Zucchini and Pesto Pita Pizza

This is one of those throw-together-whatever’s-in-the-fridge type of recipes that turned out  to be really tasty!

I am a huge fan of pizza, but after joining weight watchers and realizing how many dang points a slice of pizza is, I try to find creative ways to still get my pizza fix without all the points (the bulk of which come from the dough, FYI. Boooo).

Here is one such way: using a whole-wheat pita in place of dough.

I didn’t have any pizza sauce, but had a ton of basil so I decided to make my own pesto. If you’ve got a food processor, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and nuts (walnuts or pine nuts) you’re in business. Pesto is really easy to make. The only annoying thing, of course, is cleaning up the food processor after.

Homemade Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine basil and nuts in food processor; pulse a few times to mix. Add garlic, pulse a few more times. Add olive oil while food processor is running. Add the cheese if you want it, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stop and scrape down the sides of the food processor, and pulse a couple more times. Voila! This makes about a cup of pesto, which will keep for a week or two in the fridge. You can also freeze it if you want to keep it for longer!

In addition to the delicious fresh basil, I had ground cherries and zucchini from the farmers market! I had never heard of ground cherries before, have you? Here’s what they look like. Kinda like baby tomatillos. They actually are in the tomatillo/tomato family. You just pop them out of their little husk and eat them. Now, I am not a fan of eating straight up tomatoes, even cherry tomatoes. But these are sweet enough that I really enjoyed them. So yummy just to snack on. They would be a really good addition to homemade salsa, too.

For my little “pizza” I used pesto, baked zucchini, ground cherries, goat cheese, and mozzarella cheese. So good. This was just what I had, though. Feel free to use whatever you’ve got. It would be great with mushrooms, regular tomato, spinach, broccoli, squash, whatever. Also, if you want to cut down on points/calories, you could use tomato sauce instead of pesto.

Pita Pizza (serves 2)
1 whole-wheat pita, divided (cut all the way around the edge so you end up with 2 circles)
1/2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
Pesto
Olive oil
Ground cherries
1 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (part-skim)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Slice up some zucchini and toss with just a little bit of olive oil (1 or 2 tsp). Season with salt and pepper. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bake at 350° for about 10 minutes. (Just until they are softened up.)

Pop your pitas in the toaster oven, and toast halfway. You’re going to put it back in the toaster oven (or in the real oven) to melt the cheese once you’ve added your toppings, so you don’t want it completely toasted yet.

Spread each pita with pesto (about 1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp per pita). Top with zucchini slices, ground cherries, goat cheese, and just a little bit of shredded mozzarella. Put it back in the toaster oven to melt your cheese, and serve right away!

1 serving = about 9 PointsPlus

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Portobello Caprese Salad

Ric and I have spent the last couple of weeks getting settled in our new apartment. We are now officially residents of the northwest suburbs, which is kind of weird. It’s so different from the city. Sidewalks are a rare sight, which makes walking anywhere difficult. And Ric was used to biking to work every day, which is now much more difficult. These roads were not made to accommodate bikers. But, there are some lovely aspects of the ‘burbs as well.

1. It’s quiet. Like, really quiet. In the city, we would hear ambulances/police/fire trucks about every 5 minutes. I think maybe I’ve heard one in the two weeks we’ve lived here. It’s awesome.

2. We live right next to a big forest preserve, which is beautiful. Yesterday we biked about 6 miles of it, and it was so nice. I often felt claustrophobic in the city… I just need some nature in my life. And now I have it, right across the street.

3. We have a balcony at our new place, which we both love. It’s so nice to sit out there, and read or eat and enjoy the sunshine. One of the things we both really want one day is a garden, and while that’s not quite possible here, we made our own little garden with a balcony planter.

Isn’t it pretty? These little flowers make me so happy every time I look at them. In addition to the two kinds of flowers you see, we also planted basil, rosemary, cilantro, mint, and oregano. Yay! Our little basil plant is thriving.

I love basil so much. I could use it in everything. One of my favorite summer recipes is caprese salad: tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of olive oil & balsamic.

Yesterday Ric and I went to the farmers market and stocked up on tons of fresh veggies and fruits. We had some tomatoes and portobello mushrooms, so I decided to make a caprese salad with a twist. I give you portobello caprese salad. You’re welcome.

Ingredients:
Portobello mushrooms (small-medium size, 1 for each person)
Tomato, sliced
Fresh mozzarella (I can’t stress the importance of fresh enough, it makes a world of difference)
Fresh basil
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 350°, then get your mushrooms cleaned. Run them under the faucet making sure to clean off any dirt.

