Week 34: Fire – Coal-Fired Pizza with Blistered Shishito Peppers, Sesame & Sriracha Cream

This week’s challenge of Fire was all too fitting for the long-ignored grill attachment sitting quietly in the corner that transforms my humble Weber into a coal-fired pizza oven.

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Assembly took up the majority of my efforts whereas the rest of the day’s work was spent fixing up simple set of ingredients for some pizza nibblings.

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Before caging the coals in for their oven setting, I grated the grill for the shishito peppers to take on a quick blister over the flames before using them as the featured topping with a glaze of sesame oil to finish them.

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While the coals fired up, the dough and cream sauce were prepped on parchment paper for easy travel in and out of the backyard.

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Sriracha mayo acted as the base sauce here. Cheese was a forgotten afterthought that could have operated well but was not wholly necessary beyond helping adhere the topping neatly onto the dough and a heavy hand of black and white sesame seeds finished the pizza.

 

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While the pizza was just undercooked, for the first undertaking of the grill attachment, this pizza was a big, big win.

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The whole ordeal was paired with a Basque region Txakolina rosé sparkler by Ameztoi. The style is super dry and lower in alcohol (12%) making it a refreshing summer pairing for anything, but especially a zesty little number as the pie that popped out of the backyard’s new coal-fired oven.

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While a double-punch of spice like the one featured on this pizza is hard to pair well, the spice was short-lived overall and didn’t keep eaters suffering. Something as buoyant and light as the Txakolina rosé, regardless of its dry nature, was suitable and refreshing.

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Week 32: Inspired By Video Games – Golden Beet, Parsnip Puree & Duck Leg Pizza with a Raspberry Gastrique

For this week’s rather frustrating theme asking for a dish inspired by a video game, I took on a rather loose interpretation of “inspired by” and decided to make a killer duck pizza to honor Adult Swim’s super rad Duck Game.

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This “frantic fowl-shooting four-player quacktion” won my heart immediately, despite my tendency to not survive the first 10 seconds of each round. Even still, that silly game is so much damn fun to play. If you haven’t yet, get it.

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The resemblance my be lacking but the two are made of the same basic yummy stuff.

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A little sweetness brings out the best of the duck’s personality so golden beets and parsnips make up the supporting toppings…

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…plus a raspberry gastrique made with cider vinegar and Mancino vermouth.

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In my second crockpot adventure, I tossed everything onto a low heat for 6 hours.

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The lengthy cooking session may have leeched some vibrancy of color but the flavors are quite rich, especially with the duck fat soaking the root vegetables as they cooked.

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The raspberry gastrique made up the base with fresh mozzarella to follow. After the beets, parsnips and duck went down another layer of mozzarella went on top to protect the precious duck followed by a spritz of balsamic vinegar for giggles.

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The resulting pizza was fantastic. It was almost as good as playing the game itself, especially with getting to split the experience amongst 4 people.

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And for once I didn’t fail miserably.

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Meanwhile, Chinon rosé made for a delightful little pairing here. Refreshing and dry, the wine added a summertime charm to the wintery flavors.

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On a second pass, the smell of duck definitely caught some canine attention. But there’s nothing new about that.

duck hunt

Week 31: Drink Pairings – Classic Pepperoni Pizza with a Trio of Obscure Wine Pairings

Well this week’s challenge is quite the softball of a challenge considering my r/52weeksofcooking metatheme. Since this is the very theme I automatically take part in every week, I will spend my time this week reminiscing about some of my favorite less traditional wine pairings. One bonus in indulging in more obscure styles is the likelihood of finding wines of great value for not very much money.

During my early years of studying the hell out of wine, my then-boyfriend/now-husband worked the bar of a super delicious San Diego pizza joint, bringing home pizza after pizza to my endless delight. Pepperoni pizza was our base style that we would choose to build upon with various toppings or not and is the pizza I have the most wine pairing history with. Thus, I made a very clean, classic style of pepperoni pizza to trigger cherished pairings.

