Shishito Pepper Pesto Pizza


I’ve been home for two months, and while I’ve been baking, cooking, and sharing food with my family and friends, I haven’t blogged once. Sure, I had a bake sale, made some diabetes-inducing sticky buns for Father’s Day breakfast, and burned through our stashes of olive oil and butter at an unprecedented rate, but nearly everything I made was an old recipe of mine or from a cookbook—tried and true recipes that I had been waiting for months to make in a kitchen equipped with more than a not-quite-level stove, rickety table, and a medicine cabinet mirror. I made pots of black beans, thai curries, and dozens of cookies, but with all of those recipes already tucked away on this site I saw little point in adding to the redundancy that seems to take over the internet, one food blog at a time.

Last night’s pizza was what finally convinced me to log back on to Word Press. Also, my mom asked if I had let the blog go dormant, and you just can’t ignore a comment like that from the people that  raised you and are sending you to college (hi, Mom and Dad), so I figured a post on this pizza was in order.

Homemade pizza is a staple at our house, and while we normally go the carrot-walnut or margherita route I thought it was time to shake things up a bit with a few handfuls of shishito peppers that were taunting me in the crisper drawer. Shishito peppers, or their Spanish equivalent, padrón peppers, have been cropping up in recipes and restaurants more regularly, especially now that Trader Joe’s carries them and nearly every tapas restaurant serves blistered padróns alongside squares of Tortilla Española. They should come with a warning though: most of them are fairly mild, but every so often you come across a real scorcher. (Engineers out there: the probability of a spicy pepper is about 10%, though that statistic is a rough guideline when you factor in growing conditions and other environmental factors. You may just have to dive into this pizza and hedge your bets.)

Once blistered in a hot pan, shishito peppers are smoky with a lingering grassiness, and when paired with golden brown mushrooms and cherry tomatoes that have been sautéed in a hot pan until split open, you’ll wonder you’ve never piled the three onto a pizza with fresh mozzarella and aged parmesan. A final few dollops of homemade basil pesto when the pizza comes out of the oven ties the whole pie together, and before you know it you’ll be wishing you had made extra.


Shishito Pepper Pesto Pizza

Makes 4 10-inch pizzas, serves 4-6

2 lbs pizza dough

1 lb shishito or padrón peppers

4 teaspoons olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

1/2 yellow onion, finely diced

1 lb cherry tomatoes

1lb button mushrooms, sliced

Cornmeal, for the pizza peel

12 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan

1/4 cup freshly made pesto

  1. Once your dough has been made, divide it into 8 oz. portions and roll them into even balls. Place on a lightly floured surface, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour, until nearly doubled in size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 500F and place your pizza stone on the top rack of your oven.
  3. While the dough rises prepare all of the toppings:
  4. For the blistered peppers: Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over high high for 5 minutes. Add the peppers and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and cook, stirring every minute until the peppers are blistered in spots and tender, 8-10 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a small bowl and let cool slightly, then remove and discard the stems and cut the peppers into 1 inch pieces.
  5. For the tomatoes: Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet. Add the onions and saute for 2-3 minutes, until nearly translucent. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes have split and have begun to cook down. Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl and set aside.
  6. For the mushrooms: Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the same pan that you used to cook the tomatoes (unless you really like doing dishes, in which case go right ahead and get out a fresh pan), then add the mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Saute until tender and golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
  7. To assemble the pizzas: Roll out the risen dough into a thin, 11-12 inch circle, then transfer to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Top evenly with 1/4 of the tomatoes–this will not be a pizza with a traditional layer of sauce, so don’t worry if the tomatoes haven’t become soft enough to be considered a sauce.
  8. Add 1/4 each of the mushrooms and the peppers in an even layer on the pizza. Spread 3 oz. of the cheese in an even layer on top of the vegetables, then sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of parmesan. Transfer the pizza from the peel to the preheated pizza stone, and bake until golden brown and crisp, 11-14 minutes.
  9. Remove the pizza from the oven, and lightly dollop 1 tablespoon of pesto over the top of the pizza–again this should be more like a Jackson Pollack painting, than a smooth layer of pesto. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of parmesan over the top, then slice into wedges and serve. Repeat with the remaining pizza dough and toppings.

Click here for a printable version of the recipe.


