Butternut Squash Tart with Caramelized Onion, Rosemary & Coppa

Take-out was a temping last minute dinner option, but instead I found myself searching the freezer for something that I could turn into a suitable meal. We had planned to eat dinner at my parents’ house, but a wind storm ripped through Santa Cruz that day/evening, knocking out power to many, and even bringing trees down on top of houses. Luckily, the latter did not happen to my parents’ house, but no power and a tree blocking their road meant a definite plan B.

Back to the freezer search. The first thing that caught my eye was puff pastry, an impulse purchase I had made last week. How fortuitous! I decided I wanted to make some sort of puff pastry tart or “pizza.” Now, what to top it with … ah! Half a butternut squash, peeled and cubed that I froze last week. This would do. I added some fresh rosemary from the garden, caramelized our last onion, and cut up some coppa (one of our favorite charcuterie offerings from El Salchichero) to add a little salty kick. This rustic puff pastry tart was a success. Feel free to adapt this for whatever needs to get used in your freezer on a stormy evening. It would also make a lovely appetizer when cut into squares.

Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Rosemary Tart

(Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen)

1 yellow onion, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup cubed butternut squash
Flour, for dusting work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1/4 cup coppa, diced (can also use salami, or cooked, crumbled bacon or pancetta)
Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (enough for sprinkling on top)
Mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 ounces)
Fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and pepper

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • In a medium skillet, heat olive oil and a little pad of butter over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, add sliced onions and pinch of salt. Cook until caramelized, about 25-30 minutes, stirring frequently. When onions are a beautiful light golden brown color, add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Stir to coat the onions, then remove from heat.
  • While onions are caramelizing, place cubed butternut squash (if frozen, defrosted first) on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until tender with a fork, stirring halfway through. Turn oven heat down to 400 degrees.
  • On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a rectangle (or square – whatever – it’s a rustic tart!) Carefully transfer puff pastry onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, lightly “score” the pastry dough, 1-inch in from the edges. Then using a fork, poke holes inside the markings. This will ensure that the outside trim puffs up and the middle stays flat. Bake for 15 minutes, or until slightly golden brown.
  • Scatter mozzarella cheese and some the Pecorino Romano over the puff pastry. Next, top with the roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, rosemary, and sliced coppa. Finish with a little more pecorino. Sprinkle with salt & pepper.
  • Return to oven and bake for 15 minutes more, or until cheese is melted and edges are golden brown. Slice and serve.

Thin-Crust Pizza

There is a picture hanging up in my parents’ dining room that depicts a quaint Italian scene. In the foreground is a little table with two chairs. An antipasti plate with a variety of cured meats and a bowl of olives sits in the middle of the table, with two mugs of dark hot chocolate on either side. In the distance is a large town clock in the center of the town square, a flock of pigeons, a little vegetable market, and a harbor with rows of colorful boats. The artist sure packed a lot into one scene. That was me! I painted it when I was 12 years old after we returned home from a family vacation in Northern Italy. Even as a young girl, the food made an impression. How could it not? Obviously, the antipasti and the hot chocolate were at the forefront of my mind when I was painting  (what an interesting pairing – what was I thinking?) but I have plenty of other food memories from that trip, like tripe, thin-crust pizza, rich, creamy gelato, and the special feeling of eating dinner way past my bedtime.

You’re probably wondering about the tripe. One of our hotel restaurants featured a set menu. For one of the courses, I immediately dug into what I thought was a pile of wide noodles in a cream sauce. It took me a while to look up and notice that no one else in my family was touching the “noodles.” Turns out it was a pile of tripe! My family still jokes about it to this day. Of course I remember the thin-crust pizza a lot more fondly than my creamy “noodles” – the perfectly crispy crust, the simple tomato sauce that tasted like ripe summer tomatoes, the creamy Mozzarella cheese, and the aromatic fresh basil. I remember eating an entire pizza by myself because the crust was so thin, and washing it down with a glass of coke with no ice (the European way, which I prefer!)

I was really excited when I got this recipe for this month’s Italian recipe swap, because it came from someone who has also experienced real Italian pizza. Krystal of Mrs. Regueiro’s Plate recently returned from a vacation in Italy. She couldn’t choose just one Italian recipe to share, so gave the recipient a choice – this thin-crust pizza or a creamy lemon gelato. The latter looked so amazing, but since we don’t own an ice cream maker, I chose the pizza.  She says this recipe gives you a taste of Italy at home, and I would have to agree. Cook’s Illustrated  really got it right, as eating it conjured up the Italian pizza I ate over 15 years ago. The only difference is that instead of ice-less coke or rich hot chocolate, I got to enjoy it with some red wine!

This recipe makes two 12-inch pizzas. We topped one with grated Mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced, locally grown tomatoes, and fresh basil. The other one was our version of a Quattro Formaggi (four cheeses): Mozzarella, Italian Fontina, Parmesan, and Ricotta (I wanted blue or Gorgonzola, but Levi and Dustin won this time). The recipe makes a ton of delicious sauce, so keep that in mind and halve the sauce recipe if you only want to use it for your pizzas. We are looking forward to using the leftover sauce in a pasta dish soon.

