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

Week 17: Medieval – Spiced Almond & Pomegranate Cornish Hen Pizza

To kick off Season 6 of Game of Thrones, Reddit’s r/52weeksofcooking has called for a medieval style dish to sustain us through the first episode airing tonight. The pizza constructed to fulfill this requirement began with a 16th century sauce recipe designed to go with partridge or hen. The spice-heavy sauce calls for flavors of cinnamon, ginger, pomegranate and white almonds.

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The ingredients are pummeled into a mildly gritty texture to recall the days without blenders.

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A cornish hen takes the leading role of this pizza. Before roasting, a savory mixture of spices featuring cumin, allspice, paprika and cinnamon is rubbed over the skin for extra flavor. During the cooking and resting period, the crust is prepared.

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While the sauce does not win any pretty awards, it tastes like wintertime. A flurry of ricotta and mozzarella, both fair game cheeses according to White Oak Historical Society, are added for a bit of extra heartiness.

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When the hen is done resting, the thighs are sliced and added to the pizza with their crispy skin accompanying. With the meat cooked, the crust is crisped up in an oven of 550°F.

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The legs are set aside for presentation purposes. This pizza is ready to be spanked on the bottom and sent out to the hungry masses for devouring.

 

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To step these slices up from peasant food to slices fit for noblemen, a quick sprinkle of sliced almonds and pomegranate seeds really jazzes up the presentation.

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There is no better way to wash down a medieval experience, especially one gushing with cinnamon and spice, than a dainty chalice of cider (Eric Bordelet, Normandy, France), which also happens to make a great drinking game accompaniment at 4% abv.

And since nobody ever seems to find the gifs tucked away in each post:

game of thrones

Week 15: Brazilian – Cast Iron Chicken, Requeijão & Heart of Palm pizza

To knock out a killer Brazilian-themed dish the week of my wedding, I decided to make a quickie cast-iron pizza using ingredients sourced from a gem of a shop selling all things Brazilian cuisine. Using shredded roasted chicken, requeijão and heart of palm, I constructed a delicious tortilla pizza, which was then paired with Provençal rosé that was to be served at my wedding two days later. The picture parade to follow will have just a brief overview the details of each step involved.

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Requeijāo cheese is a gooey, mild cheese adored in Brazil with many uses. Heart of Palm seem to have a fanciness to them I don’t yet quite understand. Working with both is a treat since I really don’t know what I’m doing even a little bit.

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The heart of palm seems to break apart in a rather satisfying way. The goal here is to blend it alongside the pulled chicken for a streamless sense of texture.

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With chicken and heart of palm combined, a little cheese is added and the whole is mixed for consistency.

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The tortilla is placed over a well-warmed skillet and topped immediately: first with a coating of requeijāo cheese, then the bulk of the payload, then a sprinkle of cheddar.

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Once dressed, the skillet is taken off the heat and placed in a pre-warmed toaster oven of 400 degrees F.

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For funsies (and tasty green notes), fresh chives are chopped for the final plating.

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Meanwhile, rosé is popped to accompany such a quick, light meal.

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Mmmm.

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There’s no other way to be.

Week 11: Malaysian – Chicken Curry Roti Canai pizza

To slam dunk this week’s challenge, I took on two Malaysian standards that are often served together and used kitchen wizardry to morph the duo into a pizza. Roti canai, a ghee-heavy flatbread designed to trap pockets of air between thin layers of dough, is an ideal base for a pizza. Its usual partner, chicken curry, makes for a topping worth exploration. To begin, I slathered myself with ghee and dove into making roti canai from this very detailed recipe.

Roti Canai

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The formation of the dough is rather straightforward, requiring much kneading to acquire an incredibly smooth texture and a minimum 6 hours of resting time before the shaping begins.

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Each batch produces many sets of roti canai, which are divided evenly before the dough is allowed to settle.

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Each of these puppies has the ability to stretch out mega thin. Malaysian vendors keep some pretty dope moves to slap the dough into shape. Incapable of such performance, I managed to coax out a set of comparably paper-thin dough sheets with some delicate moves.

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Once stretched out, the paper dough is folded over itself to create air pockets and then swirled into a disc. This little creation sees a brief resting period while a pan gets hot on the stovetop.

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These wound-up formations offer some resistance to stretching despite their original malleability. Stretching the dough by hand offers a small amount of give but the final shaping is best accomplished immediately after the dough is placed in the pan. With a ghee-greased spatula, the roti canai is untraditionally smashed and flattened into the sturdy, circular shape that is required of a pizza crust.

After building the roti canai, I turned to a BBC curry recipe for the majority of my cooking guidance.

Chicken Curry

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The process begins with making a curry paste made up of a good majority of the stronger aromatics that will be experienced such as turmeric, ginger, lemongrass and red peppers.

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For those enamored with tradition, a mortar and pestle can do the work of a food processor with the addition of a few extra minutes and intensive upper body labor. I opted for the wine-sipping version of this pummeling session.

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The bulk of the curry consists of chicken thigh, onion & potatoes.

