Current Food Obsession: Zucchini-Herb Flatbread

Homemade pizza — It’s my cheap, fun and easy go-to meal when we have friends over and it’s becoming somewhat of a Friday night family dinner tradition, too. My husband is always so impressed that I make my own dough but in truth, it’s really simple and takes only about 10 minutes to put together.  To me, that always seems a lot quicker and easier than running to the store (finding a parking space and shuttling 2 kids) to pick some up, so I guess it’s all in how you look at it. I think I’ll let him continue to be impressed.

Lately I’ve been kind of obsessed with this very simple zucchini flatbread version. It’s the same old pizza dough, rolled as thinly as possible and topped with paper thin slices of zucchini, a scattering of whatever herbs I have in my garden (I like rosemary, oregano, parsley and thyme), a grating of parmegiano reggiano, a drizzle of good olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. The version above included some caramelized shallots too. I have learned through experience to make one corner a little less herb-y for Luca and you might try that if you’re making it for a little one. It’s perhaps not substantial enough to make a full meal, but it’s a fantastic appetizer, lunch or snack. For dinner, we’ve been serving it up along with a simple pureed vegetable soup and an antipasto platter for a mostly vegetarian meal.

I’ve become so obsessed with this flatbread that whenever I make pizza I save a little extra dough (and make sure to buy a zucchini) so I can make this the next day… I’m particularly loving this zucchini-herb combination at the moment, but the possibilities are truly endless. You could absolutely trick this one out, but this no-frills version has reminded me that simplicity has its place too.

Luca loves to help me with any dough project and this is no exception. At the mere sight of the stand mixer he runs to pull up a chair. In addition to helping me measure and supervise the mixer, I save a glob of dough for him play with which is another good reason to make a little extra.

Thin Crust Pizza: The Roman Way

(Adapted from Marco Flavio Marinucci from the Cook Here and Now blog. Here’s his original post that includes his recipe and lots of other great pizza info.) Makes 2 large pizzas.

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup “00 Pizza Flour” (available in bulk at Rainbow Grocery), or substitute Pastry Flour
  • 1/8 cup semolina flour
  • 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 3/4 cups of lukewarm water (more if needed)
  1. Mix yeast and lukewarm water in your mixing bowl (the water should be about the temperature of a baby bottle). Let sit five minutes to foam and activate while you set up the rest of your ingredients.
  2. Add flours, salt and semolina to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix just until a ball forms. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides a few times. Adjust the flour and/or water as needed, a little bit at a time. [If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use the “well method”. Mix the dry ingredients in mound and make a crater in the center for the wet ingredients.]
  3. Let rest 5 minutes.
  4. Knead for 2-3 minutes by machine (or 4-5 minutes by hand) — don’t over knead. Marco says the dough should be tacky like used tape.
  5. Shape the dough into a ball and drizzle and coat with olive oil. Place in a bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let it sit at room temperature for a half hour, then refrigerate it overnight. You can also make it a few hours before and leave it at room temperature.

Baking your pizza:

  1. Let the dough come to room temperature. Place a pizza stone in your oven and heat at 500 degrees for about 30 minutes to get it nice and hot. [A pizza stone is a must for any pizza lover.]
  2. Divide the room temperature dough into two pieces (or more pieces if you want small, individual/kid-sized pizzas).
  3. On top of a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil, roll the pizzas 1/16” thick or as thin as you can.  Using the parchment or foil will help you transport the pizza from your counter to the oven.
  4. Lightly spread with toppings. If using sauce it should almost be transparent since the crust is so thin. If using fresh mozzarella, Marco suggests cutting the cheese into small dice so you get nice pools of cheese.
  5. Use the parchment or foil to lift your pizza into the oven. Cook 5-7 minutes until golden and bubbly. You can slide the parchment/foil out from underneath halfway through so that the bottom of the pizza can cook directly on the pizza stone, the parchment/foil should slide right out. Take the pizza out using a peel, a rimless baking sheet or a couple of large spatulas.
  6. Top finished pizza with a drizzle of good olive oil and some fresh herbs.

Swirly Apples and Quick Applesauce

2 videos for apple lovers….. We love this apple peeler/corer contraption and use it all the time. If you’re a pie lover, you can break down a big pile of apples in a snap. Kids (and adults) will also love the fun, swirly apple spirals for snack time. Pick one up here.

While on the topic of apples, I also happened upon this quick and easy microwave (you can call if faux “sous vide” if you like!) applesauce video recipe from the Voltaggio brothers of Top Chef fame. This is pretty much the opposite of our recent endeavor with slow cooker apple-pear butter — but quite a handy little trick for homemade applesauce on the quick. We don’t microwave a whole lot, but I must say it does have its shining moments. I looked into it and famed foodie scientist Harold Magee says that the quick cooking in the microwave actually retains more nutrients and prevents oxidation in certain items (produce/fruit). So thanks, Voltaggios, for giving the lowly microwave its just due.

Snack Attack (or Anytime) Granola

The three members of my family fall into different camps when it comes food —  sauciness, spiciness, saltiness — but a real point of solidarity in our family eating is our shared love for granola, especially with greek yogurt, fresh fruit and a good drizzle of honey. Needless to say, granola gets made and eaten often around here.

There’s not much prep time difference whether you make a little or a lot, so granola is a great recipe to scale up. It keeps well in the freezer, so make some to eat right away and stash some so you’ll always have something tasty and nutritious at the ready. We’ve happily eaten granola for dinner when we just couldn’t get it together to make anything else.

