October 12, 2015

Fall Greens with cheddar and pecans California Chili

Here is what we cooked last week: October 12 – 18

Monday: Winter Squash Soup, Steak and Romesco Crostini,  Fall Greens with apples, pecans and cheddar (pictured above, left)
Tuesday: Pizza with steak, blue cheese, mushrooms and mozzarella, Pizza with pepperoni and tomato sauce, Green Salad
Wednesday: California Chili, Guacamole and Crostini (pictured above, right)
Thursday: Pollo di Carnevale (Mardi Gras Chicken), Crostini with ricotta, prosciutto
Friday: Pan-seared Tuna with Soy, ginger and lime – avocados, Crostini with sautéed red peppers and onions, ricotta, Salumi, cheese and pickles, Fall greens with apples, pecans and cheddar
Sunday: Stecca crostini with whatever was leftover (peppers and onions, ricotta, Tuna), Salumi, pickle, cheese, Spaghetti Bolognese, Green Salad

A red-letter week – UFR and my pre-Steelers game bar, Max’s Allegheny Tavern, was chosen as one of Pittsburgh’s ‘best-looking’ bars by the PPG (here’s a link to the article: http://www.post-gazette.com/life/drinks/2015/10/15/Have-a-drink-on-me-Pittsburgh-s-15-best-looking-bars/stories/201509030002 ). Rick and I were there on Sunday morning – it ain’t pretty without us – prior to watching a great Steelers game and the debut of Landry Jones as QB. (Every time I mention Michael Vick’s name around UFR he barks.)

After a hard day at the stadium, UFR, Annie Smith, her lively daughter Lauren , Billy, Beez and I relaxed with fettucine bolognese – another dish I’ll have to share some time.   If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve already heard us praise the seared tuna we shared with Tim Hughes, Father Drew and Billy on Friday (try this soon).

But this week I have been inspired to share the gospel of pizza. And, in fact, one of our better dinners last week was pizza and a simple salad.

We have spent over a decade learning how to make a good pizza in a conventional home oven. The various failures – crackers with toppings – undercooked dough made soggy by toppings – the whole catastrophe of under-risen, over-worked, gummy, over-sauced possibilities eventually led to a sure-fire, every time, pizza which makes an easy, good dinner along-side a salad.

Here’s the deal on how to get this done (note: you will have to make this recipe a dozen times in different types of weather to understand how dough should feel after the initial working in the food processor. Sometimes you will have to add water, sometimes flour – but you’ll get it, trust me. And you’ll get lucky a few times early on and nail the dough. Then, you’ll learn when to take the pie from the oven.) This is worth learning.

The basic recipe is from Lynn Rosetto Kasper, the notes on tomato sauce and toppings our own:

Preparing the dough – this takes about 3 hours, though you can stretch it out to 4 or even 5. So you’ll want to put the dough together in mid-afternoon or as soon as you get home from work – or call and have your chauffeur prepare the dough   (trust me, he has lots of free time and is always getting into complications with the maids and into serious legal problems with the au pair – giving him more to do may save the man’s soul).

The amounts below are for two pizzas – halve them to make just one.

All-purpose flour – 2 C
Salt – 1 Tsp plus more for dusting the edge of the pizzas
1C of hot water (actually – you’ll need ½ C to bloom the yeast, and then another ½ C to lighten the dough)
Quick-rise or Active Dry Yeast (You want the dry because it’s easier to measure and easier to keep) – heaping teaspoon
Sugar – a good pinch
Extra flour – you’ll need 2 teaspoons for blooming the yeast and a bunch more for dusting your work surface and your hands.*

*Dough is infuriating in its ability to stick to bowls, food processors, and kitchen sinks and its general tendency to fly everywhere, sift through the most microscopic holes in bags, etc. Like quick-growing fingernails, whiskers (for men), visits to the dentist and tax preparation, it is one of the trials the Lord sends our way to see if we’re ready for heaven or need some seasoning in Purgatory. If you find yourself cursing the flour, take a deep breath, say a good Act of Contrition, three Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be – if you’re still angry, a tumbler of scotch will help you to see flour in a more Christian light.

Put 2 C of All-Purpose Flour in the food processor along with a teaspoon of salt and mix by giving it a good whirr.

Run the tap until the water it’s good and hot and into ½ C of the hot water mix a heaping teaspoon of dry yeast, 2 teaspoons of flour and a pinch of sugar. Put a timer on for 8 minutes. By then you’ll see spreading blooms of yeast on the surface of the water. If your yeast has not done this, toss the mixture out and start with yeast from a new package.

Now run the tap water on hot again and pour the yeast mixture into the food processor and then add another ½ C of hot water.

Pulse the food processor about ten times – I usually count seconds off and pulse every 2 seconds. Now process for about 5 seconds more or until the dough comes together into a ball. If this does not happen, you may need to add more water. If the dough is very sticky, add more flour.

