Thursday, September 8, 2011

Veggie Squares

The other month, I heard an amusing story about a pizza competition, and although I more-or-less remember the story, I cannot remember where I heard it (friend? coworker?? radio???). I hear the voice, I think I even picture hand gestures, but I have no specific recall of who or where or whatfor. Fortunately (or not), ML has an equally vague memory of said story, so at least I'm not just dreaming up pizza anecdotes.

The tale goes something like this: There was a major pizza-making competition and a high-profile Italian chef was brought in to award the prizes. Contestants made all sorts of remarkable gourmet concoctions, using wonderful ingredients, but after tasting each recipe the chef announced, "Dees-a good, but eet's not-a pizza!"

All of that to announce — officially — THIS IS GOOD, BUT IT'S NOT A PIZZA.

At least not quite.

It contains three main components you might expect from a pizza: a bread-based crust, a layer of cheesy substance, and a variety of veggie toppings. After that it goes straight from not being a pizza to being plain old GOOD. Like clean-off-the-platter-in-a-matter-of-minutes good. Take it to a potluck and you will be winning awards from the other guests.

Now, this recipe is originally a convenience recipe that calls for biscuit dough from a tube, dry ranch dressing from a package and mayonnaise. But one of my rules of thumb when grocery shopping is to try only to buy foods that contain ingredients I might actually have in my kitchen. So no high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. No mono-benzo-sodi-nonsense. Takes a bit more time to read labels and requires going without Twinkies, but makes me feel like the food is healthier and my body has fewer weird chemicals to digest. Let me tell you, you don't particularly want to read the ingredient list for refrigerated biscuits or dry ranch dressing. Also let me also tell you, everything about this is super easy to make from scratch with familiar ingredients — especially if you have a food processor.

The biscuit recipe comes from my dearly beloved "Super Natural Every Day" cookbook by 101 Cookbooks.
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the middle of the oven.
  2. In a food processor (regular blade), combine 1&1/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1&1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1&1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon baking powder. Pulse a few times to mix.
  3. Cut 1/2 cup cold butter into very small cubes and sprinkle across the top of the dry ingredients. Pulse about 20 times, until dry and sandy looking.
  4. Add 1&1/3 cups plain yogurt and pulse a few times until yogurt is just incorporated. Don't over-mix! A few dry patches are fine.
  5. Scoop out the dough onto a floured surface. Knead five times and then press out into a rectangle that is about 1-inch thick. Use additional flour as needed to prevent sticking.
  6. Cut the slab of dough in half and stack on top of each other. Repeat the flattening and stacking two more times.
  7. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 10"x14" jelly roll pan. 
  8. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until the top is slightly golden.
  9. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
cutting in half

stacking the halves

Have I mentioned it isn't really pizza? Well, this isn't really cheese either... Combine all of the following in a medium bowl and mix well. Spread evenly across the cooled crust.
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme

As this was originally a convenience food recipe, I suppose you could take the easy way out and chop your veggies with the food processor. However, all of those drooling potluckers will laud you for how pretty it looks, so take advantage of that. Personally, I like to select four brightly colored veggies and chop them evenly and finely. Then I lay them out across the surface of the cream cheese in narrow strips, both to make it attractive and to ensure that each square ends up with an even assortment of vegetables. Here I used cucumbers, red bell peppers, carrots and broccoli — but any of your favorites will work. Cut the not-a-pizza into squares and serve!

I'm not kidding about the potluck. We took this to a Labor Day gathering and it was gone before the burgers were even on the grill.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pesto Pizza the Third

As fall gradually creeps in, it looks like the basil season is, sadly, winding down. My plants appear a little scraggly, less prolific. *sniff* But all sadness about the end of summer aside, now is prime time to mix up more pesto and make the most out of every last leaf. So if you're ready for pesto batch #2, here's a fresh and tasty combination of toppings to try out.

TOPPINGS (layered in this order):
  1. The very best pizza crust ever, par-baked.
  2. Generous spread of homemade pesto
  3. Grated mozzarella
  4. Chopped leeks
  5. Slivers of bacon, par-cooked just enough to be not-raw, but not enough to be crispy (optional)
  6. Halved cherry tomatoes and/or sliced tomatoes
  7. Sliced bell peppers
Bake at 450 degrees F for 7 minutes and top with just a teensy sprinkle of extra Parmesan.