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Baked Penne with Spinach and Mushrooms

Everyone has a few quirks about the food they eat, and our family is no exception. Three out of the four people in our family (myself included) avoid mayonnaise, sour cream, aioli, and any sort of white, creamy condiment meant for savory food like it’s our job. No mayonnaise on our sandwiches, ranch on our salads, and certainly no sour cream in our burritos. As a result, I’ve never really cared for pasta dishes with creamy sauces. A big pour of cream mutes all the lively flavors the recipe worked so hard to achieve, and rather than tasting the al dente noodles, you’re left with an overwhelming slick of dairy in every bite. Because of this, I generally avoid baked pasta dishes, which more often than not laced with creamy béchamel sauce. Or at least I avoided them until I discovered this dish for baked penne.

It starts off with a generous pan of mushrooms and onions seasoned with oregano—which I used to think was an overused herb reserved for mediocre pizza parlors, but now know adds a serious punch of flavor when called into actions—that creates just enough sauce to keep the pasta from drying out. A little blanched spinach provides some greenery, and small cubes of a flavorful cheese provide richness without a creamy sauce. Along with a pot of penne (undercooked by just a hair on the stove to prevent mushiness after baking), you have a one dish meal that can be prepared well in advance. Just throw it in the oven with a sprinkle of good parmesan on top until golden brown, and dinner is served.

I don’t have a picture of the pasta once it was baked because I was at work until late in the evening and didn’t get to see the finished dish before it was dug into, but that one missing picture of a steaming hot pan of pasta with pockets of melted cheese shouldn’t prevent you from making this pasta. It has everything you would want in a pasta dish, from al dente pasta to caramelized onions, without any sort of (dreaded) creamy sauce.

Baked Penne with Spinach and Mushrooms

Serves 4 generously

Adapted from Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to grease the pan

½ yellow onion, thinly slices

2 lbs. crimini mushrooms, quartered

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons dried oregano

10 oz. baby spinach

1 lb penne

Kosher or sea salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 oz. semi-soft cheese with a good flavor, cut into ¼ inch cubes (I used Toscano, and other good choices are Fontina, Asiago, and Comte.)

½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

  1. Brush a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with olive oil and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Heat the two tablespoons of olive oil in a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat until hot. Add the onion and mushrooms and sauté for 8-10 minutes, until the mushrooms have begun to release their water and have slightly shrunk in size. Add the garlic and the sea salt and sauté for another 10-15 minutes, until the mushrooms are golden brown but are not yet completely dry. Add the red pepper flakes and oregano, then sauté for 30-60 seconds until fragrant, then set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot, then add the spinach and blanch until wilted, about 30 seconds. Remove the spinach from the water with tongs or a kitchen spider, and set in a colander to drain. Squeeze out the excess water from the spinach either with your hands or a pair of tongs. Add the penne and 1 tablespoon of kosher or sea salt to the boiling water, and cook until just 1 minute shy of al dente. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot. Add the spinach, mushroom mixture, and the cubed cheese to the pasta along with the pepper, and toss to combine. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking pan, and sprinkle the parmesan cheese in an even layer on top.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown on top. (If you would like to prepare this dish ahead of time, prepare it up through step 3 and store it covered in the refrigerator up to 2 days ahead of time, then increase the baking time to 40-45 minutes to ensure that the center of the pasta is hot before serving.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Cannellini Bean Pot Pie

I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed about how thoroughly I have watched The Office. Our family has watched every episode at least once (the good ones upwards of 2-3 times) and all it takes is one four beat measure of the theme song to be heard before Aidan and I run into the living room because our unspoken rule is “leave no episode unwatched.” One of my favorite episodes is the one where Michael microwaves and eats an entire family sized frozen chicken pot pie at the office and them promptly falls into a deep food coma-induced nap. The rest of the office workers—namely Jim and Pam—then run around changing all the clocks to read five in the evening before Michael wakes up and announces the work day is over.

Every time I see a reference to a pot pie, I think of that episode. Pot pie has never really been a huge draw for me because it’s almost never vegetarian, and the filling is often deadened by a creamy sauce that does nothing to marry the flavors of the various vegetables and herbs. Then I developed a recipe for perfectly creamy cannellini beans with just the right amount of garlic and rosemary and knew that they were just begging to be combined with a quick sauté of shallots and mushrooms that would support a tender whole-wheat and chive biscuit topping. It’s nothing like the sodium-laden monstrosity that sent Michael Scott into a stupor, but I can guarantee that though it’s tastier and lighter, this pot pie is still a hearty and comforting meal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few episodes of The Office to watch.

