Pizza Pizza

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I am resolved. I am resolved never to make another recipe for pizza dough. Seriously. This is it. My family has been making this recipe for years and it is incredibly delicious. Tried and True. Foolproof. No tweaking necessary. Caramelized onions, grapes (or figs), gorgonzola and mascapone (or some other creamy cheese like ricotta) is one of our favorite combinations.

These strong feelings stem partly from several recent failed experiments but also because I am realizing now truly wonderful homemade pizza is. Really, for me, the idea of a perfect dinner is this: several of these thin-crust pizzas (each topped differently), a salad (a homemade Caesar salad sounds nice at the moment) and a glass of wine.

I can think of only one thing that might — MIGHT — improve this recipe: A wood-burning oven. Which I intend to build soon. Or, let’s say within the next six months. Seriously. It only takes a day-and-a-half to build. It’s just a matter of getting organized. I saw the construction of a wood-burning, adobe oven in San Francisco at Slow Food Nation last month, and I have been wanting my very own ever since. There are two pics at the bottom of this post of the oven I plan to build and there are several other pictures of the adobe-oven-making process here.

This recipe yields enough dough to serve about 6 to 8 people. I am submitting this recipe to the World Food Day blog event. Created by Val of More Than Burnt Toast and Ivy of Kopiaste, this event seeks to raise awareness about world hunger: Around the globe there are 862 million undernourished people. Since 1945, October 16 marks World Food Day, an event created by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. To participate in the blog event, follow these instructions.

Want to build your own adobe oven, too? Buy this book: Build Your Own Earth Oven. I met the authors at SFN and they were pretty awesome. I also just found this article on Sunset.com — it might be interesting to compare the two methods: Sunset’s Classic Adobe Oven

These pizzas take about 10 minutes at 500ºF. When they emerge from the oven, all they need is a sprinkling of fresh herbs and perhaps, but not critically, a drizzling of olive oil.


One key to making a good pizza is this: keep toppings to a minimum. A thin layer of yummy ingredients is all this is needed. It helps keep the crust crisp and allows you to taste the dough. (I may have over done it a bit here. Refraining from overloading the dough is a true skill.)

This adobe oven was made in one-and-a-half days. Supplies, if I recall correctly, cost under $50. I am dying to make one.


Pizza Dough
Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table
Makes 4 8- to 10-inch pizzas (Serves 1 to 2 people per pizza)

¼ cup whole wheat flour
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Place the flours and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Or knead by hand. I have not had luck making this in the food processor — the engine starts smoking after about five minutes.) Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the mixture bubbles slightly. Add the olive oil and stir. With the mixer on low, gradually add the oil-water mixture into the bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth, under 10 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sort of difficult to work with. I liberally coat my hands with flour before attempting to remove it.

2. Divide the dough into four balls, about 7½ ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Be sure to oil the parchment paper.) Place two balls on a sheet. Lightly rub the balls with olive oil, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. The dough is very sticky and wet, so, be sure to coat the balls or the plastic with oil. Let the balls rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about two hours.

3. To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball on a generously floured work surface. Press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin (or continue using floured hands if you are skilled at making pizzas) and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer portion should be a little thicker than the inner portion.

Note: This dough freezes beautifully. After the initial rise, punch down the dough, wrap it in plastic and place in a Ziplock bag. Freeze for several months. When ready to use, let sit at room temperature for about an hour, then proceed with rolling/topping/baking.

Baking:

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Place rolled out dough onto parchment paper. Drizzle dough with a little olive oil and with your hand, rub it over the surface to coat evenly.

2. Top with a thin layer of your choice toppings. Here I used caramelized onions, grapes, gorgonzola and mascapone cheese. (The mascapone is really wonderful). Place in your very hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until the crust is slightly brown and the cheese is melting.

3. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh basil. A drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil is nice. I used a little bit of truffle oil, which would be wonderful over a mushroom pizza.

Swiss Chard Tart

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I have an excellent recipe for a buttery, cornmeal tart shell. It NEVER fails to please. Why then, I ask you, must I continue to experiment with other recipes? Oiy. Rarely do they measure up. Tonight I’m annoyed. Truly. I mean, this tart would have been unbelievably delectable had I just stuck to the tried-and-true recipe I know.

Alas. This tart closely resembles the breakfast pizza I made several months ago. The topping is nearly identical: sautéed Swiss chard with garlic, grated cheese (whatever you have on hand), and a couple of eggs — a combination I really adore. OK, fine, I adore eggs on everything, but you know what I mean.

So, I can’t in good conscience leave you with a foolproof recipe today, but I can give you some guidance. Use this recipe for the tart shell and follow this recipe for the topping. Combine the two and you’ll likely create a yummy dinner. Again, I regret, I am leaving you with yet another recipe that must be revisited shortly.

