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 14: Food in Disguise – Strawberry Jam & Whipped Mascarpone “Margherita Pizza” crepe

To contribute to the pile of tricks compiled for April Fool’s this week, I created a strawberry jam & mascarpone crepe, which is designed to break hearts by looking like a savory pizza pie.

Working from a basic Alton Brown recipe for crepe batter, I started by creating the batter so it had the minimal few hours of rest to ensure a delicate texture.

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While the batter rested in the refrigerator, I went to work on making a fresh strawberry jam.

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The strawberries were admittedly not fresh but their ultimate demise as a quickie jam experiment was a far better fate becoming engulfed in mold and trashed unceremoniously, IMO.

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For a pristine, pure-fruit style, the jam was made with a modest addition of sugar and a couple ounces of fresh lemon juice to amp up the vibrancy.

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Next, a simple mascarpone cream was whipped up for layering the crepes.

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Again, I reduced the sweetness here to make sure the wine pairing would not be knocked out of balance. More on that later.

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Crepes were made and layered once cooled with a hefty spread of whipped mascarpone between each sheet.

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The final layer was then topped with strawberry jam, dollops of mascarpone and fresh mint leaves for effect.

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When cut, the thin tiers of creme and crepe took on the personality of a delicate cake that could be managed with a fork and knife or manhandled like a slice of pizza. The latter seemed appropriate.

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To pair with such fruit, cream and gentle sweetness, I tapped the 2002 Domaine Huet Moelleux Vouvray, “Le Mont,” 1ère Trie of France’s Loire Valley. The intense minerality and brilliance to the aromatics balanced the sweetness so well within the wine that it was remarkably undetectable to the overall experience. Alongside the crepe, it was perfectly matched as any more sweetness from the crepe may threaten to overwhelm the Chenin Blanc. With a sweeter style crepe, a sweeter wine would be needed.

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And now, back to my honeymoon.

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.

Caffè Calabria and the DOC(G)s

Caffè Calabria, a coffee shop down the street, serves what may arguably be the best brew in town. With plenty of competition nearby, we keep fairly loyal to their coffee offerings. Meanwhile, a friend shackled to an 8-year veterinary program in Sacramento has their beans shipped north to resupply her kitchen, refusing to buy from anywhere closer. Now that’s fucking loyalty.

A two-trick pony, Calabria is also locally revered for their Neapolitan-style pizza. Normally, the gravitational pull of good pizza is strong enough to overcome temporal and spatial obstacles, but the siren call of scrumptious, everyday late-night, undemanding pizza of URBN always sounds when I enter North Park (full disclosure: dating the head bartender and I swear it’s not for the pizza). It took a post-marathon splurge fest for Calabria to finally get a chance to show off its chops.

treat-yo-self 2014
After finishing a half-marathon, a bottle of Dom, a nap and a couple margaritas, the persisting treat-yo-self mentality drove us right through the doors of Caffè Calabria during operational oven hours (the woefully selective range of Wednesday-Sunday, 5-11pm). Unfortunately, dear reader, social gallivanting and the high of accomplishment made note-taking futile. Left blankly satisfied, I wanted for a more attentive go at their Margherita DOC (requiring actual certification for the privilege of the full title) and the Italian-focused wine list.

Calabria does what it can to keep true to the Neapolitan style of pizza-making right down to the oven, constructed by third generation oven maker Stefano Ferrara, of Naples, Italy. They have, however, mostly abandoned the fight for the classic fork-and-knife method of pizza noming, automatically slicing each pie on its way out. From the belly of the 700+ degree oven comes thin crust pizza, “wet” with a oozy center. With slicing, some vigilance is required bite to bite to maintain proper topping-support posture, a problem that could be eradicated if only we had evolved as a tool-making species.

p. stew exemplifying how to eat pizza like a badass, regardless of utensils.

The following visit was a solo venture with choice of pie inspired by a recent wine tasting class on Alto-Adige, the northernmost region of Italy. Close ties with bordering Germany have influenced the wine culture here in intriguing ways. Seemingly ubiquitous, Pinot Grigio takes up little more than 10% of vineyard space while varietals like Schiava, Gewürztraminer & Legrein also count themselves among the most important. The same phenomenon is true of the cuisine. Speck is a fantastic example of these cross-cultural influences, marrying the southern traditions of Italian cured meats, such as prosciutto, with smoked meats of Germany to the north. Piqued by this newfound knowledge, my pizza selection featured speck, complemented by caramelized onions, gorgonzola, and a smattering of basil leaves.

speck, caramelized onions, gorgonzola and basil

Toppings were scattered in such a way that, bite to bite, the chances of revisiting the same flavor profile were dim. Some bites were smoky with speck or sweet with caramelized onion, some charged with gorgonzola and others left vulnerable and dull without a sauce for cheese to cling to. My only gripe was with the mild under-salting, one of those fixable problems, and the scant amount of basil used. The latter is a common peeve of mine that has always left me raw, but I am a practicing adult and can cope.

Without an offering of Alto Adige wine by the glass, I plucked a glass of Frascati (Fontana Candida, Frascati DOC, 2011, $6 BTG), one of many DOCs from the Lazio region in central Italy (think: Rome). By itself, this dry white, consisting of minimally 70% Malvasia, balances aromas of juicy pear, lemon oils and yellow apple with a touch of slate minerality. It maintained crispness without sharp, elbowing acidity, making it pleasant even without the accompaniment of food (a quaffer, as Karen MacNeil would say). The pairing’s most surprising aspect was how the clean and fruity nature of the wine emphasized the smoky elements of the speck and brought out a nutmeg aroma in the sauce.

However successful, the in-house pairing did not made me forget about the Margharita DOC I had only become casually acquainted with before. With a twinge of hunger on a night to myself, I made the necessary phone call and took off into the night to witness its birth firsthand.

the belly of the beast

Calabria recommends eating their pie hot from the belly of the oven, but the setting, however romantic, isn’t conducive to a pretty picture (specifically with my crap camera phone). Or an off-list wine pairing sans corkage fee. Or an episode of Parks and Rec. Just trust that I drove home like a mad hatter to get this pizza party going.

double pairings for faster results!

For a double-punch pairing, two styles of Piedmonte wine sat waiting: a chardonnay from a classic Barolo producer (Ettore Germano, Langhe DOC, 2013, $21) scooped up from Village Vino and a lightly-chilled dolcetto (Pecchenino san Luigi, Dogliani DOCG, 2012, $13) from San Diego Wine Company. The chardonnay offered slight butteriness with a refreshing background of tart lemon and apple. The creamy bufala mozzarella amplified an already richly present wet stone quality. The dolcetto, despite the name (in Italian, “little sweet one”), was dry but deeply aromatic with tart fruit aromas of blackberry, plum and black cherry mixed up with a dry soil component. The plush tannins were emphasized in the presence of pizza, but the heat, ranking 13.5% abv, overwhelmed the quieter toppings. Although the two weren’t completely incompatible, they certainly didn’t make for a memorable pairing. While the chardonnay matched up well, a lighter style of dolcetto may be more suitable, such as with a DOC like d’Alba or d’Asti, where the minimum alcohol requirement is a half percent lower at 11.5%. Taken in a different direction, the charred underbelly of Neapolitan-style crust seems to want for a bolder, zestier wine to match the smokiness, such as a medium-bodied zinfandel (primitivo, even) or Northern Rhone syrah. And thus the adventure continues.

And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to go a little further.