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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Bacon, Pizza Two Ways, and a Little Life Update

It’s been far too long! I confess I have been distracted by many things in the past month. I know life updates are not my usual blog post topic, but last weekend Ric and I graduated from seminary, Ric recently got a new job, and we will be moving to the ‘burbs in a few short weeks!  Lots going on around here. In the midst of all this, my poor blog has been forsaken. I do apologize.

I also have a confession to make…

I ate meat for the first time in four years.

Bacon … the gateway drug  meat.

Let me explain. The main reason I am a vegetarian is because I do not want to support the majority of the meat industry, whose business practices are shady, and who treat farmers horribly, and sell questionable meat packed with antibiotics, growth hormones, steroids, and who knows what else. (Google probably knows.) Animals are raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation); they are packed in with hundreds or even hundreds of thousands (in the case of chickens, for instance) of other animals, with no room to move around. This negatively impacts the environment, pollutes waterways (potentially harming people), and harms the animals themselves. They get sick easily, which necessitates the antibiotics, and are basically standing in their own filth. Disgusting. For more information about the whole dang meat industry, I suggest watching the documentary Food, Inc. OK, done ranting.

For the past few years, my church has had a partnership with a local farm. We personally know the farmer, and we often buy eggs from her. She comes to our church a couple times a month and sells meat and eggs. We know that she has a small family farm and they are dedicated to raising hogs in their natural environment. They do not use growth hormones, antibiotics, or steroids. And it makes a difference. They produce quality meat that tastes great. If you’re in Chicago, you can find C&D Farms at farmers markets and other locations, listed on their website. We had bought some bacon from Crystal, the farmer, for a big family brunch. I figured I knew exactly where it came from and that I could trust its quality, so I ate it. And it was delicious.

All of this to say, I still consider myself a vegetarian, but you may find me eating some meat from a local farm once in a blue moon.

OK… confessions of a bacon-eating vegetarian out of the way. Time for pizza.

If you know me, you probably know how much I love pizza. I think I could eat pizza every day. I might if it was in any way healthy.

I’ve got two pizzas for you. The first, Ric made, and the second was my creation. I wasn’t very specific with amounts for ingredients, because you can decide for yourself how much you want on your pizza. That’s the great thing about pizza — you can throw whatever you want on some dough and call it good!

Pizza #1: Tomato and Asparagus with Goat Cheese (yum)

Look at that beauty!

Ingredients:
pre-made pizza dough
asparagus
cherry tomatoes
goat cheese
olive oil
garlic (optional)
herbs for flavoring (oregano, basil, or we used herbes de provence)

Before making the pizza, you’ll need to blanch your asparagus. Blanch is just a fancy word for giving your asparagus a quick bath in boiling water. Blanching helps preserve the yummy flavor, crisp texture, and bright green color. First, prepare a bowl with ice and cold water and set aside.

Next, Bring a pot of water to a boil on medium-high heat, drop your asparagus in, and cook for 2-5 minutes (until it turns bright green). Remove the asparagus with tongs or a slotted spoon and put them in the bowl of ice water. This will stop them from cooking any further.

Now, get your dough and stretch it out. We get our dough from Trader Joe’s (of course). And even though I know wheat is healthier, we usually get the white dough because it’s easier to work with and tastes better.

Drizzle your dough with olive oil. Spread with minced garlic if you’re into that. Top with asparagus (you can cut them up if you want; we just left them whole), crumbled goat cheese, tomatoes and herbs. Consult the dough packaging for cooking instructions.

Pizza #2 Potato and Asparagus Pizza (mmm, carb-y)

Ingredients:
pre-made pizza dough
1 large potato, boiled and thinly sliced
asparagus
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream or creme fraiche
2 tbsp. olive oil
garlic
parmesan cheese
goat cheese, aka the love of my life (sorry, Ric)
herbes de provence (a blend of rosemary, thyme, and marjoram)
salt and pepper

Boil your potato until soft, and cut into thin slices. Blanch your asparagus using the directions above.

