Friday, May 31, 2013

The Quest for Super Thin and Truly Delicious Pizza Crust

The Quest for Super Thin and Truly Delicious Pizza Crust taught me as much as it taught Henry. I can't claim any amount of expertise in crust-making, so we have been figuring it out together, trying different recipes, and soliciting advice from friends.

We wanted thin, crisp, and flavorful. We also wanted whole grain, but our 100 percent whole-wheat flour attempt was too dense and heavy. A friend suggested using whole wheat pastry flour instead of regular whole wheat, and using it in combination with unbleached white flour. Bingo. I wanted a slightly sweet note, and a friend's recipe that called for honey inspired me to add a little maple syrup, just a little, and wow. Olive oil and a generous dose of salt rounded out the flavor.

When you start researching pizza crust, you quickly discover the millions of pizza stone advocates out there. They are convincing. They will make you believe that it is not possible to make a good pizza without a stone. I was sold, but when I priced pizza stones I changed my mind - I want to get one someday, but it's out of my budget right now. Instead, I bought this very cheap 16-inch pizza pan:

It works great! Don't let the pizza stone people deter you. But if you have one already, this recipe should translate well.

Pizza Crust
Enough for a 16-inch pizza.

2 cups flour (we like a blend of unbleached white and whole wheat pastry)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt (or a little less if that scares you)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup warm water

You can do this by hand with a wooden spoon, or in a stand mixer.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, yeast, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together water, maple syrup, and olive oil.

Add water mixture to flour mixture and stir until everything is well combined. This will just take a few seconds in a mixer, a little longer if you're working by hand. Dust your hands and a clean surface lightly with flour, turn dough onto the surface, and knead briefly (1 minute or less) until it comes together into a smooth ball.

Oil a clean bowl, place the dough in it, cover with a towel, and set aside to rise for about an hour while you prepare your sauce and toppings. (sauce recipe and topping suggestions coming next week!)

Preheat oven to 500.

Lightly oil your pizza pan or do whatever you do with your fancy pizza stone.

When you're ready to bake:
Put the dough in the middle of the pan and press and stretch it, starting from the center and moving to the edges, until it covers the whole pan. Pinch around the edges to make a rim.

We got good results with pre-baking the crust before adding any sauce or toppings. I recommend that you bake the crust for 5 minutes, remove from the oven, add toppings quickly, and then return to the oven for 9 or 10 more minutes, for a total baking time of 14-15 minutes.

Mission accomplished!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mission: Pizza

Henry wants to learn how to make pizza, which is not something I've mastered, so we are learning together. Attempt number one -  red sauce, arugula, and a little mozzarella on a whole wheat crust - was good, not great. We need a better crust recipe, and next time we need to stretch it all the way to the edge. We want thin crust, crispy crust, flavorful crust. If you have any tips or recipes, please share!

Mission not accomplished. To be continued next week. It's a tough job, but somebody's really got to.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fried Eggs and Asparagus

I have been swooning over asparagus this spring, and gearing up to teach Henry 101 ways to prepare it, but he requested homemade pizza-making lessons, which means this is my final word on asparagus, for now. Given that, I thought I'd better teach Henry how to make Fried Eggs and Asparagus.

Henry already knows how to fry an egg, so this was really a lesson in roasting asparagus, my favorite technique for cooking my favorite vegetable. Roasting intensifies its flavor, and I love how the tips get browned, frizzled, and crispy.

Whenever I make this you would seriously think I've prepared an elaborate three-course feast, the way my family carries on. It's pretty satisfying to toss asparagus stalks in the oven, fry up some eggs, pile it all together, and find yourself greeted at the table like some kind of culinary genius.

Fried Eggs and Asparagus
Serves 4

2 lb asparagus, washed, patted dry, hard ends snapped off
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 eggs
Optional grated cheese (parmesan is good)

Preheat oven to 375

Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper

Put asparagus in a mixing bowl and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 2-3 generous pinches of salt. Use your hands to coat every spear with oil and salt. Spread asparagus in a single layer on cookie sheets and roast undisturbed for about 20 minutes. If you're not sure if it's done, eat some to check. Just try not to eat it all.

Warm remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in two frying pans over medium heat and crack 4 eggs into each. Cover and cook until whites are set but yolks are still a little soft.

To serve:  Divide asparagus onto four plates, top each with two eggs, season generously with pepper and salt, and add optional cheese. Don't delay, serve immediately.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Pasta Primavera

Who cares about your cheap fork, bent out of shape, when the dish it's spearing is fresh and herby and cooked in one pot in twenty minutes, and includes the year's first asparagus?

This is Pasta Primavera, a Lovesmiths standard, a recipe included in the handmade cookbook I assembled twelve years ago for my husband during a hectic period when I was working full-time during the day and playing in a couple of bands at night, and couldn't manage to always make dinner for the family. It was called "The Man's Cookbook" and I wish I could find it, but it has moved across the ocean a couple of times and I don't know if it fell off a boat or dropped into a corner, but I haven't been able to dig it up.

Fortunately, I couldn't forget this easy recipe. I especially love the technique of parboiling the vegetables, scooping them out, and then using the vegetable cooking water for the pasta. I also love how infinitely versatile it is - you can use any vegetable, any kind of pasta, and any bean - or skip the beans and add cubes of tofu or cheese, especially if your son insists bitterly that you put chickpeas in absolutely every every everything.

It was easy to teach Henry how to make Pasta Primavera since he has loitered around the kitchen many times while it was being made, and has eaten countless versions over the years. He just seemed to know the process instinctively. I will definitely ask him to make this on his own sometime this spring. It'll be sans chickpeas, I'm guessing.

Pasta Primavera
Serves 6-8

1 lb asparagus, hard ends snapped off, cut into 1-2-inch lengths
1 lb broccoli, cut into small florets
2 large carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-2-inch lengths
2 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-2-inch lengths
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
4 cloves of garlic, minced very finely
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons dried basil, thyme, or oregano, or blend of any combination (or double that amount of fresh herbs)
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced. (optional)
1 can, drained, of chickpeas or any kind of white bean, or cubed tofu or cheese.
1 lb pasta
Handful of parsley, minced

Put a large pot of water up to boil. While it's coming to a boil, make the vinaigrette:
Whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, garlic, salt, and herbs in a medium, non-metallic bowl until combined and emulsified. Add chickpeas/beans/tofu/cheese (and optional mushrooms) to marinate.

When water comes to a boil, add a pinch of salt and asparagus, broccoli, carrots and celery. Cook 2 minutes (don't go over), then scoop out into a strainer and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Add additional water to pot if necessary to bring it to approximately 3/4 full, return to boil, and add pasta. Cook according to package directions and drain well.

In a large bowl, combine pasta, vinaigrette and marinated protein and mushrooms, and cooked veggies. Stir gently but thoroughly to combine. Garnish with parsley.