Week 44: Dehydrating – Oven-Dried Basil & Tomato Margherita Pizza

This week’s dehydrating challenge was tough to work up the courage for considering how convinced the internet is in needing to purchase a dehydrator. I said nay to this advice, opting to find a more convenient solution: the oven. While I was tempted to sun-dry tomatoes, I’ve had bad luck in recent years with bugs invading what’s mine, thus I didn’t tempt the outside world with a yummy display of sunbathing treats.

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While the drying portion of the preparation was a success, I did not account for what dehydration means in the face of intense heat.

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My first attempt was unfortunately a dud. An edible dud, but not a pretty one.

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I took another swing at this pizza, this time with the additional challenge of dehydrating basil to complete the flavors of a classic margherita.

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This time I topped my tediously watched over oven goods after the pizza had completed baking. And for a bonus dehydrating affect, all tomato sauce areas not covered by cheese experienced a level of dehydration that concentrated the flavors even further.

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The spooky designs that came with desiccation seemed all too conveniently timed for the trick-or-treating season. Luckily, this pizza was more than just a halloween gimmick, it actually tasted pretty incredible for something so simple.

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To draw out the juicy flavors of this pie, a 2009 Rioja accompanied each bite.

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Having drawn the attention of my dearest babby, this pizza may have been devoured quicker than any other before it, making this second pie a definite win.

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Week 37: Mystery Ingredients – White Peach, Sweet Corn, Basil & Mascarpone Pizza with a Blackberry Gastrique

For this week’s challenge, I failed to internalize the instructions properly. Having never seen the two shows cited as examples, Chopped and Master Chef, my mind went to the one “mystery ingredient” show I was familiar with: Iron Chef. Thus, I told my chooser to pick just one ingredient for me to build my flavor profile from. He chose white peaches.

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When asked why he chose white peaches when I had taken him to a grocery store cherished for their diverse produce section, he responded, “Dragon fruit? Too showy. Star fruit? What the fuck is that anyway? There is no season for love, Victoria, but there is for peaches.” How could I argue with that? Peaches it is.

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To complement the summery sentiment established in the choice of mystery ingredient, I decided to make a blackberry gastrique, a trick I picked up in a previous challenge pizza, and charred sweet corn.

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The white corn was a delightfully subtle addition.

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The whole of the ingredients included a shredded mozzarella base with a couple additions of mascarpone.

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The pie was finished with chiffonade basil leaves and almond slivers.

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The choice of wine was not showcasing the same level of sweet summer flavors as the pizza but still offered some refreshing qualities to the experience. Overall, a moderately sweeter style of Chenin Blanc would have been preferred but this pairing wasn’t a complete failure as the whole of the evening was quite enjoyable with many thanks to the tasty components involved.

Week 24: From Scratch – Heirloom Tomato, Pesto & Ricotta pizza with a Black Bean Flour Crust

This week’s challenge required a couple leaps of faith in the kitchen. To truly begin from scratch, as was encouraged, ingredients need to be sourced as whole and unprocessed as possible (and convenient). Since I already make my pizza dough and sauce at home, I had to push myself one step further and make the cheese and flour myself as well. Not only was I looking to make my own flour, but I was going to attempt at making it out of a whole branch of legume I actively avoid: beans.

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While I’ve kicked a solid 90% of my childhood food fears, all-not-green beans have a way of threatening my sanity through texture alone. When it comes to green beans, be they edamame, haricot verts or english peas, all is forgiven. Why? If reason was involved, I wouldn’t be scared of beans in the first place.

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To combat this ridiculous fear, exposure is required. This challenge offered a way to experience a positive bean-eating experience without the horror of a chalky texture. Little did I know how frustrating a non-glutenous flour would be as a pizza base.

I took small batches of dry bulk black beans and blended the hell out of them in a Vitamix. The noise was simultaneously wretched. Earplugs were required to pulverize handfuls at a time for 30-40 seconds.