Thin-Crust Pizza

(From Mrs. Regueiro’s Plate, originally from Cooks Illustrated)

For the Dough:

1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 TBS. olive oil, plus extra
1 1/3 cups  ice water
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 tsp. sugar
3 cups bread flour, plus extra
Cornmeal (optional)

For the Sauce:

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 TBS. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper


Quattro Formaggi – Grated Mozzarella cheese; grated Italian fontina; grated Parmesan; dollops of fresh Ricotta (or blue cheese/Gorgonzola)

Margherita – The best tomatoes you can find, thinly sliced; Mozzarella cheese; fresh basil

  • At least 24 Hours before prepare the dough. In a food processor, process the flour, sugar, and yeast until combined. With the machine running, slowly add ice water through the feed tube and process until a dough forms and no dry flour remains. Let dough stand for 10 minutes.
  • Add oil and salt and process until dough forms satiny, sticky ball – about 30 to 60 seconds. Remove dough from bowl, knead briefly on lightly oiled work area until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.
  • To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • One hour before baking the pizza, adjust the oven rack to the second highest position and place a baking stone on the rack to preheat. Preheat the oven to 500˚ degrees.
  • Remove the pizza dough from the refrigerator and divide in half. Form each half into a ball and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, with at least 3 to 5 inches apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with cooking spray and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
  • Coat 1 ball of dough generously with flour, and place on a well-floured counter top. Using fingertips, gently flatten into 8-inch disk. Leave 1 inch of the outer edge a little thicker, while gently stretching the middle until you have a 12-inch round. Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and spread a handful of cornmeal on the paper (if using). Place the dough on the paper.
  • Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce over pizza (we didn’t really measure – just spooned some on until it looked right to us), add a couple handfuls of cheese and whatever other toppings you are using. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top of the pizza and lightly sprinkle with Kosher salt. Carefully lift the parchment paper with pizza on-top and place onto the pizza stone. Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling, about 10-12 minutes. Remove pizza and place on wire rack for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
  • Repeat steps above to make and bake second pizza. Enjoy with your favorite bottle of red wine.

Radicchio, Caramelized Onion & Basil Pizza

I’m often guilty of picking out the large pieces of radicchio in my mixed greens salad and putting them on Dustin’s plate for him to enjoy. I’m just not a huge radicchio fan, but I won’t give up on it that easily! I think all vegetables deserve a chance. Determined to like radicchio in all its bitter glory, I decided to use it as a pizza topping.  I thought that its bitterness might be toned down a bit if it was balanced by the sweetness of caramelized onions with a touch of balsamic. I was right! We intended for there to be dollops of fresh ricotta on top of this pizza, but when we opened the container, the smell and taste was a little … off (even though we just bought it yesterday!) Not sure what happened, but we had to abandon our hopes of having that creaminess to balance the sweet and bitter flavors. Luckily, the end result was still fantastic, despite this minor cheese mishap. When the pizza came out of the oven, we threw some fresh chopped basil on top, which added bright, summery flavor to every bite. The underlying sweetness from the onions and bitterness from the radicchio was a pleasing one. Radicchio, I think we can be friends.

Radicchio, Caramelized Onion, Ricotta & Basil Pizza

1 white onion, thinly sliced
kosher salt
a splash of Balsamic vinegar
your favorite homemade or store-bought pizza dough (enough for 1 12-14 inch. pizza crust)
extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan cheese
chili pepper flakes, to taste
a couple big handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 a head of radicchio, thinly sliced
fresh basil, thinly sliced

  • Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to at least 450 degrees.
  • Caramelize your onions: Heat 2 TBS. of butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. When it foams, add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are browned and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add a little salt to taste, and a splash of balsamic. Stir to incorporate. Turn off the heat and transfer onions to a small bowl (can be done ahead of time – just cover and refrigerate).
  • Roll out the pizza dough on a floured surface into a 12-14 in. circle. Transfer to a pizza peel that is dusted with cornmeal (or flour).
  • Drizzle with olive oil and use a brush (or your fingers) to distribute evenly around the pizza. Sprinkle a little Parmesan on top, as well as some chili flakes. Scatter the mozzarella cheese, followed by the caramelized onions and sliced radicchio. Top with dollops of ricotta (if you’re luckier than I was!)
  • Transfer to pizza stone in the oven and bake until cheese and toppings are nice and bubbly, and crust is golden, about 15 minutes. Top with basil. Cut into slices and serve.

And what did Levi think of this pizza? I’ll let this picture speak for itself (taken after dinner):

Grilled Cornmeal Crust Pizza with eggplant, summer squash, goat cheese, prosciutto, and caramelized onions

I can’t believe it’s October already. There’s finally a little chill in the air, and for the first time in ages I heard “chance of showers” on the weather.  Yay! It’s funny to think that at this time last year, I was 2 months pregnant and had a strong aversion to pizza and anything that involved cooked vegetables.