Pour some olive oil into a bowl and spread it up the sides, then place dough ball in the bowl. Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and put the bowl in a room or corner where there is no draft. A little warmth wouldn’t hurt – in the winter I kick the heater up a degree and put the bowl in the powder room. You need to let the dough rise for 2 hours, but you can let it go for 4 or a bit longer.

When you are ready to remove the dough, turn your oven on to 500° (you will need 30 minutes to bring a conventional oven up to the heat you’ll need).

Now dust your hands with flour and work the dough, which will have risen quite a bit, for about 1 minute. “Working” means to keep folding it in on itself – do this in your hands, not on a surface. Place the dough back in the bowl for about 20 minutes. If you let it rise longer you will get a bit more chew to the crust, which I like – in any event, you don’t have to be exact about the 20 minutes.

Rolling out the dough. Prepare one or two cookie sheets by coating them with a film of olive oil. Dust a large cutting board or work surface with flour, make sure your fingers are floured, divide the dough in half (a simple dinner knife will work for this) and flatten the dough into a disk on the cutting board or work surface.   Dust a rolling pin and begin to flatten and roll the dough, turning it after every pass to maintain at least a roughly circular shape. Actually, the shape doesn’t matter – if you have a narrow cookie sheet, roll the dough into an oval. This is going to take a few minutes and you may need to put more flour on the work surface. As you thin the dough, if the surface isn’t floured, it will tear and stick. You will figure out how thin you want the dough from trial and error. We Stewarts are thin-crust folks, but tolerant.

When your pizza is the thickness and shape you want, lift it (carefully) onto a cookie sheet. It’s going to sit there for another 10 minutes before you cook. Roll out the second pizza and put it onto a cookie sheet.

Put the toppings you want on the pizza (suggestions below) and put it into the oven.  You’ll want to put in one pizza at a time to get enough heat.  Set a timer for 7 minutes – depending on how thin the crust is and how hot your oven is, it could be done that quickly. The cooking can take up to 10 minutes or so. You want a nicely browned crust. Just like the consistency of the dough, learning when to remove the pizza from the oven is a matter of experience. But the good news is that burnt crust still tastes good.

Topping the pizza:

Sometimes, to accompany a savory stew or pasta dish, we’ll make a ‘Naked’ Pizza – simply brush the top with a good olive oil and sprinkle with a little sea salt (kosher salt is fine). You can dust this with grated parmigiana or pecorino after it comes out of the oven – I always add some red pepper flakes. (You can dust all of the pizzas below in the same way – I often do.)

If you ask me, I will tell you to brush the edge of all pizzas with a good olive oil and give them a light sprinkling of salt before putting the toppings on. (But, hey, I’ve just told you, whether you asked me or not.) The result is a powerfully tasty crust – nothing like the cardboard effect achieved by so many pizzerias.

Margherita. We like fresh mozzarella but you can shred a firm, dry mozarrella for this. Space gobs of the mozzarella around the dough, leaving room for tomato sauce (see below). Use a spoon to spread some tomato sauce between the mozzarella – cover the surface, except for the edges but be sparing, you don’t want a wet pizza.   We put basil leaves on the pizza after it’s cooked – they will simply blacken in the oven.

(Note: tomato sauce for pizza should be simple. Typically, I just season some good tomato sauce (the imported Italian passato in bottles is perfect – but canned tomato sauce will work) with salt and pepper and – this is key – dried oregano. You need to tone down acidity of the sauce and the oregano is perfect for that – dried thyme can also work. You do not want a big-flavored tomato sauce – it is simply a dressing for the star of the dish – the pizza crust. (I have made it my personal mission to save some well-meaning soul from slaving over a complicated tomato sauce only to ruin perfectly good pizza dough.)

Mushroom and blue cheese. Create a sort of duxelle by sautéing a diced shallot for two 2 or 3 minutes, then toss in a bit of minced garlic and some chopped cremini mushrooms (8 oz. package). After the mushroom starts to darken (5-8 minutes more) you can add some wine, if you wish, but cook it down to nothing. Season with salt and pepper. Take small bits of blue cheese (gorgonzola works well) and place on the dough – you don’t need much cheese here, but a hint of blue cheese will add a hard-to-place depth to the pizza. Spread the mushroom mixture on the pizza. Cover with shredded fontina. We like to have some of the mushroom mixture poking through in a few places, but if you are a cheese person go ahead and smother the whole thing.

Sausage. Remove the sausage from one large link of hot Italian and cook it, breaking it into small pieces. Sprinkle the pizza with the sausage and then top with shredded fontina or shredded mozzarella (the dry, non-fresh kind). You can also put some thin-sliced onion rings under the cheese, or add the shallot and mushroom mixture from the previous topping.

Experiment – we like adding prosciutto, cooked down red peppers, anchovies (just me), cheddar and other cheese. Go crazy – you’ll find some good suggestions in Franny’s: Simple, Seasonal, Italian– a cookbook produced by a famous Brooklyn restaurant which Tim Slavish and I are determined to visit some day. Please let us know when you hit a combination that knocks you down it’s so good.

2 thoughts on “October 12, 2015

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