Pizza with Lemon, Smoked Mozzarella & Basil

pizza with lemon, smoked mozzarella & basil

As much as I love lemons, the thought of placing them atop pizza never would have crossed my mind. Squeezing a wedge of lemon over a slice of white clam pizza — that’s natural; biting into whole slices of lemon, rind and seeds included — that takes some convincing.

But the story and photo of Kesté’s Pizza Sorrentina, a Neapolitan pizza topped with lemon slices, basil and smoked mozzarella, in the WSJ a few weekends ago sent me racing off to the store to find smoked mozzarella. Story goes that this pie was invented in Naples by a great pizza maestro’s daughter who created it for her lemon-adoring mother.

Never would I have imagined this group of ingredients to work so well together, but they do. And it makes sense. Lemon cuts the smokiness of the mozzarella; basil, even after seven minutes in the oven, adds a touch of freshness. The bites with lemon slices are big — tart and tangy and refreshing all at the same time; the bites without beg for one. But the beauty of the pizza lies in the balance: it would be a shame to overdo the lemon, to be flinging pieces aside rather than longing for more.

For lemon lovers, of course, this pie is a winner; but skeptics beware: it’s beguiling enough to win you over, too. Continue reading

Big Apple Pancake

dusted with powdered sugar

I posted this recipe to Facebook over the weekend, so I’ll keep this brief. I have made this big apple pancake two weekends in a row now, and I have a feeling the run will continue for the remainder of the fall. It is one of the most fun recipes to prepare as it comes together in just minutes, puffs dramatically in the oven, and feeds four comfortably (so long as you provide some bacon or sausage on the side.)

This past weekend’s pancake came out better than the first, namely because I followed the instructions and made the effort to pulse the flour-egg-milk mixture in the food processor rather than just whisk by hand, which left the batter extremely lumpy. I also doubled the amount of apple this time around, ensuring that loads of tender apple slices filled every bite.

I love this recipe, but I find the name to be a bit of a misnomer — it tastes nothing like a pancake to me, leaving my pancake-making woes to persist. Alas, with a new delicious addition to the morning repertoire, I have no complaints. Hope you all had a nice weekend. Continue reading

Super Fast Pasta Dish: Rotini with Butternut-Sage Sauce

pasta with butternut squash sauce

Every so often all of my recipe hoarding proves worthwhile. A couple of nights ago, while fishing through my pasta file, pulling out every gnocchi recipe I have saved over the past decade, I found a recipe — penne with butternut-sage sauce — from a November 2006 Gourmet. Over the past six years, I have thought about this recipe often, as I do most of the recipes I tuck away, but especially this time of year when the butternut squashes and bundles of sage start arriving in my CSA.

I suspected this sauce would be good — the pairing of squash and sage rarely disappoints — but I didn’t imagine loving it as much as I did. It seemed too simple. But somehow the sauce, made with only butter, sage, squash, onion and water, tastes almost cheesy or as if it were made with cream or stock or something to provide richness. The butter, of course, adds considerable flavor, and the amount of butter, though I haven’t tested it, probably could be scaled back. But if you’re not afraid, just go for it. Adults and children (who likely will think it’s mac n’ cheese) alike will gobble it up. It’s a perfect dish for this time of year. Continue reading

Homemade Angel Food Cake

Graham

On Monday, Graham turned one, and the four of us celebrated the only way I know how, with an angel food cake, the cake my mother made for me and each of my siblings for nearly the first two decades of our lives. Angel food cake played such a role in celebrations growing up that for many years I assumed it was a Greek tradition — seriously, every aunt and great aunt and cousin seemed to celebrate with it, too.

While the absence of fillo and syrup should have perhaps been a giveaway, I was shocked to learn that the tradition in my family started with my mother’s mother who liked everything light light and served her angel cake with a simple chocolate glaze that poured down the cake’s sides freezing halfway down in a beautiful scalloped edge. But even more shocking than learning that angel food cake was not invented by the Greeks was discovering that for many years my mother didn’t make our birthday cakes from scratch. Yes, the woman who would never consider making soup without homemade broth, the woman who turns her nose at jarred roasted peppers, the woman who thinks nothing is more revolting than bottled salad dressing relied on Duncan Hines to make 90% of our childhood birthday cakes.

But I don’t blame her. Boxed cake mixes, particularly angel food cake mixes, are pretty good. And if the ingredients in these mixes were even remotely recognizable, she, and I in turn, would likely be keeping our pantries stocked with them. Continue reading

Dinner in 30 minutes: Whole Grilled Trout, Steamed Green Beans, Brown Butter Orzo “Risotto”

trout meat

All I want when I’m old and gray is to live steps from a bakery like Tartine, a short drive from some good ethnic food, and a bike ride, perhaps, from a good fish market. Presently, I’m striking out on all three fronts.

A nice fish market, in particular, would be a most welcome addition to my current neighborhood. Discovering this past summer that places like Dockside actually exist, made me want to pack up and skip town permanently. It’s just that when fish is that fresh — literally caught off the dock — it needs so little attention to get from the fridge to the dinner table. And when fish that fresh is grilled whole, and the skin crisps, and the meat flakes off the tiny delicate skeleton, tasting not a bit dry or fishy just fresh and delicious, never am I happier.

A recent discovery — that Wegman’s sells whole rainbow trout — will likely keep me put for the time being. Farmed rainbow trout, because it is raised in an ecologically responsible way, makes it a Seafood Watch “best choice”. What’s more, whole rainbow trout is affordable. At $6.49/lb, two whole trout, which will feed three comfortably, cost $11.49. Fresh, sustainable, affordable, delectable? I know, incredible.

