Italian White Bean Hummus

If you’ve ever eaten at an Italian restaurant I’m sure that you’ve enjoyed a nice piece of crusty bread dipped in olive oil.  But have you ever had the pleasure of tasting white bean hummus served with that olive oil?  I was recently at a restaurant where they stirred herby, creamy white bean hummus into the oil and I absolutely loved it.  I liked it so much, in fact, that as soon as the meal was over I decided that I was going to make my own white bean hummus at home so I could eat it by the spoonful!

To be honest, I didn’t actually intend to eat this hummus by the spoonful, but as soon as I blended together the rosemary, beans, garlic and lemon juice I couldn’t help but lick the spoon 2 or 3 or …7? times!  It was just SO delicious!  The rosemary is fragrant, the lemon is bright, the garlic is strong (as it should be!) and the white beans are blended into a smooth, creamy consistency perfect for dipping.

Italian White Bean Hummus with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon.  Delicious and so easy to make!!


Italian White Bean Hummus
(Recipe from Racheal Ray)

You will need…
1 – 15oz. can Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
3 sprigs Rosemary, leaves removed from the stem and roughly chopped
Juice of 1 Lemon
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Olive Oil (approximately)
Salt, to taste
3 tablespoons Tahini

Add all ingredients to the bowl of a blender or food processor.  Blend together until smooth, adding more olive oil as you go if needed.  I used a Vitamix and found that blending on low between speed settings 2-4 while using the tamper to push the ingredients into the blades worked well.  Once the hummus has reached a creamy consistency use a spatula to scrape the dip into a bowl.  (Don’t leave any hummus behind… you’re going to want to eat every last drop!)  Serve with crackers, crusty Italian bread, or just a spoon.  🙂

Italian White Bean Hummus 2-

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

I’ve posted more than a few pizza recipes on my blog, but I’m of the opinion that there can never be too much pizza (especially homemade pizza!!) so I am adding to my pizza repertoire with this delicious white pie that Matt and I made last week.  Look at this feast… ricotta, spinach and roasted red peppers covered in mozzarella cheese.  I wish I was eating this right now!!

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

As you’ll see in the instructions below, I find it really challenging to transfer an uncooked pizza with full toppings from the peel to the stone, so my new tactic is to transfer the dough onto the stone in the oven while it’s still “naked” and then add all of the toppings while it’s in the oven.  Maybe not the most efficient use of electricity, but this method ensures that my pizzas end up (mostly) symmetrical without half of the cheese and toppings sliding onto the stone or, worse, the bottom of my oven during the raw dough transfer process.  Works for me!  🙂

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers 2

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

You will need…
1 Red Bell Pepper
2 cloves Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1/2 Yellow Onion, halved and sliced into very thin rounds
1/2 cup Frozen Chopped Spinach (or 2 cups fresh spinach steamed and chopped with excess water squeezed out)
approx. 2 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
approx. 3/4 cup Ricotta Cheese
Semolina Flour
1 package raw Pizza Dough
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Start by roasting the red bell pepper.  There are several ways to roast a pepper, but for this particular pizza Matt sliced the pepper into thirds, removed the seeds and ribs, and placed the pepper pieces on a baking sheet in a preheated 400° oven until the skin was wrinkled and starting to blacken.  Then he peeled off the skin, sliced the peppers into 1/2″ strips, and set the roasted peppers aside until it was time to put them on the pizza.

Preheat the oven (with pizza stone inside) to 425°F.  Since I’m incapable of transferring a fully topped, raw pizza from the peel to the stone I put the naked dough on the stone and quickly add all of the toppings once it’s already in the oven.  To avoid wasting too much heat and energy during this process, I prep all of the toppings in advance and set them next to the oven.  With this in mind, arrange the roasted red peppers, minced garlic, chopped spinach and sliced onions on a plate and make sure that the mozzarella and ricotta are open and ready to go.

