Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Marinara Sauce & A Spanakopita-Inspired Pizza

More often than not, when I go to make a recipe that I’m excited to share on this site, I end up leaving out a major ingredient or burning something or taking pictures that I think are good at the time but then look like a Pinterest fail to me later. For example, I was going to finally post the hummus recipe that I’ve been in love with for several months, but I must have been distracted when I made it last weekend because I left out one of the liquid ingredients, and the end result, while tasting delicious, looked a bit more like wood putty than something you’d want to spread on crackers.

Fortunately, my failed plans tend to be counterbalanced by unexpected successes that keep my enthusiasm alive. Case in point: spanakopita-inspired pizza.

It would probably suffice to post that picture and shut up about the rest, but I just want to say a few more things before I describe how to make it:

1) This is my own marinara sauce, and I am quite happy with it. In addition to making a good pizza sauce, it’s also really good with cheesy stuffed pasta shells, on chicken Parmesan, and on anything else you like marinara sauce with. It has a rich, tomato-y flavor balanced with a good blend of herbs and spices. I hope you like it as much as I do.

2) This is the very best pizza crust recipe I’ve ever tried. It’s also the easiest. You can find it on this site and on this site and over here and….I could keep going. Lots of people have talked about it because it really is some dynamite pizza crust: it has a complex flavor and strikes a great balance between crispy and chewy. It gets even better with age too. I’ve put leftover dough in the fridge for 2-3 days before using it, and the flavor only improves.

3) Fun Fact (of course): Tomatoes contain lycopene, a type of carotene that may have antioxidant effects in the body. It has been researched in relation to cancer prevention, but results have thus far failed to show a direct correlation between increased lycopene intake and decreased cancer risk. So in other words, lycopene will not solve all your problems. However, this marinara sauce is delicious, so you should eat it anyway! And interestingly, lycopene in canned tomatoes is actually more bioavailable than the lycopene in fresh raw tomatoes.

Pizza Dough
(adapted from Jim Lahey’s brilliant recipe via

3 cups flour (up to half of it can be whole wheat if you want!)
1/8 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon + scant ½ teaspoon salt
1 cup water, plus extra as needed

The night before you want pizza*, stir together the flour, yeast, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add water, and stir until the dough comes together in a craggy, ugly, approximate ball. If the dough feels too dry, add more water slowly. (The original recipe calls for 1¼ cups water, but I always have to add way more flour the next day when I use this much. However, extra pizza dough is never bad….) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let proof overnight until it doubles in size. About 20-24 hours of rest time is good – it’s not really fussy.

When you’re ready to use the dough, deflate it, and knead on a lightly floured board a couple times just to work out the air bubbles. Separate into whatever size and quantity of dough balls you want. (This recipe makes about 3 10-inch pizzas.) Then, roll/stretch/toss each dough portion into a thin layer.

*I should say the night before you intend to eat pizza. Wanting pizza is kind of a constant for me.

Marinara Sauce
(My own recipe!!)

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ medium onion, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons minced peeled carrot
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes*
2 teaspoons dried basil leaves, crumbled
½-¾ teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crumbled
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup water

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add onions and carrot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5-10 minutes.  Stir in garlic, and cook for a minute or two more.  Add remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to low.  Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce has reached desired consistency (about 50 minutes). 

*Pizza Sauce Variation: Use tomato puree instead of crushed tomatoes and add ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes. (Tomato puree is NOT the same as tomato paste. If you can’t find canned tomato puree, then just blend the marinara sauce a bit or else deal with it’s textured goodness.)

Spanakopita-Inspired Pizza

(These measurements are approximate, as everyone likes different quantities of toppings on their pizza)

3-4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tbsp. olive oil

1/3 of preceding pizza dough recipe
approx. ¼ cup marinara sauce (enough for a very thin layer over the whole crust; you don’t want any globs)
approx. 1½ cups shredded cheese – I really like 4 parts mozzarella to 1 part Parmesan
1 to 1½ cup chopped fresh spinach
1 green onion, sliced thin
1 oz. feta cheese

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, or if it doesn’t get that hot, just use the maximum heat setting. If you have a pizza stone, let the stone preheat in the oven as well.

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, and stir constantly until golden brown. Scrape garlic into a separate dish to cool.

Gently stretch the pizza dough into a thin, round layer over a square of parchment paper. Spread the marinara sauce over the pizza dough, almost to the edges. Top the sauce with about 2/3 of the shredded cheese, and then sprinkle the sautéed garlic evenly over that. Next, spread the spinach and green onion followed by the rest of the shredded cheese. Finish it off by crumbling the feta cheese over the top.

When the oven is preheated, gently slide your parchment paper onto the pizza stone or place a pan with the parchment and pizza atop in the oven. Let bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is golden, and the cheese is beginning to blister in spots. The exact length of time will vary depending on your oven, how thin the dough is, what pan you’re using, etc. So keep an eye on it. 

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