Years ago I came up with this deliciously satisfying meat-free recipe. I made it recently when Mom was staying with me, a favorite of hers.
Until 2020, I used a Boboli (or any pre-baked pizza crust) as the base making a full size pizza. Cooking for one inspired me to make flat-bread style pizzas using mini naan or pita bread; I love that they’re a perfect meal size for my appetite. The topping keeps well for up to two weeks so I can easily bake one for a lite lunch or dinner – and occasionally as a savory breakfast!
White Spinach Pizza – makes 1 large or 2 medium pizzas or 8-10 flatbreads
8 oz frozen, chopped spinach – drained, liquid squeezed out
24 oz ricotta (NOT fat-free)
3-4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 c shredded parmesan
1/4 t salt
1/2 t coarse black pepper
shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
chopped peppers – a mix or red, yellow and orange
chopped red onion or shallot
mini naan, pita bread or pre-baked pizza crust
red pepper flakes – optional
Set the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the first 6 ingredients, set aside. Brush the crust with olive oil and place in an oven safe pan. (I use my cast iron skillet) Bake in the oven for 5-7 minutes, then remove it, flip the crust and spread on the spinach ricotta mixture, then add the peppers and onion followed by the shredded cheese and red pepper flakes. Bake for another 5-7 minutes until the cheese is melted. Let it cool for a few minutes and enjoy!
Many years ago I tried morels after Spence returned from a visit to Charlevoix (in northern Michigan) with a paper lunch bag chock full of them. They grew on private wooded property belonging to his friend Don. I’d only heard of morels but knew they were not to be squandered. I proceeded to prepare scrumptious meals over the following days with this “gift”; we were in foodie heaven.
And I was hooked.
On very rare, random occasions I’ve come across morels since then and always succumb to their allure. A dear, lifelong friend was coming this past Wednesday for a visit and I was grocery shopping when my eyes locked on two boxes. They were perfect and they were mine. There was no price – I didn’t care! I now knew what the menu for the following night would be. After I’d purchased them I texted Jerene to ask “do you like Morels?“. Almost instantly she replied “I love them” (not a surprise as she is a fellow foodie).
My herb garden is bursting and I went foraging to find those which would complement the “recipe” I was formulating. “Which pasta?” I pondered. I recalled during my recent visit with her in Grand Rapids, I’d purchased a box of artisan Butternut Sage Pappardelle made at this amazing market that we’d visited. “Perfect!” I thought since I’d already planned to use the gorgeous sage growing on my patio. Funny how a plan comes together right? Here’s how I prepared it:
Morels with Herbed Butternut Sage Pappardelle serves 4-6
It is important to soak the morels in salted water for at least twenty minutes (per Pinterest morels have all these little crevices and tiny insects could be lurking…). Drain and rinse them thoroughly and place on paper towels in a single layer and let them air dry.
While the morels are drying, all the herbs should be given a fine chop. I kept them seperated so that I could add pinches as I went along, saving some for garnishing.
Heat a deep skillet, adding the butter and enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the shallots and saute for about 2 minutes.
Raise the heat to medium high. Toss the mushrooms with that little bit of flour, they’ll be coated very lightly. Add them to the skillet with the shallots. Move them around as you want them to cook for about six minutes, browning a bit. Start adding pinches of the various herbs to taste.
While they are cooking, prepare the pasta per the package instructions, drain and drizzle with olive oil, toss in some of the herbs. Add the morels to the pasta, tossing gently. Garnish with any herbs that remain. As a special treat, I fried 10 velvety sage leaves in a bit of butter till they begin to crisp and topped the pasta with them. Serve immediately and bon appetit!
I served this meal with a salad of baby spinach, sliced strawberries, dried cherry covered goat cheese, toasted pecans, slivered red onion and avocado chunks, dressed with a White Peach & Strawberry Vinegar, EVOO and a pinch of sea salt.
As a side dish, I wrapped bundles of 4 asparagus spears with a slice of prosciutto, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon zest and cracked black pepper, roasted at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes.
