenade – a sort of dip with chopped olives – that I thought would provide some great salty flavor to a pizza.  I did a quick internet search for pizzas with olives and found a recipe with zucchini that sounded just right!  Somehow zucchini and olives on a pizza sounded very south-of-France to me, so I decided to add in plenty of Herbes de Provence as well.

By the time these pizzas come out, the light is always bad and we’re too hungry to take pictures, so here’s a shot of the layered, un-cooked pizza: dough brushed with olive oil, olive tapenade, thin slices of mozzarella, and zucchini sauteed with olive oil and Herbes de Provence.

One thing to keep in mind when cooking with zucchini: they have SO much water in them!  Much more than you think.  So the best way to use them (with the exception of zucchini bread where you want to keep all that moisture) is to either slice or shred it, then sprinkle with salt and let sit for a while.  The water will naturally be drawn out, and you can either wring the shredded zucchini out over the sink, or pat the slices dry.  I used slices, and then made sure they were lying flat in the pan to get a little browned before pulling them out to put on top of the pizza.

This pizza had amazing flavors and a real hint of Provence.  We loved it this weekend but I’m sure I’ll make it much more in the summer, when it would be a PERFECT dinner with a light salad and a glass of cool Rose – and when everyone has zucchini coming out their ears!

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The flavors of Spain

There is a great book that I have my eye on to add to my collection, called The Flavor Bible.  It is basically a reference book for what flavors go well together, and what flavors are typical of certain cuisines.  I imagine this would be very useful for those of us who like to throw things together using the leftovers in the fridge and cabinets – for example, you could look up ‘red peppers’ and get some good ideas of what to cook using up that jar of roasted peppers in the fridge. 

To a certain extent, I do this already, but it’s based just on my limited experiences of eating and reading recipes.  So there are some things I love to put together now – blue cheese and honey, for example, or toasted peanuts on anything with curry.  Other times I have to really sit down and think, and even do some ‘research’ on Epicurious or my other cookbooks to see what one might cook with a certain ingredient.  The Flavor Bible would be, I imagine, an endlessly helpful reference book for those types of situations in the kitchen.

An ingredient that inspired a couple good dishes at our house lately was chorizo sausage.  And I have to say, despite not having The Flavor Bible around, we did a pretty good job of mixing up some yummy Spanish flavors with the chorizo!  I have loved experimenting with chorizo ever since a few years ago when I was looking for a Spanish appetizer to go with a paella dish.  (Fun tidbit: you can actually search International foods on Epicurious and look up, for example, all the Spanish recipes!)  I found a wonderfully delectable although not too pretty-looking recipe for Bacon-wrapped Chorizo-stuffed Dates.  These look like rather unappetizing little blobs but WOW do they taste good!  That was the first time I experienced cooking with chorizo sausage and I learned a couple thingss: one, there are two types of chorizo you can buy: hardened cooked/smoked chorizo and soft uncooked ground chorizo.  I prefer the uncooked ground stuff because I think it’s easier to work with and mold than the other.  But I think the other is probably pretty great with cheese and crackers when you just slice it up.  Two, I learned that chorizo had a distinct flavor from other sausages and IT IS GOOD!  I can’t really describe it…but it does not have the herby earthiness of our typical American ground sausage.  It’s orangier and tangier and it’s just great.  So when our CSA offered chorizo sausage as an option one week, I took it.

So then we had to figure out what to do with it.  I decided to make half of it into hamburgers and half of it into pizza.  I figured a little bit of it (but certainly not the whole pound) might be a delicious flavor in ground beef burgers.  And with a little chorizo in the burgers, it would be fun to come up with other Spanish-flavored toppings!  So first, of course, on any burger you need some cheese.  And of course the best Spanish cheese is Manchego.  If you haven’t ever tried it – well, just try it.  It’s a hard cheese with lots of flavor that’s easy to like.  So we got some Manchego for our Spanish burgers.  Then we needed the goopy topping – you know what I mean, the something oozy and sweet to bind the whole thing together?  So I turned to a Skena Family Favorite: Balsamic Onion and Fig Compote.

Now, we first encountered this little taste of heaven in a salad in a restaurant in Georgia that is worthy of it’s own post, and it will have it, one of these days, when I make it next and get a picture of it.  But for now, suffice to say that we make this little topping for a number of things and it always MAKES the dish.  As originally encountered, this compote (for lack of a better word…it’s sort of like a jam, sort of like a sauce) was made from shallots sauteed in balsamic vinegar and then some kind of fig added. I’m not sure what the original recipe used for figs, but I like to use fig preserves.  They are already prepared, very figgy and really sweet, and you’re looking for the sweetness to add to the onions or shallots.  Although it’s not really a recipe, let me tell you how to make this, and if you are very brave and just TRY it, you’ll find it’s pretty hard to mess up.  In fact, this last time I made it I scorched the onions and by the time I dumped in the fig jam, you couldn’t even tell!

