Thursday, March 25, 2010


When you live in a college town, pizza is what's for dinner, lunch, and frequently breakfast. It is the "free food" that lures students to attend meetings. It is the anti-anxiety agent at last minute cramming sessions. It is the foundation of many local entrepreneurial ventures, frequently founded by our own graduates who apparently absorbed the message that pizza is a product whose popularity is practically guaranteed. In Gainesville, we have our revered pizza traditions: Leonardo's where the staff is as exotic as the pizzas; Gumby's -- started by two UF students and now operating in 13 states;   Piza Vito, a real Italian style chain, also run by a UF graduate. There are at least a zillion pizza places here, and you never, ever hear of a single one going out of business. Hmmm...

So, you might wonder, why must I make my own pizza when I am surrounded by such pizza abundance? Why not just pick up the phone and make the call? Why dirty the dishes when you can just toss the empty box away? Here are some of my reasons, feel free to add your own:

  1. Good pizza is really easy to make at home and it looks beautiful. It's a good creative outlet.
  2. Pizza is the perfect vegetarian food - with all the possible toppings, no one ever misses meat.
  3. I want that first hot, melty, goolicious bite on my plate and ready for my mouth within a short minute of it's liberation from the oven.
  • 1 pkg pizza dough
  • 1 1/2 cups of homemade tomato sauce (or my current favorite in a jar: Hot Scicilian)
  • 4-8 oz of fresh mozzarella, sliced (or use 4-8 oz of shredded mozzarella)
  • 1/2 cup good parmesan or parmesan-reggiano
  • baby spinach
  • mushrooms
  • kalamata olives
  • sun dried tomatoes
  • a few tablespoons Gorgonzola, crumbled
  • anything else that sounds good to you

    Preheat the oven to 450. If using a pizza stone, it should be in the oven while it preheats. You will need to transfer your shaped dough onto the hot stone. If you use a round metal pizza pan (with the holes), there is no need to preheat the pan.

    I use a pizza dough from my local supermarket. That's what makes it easy. OK, I know what you're thinking..."She doesn't make her own dough!" Would you feel better if I said I had my local baker whip up a batch of their special pizza dough for our dinner tonight? These people are professional bakers and the dough if freshly made. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too. This lets me (and you) have a great meal without hours of preparation. You don't have to make everything from scratch, if someone else is willing to do some of the work for you. Impress your friends by learning to toss the dough.

    Shape the pie into either a 12-14 inch circle (easy using the technique shown in the tossing video), or stretch and roll it into a rectangle. Try to keep the thickness even, leaving a raised ridge around the edges.

    When I use a pizza stone, I like to bake the crust for about 5 minutes and then add the toppings. This is not necessary, but I like a super crispy crust. If using a pizza pan, I add the toppings to the uncooked pie crust.

    Fill a large ladle with sauce. Starting in the center, swirl this gently from the center to the outer raised edge of the crust creating a spiral shape of sauce. (I learned this from watching Rocky in Flagler Beach. He makes a killer spinach pie.) You want enough sauce to provide a tomato-y embrace for your toppings, but not so much that your crust will be soggy. Err on the side of caution. Less is more.

    Now arrange your toppings in an eye-catching arrangement. When I use a shredded cheese, I like to follow the Sicilian tradition of placing the cheese on top of the toppings. Do it your way. It's fun.

    Bake the pie for about 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is melting. Serve with a salad and a glass of chianti. Life doesn't get better than this. Buon appetito!

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    Is is cheating to eat "vegetarian sausage"?

    When I started this, I was only trying to see if a vegetarian diet could provide the "Ooh-Aah" factor we love in food. As it turns out, incredibly rich, scrumptious vegetarian meals are easy. Just add cheese. It hurts me to look at that wonderful Calzone and feel my ateries clogging up. That calzone was heaven on earth. But my father's recent adventures in the cardiac zone have caused me to re-evaluate my culinary efforts toward meatlessness.

