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

Shh… It’s a Surprise!!!

Last weekend my mom and I threw a surprise birthday party for her fiancé.  I don’t want to get into too many personal details, but suffice it to say that he was VERY surprised to walk into his own kitchen after a day at the golf course to find 20+ of his closest friends and family ready to party!

My mom and I had a blast planning the menu and secretly hiding the food in the days before the party.  By the morning of the party my mom had managed to successfully conceal 2 dozen brining chicken breasts, impressive amounts of peppers, onions and potatoes, and all of the dips, dressings, and glazes in the refrigerator behind little walls of soda and beer cans and a few strategically placed bags of salad greens… good job, Mom!

One of my culinary contributions to the party was a platter of single-serving Caprese Skewers.  Combining each bite of cherry tomato and mozzarella onto skewers allowed our guests to snack on the caprese with just one hand (leaving the other free for a beverage!) which made this a great appetizer for a party.  It’s also an easy dish to make for a party because you can assemble the skewers several hours ahead of time and then simply garnish with some fresh basil right before serving.

Bite-Sized Caprese Skewers with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Basil & Balsamic Glaze

You will need…
2-3 small handfuls Arugula
25-30 Marinated Mozzarella Balls, approx. 1″ in diameter
2 pints Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half and kept “paired” with their halves
Toothpicks; can use the slightly longer “sandwich picks” for a little extra space
6-8 extra Cherry Tomatoes, cut into quarters
Balsamic Glaze (use a bottled glaze or make your own balsamic reduction)
10-15 Basil Leaves

Arrange the arugula along the center of a serving tray.  Slice each mozzarella ball into 4 pieces by slicing off the rounded ends (2 pieces) and cutting the center of the ball in half (2 pieces).  Set the small rounded ends aside.

Skewer the top of a tomato half with the toothpick and slide the tomato onto the stick.  Next, slide one of the center mozzarella pieces onto the toothpick.  Skewer the bottom half of the tomato and slide it into place on the toothpick as shown in the photo.  Repeat with all of your halved tomatoes and mozzarella, arranging the skewers onto the arugula as you go.

Sprinkle the rounded mozzarella ball ends and the quartered tomatoes onto the arugula as a garnish.  Drizzle the balsamic glaze over the entire tray.  If needed, you can refrigerate the tray until party time at this point (that’s what we did!).  Before serving, roll up the basil leaves and use kitchen scissors to cut them into long slices.  Arrange the basil slices over the caprese skewers.  (The basil isn’t shown in my photos since I took them a few hours before the party started.)

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!

Another Delicious Pizza!

Mmm… is there anything better than homemade pizza fresh out of the oven?  Pizza is easy to make, the toppings are fun to experiment with, and the results are tasty and rewarding.  For me, the one problem with pizza is that I only like to use Trader Joe’s fresh pizza dough which means that I can only make pizza once or twice a month after we visit TJ’s.  We used to live within walking distance of a Trader Joe’s but now a 20 minute drive (and bad rush hour traffic!) separates us from my favorite dough.  I have tried the pizza dough from Whole Foods and, although it isn’t bad, it simply can’t compare with the crispy, chewy flavor of the dough from Joe’s.

So, as you might have guessed, we stopped by Trader Joe’s over the weekend and I picked up a bag of dough.  We already had some hot Italian turkey sausage and basil so I decided to make a Sausage Tomato Basil Mozzarella (TBM) pizza for dinner last night.

A note about the cheese… TJ’s was sold out of the marinated mozzarella balls that I typically buy so I tried their Ciliegine mozzarella which is billed as stringier, softer, and more authentic.  More authentic it may be but it also was much more watery and seemed to melt into nothingness on these pizzas.  Next time I’ll hold out for the good mozzarella!