Stretch out your dough. Drizzle with 1 tbsp. olive oil and cover in garlic slices. Season liberally with fresh cracked pepper, and just a little bit of salt.

Cover the dough with potato slices and drizzle those with the remaining oil and the cream. I consulted another recipe for the amount of cream and it suggested 1/2 cup, but I used just under that amount. I suggest starting with 1/4 cup and adding more as needed. Once you’re done with the cream, season the potatoes with herbes de provence.

Lay the asparagus over potatoes, and sprinkle goat cheese and parmesan cheese over everything. Use as much or as little as you like.

Bake at 425° for 35-40 minutes, until cream is bubbling and dough is golden brown around the edges.

Voila!

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!

cheese, glorious cheese

Mmmmmmmmmmmm, cheese.

I’ve been a vegetarian for over 3 years now, sometimes dabbling in veganism. But what brings me back is always the cheese. I don’t know if I can live without it. Yes, there are some decent vegan cheeses out there, but they can not live up to the glorious, delicious, drool-inducing flavors of goat cheese, for instance. Or brie. Oh my gosh, brie.

My husband and I recently subscribed to a CSA (community supported agriculture.) I was super excited to get new vegetables and try new recipes. When we started it a few weeks ago, though, we were on a break from cheese. We both decided we had been eating a wee bit too much, and a break from dairy was needed.

But then we got beets in our box, and my goodness, so many people recommended eating those suckers on a baguette, shmeared with goat cheese, and a bit of olive oil. Maybe some arugula. YUM.

But we were on a cheese break. So, I found a recipe for roasted beets. I roasted them. I tried them (for the first time ever) just on their own, with a little salt. I was seriously not looking forward to eating that beet. I don’t know what it is, but the crazy intense red, counter staining, finger staining, everything staining color, grosses me out. I reluctantly ate a piece…. and I kind of liked it. I mean, it was not bad. But then I didn’t know what to do with all of them. The rest of the beets sat in my fridge uneaten for awhile, until hubby concocted some recipe with them involving quinoa and avocado. I also very (very) reluctantly ate that, because it was all red and gross looking! It was ok.

Well, the beets are back. And hallelujah, we are NOT on a cheese break any longer. So I decided to roast up some beets, and go crazy with the goat cheese on some crusty baguette.

Roasting beets is super simple. Take some beets and rip off the stems & leaves. You can save the leaves if you like and cook with those. I just compost mine, because I have enough kale & lettuce in my CSA box that I don’t need any more leafy greens to worry about going bad.

You might want to rinse/scrub the beets to get rid of any dirt. Take a large piece of aluminum foil and stick the beets on there. Drizzle some olive oil over them, and fold the foil up over the beets to make a little packet. Stick them in the oven at 375F and wait 30-60 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. Shorter time for smaller beets, longer for big ones. They’re done when you can stick a fork in them and they feel soft.

Once they’re out, wait for them to cool. I then use a paper towel to rub off the skin. You can leave the skin on, though. Either way, you’re gonna get pink fingers, and probably pink stains on your cutting board. Once the skin is off, and the ends are cut off, slice them up.

Serve on a crusty sliced bread, like a baguette. I toasted my baguette in the oven, sliced it up, spread goat cheese on each piece and drizzled with olive oil. Then I added the beets on top. OK, so I know this picture is horrid. Please, forgive me for the awful lighting. Also, I admit this doesn’t look this appetizing. The beets look like weird pepperonis. But I wanted to have at least one picture in my post. I promise for better, more aesthetically pleasing & appetizing pictures next time.

I must say, it was pretty tasty. There’s nothing better than cheese and bread. Oh, right, beets too. The beet and goat cheese flavors worked well together, but I have to admit I liked a little more goat cheese and a little less beet. If beets keep coming in our CSA boxes, I’ll keep making this recipe. Buuuut, I probably wouldn’t be too likely to go buy beets on my own. Meh. Nevertheless, if you want to have a good first experience with a beet, I’d say this is the way to go. Thank goodness for cheese.