early spring pizza

Even though we’ve had some unseasonably warm temps over the past month, last Saturday marked the true beginning of spring for me: it was the first outdoor farmer’s market of the year in Madison.  The farmer’s market is my favorite thing about Madison and while it still takes place during the colder months it is moved indoors and is smaller and just not the same experience.  So you can imagine my excitement at this rite of yearly passage.

I foolishly decided to sleep in on Saturday and did not get to the market until peak time and then had to deal with the crowds.  I had to suppress my New York instincts when people would abruptly stop in front of me to admire some produce while I was trying my best to manuever around the square and get what I needed before the time on my parking meter ran out.  However, I managed to not yell at any of the sweet old ladies or adorable young families leisurely enjoying their day before me.  (But they really shouldn’t lollygag so much.  I’m just saying.)

There wasn’t a ton of variety at the market yet but I did manage to pick up some of early spring’s finest: ramps, green garlic, and rhubarb (more on that later in the week).  I have never worked with ramps or green garlic before but upon returning home with my bit of nature’s finery I promptly did some Googling and found a recipe for spring pizzas that involved ramps.  The green garlic part was inspired by a pizza I had eaten the previous weekend at a great local bakery/pizza place.  Done and done.

I added some soppressatta because I like cured meat and think it should be a part of most pizzas.  I just do.  But you could certainly make your version sans meat if you like and that is in fact how the original recipe had it.

The base for this pizza is ricotta mixed with a bit of lemon peel.  Super simple.  Separately you sautee the ramps and green garlic with olive oil and a bit of salt and then layer that over the ricotta mixture.  Then add the meat if you like and finish baking.  Once out of the oven add some fresh basil and parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil and there you have it.  Spring in pizza form.

(Side note: I should have photographed the cooked pizza before cutting into it.  It was not so pretty once a pizza cutter dug in and severed the basil leaves into smithereens so thus, no after picture.  My apologies.  This is real life though and sometimes these things happen.)

Pizza with Ricotta, Ramps, Green Garlic, and Soppressatta (adapted from Spring Pizzas recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli found at www.foodnetwork.com)

  • 1 pound pizza dough (I used the whole wheat pre-made dough at Trader Joe’s, good stuff)
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and drizzling
  • 6 ounces ramps, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • 10 slices soppressata or other cured meat, if desired
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • Grated parmesan cheese, for topping

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Brush a baking sheet or pizza stone with olive oil. Stretch the dough into 12-inch round and place on the baking sheet or pizza stone and bake until golden, about 12 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Toss the ramps and green garlic with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with kosher salt. Saute until ramps are just wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into pieces.

Mix the ricotta, lemon zest, the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and some sea salt and pepper in a bowl. Brush the crusts with olive oil (this will protect them from getting soggy), then spread with the ricotta mixture and season with sea salt. Top with the ramps, green garlic, and soppressata. Return to the oven until warmed through, about 2 minutes.

Top the pizzas with basil, parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

butternut squash love

Lasagna is a wonderful winter meal. It’s hardy, it’s versatile, and most importantly it heats up brilliantly.  What more could you ask for on a cold February night?

I’m a huge fan of all things squash so when I found this recipe for butternut squash lasagna I could not resist.

You start by peeling and cubing the squash and then simmering it in water until it is soft enough to puree.  Then season with salt and pepper.

Then you make a bechamel sauce which I found kind of intimidating at first, though I can assure you it is quite easy.  You just heat up butter and flour and then whisk in milk until it boils.  For this recipe you also grate in some nutmeg and finally blend with fresh basil.

Then you start to build your layers.  Bechamel sauce followed by noodles followed by butternut squash puree…

…followed by cheese and then repeat twice more.  I made the lasagna for my dad’s birthday party last weekend and got so busy chatting with family that I forgot to take an after picture!  Oops…

Butternut Squash Lasagna (recipe origin unknown– I tore it out of a magazine years ago and my Google-ing proved unsuccessful…)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced (about 2 ½ lbs)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 ½ cups milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¾ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 box (8 oz.) oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In large skilled heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add squash and toss to coat. Add ½ cup water. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until tender. Cool slightly. Puree squash in food processor. Season with salt and pepper.

In medium saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Add flour, whisking for 1 minute. Increase heat to high and gradually whisk in milk. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Whisk in nutmeg and cinnamon. Let cool slightly. Pour half the white sauce into a blender add the basil and blend until smooth. Return basil sauce to saucepan and combine with rest of white sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

strawberry shortcake, updated

It’s officially strawberry season here in Wisconsin and I couldn’t be happier because a) I love strawberries, and b) this also means it’s officially summer.  ‘Bout time.

To celebrate the beginning of strawberry season I decided to try a recipe I had torn out of a magazine years ago and have always been curious about but had been hesitant to try.  The reason for the hesitation is because it involves cornmeal, basil, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.  And this is supposed to be a dessert?  What??

 But I’m adventurous, so I thought what the heck.  Plus, I have a basil plant that is just begging to be trimmed back.  Done.

Look how pretty the snips of basil are in the cake batter.  And you can see the yellow cornmeal flecks.  Lovely.

While the cake is in the oven puree the star ingredient with a little sugar and balsamic vinegar.


I wasn’t sure what to expect when I bit into the finished product but I knew it was going to be good because it smelled wonderful while it was baking.  It reminded me of a more grown-up version of the strawberry shortcake my mom used to make when I was a kid.  It was sweet, but not overly-sweet, and slightly savory which gave it a nice dimension.  The perfect early summer dessert.

Olive Oil-Basil Cornmeal Cake with Strawberry Sauce (from Country Home magazine)

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar

Grease and flour one 8×2-inch round cake pan; set aside.  In a medium bowl stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together eggs, granulated sugar, milk, and olive oil.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture and snipped basil until combined (do not overmix).  Pour batter into prepared cake pan, spreading evenly.  Sprinkle top with coarse sugar.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pan by inverting on a wire rack.  Invert again and cool thoroughly, sugar side up, on wire rack.

To serve, cut cake into wedges.  Serve with strawberry sauce (see recipe below).  Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Strawberry Sauce

  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, cleaned and hulled
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

In a blender or food processor combine all ingredients.  Cover and blend or process until smooth.  If desired, stir in 1 tablespoon additional balsamic vinegar to taste.  Cover and chill for up to 24 hours.  Stir before serving.