Caramelized Onion, Strawberry and Goat Cheese Whole Wheat Pizza

Welcome back to my summer recipe series!

There was no way I could do a series featuring the best of summer produce without strawberries. I went through dozen of recipe options, most of them in the dessert category, but after making my upside down cake earlier this spring, I decided to go for the challenge of a savory dish.

Now, let me be honest here. Things are bit hectic in my world at the moment. I’m back home from vacation and in between work, gym, writing, and school, my time is pretty limited. I had plans to take this recipe one step further by using a cauliflower crust, a challenge I’ve been dying to sink my teeth into since I wrote my cauliflower post earlier this year, but I needed to face facts that I couldn’t get it all done.

Even in summer, life can be crazy busy. Sigh.

This doesn’t mean that making a healthy and tasty meal in less than time then it takes to catch up on your email, is completely impossible. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. So, no excuses for me or for you!

My compromise comes in the form of one of my favorite quick go-to meals that allows me to be creative and practical all at once. It’s pizza time!

Not a terrible compromise if you ask me. 😉

I really love experimenting with pizza toppings to see what works and what doesn’t. Also, it’s a great way to utilize any extra vegetables (or fruit!) you have stocked up.

You can purchase pre-made dough pretty much anywhere these, days, instead of making your own. I decided to use the whole wheat dough I already had in my fridge, and build my own pizza creation with strawberries, goat cheese, caramelized onion, and….kale. Yes, kale. Why not?

This recipe is really just one version of many versions, but I strongly encourage you to have some fun with this and adapt with whatever ingredients strikes your fancy. Prefer arugula to kale? Go for it. Like brie instead of goat cheese? Go nuts. There are no rules here. Just don’t burn it. And share. Always share.

Onto the science!

NUTRITION FACTOIDS

strawberries

Vitamin C.  This super-vitamin seems to be a major player this week in the produce I’ve featured this week, only strawberries really outshine all the rest. One serving of strawberries (about 1 cup) yields…wait for it… 141% of your DV!!! Get all of the antioxidant and collagen building benefits with one serving and you’re set.

Anti-Aging Properties. Strawberries are a good source of biotin, which helps build strong hair and nails, while also improving your skin. Research suggests strawberries may also help reduce wrinkles due to the presence of the antioxidants that protect the elasticity in skin.

Heart Health. A recent Harvard study suggests that strawberries may significantly reduce the risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease due to the presence of the anthocyanin.

Whiter Teeth. Strawberries are high in polyphenols which helps reduce the amount of plaque that develops on teeth from sugary foods, and fights the bacteria that contributes to gum disease and tooth decay.

Keep in mind that as awesome as strawberries (and berries in general) are, they are also very susceptible to pesticide and bacteria contamination due to the porous skin. Whether you buy organic or not, be sure to rinse the berries under water for at least two minutes prior to eating.

Onto the recipe!

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INGREDIENTS

  • Makes one 10-inch pizza
  • 4 large strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • ½ large red onion, sliced thinly
  • 10-12 large fresh basil leaves
  • ½ 4 ounce plain goat cheese log
  • ½ cup chopped kale
  • 1 fresh whole wheat pizza dough
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp balsamic glaze (for garnish)

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SPECIAL TOOLS

  • Pizza stone or flat baking sheet
  • Medium sized nonstick pan

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Set oven to lowest rack and preheat oven to 450ºF.

2. Heat oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat and add onions. After 2-3 minutes add balsamic vinegar and reduce heat to low. Stir onions until they’ve softened completely and turned several shades darker, approximately 10-12 minutes. Set aside.

3. If you’re using store-bought dough, place it in an oiled bowl and cover with a towel for at least 30 minutes before cooking. Take a small amount of dough and spread it into a thin, even circle about 10 inches across on a sheet or pizza stone. Begin layering the toppings, starting with the fresh basil, followed by the onions, strawberries, goat cheese, and top with kale.

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4. Place sheet in oven and bake for 12-15 minutes. Let it cool for several minutes before cutting across. Add balsamic glaze across the top for garnish and then here comes the best part: you serve up a slice and eat it. 🙂

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Did you know?

