Week 46: Underused Equipment – Heirloom Cherry Tomato & Spiralized Zucchini Pizza

No amount of salt on my keychain can make up for the shame I bring to Alton Brown fandom when I admit to having a spiralizer tucked neatly into my kitchen drawers. This week’s challenge has forced me to dust it off and transform the clunky contraption into a useful pizza-making tool. Here we go.

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Of all things worth spiralizing, zucchini seems a choice decision, if only for their general neutrality in both taste and texture. They’re also rarely found on the pizzasomm pizzas of 2016, which has deemed their spiralization a worthy task.

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For once, janky week-old zucchinis were able to escape refrigerator death by means of a glorious pizza bath.

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Not only did they escape eventual rot, but they looked good doing so. Just feast your eyes on those curls.

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Likewise, the sauce was concocted from dying fridge items, such as chive cream cheese, cottage cheese & homemade whipped garlic. A bit of basil and goat cheese were added for funsies. Cream, champagne vinegar and lemon olive oil brought in some pizzazz while also turning the goop into a more sauce-like consistency.

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The construction was simple and satisfying. More could be added for complexity if desired but the flavors were clean and fresh expressions of themselves.

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What a beaut. A scrumptious one, too.

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White Bordeaux offers the grassy, herbaceous quality needed to match that in the pizza while also letting the flavors of the pie speak for themselves.

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While the use of the spiralizer in my kitchen will likely not advance beyond the occasional vegetable massacre, the stage presence of the product is undeniable. Don’t be surprised to see more spirals appearing on future pizzas of mine, Alton Brown be damned.

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Week 10: Braised – Beet, Fennel & Goat Cheese Pizza

This week’s braising challenge is a considerably useful method of cooking that has only come up in our kitchen when brussel sprouts or potstickers are involved. In the case of the former, brussel sprouts had long baffled us as to how to best cook them without a long roasting process. Braising allowed for a quick sear to create the tasty bonus flavors offered by the Maillard reaction while accomplishing the tenderness sought out at a fraction of the time it would take in the oven.

For this pizza, I chose to discover the braising potential of fennel, a hardy root vegetable that can charm or dissuade any indulgers with its vibrant anise aromatics. Having only recently succumbed to fennel’s appeal, I am still in a rather obsessive phase that peaked this time last year with my addiction to fennel & grapefruit soup. Here, the flavors of fennel and some of its dear friends will come out and frolic.

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Sharing the spotlight on this pizza is fennel’s root vegetable buddy, beets. Even in the grocery store, they are already rather neighborly.

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With the help of a mandoline, roasted beets were thinly sliced and prepped for a marinade.

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Before juicing the grapefruits for the marinade, I included the grapefruit zest to allow the tart flavors to pop. A splash of red wine vinegar helped bolster the marinade.

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When it comes time to braise the fennel, only the bulbous base was used while some of the fronds were reserved for the final plating.

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Using a knife this time, I sliced the fennel carefully so as to best preserve the architecture within. During cooking, each portion was flipped methodically with tongs to keep the structure in tact for the final presentation.

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The pizza was built using a somewhat puffier crust that had boiled potato shavings folded in for a fluffier texture. The final toppings included the grapefruit-marinated beets, fennel, goat cheese and a sprinkle of mozzarella. Shaved almonds and fennel fronds dressed the pizza upon its completion.

 

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While keeping an array of fun flavors, this pizza lacked a sense of moisture as its creator didn’t think to incorporate some semblance of a sauce. Taking a cue from the clam pizza from last week’s challenge, a quick spritz of the beet marinade may have saved this pizza from its shortcomings. Beyond this, the flavors meshed well enough to be completely devoured, but there was a certain integration lacking. The wine, in this case, helped bridge some missing links in the dish.

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Chosen to pair with this pizza, Domaine Eric Louis – Sancerre, Loire Valley, France 2014 keeps a fresh and lively style of Sauvignon Blanc behind its cutesy Little Prince-esque label. Its natural affinity for goat cheese is aligned with a geographic history within the Loire Valley. The region’s Sauvignon Blanc has been enjoyed with the local and abundant goat cheese for so long it seems almost too perfect, and yet it is one of the few true classic pairings that is cherished for its simple dance of tangy, refreshing flavors. The aromatics of the Sancerre pile onto the flavors of grapefruit and herbaceousness in the pizza with a similar roar but the bitterness found in lingering after each bite admittedly might be better managed by the roundness of a slightly off-dry Riesling.