Next, prep the pizza dough.  Again, there are many ways to do this, but for this pizza I sprinkled a few tablespoons of semolina flour on a pizza peel and stretched the fresh ball of dough into a 15″ diameter circle.  Carefully transfer the dough onto the preheated pizza stone and use your fingers to quickly spread the minced garlic over the top of the dough, leaving a 1-2″ margin on the edges for the crust.  Close the oven.

Working in quick intervals, open the oven, slide the pizza stone rack out slightly, and start adding your toppings and cheese.  Start with the onions along with a thin layer of mozzarella and close the oven.  After few minutes, add the spinach and 8-9 generous spoonfuls of ricotta.  After another 1-2 minutes spread on the roasted red peppers and top with the remaining mozzarella.  Once all of the toppings have been added allow the pizza to cook for another few minutes until the crust is fully cooked and the cheese is just starting to turn golden brown.

Use a pizza peel to remove the cooked pizza from the oven (working with a cooked pizza is so much easier than raw dough!!) and season with salt and pepper.  Cut the pizza into 6-8 slices and enjoy!

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers 3

White Pizza with Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta

Crumbled Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta Cheese… yes! When Matt suggested that we try these toppings on our latest batch of Trader Joe’s pizza crust I enthusiastically agreed and, after enjoying the end result last night, I don’t know why we never tried this delicious combination before!

White Pizza with Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta_c

For Christmas Matt gave me My Pizza by Jim Lahey and, although I haven’t actually made any of the recipes yet (I’m holding out for a pizza stone and peel first!), the cooking method that we used for this recipe was definitely inspired by the book. I usually cook pizza at 425°F but, after reading Jim Lahey’s chapter on cooking dough, we decided to try something radically different and instead broiled the pizzas in a preheated 500°F oven. The resulting pies had a whole new level of caramelization and wonderful crispiness that I’ve never before experienced in a home-cooked pizza. Yum!

White Pizza with Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta

You will need…
2 Sweet Italian Sausages
Olive Oil
2-3 cloves Garlic, minced
2-3 handfuls Baby Spinach
1 package fresh Pizza Dough (as usual, I used Trader Joe’s dough)
Flour, for dusting pizza dough
Approx. 1/4 cup coarsely chopped Yellow Onion (optional)
12 oz. Ricotta Cheese
3-4 cups Shredded Part Skim Mozzarella Cheese
Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

Ready to go in the oven!

Ready to go in the oven!

Preheat your oven to 500°F. Remove the sausage from the casings and press into the bottom of a preheated skillet over medium-high heat. Allow it to cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes and then use a metal spatula to stir the sausage and separate it into crumbled bits. When the sausage is completely cooked through (and, ideally, getting a little crispy on the edges!), transfer to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.

Return the skillet to the stove over medium heat and, if needed, add about a tablespoon of olive oil (there might already be enough fat in the skillet from the sausages). Add the minced garlic and allow it to cook in the oil until it is fragrant and just turning golden brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the spinach. Use tongs to toss and stir the spinach until it is wilted then remove from heat.

On a flour-dusted surface, halve the pizza dough and stretch each piece into a generous individual-sized pie. (Mine usually each end up being about 6” by 10” which fits well on my rectangular pan.) Place the crusts on a non-stick or lightly oiled pan (or use a pizza stone, if you have one!).

White Pizza broiling in the oven.

White Pizza broiling in the oven.

Spread about half of the ricotta cheese onto the two pizza crusts with the back of a spoon, leaving a 1” margin around the edges. Sprinkle on some chopped onions if you want (Matt didn’t want any but I tried them and they were great!) and top with the shredded Mozzarella. Next, evenly distribute the cooked sausage over the pizzas and add the wilted spinach and garlic. Drop the remaining ricotta onto the pizza in spoonfuls and finish off the pizzas with freshly grated Parmesan.

Just before putting the pizzas in the preheated oven, switch the oven to “Broil” and cook the pizzas on the top rack for approximately 10 minutes. Check on the pizzas frequently (it’s OK to open the door) to make sure that they are not burning. The pizzas are done when the cheese is turning golden brown and the crust is just starting to brown on the edges.