Since all that’s required is a little measuring and mixing and throwing it all on a baking sheet, it’s a great cooking project to do with kids. It makes for a fun playdate, too. Divvy up the ingredient list and invite some of friends around to make a mega batch that everyone can share. After putting together the granola base you can have some fun mixing in all sorts of goodies. You can also make loose granola or bars. The variations are endless.

Basic Granola Mix

1. Combine dry ingredients – 5 cups total assorted oats, seeds, nuts, grains (some ideas below). For a classic granola, we prefer at least half of the mixture to be oats.

2. Combine wet ingredients in a sauce pan over the stove, until sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is syrupy.

  • 3/4 cup apple sauce
  • 2 TBL butter or vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup (or corn syrup)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Spices (a basic mix would be: 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp ground ginger)

3. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together, making sure dry ingredients are well coated.

4. Spread into a thin layer (no more than about 1/2″) on cookie sheets. I line my cookie sheets with silicon baking mats which makes the clean up super easy. Alternatively you can spray your cookie sheets with a little cooking spray just to make sure nothing sticks. Bake at 375 degrees until the mix starts to turn golden (about 30 minutes), tossing with a wooden spoon and turning your pan once or twice to ensure even baking.

5. When the granola is approaching your desired golden-ness, turn the heat down to 200 degrees and continue drying out the granola so that it will be nice and crispy without too much more browning. I usually give it another 20-25 minutes, checking and tossing every 10 minutes or so. Granola will crisp as it cools, so at this point you’re just gauging moistness. You want it to be reasonably dry to the touch. Luckily if you take it out too early and you find it’s not as crisp as you like, you can always throw it back into a low oven to continue to dry and crisp.

6. When your granola is golden and crisp to your liking add your final mix-ins including chopped dried fruit, coconut or chocolate chips. When cool, store in an air tight container or freeze granola you wont be eating right away.

Mix-Ins, a few of our favorites:

  • Nuts: Sliced Almonds; Chopped Pistachios, Hazelnuts, Pecans or Walnuts
  • Dried Fruit: Raisins, Cranberries, Blueberries, Dates, Flaked Coconut, Apricots, Mangoes, Apples, Cherries, Banana Chips
  • Seeds/Grains: Oats, Sesame Seeds, Golden Flax Seed, Sunflower Seeds, Amaranth, Wheat Germ, Oat Bran
  • Spices: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger
  • Other stuff:  chocolate chips!

Notes:

  • Mix in chocolate chips, flaked coconut and dried fruit after baking. [If you like toasted coconut like me, I think it’s easier to control the brown-ness by toasting it separately in a pan vs baking it along with the base.]
  • If you want to keep the base nut free, toast the nuts separately over the stove and mix in after baking.

Granola Bar Variation

With our new lunchbox routine we decided to try a more portable granola. To make bars, reduce the dry ingredients by about a cup, so that the wet ingredients coat everything a bit more.

  1. Toast the dry ingredients (350 for 30 minutes or until lightly golden) before mixing with the wet ingredients.
  2. Combine wet ingredients in a pan over the stove until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is syrupy.
  3. Combine the pre-toasted dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. Add mix-ins including dried fruit, coconut or chocolate chips.
  4. Spread on cookie sheet and press lightly to compact the granola mixture. Make sure you have a nice even layer. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
  5. Turn down the oven to 200 degrees and let crisp for another 25-30 minutes. When cool cut into bars. If bars aren’t crisp when you start cutting them, you can return them to a low oven for a another 10-15 minutes.

Mythili’s Edamame With Coconut, Cumin and Chili

I love recipes that get me thinking of flavor combinations I’ve never tried. Turns out coconut, cumin and ginger go great together. Edamame are so healthy and snack-licious that it’s always great to have new ways to prepare them. And I think these flavors would be very nice on, say, green beans, too. I see lots of opportunity to play with the flavors to suit your taste (and that of your young ones). If your kids are sensitive to bold flavors you could certainly go light on the cumin and omit the chili altogether. I know my husband would love this loaded up with chili.

Many, many thanks to Sapna and her mom Mythili for sharing some home-cooking love with this recipe. It’s quite special to cook a recipe direct from someone’s mom vs. out of a cookbook. As I was making these for my family, I got to thinking about the many different forms that comfort food can take. My most cherished childhood food memories include everything from fried rice, to jook, steamed fish, christmas toffee, and blackberry pie. I can’t wait to teach my son all these…. and maybe one day, once he’s through this frustratingly picky phase, he’ll actually love them as much as I do!

Mythili’s Edamame with Cumin & Coconut

Simran suggests trying this as a side dish to curry.

  • Shelled Edamame (1 cup)
  • Grated Coconut (About 2 TBL)
  • Jeera (Cumin Seeds, to taste)
  • 1 Minced Green Chili (optional)
  • Minced Onion (optional)
  • Small Piece of Grated Ginger
  • Squeeze of Lemon Juice

Method:

  1. Add 1 spoon of butter or olive oil to pan.
  2. Saute cumin seed (all I had was gound, seeds would be better!) and minced chili for one minute. Add minced onion and saute three minutes.
  3. Add edamame and saute five minutes.
  4. Add grated coconut and fry one minute before taking the pan off the heat.
  5. Off heat, season with salt to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice.