I’d wager that few would rate their middle-school years as a favorite time in their lives. An awkward period at best, its a time for trying on new identities and seeing what sticks; throw in puberty (or lack of signs thereof) and you’ve got a recipe for angst and anxiety aplenty. In addition to the usual woes of that age, I started off 6th grade as the new girl in school. Apprehensive to say the least, I chose to take the optimistic route and take it as an opportunity for reinvention. Why not try on a new persona, or at least name for size?
Naturally, my plan backfired; all it took was one falsetto utterance of “Nikki” from a less than favorite teacher for me to realize that name and I were an ill-suited pair. Thankfully, the nickname did not stick; call me Nikki nowadays and you’ll be met with a uncharacteristically cold-eyed stare and a firm assertion that my name is in fact Nicole. Perhaps learning from the error in my ways, I’ve never fully embraced another nickname since, but by some cruel chance of paperwork, every year brings a harsh reminder of this youthful dalliance in the form of a plea for donations to my middle school, addressed to you guessed it, Nikki.
Adolescent woes aside, I was highly tempted to call these savory treats “Pizza Muffins”, but my ongoing prejudice against cutesy nicknames stopped me dead in my tracks (or I suppose keystrokes). Feel free to think of them as such, their aroma strongly mirrors a pungent (in the best way) pizza, but I’ll stick to their proper “adult” name, so sun-dried tomato and basil muffins it is.
These are great as is, so I haven’t experimented much with their flavor profile, but Heidi of 101 Cookbooks has some fantastic ideas for variations on this savory bite. My favorite idea: swapping out the tomatoes and basil for roasted garlic, pesto and pine nuts. These work well as a relatively healthy grab-and-go breakfast, and are equally at home as a dinner “bread” of sorts.
Yield ≈ 9 muffins or ≈ 24 mini-muffins
¼ cup water
1 cup (8 ⅛ ounces) plain cottage cheese (low-fat is fine)
¾ cup (1 ½ ounces) parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup (1 ¼ ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup almonds (5 ¾ ounces), very finely ground
1 teaspoon baking powder
scant 1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes (in oil), finely chopped
¼ cup basil, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Thoroughly grease a mini-muffin tin, or 9 wells of a standard muffin tin.
In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk together the eggs and water. Add the cottage cheese, ½ cup parmesan cheese, flour, ground almonds, baking powder, salt, sun-dried tomatoes, and basil. Gently mix together til combined. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins so that they’re ¾ full, and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese. Bake for 15-18 minutes for mini-muffins or 28-32 minutes for regular sized, or until golden brown and set.
Allow to cool for a couple minutes in the tin, then remove to a cooling rack (a butter knife will help to pry them out if any get stuck) and eat warm.
These can be made gluten-free if you swap out the ¼ cup all-purpose flour with soy flour. I’ve tried these both ways, and found both versions equally delicious.
I generally use almond meal/flour (which is just ground almonds) instead of grinding the almonds at home. Don’t swap the volume measurement 1:1 if using almond meal, rather follow the weight measurement (5 ¾ ounces). Trader Joe’s carries a nice, well-priced almond meal, alternatively Bob’s Red Mill is a good choice. I store mine in the freezer (along with most other whole-grain/nut flours) as it doesn’t have a particularly long shelf-life at room temperature, since the oils in nuts are prone to rancidity.
If using whole almonds, pulse them in a food processor or blender til they are flour-like in consistency. Be careful not to over-process or you’ll make almond butter.
These are a great candidate for freezing; I’ll often freeze any I don’t finish in the first day, and then eat the leftovers when I’m looking for a quick breakfast. The frozen muffins can be gently warmed in a toaster oven or microwaved briefly, and they’re almost as good as when they’re fresh from the oven.