Now cut off the stems, take a spoon and scrape out the gills. You can skip this step if you want, but I would recommend it. Sometimes there might be dirt hiding in the gills, and you don’t want your salad to be gritty.  This is a pretty quick and easy step.

Drizzle a little bit of olive oil on both sides of the mushrooms. Place them on a pan with aluminum foil and bake for 15-20 minutes. I pulled the sides of the foil up over the mushrooms to make a little tent so they didn’t get burnt.

Once your mushrooms are done, put a slice of tomato on each, a fat slice of mozzarella, a sprig of basil, and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and balsamic. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy this yummy summertime treat!

Penne with Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese

One of my favorite cheeses of all is goat cheese. I love it. So creamy, tangy, and delicious. Mmmm… yummy.

So when I saw this recipe from Giada at home, I knew I was in for a treat. A friend requested that I post a recipe with sweet potatoes and goat cheese, and this is not that, but it’s close, right? Sweet potatoes, butternut squash — same diff. Kind of. I’ll have to think up a recipe involving sweet potatoes and goat cheese later. Any excuse to incorporate goat cheese into a recipe!

This was an easy recipe to put together, but it is a bit time consuming. The squash takes a while to roast, so make sure you give yourself about an hour and 15 minutes of prep. and cooking time, or more if you’re peeling and cutting the squash yourself. (I bought pre-peeled and cut squash to save some time.)

Penne with butternut squash and goat cheese (4 to 6 servings)
Cooking spray – vegetable oil or olive oil
2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 onion, diced
Olive oil for drizzling
Freshly ground salt and pepper
1 lb. penne pasta
8 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted (chop walnuts after toasting)
1 packed cup chopped, fresh basil
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan

Put an oven rack in the top third of the oven, and set your oven at 425° F.

Spray a baking sheet liberally with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine the squash and onion. Drizzle with olive oil and mix thoroughly so that everything is coated in oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the vegetables in a single layer on the baking sheet and cook for 40-45 minutes until squash is tender. Keep an eye on the onions — I wound up with a few burnt pieces because they were in the oven for a bit too long (Confession: I got distracted watching the Vampire Diaries on Netflix. Hey, what can I say? I’m a sucker for trashy TV shows). Once the veggies are done cooking, remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the squash and onions are cooling, toast the walnuts. This can be done in the oven or on the stovetop. I prefer the stovetop so I can keep an eye on them. Heat walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for one two minutes, tossing or stirring frequently, until golden brown and fragrant. Set aside.

Make pasta in a large pot, following the directions on the package. When it’s done, reserve about a cup of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta.

In a large serving bowl add pasta, goat cheese, and about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the pasta water. Toss until the cheese has melted and formed a creamy sauce. The original recipe calls for 1 cup of water but I thought this would be too much. You can add as little or as much water as you like, depending how thin you want the cheese sauce.

Add squash and onions, walnuts, and basil. Toss well, and season with salt and pepper. Top it off with parmesan and you’re good to go. The end result is a creamy, flavorful, and filling pasta dish packed with veggies. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Comfort Food

This past week wasn’t the greatest, so, naturally I found myself craving comfort food. Comfort food could mean a lot of different things to different people, but to me it usually involves cheese. Sorry, vegans. Like the title of the blog implies, I am not quite vegan. And that, my friends, is because of cheese. It’s just so good! Anyway, I came across this recipe on Pinterest a couple of weeks ago and I knew I had to try it. (Side note: I now have a fancy new Pinterest button on the sidebar if you would like to follow me!) As this week came to an end, I found myself thinking about this recipe. A lot. I just had to make it.

So what is the recipe? Prepare yourself…

Gnocchi Mac ‘n Cheese.

OK, so I guess it’s not mac n’ cheese if it’s not made with macaroni. So maybe this should be called gnocc n’ cheese. Hmm… doesn’t quite have that same ring to it. I’m actually not a huge fan of regular macaroni and cheese, so the idea of gnocchi and cheese sounded so delicious — little bit of a heartier meal. Gnocchi, if you’ve never tried it before, are little dumplings, usually made out of potato flour. You can find it in the pasta section, but it’s not sold everywhere, so you might have to hunt around. If  you’re wondering how to pronounce gnocchi, it’s like nyokey. I consider myself a gnocchi-pronouncing expert because I used to work for a guy from Italy, and that is how he said it.

Anyway, the recipe can be found on The Cutting Edge of Ordinary. You can also check out her beautiful/drool-worthy pictures, because I of course had horrible lighting and my pictures did not turn out so wonderfully.

