Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Now, I realize that this is a really, really stupid thing to say, but I'm going to say it anyway: We are nearly halfway through the winter!
I know what you're thinking--Gohhrr! 'E's daft!--that sort of thing. You're thinking that we just barely passed the solstice, there are still many weeks of white ahead. But bear with me: The solstice, December 21, is the start of astronomical winter, but meteorological winter started on December 1. That's, what, 42 days ago. Meteorological spring starts on March 1--48 days from now. So in three days, on Friday, January 14, we will reach the halfway point of winter. How's that for a TGIF treat? And when we get to March, you know what? Here's what: The average high in the Twin Cities on March 1 is 34 degrees! That's above freezing folks! Hooray for melting!
To celebrate, let's have some pizza: Another midwinter fact I'm grateful for is that a recent perusal of my produce selection shows that we're holding up pretty well in most areas. I still have fresh kale from our garden in the fridge--picked that a couple of weeks ago, and it's still in excellent shape. There's probably more out there, under the deep layer of white, under a couple of blankets, if the mice and rabbits haven't found it. We have loads of nice carrots, garden leeks in the the extra fridge downstairs, local celery root from the co-op, potatoes a'plenty, shallots, garlic, onions, parsnips, and squash.
Man, do we have squash. Last fall we were eating a lot of squash, stuffing it, roasting it, grilling it, gratin-ing it. It seemed we could not have enough laid by to last us the winter. I kept seeing serve-yourself squash stands in rural Wisconsin, and I was unable to pass them by. A lot of those squash went bad weeks ago--I expected that. Some had clearly been frost-bitten (those four-for-a-buck-ones from a help-yourself field), so I used those first, and the rest went rotty. But by now the ones that are sound should be good for the rest of winter (which is almost over, anyway...). And though we went off them for a while, I'm happy to get reacquainted.
If you do start to get sick of the repetitive winter veg routine, pizza is a great way to liven things up. Everything's better when baked fast and hot on tasty bread (almost as if you put it on a Ritz, right, Mme. Ed.?). These two winter-veg-topped pizzas are inspired combinations, though I say so myself.
The kale and blue cheese is something of a stand-by for us. I used to toss some currants on it, or chopped dried figs. This time I got the idea to use dried apples, because I have this idea that in many applications, one dried fruit is as good as another, and our dried apples are free and local. But when I chopped up a few, they seemed a bit dry, and tasted not so sweet. So I tossed them with the product of another recent brainstorm: Maple syrup-cider vinegar reduction. I was trying to come up with something that had the mellow, sweet-and-sour flavors of aged balsamic vinegar. This is not that, but it's very good in its own right. It is a bit mellow, it is sweet-and-sour, but the flavors really come at you, whereas in an aged balsamic I think they kind of coddle, reassure, and then gracefully retreat. This stuff is excellent to glaze grilled meats or vegetables, and it did the trick to moisten and soften the dried apples that I put on this 'za.
Some of them got very dark in the oven, almost burnt, not quite. Those charry pieces tasted remarkably like crispy bacon bits--Bide-A-Wee Bac~Os! The kale came up beautifully crisp, the blue cheese just oozed on down--great. It's important to toss the kale with oil, maybe a half-hour before baking. It will actually absorb a bit of the oil, and start to break down in volume, making it easier to keep atop the crust.
For the squash: I've made this twice. Both versions have been good, neither has been perfect. I think the third time will be the charm. First time: I sliced the squash very, very thin on my Benriner, but I left the slices pretty big, and I completely covered the crust with them. I suppose I was thinking of some potato pizzas I've seen and made. Well, the squash got nicely browned, and those very thin slices cooked just the right amount, but the full coverage sort of smothered the crust, it was a bit wet under the squash, tasted sort of steamed. The bottom of the crust was nicely crisp, so it held together and was good, but there was room for improvement.
Second time, last night: I didn't bother to cut the squash slices as thin, as I planned to cut the strips thinner, and not completely cover the crust. Again, a good result, but the thicker (still, not more than 1/8-inch) squash pieces, though they cooked nicely, did not become as brown as I would have liked. So, next time I'll combine 1 and 2, and I think that will do the trick.
Oh, and both times I added the goat cheese partway through the baking, fearing that it would all melt and run all over the place if I put it on at the start, but now I don't think that will be a problem. I would put it on with the rest of the toppings, and that's what I suggest in the recipe below.
In the next couple of posts here I'm going to carry on from pizza to hot dogs, then a really great burger--simple, happy food to keep our spirits up as winter makes that big turn toward spring....
