Margherita Goat Cheese Pizza

There are about a thousand and one things to love about the farmer’s market. One of the things that I love is when you buy a bunch of herbs for one dollar . . . and you go home with a bunch that fills an entire shelf in your refrigerator. On Tuesday I bought fresh basil and heirloom cherry tomatoes. I contemplated making a pasta dish or a casserole or even a salad but I think I knew when I bought them that they were destined to become a pizza.

There are a lot of really good pizza places around us, that probably happens in most metropolitan areas, yes? You know those really good pizzas that are full of ingredients you’d never think of? I love those. We had our rehearsal dinner at one of my favorite pizza spots, and with good reason. In past weeks I’ve enjoyed a pizza topped with sausage, pepperoni, bacon, pineapple and banana peppers; a pizza topped with garlic mashed potatoes, bacon, broccoli, cheese and green onions; a pizza I like to think I invented and is the best thing ever – chicken, pineapple, goat cheese and red onions; and a pizza topped with barbecue chicken, mushrooms, banana peppers and onions. There were others in there too, but those were my favorites.

I rarely feel the need to recreate what my favorite places can make for me. And to be completely honest, I never order a pizza at a restaurant that I could easily make at home. I want unique, amazing toppings. I want complex flavor layers and ingredients I’d rather not mess with at home (read: pineapple, mashed potatoes) and I almost never want to order the traditional American pizza of red sauce and salted meat. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat it. But we’ve probably all eaten our fair share of the plain, boring pizzas and could do with some new flavors. **This does not mean that when confronted with a traditional NY pie I will try to fancy it up. No, I will take that giant, flat piece of pepperoni pizza, fold it in half and shove it into my face. Some things are sacred.

When I thought about turning my basil and heirloom tomatoes into a pizza I was quite nearly giddy just at the thought. I settled on a slight twist to the classic Margherita. First because I had all the ingredients on hand. Second because I never order Margherita pizzas. I can crush tomatoes and rip up basil on my own time, thank you very much. The goat cheese. Oh the goat cheese. The goat cheese is there because goat cheese makes everything better. Everything. I tossed on some onions as well because caramelized onions are like vegetable candy.

This was a pretty damn delicious pie. The honey wheat crust was crisp but chewy. The heirlooms roasted and when lightly crushed, gave the pizza a sweet, flavorful sauce. The goat cheese made everything perfect, as it does. The basil under the cheese gave tons of flavor while the basil on top of the cheese got crispy and reminded me of bacon. I’m not sure why, but it was good so I suggest you try it. This recipe made two pizzas, one 10 inches and the other 12 inches with crust that were ‘original’ thickness. It would easily make three thin crust pizzas as well or two 12-inch pizza of medium thickness.

So, what are you waiting for? Tomatoes and basil are in season. Now is the time. Ready, go.

Goat Cheese Margherita Pizza

for the crust

2 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast

1 cup warm water

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon honey

Dissolve the yeast in a small bowl with the warm water. Stir with a wooden spoon (not metal) and let sit for 10 minutes until the mixture is creamy.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt and honey. Pour in the yeast mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon by hand until the mixture comes together into a ball. Place on a floured surface and knead, adding more flour if the mixture is too sticky. Knead until the dough is relatively smooth, about two minutes. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover lightly with a towel. Let rise for 10-15 minutes.

for the toppings

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large bunch fresh basil

1/2 white onion, chopped

3 cups cherry tomatoes

1 cup goat cheese

3 cups shredded mozzarella

garlic powder

sea salt

coarse ground black pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the dough in half and roll out the first pizza to your desired thickness. This dough gets poofy so if you want it really thin, roll it out very, very thinly.

Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the crust. Sprinkle the crust with garlic powder and some chopped basil. Use just enough so that the crust is lightly covered in basil.

Top with one cup of shredded mozzarella, followed by the chopped onions. Add the tomatoes, whole, spacing them as evenly as you can. Then add large pieces of torn basil. Use as much as you’d like, the more the better. I try to make sure there’s enough basil for some in each bite.

Add half of the goat cheese and another half cup of shredded mozzarella. Drizzle the top with another tablespoon of olive oil.

Finally, season lightly with sea salt and pepper.