    At the outset, I promised no tofu (because I don't like it). I wanted to use only whole foods. I thought that vegetarian "meat" was cheating. You know, the "vegetarian" breakfast sausage, the "meatless" steak tips, the "vegetarian" andouille sausage for gumbo? I thought if you don't eat meat, then why in the world would you eat something that tastes like meat? My father's health situation caused me to rethink this. For someone who needs to make lifestyle changes, but does not really want to give up the things he loves, this could be an option. We tried one of those vegetarian sausage patties this morning. Compared to a real sausage patty, the vegetarian patty had 18 fewer calories and 4 fewer grams of fat. Carbs and fiber were about the same. It's doubtful that anyone would mistake the vegetarian patty for the real thing, but the calorie and fat savings make it a fairly attractive option. We tried MorningStar Farms. Here's a link to a coupon if you'd like to try it yourself.

    Greek Style Spinach Pie - Spanakopita

    The first time I made this it took hours, mainly because there was such a big variation in the recipes I found. Apparently, Spinach Pie is one of those recipes that everyone makes their own way. Sort of like my Nanny Mary's lasagna...we all ate it growing up, and we all make it a little bit differently now, and we all claim it is the authentic recipe. (All refers to my four brothers and me.) There was also a lot of variation in quantities, and many were not clearly defined. This is my recipe which uses an ingredient list compiled from several other recipes. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but I believe the spirit of the real thing is present here.

    2 10 oz bags pre-washed spinach
    1 leek, chopped
    1 bunch green onions, chopped
    1/2 sweet onion, chopped
    1/2 red onion, chopped
    6 Tbs pine nuts
    1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped
    6 Tbs dill, chopped
    4 Tbs fresh mint, chopped
    1 pkg fillo dough, defrosted as directed (I used one roll from a 2-pack)
    1/4 cup melted butter
    olive oil
    kosher or sea salt
    nutmeg, ground

    1. Thaw fillo dough as instructed on package.
    2. Toast and chop pine nuts. (Toast in hot, ungreased skillet until just brown)
    3. Chop washed and drained spinach, onions and herbs.
    4. Heat 3-4 Tbs olive oil in large skillet.
    5. Saute onions until softened.
    6. Add spinach, stirring frequently. When spinach wilts it will release some liquid. When this starts to bubble, add parsley, dill, mint, pine nuts, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
    7. Cook for about 10 minutes.
    8. Transfer to colander and allow to drain for 2-3 hours.
    9. Crumble feta and add to spinach mixture. Mix thoroughly.
    10. Preheat oven to 350. Brush bottom of a 9x12 baking dish with olive oil.
    11. Lay a sheet of fillo dough in the bottom of the pan.
    12. Brush with melted butter.
    13. Continue to add sheets of fillo, brushing all but the final sheet with butter. I used 11 sheets on the bottom.
    14. Add spinach mixture on top of fillo. Spread evenly. Add remaining (about 11) fillo sheets on top of mixture, brushing with butter as before. Brush the very top sheet with olive oil.
    15. Using a sharp knife, cut the top layer of fillo only into serving size pieces. This makes it much easier to cut later. Do not cut through the bottom layer of dough.  
    16. Bake 30-40 minutes until golden.
    17. Let stand at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving. This dish is meant to be served warm or at room temperature, rather than piping hot. 

    Fillo dough comes in two individually wrapped rolls per package. Set one out to thaw a few hours before assembling your pie. The other can go back in the freezer.

    Onions should measure about 2 cups when chopped. Use your intuition.  Add or subtract as you wish. You can use any type of onion, but the combination of different flavors honors the complexity of this traditional dish.

    Toast pine nuts in a dry skilled over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently. Don't overdo it. Take them off the heat the moment they start to turn golden. About 6-8 minutes. You'll know. Chop them or place them between wax paper and crush with a rolling pin.

    Use prewashed spinach. It is ready to use and dry!

    Chop all ingredients first and assembly is a snap.

    Make certain filling is well drained. You don't want any extra liquid in this dish.

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Roasted Squash Seed

    Remember the Warm Butternut Squash with Chickpea Salad? Squash seeds make a good snack tossed with a little salt and roasted. These are tossed with a volcanic salt and some pepper. They are worthy of serving to company, don't you think?

    Clean pulp from seeds. Do not rinse (you won't need to use any oil). Toss with your choice of seasonings. Spread evenly on a baking sheet.

    Roast @ 250 for about 45 minutes. You can roast them while you are cooking other things (like the squash) but you need to watch them very closely. If they start to pop, you can be certain it is time to take them out of the oven.