Friday, September 24, 2010

Thyme-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I'm never happy about the end of summer, but this year I'm rather looking forward to stews and braises, squash and sweet potatoes. Growing up, I was not a fan of the sweeter tuber, but it's grown on me. Not only is a sweet potato tasty, I learned, but a sweet potato will keep you fuller longer than its white counterpart will, and it has a lower glycemic index.

Health benefits aside, I can see why some people remain less than fond of sweet potatoes, and my theory is that the potato's very sweetness is the problem- a lot of adults just don't want such a sweet side with their entrees.

This preparation, however, nicely dispatches with that complaint. The potato, of course, remains a bit sweet, but the garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes carry it from the realm of the saccharine to the savory, and it's a very satisfying transformation. Plus, the potatoes get a bit crispy on the outside, while the inside becomes meltingly tender and soft. Just be careful, because the soft, almost creamy centers can also be molten.

So if any of you people out there have friends or family members who claim to not like sweet potatoes, then I encourage you to try this side dish. You just might change their minds.

Thyme-Roasted Sweet Potatoes(From Epicurious)
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch-thick rounds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup fresh thyme leaves, plus 6 thyme sprigs for garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 450°F. In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and toss. Arrange potato slices in single layer on parchment-lined heavyweight rimmed baking sheet or in 13x9-inch baking dish. Place on top rack of oven and roast until tender and slightly browned, about 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with thyme sprigs.

Broccoli Almondine

I usually like to go to the store, see what kind of produce looks good, and go from there. Some days, though, everything looks wilty, or there's really just nothing to choose from. But usually, there's broccoli. It's like that old dress that's kind of boring, but it's comfortable, and sometimes you just can't come up with anything else to wear.

This old stand-by veggie can be simply steamed and tossed with some salt and pepper, which is what I do when I'm feeling like a fatty, but that sometimes feels like vegetables as punishment. But add some shallots, a little bit of butter, and some sliced almonds, and you have broccoli magic.

Broccoli Almondine

(Serves 2 if you like a lot of veggies)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 cup sliced shallots
  • 2 crowns of broccoli, about 5 inches each in diameter
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • Optional: about a teaspoon lemon juice
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the foaming subsides, add the shallots. Cook the shallots until they are very tender, but not quite caramelized (about 20 minutes).

In the meantime, cut the broccoli into little florets and wash well. If your broccoli crowns came with the stems attached, peel them, then chop them up into similar-sized pieces--they're delicious. Steam the broccoli until it is tender, but still green (not brownish), about 7 minutes.

When the shallots are ready, add the almonds to the skillet and cook until they get just a little bit of color, about 2 minutes. If everything is looking really dry at this point, add more butter. Add the broccoli to the pan, add salt and pepper to taste, and toss to combine. Add the lemon juice if you like.

Note: The broccoli can be steamed a few hours ahead of time, and the shallots can be softened a few hours ahead of time. When you're ready to serve the dish, rewarm the shallots on medium-low heat, increase the heat to medium-high and add the almonds, then add the broccoli and warm through.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Zucchini Pasta

This recipe, learned from some Italian exchange students, is one of the first things I ever learned to cook. It's still one of my favorite recipes, although it's so simple that it should hardly be called a recipe. I've added some Italian seasoning and some red pepper flakes, but the original was even more simple, so feel free to leave out the seasonings, if you like. 

If you have one of those gardens that's currently overflowing with zucchini, this is a great way to get rid of some of it. Even my brother likes this pasta, although he claims to not like pasta. How can someone with Italian blood in them not like pasta, I ask?

Zucchini Pasta

This recipe is for one person, but obviously you can double, triple, quadruple it...just don't overcrowd overcrowd the sauté pan--divide up the zucchini if it's too crowded in one pan.
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
  • 4 ounces pasta, the shape of your choice
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 'Italian' seasoning, or a little bit of dried basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano
  • A dash of red pepper flakes

In a large sauté pan, heat a tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic cloves and cook, stirring frequently, until the cloves become golden. At this point, you can remove the garlic with a slotted spoon (possibly advisable if you're cooking for other people), or you can leave them in the pan for a more intense garlic flavor.

While the garlic is cooking, slice the zucchini in half lengthwise, and then cut the long pieces crosswise in 1/4 inch pieces, so that you're left with 1/4 inch wide half-moon shapes. When the garlic is golden, add the zucchini to the pan, and increase the heat to medium. 

Sauté the zucchini, stirring often, until all pieces are tender and golden brown, about 20 minutes. You may occasionally need to turn the heat up to medium high if the zucchini is cooking very slowly, or if it's just softening without browning. It should make a constant, very low sizzling sound. While the zucchini is cooking, salt to taste. When it is finished, add pepper to taste, and toss.

While the zucchini is cooking, put a large pot with heavily salted water on to boil. When it's boiling, add your pasta. You'll want to try to time this so that the pasta is ready at the same time as the zucchini. Timing will differ, though, based on your pasta shape of choice.

When the pasta is al dente, drain in a colander, and dump into your pasta bowl. Drizzle a tablespoon olive oil over the top, sprinkle about a 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning over the pasta, add a dash of red pepper flakes, and toss. Top with the zucchini and serve.

Daring Cook's Preserving Challenge--Damson Plum Jam and Roasted Apple Butter

This month's Daring Cooks challenge was one part Fail, one part awesome success, and one part something in between.

Here's the blog-checking line:
The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Sooo...Canning. I very vaguely remember canning some strawberry jam when I was bored out of my mind in upstate New York, but that definitely does not mean that canning is anywhere near my comfort zone, although I am good with aseptic technique. So it was kind of nice to have a Daring Cook's challenge that pushed my boundaries and made me try something newish. Will I do it again? I don't think so. I'm pretty okay with some nice, store-bought jam.

My attempt at making jam involved some Damson plums that caught our eye at the farmer's market. They look like big, beautiful blueberries, and I suppose that if I got nothing else out of this little experiment, I got some nice Damson plum pictures.

I don't know if you've ever had Damson plums, but it's also not an experience that I'm likely to repeat. There seem to be a lot of people out there who like them, but to me they were reminiscent of the inedible crab apples that grew in the yard of my childhood home. So obviously, I didn't want to eat them plain, but I didn't want to waste them, either.

The answer was jam, but it was not a simple solution. I won't bore you with the details, but I was initially not too keen on pitting a whole bunch of fruit that were the size of grapes. Nor was I going to peel them, as some plum jam recipes suggest. So there was a food mill involved, and an immersion blender, and lots of frustration.

To top it off, though, I had what I thought might be an edible product, and then I dumped waaaay too much pectin, as well as another powdery substance, into the pot. It turns out that I had bought some sort of super-pectin, so although most recipes instruct you to use a whole package of pectin, I apparently needed only a quarter of this package.

Plus, the box contained a packet of calcium, which I think was supposed to go into the canning water for some reason. I don't think that some calcium is going to hurt anyone, but the overdose of pectin lent the jam an unappealing texture, and on top of the fear of killing a loved one with some botulism, I was now worried about killing them with some calcium.

However, the second part of the challenge involved making some apple butter, which sounded like a great idea. Some of it will go into our Brown Sugar and Bourbon ribs, which will hopefully be posted here at some point, and some of it will be spread on toast.

I didn't want some plain old store-bought bread as a vehicle for this apple butter, so I decided to make the bread recommended by Molly in this beautifully written Orangette post. That's the in-between part of this challenge--I wasn't crazy about it, but it was certainly edible. Plus, the house smelled great while it was baking. At this point, if the apple butter hadn't been such a shining example of awesomeness, I might have just given up and cried.

Most apple butter recipes suggest that you simmer the apple pieces and add a whole lot of sugar to them, much like jam. The Daring Cook's recipe was a low-sugar recipe, as opposed to the normal 1 to 2 cups of sugar called for in other recipes, but I just didn't feel like adding Splenda to my butter. That's why a roasted apple butter recipe from Food and Wine sounded absolutely perfect--it was just apples and apple cider. I added some spices and some lemon juice, but it's still pretty much pure apples.

Perhaps the roasting brought out the natural sweetness of the apples, whereas simmering them might not have done the trick, thus the sugar in the other recipes. This apple butter is sweet, but not cloyingly so, and the apples themselves, as well as the lemon juice, give the butter a nice brightness, which is wrapped in the glowing warmth of the cinnamon and cloves. It's sort of like one of those perfect fall days where the sky is a deep cerulean blue and the air is crisp, and it's just cold enough that it's a pleasure to slip on a sweater or a jacket.

So I would highly recommend that you try this apple butter. It takes almost no active time (although scrubbing the roasting dish kind of sucks), and if you use some high-quality apple cider, you'll have a delicious apple butter. If you're more ambitious than me, you can even can it and enjoy it all year.

One more thing--here's an M.F.K. Fisher essay on canning that I liked. If this link directs you to page 5, go back to page 1.

Roasted Apple Butter
(Inspired by Food and Wine)
  • 3 pounds of your favorite apples, or a combination of apples, peeled, quartered and cored
  • 2 cups high-quality apple cider
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Tiny pinch of cloves
  • The juice of 1/4 of a lemon, plus more to taste
Preheat the oven to 450°. Arrange the apples in a large roasting pan. Pour the apple juice over the apples and bake for 30 minutes, or until tender and browned. Lower the oven to 350°.
Using a fork or potato masher, thoroughly mash the apples in the roasting pan. Bake the apple puree, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, or until very thick and deeply browned. To test whether your apple butter is done, place a spoonful on a work surface. If liquid escapes and forms a ring around the mound of apple butter, it needs more cooking. The finished product will remain in a mounded spoonful, without slumping, and no liquid will be released.

Scrape into a bowl and let cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Prawns or Shrimp with Tomato Confit, Garlic, and Chile

Run, don't walk, to the nearest farm stand or farmer's market, and get some of the last of those yellow tomatoes. You'll want to make this recipe, because believe me, it's worth it. This recipe was a revelation, in that I had never before made a serious attempt to confit something. The idea of cooking anything in large amounts of oil was scary to me, but I shouldn't have been scared. In this case, at least, you don't really end up eating all that much oil, and even if you do, it's a good fat, right?

The tomato confit, with its infusion of herbs and aromatics, tastes like summer, but not in the typical tomato-and-basil way that you're almost sick of by the end of the summer. The confit seems creamy, there's no cream;.it also tastes a bit buttery, but there is no butter in this dish. It's just magic. And then the shrimp...Oh, the delectable, garlicy shrimp.

This recipe takes a bit of time prep-wise just because of the amount of chopping, but overall, it's not especially difficult or time-consuming. But you can tell your friends that it took a really long time to make, and they'll believe you; it's one of those recipes.

With big hunks of crusty bread (I was too lazy to make it, but Jim Lahey's bread would be perfect) , this made one of the best meals I've had in a while, and if you're looking for something a little heartier, Suzanne Goin says that these shrimp are also delicious with pasta or steamed rice.

Oh, and about the 'shrimp': California Spot Prawns are apparently awesome, and this recipe was designed with them in mind. But if you're not lucky enough to live on the west coast, plain old shrimp will work just fine.

Prawns or Shrimp with Tomato Confit, Garlic, and Chile
(From Sunday Suppers at Lucques)

Serves 6
  • 24 large spot prawns (about 4 1/2 pounds)
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cup sliced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced chile de arbol
  • 1/2 cup sliced garlic
  • 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • Yellow tomato confit (recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup sliced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sliced green basil
  • 2 tablespoons sliced opal basil
  • 1 lemon, for juicing
Use kitchen scissors to cut the shells of the spot prawns down their backs, from the base of their heads to the tip of their tails. (Suzanne Goin directs you to not remove the shells. I think, though, that if you really want to, you can go ahead. The sauce might just be a bit less flavorful.) If the prawns are wet, dry them with paper towels.

Heat 2 heavy-bottomed sauté pans over high heat for a couple minutes. Swirl 2 tablespoons olive oil into each pan, and carefully place the prawns in the pans, on their sides. (You might need to cook the prawns in batches to avoid overcooking them.)

Season each batch of prawns with 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Cook about 5 minutes, until the shells get some color, and the flesh begins to turn opaque on the first side.

Turn the prawns over, drizzle another 2 tablespoons oil into each pan, and season the second side of each batch with 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Cook another 3 minutes or so, until the prawns are just cooked.

Remove the prawns to a platter, and turn the heat under both pans down to medium-low. Divide the shallots, thyme, and sliced chiles between the two pans. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Cook 2 minutes, until the shallots are translucent, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to release all the flavorful shrimp bits. Divide the garlic between the pans, and cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often, until the shallots and garlic are soft and just starting to color.

Turn the heat back up to high, and add half the cherry tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and lots of freshly ground black pepper to each pan. Taste for seasoning and cook for a few minutes, stirring often.

Spoon the hot yellow tomato confit onto a large warm platter, or spoon a portion into each person's plate or bowl.

When the cherry tomatoes are tender and breaking down, add half the prawns, sliced parsley, oregano, and the two basils to each pan, and roll the prawns in the cherry tomatoes to coat well.

