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.


Spinach Pesto with Rigatoni


Pesto is a great thing to have on hand for quick, yet delicious meals. In the time that it takes to boil a box of pasta, I can quickly puree all of the ingredients together and produce a potent mixture that gives off aromas of pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil when tossed with hot pasta. A good pesto always tastes fresh and vibrant, and this one is no exception. Though this pesto does not use the fresh basil that is traditionally used in Liguria, the baby spinach makes for an excellent substitute in the winter months, when basil is either scarce or not at its best. Spinach, unlike basil, does not oxidize readily, so a batch of this pesto will stay bright green even after being exposed to air.

Pesto is composed of many strong flavors such as pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil, and the key to keeping the flavors in balance is to toast the pine nuts and garlic before pureeing them. This step smooths out any harshness from the raw garlic and releases the oils from the pine nuts to give a necessary depth to the finished pesto. After toasting the pine nuts and garlic, they get pureed with a generous amount of baby spinach, olive oil, and good parmesan cheese until a thick emulsion is created. A touch of pasta water gives some body to the tossed pasta, and a shower of parmesan cheese ties the whole dish together. In addition to being a fast meal to make, this is a meal best devoured in mere minutes until all that is left on the plate are a few flecks of spinach.

I find that short, tubular pasta shapes work best with pesto, as the consistency of the pesto clings nicely to shapes such as rigatoni, penne, orecchiette, and cavatappi, as well as other varieties with ridged exteriors. Try this pesto next time you’re at a loss for what to make for dinner, and add some brightness to your winter evenings.

Additional uses for pesto:

  • Use as a condiment in grilled panini.
  • Swirl a spoonful into a bowl of vegetable soup.
  • Stuff a dollop into some dough and make a few pesto-stuffed flatbreads.
  • Place pesto in a bowl with extra olive oil and use it as a dipping sauce for bread.
  • Puree with white beans, olive oil, and seasonings to make a unique bean dip.
  • Use pesto instead of tomato sauce with pizza and top with goat cheese, mushrooms, and fresh herbs.


Spinach Pesto with Rigatoni

Serves 4

¼ cup raw pine nuts

2 garlic cloves, peel still on the clove

5 oz baby spinach

1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for the pasta pot

¼ cup olive oil

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1 lb dry rigatoni

  1. Place the pine nuts and garlic cloves in a small skillet over medium heat, and toast until the pine nuts are golden brown and fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Remove from the pan, peel the garlic, and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor or high-speed blender, combine the pine nuts, peeled garlic, spinach, and salt. Process until thoroughly pureed, about 1 minute. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to achieve an emulsified pesto. Transfer the pesto to a large bowl (large enough to accommodate the cooked pasta) and stir in the grated parmesan.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, then add 1 tablespoon sea salt. Add the rigatoni and cook until al dente. Drain the rigatoni, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Toss the pasta with the pesto and ¼ cup of the cooking water, adding more pasta water if necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Serve immediately, with more parmesan cheese grated on top.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Broccoli and Ricotta Pesto

Broccoli can be a tricky thing to cook properly. Serve it raw or lightly steamed, and it can be too pungent and sulfuric. Cook it too long, and it will resemble a colorless mush. The key for sweet, nutty tasting broccoli is to cook it just long enough to lessen its pungency before the flavor begins to diminish.

The chart above shows broccolis life cycle once cooked. From zero to 15 minutes of gentle cooking, the broccoli will not be fully tender. From 15 to 30 minutes, that is where the traditional “broccoli smell” is created that permeates your entire kitchen and dining room for the evening. After 40 minutes of cooking broccoli, you are past the point of no return—the broccoli is now a gray-green and completely texture less. However, if you cook broccoli gently for 30 to 40 minutes, you have delicious, flavorful broccoli; the strong, cruciferous notes are diminished and the texture is ideal.

The only problem is that half an hour is a long time to be cooking anything on a busy weeknight. To cut down on the cooking time and still retain the same level of flavor in the broccoli, I borrow a trick from Cook’s Illustrated: a small amount of baking soda in the same pan breaks down the broccoli so that it enters the “delicious broccoli” range in about ten minutes.

Once your broccoli is perfectly cooked with garlic and red pepper flakes, place it in the food processor and make it into a pesto with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and ricotta. The resulting pesto is creamy, spicy, and just a little bit sweet. Spread it on garlic-rubbed bruschetta for a quick lunch, or toss it with hot pasta for an easy, vegetable-packed meal that comes together while the pasta water boils. It’s a new take on broccoli that I hope will become part of your weekly dinner rotation.


