Pasta Alfredo

April 29, 2009

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.
~Frederico Fellini

Gilt, glamour and early papparazzi.

The original “pasta Alfredo” was not really a recipe, but a simple a toss of butter, parmigiano reggiano and pasta—created by owner Alfredo di Lelio for his Roman restaurant, Alfredo alla Scrofa, sometime around the outset of World War I. True Alfredo calls for doppio burro, double butter, which imparts a golden color. Legend has it that the chef created his fettuccine all’Alfredo when his wife lost her appetite during pregnancy. To restore her hunger, he specially prepared a plate of egg fettuccine with parmigiano reggiano, and butter.

During their heyday in the 30’s, the famed actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks visited Alfredo’s while on their honeymoon stay in Rome, and found his speciality delicious in its rich simplicity. So enamored with the gracious Alfredo and this new found dish, not only did they donate gold tossing forks to him, they spread the word across the Atlantic. Other notables, such as Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, Richard Burton, Liz Taylor, and Sophia Loren frequented the restaurant during the 60’s and 70’s (cameras clicking, flashbulbs popping), which bestowed even greater fame on this venue. Although far from a precise theory, many suggest that the cream was a stateside afterthought.

PASTA ALFREDO

2 C heavy cream
4 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
Freshly ground pepper

1 lb fettucini or linguini
Sea salt

Bring water to a boil in a large heavy pot, and add a couple of tablespoons of salt.

In a heavy large saucepan, bring the butter and cream to a gentle boil and simmer for 30 seconds. Add half of the parmigiano reggiano, some pepper, and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat. Drain the cooked pasta and return to pan. Add the cream, the rest of the parmigiano reggiano, the pasta, a liberal grinding of pepper, and then toss well.

Pourboire: try halving the parmigiano reggiano and replace with a similar quantity of gorgonzola, roquefort or other fine blue cheese and roasted roughly chopped walnuts. Also, consider tossing on the finish with already coarsely chopped, cooked and well drained pancetta, guanciale or bacon.

The horror! The horror!
~Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, later adapted to the film Apocalypse Now

Spring has sprung, and those intensely surreptitious, almost clandestine, morel hunts are in full season. The image is reminiscent of the geeky bird watcher played by John McGiver in Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation with Jimmy Stewart (1962). I recommend both the film and the morel hunt.

Here is the kind of retirement pursuit more befitting to the now suddenly ubiquitous Mr. Cheney than was upland bird gaming—furtive, undercover, with dark caches, and yet thankfully no lethal arms or ordnance at his disposal. He simply rounds up these fungal suspects, detains and then stows them in away in a black hiding place. As to his next step, torture…how he could conceivably torture a defenseless mushroom is beyond my bailiwick. No references to such tactics on these highly valued delicacies can be found in the revised U.S. Army Field Manual or the Geneva Convention that he so shamelessy disregarded with humans—with the penned duplicity of the now Hon. Jay Bybee and Prof. John Yoo. Perhaps he simply delegates away the torment in a feeble effort to display clean hands. Queries: What consideration (quid pro quo) is given in a torture contract? Is this a third party “beneficiary” arrangement? What are the specific terms and provisions of a torture agreement? Is it just a proverbial “wink and a hand shake?”

In my narrow culinary sphere, I do know beyond a reasonable doubt that repeatedly inundating fresh morels with water causes core damage and elicits little valuable information. All this technique causes is changeless damage to being.

Morels, the prized honeycombed and ridged fungi worshipped by amateur mycologists and cooks alike, are nothing short of sublime. The most widely recognized species are the yellow morel or common morel (Morchella esculenta), the white morel (M. deliciosa), and the black morel (M. elata).

Also called morchella, they possess a spongy texture and subtle, earthy flavor which is so delicate that you must exercise care not to dominate morels with stout ingredients in the same dish. Do not overly adorn…rather allow the morel to stand in full glory.