Arrange the prawns on the platter, or divide them amongst the individual bowls or plates, and squeeze a generous amount of lemon juice over them. Spoon the remaining cherry tomato sauce over the top. Serve with lots of crusty bread for sopping up the sauces and juices. The prawns would also be great with steamed rice or over pasta.

Yellow Tomato Confit

  • 1/2 cup sliced red onion
  • 2 dried chiles de arbol, broken in half with your hands (then wash your hands!)
  • 1 tablespoon sliced garlic
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • 2 sprigs oregano
  • 1 1/2 pounds yellow tomatoes
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Scatter the red onion, chiles, garlic, and basil and oregano sprigs in a baking dish. The baking dish should be small enough to fit the tomatoes snugly, as Suzanne says that if there is too much room in the pan, the sauce will be thin and lose some of its intensity. I found that a bread-baking pan (made of Pyrex) was perfect.

Core the yellow tomatoes and place them, stem side down, on top of the onions. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt, and pour the olive oil and 1 cup water over the tomatoes. Cook the onions in the oven about 50 minutes, until they soften and blister.

Remove the pan from the oven, and cool 10 minutes. Strain the tomatoes and onions over a bowl, saving the juice. Discard the herbs and half the chiles.

Transfer half the tomato mixture to a blender with 1/2 cup of the liquid. (You'll need to do this in batches.) Process at the lowest speed until the tomatoes are purees. Pour in more liquid, a little at a time, until the tomato confit is the consistency of heavy cream. Turn the speed up, and blend about a minute, until completely smooth. Transfer to a container, and repeat with the second half of the tomatoes. (You may not need all of the liquid.) Alternatively, you can do this all in one batch with a stick/immersion blender.

Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Taste for seasoning.

Corn Pudding

Here's a nice little recipe for the last of the season's corn. It's simple, delicious, and budget-friendly, and it's wonderful when paired with grilled meats and any kind of seafood, especially shrimp.

Because the pudding is not perfectly smooth, it's a lot like grits, but grits made from fresh corn rather than dried and ground. If you're not a fan of spice, you can leave out the poblanos, or if you would like to eat this as more of a dessert course, you can add sugar and cinnamon.

Corn Pudding
(Slightly Adapted from Mexico the Beautiful)
  • 2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 8 cups fresh corn kernels, cut off the cobs (from about 8-10 ears of corn)
  • 4 ounces melted butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

    Place the corn kernels in the bowl of a food processor. Add the melted butter, water, salt, and baking soda, and puree until almost smooth.

    Transfer to a 9x9 inch baking dish, prepped with butter or non-stick cooking spray, and mix in the poblano peppers. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Allow to cool for a few minutes, and serve.

Homemade Pasta with Bacon and Corn Pesto

Comfort foods are generally the provenance of the winter months, and rightly so--the pervasive chill is more likely to produce a need for solace in the form of warming soups and thick, satisfying braises. Rich foods like macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes are sometimes too heavy and filling for the sweatier days of summer, and their succor is less likely to be needed in the face of bright sunshine and long days.

Of course, summer has its comfort foods--fried chicken, potato salads, and berry pies, to name a few. Those are all delicious, of course, but I'd like to offer you another summer comfort dish. This meal is filling and hearty, but the fresh pasta prevents it from going over the comforting edge and into the realm of gut-busting. Plus, the chewy bite of the fresh egg pasta is quite delightful with the creamy sauce and crispy bacon. But if you're not feeling motivated enough to make your own pasta, that's perfectly all right--this dish will be delicious anyway.

If you happen to have some fresh corn on one of those random, coolish summer days, which are becoming more frequent as the season draws to a close, then this dish is for you.

  • Homemade Pasta with Bacon and Corn Pesto
  • 4 slices thick bacon, cut into lardons
  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels from about 6 ears
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 recipe for homemade fettucini, recipe below (or dried fettuccine)
  • 1/4 cup slivered basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
Set a large pot with heavily salted water on to boil.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low heat until chewy and beginning to crisp and the fat has rendered into the pan, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Add the corn and to the skillet and toss to coat in the fat. Add a couple pinches of salt and pepper and cook until the corn is just tender, about 5 minutes. Reserve a cup of corn, then scrape the rest into a food processor. Add the pine nuts and Parmesan and pulse to combine. Add the olive oil with the machine running and blend until smooth. 

When the water is at a roiling boil, add the pasta to the water cook the pasta until al dente.  Fresh pasta cooks very quickly, so this will likely take 2-4 minutes. It is particularly important to not overcook the pasta here, as the cooking continues a bit when the pasta is added to the sauce.