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The first pizza pairing experience I ever latched onto was a pepperoni pizza and Dolcetto d’Alba. While Italian wines on the whole are really well built for rich and cheesy dishes considering their tendency towards higher acidity, Dolcetto keeps just the right level of juiciness and structure to bring something new each bite. While complexity is somewhat limited to more youthful dark berry and rustic earthy tones, the style hails from Piedmont where it is overshadowed by the internationally-revered Nebbiolo and even dark and brooding Barbara.

 

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Blaufränkisch is an Austrian varietal I’ve found a range of success in pairing with pizza and beyond. The varietal tends to showcase a dark fruit fruit profile with leather and spice in a structured, medium-bodied format. It provides a platform for pepperoni pizza to dance around on.

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One pairing that caught me by surprise was an unplanned glass of Zweigelt that showed up next to a freshly made pepperoni pizza some years back. The style may be the most obscure varietal of the three chosen here, even as a direct descendent of Blaufränkisch, This particular bottling hails from Lodi, California, displaying a magenta-tinged ruby color, fresh bubblegum raspberry notes and a lighter body that achieve a refreshing contrast to the savory pizza flavors.

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There are so many other pairings to consider with a basic pepperoni pizza but considering the variance found in producer styles and personal preferences, there’s never any one right answer. It’s what pairing food with wine so much damn fun.

Week 30: Fermentation – [Cured] Meat Lovers Pizza

And now for a challenge I’m rather well versed in: fermentation. Let’s all give a quick air-five to Louis Pasteur, the man who put an end to the shoulder shrug of a mystery that we built civilizations around. Yet even without understand the mechanisms, we still managed to bust out thousands of years of worth of food and booze history all very much dependent on the process. Without fermentation, we’d all be extremely sober and things like bread would be seriously impaired.

Having built this blog, and really an entire career, around fermented items, I figured I might try to make a pizza wholly from fermented items. The crust would be a no-brainer but the remainder could really range in personality.

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For the sauce, I made a Spanish vermouth reduction with shallots and parmesan. The sweetness from the vermouth would help to balance out the salty toppings I had planned.

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Salami and cured meats were the biggest shock to find on the list of foods that require fermentation. This very fact would make up the foundation of this pizza, having finally found a reason to use an absurd amount of meat as topping. I selected a range of styles including pepperoni, Calabrese salami, finocchiona salami, and bresaola.

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I also took this as a chance to splurge on some San Dainele Prosciutto and wow was it so, so worth it.

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Parmesan was used to support all the bright, salty flavors, and it also happens to be a fermented product as well. My goal was to finish the dish with greek yogurt for some balanced creamy texture but after a quick couple of tests, opted against it.

 

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With the flavors leaning thoroughly into the super meaty, salty realm, I worked with the textures to create an interesting topography that crisped up just right (despite the lack of lighting in my oven).

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And for the final fermented product: wine. I opted for Champagne, a style that has seen two fermentations, one for the initial still wine and another reactivated fermentation to capture the CO2 in bottle. While I wasn’t enamored with the pairing itself, despite higher expectations, I built a nice little night on the couch around the meal and indulged my dumb face while watching Netflix and petting some dogs so overall, it was pretty okay.

Week 29: Fat – Creamy Carbonara Pizza

I’m surprised to have pulled this week’s fat challenge off with almost zero preparation and the bad luck of having the oven light go out unexpectedly. Even still, the convenience of having bacon and eggs readily available for morning yums allowed for easy tinkering. Having already tackled a breakfast pizza this year, I decided to translate the ultimate pasta tummy pleaser of Spaghetti Carbonara into a pizza wonderscape and hope for the best.

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Bacon, eggs, parmesan and herbs (in this case chives) are the very basis of carbonara.

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After cooking down the bacon until soft, the fat is used to provide the base of the sauce, as it would be in the pasta dish.