Broccoli and Ricotta Pesto

Makes about 4 cups, enough for 2 pounds of pasta or a large bread loaf of bruschetta

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 ½ lbs. broccoli, cut into 1 inch chunks (florets and stalks)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

½ cup fresh ricotta

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat, then add the broccoli, garlic, salt, baking soda, and red pepper flakes, and sauté until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 10-15 until the broccoli is very tender and looks like your worst vegetable nightmare.
  2. Transfer the cooked broccoli to the bowl of a food processor and add the lemon juice and pine nuts. Process until very smooth, about 30 seconds. With the mixer running, drizzle in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and process until smooth. Turn off the processor, scrape down the sides, add the ricotta, and process again until the ricotta is well incorporated. Adjust seasonings to taste. To serve, spread on bruschetta (recipe follows) or toss with al dente pasta (about 1 ½-2 cups of pesto and ½ cup of pasta cooking water per pound of dry pasta).

Bruschetta

Makes about 8-10 bruschetta

1, 2 lb. loaf rustic bread, cut into ½ inch slices

1 garlic clove, cut in half

Olive oil, for brushing

Broccoli-Ricotta Pesto

  1. Using a toaster or broiler, toast the bread slices until golden brown. Rub the cut edge of the garlic clove over both sides of each piece of bread, then brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Top with broccoli-ricotta pesto, and drizzle with olive oil.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Quinoa and Tofu Hash


A hash is really any sort of quickly assembled meal with a base of grains or potatoes and a few vegetables that’s often topped with eggs. In other words, it’s an excellent dish for a restaurant brunch menu; if there’s lots of barley and kale or boiled potatoes and squash left over from dinner service the night before, they get repurposed into a hash for Sunday brunch.

Don’t let hash be a dish solely for restaurants, though. Take stock of any prepared vegetables and leftover grains you may have, and in minutes you can have a hot, satisfying dish that no one will suspect is made of cleverly transformed leftovers.

This hash is inspired by one I had at a restaurant in Vancouver called Heirloom. It’s a mixture of quinoa, pesto, and a touch of soy sauce for salt and umami flavor. The combination of pesto and soy sauce sounds unconventional, but by using a pesto prepared without cheese, I found that the flavors are surprisingly compatible. For the vegetables, I used carrots and cauliflower because that’s what I had on hand, but the vegetable selection is up to you. The scrambled tofu is a delicious vegan alternative to eggs, especially with caramelized onions and a touch of turmeric. Lots of flavor and nutrition are packed into this bowl, making it an ideal lunch for one or a clever alternative to leftover night.


Quinoa and Tofu Hash

Serves 1, easily doubled or otherwise scaled for a family meal

1 teaspoon olive oil, divided

1 carrot, cut into matchsticks

½ cup cauliflower, cut into small pieces

1 ½ teaspoons pesto (ideally a pesto without cheese)

2 teaspoons reduced sodium soy sauce

2/3 cup cooked quinoa

¼ cup diced onion

3 oz. firm tofu, crumbled

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat ½ teaspoon of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the carrot and cauliflower and sauté until tender, 6-8 minutes. Add the pesto, soy sauce, and quinoa, and toss to combine. Let cook, stirring frequently, until hot and all the vegetables are cooked to your preference. Transfer the quinoa to a bowl and cover to keep warm.
  2. Wipe out the now-empty saucepan, and pour the remaining ½ teaspoon of olive oil in it until hot. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Add the tofu and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the tofu is beginning to turn golden brown. Add the turmeric, and a pinch each of salt and pepper and toss well to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste, then top the quinoa mixture with the tofu scramble and serve immediately.

Note: Any vegetables will work well in this hash, use 1 to 1 ½ cups of your favorite combination. Mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts are all excellent in this hash.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Pesto Stuffed Flatbreads

It’s not everyday that the mainstays of Indian, Italian, and Middle-Eastern cuisines combine, but when they do, you’ll wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.

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Pesto Stuffed Flatbreads take Italian pesto, Middle-Eastern pita-bread dough, and the Indian method of cooking parathas (stuffed, unleavened breads) and meld all the flavors into an addicting appetizer. (Just ask Aidan, he ate 4 flatbreads within a few hours.)

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The flatbreads are grilled in a cast iron skillet and have a chewy, almost bubbly texture that’s better than any oven baked bread. But the star ingredient in this dish is without a doubt the pesto.

