Monday, January 11, 2010

From the garden

Okay, my garden happens to be under two feet of snow and ice at the moment, but there's someone out there supplying the world with veggies right now, and thank goodness! Because I'm in the mood for a little vegetarian extravaganza right now.

There are two problems with a veggie pizza most of the time, but those problems have the same root. A lack of imagination.

Problem #1? Often, a veggie pie just isn't very good. Usually, it consists of the four basic vegetables in any pizza joint: mushrooms, onions, peppers and olives. There's nothing wrong with those vegetables at all, but are they fresh? Frankly, I believe canned mushrooms on a pizza should be a hanging offense. Black olives must be canned, but they also can't be old. And the onions and peppers are also a conundrum. Raw, and the pie can cook before they do, giving an unpleasantly jarring difference when eaten. Cooked, or more to the point, overcooked, and you've got a wet, limp mess.

Problem #2? Mushrooms, onions, peppers and olives may be the four things on a pizza menu, outside of anchovies, that are hardest to convince a kid that can't even be helped by melted mozzarella. And all the reasons in Problem #1 are exactly why.

There is also an intrinsic complication to a vegetable pizza, should you break outside that mold and embrace new and interesting plant life. When you cook a vegetable, it releases water. The only thing worse than water on dough is water on bread. Sog sog sog.

So what do you do? Give up the idea? Abandon vegetables entirely? Let the kids win? Don't be silly.

Roasting your veggies solves all your problems at once. A drizzle of oil and seasoning, a trip through the oven, and you've got tender, sweet bites of vegetables your kids love, maybe one or two new ones to try, plus you've tamed the liquid inside, preventing a pie that needs a life preserver.

"Where's the Meat?" Pizza

1 pizza crust

2 c. mixed fresh vegetables (Use your imagination. There is a world of vegetables that work just fine on pizza outside of the your standard peppers, onions and mushrooms. Tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, snow peas, even fresh green beans all work beautifully.)

3 T. olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/2 c. tomato sauce

1 c. shredded mozzarella (This is also a good place to use the fresh stuff, but only if the kids are going to appreciate it. While pushing veggies that might be a stumbling block, you might want to stick with the cheese that won't be a struggle.)

¼ c. grated parmesan

1 T. parsley, chopped

1 T. fresh basil, chopped (or 1 t. dried basil)

1 T. olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Clean and cut vegetables into bite-sized pieces. What veggies are you using? Harder varieties like carrots should either be in very small pieces, like the pre-cut, pre-washed matchsticks for salads. Cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, etc., don't need tons of cooking, so they can be left slightly larger, but it's nice to have all your veggies in a uniform size. Also, don't forget to take into consideration how much your kids like a vegetable cooked. My son, for example, likes his broccoli raw or cooked to death, nothing in between. Oh, and if you are using fresh tomatoes, make sure you seed them to keep your pie from getting soggy.

Toss the veggies with 3 T. oil and salt and pepper. You can experiment with more seasoning if you like and your kids will tolerate it. I like dill, garlic and rosemary. Spread on a sheet pan (make sure this pan has sides or the oil could cause problems) and roast in oven. This is the part I can't give you numbers for. Depending on the veggies you pick and how cooked you like them, this part could be 10-15 minutes or more than 25-30. Check them regularly, and remember they will get more cooking time on the pizza, so don't let them brown too much.

Spread sauce on crust. Start with half, adding more if necessary, or saving some to serve with the pizza. Top with vegetables. You can either arrange one variety at a time, or toss them together and scatter them evenly. Add the cheeses and finish with herbs. Drizzle crust with olive oil.

Bake about 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and golden and crust nicely cooked.


Deadly Dinner – For hundreds of years after being discovered in the New World, Europeans and American settlers believed the tomato was poisonous. Not only was it closely related to the deadly nightshade plant, but the highly acidic tomatoes actually did kill wealthy diners who ate off pewter plates. (The acid caused lead to leach out of the plates. It was really the lead that did people in.) The tomato’s reputation was saved by Colonel Robert Gibbons Johnson, who munched a ripe, red fruit publicly in Salem, N.J., and lived to tell the tale. (Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica)

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