Cannellini Bean Pot Pie

Serves 4

Filling:

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 shallot, minced

2 carrots, diced

8 oz. button mushrooms, slices

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups rosemary cannellini beans

1/2 cup water

Biscuits:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

2 teaspoons thinly sliced fresh chives

3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

1. Prepare the filling: Heat the olive oil in a 10 inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. If you do not have a 10-inch cast iron skillet see the note below for a substitution. Once the oil is hot, sauté the shallot for 2 minutes, until translucent. Add the carrots, mushrooms, and salt, and sauté until the mushrooms are golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the biscuits.

2. Prepare the biscuits: Preheat the oven to 450F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and chives. Add the butter and work the butter into the flour with your hands until the butter is the size of small peas. Pour in the buttermilk and fold gently with a rubber spatula until a cohesive dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into an 8-inch round, then cut the round into 8 even triangles by cutting into quarters, then eighths. Place the biscuits on top of the filling in the skillet, leaving a little room between the biscuits to allow for rising. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the beaten egg, then place in the preheat oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven, portion into individual serving bowls, and serve.

Note: If you do not have a 10-inch cast iron, prepare the filling in a skillet, then transfer it to either a 9 inch pie plate or an 8 x 8 inch baking pan, then top with the biscuit dough as directed in step 2, then bake.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Lasagna


When you have a little extra time on the weekend to spend in the kitchen, lasagna is the ultimate project. Lasagna is one of those dishes that doubles extremely well without doubling the work involved, in one pass on a Sunday afternoon, you can make a delicious dinner and as a bonus, have a pan of lasagna in the freezer, waiting for busy nights to come.

Most lasagnas served in the states feature copious amounts of tomato sauce, meat, and mozzarella. This lasagna, however, lacks all of those components, relying instead on a butternut squash and sage sauce, earthy mushrooms, and three flavorful cheeses (fontina, parmesan, and goat cheese) to make a satisfying meal.

What sets this lasagna apart from other mushroom lasagnas is the triple layer of duxelles amidst the squash and cheese. Mushrooms duxelles is a traditional French preparation where finely chopped mushrooms are sautéed in butter until caramelized. This packs a concentrated mushroom flavor into the lasagna without excess moisture. Mushrooms are one of my favorite foods, and I love how they permeated the entire dish without any traces of rubbery texture, which can sometimes happen in a dish with a lot of moisture, such as lasagna.


After the lasagna is assembled, it’s baked in two steps: in the first baking period, the lasagna is covered to gently cook the noodles before removing the foil and baking at a higher temperature to brown the top layer of cheese.


Once the lasagna has had ten or so minutes to rest so that it becomes easier to slice and serve, dig into a big piece of butternut squash and mushroom lasagna for a special Sunday dinner.


Butternut Squash and Mushroom Lasagna

Serves 6

Butternut Squash Sauce

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 onion, diced

3 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced into ½ inch pieces

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups water

2 whole sage leaves

2 tablespoons minced sage

Mushroom Duxelles

½ oz. dried shiitake mushrooms

1 cup water

1 pound button mushrooms

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon table salt

½ teaspoon pepper

Assembly

4 oz. goat cheese (fresh chevre), crumbled

4 oz. fontina, coarsely grated

1 ½ oz. (3/4 cup) parmesan, finely grated

12 (8 oz.) no boil lasagna noodles

For the butternut squash sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add the onion and sauté until beginning to turn golden brown, 4-5 minutes. Add the butternut squash and salt and stir to combine. Add the water and whole sage leaves, then increase heat to medium-high, cover, and simmer vigorously until the squash is tender, 20-25 minutes. Once the squash is tender, remove the sage leaves and mash the butternut squash with a potato masher or immersion blender until smooth. Stir in the minced sage and adjust seasonings to taste.