Balsamic Onion and Fig Compote

1. Thinly slice approximately 2 medium onions or 5 large shallots (shallots have a lovely taste in this but if you don’t have them around, just use the onions).  Saute in a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper and a couple pinches of sugar (which helps them caramelize), on medium high heat til golden brown and reduced.  I don’t stir them too frequently at the beginning (every 5 minutes or so)…let them develop some color before tossing them around.  As they get browner, you may want to lower the heat some, and stir more frequently (every minute or two).  At that point, as things are speeding up, add a 2 second drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  You want enough to keep the shallots/onions moist with it but not swimming in it.  If you need still more moisture, add more olive oil.

2. Once your onions/shallots have turned a deep golden brown and seem on the verge of burning, remove from heat and add another quick drizzle of balsamic vinegar and about a 1/2 cup of fig preserves.  You can usually find this with other jams in the grocery store.  Stir it all around til the fig preserves melt into the onion/shallot mixture.  Taste a little bit to see if you want more salt and pepper.  If the consistency is too thick for you, add a splash of water to loosen it up.

So, with our flavorful jammy topping, we had our completed burger: Chorizo Burgers (2 lbs ground beef mixed with 1/2 pound of ground chorizo) with Manchego and Balsamic Fig Onion Compote.  YUM.

Dish #2 used the same components on my favorite way to eat leftovers: pizza.  Another easy Trader Joe’s pizza crust (this time the herb one, because it was all I had in the freezer), drizzled with my GOOD olive oil (the expensive one I keep for when you’ll really taste the flavor), covered with an 8-oz bag of Italian cheese blend from the grocery store and then our Spanish toppings.  I cooked the remaining ½ lb of the chorizo sausage and drained it on paper towels.  Then I scattered it over the top of the pizza, along with tiny bits of manchego, the Balsamic-Onion-Fig Compote, and some pitted olives.  I thought the burgers were good but THIS was excellent!!!  The manchego added great flavor, the olives a big zest, the fig-onion compote was perfect as always, and the chorizo was really delicious crisped up on top of the pizza.  The combination of flavors was SO good…a little unexpected but perfectly right.

So our latest adventure in chorizo led to some fun Spanish flavors – whenever I get my hands on that book I can’t wait to see what they say are good combinations with chorizo, or the standard Spanish ingredients and spices.  But this first try wasn’t bad.  And I would recommend pizza as a great way to start experimenting with these mix-and-match combos…there’s not a lot that truly is BAD with cheese and bread, you know what I mean??  So next time you have a quirky ingredient or need to empty the fridge of a few things consider the lowly pizza and enjoy your leftovers in style!  🙂

Spanish pizza - after

Spanish pizza - before

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Sauteed Pepper Pizza

Michael is a big fan of peppers, and has been so happy with all these summer peppers we’ve been getting from our CSA.  His favorite way that I make them is sauteed and reduced with balsamic vinegar.  This is SO easy…there’s not really a ‘recipe’ per se, just a process.  I do the following:

– cut a bunch of peppers into thin slices (picks the type and level of spice according to what you like)

– add the peppers to a hot pan with a drizzle of olive oil so they are all coated and shiny

– add salt, pepper and sugar by the pinchful to season the peppers (will vary according to the amt of peppers)

– adding more drizzles of olive oil as needed to make sure the peppers stay shiny, saute the peppers on medium high heat til they are reduced by half (about 15-20 min – do something else in the kitchen while stirring occasionally)

– add some drizzles of balsamic vinegar to coat the peppers and let it cook another 10 min or so until further reduced and just starting to get brown.

That’s it!  It takes a little while to cook down so just empty the dishwasher or something while you’re cooking. 🙂  I made this previously to put on top of grilled sausage, and when I made them the other day I used them for a pizza topping.  I used one of our favorite Trader Joe’s pizza doughs and drizzled a little olive oild over the top.  Then I scatter most of an 8 oz bag of shredded Italian-blend cheese on the dough and scatter the peppers around.  Since we had a lot of cute mini cherry tomatoes available, I halfed a handful of those and scattered them on top too.  Finally some chunks of goat cheese were added.

The peppers were not too spicy but had a great flavor, and the little tomato and goat cheese bites were a great flavor with the peppers.  This goes down as one of Michael’s favorites!

The uncooked pizza looked like this:


And the final result like this:


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Steak and Cheese Pizza

There have been more adventures in throwing leftovers on a pizza crust in the Skena household!  This latest is not a health food, I’ll warn you.  It was pretty rich, but pretty wonderful as well. 