Mirepoix is the classic mélange of onions, carrots, and celery often used as a flavor base for a number of dishes, including stocks, soups, and sauces. Although this is not set in stone, the typical ratio is 2:1:1 of onions, celery, and carrots. As befits French tradition, mirepoix derived its name from the duke patron of a renowned chef.

MORELS & FETTUCINE

3/4 to 1 lb fresh morels, cleaned with a brush or cloth, sliced lengthwise
4 shallots, peeled and finely diced
4 T unsalted butter

4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped and finely chopped
2 sprigs parsley leaves, finely chopped

1 C onions, peeled and minced
1/2 C carrots, peeled and minced
1/2 C celery, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream

Fresh parsley sprigs, chopped
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

1 lb fresh fettucine (see Basic Pasta Dough)
Sea salt

In a heavy skillet, sauté the mushrooms and shallots in butter for 2-3 minutes over medium high heat, adding the thyme and parsley for the last minute. Add the mirepoix (onions, celery and carrots) and season with salt and pepper. Sauté another 2 minutes and then add both the stock and cream. Gently simmer and let the mixture reduce by about one-third, but do not allow it to thicken to a heavy sauce consistency. Taste for salt and pepper to your liking.

In a heavy stock pot, cook the pasta in boiling water that has a liberal amount of salt added. The water should almost taste like clean seawater, and the pasta should be cooked until just al dente. Drain and toss with the morels and mirepoix mixture in the skillet. Garnish with parsley and a light grating of parmigiano reggiano.

Duck—Monogamous or…?

April 23, 2009

It is to be regretted that domestication has seriously deteriorated the moral character of the duck. In a wild state, he is a faithful husband…..but no sooner is he domesticated than he becomes polygamous, and makes nothing of owning ten or a dozen wives at a time.
~Isabella Beeton

Is domestication at the root of multiple partners? Does this polyamorous feathered wall of shame really include Donald, Daffy and Howard the Duck…even the Ugly Duckling once he reached manhood?

However unfettered their mating proclivities may be, ducks are supreme eating with tender flesh and skin that gleams and crackles. I am admittedly addicted to fatty, crisp duck skin which should be considered neither one of my shortcomings nor character defects.

Domesticated ducks have a long history on the world’s tables. During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Era (907-960), cultures in China became the first to raise ducks in captivity for food use.

Although there are varied species of ducks, all commercially produced ducks are descendants of two types––mallard and muscovy. The white feathered, full breasted Pekin (Long Island) duck, known for its dark, succulent meat, is the most commonly reared duck in the United States. Pekin ducks (which in this country are predominately bred in Long Island, NY) are all progeny of three ducks and a drake that arrived from China on a clipper ship in 1873. Some specialty breeds have become more popular in recent years, notably Muscovy and Moulard ducks.

(Why does Long Island keep getting parenthetical treatment?) Well, at least blog “style” rarely demands footnotes or endnotes, id, ibid, op cit, etc.

This dish will permeate your home with blissful citrus, roasted poultry, honey and wine vinegar aromas for days to come. A house favorite.

ROAST DUCK WITH CITRUS, HONEY & CIDER VINEGAR

1 duck (3 to 4 lbs), liver reserved & trimmings (neck, heart,
wing tips) chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t dried thyme

6 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into diagonal slices
1 small onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
4 sprigs fresh thyme

Grated zests of 2 oranges, 2 limes and 1 grapefruit

1-2 T honey
4 T apple cider vinegar
½ C cognac or brandy
4 T unsalted butter, chilled

Preheat oven to 425 F

Remove the fatty glands from the upper side of the bird’s tail. Season the duck inside and out with salt, pepper and thyme. Place the liver in the duck and truss with string so it will retain shape. Place the duck on one side in a large heavy roasting pan with a rack, and set it in the oven with the breast side facing toward the back. Roast, uncovered for 10 minutes. Turn the duck on the opposite side and roast for 10 minutes more. Turn the duck on its back and roast for 10 minutes more.