In the skillet, combine the corn pesto, reserved corn, most of the basil, and 3/4 of the bacon. Add salt to taste and add a lot of pepper (this dish is reminiscent of a carbonara, so you need a lot of pepper). Over mediumish heat, toss to combine, and add the white wine. 

When the pasta is ready, drain it, but reserve at least a cup of the cooking water. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss. If it does not form a smooth, cohesive sauce, add the reserved cooking water until it does. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the pasta among bowls and top with remaining basil, bacon, and chopped chives.

Homemade Egg Pasta
(From Molto Italiano)

Makes about 1 1/4 pounds, which I've found to be good for 4-6 people, depending on the recipe

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large eggs
        Mound the flour in the center of a large wooden board, and sprinkle it with the salt. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Using a fork or your fingers, beat the eggs together, then begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well.

        As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape. This takes some practice, and if the eggs break through the wall of the well, all is not lost--just try to combine the eggs and flour as well as you can.
        When half of the flour is incorporated, the dough will begin to come together. Start kneading the dough, using primarily the palms of your hands. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, set the dough aside and scrape up and discard any dried bits of dough.

        Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 10 minutes, dusting the board with additional flour as necessary. The dough should be elastic, very smooth, and a little sticky. And seriously, this really takes 10 whole minutes--do not try to slack on this part, just find a Zen place and knead away. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

        To roll out the pasta, divide it into 6 pieces (if you're making the whole pasta recipe, rolling all of it, and drying the other half). Make each piece into a flattish shape. 

        With your plain roller set to the largest setting (lower number), pass the dough through once. Fold like a book (one flat piece in the back, and two pieces folded over on the sides so that they almost meet in the middle) and pass through again. Fold like a book and repeat 2 more times. After the last time, send the pasta through as is.

        Then, put the roller on the next smallest setting and pass the dough through. Continue to do this on smaller and smaller settings until the pasta is the right thickness (a 5 on Kitchenaid stand mixers). Lay the dough out on a flat surface and cover with a towel so that it does not dry out, and repeat with the remaining lumps of dough.

        When all of the pasta is laid out flat, switch to the fettuccine-cutting roller, and pass the pieces of dough through, one at a time. Again, spread out the dough and cover with a towel so that it does not dry out. Proceed with whatever recipe you're using this in.

        Thursday, September 2, 2010

        Grilled Pizza

        Again, I doubted. And again, I was proved wrong.

        I had wondered, "Is there a point to grilling pizza? Is it worth doing? Why would I want to do something like that?"

        Well, it turns out there's every reason to grill a pizza. It was a revelation. It was inspiring. It was delicious.

        The pizza, if you have a good dough, achieves that perfect balance of crispy and chewy. The bottom gets a bit of a char, which is something like what you would get with a pizza cooked in a wood-burning oven, which some purists say is the only way to cook a pizza. Someday I'll have one of those awesome contraptions in a flowery, verdant backyard, but for now, the grill will do nicely.

        In addition to the awesomeness of the crust, the mozzarella somehow becomes more creamy and tasty, the tomato sauce more sweet and flavorful, and the olive oil drizzled on top of the pizza becomes more noticeable-in a good way.

        I wasn't even especially hungry yesterday, but I ate a whole pizza. In fact, as I write this, I find myself wanting more pizza. Maybe this discovery wasn't such a good thing--like Nick says, it's sometimes not a good thing that we cook so well. I haven't put on my pants in a long time, and I'm not really looking forward to it. Elastic waistbands for me, please.

        So basically, I really recommend that you try grilling a pizza if you haven't already done so. I don't know why I hadn't done this before, as I'd always been conflicted about what time of year was best to cook pizza, because I don't like to buy basil, which means summer is the time to make this recipe. But it's not always a great idea to heat your oven to 500 degrees in the summertime. I suppose, though, that the grill bread inspired the confidence to attempt this cooking method. In fact, it may even be easier than cooking the pizza in the oven. I'm a convert.

        You can use the classic margherita recipe below, or you can make any other kind of pizza, like the white one here. Just go easy on the toppings, or you'll end up with a soggy pizza.

        Pizza Margherita
        (From Cook's Illustrated)

        • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
        • 1 cup water at room temperature
        • 1 cup all-purpose flour
        • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
        • 1 cup cake flour
        • 2 teaspoons table salt
        • 2 teaspoons sugar
        • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
        • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
        • 1 small garlic clove, minced
        • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
        • Salt
        • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4 -inch slices and dried on paper towels
        • Freshly ground black pepper
        • Very good extra virgin olive oil

        For the crust: In the measuring cup, whisk the yeast to dissolve. In a food processor, process flours, salt, and sugar until combined, about 5 seconds. With the machine running, slowly add liquid through the feed tube. Continue to process until the dough forms satiny, slightly stick ball that clears the side of the work bowl, about 30 seconds. 