White Pizza with Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta 2_c

Easy Tomato-Basil Bruschetta

In addition to our Shrimp with Penne and Herbed Cream Sauce Matt and I made a double batch of traditional Tomato-Basil Bruschetta for Christmas Eve dinner.  The bruschetta was surprisingly easy to make and everyone loved it!

Super Easy Bruschetta!

Super-Easy Tomato-Basil Bruschetta (from The New Best Recipe)

You will need…
8-9 medium Tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2/3 cup Basil, shredded
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1 loaf of crusty Bread – we used Ciabatta
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1-2 cloves Garlic, cut in half lengthwise

Combine the tomatoes, basil and salt and pepper.  Cut the loaf into 3/4 inch thick slices and place on a baking sheet.  Toast the bread under a broiler, flipping once, until both sides are golden brown.  Rub the cut sides of the garlic clove over the top side of each slice of bread and then brush on a small amount of olive oil.  Top the slices with a generous helping of the tomato-basil mixture and serve immediately.

Eggplant Parmesan – Trader Joe’s Style!

Matt has lacrosse practice one evening a week which means that Bailey and I are left to our own devices.  I usually make some kind of simple, vegetarian meal for myself and then Bailey and I snuggle on the couch and watch TV.  My latest guilty pleasure is the NBC show “Smash” which is about the drama and excitement of Broadway.  I’m sure that Matt is very happy that I watch that when he’s at practice rather than subjecting him to it every week!

For tonight’s meal, I wanted to use up some of the Trader Joe’s Ciliegine Mozzarella and fresh basil that we had left over from our Sausage TBM Pizzas.  After rummaging around in the freezer, I discovered half a box of Trader Joe’s Eggplant Cutlets and some frozen tomato sauce that we made back in February.  So… what do you do with eggplant, mozzarella, basil and tomato sauce?  Make Eggplant Parm, of course!  Granted, I’ve never made Eggplant Parm and I never looked up a recipe (or actually used Parmesan cheese…), but those ingredients came together as a very tasty Eggplant Parmesan “Tower” for one.

Quick and Easy Eggplant Parmesan  (serves one)

You will need…
8 Trader Joe’s Breaded Eggplant Cutlets (or make your own!)
3 Small Mozzarella Balls (I used and recommend TJ’s ciliegine mozzarella balls)
1/4 cup Tomato Sauce (I used some smooth tomato sauce that we froze several weeks ago)
2 cloves Garlic, thinly sliced into “chips”
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
Handful Fresh Baby Spinach (Mine was straight out of my garden, woohoo!)
Sprig of Basil for garnish

Cook the Eggplant according to the package instructions.  For Trader Joe’s Eggplant Cutlets, this involves baking the eggplant slices in a 425° oven for 12-14 minutes.  As soon as the eggplants are done, remove them from the oven and carefully begin to stack them on the baking sheet with the biggest slices at the bottom.  When you get halfway, place one mozzarella ball between the 4th and 5th eggplant, then continue stacking upwards.  Drizzle the stack with a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce then top with a mozzarella ball.  Insert your eggplant tower into the over under the broiler.

Meanwhile, saute the garlic slices in olive oil over medium-high heat until they start to turn golden.  At that point, add the spinach and stir constantly until the spinach wilts.  Remove from heat.

Check on your broiling mozzarella tower.  Once top cheese ball is melted, carefully add another mozzarella ball to the top of the tower and continue to broil until that ball is about 3/4 melted.  Remove the eggplant tower from the oven.

To plate your dish, spoon about 3/4 of your remaining sauce into the center of a plate.  The diameter of your sauce should be slightly larger than your largest “base” eggplant cutlet.  Place your bright green, wilted spinach and garlic chips around the edges of the tomato sauce, then carefully transfer your eggplant tower to the center of your plate.  Spoon the remaining tomato sauce around the top of your eggplant tower so that it drips down the side.  Top with a spring of basil and enjoy!