Remove the roasting pan and strew the chopped trimmings, garlic, carrot, onion and thyme under and around the duck. Remove the trussing string. Return the pan to the oven and roast the duck for a total of 13-15 minutes per pound (the time varies on the size of the bird—more time per pound for a smaller duck, less time per pound time for a larger duck). Baste several times while roasting.

(The duck is done to medium rare if the juices from the fattest part of the thigh run faintly rosy when the skin is pricked, and when the duck is lifted and drained, the last drops of juice from the vent are pale rose. The duck is well done when the juices run pale yellow.)

Once done, transfer the duck to a platter which is propped up at one end at an angle with breast side down and tail in the air; reserve contents in roasting pan. Tent loosely and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes. Remember, the bird will continue to cook as it rests.

Put the zests in a fine mesh sieve and lower into boiling water for 2 minutes to blanch. Rinse under cold water, drain and set aside.

Place the roasting pan with the trimmings over high heat. Cook until nicely browned, about 1-2 minutes. Drain and discard the liquid in the pan, add the honey and cook 1-2 minutes more. Deglaze with several tablespoons of vinegar for about a minute, then add cognac and simmer for 5 minutes more.

Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve place over a clean pan and press down on the trimmings. Add any juices that have drained from the duck as it was resting. Bring to a soft boil over high heat, and add another couple of tablespoons of vinegar, and reduce a minute or less more. Remove from the heat and add the chilled butter, a few pieces at a time, whisking so that the butter melts gently to slightly thicken the sauce. Stir in the reserved zest.

Carve the duck and arrange on a platter or plates. Spoon some sauce over and pour the remaining into a sauceboat. Serve with a fine red Rhône, French burgundy or Oregon pinot noir.

This is a version of the classic chicken soup, soto ayam, with the notable addition of coconut milk and some more heat.

Indonesian cuisine reflects the diverse cultures that inhabit the nearly unfathomable 6,000 islands that compose this archipelago…a gastronomy long influenced by indigenous regional techniques and ingredients commingled with a potpourri of foreign influences which were introduced by the spice trade. Wafting throughout this string of isles are the aromas of India, the Middle East, China and Europe.

SOTO RESAH

1 free range, organic chicken, cut into quarters
3 stalks fresh lemon grass, bruised and tied in a bundle
6 kaffir lime leaves
1 – 14 oz can, coconut milk
1 qt water
1 qt chicken stock
Sea salt

2 t black peppercorns
1 1/2 T coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds
5 fresh shallots, peeled and quartered
3 plump, fresh cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1 1/2 T ground turmeric
2 T ginger, peeled and finely minced
Lime juice

3 T peanut oil
16 oz vermicelli rice noodles (glass noodles)
1 T fresh lime juice

2 limes, cut into wedges
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut into wedges
4 green onions, chopped
2 chili peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
4 T chopped mint, basil and cilantro leaves
Chili paste, such as sambal

Place chicken in a medium heavy pot or Dutch oven with lemon grass, lime leaves, cocnut milk, stock, water and salt. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Skim off any foam and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes, skimming as needed to make a clear broth. Remove chicken pieces from broth and set aside. Remove and discard lemon grass and lime leaves; reserve stock in pot. When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and shred meat into bite size pieces.

Meanwhile, combine peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a small coffee grind or spice mill to create a paste. Pulse on and off until ground. Add shallots, garlic, turmeric and ginger and pulse to a thick paste. (Add some water and/or lime juice if needed for moisture.)

Heat peanut oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. When very hot, add spice paste and cook, stirring until paste is cooked and beginning to separate from the oil, about 5 minutes.

Add cooked spice paste and chicken meat to stock. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

Cook noodles according to package directions.

Divide noodles in large soup bowls. Arrange chicken pieces on top along with chopped green onions and sliced peppers; ladle the chicken broth over the chicken and noodles. Serve hot with lime wedges, hard boiled eggs and sprinkle with mint, basil, cilantro and chili paste.