We had enjoyed a dinner for just the two of us with an Outback Steakhouse gift card, and my eyes had definitely been bigger than my stomach when I ordered the largest size of the Outback Special.  We enjoy our steak medium-rare, so reheating steak is not ideal because it becomes more well done than we like; nonetheless, we didn’t want to waste the leftovers, so we took them home.

The next day I was staring at the open fridge, trying to figure out how best to use that yummy steak without overcooking it.  And when my eye fell on our chunk of smoked mozzarella from the farmer’s market, I knew we had a winner!  The smoked mozzarella has an incredible and very intense smoky taste.  We’d already used it to impart big flavor in eggs and on crackers, but had about half of it left.

So I layered some lightly sauteed spinach on a pizza crust and topped it with cold cubes of our leftover steak.  I then coverd the steak with generic shredded mozzarella so that it would not be at the top layer of the pizza and exposed to the direct heat.  Finally I laid slices of the smoked mozzarella on top of the shredded cheese.

The smoked mozzarella toasted up to a lovely golden brown color and as predicted, gave huge flavor.  The spinach added at least a little guilt-reprieve and the steak was PERFECT – still tender and flavorful and not tough and overdone.  We never really cook steak at home, so I don’t know when we can recreate this pizza next, but it was definitely worth making again!!!



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I loved this idea for a fun dinner party in the latest issue of Bon Appetit – DIY pizzas and prosecco!  They include a recipe for your own dough, but as you faithful readers know, I prefer to use the Trader Joe’s 99 cent dough in a bag.  I also learned a little tip yesterday from my friend Grace that you can buy dough from Domino’s Pizza for 2 bucks, enough to make 6 mini-pizzas!  And then we figured that you could probably go to any local pizza restaurant and buy a little bit of dough from them.  I would totally advocate for that shortcut.

The topping ideas are great, though.  I’d add my own new favorite, the carmelized portobello mushrooms.  But it’s a great selection of toppings and both the sauces, the arugula-pistachio pesto and the roasted tomato sauce, look great!

I’m also a big fan of prosecco, Italian ‘champagne’, as well as it’s sister in cheap bubblies, cava from Spain.  I’ve come to embrace a life-view that sparkling wines should NOT be saved for special occasions, but should be enjoyed as often as possible to add some ‘special’ to regular days.  Also, I found out that champagne has less calories than most other drinks, so in that case, why in the world would you NOT order a glass next time you’re out at a bar?!?  I found a great $5.99 bottle of prosecco at Trader Joe’s that’s neither too sweet nor bitter, and I love to have it around for any occasion. 

Pizza nights are common dinners chez Skena, but the idea of a dinner party around homemade pizzas and prosecco is a new spin on our favorite that we’ll have to schedule soon.  And so should you!

Slideshow at: http://www.bonappetit.com/tipstools/slideshows/2009/04/a_pizza_and_prosecco_party_slideshow

PDF of recipes at: http://www.bonappetit.com/pdfs/CLUBAPR09.pdf

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Leftover Pizza – the best yet!

So as you know, I am always experimenting with leftovers and other random ingredients on that fantastic Trader Joe’s 99 cent pizza dough.  Portobello mushrooms were on sale at Harris Teeter last week, so I grabbed a package, not quite sure what I wanted to do with them, but excited about finding something fun with a yummy ingredient we rarely use.  The ultimate result, a Mushroom and Goat Cheese pizza, was my favorite pizza creation thus far!!!

I’ve never been a big mushroom fan, and I think it mostly has to do with the texture.  I’m NOT into slimy texture in food, and boring old cooked button mushrooms are still pretty gross to me.  But I do really enjoy portobello mushrooms, ever since I tasted it on a sandwich and thought it tasted like steak.  Which to me is a very high compliment. 🙂  I’ve found I even ENJOY mushrooms when they are well-cooked with a deep flavor.  And mushrooms really do have a very profound and rich flavor to share when they are cooked long enough to coax it out of hiding! 

For the mushroom pizza, I tossed the sliced portobellos in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and then grilled them on a very high heat (with salt and pepper) for about 5 minutes a side, until they were very dark and carmelized.  I heated some olive oil in a pan with sliced garlic to add flavor, which I pulled out before adding some chopped spinach leaves and basil.  Once the basil and spinach were wilted, I put those as the first layer on the herb pizza crust, then covered it with a regular old five cheese Italian blend from the store.  I then layered my cooled mushrooms on the top of the pizza and sprinked the whole shebang with chunks of goat cheese.

And my GOODNESS was it fabulous!!!  The basil and garlic added great flavor to the spinach and was a nice base.  And the mushroom flavor was seriously to die for.  Goat cheese provided a perfect counterpoint to the veggies.  Michael and I both decided this was the best pizza creation yet, and we’ll definitely make it more often!



By the way, did you know there’s really no possible way to make pictures of pizza look appetizing with a regular point-and-shoot camera?  Yeah, there isn’t.  I promise it really did taste delish! 🙂

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