Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flesh Free Dinner: Home Baked Pizza and Rocket Salad

As always, I suggest reading through my recipes completely before you even do your shopping for ingredients.  Feel free to ask questions via the comments link at the end of the post.  Enjoy!

History I know it might bewilder some that a black girl from Compton, California, with  Mississippi roots has so many non-American tendencies when it comes to eating, but I chalk it up to the awakening I had while living in Germany.  In Europe, even in the large cities, most people eat very close to the source.  You might find our American fast food chains there but they don't do as good business as they do here in the U.S. where we are practically in a coma when it comes to awareness about what we consume.

They've got supermarkets for those who are fascinated by America and it's questionable habits.  But really, for the most part that's only in the last decade and a half.
Portuguese Marketplace in Lissaboa (Lisbon)
In the middle of every town there is a farmer's market set up on weekends and in some places, 2 or 3 times a week.  On every other corner, instead of a starbucks,  in residential neighborhoods, you will find an actual cafe where they will fresh grind beans for your cup specifically and if you sit there for more than 10 minutes you'll be in a conversation with one of your neighbors... loneliness is rare.
Typical German Bakery Shelves
There is, in every residential community, a baker who actually starts work at 2 am baking the bread for that day... bread that will still be slightly warm when the baker's wife slips it in a paper sleeve and hands it to you.  You'll also find a butcher in every neighborhood, whose cuts of meat, he has usually cut and ground on the premises,  from stock he has purchased from a farmer he knows, and you'll find a produce kiosk that sells mostly what is available locally, and in season.  There are cheese shops in every neighborhood, selling cheeses produced  somewhere within 100 mile radius... get this... from a cow, goat or sheep, fed healthy grasses and grains, (not just corn) on a farm that you could trace.  The cheese shop owner probably even knows the farmer's name and has probably even been to the farm and seen how the animals live.

 A neighborhood Metzgerei or Butcher Shop

Produce is not as laden with preservatives and pesticides because it doesn't have to travel so far from its birthplace.  And there is a flavor benefit to this shorter journey.  It's left longer attached to the earth's goodness, soaking up the sun, and therefore actually tastes like what it's supposed to taste like and doesn't need so much flavor embellishment from sugar or salt.
Fast food is not mass produced, processed, chemically laden, sugar saturated, quasi-food.  Fast food, if you can find it, is very different. Fast food there is foods such as Doener Kebab, Gyros, spit roasted chicken, or sausages made by the local butcher shop.  Pizzas are made the Italian way, with tomatoes, red and fragrant with remnants of the earth and the sun... hand stretched crusts made from unbleached flour.... and cheese so fresh you could compare it to a very expensive version in a upscale Italian restaurant.
Boycott the Cardboard Box!  Find a Farmer's Market in Your Area!
If you think you might never have the time or patience to make a homemade pizza for yourself or family, think again.  You might be busy, but listen!!  The Pyrate and I went to Trader Joes at 4pm.  We were back home by 4:30pm.  The Pyrate did his homework.  I did some writing and catching up on emails.  At 5:30 we converged upon the kitchen and started prepping the ingredients.  By 6:05, I was cutting the pizza with a pizza wheel and serving up plates to my troops.  The pizza was still bubbly hot when it was served.  The salad made with dark green leafy pleasure instead of flavorless iceberg and processed dressing.

Ordering Dominoes or Pizza Hut or whatever it is you get in your neighborhood is not faster, and for sure NOT HEALTHIER.   I'm not one to tell you what to do, and in our house, we aren't exactly purists or fanatical about our eating habits.  However, as I've noted before in previous posts, we are moving in a positive direction to remove as much processed foods from our diets as possible, and we are happily reducing the distance between our bodies and the source from whence the food comes that sustains us.  This is holistically and ecologically positive behavior modification on my part. 
So many offenses can be reduced this way.  There are little or no processed sugars in this meal.  There's probably 50% of the sodium you would ingest if you order a pizza delivery.  There are fresh vegetables in this meal that I picked up at the farmers market on Sunday.  There's something very powerful about produce from the farmer's hand to mine.  If you make it yourself you can choose items like fresher cheeses, purer sauces, wholegrain crust free of preservatives.
We made this meal meatless and meat was not missed.  Of course, it's not completely vegan, because of the cheese.   If you feel you can't eat a meal without meat, I challenge you also to just try one meal a week without meat and see if you miss it. Otherwise you can add your choice of fixin's to this recipe and enjoy!