Veal—An Utter Delicacy

April 23, 2009

Roquefort is one of the most distinctly regal of all cheeses.

It has a cylindrical shape with a sticky, pale ivory, natural rind. Once ripened, roquefort is creamy, thick and white on the inside with characteristic blue veins. The ripening process occurs in natural, damp aired limestone caves found under the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in southern France. The precious milk from specially bred sheep, the processing of the curd, the addition of Penicillium roqueforti and finally the aging in natural caves together coalesce to create this magnificent cheese.

Roquefort has a robust bouquet with a with a creamy yet sharp and tangy, almost metallic, pungent finish. Absolutely divine with bread and a glass of good red or port, it also cooks well…producing tiers of earthy flavors.

VEAL LOIN CHOPS WITH LEEKS, TARRAGON & ROQUEFORT

3 T butter
6 C leeks, tops cut retaining white and pale green parts only, then halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/2″ pieces (about 6 cups)
1/2 T organic honey
1 C fresh tarragon leaves, stripped from the stem
2-3 tarragon sprigs, intact
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 C chicken stock , boiled until reduced to 3/4 C

4 – 1 3/4″ thick veal loin chops
Pinches of dried tarragon
4 fresh tarragon sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil

1/2 C brandy
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
4 T unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, room temperature
1/2 C roquefort or other similar blue cheese, such as bleu d’auvergne
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Several fresh sprigs of tarragon

Preheat oven to 400 F

Reduce chicken stock as directed.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and tarragon, drizzle with honey. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until liquid evaporates and leeks begin to soften, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes; do not brown. Stir leeks, reduce heat to medium low and cover. Cook until leeks are very soft and lightly caramelized, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Remove full tarragon sprigs and discard. Puree caramelized leeks, remaining tarragon leaves, and stock in processor or blender until smooth. Set aside.

Season veal with dried tarragon, salt and pepper. Melt 3 tablespoons butter and 1 T olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add fresh tarragon sprigs, then veal and cook over medium high until just pink inside, about 4-5 minutes per side. As with pork, take care not to overcook, as they will be dry. Transfer to plate and tent. Remove tarragon sprigs and discard.

Add brandy to skillet and deglaze until liquid is almost evaporated, scraping up any browned bits. Add pureed leek mixture and cream and bring to simmer until reduced. Whisk in 4 tablespoons butter, 1 piece at a time. Add roquefort and any accumulated meat juices and whisk until smooth and thickened to sauce consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

(If necessary, place veal chops on baking dish in oven and roast a few minutes until done, depending on their thickness.)

Plate veal chops, spoon sauce over and garnish with fresh tarragon sprigs.

As with many culinary creations, the origins of crème brûlée are contentious, with the English, Spanish, and French all staking claim. The Spanish have taken credit for this sensuous custard as crema catalana since the 18th century, while the English assert this dish originated in 17th century England, where it was known as burnt cream or Trinity cream. The earliest known written reference to crème brûlée is found in François Massialot’s 1691 cookbook, Nouveau cuisinier royal et bourgeois. Later, the French were attributed with advancing crème brûlée into vogue in the late 19th century. Since then, this elegant and satiny egg dessert with its sweet textural top has graced menus across the western world.

Crème brûlée is literally translated as “burnt cream.”

In recent years, chefs have embellished this dessert with a host of flavors — ginger, lavender, basil, chiles, coffee, mango, coconut, citrus, chocolate, berries and liquers, et al. I prefer Crème brûlée naked, savoring the basic mix of egg and sugars.

CREME BRULEE

4 vanilla beans, flattened and cut in half lengthwise
8 large egg yolks
3/4 C granulated sugar
1 C whole milk
3 C heavy cream

1/2 C dark brown sugar

Preheat oven to 275 F

Spoon out the vanilla seeds inside the open pods and place them in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer fitted with a whisk. Add the egg yolks and granulated sugar to the bowl and whisk at high speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the milk and cream. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight to allow the flavors to marry.