Turkey Sausage T.B.M. Pizza

You will need…
2 Turkey Sausages (we used Shady Brook Farms Hot Italian Turkey Sausage)
1 12 oz. can Diced Tomatoes with Italian Herbs
1 package Trader Joe’s Pizza Dough
Pepper, Parmesan Cheese and Garlic Powder to taste
Approx. 10 Mozzarella Balls (I highly recommend Trader Joe’s Marinated Mozzarella Balls, but for this recipe I used TJ’s Ciliegine Mozzarella Balls)
10-20 Basil Leaves, cut into strips

Crumble and brown the turkey sausage in a large frying pan or wok.  When the sausage is nicely browned, remove it from heat and set aside.  Drain the diced tomatoes slightly and then saute over medium heat for 10-15 minutes to reduce.  If you want a smoother tomato base, use a potato masher to slightly crush the tomato chunks.  Meanwhile, stretch out your pizza dough into two rectangular pies on a large cookie sheet (see my Homemade TBM Pizza for instructions on how to do this).

Spoon and spread the reduced diced tomatoes evenly onto the two pizza pies.  Sprinkle the browned sausage over the pizza and top with ground black pepper, Parmesan, and garlic powder.  Next, distribute the mozzarella balls evenly over the pizza.  I like to use a pair of kitchen shears to cut each mozzarella ball into several pieces — this helps to cover the pizza evenly without using an entire container of cheese!  🙂

Bake pizzas in a preheated 350° oven for 12 minutes.  Remove the pizzas from the oven and top with your sliced basil.  Enjoy!

Pizza with Pesto, Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, & Mozzarella

Individual-sized pizzas are one of my favorite things to make.  I always use Trader Joe’s fresh pizza dough as my base and then I have fun experimenting with different toppings.  You can take just about any ingredients that you’d put together on a sandwich or pasta dish and put them on a pizza for a delicious dinner.  I’m sure that I’ll end up writing about some of the interesting combinations but for today I’m going to describe how to make a pizza featuring the classic combo of tomato, basil, and mozzarella.

Homemade Pizza with Pesto, Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, and Mozzarella
Pizza with Pesto, Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, and Mozzarella
(makes two generous individual-sized pizzas)

You will need…
1 package of Trader Joe’s fresh pizza dough (a bag with a ball of dough in it, not the pre-cooked stuff)
4 heaping tablespoons of pesto
2 teaspoons (approx.) Grated Parmesan/Romano Cheese
15 oz. can of Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes, drained (or normal tomatoes if you prefer)
12 Marinaded Mozzarella Balls (also from TJ’s; each ball is approx. 1″ in diameter)
Garlic Powder
Salt & Pepper to Taste

All ready to go into the oven

Preheat your oven to 425°.  Allow the pizza dough to sit out at room temperature for at least 20 minutes.  After it has warmed up, remove the pizza dough from the bag and split it into two balls.  If you want, you can lightly dust your hands and/or work surface with flour when working with the dough if you want to but it’s not a necessity.  Flatten one of the dough balls between your palms and then start to slowly stretch the dough out by squeezing the outside edges evenly.  Wehn you get the dough stretched out the size and shape that you like, place it onto a cookie sheet.  My cookie sheet has a non-stick surface so I don’t grease it at all — you may need to lightly grease a pan that doesn’t have a non-stick surface.  Repeat the stretching procedure with the other dough ball.

Hurray!  The hard part is over and now you get the fun of putting toppings on your pizzas.  Scoop two heaping spoonfuls of pesto onto each pizza and spread the pesto out with the back of the spoon.  Next, sprinkle some Parmesan cheese (about 1 teaspoon per pizza, or more if you want!) over the pesto topping.  Spoon the drained tomatoes onto each pizza and spread them out.  Slice up the 12 mozzarella balls and divide evenly between the pizzas.  Lightly dust the top of the pizza with garlic powder and add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pizzas in an oven at 425° for 12-15 minutes.  The pizzas are ready when the cheese has melted and the crust is starting to brown.  Enjoy!