But have you noticed, the sun is really warm now, when it's out. Which, today, it's not, and it's...snowing...of...course....
Whatever happened to the Little Caesar's mascot, the little dude in Roman togs? Roman toga. Toga togs. Pizza pizza. Cute.
And hey, just for fun, let's do the local audit: kale, leek, and chili, our garden; apples and maple-vin redux, Bide-A-Wee trees; squash from a farm on the banks of the Upper Kinnickinnic; garlic from Evan up near Turtle Lake; Minnesota cheeses, Donnay chevre, Saint Pete Blue; Smude sunflower oil on the squash; crust made from North Dakota, "Dakota Maid" flour and a little Whole Grain Milling (MN) whole wheat bread flour.
Not local: olive oil, salt, pepper, yeast.
Pizza Dough, "Poolish" Method (a poolish is a yeast sponge which somewhat approximates a sourdough)
Makes two approximately 12-inch pizzas, fairly thin crust
1 cup warm water
1 tsp active dry yeast
Stir the yeast into the water and let stand for about five minutes. Add:
3 Tbsp whole wheat flour (we like Whole Grain Milling's whole wheat bread flour)
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Mix well, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for several hours or overnight.
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
Additional unbleached all-purpose flour, around a cup
Stir the salt and olive oil into the poolish. Add unbleached flour a bit at a time to make a soft but workable dough. Knead for a couple of minutes. Leave it alone for 10 or 15 minutes. Then knead again for a couple of minutes, adding flour as needed, till the dough is nice and smooth. Let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours at room temperature, or refrigerate, then remove from the fridge an hour before you plan to shape it.
To shape the crusts, divide the dough in half. Form each half into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk. You can now use a rolling pin, or just your hands, to extend the disk into a 12-inch crust. Do not hurry. Let the dough be your guide. Gradually roll, stretch, toss to flatten and broaden the dough. When it resists, leave it alone for a few minutes. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Go find your dog or cat and a tell her what a good dog/cat she is, yes she is, isn't she just a yummy snookums doggums/kitty-cattums yes she is! Wash the dog/cat goo off your hands. Stretch the dough a little more. You're almost there. Okay. My work here is done.
Place the dough on a cornmeal-dusted baking peel (if you're using a baking stone) or baking sheet (if no stone). Brush with olive oil, and let rise for 30 minutes or more, until the dough is looking puffy. Top and bake as below, or use your imagination and whatever's in the fridge.
Kale, Apple, Blue Topping
8 medium leaves kale, tough lower stems removed, washed, spun, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/4 cup chopped dried apples, roughly 1/3-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Toss the kale with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and let sit 30 minutes. Mix the apple pieces with 1 1/2 tablespoons maple-vinegar glaze (*see below), and let sit at least 30 minutes. Stir the apples occasionally during this time.
When you're ready to bake, distribute the garlic slices evenly over the crust. Add the apples and glaze to the kale. Pile this on top of the pizza--it will look like too much, but the kale will reduce dramatically. Dot the blue cheese over the pizza. Bake at 550 (or your oven's top temp) for 5 to 7 minutes, until the crust is brown and the kale looks crispy, but not burnt.
Squash, Leek, Goat Cheese Topping
6 ounces butternut squash, a roughly 3- by 3-inch chunk from the solid top part, peeled
1 small leek, white and light green part, well washed, sliced thin on the diagonal
1 small dried red chili, seeds removed, crushed
salt and black pepper
1 Tbsp oil, sunflower, olive, or grapeseed
3 ounces fresh soft goat cheese, "chevre"
Slice the squash very thin, less than 1/8-inch--use a mandoline if you have one. Cut the slices into 1/2-inch strips. In a large bowl, toss the squash with the leeks, chili, a few grinds of pepper, a couple good pinches salt, and 1 tablespoon oil.
Just before baking spread the vegetable mix over the dough, and dot the goat cheese around evenly. Bake on a stone in a 550 oven (or as hot as your oven will go) for 7 to 9 minutes, until the crust is nicely brown and the vegetables are browned on the edges.
*To make the maple-cider vinegar reduction, combine ½ cup maple syrup and ½ cup apple cider vinegar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat—watch the pot constantly as it comes to a boil, to avoid boil-overs. Cook over medium-low heat—vigilance, again, is necessary to avoid a sticky mess—until reduced by half. Once cool, store in a small glass jar in the fridge. Use to glaze grilled meat or vegetables, or to add to salad dressings for a sweet-sour jolt. Or spoon it over vanilla ice cream, or into a baked apple.