Botanists don’t actually classify strawberries as berries. Other berries have their seeds on the inside, while strawberries have their yellow seeds on the outside. Oh, and those aren’t even seeds. They’re actually separate fruit in and of themselves. Crazy!!!

I’M NOT DONE YET. COME BACK TOMORROW FOR ANOTHER ROUND OF SUMMER KITCHEN FUN!! 🙂

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The Easy Comfort of Ratatouille

With all of the beautiful summer produce winking at me from every market stall on nearly every corner in lower Manhattan, it’s impossible to resist buying something every other day.

By the end of the week, my refrigerator looks like a disaster zone with all sorts of odds and ends from last week’s produce shopping spree, sharing space with this week’s purchases. And then you have the counters, the kitchen table, the pantry…. it goes on. I’ve replaced a clothes shopping addiction with a food shopping addiction. Sue me.

But this is summer after all, where the living is easy and cooking should be just as simple and carefree. After my heirloom tomato and eggplant short stack recipe from yesterday, I realized I had some leftovers that needed to be used quickly.

Enter my recipe bucket list. Yes, I have one of those. Some people want to sky dive or hike Everest. I want to make a perfect boeuf bourguignon. We all have our things.

Anyway, I realized that I had the makings of one of my bucket list recipes and this was an opportunity that needed to be seized. I was going to make Ratatouille.

You may have watched the Disney movie years ago and been charmed by Remy the rat, a gourmand with the palate of a Michelin-caliber chef and dreams of becoming a cook in his favorite restaurant in Paris. He’s a cute little guy, isn’t he?

courtesy: Disney
courtesy: Disney

I won’t toss in any spoilers here for those who haven’t seen it yet, but let’s just say that there was one scene in particular that made me think that the play on words with Remy the rat making ratatouille to save his favorite restaurant just a little difficult to..uh…digest.

Either way, the seed was planted that I would make my own ratatouille one day (sans rat) because this dish has a specific quality that I appreciate most in food: comfort. There are few things I love more in this world than the warmth and good feelings brought on by a plate or bowl of something absolutely delicious and comforting all at once.

So, ratatouille it is tonight. Thank goodness I bought all those tomatoes and eggplants. There’s always a reason to buy more (as my wallet and bank account cry in my purse…because those things have emotions and they cry on occasion. It’s true.).

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NUTRITION FACTOIDS

summer-zucchini_300Before we get started, let me drop some knowledge on tonight’s superstar ingredient, summer squash aka. zucchini:

Note: Zucchini and summer squash are actually the same thing, even though people generally refer to the green version as zucchini. There are golden zucchini varieties as well, further adding to the confusion. But zucchini itself is actually a type of summer squash, called Italian Marrow. I used green and yellow zucchini here and will stick to that word for the sake of continuity.

Vitamin C. We reviewed some of the benefits of this powerful vitamin yesterday when I discussed tomatoes. The same goes here. 1 cup of uncooked zucchini provides 32% of your DV. Couple that with the tomatoes in this ratatouille recipe and you’ll get over two-thirds of your daily value in one meal!

Regulates blood sugar. Zucchini are a rich source of vitamins B6, B2, and folate which help metabolize sugar in the blood stream. Additionally, the high fiber content in zucchini (about 5% of DV in one cup), contributes to blood sugar stabilization and makes it an essential part of a healthy diet for diabetics.

Antioxidant impact. As an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese, zucchini provides a number of antioxidant advantages, including eye health, anti-cancer properties, and reduced risk of cell oxidation. To obtain all of the antioxidant benefits from zucchini, you must eat everything from the peel to the flesh to the seeds.

I found many many many recipes for ratatouille with dozens of variations. Some were more like a stew while others appeared to be a colorful display of roasted vegetables. I opted to go with something in the middle to keep it light and easy but still give me that comfort that love.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 small green zucchini, sliced thinly across
  • 2 small yellow zucchini, sliced thinly across
  • 1 red onion, sliced across
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced across
  • 1 heirloom tomato, (or a beefsteak would work as well) diced
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • ½ tbsp herbes de provence
  • Freshly ground sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Handful of fresh basil, cut into ribbons for garnish
  • ½ cup fresh spinach (optional)

Special Tools:

Large cast-iron skillet

INSTRUCTIONS

Before you do anything, prep all of the vegetables first. Most of the time spent making this dish involves chopping. I don’t own a mandoline and after debating on whether I should buy one or not, I decided to listen to the sobs coming from my wallet post-food shopping spree and avoid an unnecessary expense. If you don’t own one, but you own a very sharp knife that you can handle, then you’re all set. Chop away.