Pour mixture evenly into ramekins until almost full.

Place ramekins in a baking dish and carefully pour boiling water in pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake oven 35 to 40 minutes, until custards are set and the center jiggles slightly when gently shaken. Immediately remove custards from water bath to halt the cooking process; cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until firm.

Remove from refrigerator and sprinkle brown sugar over the custard. Either heat with a kitchen blowtorch or the broiler until sugar caramelizes evenly and forms a crust. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minute or two until caramelized sugar hardens.

Tarte aux Tomates

April 21, 2009

I can resist everything but temptation.
~Oscar Wilde

Admittedly, this posting is seasonally premature. But, we are being treated to a spate of euphoria-provoking warm weather that hearkens back to past tomato days…so the tarte temptation was irresistable. Alas, the allure of savory tarts! Please keep this delectable pie in mind for sultry summertime, when these red, yellow, and green baubles dangle from the vine in varying shape and size. Was that overly salacious?

TARTE AUX TOMATES (TOMATO TART)

1 (9″) frozen pie shell, thawed or fresh savory pie dough rolled and fitted to a pie dish
3 large fresh heirloom tomatoes, seeded, cut into 1/2″ slices and well drained

1/4 C Dijon mustard
1 C Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated

1 T fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Line the shell with foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans, or rice. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and foil. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more or until light golden. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Turn up the oven and preheat to 400 F

Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and drain in a colander for 10 to 15 minutes. Spread the mustard over the bottom of the shell and sprinkle the cheese over it. Arrange the tomatoes over the cheese in 1 overlapping layer. Bake until the pastry is golden brown and the tomatoes are soft, 35 to 40 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the tarragon, thyme, garlic, olive oil; season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the tart with this mixture when immediately removed from the oven.

Pizza Di Nuovo

April 20, 2009

The perfect lover is one who turns into a pizza at 4:00 a.m.
~Charles Pierce

CALZONE WITH PROSCUITTO, CHEESES & HERBS

4 ozs goat cheese, crumbled
8 ozs mozzarella, grated
3-4 slices proscuitto, about 1/8″ thick
2 T fresh chives, finely chopped
3 T fresh oregano, minced
3 sprigs thyme leaves, peeled off stem, chopped
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

Extra virgin olive oil

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Cut proscuitto into 2″ long julienne strips. Combine goat cheese, mozzarella, proscuitto, chives, parsley, thyme and garlic cloves, making a thick paste. Arrange the filling on one half of the dough, leaving a 1″ margin on the edge. Fold the dough over to seal, pinching with fingers, much like closing the top and bottom crusts on a fruit pie.

Bake the calzone, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Calzones tend to take a few more minutes to cook than open pizza. Brush with olive oil immediately after removing from oven. Let rest before slicing.

GOAT CHEESE, ROASTED GARLICS & SUNDRIED TOMATOES

6+ plump, fresh roasted garlic cloves, peeled and sliced*
4 ozs goat cheese, crumbled
4 ozs mozzarella, shredded
10 sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil and cut into ribbons

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
1 bunch basil, cut into ribbons

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly brush pizza with the garlic olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the pizza dough with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Scatter crumbled goat cheese over mozzarella. Strew garlic cloves and sun dried tomatoes over cheeses.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with grated parmigiano reggiano and basil.

*Roasted Garlic

Preheat oven to 400 F

Leaving skin on, cut 2 heads of garlic in half transversely. Place each half in a ramekin, cut side up. Cover with extra virgin olive oil and then foil. Place on a cooking sheet or baking dish and cook until slightly golden, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool. Keep garlic oil for cooking purposes, including brushing on pizzas or calzones in lieu of simple extra virgin olive oil.