Grilling fish whole is a new thing for me, and if you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it, especially if who have anxiety about cooking fish — I certainly do. You’ll have to, of course, get over the presence of beady eyes and a mouth lined with mini razor sharp teeth, and you should try hard to do so because grilling fish whole is incredibly forgiving — the skin protects it from drying out even in the thinnest spots.

This meal has become a recent favorite. Continue reading

Molly Wizenberg’s Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing

iced cinnamon rolls

A couple of Sundays ago over a plate of freshly baked French toast, Ben confessed that what he had really wanted to make me for my birthday breakfast was a batch of cinnamon rolls but couldn’t find a straightforward recipe on my blog. Before I bit his head off, I took a sip of coffee and a deep breath, allowing myself time to digest the comment. I didn’t have much of a defense I realized. The single cinnamon roll recipe I have posted about does require making a four-pound batch of dough first.

I assured Ben I would do something about that. The Essentials page definitely deserved a straightforward cinnamon roll recipe and better still one that could be prepared in advance and baked off in the morning.

Instead of flipping through my cinnamon roll file — an exercise that always makes me sleepy — I turned to google, which led me to epicurious and 159 rave reviews of Molly Wizenberg’s cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing. It seemed like a safe bet. I printed the recipe — I still print, do you? — took out some butter to soften and went to bed.

The next morning I set to work kneading dough in the stand mixer, mixing brown sugar and cinnamon, whipping up cream cheese icing. By noon, nine incredibly delicious cinnamon rolls graced our kitchen table and nine more rested in the fridge, an experiment I hoped would yield freshly baked buns the following morning, too. Continue reading

Getting the Most From Your CSA + Two Favorite Potato Recipes

CSA, 9-20-2012

There was a time in my life when subscribing to a CSA had little appeal. I wanted to buy what I wanted to buy when I wanted to buy it. Today, I am happy to have somebody else make the decision for me.

In the past six years, subscriptions to CSAs in eastern Pennsylvania, southern California and northern Virginia have forever transformed how I eat and cook. I have learned to plan meals based on the vegetables I have at hand not the protein. I have learned to appreciate vegetables in their freshest state seasoned with little more than olive oil, salt and pepper. I have eaten more dark leafy greens than I ever imagined.

During this time, too, I have allowed more than one bunch of radishes to shrivel up and rot, a kohlrabi bulb or two to desiccate, and a few bags of okra to mold over. It is painful — shameful — to see these foods spoil. Today, not a morsel of my CSA goes to waste.

Below, I have compiled some things I have learned these past six years that help me utilize my CSA to its fullest potential. Continue reading

French Apple Tart & Cinnamon Snails

French apple tart, just baked

If you struggle with anger management, this post might be a good one to skip. Just send it straight to your trash can if you’re reading via email; just skip back to the grilled cheese or the French toast, if you’ve happened upon here via google. At apple-rosette attempt three, I envisioned flinging this tart frisbie style straight into my tv; at apple-rosette attempt five, I imagined raising it above my head, slamming it straight down, and splattering it all over my kitchen floor.

Fortunately — and I never imagined saying this — I have a child that drives me to read self-help books. I put myself in a timeout for two minutes (grossly ignoring the minute-per-year-of-age rule, which would have had me sitting for half an hour), during which I took a few deep breaths and told myself to let the apple rosettes go.

When I came out of my quiet time, ready to be a nice girl again, I set to work. Within minutes the tart shell brimmed with fanned apple slices, not quite so pretty as Saveur’s, but pretty nonetheless. And best of all, not too pretty to eat. Continue reading

Pickled Okra & Baker’s Foie

pickled okra

When you don’t get out to eat very often, there is nothing worse than experiencing buyers’ remorse at the dinner table. Ordering becomes a big deal. A few Saturday nights ago, Ben and I found ourselves seated at the bar at Bistro Bethem, drinks ordered, food yet to be determined. It was our first meal out in a long time — with the exception, of course, of the many lunches at 2Amy’s, our favorite post-zoo spot for wolfing down as much delicious food as possible before the two children bobbing on our laps explode — and we thought it wise to take our time. A few bad choices might ruin the evening. The pressure was on.

After placing our order for the pâté, a tomato salad, and a few wood-oven pizzas, our server delivered a basket of warm focaccia sprinkled with sea salt and a shallow dish filled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In an instant, all worries about the food — the evening — dissolved. It’s amazing how far a little fresh bread goes to win my belly and heart over.

But the rest of the food proved to be as wonderful as that bread basket, and one dish in particular had us taken: pickled okra. Continue reading

The Best Grilled Cheese

grilled cheese with comte, thyme & shallots

Grilled cheese, like pancakes, has always troubled me in the kitchen. Without fail, the bread burns before the cheese melts. Various techniques employed over the years have improved the final product slightly, but not so much as to leave me satisfied. So when I read the r.s.v.p. section of the September Bon Appetit, which supplied a recipe for a gruyère grilled cheese from L.A.’s Lucques, I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen.

The recipe calls for crisping country white bread slices in a skillet on one side before topping them with cheese and sautéed shallots. The open-faced halves finish cooking in the oven before being pressed together into a traditional sandwich.

It almost pains me that such a simple technique produces such a brilliant result: perfectly golden bread flanking perfectly melty cheese. Why could I have not figured this technique out on my own? Like 10 years ago? Such a find would have prevented years of shame and embarrassment and the inevitable self-questioning after every failed grilled cheese attempt: Who doesn’t know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich? Continue reading