No mandoline necessary.
No mandoline necessary.

Ok, seriously, now we can get started!

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.

2. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic once its warm (not too hot or it’ll burn!) and move around the pan for about a minute. Reduce the heat to low-medium. Add the eggplant and cook for 4-5 minutes stirring and flipping so that it cooks on both sides. Next add the zucchini, red peppers, and onions in that order. Cook each vegetable for about 3-4 minutes each, continually stirring to ensure all the sides being cooked.

Sure, the pan is crowded but these guys will make friends pretty easily.

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3. Toss in the tomatoes and canned tomatoes, thyme, herbes de provence, and grind the salt and pepper to taste. Stir everything together gently and be sure to evenly distribute the tomatoes, seasonings, and vegetables across the pan. Cook for about 2-3 minutes.

4. Sprinkle parmesan cheese all over the top and place the skillet into the oven. Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the cheese begins to brown.

5. Remove the skillet and let the dish cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. Place spinach on a serving plate to create a bed. Scoop a serving of your very own ratatouille onto the spinach and garnish with basil.

Voile! C’est magnifique! I’ve exhausted my French skills here, and really there’s no need for the extra flourish because this dish speaks for itself. Plus, it was EASY!

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What do you think? Will you give this a try before the summer is over?

Did you know?

Researchers found preserved squash seeds in Mexican caves dating back to 10,000 years go. It’s believed that summer squash originated in Mexico and Central America and was soon domesticated and cultivated far beyond their borders, particularly North America where it was adopted as an integral part of Native American cuisine. Pretty cool, huh?

CHECK IN TOMORROW FOR ANOTHER SUMMER RECIPE!

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Heirloom Tomato, Eggplant, and Mozzarella Short Stack

I am back in the kitchen this week, whisk in hand and apron neatly tied, ready to share a week’s worth of healthy, tasty, easy meals featuring some of my favorite summer produce!

It’s been a long, long hiatus from the days when I shared a new recipe each week. Despite this mini (or rather, HUGE) break, I’ve had the idea of repeating my apple recipe series last fall sitting on the back burner for months now. I knew that this would be the perfect way to celebrate my blogiversary.

It drove me nuts. Each time I went to the market and I looked at all the amazing produce, I realized what an impossible task this would be. Do I focus on berries? Tomatoes? Squash? All of the above?!?!

Once I took a moment to calm down, I reminded myself that this is summer; a time to chill and relax, which are two concepts I struggle with sometimes, truth be told. I tend to prefer the preciseness of baking and the complexities of large holiday menus.

My blogiversary was the perfect opportunity to come full circle here and pose a new culinary challenge: easy cooking.

Yes, easy. Chilled out, relaxed, no stress, take-your-time-there’s-no-rush cooking.

How could I resist?

So for day one of this new recipe series, I thought I’d start with one of the easiest meals I’ve ever thrown together. Unless you throw in the time I had a coconut Mamita for dinner during a recent heat wave because it was just too damn hot to actually cook anything. That was good.

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Mamita’s are a source of happiness, experts say. Experts being me.

For those of you who are new to my very awesome recipe sharing experience (yes, it’s awesome, I promise you), I like to break down a bit of nutrition info before we get into the nitty-gritty of cooking. Knowledge is power in my kitchen, and although I don’t like to get too hung up on the science, I think it’s fascinating and helpful to know what we’re putting in our bodies. Capisce? Good.

NUTRITION FACTOIDS

Today’s superstar ingredient is the heirloom tomato. I went to the farmer’s market this past weekend and was thrilled to see these gorgeous, sometimes gnarly tomatoes grace the tables. Just look at these guys!