I love Gnocchi and when I saw this recipe being prepared on Cooking Channel’s Extra Virgin, by actress Debi Mazar and her husband, talented Italian chef Gabriele Corcos, I went out immediately bought the ingredients and made it for Mom and Spence. It was a huge hit – the fried fresh sage leaves from my garden made it extra delicious.
Fast forward to last night. My lifelong BFF were attending a Harvest Meal, all plant based, locally sourced and delicious. She has been a longtime advocate of meat free Mondays (and primarily eats vegetarian/vegan meals). It so happens that we are spending the next three days at her beautiful second home in the gorgeous Traverse City Michigan. Over dinner we discussed what we’d like to do while there and I suggested that I prepare dinner for Monday night. I’d told her about this meal and she readily agreed.
I’ve kept the recipe very close to the original with only a few modifications.
Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi – serves 2 as an entree, 4 as a sidedish
1 lb fresh spinach
8 oz ricotta cheese (not low fat)
fresh grated Parmesan
2 egg yolks – beaten
4 T butter
sea salt & fresh ground black pepper
fresh grated nutmeg
fresh lemon zest
fresh sage leaves
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (I use a huge pasta pot with a strainer.
Add the spinach to the boiling water, pushing it down over the next minute to wilt it.
Pull the basket and drain the spinach immediately, plunging it into an ice water bath to halt the cooking. Drain the spinach and squeeze out the water completely. (I wrap it in several paper towels, then place that bundle inside a clean kitchen towel and squeeze it)
Chop the spinach very fine.
Place the spinach in a large bowl, add the ricotta, 4 T of parmesan, eggs yolks, salt, pepper, nutmeg and lemon zest.
Stir to combine. Shape the mixture into balls about the size of large walnuts.
Butter a casserole dish and lay the gnocchi in it, dressing it with a few thin slices of buttter and more parmesan (I use a generous amount of parmesan).
Bake the gnocchi for 20 minutes then set under broiler for 5 minutes to brown the top.
In a medium skillet, melt 1 1/2 T of butter and saute the sage until it starts to brown. Serve the gnocchi, dressed with the sage and butter sauce, sprinkle on more of the parmesan.
Prepare to fall in love….so yummy.
Chef’s note: You could use frozen chopped spinach in this recipe. If I weren’t retired, I think I might do that as the blanching step is time consuming (but worth it). I added the nutmeg and lemon zest which really puts this into the “over the top” amazing category, in my humble opinion.
With the bounty of fresh produce from farmer’s markets and gardens, veggies are plentiful this summer. Recently, using a summer squash, zucchini and some imagination, I came up with this recipe and may I say – it was fabulous. The combination of fresh herbs, grilled squash, sweet sautéed onion, creamy goat cheese and a burst of fresh lemon make this a new favorite for Spence and I.
Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash with Goat Cheese
Weight Watchers Smart Points 3*
Garlic Seasoning (I love Melting Pot’s Garlic & Wine Seasoning)
Step One: Slice the squash into 1/2-inch “planks” (on the diagonal). Lay the planks on a paper towel, season with salt, pepper and garlic seasoning on one side. Brush a grill pan generously with coconut oil and bring to a searing heat. Place the planks on the grill pan, flipping only one time after 2-3 minutes (you’ll see grill marks). Allow another 2-3 minutes of grill time, remove and place the planks into a baking dish in a single layer.
Diced Sweet Onion
Step Two: Saute the onion in butter on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Top the squash with the onions.
Step 3: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Top the squash with chopped herbs, followed by crumbled goat cheese. Squeeze fresh lemon over the top. Bake for 10 minutes – just to soften the goat cheese. Top with red pepper flakes and serve.
Note from Spence’s Girl: I purposely left the recipe without quantities as you can adjust based on how many servings you’d like. If you don’t have access to these exact herbs, use what you have – basil, oregano, tarragon – have fun with it. While not vegan, this would be a lovely vegetarian entree.
* To calculate the Weight Watchers Smart Points, I used 1 oz of goat cheese and 1/2 tablespoon of butter, based on 2 servings.