THE WASHINGTON POST – This week, you may be tempted to write me a note along the lines of, hey, just putting the word pizza in front of something doesn’t make it pizza.
That’s fair enough, but as a colleague noted, this Pizza broccoli recipe from food writer and editor Dawn Perry was devoured by her family, including her six-year-old.
She urged me to make it. I did and I was sold on the recipe and, subsequently, Perry’s new cookbook, Ready, Set, Cook.
If de-stressing or simplifying your life is one of your 2022 resolutions, then Perry’s dinner-making philosophy of stocking your pantry and refrigerator with food you really like and then making dinner with what’s on hand might be one key to success.
Yes, it may seem obvious, but truly putting this into practice takes, well, practice.
“Pantry cooking isn’t just a hook for this book – it’s how I cook in real life,” wrote Perry, who has two small children and a career. She empathises with busy folks and those without access to specialty markets (or equipment).
Economy and cutting waste are top of mind with her, as well.
As I read through Perry’s cookbook, I was inspired to adopt some of her recommendations for setting myself up for success. I started, as she recommended, with an assessment of my cabinets, refrigerator and freezer contents.
I checked the labels and dates on everything. We finished off that frozen squash soup and chili, grilled the various chicken thighs, chops and sausages.
We quick-pickled fresh peppers in the crisper and made Perry’s Any Vegetable Fritters with some sad carrots and squash. I made hummus from a few of the six (six!, how’d that happen?) cans of garbanzo beans.
That meant a couple of weeks of eating with minimal cooking and shopping.
Best of all, by the end, I had space to smartly restock, and I truly knew what I had on hand. Goal!
One other bit of advice from Perry: If you bought boxed or canned food that, if you’re honest, you’ll never eat it, donate it to a food bank or give it to a friend – don’t let it expire or spoil.
Her advice for restocking and reorganising covers common staples of oils, vinegars and flours, but she also recommends long-lasting flavour boosters, such as miso, kimchi and sauerkraut and shelf-stable coconut milk and tinned fish. If you’re starting from scratch, her basic equipment list is spot on, too.
The cookbook is then loaded with more than 125 adaptable dishes that require few fresh ingredients. Most are ready in about 30 minutes. They include great toast ideas, soups and salads, as well as more than a few one-pan dishes.
Take this pizza broccoli: I had to buy broccoli, the fresh mozzarella and, the optional but desired-by-me, fresh basil. The rest of the ingredients I had on hand: oil, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, onion and a can of whole peeled tomatoes. Bonus: All of the fresh ingredients were used in this recipe.
I actually enjoyed the process of making this. Searing the broccoli until it had a golden crust on both sides was a great tip, giving the dish a nice smoky flavour and texture.
I loved crushing the whole tomatoes over the skillet with my hands. (No making a sauce.) It’s finished in the oven, so you get the great melty cheese on top.
Missing the crisped pizza dough? Perry recommended serving this with your favourite crusty bread. (Try toasted pita, too). What, no sausage? She advises carnivores to start the dish by removing a link or two of fresh sausage from its casing, frying it up and then searing your broccoli in the rendered fat.
In other words, make it your own, just as you would with pizza.
“I don’t know if this recipe came to me in a fever dream or a divine vision. All I know is one day I saw it, complete, and had to make it as soon as possible,” Perry wrote of the dish.
Here’s my theory about why it sprung whole from her subconscious: Practice. Practice.
Practice. Yes, Perry is a food writer, but she has also set herself up for success by training herself to think simply and deliciously and preparing her kitchen to make it a reality.
I’m betting that with a little practice and preparation, I can tone that cooking-from-the-pantry muscle. I’ve resolved to try to do just that in 2022.
If you love pizza, but want something a little lighter, this vegetable-forward, pantry-friendly dish is worth a try.
The recipe is from Ready, Set, Cook by Dawn Perry, who also recommended making it with cauliflower florets.
If you want a meaty version, try adding sausage removed from its casing and fried.
Use the sausage drippings, adding oil as needed, to cook the vegetables and then proceed with the recipe, adding the sausage just before the tomatoes.
Storage Notes: Refrigerate leftovers for up to three days.
– Six tablespoons olive oil, divided
– One white or yellow onion or two shallots thinly sliced
– Half teaspoon fine salt, divided
– Freshly ground black pepper
– One bunch broccoli, trimmed and cut into spears
– One can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
– Half teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
– Eight ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
– Torn fresh basil leaves (optional)
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.
In a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, heat two tablespoons of the oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, season with quarter teaspoon of salt and several grinds of black pepper and cook, stirring, until the onion starts to darken at the edges, about six minutes.
Transfer to a plate.
Add two tablespoons of oil to the skillet and heat until shimmering. Add half the broccoli and cook, flipping once, until browned on two sides, about four minutes per side.
Transfer to the plate with the onion, and repeat with the remaining oil and broccoli.
Season the vegetables with the remaining salt.
Return the cooked vegetables to the skillet, and use your hands to crush the tomatoes over the top. Season with several grinds of black pepper and the red pepper flakes, if using. Top with the mozzarella and transfer to the oven.
Roast for eight to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the broccoli is just tender.
Set the oven to broil. Carefully raise the rack five or six inches away from the broiling element and return the skillet to the oven. Broil for one to two minutes, or until nicely browned. (If your broiler is on the bottom, transfer the baking dish to the broiler drawer).
Let the dish cool for one to two minutes, then top with the basil, if using, and serve.