Home Baked Pizza and Rocket Salad:  A family favorite meal in our house and takes about 30 minutes including prep time and baking.  Who says delivery is more convenient than homemade pizza???  We picked up all the ingredients for this at Trader Joe's for less than $20 for the whole dinner that will feed at least 4 people!!!

THE PLAYERS (your grocery list)

 Roma Tomatoes (Be sure to wash these well, because they are almost always coated with some sort of protective wax preservative, and purchase the reddest, blemish-free tomatoes you can find.  I try to choose organic if my budget allows.  Trader Joe's roma tomatoes are really delish, and the shiny coating they use to protect the skin is food grade beeswax and is not harmful at all. )   Fresh Basil (Basil is a deliciously sweet-minty herb used by many cultures to add  freshness to food's flavor.  It is best cut just before adding to your recipe, to perserve its delicate flavor, and  added to recipes at the end of cooking time, or left uncooked and added just before serving a dish, as we will do here.)Trader Joe's (TJ's)Fresh Pizza Dough (Get two packages for two pizzas.  You'll find this in TJ's refrigerated produce section somewhere near the cheeses usually.  They usually have plain, garlic herb, and whole wheat.  I use the whole wheat because it's healthier, but if you prefer white dough, it's tasty as well.  Skip the garlic herb.  It usually has a bit of a bitter aftertaste.  Add your own garlic and herbs fresh when you get it home if you like that. If you can't find a Trader Joe's where you live, then ask your supermarket grocer if they carry a fresh pizza dough for baking.  If not, then substitute a good crusty bread, baguette, focaccia dough, or flat bread from the bakery section.) TJ's Fresh Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Sauce (You'll find this at TJ's in the refrigerated section where the fresh pastas and sauces are.  It will lend a sweeter, more rustic flavor to your pizza.)  TJ's Quattro Formaggio Cheese Blend (You'll find this in the cheese section with the grated cheeses.  This is a perfect blend of parmesan, asiago, fontina, and provolone cheeses. We won't be using a lot of this. Just enough to flavor!)  Fresh Mozzarella Ball (You don't want to buy your mozzarella already grated.  You want it still in the shape of a ball as it was traditionally made in Italy, and you want to get the freshest mozzarella ball you can find, preferably still floating in watery brine. Mozzarella ,like most softer cheeses, is lower in sodium and saturated fats than harder cheeses.  You can also try this recipe with goat cheese... chevre... should you prefer.)  Wild Rockets (A normal sized 5 oz. salad green bag, or if you are buying it loose, eyeball it... enough for 4 people...In America, we call this delicious green Arugula.  It is not as popular because of it's peppery flavor.  But when I lived in Germany, I fell in love with it's compatibility with certain types of dishes.  Trader Joe's carries both normal Arugula and Rockets, or Wild Arugula as it's also sometimes called.  If you can't find the wild variety, the normal Arugula leaves will work just fine. )  Cherry or Grape Tomatoes (Either will do, preferably organic, of course, and pick the best color and healthy skinned specimens you can find.) Balsamic Vinegar (This dark, sweet, rich vinegar comes from the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy and is made from white Trebbiano Grapes.  I cook with balsamic quite a bit, because it is quite versatile.  In my pantry, I keep two different grades of balsamic vinegar... an expensive aged version, and a cheaper normal version.  The aged version is thicker and richer, and sweeter, requiring less oil and usually no other embellishment for a dressing.  The less expensive balsamic is just fine as well, but I tend to use it mostly for when my recipe calls for it to be cooked, reduced, or otherwise treated.  The more expensive 12 years or older aged versions I reserve for salads pretty much exclusively.  They can cost anywhere from $20-100 for a very small bottle, but it goes a very long way.  One bottle will last you a year at least if you use it properly.) Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (See my writeup "Olive Oil" in the "Find It" cloud in the margin listings on this blog page.  For this use, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is best.  You want that olive flavor.) Pizza Pans (Anywhere kitchen tools are sold, you can find these.  Mine double during the holidays as extra cookie sheets.  The kinds with the holes in the bottom will allow your pizza crust to be crispier on the bottom. I use both kinds and prefer non-stick so that I don't have to use any oil spray.  You can also use a cookie sheet, pie dish or pan, or a rectangular baking pan or jelly roll pan.  And believe it or not, you can also grill this on a bbq grill by using a pizza slide to build the pizza on and slide it onto the grill.)


