When you’re little, people tell you there’s no such thing as the boogeyman. They say that there are no ghosts, demons or scary things that go bump in the night. They tell you that monsters don’t hide under beds – that monsters don’t hide anywhere. Because there’s no such thing. But even so, you always check … just to be sure.
But then you grow up, and it’s your turn to be the reassuring one. Do you believe what you tell the kids, when you say that there is nothing to be afraid of and that everything will be okay? Usually you do, because you’re a grownup and you know that there’s no such thing as monsters. Even so, your pace still quickens when you run up the stairs at night or pass through a dark, quiet room when you’re all alone. Because remnants of those childhood fears are still there somewhere, buried deep down below that grownup, rational, reasonable exterior. Because the feeling of not seeing – of not knowing – what lurks behind you is an unsettling, oppressive feeling for anyone … even if good sense is trying to tell you that everything is fine. There is no such thing as the boogeyman, after all.
Exactly a week ago today, while my whole family was sleeping, a man came into our home and robbed us. He helped himself to our belongings … taking my purse, my brand new laptop computer, our desktop computer, and ultimately driving away in our car. The process of discovering that each of these things was missing was a gradual one, each item coming to our attention as we walked through our small house in a daze, the very kind police officer helping us to understand the situation and to come to grips with what had happened. As if one can really even do either of those things.
The kids came into my room as they usually do on that morning, loud and happy and carrying on and ready to tackle the day with the intense and lovely enthusiasm that is only really found in tiny humans under the age of five. Tying my robe and trying ineffectively to wipe the sleep off of my face, I made my way to the living room. But I felt the cold breeze before I even saw the open window, and I noticed immediately how askew our TV was up on the mantle, the cords a mess and tumbling haphazardly all over the place. It was my cat crying hysterically outside that made me actually stop and notice the open window … and then eventually, everything else that was not as it should be.
What a day it was. The kind of day that you almost can’t remember because of how they fly by in such a surreal blur. But at the same time, you will never forget it as long as you live. Kind of like your wedding day. But not.
They’ve caught the guy now, and our car has been returned … not in the same condition in which it left us, but still. Stuff is just stuff, and the fact that we were all left unharmed is the invaluable factor in the situation, no question. I am so grateful for that.
And because I am on the topic of gratitude, I should also note how truly grateful I was on that day for the support, kindness and life-giving comfort of friends and family, both near and far. Being reminded of the good in people, and how that so dramatically outweighs the bad, was medicinal for me that day, as I’ll admit that my faith in humanity wavered a bit. My husband’s best friend stopped by that night with two pizzas from my favorite pizza place in the whole world and it’s funny how that small, simple act managed to help so much. The house was immediately bombarded with the aroma of fresh pizza and Lucas and his friend shared a beer together while the kids, who were fortunately unaware of everything, contentedly watched a movie. It was nice. It was normal. It was exactly what we needed.
The comforting powers of food is the thing people tend to lean on in times of great significance, isn’t it? That’s one of my favorite aspects of it. It can provide solace in times of sorrow just as much as it can complement incredible joy. From funerals, weddings and housewarming parties to new babies, birthdays, big milestones and apparently break-ins, it can heal our souls and help to provide comfort in a very basic, but poignant way. Sometimes the comfort from food is derived from nostalgia, while other times it can be purely due to its distinct ability to give real pleasure – when something is undeniably delicious, that can be comforting in a way. And then other times, it can be a form of temporary but necessary escapism; a way to forget about your troubles and just hang on to that very moment … happy, grateful, and satisfied in a simple yet effective way.
This pizza we ate the other night, it’s over-sized slices gooey and dripping with the overabundance of cheese and equally over-sized pepperoni, was such a welcomed, familiar sight and it was thoroughly appreciated by one and all. It was just the thing. Yes, there is just something to be said about the unique ability of our favorite foods to provide us with a real sense of comfort, whether it be through a huge slice of greasy pizza, a cold beer shared with a loyal friend, or otherwise.
Roasted Squash, Pesto and Prosciutto Flatbread with Goat Cheese and Burrata RECIPE
As an ode to the ever-comforting pizza, and the recent meal of mine that stood out among others simply due to its comforting effect, I bring you this flatbread pizza. It is easy – a breeze to prepare – and the flavors are WOW. The sweet squash goes so well with the salty prosciutto and I love using a good quality, store-bought flatbread here and a store-bought pesto as well, as the base. I make homemade crusts and pestos regularly, but in this case I wanted to cut corners, save time, and get a tasty meal on the table with less effort. It has just been one of those weeks. But this is a very plug n’ play type of recipe, where you can rearrange its components to suit your liking or what you have on hand. If you want to use your favorite pesto recipe, by all means, do it! If you’ve got a hankerin for a fresh, homemade crust, you should do it. This recipe is flexible, casual, and totally non-judgmental. You do you, here. But just make sure you DO do this flatbread … the flavors and textures going on in the toppings are so wonderful.
1 acorn or delicata squash, halved and seeded (discard the seeds or save them for roasting!)
Olive oil, for drizzling (about 1/4 cup)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup of thinly sliced red cabbage “ribbons” (you can use more if you like)
1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium – large, store-bought pizza crust or flatbread (I used a pre-baked whole grain version that I found at Fresh Market)
1 cup pre-made pesto (or more, or less – depends on the size of your crust; you just want a nice, even layer)
3 oz. package of prosciutto (such as Boar’s Head)
4 ounces goat cheese (I used a small log of herbed goat cheese)
5 or 6 large fresh sage leaves
1 ball of fresh burrata cheese (I used Bel Gioioso)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Slice the squash halves into roughly 1/2″ crescents. Lightly coat the squash slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet tat has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Roast in the preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes, turning once halfway through, or until the flesh is golden brown and tender. Set aside to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, gently pull away the peel from each slice and cut into large chunks. Set these aside.
Meanwhile, arrange the sliced cabbage and the onions on another baking sheet and toss with a couple teaspoons of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon of each). Reduce the oven temp to 375 degrees F and roast the cabbage and onions for about 10 – 12 minutes, or until the cabbage wilts and gets lightly brown and crisped and the onions slump down and soften a bit.
Return the oven temp to 400 degrees F.
To build the flatbread, place the pizza crust or flatbread on a baking sheet and top with the pesto, leaving about a 1/2″ border around the edge. Scatter the par-roasted onions and cabbage evenly over the pesto and then add slices of the prosciutto, followed by the chunks of roasted squash and bits of goat cheese. Break off large pieces of burrata and add them haphazardly to the flatbread. Season with a bit of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper, if desired. Bake the flatbread for 12 – 15 minutes (just keep an eye on it) or until the edges get lightly brown and the cheese gets soft and weepy. Everything is cooked already, so you’re just warming the toppings through, intensifying the saltiness of the prosciutto, and melting the burrata.
Meanwhile, while it is cooking, heat a thin layer of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as it is hot (it should shimmer a bit) quickly fry the sage leaves, it only takes about 30 seconds total. I like to flip them halfway through, but you don’t have to. Transfer the frizzled sage leaves to a paper towel-lined plate.
When the flatbread is out of the oven, top with pieces of torn frizzled sage and enjoy!