Place in the oven on a medium rack. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the crust is golden and the cheese in the middle has melted. If desired, place the entire pizza under the broiler for 90 seconds. This will crisp the crust edges, melt the cheese completely and roast the vegetables to perfection.

Let stand for five minutes before serving. Using a fork or mashed potato masher, smoosh the tomatoes that haven’t burst open.

Serve with crushed red pepper and fresh basil.


Mushroom Asparagus Pizza

Mushrooms and asparagus are probably two of my favorite things to eat in spring. Not that you can’t eat mushrooms year-round, but they’re so delicious on top of a grilled steak or mixed with fresh asparagus and to me, that screams spring. One thing I’ve noticed during these warmer months is that we eat almost all of our meat grilled. So if we’re not grilling something, there probably isn’t any meat involved. Spring and summer produce is so abundant, it’s just so easy to whip something up with produce you have on hand.

I love mushrooms. Senor and I had some morels the other day and we were both blown away by them. If I could spend $40 for a pound of mushrooms, I totally would. They’re outstanding. I might have to take up mushroom hunting to support the addiction.

One place where I don’t love to find mushrooms though, is my pizza. I’ve never had a truly delicious mushroom on a pizza. Usually they’re sliced and from a can…and more than a little rubbery and slimy. Or they might be so dried out that they look freeze-dried slices of mushrooms. Mushrooms found on pizza are never delicately braised golden brown and plump. This is probably because mushrooms that are plump, savory and delicious are usually a lot more expensive than their canned counterparts. Fresh baby mushrooms that are deliciously golden brown cost more in money and in time spent preparing them. This, I think, is the ultimate dilemma of a veggie pizza. The veggies are not exhilarating. Instead, you have green peppers, olives, mushrooms and onions. Green peppers are the cheapest pepper with the most overwhelming flavor amongst the sweet peppers. Olives are pickled and salty…and are sometimes hard to love…and not the first thing that I think of when I hear the words ‘veggie’ but somehow they always manage to wiggle their way in there. The mushrooms we’ve already addressed. And while onions are delicious all the time, they aren’t enough to salvage a good veggie pizza.

The mushroom asparagus pizza was actually a well-planned meal that I created based on my own, personal desire to enjoy delicious mushrooms on pizza. It was a greedy, selfish endeavor and I’m not sorry because it was amazing. I wanted lots of really good, amazing veggies on a pizza. I dreamed of amazing vegetable combinations that I could create. Artichoke with onion, basil and red bell pepper? Tomato, asparagus, mushroom and goat cheese? Caramelized onions, mushrooms and broccoli rabe? So many possibilities to make really, really delicious ‘veggie’ pizza.

I settled on a simple mushroom asparagus pizza because not only do I love them both, but asparagus is my favorite in-season vegetable at the moment. I was anxious to get my grubby little paws on a delicious pizza full of beautiful mushrooms instead of gross ones and the combo was perfect. It came out of the oven and was gorgeous, but sadly, already dark outside. Some of these pictures are from the next day when I reheated the leftovers in the toaster oven. It was still delicious.

I started by whipping up this crust recipe from All Recipes. Instead of rolling it out, I just spread it with my fingers on a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. This left the crust thicker at the edges and took way less time.

While the dough was rising, I sauteed the mushrooms, and then the asparagus in a bit of butter and olive oil, braising the mushrooms in a little water for a few minutes to make sure they kept their fullness. I sprinkled them generously with garlic.

I spread some melted garlic butter on the spread out dough, topped it with cheese and the veggies and popped it in the oven for about 40 minutes at 425. Senor and I stuffed ourselves silly on this gooey, delicious spring pizza.

Mushroom Asparagus Pizza

1 pizza crust (I used this recipe but feel free to use a packaged pizza crust)

2 cups shredded mozzarella

1 large bunch of asparagus, washed and cut into pieces

2 cups of baby mushrooms (more as desired), wiped clean and cut into halves

3 Tablespoons butter, divided

1 Tablespoon olive oil

powdered garlic

Heat your oven to 425º.

Follow the directions for your crust recipe and spread it out on a large baking sheet, sprayed with non-stick spray and sprinkled with cornmeal.

In a saute pan, add 1 Tablespoon of butter and heat over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms. Stir occasionally and make sure each mushroom is evenly coated in butter. Add a few tablespoons of water so the mushrooms braise slightly and absorb some of the moisture. Season with garlic powder as desired.

