Week 35: Nordic – Gravlax & Hovmästarsås on a Rye Crust Pizza

This week’s Nordic cuisine challenge involves flavors of gravlax, mustard and dill to hark back to Middle Age tradition. A rye crust seemed to offer a natural accompaniment, but while gathering the ingredients and confidence in plotting out my pizza submission, I failed to realize just what a pain the grain would be to work with.

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Having flailed about the kitchen with dramatic huffs and puffs of frustration, I finally turned to my savvy boo of a husband for his opinion on rye and why it sucks as an ingredient. He offered condolences and immediately pulled up a video to show that I was not alone in my exasperation. Rye is apparently an asshole across all fields of cooking. Surprisingly, the dough turned out okay and involved only minor troubleshooting to roll out for action.

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Traditionally, gravlax is with a mustard sauce known as Hovmästarsås, which was used as the base of the pizza. Hovmästarsås is a combination of mustard, dill, vinegar, salt and sugar.

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Red onions and capers were tossed into the mix for a bit of exploratory flavors.

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A light dusting of mozzarella helped round out the base while crème fraîche offered some silkier textures to seduce the palate.

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Delicate as it is, gravlax entered onto the pizza during the cooling stages of the oven-crisped pie.

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The gravlax itself was rather grassy and expressive on its own, but a garnish of dill helped to fortify the herbaceous quality.

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Together with the rest of the ingredients, this style of pizza has immediate charm, especially when the wine is involved.

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To tame this beast, another sparkling rosé joined this year’s rosé parade. This one, Jean Bourdy’s Cremant du Jura, was abundantly fruity with steely undertones.

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The rosé danced quite nicely alongside the tangy caper and mustard tones, bringing red berries and soft tannins to the mix.

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This pizza is a definite summertime hit with sparkling rosé by its side.

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Also a big win as a foil-wrapped lunchbox treat for those who pack lunches and want t o include a little midday thrill.

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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.

Zia’s Gourmet Pizza & Valdeorras

From 5 to 10pm, a mere five hours each day, Zia’s Gourmet Pizza cooks up an array of quality-driven pies that gently push the boundaries of pizza composition. The pizzeria is driven by the high standards set by founder Khlaed Waleh and showcases ingredients such as yogurt, cranberries and turkey pastrami without bowing to expected norms like pepperoni. Welcoming and unpretentious, Zia’s offers visitors to Normal Heights a chance to expand their pizza horizons through slice-at-a-time exploration.

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Every pizza features a whole-wheat crust, airy and light with a rustic flair. For how easily it crumbles with each bite, the texture is surprisingly crisp and well structured. First off the by-the-slice line up is a crowd favorite, the Papay, a playful and zesty pizza alive with peppery spinach, mozzarella, garlic, capers, and a yogurt sauce counterbalancing the spice with a creamy tang. Pairing up with this savory ass-kicker is a wine matched in both structure and aromatics: Rafael Palacios, 2011 As Sortes, Valdeorras.

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Hailing from Galicia in northwestern Spain, Valdeorras is an up-and-coming region reviving the native white grape of Godello. Featured as the main component in the style, the varietal was nearly extinct until the late 20th century, but has been slowly building a cult following in recent years. Displaying fruit-driven roundness and acidic backbone, Valdeorras keeps a core minerality of wet river stones fleshed out with aromas of lemon curd, apple blossom and lime zest. With some of the delicate floral characteristics dashed away by the Papay’s zestier components, the Potato slice proves to be an overall better dancing partner.

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Succinctly named, the Potato features rosemary potatoes, garlic, scallions, feta, cream cheese and mozzarella over a red sauce. Upon first glance, the potatoes appear as dishearteningly dull as getting a plate of home fries for breakfast when you wanted hash browns. On the playing field, these puppies pack earthy appeal with a smooth texture melting into every bite. Fragrant wisps of rosemary, scallions and garlic build upon each other, lingering long after each bite while the tomato sauce chimes in with an occasional bright hello and without much contribution otherwise. Meditating on flavors alone, the experience is best likened to a well-crafted stew: herbaceous, comforting and delightfully rustic. With the pairing, both pizza and wine are able to showcase their distinctive personalities without hindering the other’s. They’re not going to have each others babies or anything, but they sure do dance prettily together.