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Next, I stupidly tried to raise the flour with a dose of yeast and warm water. Apparently, gluten is useful for capturing the carbon dioxide, hence allowing dough to puff up. Without that possibility, this ball of bean flour did very little else besides stare right back into the soul of my frustration and whisper how easy it would have been to choose a wheat berry base instead.

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While ignoring the cursed bean flour stares, I boiled some whole milk and began a simple cheese making process that requires a little acid and patience. The acid that can be used in this situation can come in many different forms. While lemon juice and distilled vinegar were both options, citric acid

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While more practice would likely reveal simple efficiencies of how to extract more curds from the whey, I was happy with what small amount of ricotta come of this quart of milk.

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Rolling out a portion of dough from such a sticky, floam-like substance was a chore.

 

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For the sauce, a classic pesto was made to command attention in both color and freshness.

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All but the assortment of heirloom tomato slices have been made “from scratch.”

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The flavors and textures didn’t inspire any new ideals in pizza-making. The fact that it looked like pizza, could hold itself up like pizza and could even taste like pizza was an achievement in itself. Wine would help lubricate the illusion of greatness.

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Premier Cru Chablis helped to cut through some of the funkier flavors presented in the mingling of the black bean crust and pesto. It doesn’t shy away from the bright and fresh juiciness of the heirloom tomatoes and provides a mineral complexity to distract the brain with delicious flavors as my body consumes a bite after bite of black beans.

Week 7: Air – Basil Foam Pizza Topping

For this week’s challenge, I dedicated some time to learning about modernist techniques for making foams and emulsions. After combing through stacks of online literature (like this, this and this), I managed to gain little confidence that some chemical tinkering would go without failure. And with that, I cannonballed into this project without concern for the outcome and came out lucky.

Basil Foam

To begin, I blanched fresh basil leaves, and a few spinach leaves for extra color, before dousing them in an ice bath.

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After wringing out the excess water from the leaves, I blended the leaves with a pinch of salt and a small amount of half and half, adding just enough to create a smooth liquid. I kept the additional cream to a minimum so as to maintain the concentration of both color and flavor in the resulting foam. This step required a few pauses to scrape down the sides of the blender for consistency, which probably would not have been as dramatic a task if I had made a bigger batch.

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Instead of leaning on any one particular technique discussed in the molecular gastronomy websites, I went for a combo punch of ingredients that would undoubtedly turn this mess into some kind of foam. Any foam.

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Adding in 1/16th a teaspoon of xanthan gum as a thickener and an egg white of one egg and 1/16 teaspoon of agar agar as stabilizers, I gave the emulsion one last blend before passing it through a sieve into an iSi whipped cream dispenser. After unloading two cartridges of nitrous oxide into the canister, shaking vigorously with each delivery, the iSi took a nap in the fridge while pizza was made.

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Basil works very well alongside tomatoes so I decided to flip this pizza onto its bottom and create an upside-down pepperoni pie with mozzarella spread right over the crust, followed by pepperoni and then heaps and heaps of freshly-made tomato sauce. Once out of the oven, the pizza was doused with parmesan and cooled slightly before basil foam was applied in the hopes of not deteriorating its delicate nature too quickly.

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The foam came out light, fluffy and of a satisfying shade of ecto-cooler green. The flavors remained fresh and leafy in its new form, which made a slice of pizza look like a crisply-wrapped present. Even when melted into alien goop, the foam was worthy of using as a dip for crust.

The pairing

With more herbaceous flavors to consider on a standard set of toppings, I wanted a wine to reflect the same green quality found on the pizza. Varietally known for its green bell pepper notes, Cabernet Franc from Bock (Hungary, 2011).