Traditional Italian pesto is made by combining fresh basil, salt, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan into a smooth paste. If you (understandably) don’t have pine nuts on hand, you can substitute an equal volume of toasted almonds. Admittedly, this will cause a few Italian grandmothers to roll over in their graves, but much fewer than would if you omitted the nuts altogether. Moral of the story: never leave out nuts in your pesto.

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The bread dough is simple, and incredibly easy to make, even if you’re not familiar with using yeast. Just let the yeast proof with some warm water, sugar, and oil until bubbly, then add flour and salt. Knead it by hand or in a standing mixer until it looks just like this:

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Once the dough has been kneaded, it has to rise for about an hour until doubled in size. This serves two purposes: it lets the network of proteins in the flour (mainly gluten) relax, making for a more cooperative dough when it comes time to shape the flatbreads. Secondly, the rising time lets the yeast produce carbon dioxide gas, which forms small air bubbles in the dough and prevents the finished bread from looking like a brick.
The dough should go from this:

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To this:

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The hardest part of this recipe is forming the flatbreads, which can take a little practice, but anyone can do it. Just turn your dough out onto a floured surface, and divide it into 8 pieces.

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Take one piece and flatten it into a small circle about 2 1/2″ in diameter, then spread 1 heaping teaspoon of pesto into the center.

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Fold the edges of the dough into the center and seal the edges tightly by pinching the seam. Now pinch the seam again; you don’t want to have to deal with a pesto explosion.

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Now, carefully stretch the dough into a circle about 5-6″ in diameter. If you let your dough rise long enough, it should be pliable and this process should be fairly easy. If the dough resists stretching, set it aside for 5 minutes while you shape another flatbread, then try again. The end result should look like this; you know you’re on the right track when the dough has been stretched thin enough to see the flecks of basil in the center.

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Don’t worry if the flatbread isn’t completely smooth because any uneven surfaces end up working to your advantage, adding texture by allowing the surface to cook almost unevenly so that certain areas are deeply browned and crisp and other parts are soft and pillowy.

Now to cook them, heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Lay the flatbread in the pan, then cover with a lid and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the underside is brown and the top has bubbled up.

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Flip the flatbread and cook for another 2 minutes until the other side is brown as well. Remove the flatbread to a plate and cover with a clean dishtowel, and cook the remaining 7 flatbreads.

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While one flatbread cooks, you can shape the remaining flatbreads to save time. Serve these as soon as possible so that when you rip them open, a burst of basil-perfumed steam escapes into the air.

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These flatbreads will impress anyone you serve them to, whether it’s for a weekend lunch or a summertime barbeque. Dip them in olive oil, pair them with fresh mozzarella and ripe tomatoes, or simply serve them hot, straight out of the pan.

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Pesto Stuffed Flatbreads
Makes 8 flatbreads

Pesto
3 cups fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet until golden brown
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Flat-bread Dough
3/4 cup warm water (about 100F)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour (If you want to make these with whole wheat flour, use 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour and 2/3 cup whole wheat flour.)

For the flat-bread dough:
1. Place the water, yeast, salt, and olive oil in a large bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let sit until the yeast has begun foaming, about 5 minutes. Mix to recombine.
2. Add in the salt and flour, and slow mix (low speed if using a standing mixer) until all the flour is incorporated. If using a mixer, increase the speed to medium and knead for 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and glossy and springs back easily when pinched. If mixing by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, until smooth, glossy and springy.
3. Return the dough to the original bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until almost doubled in size, 45-60 minutes.

While the dough is rising, make the pesto:
1. Add the basil, garlic, salt, and pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well chopped, about 8 pulses. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
2. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until well incorporated and the pesto is a smooth sauce.
3. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the parmesan. Adjust with additional salt to taste and set aside.

To cook the flatbreads:
1. Once the dough has fully risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Taking one piece of dough at a time, roll it out to a circle 6 inches in diameter and place a tablespoon of pesto in the center, spreading the pesto to a circle 2-3 inches in diameter.
2. Fold the edges of the dough into the center so that the end result looks like a hockey puck of bread dough, with no visible pesto, making sure all edges are very tightly sealed. Carefully roll out the dough into another circle, this time to a thin circle about 8 inches in diameter. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces.
3. To cook, heat a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat for 5 minutes until very hot. Gently lay one flatbread in the pan and cover, letting it cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pan lid and flip the flatbread, letting it cook for another 2 minutes until golden brown on the bottom. Don’t worry if it puffs up, that means everything is going well!
4. Remove the cooked flatbread from the pan and cover with a dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining flatbreads, and serve immediately.