My Swiss chard plants are still going strong. In fact, they have been consistently productive since I planted them. For all of you novice gardeners out there, Swiss chard is a great vegetable to start a garden with — it is easy to grow and very tasty.

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

ice cream PS

What do you get when you combine heavy cream, half and half, egg yolks, sugar, fresh mint and dark chocolate? Absolute, pure, utter and complete deliciousness. I don’t know what else to say about this mint chocolate chip ice cream except that it is one of the best things I have ever tasted. Ever. Seriously.

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Adapted from Alice Q. Foodie’s recipe

1 cup half and half
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups lightly packed mint leaves
5 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
pinch salt
pure peppermint oil* (not extract), optional
1 cup chopped dark chocolate, such as Valrhona 70%, chopped with a chef’s knife into ¼-inch pieces
*Peppermint oil can be found at specialty cookware shops. I found mine at Fante’s in Philadelphia, but Alice Q. Foodie says Henry’s Market carries it as well.

1. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the cream and half and half with the mint leaves until it’s good and hot but not boiling. (You can just touch it lightly with your finger to test it.) Cover pan and set aside to steep for 30 mins. Strain out mint and discard (or compost) it.

2. Whisk yolks in a large bowl. If your cream mixture is still relatively hot to the touch (which it should be after only 30 minutes), slowly ladle the mixture into the egg yolks whisking constantly. Transfer yolk-cream mixture back to the saucepan and add the sugar with a pinch of salt.

3. Cook the custard over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula. When the mixture begins to coat the back of the spoon, remove the pan from the heat. (If you have a thermometer, it should be about 170 degrees.)

4. Strain the hot custard into a bowl. If using the peppermint oil, take it and drip one or two drops into the cap of the bottle, then dip a toothpick in the oil and swish it through the custard mixture. (This stuff is powerful and can easily ruin a batch of custard if restraint is not used.)

5. Chill the mixture until completely cold. Churn in an ice cream maker. During the last few minutes of churning, add the chocolate chips. Freeze mixture until ready to serve.

The Secret To Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes

Lemon-ricotta pancakes

Before I mislead you any further, I’m going to come clean. I don’t know the secret to making lemon-ricotta pancakes. In fact, what I flipped around the griddle on Saturday morning was nothing short of a disaster. Breakfast was saved only by the bacon.

Which leads me to the “secret” I am referring to in the title. Several weeks ago, I was up in San Fran dining with a few friends for brunch. One of my friends was being particularly indecisive. I think he sent the waitress away twice, insisting that he “needed more time.” My stomach grumbled while he wavered between the burger and the pancakes. He finally chose the pancakes, ordering a side of bacon to satisfy his grease craving. He promised the rest of us he would share. 

And share we did. No sooner had the waitress dropped our food had we ordered another plate of bacon for the table. I had ordered the pancakes, too, and I have to say, with the addition of a few strips of crispy bacon, I don’t think I’ve ever been more satisfied with a brunch order. I’m always tempted by dishes such as French toast, waffles and pancakes, but I always worry about missing the greasy, savory egg dishes. A side of bacon, I’ve discovered, is the perfect solution. So, I suppose, all I can share with you today is this: perhaps the secret to enjoying pancakes is to eat them with a little grease?

Now about these pancakes. Several years ago while visiting my sister in NYC, I ordered lemon-ricotta pancakes for brunch at Sarabeth’s in the upper west side. I have been dreaming about them ever since and over the years have saved countless recipes from various newspapers and magazines. After comparing the recipes, including a handful from the blogosphere, I chose this one and set to work.

Now, I don’t want to blame the recipe because I think I’m partly at fault. I have never figured out how to make pancakes. By the time I get my rhythm going and start cooking the pancakes properly, I’ve eaten about 100 and can hardly bear to look at the griddle any longer. That’s precisely what happened this weekend. But even the pancakes that I believe I cooked properly lacked the flavor I remember so fondly. The lemon flavor certainly came through but the ricotta was indiscernible, likely a tribute to the icky ricotta I purchased at my grocery store.

So I wish wish wish I could leave you with an awesome recipe for lemon-ricotta pancakes, but alas I cannot. I am determined to make these again soon, however, and when I do, I hope to report back with more favorable results.
On a side note, imagine my excitement upon seeing this month’s Saveur in my mailbox. Look at this cover! Pure genius. There’s a nice little two-page spread offering detailed instructions for cooking eggs four ways: baked, sunny-side up, soft-boiled and scramble. Might be a good thing to tuck inside a cookbook for future reference. Just a thought.