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The modern supermarket tomato is a product of mutation which often leaves the end product uniform in color, but pretty much lacking in taste and a lot of the nutritional value in the fruit. And before we go any further, let’s make this clear:

Tomatoes are fruit.

Got it? Good.

Heirloom tomatoes lack these mutations and feature fruit that come in all shapes, sizes, and most interestingly, colors. Most would agree that they’re richer in taste and provide more flavor dimension to the dishes they’re in, making heirlooms exciting additions to any recipe. Also, many of the seeds for heirlooms tend to be passed down from generation to generation, adding a wonderful cultural element to the growing of heirloom tomatoes by region.

There are dozens of varieties, all with unique characteristics. I will not feign to know what these are, but if you’re interested in learning more about what some of these varieties are, then check out this great guide by Cooking Light magazine.

As for nutrition, it’s hard to zero in on specific health benefits for each variety of heirloom, but tomatoes in general host a number of benefits that are enhanced by the more organic processes involved in growing heirlooms. Those organic processes have the added benefit of being environmentally friendly by preserving natural biodiversity and reducing harmful farming practices.

Some of these health benefits include:

Lycopene, a carotenoid which contributes the bright coloration of tomatoes while also being a powerful antioxidant with potent cancer-fighting properties, especially prostate and breast cancer. Research also suggests that lycopene may reduce osteoporosis and that it’s an important factor in bone health. Note: Lycopene is fat-soluble, which means you should really eat tomatoes with a bit of oil or some other kind of fat to fully absorb the nutritional benefits.

Vitamin C. Tomatoes are a rich source of this vitamin which has many benefits, most notably, its role in collagen production which contributes to faster and more effective wound healing. Many consider vitamin C to be a vital part in getting over symptoms of the common cold, and although research doesn’t necessarily support this idea, the antioxidant properties of this vitamin does help protect enzymes involved in immune function.

Cardiovascular health. The various antioxidants and phytonutrients (lycopene included) in tomatoes are linked with lower levels of LDL (unhealthy fats) cholesterol, triglycerides, and overall cholesterol by regulating fat cells in the blood.

Excellent source of vitamin A (30% DV), K (18% DV), potassium (12% DV), manganese (10% DV) and fiber (8% DV). At about 35 calories a serving, tomatoes offer a tremendous amount of bang for your buck!

Heirlooms peak in late summer, so now is the time to pick up as many varieties as possible before they disappear from the markets. Just be aware that heirlooms are fairly delicate and should be eaten within several days of purchase.

This salad is super easy, quick, and a delicious way to enjoy the heirlooms in all their glory with minimal fuss, which is also a perfect way to celebrate Meatless Mondays.

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INGREDIENTS

Makes 2 servings

1 small eggplant, sliced
2- 3 heirloom tomatoes (different varieties), sliced
Fresh mozzarella, sliced (about 6 small slices)
Handful baby spinach
Handful fresh basil
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
2 tsps balsamic glaze
Freshly ground sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsps Herbes de Provence

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INSTRUCTIONS

1. Rub EVOO on one side of the eggplant. Sprinkle herbes de Provence and salt on top. Heat grill pan and spray oil. Once hot place sliced eggplant with the oiled side facing down. Grill on low heat for about 3-5 minutes. Repeat on the other side.

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2. Place a small bunch of spinach leaves on a serving plate. Stack the eggplant, tomatoes, cheese, and several basil leaves. Repeat for 2 or 3 layers or until the stack keeps its shape without toppling over.

3. Drizzle EVOO and balsamic glaze over the top. I thought about being really ambitious here and making my own balsamic glaze. And then I went to Trader Joe’s and realized I could let them do all the work for under $4 a bottle. Genius!

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Grind sea salt and black pepper and garnish with ribbons of fresh basil.

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And that’s it. You’re done. Easy huh? This salad was enough for dinner given the hearty nature of eggplants which I find really filling. But you can also serve this as a nice side or appetizer.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and grab some heirlooms while you still can! 🙂

Did you know?

Seed lines for tomatoes are typically at least 50 years old to qualify as an heirloom. 50 is the new 20, especially for tomatoes.

STAY TUNED FOR MORE SUMMER KITCHEN FUN TOMORROW!!

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