For the mushroom duxelles:

While the squash cooks, combine the dried shiitakes and water in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high power for 3 minutes, until the water boils. Remove from the microwave and set aside for 10 minutes, to allow the mushrooms to rehydrate, then remove the mushrooms from the water and chop finely. Reserve the liquid for future use in soups or stews, if desired. While the mushrooms rehydrate, halve the button mushrooms and place them in a food processor. Pulse the mushrooms until finely chopped, about 12-15, 1 second pulses.

Heat the butter in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, and once hot, add the chopped button mushrooms, chopped shiitakes, salt, and pepper and sauté for 15-20 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms have begun to caramelize. Adjust seasonings to taste and set aside.

To assemble and bake the lasagna:

Preheat the oven to 425F, with one rack in the middle of the oven and one rack towards the top. In a medium bowl, combine the fontina and parmesan cheese and toss to mix thoroughly. Pour 1 cup of the butternut squash sauce into the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking pan and evenly distribute the sauce on the base of the pan. Line the bottom of the pan with 3 lasagna noodles. Top each noodle with ¼ cup sauce and spread the sauce so that it thoroughly covers each noodle. Take 1/3 of the mushroom filling and evenly distribute it on top of the noodles and sauce. Top the mushrooms with 1 oz. of the goat cheese, and ¼ of the fontina and parmesan mixture. Top with a layer of 3 noodles and repeat this layer scheme 2 more times. On the last layer, use the remaining 3 noodles, the remainder of the sauce, and the rest of the cheese to top the lasagna.

Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake, covered, until bubbling, 20-25 minutes. Remove the foil, increase the oven temperature to 500F, and move the lasagna to the upper rack and bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is beginning to turn golden brown. Remove the lasagna from the oven, and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Note: This lasagna recipe is very easily doubled. Make 2 lasagnas and freeze one for future meals. Let the lasagna defrost in the refrigerator for 2 days, then bake as directed, adding 10-15 minutes to the covered baking time to ensure that it cooks through.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Polenta and Chanterelle Tart


Among other wildly exciting weekend events, chanterelle mushrooms were on sale for about a third of the usual price at Costco. Obviously that calls for buying an entire pound, because monumental happenings such as the peak of chanterelle season happen only once a year. The beauty of chanterelles is that unlike most mushrooms, they retain moisture in a way so that once roasted, they have a deeply caramelized flavor without a shriveled texture.


Chanterelles pair well with the foods from the mountainous regions of Northern Italy—the climate there is perfect for growing chanterelles, Arborio rice, and polenta, which explains the abundance of chanterelle risottos and polentas on Italian menus in the fall. I decided to roast the chanterelles with shallots and thyme, then use them to top a sort of polenta tart, made from cooked and cooled parmesan polenta.

Now, polenta has a reputation for causing arm fatigue and general irritation after thirty minutes of constant stirring, but a few years ago I found a method for cooking polenta from Cook’s Illustrated that has revolutionized the polenta process. Basic ingredients (ones that have a pH greater than seven) weaken the walls of the corn cells, allowing for more water absorption in a shorter amount of time. Cooking polenta over extremely low heat with a pinch of baking soda (a base) allows polenta to be ready in under half an hour, with almost no stirring.

The polenta is poured into a pie pan and cooled lightly to let it set. While the mushrooms roast, the polenta gets quickly baked to crisp the top, then the mushrooms are spread on the top with some parmesan. After a few more minutes in the oven, the tart is sliced into wedges and served for a hearty and unique fall dinner.


Polenta and Chanterelle Tart

Polenta technique adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Serves 4

Polenta Crust

4 cups water

1 teaspoon table salt

1 cup polenta (medium-grind yellow cornmeal)

1 pinch baking soda

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Mushroom Topping

3 medium shallots, thinly sliced

1 lb. chanterelle mushrooms, halved from top to bottom

½ teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon table salt

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

  1. For the polenta: Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan, then add the salt. Slowly whisk in the polenta in a continuous stream until fully incorporated. Whisk in the baking soda, turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and simmer gently for 25-30 minutes until the polenta is thick and tender, whisking every 10 minutes. Whisk in the butter and ½ cup of the parmesan until smooth, then pour the polenta into a greased, 9 inch pie pan and smooth into an even layer. Set the polenta aside for 40 minutes to set. At this point, you can refrigerate the polenta for up to one day before continuing with the recipe.
  2. For the mushrooms: Preheat the oven to 400F and have a rimmed baking sheet handy. Toss the shallots, mushrooms, thyme, salt and 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil together, then spread into an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven.
  3. While the mushrooms roast, place the pie pan of polenta in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the polenta from the oven, then sprinkle the remaining ½ cup parmesan evenly on the top. Once the mushrooms have finished roasting, remove them from their pan and place them in an even layer on top of the polenta. Put the polenta dish back in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until everything is hot and the parmesan cheese has melted. Remove the polenta from the oven, drizzle with the remaining ½ tablespoon of olive oil, and cut into wedges and serve.