Anyway, so last Saturday was really lame. It might have had something to do with my trip to the dentist earlier that day, where I learned of some impending fillings that I must deal with in the near future  :(.  Then I was feeling down about being in a dinner rut, and being a poor meal planner.  Fast-forward to Sunday — a much better day.  It started with a productive morning at the climbing gym with my mom, and then out of the blue a wonderful dinner idea dawned on me while I was sipping my Black IPA from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing.

New Leaf Community Market sells these delicious cornmeal pizza crusts in packs of two. Aha! Two blank canvases on which to create the pizza of our dreams! We combined some grilled end-of-summer eggplant and summer squash with sliced fresh tomatoes, caramelized onions, goat cheese, prosciutto, fresh oregano, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Aha! A simple dinner. Worthy of company even! Some good friends of ours were in town, so we invited them over, made a quick salad, threw the pizzas on the grill to warm and crisp up the crust, opened a bottle of organic red wine (thanks, guys!) and enjoyed our masterpiece. I was happy to end the weekend on a joyful note.

  • Caramelize the onions. Peel 1 small onion, cut it in half, then place cut side down and slice lengthwise. Coat the bottom of a wide sauté pan with olive oil and a little butter. Heat over medium high until oil is shimmering, then add your onions. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the onions turn dark brown, but don’t burn. Turn the heat down if it looks like they’re going to burn. 1 onion took about 20-30 minutes to caramelize. When they look pretty much done, add a small splash of balsamic vinegar to bring out the taste of the onions and sprinkle them with a little kosher salt. Delicious.  Transfer to an air tight container and store in the fridge until pizza time.
  • Chop some prosciutto into little bits and fry in a little olive oil until lightly browned. Transfer to a small bowl. This can be done ahead of time as well.
  • Preheat a charcoal grill.
  • Slice the eggplant and summer squash and drizzle with olive oil. Grill until done and nice grill marks form. The squash takes a little longer than the eggplant. Set aside.
  • Make the pizza! Start with laying some thinly sliced fresh tomato on the crust, followed by the grilled eggplant and squash slices, some caramelized onions, prosciutto, goat cheese, fresh chopped oregano, and a sprinkling of Parmesan Reggiano. Place pizzas on the grill and cook until the crust is golden, about 12 minutes. Remove from grill, slice, and enjoy.

and of course, an updated picture of Levi, still in his PJs on a Sunday morning.

Are you feeling “Peppi”? Pizza for Dinner & Dessert

Our all-time favorite pizza comes from Engfer Pizza Works in Santa Cruz. It’s wood-fired and tastes amazing, especially with a pitcher of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing IPA. My family eats at Engfer’s every Friday night (and has for 20-something years), and it’s also the place where we had our rehearsal dinner and more recently, a baby shower! Enough reminiscing. Let’s get to dinner. One of our favorite Engfer’s pizzas is called “Peppi-Tom” (pepperoni, tomatoes, feta, pesto, and garlic). This is our own version of Peppi-Tom. Of course our tiny Japanese oven doesn’t even come close to a wood-fired taste, but it’ll have to do until we come back to California. We used the recipe for Giada’s Pizza dough in my March issue of Bon Appetit. Gotta love Giada!

For the Dough (makes 2 medium pizza crusts)

3/4 cup warm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups (plus more) all purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
3 TBS. olive oil

The Toppings:

1/4 cup pizza sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
cherry tomatoes, halved
feta cheese, crumbled
pepperoni or salami

  • Preheat oven to 475 F (that’s as hot as ours gets)
  • Pour 3/4 cup warm water into a small bowl. Stir in yeast and let stand about 5 minutes.
  • Brush a large bowl with olive oil.
  • In another bowl (or food processor, which I didn’t have) mix 2 cups flour, sugar, and salt. Add yeast mixture and 3 TBS olive oil and mix until it forms a sticky dough.
  • Transfer dough to lightly floured surface, and knead until it’s smooth and doesn’t stick to your hands (add more flour by the tablespoon, if necessary).
  • Transfer dough to prepared bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm draft-free area until doubled.
  • Punch the dough down. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about a 13 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch rectangle. Transfer to a baking sheet.
  • Spread sauce over the pizza, leaving 1/2 inch border. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, then pepperoni, tomatoes, pesto and feta. Bake for about 15 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and the crust is as brown as you like it. A Japanese oven doesn’t really brown things, but an American will!  🙂

    But it didn’t end there. We still had another pizza crust to use, so we made a dessert pizza!

    Cinnamon & Sugar Dessert Pizza with Icing

    • After rolling out the dough and transferring it to a baking sheet, brush the top with melted butter.
    • Combine about 1/4 cup sugar with 2 tsp. (or more) of ground cinnamon. Sprinkle pizza generously with sugar and cinnamon. Bake for about 15 minutes.
    • While the pizza is baking, mix together 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1 TBS melted butter, 1/8 tsp. vanilla, and 1-2 TBS milk. Adjust the amount of sugar and milk until you get the consistency you want. Cut the pizza and drizzle with the icing.