Bucatini with Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

We have been on a quest for the perfect meatball recipe for several months and I think last weekend we finally found it!  Previously we had made gluten-free meatballs, turkey meatballs, and ground beef meatballs based on recipes we found on the internet.  All of these came out fine but were lacking the wow factor (and yes, now I know that there can be a wow factor when it comes to meatballs!).  Ironically, after all of that searching on the world wide web we found the perfect recipe within the pages of our very own Cooks Illustrated The New Best Recipe book.  Page 253, to be exact.

These meatballs were decadent and were so tender that they were almost creamy.  The combination of ground chuck and ground pork was way better than the turkey (duh) and standard ground beef that we tried in previous attempts and the tomato sauce was tasty and thick.

Bucatini with Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

You will need:
For the meatballs…
2 slices White Bread, crust removed and slices torn into small pieces
6 tablespoons Plain Yogurt thinned with 2 tablespoons fat free Half and Half
3/4 pound Ground Chuck
1/4 pound Ground Pork
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese (or Parmesan/Romano Blend)
2 tablespoon minced Parsley Leaves
1 Egg Yolk
1 Garlic Clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon Salt
Pepper, to taste
1 cup Canola Oil, for pan-frying

For the tomato sauce…
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Garlic Clove, minced
1 28 oz. can Crushed Tomatoes
1 tablespoon minced Basil Leaves
Salt and Pepper

1 pound Bucatini Pasta, cooked according to package instructions

Combine the bread and yogurt mixture in a small bowl.  Mash together with a fork and let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until a paste forms.

Place the next eight ingredients (ground chuck through pepper) in a small bowl and add the bread-yogurt paste.  Mix together very gently (just as was the case with the guacamole-chipotle burgers, the lighter your touch, the more tender your end product will be!) and form the mixture into 1 1/2 inch diameter meatballs.  Press the meatballs together somewhat firmly to make sure they hold togethery during the cooking process. (Some of our very gently-formed meatballs fell apart but they were still delicious!)  You should end up with 10-14 meatballs.

Pan-Frying the Meatballs

Pour the canola oil into a large straight-sided skillet so that it is approximately 1/4″ deep.  Heat the pan over medium-high heat until the edge of a meatball browns if it is inserted into the oil.  Once the oil is hot enough, place the meatballs in the pan in a single layer.  Fry, turning several times, until the meatballs are evenly browned and slightly crispy on all sides (approx. 10 minutes).  Remove the meatballs from the pan and place on a plate lined with paper towels.  Set aside.

Meatballs warming up in the Tomato Sauce

Discard the oil in the skillet but retain any browned bits of meatball.  Add the olive oil and garlic and saute until garlic becomes golden, approx. 30 seconds.  Add the crushed tomatoes, stir, and simmer until sauce thickens, approx. 10 minutes.  Stir in the basil, salt and pepper, then carefully add the meatballs.  Stir gently to coat the meatballs and then allow to simmer for about 5 minutes to reheat meatballs.

Spoon several spoonfuls of the sauce over your cooked Bucatini and stir well to coat the pasta.  Serve the pasta and top with meatballs and sauce.  Enjoy!

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Basil Pesto

Last summer Matt and I grew basil in our vegetable garden.  We had six plants that completely took over the whole front of the garden and blocked the sunlight to the rest of the garden — this summer the basil will be going in the back!  I’m looking forward to planting basil again so that we can make homemade pesto whenever we want.  Here’s the recipe that we use (from Matt’s Mom’s recipe box).

Basil Pesto

You will need…
2 1/2 cups Fresh Basil Leaves
1/2 cup Grated Parmesan (or Parmesan/Romano) Cheese
3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves of Garlic
1/2 cup Roasted Pine Nuts
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend!  Add more olive oil if the Pesto is too thick.

What can you do with Pesto?

  • Put Pesto on a Burger with some Mozzarella and a Slice of Tomato
  • Use Pesto instead of Tomato Sauce as your base for a Little Pizza
  • Make Pesto Pasta.  Yum!
  • Spread it on Rustic Italian Bread (as a snack or part of a sandwich)
  • Spoon it into an Ice Cube Tray and Freeze It to Use Later!  (you can bag the pesto cubes once they have frozen solid)