TAPENADE, CAPERS & CITRUS ZEST

Tapenade
2 C brine-cured olives, such as Niçoise, pitted
2 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly
2 T capers, drained and rinsed
2 high quality anchovy fillets
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
Dash of brandy or cognac
6 T olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

If the anchovies are salt packed, let them stand in a bowl of milk for 15 minutes to exude the salt. Then, drain thoroughly.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the drained anchovies, olives, capers, mustard, garlic, cognac and thyme. Process in bursts to form a thick paste.

With the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until it is thoroughly incorporated. Season with pepper, then allow the tapenade to stand for an hour or so to allow the flavors to marry.

Tapenade
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil

Parmigiano reggiano, grated
2 T capers, well drained
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Zest from 1/2 orange

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly brush pizza with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the pizza dough with tapenade, leaving a 1″ border. Strew mozzarella over the tapenade.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with capers, citrus zest and then a grating of parmigiano reggiano.

SAUSAGE & CHILI PEPPERS

5-7 chili peppers of varying colors (poblanos, anaheims, jalapeños, serranos), stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/3 lb. fresh Italian sausage, out of casings and crumbled
8 ozs fresh mozzarella or serrano, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Large pinch dried thyme

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
Fresh thyme sprigs

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a large, heavy skillet, add 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic and sauté chili peppers on medium high heat. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Remove and set aside, discarding garlic. Add sausage and cook until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil and cover with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Arrange sausage and chili peppers atop the mozzarella.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with a grating of parmigiano reggiano and a few fresh thyme sprigs.

PIZZA CON UOVO (EGG)

3 large fresh, organic, free range eggs
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
3-4 slices proscuitto or serrano, very thinly sliced, and then sliced again lengthwise
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Parmigiano reggiano, grated
1-2 T fresh tarragon, chopped

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil and cover with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove pizza half way through cooking (about 5-6 minutes), arrange proscuitto on cheese and crack eggs on top in an equilateral triangle; sprinkle with pepper and return to the oven to cook through. Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, for a the remaining 5-6 minutes. When cooked, garnish liberally with a grating of parmigiano reggiano and chopped tarragon.

Beets & Radicchio

April 17, 2009

An appeasing and colorful aside to pizza…served on endive boats, you can jettison flatware entirely.

Despite our Fearless Leader’s aversion to them, beautifully hued beets boast a subtle, earthy flavor and are supremely nutritious. With the scientific name of Beta vulgaris, they are vegetables from the amaranth family which has been cultivated for some 4,000 years. Beets are herbaceous biennial plants with stems growing to 2-6 feet tall bearing nearly heart shaped leaves. They belong to the same family as swiss chard and spinach.

Beyond their divine flavor and ruby tint, beets are quite the health food—loaded with vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C. (By the way, besides the deep red variety, there are beautiful golden beets, and pink and white striated Chioggia beets.) The greens have a higher content of iron compared to spinach. They are also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, sodium and iron.

So far, of the 55 varieties of vegetables in the new White House garden, beets have yet to make the grade. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Obama will convert.

The time to buy beets is June through October, when they are most tender. Look for unblemished bulbs with sturdy, unwilted greens.

Radicchio is a zesty and spicy leaf chicory which has been relished since ancient times. Consider using radicchio on the grill as it mellows with heat.

BEETS & RADICCHIO

2 pounds medium red beets, scrubbed, ends trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil, to toss
Red wine vinegar, to toss
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled, minced and mashed to a paste
1/2 C red wine vinegar
2 C extra virgin olive oil
2 t fresh tarragon, chopped
1 head radicchio, cored and roughly cut
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 C fresh beet leaves, chopped
4 ozs fresh firm goat cheese, roughly cut into cubes
2/3 C pine nuts, toasted

2 heads endive leaves, cleaned

Preheat oven to 400 F

Line an adequately sized baking dish with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, toss together the beets, some olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Place beets in a the dish and cover with foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake until tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more. Check throughout the latter part of the cooking process to see if the beets are cooked until tender, but still al dente. They are done when easily penetrated with a fork. Slip off skins. Transfer to a small bowl and cool. Cut into thin half moons by cutting across transversely and then vertically.