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Even still, neither pizza nor wine made it through the night.

favorites of lately: June

ahi poke5. ahi poke: A refreshing summer snack best featured at Chris’ Ono Grinds, though the ambiance at Common Theory is also worth the trek.
quince paste
4. quince paste: A magic cheese accompaniment making even the less-scrumptious styles a revived treat.
común
3. Común: Dishes here are electric with flavor, a notch below the extreme levels of cracked out cuisine as embraced by Puesto. Intensely delicious food without gambling with peoples’ insanity. The downtown J Street line-up is becoming an ever-more tempting crawl.
duck
2. duck: Indulged heavily in a cherished pastime of engulfing all manner of duck. Many personal favorites contributed to collection such as Bahn Thai’s #19 red curry duck and Jayne’s duck confit salad. Meanwhile, sous vide duck breast made its way into my repertoire as the next step in new culinary delights.
sous vide experiments
1. sous vide: A revival in experimentation has the majority of our meals revolving around what is essentially a fancy modern crockpot.
BONUS: pizza & wine of the month
davanti'spizza: Spicy sausage & rapini happy hour pizza from Davanti’s is a reliable Del Mar escape from traffic and other torments of the area
radikon
wine: Radikon – “S,” Pinot Grigio, Fruili-Guilia, Italy 2010 ($36) is a vibrant copper-colored Pinot Grigio that falls into small but polarizing category of orange wine, a style drawing deep color expression from the skins of white grapes. Each sip comes with a jolting acidity emphasized by a piercing minerality and tart cherries. It’s as good as it is geeky.

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.

pizza nova sancerre and salmon

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.

the Haven’s Popeye pie & Provençal rosé

Within a quiet stretch of blocks on the Kensington side of Adams Avenue sits an airy neighborhood pizza joint called The Haven. Of the selection of specialty pies featured, a small circular feast named Popeye catches my eye and the recommendation of the employee that day. The white pizza boasts an irresistible lineup of roasted garlic topped with chicken, mushrooms, fresh spinach, mozzarella and goat cheese. Squiggly lines of sweet aromas radiate from the pizza box as a combination of baking spices and roasted garlic creep into the nostalgic territories of my senses and stir up some hunger.

The swaths of garlic, caramelized into a candied sweetness, is a welcomed fiesta instead of an intrusion on my palate. With a salty, almost briny quality to the pie, there is no want for extra cheese. Overlaying the medium-thin chewy crust, chunks of chicken and fleshy mushrooms make up the bulk of textural layout.

Chicken may at first seem to play an integral role in any dish when in actuality the protein generally bows to any sauce or strong flavor present, the same way a neutral grape varietal such as Chardonnay can showcase terroir or a winemaker’s influence with clarity. The mix of aromatic and vegetal pizza aromas allows for a dry rosé to swoop in and play hero. Our hero today is a Provence rosé, 2013 Commanderie de la Bargemone of the appellation Coteaux d’Aix en Provence.

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Provence is a region in southern France dedicated to dry styles of rosé that will quickly win over any drinker’s taste buds when paired with light cuisine or a sunny day. Don’t let those pretty hues fool you: not all rosés are sweet. Not even slightly sweet. Most styles of rosé found in the wild are dry, especially when taking on a global perspective beyond the grocery aisle. Fruity aromas in wine tend to distract from sweetness level, making it easy to confuse the ripeness of fruit detected on the palate for the sugar level of the actual juice in the glass. Similar they may seem, only the latter is referring to actual sweetness as opposed to the perception of sweeter flavors.

This particular rosé is pretty close to bone dry, keeping fairly intense notes of tart strawberries and floral rosy aromas. Provençal rosé is especially refreshing when chilled down to refrigerator temperature, a low preferable for simple and crisp beverages. The rosé beside the pizza’s earthy aromas and boisterous, tangy flavors make for an uncomplicated yet all-encompassing pairing. Come salad or ham sandwich, carpaccio or root vegetable, rosé is generally well equipped to wrangle a range of flavors into a composed pairing. It is best to keep it stocked at all times. Always.