When the mushrooms are mostly done, remove from heat and set aside in a separate bowl. Add the olive oil and asparagus to your saute pan. Saute lightly with plenty of garlic. When the asparagus has turned bright green but is still firm, add the mushrooms back in and remove from heat. Stir the two together to incorporate all of the flavors.

In a small Pyrex, add two tablespoons of butter and plenty of garlic. Feel free to use garlic salt, garlic powder, or a combo of both. Melt in the microwave and stir to mix. Pour the butter and garlic mix over your crust. Spread evenly with a pastry brush or clean fingers.

Top the buttery crust with shredded cheese. Carefully add your mushrooms and asparagus to the top of the cheese, spreading them evenly and making sure the edge pieces have plenty of toppings.

Pop in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove once the cheese is lightly golden in the center of the pizza. If the dough in the center is slightly doughy, let it sit on the cookie sheet while you serve the outer pieces and let it finish cooking on the tray.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza

>I think I make a pretty delicious pasta sauce from scratch. I can do it with a bunch of tomatoes, with a jar of tomato sauce, a can of tomato puree, or just some olive oil and white wine. Whatever, I can do it. The one thing I have never been able to manage is making a good, delicious pizza sauce from scratch. I’ve made okay sauces. But they’re never great. I think I’ve come to recognize that this is something that I can’t do. Maybe someone wiser than me will teach me how to do it someday, but really, I’m not too worried. I can rely on pizza places for the traditional pizza sauce and I’m pretty satisfied with that decision. What happens though when you want pizza but no money to purchase said pizza? Well, then you make your own with the things you have in the fridge.

This pizza happened sometime after the turkey roasting and before the end of 2010. We both wanted pizza but neither of us wanted to pay for it or go out and get it. After surveying the fridge, I realized I had all the ingredients necessary for a BBQ or buffalo chicken pizza. Actually, I probably always have these ingredients laying around. They are staples after all. Yes, blue cheese crumbles are a staple.

All in all, I think this pizza took about an hour from start to finish, which included not only cooking the chicken that was frozen but also making the dough from scratch. I probably could have saved myself a lot of time if I’d had cooked chicken ready to go but we’re not all prepared all of the time. I didn’t fool around with trying to invent my own pizza crust recipe, I knew that would never work. I just followed this recipe from All Recipes. I, however, omitted the cornmeal that their recipe calls for because I think it’s gross and unnecessary. To each their own.

 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
 1 cup warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees)
 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
 1 teaspoon sugar
 1/4 teaspoon salt
 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

I followed their first step directions:
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the oil, sugar, salt and 1-1/2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a firm dough. Turn onto a floured surface; cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

But deviated after that. Their recipe tells you to roll it out, sprinkle a pan with cornmeal, and pre-bake the crust at 425º for 12-15 minutes. I did not do this step. I simply rolled it out and started adding toppings. I used a pizza stone and the crust was the perfect golden brown when the cheese was melted and bubbling, so I think that my method worked out well. Mmm, bubbling cheese!

I rolled the dough thinly and it was still a good ‘hand-tossed’ thickness, so keep that in mind when rolling. It will puff up.

For the toppings I used:

14 oz chicken breast, pan cooked and chopped into small pieces
Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
Franks Sweet Heat Sauce
Red onion – chopped finely
shredded mozzarella
blue cheese crumbles
green onions, chopped
banana pepper rings (optional, these would have been awesome on our pizza but we were all out!)

I did not measure the ingredients, but I used probably about half a cup of BBQ and half a cup of Sweet Heat. The Frank’s Sweet Heat has a bit more kick to it than regular BBQ sauce, so it had a little bit more of a buffalo chicken feel. Not much, just a little something more than your typical barbecue.

Squeeze a light layer of sauce onto the crust and smooth evenly. Toss chicken in the sauce of your choosing until it’s well covered. Layer the chicken on top of the pizza crust. Sprinkle with chopped red onions and blue cheese crumbles. Top with shredded mozzarella and bake at 425º for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is melted in the center.

Before slicing the pizza, add sliced green onions and extra blue cheese crumbles to the top. Eat immediately and try not to burn your mouth on the gooey goodness. One more time, for good measure.