In a small bowl, whisk together with 1/2 cup red wine vinegar with the mashed garlic and tarragon. In a narrow stream, add 2 cup olive oil to emulsify, making a vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Separately toss beets and endive leaves with vinaigrette to coat. Set both aside. In an open bowl, combine radicchio, parsley and beet leaves. Toss with vinaigrette so it is gently dressed. Add beets, goat cheese, pine nutes and toss gently. Serve on open endive leaves. If additional vinaigrette is needed, very sparingly drizzle over the top.

Pizzas (cont’d)

April 16, 2009

Now that the basic dough has been mastered, it is time to assemble. Pizzas and calzones are rather simple creatures once you get the drill. But to reduce any unnecessary anxiety and enhance the pie making experience, it is crucial that the ingredients be prepared in advance with most all mise en place before dressing those yeasty doughs. Having the components neatly arrayed before you in bowls creates a sense of empowerment. Isn’t the kitchen really about controling chaos anyway?

When arranging the toppings, the dough should be rolled out on a pizza paddle which is sprinkled with a thin, but consistent, layer of cornmeal.

Be original, and think seasons, color, harmony, and design—almost feng shui. Please exercise restraint, remembering the cardinal rule that less is best.

Each recipe below uses the basic pizza dough recipe found in the preceding post (Pizza & Calzone Dough), which does not bear repetition.

LEEKS & PANCETTA

3 leeks, most of top trimmed off, well cleaned and sliced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1 C pancetta, cut into lardons, 1/2″ square or so
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
A large pinch dried thyme

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Sweat sliced leeks in olive oil and butter until tender. Season with salt, pepper and thyme while cooking; set aside and cool. Cook pancetta in a drizzle of olive oil until crisp and lightly browned; drain on paper towels. Brush pizza dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread mozzarella over dough, leaving the border uncovered. Strew leeks and pancetta over the dough. Bake the pizza, until browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, immediately garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a healthy dose of grated parmigiano reggiano.

PISSALADIERE

Pissaladière, a classic onion marmalade, olive and anchovy pizza has its origins in southern France. This tart derives its name from pissala, a Provençal anchovy paste.

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
3-4 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t fresh thyme, minced

10 high quality olive oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained
1/2 C whole Nicoise olives, pitted

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a large heavy skillet or sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, salt, pepper and thyme and lower the heat. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until cooked down and nicely caramelized, 35 to 40 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes more.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil or garlic olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the onion mixture evenly over the pizza, leaving the border uncovered. Arrange the anchovy fillets in a criss cross or diagonal pattern over the onions. Bake the pizza, until browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with olives, a drizzle of olive oil and a grating of parmigiano reggiano.

PIZZA MARGHERITA

3 C chopped fresh tomatoes, seeded, coarsely chopped and well drained
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt
12 fresh basil leaves, shredded (chiffonade)

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano
Whole basil leaves

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread tomatoes uniformly over the pizza dough, leaving the border uncovered. Distribute mozzarella evenly over the surface of the tomatoes. Lightly salt, then strew basil over the mozzarella. Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a grating of parmigiano reggiano and ribbons of basil leaves for color.

*Chiffonade: stack 4 or 5 basil leaves flat on top of one other. Roll the leaves tightly. Cut thinly with a very sharp knife which will create ribbons.

MUSHROOM

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1/3 C ruby port
1 T fresh thyme leaves, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 lbs assorted mushrooms, such as porcini, shiitakes, chanterelles or morels, sliced
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, grated
4 paper thin slices of proscuitto or serrano, then sliced again lengthwise (optional)

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
Several sprigs of fresh thyme

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a heavy skillet over medium high, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms, port and thyme and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper during the cooking process. Set aside. Brush pizza dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Strew mozzarella evenly over pizza dough, leaving an uncovered border. Distribute mushroom mixture evenly over the top of the mozzarella.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a grating of parmigiano reggiano and some thyme sprigs for effect.