        If dough is not the proper consistency, add more flour or water as needed. Divide the dough in half and shape into smooth, tight balls. Place on a baking sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart; cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with non-stick cooking spray and let rise until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

        For the topping: In clean bowl of food processor, process tomatoes until crushed, two or three one-second pulses. Transfer tomatoes to fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Allow them to drain at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to release liquids. Just before shaping pizza rounds, combine drained tomatoes, sugar, garlic, half of the basil, and a 1/4 teaspoon salt in the bowl.

        To shape and cook the pizzas: When dough balls have doubled in size, dust dough liberally with flour and transfer to a well-floured work surface. Press one ball into 8-inch disk. Using flattened palms, on a lightly floured pizza peel or a metal pizza pan turned upside down, gently stretch the ball into a 12-inch circle, working along outer edge and giving dish 1/4 turns. Occasionally use the tips of your fingers to make divets on the surface of the dough--this will help it stretch.

        Preheat the grill, high heat. When it is hot, just before you're ready to cook the pizza, dip a paper towel in a bit of oil, and using tongs to hold the paper towel, thoroughly oil the grate. Have your toppings ready.

        Let the dough slide off the peel or sheet pan, onto the hot grates. Close the grill and cook for 3 minutes. At this point, lift the dough up by one edge (if you can't do this because the dough is still sticking to the grill, wait a couple minutes till it releases) and peek underneath. If one side is browning faster than the other, give the pizza a spin. Close the lid again and cook for another 2-5 minutes until the bottom is browned and the top of the dough is forming bubbly air pockets.

        Using tongs, slide the pizza back onto its conveyance vehicle, and flip the dough over so that the browned side is facing up. In the meantime, keep the grill covered but reduce the heat to low. Top the pizza with half of the tomato sauce and half of the cheese slices.

        Slide the pizza back on to the grill, and cook for another 2-5 minutes, checking occasionally, until the bottom is browned and the cheese is melted. Again, give it a spin if one side is browning way more than the other. 

         Remove from the grill and sprinkle with Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Spread half of the remaining basil over the top. Repeat with the second pizza. Cut into wedges and serve.

        Wednesday, September 1, 2010

        Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Potatoes

        This is one of our old-school recipes. It was one of our first forays into the world of from scratch, whole foods cooking, and we thought that we were the bomb. In a way I suppose we were, because this recipe is still awesome, 8 years later.

        Simple enough to throw together for a weeknight dinner, this dish is also nice enough for company. It's especially delicious served with grilled meats. The potatoes become golden brown and crispy on the outside, with fluffy, soft interiors. The garlic sufficiently perfumes the potatoes, but if you have some hard-core garlic lovers dining with you, encourage them to squish the garlic out of the skins--they'll be left with a delicious roasted garlic paste. Your house will smell delicious after you make this recipe; your breath might be another story.

        (Sorry that the pictures are of the uncooked potatoes-there was no more natural light available by the time dinner was ready.)

        Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Potatoes

        • 1/2 pounds thin-skinned red potatoes
        • 1/2 head of garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled
        • 4 sprigs rosemary
        • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
        • Salt and freshly ground pepper

        Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 

        Cut the potatoes into a 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch dice, and spread on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (If you don't have parchment, foil will work, but you may have a little bit of sticking.) Drizzle the olive oil over the potatoes, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. I would suggest starting with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a 1/4 teaspoon pepper. You'll have an opportunity later to taste and adjust for seasoning. Toss well.

        Spread the garlic cloves and rosemary springs amongst the potatoes. Cover with foil and seal tightly. Slide into the center of the oven and cook for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, the dish should be smelling strongly, and when you check the potatoes, they will be soft and easily pierced with a fork. If not, re-cover with foil, and cook for a few more minutes until the aforementioned characteristics are achieved.

        Remove the foil and stir the potatoes (a spatula works well). Cook for and additional 15 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until the potatoes are golden brown on the outside and fluffy-soft on the inside. At some point, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. 

        If you like, remove the garlic and rosemary to serve, or just inform your companions that the garlic cloves are there. Cooking times will vary based on the age and variety of potato, and the size of the dice. These general cooking guidelines work nicely, though.