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Chives are chopped according to their roles. The coarser chop is cooked with the cream sauce and parmesan. The finer chop is meant for a fresher topping upon cooling.

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The pizza was built in many layers with fat and a parmesan & black pepper cream gently layering the crust followed by chives, bacon and more parmesan.

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When the pizza was all but a minute done, I pulled out the pie and gently poured over a cream-whipped egg as evenly as possible before placing the pizza back in for another minute. Timing was key in not over- or under-cooking the egg on top.

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And somehow it pulled together and worked. And was surprisingly balanced and tasty. The pizza was aromatically rich with its range of chives and black pepper charging the palate upfront. Next the creamy egg notes interweaving the bacon smokiness held their own presence on the mid-palate while the sharp parmesan brightness saw through to the end with black pepper still mingling.

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The red burgundy selected kept an abundance of raspberries and pomegranate, which saw the savory elements of this pizza as a springboard for their bright fruit flavors. Burgundies have a tendency to transform with food, the way Italian wine often does too, finding a whole new expression alongside a range of flavors. It’s just one of the many reasons why I’m such a francophile in my wine preferences. Deal with it.

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 23: Deep Fried – Fried Eggplant, Basil & Pepperoni Pizza

Having less and less time to adequately prepare for these weekly endeavors, a quick peek in the fridge was all the inspiration needed for this week’s deep fried challenge. In the O’Bryan household, we have a tendency to pick up a plump eggplant with ambitions of transforming the shiny beast into an Ottolenghi masterpiece. More often, we find ourselves dumping a blotched and festering limp vegetable corpse into the trash. This is all to say that we have yet to find the way to embrace their presence in our fridge. And we may have found the way.

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Fried eggplant on pizza is no genius idea of mine. Its true origin story remains a mystery to this blogger as she hasn’t the time nor the inclination to seek out any backstory, no matter how grateful I should be for the abundance of information available at my fingertips.

My first personal encounter, one that I remember quite fondly due to timing (I had just landed a job, albeit a shitty one, that would secure the path of my now career) and the tasty, tasty combination of toppings, was one that came recommended by the Bar Basic staff: fried eggplant, pepperoni, basil and garlic atop a large red pie. I went gaga for this shit. So here goes my attempt at recreating a super built-up cherished moment of my recent past. What could go wrong?

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After slicing up an eggplant to a consistenly moderate thickness, the slices were breaded in a panko and Italian crumb mix, the blend of the two resulting from a petty bout of indecision.

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Using a combination of high-heat oils, as I hadn’t the foresight to buy enough of any one kind, the breaded eggplant slices took turns crisping up in the pot.

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A rather sizable batch was produced, enough to feed three large pizzas as each pizza could barely take on more than 7 or 8. Any leftovers stayed rather well. If they never make it onto crust, they were reheated in the oven with tomato sauce and cheese on top for a quickie eggplant parmesana.

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While the original inclusion of garlic was mostly ignored (aside from the generous heap of garlic found in the tomato sauce), a few dollops of ricotta here and there made up for its absence with creamy, textured bites.

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After some fussing around with pairings, Barolo stepped up as the winner of the bunch. This 2006 Marchesi di Barolo from Piedmonte, Italy had just the right structure of tannin and acidity to tackle the richness here, but then the deeply-resonant tart fruits provided a great backdrop for all the savory notes to play off of.

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I loved this pairing. I loved this wine and the pizza and the whole experience of making it and eating it. This was so fantastic I wanted to die. Instead, I snapped some photos and obsessed over new angles and lighting. The work didn’t really pay off but the pizza itself was worth all the effort.

 

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It was so good, I actually made two.

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As for things that could go wrong? Nothing did. This was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever made. It will be one I continue to make for as long as I have eggplant in my refrigerator, which turns out to be more often than needed. It’s time to embrace their ever-presence.

eggplant love