It looks so good, right? Mmm… and it was.

She used basil in hers, but I did not have any so I chopped up some fresh rosemary to add to my cheese sauce. But they’re both optional.

Speaking of the cheese sauce, if you’ve never used gruyere or fontina, fear not — they are DELICIOUS. Or at least I thought so. It was my first time trying them, and I was a little nervous I wouldn’t like them, but I. loved. them. I have leftovers in my fridge and I will relish every last bite.

Gnocc’ & Cheese
1 lb. gnocchi
2 Tbsp. butter
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. all purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. dijon mustard (I used spicy brown)
1/4 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1/4 cup shredded fontina cheese (except fontina is a little too soft to shred, so i chopped mine into small pieces)
Salt & white pepper to taste (regular pepper would be fine, too)
1/3 cup shredded parmigiano-reggiano (or regular parm would be fine, too)
Rosemary or basil for garnish (chopped and added to cheese sauce)

Preheat oven to 375° F. Prepare gnocchi according to package directions. If you’ve never used gnocchi before, they cook super fast — they only need to boil for 2-3 minutes before they are done. You will know they’re done when they all rise to the top of the water, like this:

Drain your gnocchi in a colander, and add to a greased 1 1/2 qt. baking dish.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add your garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds — until your kitchen smells wonderful (if you like the smell of garlic, that is… but who doesn’t?) Whisk in flour until it gets a bit thick and bubbly, then add your milk and mustard. Whisk away. Keep on whiskin’ til’ it gets slightly thick, about 3-5 minutes.

Combine your gruyere and fontina, and add into your saucepan one handful at a time. Whisk cheese in until it melts before adding the next handful. Once it is all cheesey, gooey, melty, and delicious, season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over your gnocchi, and sprinkle parm cheese over the top. Bake until golden and a little bit crispy — about 30 minutes. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Ohmygoshyes.

I am so sad I don’t have leftovers in my fridge right now. This baby only serves about three. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Garlicky Spaghetti Squash

Last year I discovered a delightful thing called the spaghetti squash. I don’t know how I went so long in life without knowing about this yummy veggie. Spaghetti squash is great because you can use it as a replacement for spaghetti in most recipes. It’s way lower in carbs, of course, and has a heck of a lot more nutritional value than real spaghetti. Of course it’s not going to taste like spaghetti. It’s squash, and it tastes squashy. It also has a bit of a crunch to it, but trust me, it’s good.

Add some garlic and cheese, and you have a delicious and simple side dish.

I found this recipe last year from Steamy Kitchen, and it is so yummy! You can basically pick whatever herb you want to put in there — parsley and basil are both great, and I think rosemary would be good too.

Whenever I fly home to visit my parents, I try to make them a new vegetarian recipe to broaden their culinary horizons. My mom was flabbergasted when I became a vegetarian, because growing up, meat was always at the center of meals. You could not have a meal without meat. She never knows what to make me when I come home, so I like to show them that it’s possible to have a perfectly delicious, nutritious, and filling meal with no meat in sight.

Last year I made this recipe and my Dad loved it. He went back for seconds and thirds and probably fourths. It was the first time he had tried spaghetti squash, and he loved it so much that he has even made the recipe himself a few times. Success!

Baked Spaghetti Squash
1 smallish spaghetti squash (3-4 lbs.)
2 Tbsp. butter or earth balance butter substitute
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced (The original recipe calls for 2, but I always add more.)
1/4 cup chopped basil, parsley, or rosemary
Freshly ground salt to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375° F and throw the whole squash in. Bake for 60 minutes until you can easily cut into the skin. Let the squash cool for a bit until you can handle it without burning your hands.

If you’re short on time, forget the oven and microwave the squash for 5 minutes or longer… however long it takes until your knife easily cuts through the skin. (If you do choose the microwave route, you will still need to roast it in the oven for 30 minutes after microwaving. Cut it in half lengthwise before roasting.)

Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Get rid of the seeds with a fork. Hold up half the squash, and use the fork to scrape out the insides. It will come out in long strands, just like spaghetti! Isn’t it pretty?

If you’re having a hard time getting the strands out, it probably needs to cook for a bit longer. Stick it back in the oven for a few minutes.

After you’ve scraped til you can scrape no more, set the strands aside and grab a large sauté pan. Heat the butter and garlic over medium heat. Allow the garlic to sauté for a couple of minutes, and then add the squash, salt, and herb of your choice. Mix it all up and then add your cheese. Add more salt as needed. Serve piping hot, and enjoy!