Monday, February 20, 2012

Artisan Pizza at Home

Pizza Funghi Pizza Trifecta

What I'm about to share goes against most of what I've read about making artisan pizzas. I'm becoming a really big fan of Jim Lahey and his simple bread dough methods. Several months ago I did a post (two actually) on Jim's no-knead bread recipe. The recipe blew my mind the first time I tried it and turned out a loaf that was every bit as good as the loaves from artisan bakeries. The recipe came from My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey. The book is proving to be an invaluable resource for bread related recipes. Recently I tried his recipe for Walnut Raisin Bread which was incredible. There are several more I still plan to try. I've been making fresh bread about 4 times a month with consistently delightful results since that first loaf.

A friend of mine wanted to come over and make Pizza for dinner last night. She suggested, since it was already 4:00 PM, that maybe we should buy a pre-made dough from Trader Joe's. I'm all for making delicious food simple and accessible, so that was not a bad suggestion. But, I remembered that Jim Lahey had a pretty interesting looking recipe for pizza and it didn't require a lot of time or work. I looked up the recipe and in less than 10 minutes I had assembled the dough. Two hours more would be required for the first rise and 30 minutes for the second rise. This would put the cooking time at 6:45 PM. Perfect!

What's the secret to homemade artisan style pizza? You don't need a pizza stone, balance and quality of ingredients, and Jim's dough recipe. We made two pizzas. The first a Pizza Funghi (mushroom pizza), the recipe for which basically came from Jim's book substituting shallots for yellow onion. The second pizza was what I'm calling Pizza Trifecta which is a three topping variation of the classic pizza margarita topped* with arugula.

We agreed that these pizzas exceeded our wildest expectations and were better than some wood oven pizzas we've had. It really was artisan pizza at home!

Recipes for Dough, Pizza Funghi (my way), and Pizza Trifecta follow.

Sometimes I Impress Myself

Sometimes I even impress myself. This time I understood what it means to make a dish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

I started with a vague idea of what I wanted to make: fresh pasta. I made my trip to the farmers market looking for ingredients that would inspire something truly extraordinary; after all I had an audience this time. I stopped by a tent at the farmers market that sells wild mushrooms. Many of the wild mushrooms seem fairly exotic to me. One variety I found particularly intriguing was the Hedgehog mushroom. The ones pictured in the link must be a bit more mature than the ones I bought, I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of the mushrooms I ended up with. These mushrooms are quite delicate with thin stems and a nice golden color on the cap. When I asked the farmer if I could taste a small piece he informed me that eating uncooked wild mushrooms is a very bad idea. Apparently some wild mushrooms can be poisonous when eaten uncooked. I'm so glad I asked. He described the Hedgehog as similar to Chanterelles with a little more sweetness.

When I returned home I looked for a simple pasta recipe that made use of mushrooms and some of the other produce I picked up. I consulted one of my favorite cook books Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home by Mario Batali. I found a recipe for Fettuccine with Oyster Mushrooms, Sweet Garlic and Arugula (page 204). This recipe was a perfect place to start. I just needed to make a few substitutions including the Hedgehog mushrooms for the Oyster Mushrooms. Luckily I also bought Arugula as a backup salad option.

The dish was spectacular!

My Recipe for Fettuccine with Hedgehog Mushrooms and Arugula follows

Friday, February 10, 2012

Stinging Nettle Pesto

I've been having such a good time at the Grand Lake Farmers Market lately. I've never shopped at a farmers market so consistently. I've become a lot more adept at negotiating the stands and finding the best produce each has to offer. I am really, truly, starting to see for myself which fruits and vegetables are in season. I was so used to shopping the big grocery stores where things come from all over the world and everything is sold all year. I never really knew which things belonged together. Using fruits and vegetables that are in season has completely changed the way I feel about my food. Fruits and vegetables that ripen in the same season I now find naturally complementary. The farmers market has given me the opportunity to branch out, get creative, and appreciate where and who my food comes from. It would seem like an epiphany, but the chefs I revere have been saying this for years.

Last week I visited the Grand Lake Farmers Market and bought some of the usual things (for this time of year), carrots, chard, broccoli rabe, and oranges. I actually wasn't feeling inspired until I had already made most of my rounds. Then, on the Grand Ave. side, one of the tents was selling Stinging Nettle or Nettles. I've had contact with Stinging Nettle, as a boy, while playing near creeks in Tilden Park. If you are unfamiliar with Stinging Nettle, they have little hairs all over the leaves and stalk. The hairs are very fine and hollow. They penetrate skin quite easily and deliver a histamine that causes a stinging sensation and rash. Nettles are not to be touched!

I was recently at a party talking to strangers (also something from my childhood that I wasn't supposed to do, that I do now). They were telling me about forging for mushrooms in Tilden Park. One of them said she also collects nettles there. I had no idea that this plant was edible; I was very intrigued. She explained that blanching them would break down the chemicals in the plant that caused the stinging and that nettles are really quite good. Nettles have a bright green flavor similar to that of baby spinach. But, where to get them? I don't have a lot of time to go forage for nettles. I've never seen them in a grocery store.  There they were, ready to take me on my next culinary adventure. This is why I love the farmers market!

A recipe for Stinging Nettle Pesto and Home Made Fettuccine follows

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Crispy Pata

Back in the summer of 2007 I had an incredible opportunity to visit my Mom while she was living in the Philippines. She was teaching at Foundation University in Dumaguete City, Province of Negros Oriental, Philippines. You might not think of the Philippines as a culinary destination, but the culture certainly has its share of treasures. Probably the most celebrated dish would be Lechon, which is a whole roasted pig. I was lucky enough to be served Lechon on three occasions during my five week visit. Lechon is usually made for very special occasions. Judging by what part of the pig goes first it is prized for its crispy skin. I am a particularly big fan of the ribs since they are so close to the herbs the pig is stuffed with. Almost as popular and much more ubiquitous is Pork Adobo. Pork is quite a popular meat, in fact there is pork in almost every dish, even Chicken Adobo and often sauteed vegetables. One of my friends from Dumaguete told me that it is easier to tell your parents that you are gay than to tell them you are a vegetarian!

Siquijor, Philippines (2007)
I was recently contacted, through this blog, by one of my mom's dear friends in the Philippines. This got me thinking about the food again. I remember being served so many amazing foods during my stay and they made such an impression on me (really the whole country did). I started to search for some of these recipes and found a few foodie bloggers from the Philippines. I've found several great blogs, my favorite is Pinoy Recipe; it totally reminds me of how English is spoken there. Also worth mentioning are Panlasang Pinoy and Filipino Recipes.

One dish that made an especially big impression on me was Crispy Pata. I remember going out to dinner with the Pal family during my first week in the Philippines. Sir Pal asked me if I liked Crispy Pata. I told him I didn't even know what it was and asked about it. He explained it as it really is: A deep fried pork leg. That was all the description I needed, so we ordered the Crispy Pata as an appetizer! Ever since then I've been wanting to make it for my friends (I have more planned so stay tuned).
Crispy Pata!
Last week I went to my favorite butcher shop, Star Meats, I've known the owners and several of the employees for years now. Joe, the owner, brought me to the walk-in cooler to show me his whole pig. It was meant to be, I put my order in right then and there. "Joe, how much for all four of those pork legs?" It was a steal!
 Recipe for Crispy Pata Follows