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The wine was remarkably plush and easy to get along with, primarily flaunting juicy black cherry and raspberry notes with hints of chopped mushroom and fresh soil interlaced. Together with the pizza, the soft yet powerful style of this wine was able to match the richness of the tomato sauce and provide a backdrop of dark berry fruitiness for the herbaceous flavors to play off of. Not the pairing that was expected, but one that worked nonetheless.

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With a canister of basil foam hanging out in the fridge, even some everyday cast iron tortilla pizza can use a little pizzazz. Though the classic remain classics, I found myself continuing to reach for the iSi for that extra hit of flavor. It seems I’ll have to mark this challenge down as a success.

favorites of lately: San Francisco

20th century cafe5. 20th century cafe: a personality-driven cafe with the kind of old-timey pizzazz that effortlessly brightens the day. worth the trip, if only for coffee.

burma superstar4. burmese food (specifically Burma Superstar): how to have asian food while eating it too. nom nom nom nom nom nom nom nom.

bar concepts3. incredibly devout bar concepts: Smuggler’s Cove, Trick Dog, and The Interval are active examples of Bay Area bars with extraordinary talent to back serious passion. each is driven towards a honed vision, be that tiki or a 10,000 year Texan clock, and furiously toils to provide a premium product for mostly oblivious guests. perhaps this is the utopian dream all san diego bartenders unite in sharing. dare to dream, SD. there are many hurdles ahead.

zuni cafe chicken2. Zuni‘s chicken: standard chicken dishes are usually on menu to satisfy an expected protein requirement, often subjected to a more humdrum treatment in order to meet the lowest common denominator’s interpretation of edible cuisine. thus, when the staff recommends chicken, it’s worth mindful consideration. if the chicken dish is renowned city-wide, despite the noted hour of preparation required, there should be zero hesitation. may as well order two, lest you bathe in regret as we did when the first bout of delicious chicken was inhaled without another set to follow. these are the great risks we take as modern eaters in foreign lands.

state bird provisions1. state bird provisions: contemporary american dinnertime dim-sum. the only michelin-starred restaurant that’s expeditious and filling while also self-tailored and extremely fun. i would never hesitate to go again. please, invite me. i promise to keep the conversation brief but buoyant. PLEASE.

BONUS:

delfina pizza
pizza: delfina. showed up mid-day, post-lunch, unenthused and ready to abandon ship but left giddy and delightfully overstuffed. the pizza is straightforward and delicious, just as pizza should be.

wine: half glasses at state bird (not pictured). as the food parade marched forward, all manner of extravagance was met with half-glass pours of whatever my whimsy saw fitting. extreme indulgence is especially exciting when the final tally doesn’t shock the wallet. experiences like these make me hungry for more. let’s go now. like now. guys, i mean now.

Pizza Nova & Sancerre

Perched overlooking the sleepy harbor of Point Loma, San Diego’s Pizza Nova is a spacious bayside joint cooking up wood-fired pizza amongst other restaurant standards. Aside from the expected basics of pepperoni and margherita, a range of non-traditional pies tempt the more adventurous with toppings not often found on pizza, such as pears, zucchini or thai flavors. Proximity to the sea seems to have had some minor influences on their chosen style as their eponymous signature pie features smoked salmon. Fluffed up with flavors of red onions, caper and goat cheese, the Pizza Nova pie is a tasty departure from loveable classics most swear allegiance to.

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When ordered to-go, the freshly baked pizza kisses salmon with boxed-in heat, cooking in a bit more flaky texture and pink opaqueness. While the salmon brings a sweet smokiness to the overall profile, the capers are bright with ocean-like salinity and the goat cheese peps up each bite with a hit of grassy tang. The oily presence of fontina and mozzarella cheeses wants for a super palate cleanser of acidity while the most prominent flavor of salty brininess calls for something light and mineral-driven.