Note: If you do not have access to chanterelles, substitute an equal weight of button or cremini mushrooms and roast them for 25-30 minutes.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Tofu Lettuce Cups

A few months ago a shopping bag ordinance was put in place; plastic bags are no longer offered at grocery and retail locations and all paper bags cost 10 cents each. I love this new rule, I think it’s a great way to reduce our impact on the environment and it gives the city a little additional revenue. It has, however, increased the incidence of what I call “grocery bag casualties.” Local parking lots are full of individuals running after dropped cans and heads of lettuce with their arms full of food, too stubborn to pay 10 cents for a bag. I guess it’s not very fair to laugh at shoppers furiously chasing a rolling yogurt container on their way to the car when this happens to me all the time, but it’s too hard to resist.

It’s the worst when I stop by the grocery store on my way home from school with a heavy backpack. I walk out of the store with produce bags hanging off my elbows and bags of flour tucked under my arms (I promise I have a few typical teenager characteristics, their just hidden under a thick layer of butter and sugar.). This happened again recently when buying ingredients to make these tofu lettuce cups for our regular Friday night dinners. Fortunately, no tofu or mushrooms were harmed in the making of this recipe.

I’ve made tofu lettuce cups for dinner about half a dozen times, and it’s one of my favorite summer meals. Made with tofu and complementary vegetables, they make for a healthy and refreshing appetizer or main dish. Sometimes I prepare them with water chestnuts and Hoisin sauce for a more classically Chinese variation, but my favorite way to make them is with tofu, mushrooms, and a chili-lime sauce, for a more Southeast Asian spin.

Understandably, most people are intimidated when they first cook tofu because at face value it’s a bland and floppy white block. The trick to making great tofu is to use its mild taste and soft texture to your advantage. Once seared in a hot pan, tofu becomes chewy, yet still manages to absorb lots of flavor from any sauce that’s used for flavor. In this dish, the bright lime juice, chili-garlic paste, and soy sauce permeate the tofu, mushrooms, and roasted cashews for a spicy dish full of vibrant flavors and contrasting textures.

These are excellent appetizers for a party, but they’re especially fun for dinner with some rice on the side. Everyone can make their own and use the dipping sauce to adjust the heat according to personal preference. Try these for an end of summer dish, and don’t forget to remember your reusable grocery bags.


Tofu Lettuce Cups

Serves 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as a main dish with rice

Sauce:

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sambal oelek (chili-garlic paste)

Filling:

1 head butter lettuce

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

14 oz. firm or extra firm tofu

8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced

2 garlic cloves minced

1 teaspoon sambal oelek (chili-garlic paste)

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

¼ cup salted, roasted cashews, chopped

  1. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Remove the outer leaves of the lettuce and reserve for another use. Carefully separate the individual leaves and wash and dry them, then set aside.
  2. In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil and once hot, add the tofu in a single layer. Cook until golden brown on one side, 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook for 3 more minutes until golden brown. Remove tofu from the pan and set aside. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, then add the mushrooms and cook for 8-10, stirring occasionally, until brown. Add the garlic, sambal oelek, soy sauce, and lime juice to the pan along with the tofu and stir to combine until the liquid has reduced and everything is hot.
  3. To serve, spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the filling into a single lettuce leaf, top with a few cashews and a drizzle of the sauce, then eat immediately.

Note: If you do not have sambal oelek, you can use ½ teaspoon of sriracha or red pepper flakes for every teaspoon of sambal oelek. If you eat gluten-free, you can use a gluten free soy sauce. I have tested gluten free soy many times and found it to be an excellent substitute for traditional soy sauce. It is often labeled as wheat-free Tamari.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!