Take pizza dough out of refrigerator to come down closer to room temperature so it will be easier to stretch.
Preheat Oven according to the directions on the dough packaging.  
Slice Roma Tomatoes You'll need at least three or four tomatoes sliced about 1/4 inch vertical slices, then set aside.
Slice Mozzarella into about 1/4 inch thick slices and set aside.  
Prep a large wooden cutting board or a kitchen counter space by sprinkling the surface with about a 1/2 cup of flour per pizza dough.
Place one of the doughs on the floured surface. Coat the dough with a bit of flour so it doesn't stick to your hands or the work surface.  
Begin to stretch the dough, either with a floured rolling pin, or by hand, by simply letting the weight of the dough and gravity stretch it by holding it at one end and letting it hang downward, rotating the dough consistantly until it is as large as you want it to be.  The larger the area, the thinner the dough, the crisper the crust will be.  DO NOT KNEAD this dough.  It will make it tough. Place stretched dough over pizza pan, pie dish, or on a flat cookie sheet, letting dough hang over the sides. 

Drizzle enough olive oil onto dough to give a very light coating. 
Spread half of the sun-dried tomato pesto onto the dough.  Don't worry that it's thin layer, the flavor is very bold so you don't need a slathering like you would with regular tomato sauce, plus later we'll be adding tomato slices... Leave about an inch and half edge of free dough all the way around. (plus what's hanging over the sides.)

Sprinkle about  1/3  cup of the shredded quattro formaggio over the tomato pesto.  Might seem like not enough, but everything on this pizza is flavorful!  You won't need more!

Place the tomato slices on top of the quattro formaggio. 
Place the mozzarella on top of the tomatoes.  I like to place the mozzarella slices so that they overlap the edges of the tomatoes to hold them in place when it melts.  This also varies the texture of the tomatoes nicely when cooked. 

Fold in the dough edge that's hanging over, so that it forms a ridge of dough all the way around. 
Repeat these steps with second pizza.

 Place in the center of a hot oven.  
Bake for about 10 minutes  (or until crust is golden brown to your liking)

ROCKET SALAD (do this while the pizza is cooking)

Rinse greens in a colander and dry on a clean dish towel.
Place in a salad bowl or onto individual plates.
Add cherry or grape tomatoes. 
Sprinkle a bit of quattro formaggio over salad. (optional)
Set aside.

In a bowl combine 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and 1/8 cup aged balsamic vinegar  (a basic vinaigrette is 2 parts oil, 1 parts vinegar) and 1 TBSP of either honey or organic demerara sugar and 1 TSP of fresh ground black pepper.  
Whisk ingredients together until creamy. 
Set aside.  Drizzle onto salad just before serving.

Take about 10 basil leaves and stack them flat on top of each other then roll up like a little cigar.  Slice this so that you end up with slivers.  
Sprinkle these over the pizza just before serving.


...I,  MANGIA!!!
Bon Appetito! 

Alternative Ingredients You Can Add
Meats (cubes, or thinly sliced, just enough added just for flavor, not for filling your belly), Asparagus, Marinated Artichokes (recipe coming soon), Onions, Crushed Garlic, Pine Nuts, Sweet Italian Peppers, Bell Peppers, Cilantro,  Red Chili Flakes, Herbs ( Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano are great...add before baking, not like the basil), 

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