We return to the Loire Valley where Sancerre grows Sauvignon Blanc from a limestone-rich soil littered with fossilized seashells and capable of fostering a chalky minerality in these vibrant wines. Quintessential Sancerre is unoaked and bone dry with aromatics encompassing a broad spectrum, from green bell pepper to wet rocks to gooseberries. The 2013 Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre is a clean, straightforward style with flavors of citrus blossom, tart lemon and grapefruit as well as contrasting tropical fruit aromas that are especially loud and lush when juxtaposed with the savory pizza elements. Enhanced with aromas of garlic and red onion, the sharp flavors on the pizza soften the edges on this piercing style of Sauvignon Blanc, balancing each other in turn.

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One ingredient here truly secures this pairing: goat cheese. Sancerre and chèvre are a classic “grows together, goes together” combination, adhering to a culinary philosophy that resonates throughout cultures worldwide. While terroir may be an influential factor, the main driving force behind so many of these “perfect” pairings is more likely a matter of time and space. When food and wine find themselves at the dinner table again and again, regional preferences drive the two beyond mere coexistence into a balanced dynamic reinforced by generations of tradition. Since this culinary symbiosis requires ample time for coevolution, most examples of the phenomenon unsurprisingly emerge from the Old World, encompassing classics such as Muscadet and oysters or Nebbiolo and truffles. The many traditions are worth exploration and thoughtful engagement, but they should be considered handy tools rather than governing guidelines. Otherwise this whole business of pairing food and wine would prove way less fun.

Surf Rider Pizza & Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Tucked away from the Ocean Beach bustle of daytime drinkers, surfers and street gypsies, Surf Rider Pizza Café is a neighborhood gem with a local following earned with their east-coast style pizzas and welcoming hospitality. Unruffled by its OB pizza competitors (Newport Pizza and Pizza Port, gobbling up much of the Newport Avenue foot-traffic with their respective sets of fancy beers), Surf Rider prides itself in churning out a quality product with a zen-like OBcian attitude that spanks a little love into each of their hand-tossed pies.

The signature “Surf Rider Pizza,” is a mainstay in the by-the-slice offerings with roasted garlic, gorgonzola, basil, and tomatoes to entice hungry browsers. Even more tempting, the “Bacon Rider” specialty pie sports all the goodies of the house style with the brilliant addition of bacon, a decisive detail that wins my order. Mere blocks away, 3rd Corner wine shop and bistro keeps shelves stocked with fun wines, from which I source this week’s pairing: The Flood Pinot Noir (Chapter 24, Willamette Valley, 2012).

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Atop the thin chewy crust of the Bacon Rider, flavor colonies populate the cheesy plains in small groupings of finely chopped bacon and juicy tomatoes. Toppings are kempt and well integrated with the occasional sleeping giant of roasted garlic disrupting the scenery. While subtle in flavor, each bite of garlic clove disperses a tidal wave of sweet aromatic pulp that coats the palate with a soft-focus filter. At the opposite end of the spectrum, gorgonzola is immediately vivid and boisterous, giving the pizza a briny backbone.

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The new world Pinot Noir plays a refreshing role in the balancing act of this pairing, enveloping all the savory elements with a blanket of dark berry fruit. In turn, the contrasting saltiness of the pizza brightens these rhubarb and stewed strawberry qualities in the wine, which sing extra loud in the presence of bacon or roasted garlic. Layered aromas of black pepper, nutmeg, saline and damp earth builds upon this Pinot Noir like a cinematic portrayal of Hi-C’s Flashin’ Fruit Punch dabbling in a high school goth phase: a bubbly, fruity core indulging in dark makeup and a more complex sense of identity.

To contribute to the annual social event of going glossy-eyed numb while friends gather around the television for Super Bowl Sunday, I have gone samurai on my leftovers, chopping them into finger-food-sized pieces. Topped with a chiffonade of fresh basil, these puppies make for a pretty Pinterestable Super Bowl snack to share. In tow, the remaining wine will be a delightful byob treat to shed the gloss from my eyes and make this year’s Super Bowl that much less dreadfully boring.

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