When I was growing up, my mom had some pretty fantastic go-to meals. Her pan-fried chicken breasts were awesome, the chicken “drumsticks” with green beans was a classic, and her tuna noodle casserole – out of this world. But one of my favorites (and one she still makes for me whenever I visit) are English Muffin Pizzas.
I’m not sure how or when this meal was created (I think by my Nana), but she often made it during a weeknight when Jenn needed to be picked up from soccer practice, and my basketball practice ran late, and there was still homework threatening late-night hours if it wasn’t quickly attended to. I can only imagine what it feels like as a parent to have a nutritious dinner on the table on nights like that. I remember jumping into the hot shower after practice dreading the pre-calculus problems that should have been done way prior to it being dark outside, all the while feeling exhausted from the many “suicide” runs Coach made us do for “conditioning.” I would take my time – too much time – showering and step out to be greeted by one of the best food smells: toasted Thomas’ English Muffins with marinara sauce and melted American cheese – the Kraft kind.
Mom served it with an Italian salad, but I always ate the salad last as to not miss out on the straight-from-the-oven goodness. The English Muffin would crunch, the cheese would stick to the roof of my mouth, and the taste was so familiar, so comforting, that it gave me the warmth and energy to attack those pre-calculus problems before bed.
Well, last night was one of those nights where I jumped into the shower after a decent pilates/yoga class (where I found I really need to work on my balance – I looked like a drunk penguin trying to balance on one foot) wishing I had that English Muffin Pizza waiting for me afterwards. Alas, I realized I had no English Muffins (and only the Thomas’ kind would work), no marinara, and I think our Kraft singles might have seen their last days a few months ago. My best ideas come to me while I’m in the shower, and I think most people would say the same thing (though they may not outwardly admit it). It’s a good thinking spot – relaxing and warm, just comfortable. Craving the English Muffin Pizza and not able to have it, I pondered the never ending question – what to make for dinner?
I had my leftover soup for lunch, and didn’t want to double dose in the potato starches, and being that The Bachelor was going to start in an hour (much more fun than math homework), something quick, easy, and healthy were necessary. Remembering the Italian Flatbread dough I had pre-made and saved for times just like this, I toweled off, made a flurry of a mice en place, and whipped up a Raw Italian Pizza.
Now, this “raw” pizza is not the never-to-exceed 118 degrees Raw. I call it raw because of the length of time it takes to cook the sauce: 15 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, this is no 4 hour bolognese and will not have the same depth and sweetness that tomatoes take on after being exposed to heat for an extended period of time. But being a tomato lover, especially now when they are nowhere near seasonal peak goodness, the canned stuff is the best bet. Good plum tomatoes are canned at their peak, retaining that juicy, tangy, acidity that raw tomatoes are known for. So, a quick hot bath with some excellent Chianti did the trick for a tangy 15-minute sauce.
Now the toppings – something simple, elegant, and loaded with flavor: pesto. But this isn’t your usual pesto. Using blanched broccoli as the base, this pesto combines healthiness with a flavor so intense you’ll never go back to simply basil pesto.
Layered with baby spinach leaves and shaved parm, this rustic looking flavor bomb left Rob and me chewing and speechless at the dinner table. Granted, it did not take place of Mom’s English Muffin Pizza, but it was definitely worth the try!
Italian Flatbread (makes 3-4 large, very thin flatbreads)
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 c all purpose unbleached flour
- 1 c whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2-4 tbsp water
Mix all ingredients in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, until mixture forms a ball. Turn out onto floured surface, and knead for about 7-8 minutes. Slice into 3-4 pieces, and make them into disks. Wrap with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 30 minutes (after rested, dough can be put in freezer to use at a later date).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
On a floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll out dough into a rustic shape (I just let the dough do it’s thing – you’ll break apart the flatbread, like a lavash, later), until very thin, about 1/8 of an inch. Sprinkle with a bit of s&p. Bake for about 10 minutes, until browned and crispy. Dough will start to bubble in parts, but that is ok.
- 1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes in juice (unsalted, unseasoned)
- 2/3 c good Chianti or Sangiovese wine
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
NOTE: When you want to get all of the juice from the can of tomatoes, pour in the wine to “wash” the sides of the can (above picture). That way you make the most out of all of your ingredients. Heat all ingredients in a large saucepan on high heat, for about 15 minutes, occasionally stirring and breaking apart whole tomatoes with wooden spoon. Sauce will reduce and thicken, become sweet, tangy, and remain very tomato-y.
Broccoli Pesto (makes about 1 packed cup)
- 1 medium head of blanched broccoli (heat cut florets in salted boiling water for 2 minutes. When bright green, quickly remove and shock in ice water to stop cooking)
- 1/4 c basil leaves
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
- 1/3 – 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. Add a bit of oil to get the blade moving, and once ingredients are pulsed, pour the rest of the olive oil in a thin stream into the feed tube while processor is running. Taste for seasoning. The final texture should be like a paste.
*** Assemble the ingredients: flatbread on the bottom, top with tomato sauce, baby spinach leaves (or other green of your choice), a dollop of pesto, and shaved parm reg.