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These additions will be the main pizza toppings and act as a curry delivery system as they will be slathered in it.

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The onions are allowed to soften and become fleshy before adding in the chicken, potatoes and the remaining pieces of the curry, which include coconut milk, chicken stock, soy sauce and final spicing agents. Cinnamon sticks and star anise offer surprisingly subtle but necessary aromatics. To make up for a lack of kaffir lime leaves, bay leaves and lime zest were used after finding this helpful substitution guide in a sea of unhelpful websites insistent that there is no worthwhile alternative to the real thing.

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To keep the curry sauce tight, I reduced this batch down a good amount so that the pizza would not be dripping over the sides when applied.

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The pizza formation was pretty straightforward once the cooking was completed. With every element made fresh, no time in the oven was needed and the dish was served hot.

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The experience of eating this pizza was more satisfying than anticipated, especially in terms of texture and integration of flavors. The dough was so thrillingly soft and chewy while the chicken and potatoes were tender but able to add character. The heat didn’t jump out but rather mingled with the rest of the components, and the sauce was boldly savory without any one aromatic dominating. I devoured two sets of pizza in one sitting, but not without wine.

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To pair with the curry pizzas, Vols – “Vols II,” Riesling, Spätlese, Wiltinger Braunfels, Mosel 2014 had just the right touch of sweetness to combat the heat while its searing acidity cut through the richness of the coconut curry. The nose is flooded with petrol and lime zest while tart pineapple and brilliant slate minerality make up the palate. This is a beautiful wine all on its own but can really complete an experience, as it did here.

It’s successes like this that make me bananas for a group like r/52weeksofcooking.

kevin running wild

 

 

 

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.

Week 4 – Brunch: hash brown breakfast pizza

At the dawn of this week’s challenge, it was clear a simple breakfast pizza, softball it may be, would be all too straightforward. With three-pounds of homemade hash browns squirreled away in the freezer for any and all breakfast burrito needs, I knew I could tap this stockpile for the base of this next project. This particular batch of hash browns was made with particular care in an effort to perfect this brunch-time afterthought. I did okay. The thawed hash browns were still soggy with moisture I had failed to wring out of them. Luckily, it wasn’t too late to correct this problem with a minor squeeze session over the sink. When it came time to cook, I could only hope my efforts would provide a crispy enough base that could be spread thin while also supporting the extra weight of toppings.

Hash Brown Breakfast Pizza

To begin, preheat the oven to 350°F and toss in a couple pieces of bacon until crispy (approximately 12-15 minutes). Oven-cooked bacon is one of the many life hacks that has so many benefits it should have its own brochure. Not only does it provides complete control for even cooking, it also frees up the stovetop, makes clean up easy and keeps those damned grease pops safely tucked away.

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Meanwhile, the bacon fat rendered can be used in cooking the goodies up top.

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Just as with latkes and fritters, a binding agent is needed for the hash browns to hold its shape, which in this case is the shape of pizza dough. One medium egg is scrambled and tossed with the potatoes, plus some chopped yellow onions and chives for some pizzazz.

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The mixture is spread into an oiled steel crepe pan over medium heat, evenly spread out and smushed into the natural circular shape of the pan. Once set in place, the potatoes are not to be fussed over until the bottom begins to crisp up (approximately 3-4 minutes).

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The trouble now is the flip, which is why the crepe pan is preferred for its mildly-sloped edges. Using a spatula, loosen the hash browns from the pan all around so that it can easily slide off onto a cutting board, cooked side down. Having very lightly coated the pan in oil again, flip the pan upside-down over the potato disc and then quickly flip the cutting board over to place the potatoes cooked-side up in the pan. Cook over medium heat while placing on toppings of cheese and bacon.

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Place the crepe pan, again crucial for its metalware, into the oven to melt the cheese fully. To secure this pizza in the breakfast realm, an egg can be cracked over top and cooked until soft at this time. After pulling the pizza from the oven, the spatula is once more utilized to carefully move the pizza onto a cutting board. More toppings of tomato and finely chopped chives are added just before serving to keep their delicate textures intact.

 

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The pizza is pretty outstanding. The mix of cheeses (cheddar, monterey jack, mozzarella and cottage cheese) provides a medley of textures ranging from chewy to creamy. The gently-cooked onions offer a layer of extra flavor in each bite, the tomatoes pop with a subtle juiciness and the bountiful heaps of bacon on top and bacon fat throughout do not go unappreciated.

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As for wine, what better way to preserve the traditions of brunch than to pair this pizza with Champagne. All the grease and cream and fat of brunch dishes can easily be whisked away by refreshing bubbles and crisp acidity while more delicate mainstays like eggs are heightened by an equally light wine.

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Gosset – “Excellence,” Brut, Champagne, NV, the entry-level offering of the house, is the most complexity needed when brunching. There are hints of limestone and toasty brioche in the glass, and while there is a muskiness in the wine that mirrors the earthy elements in the pizza, the aromas do not inspire much reflection. It’s thoroughly enjoyable without the pressure of having to talk tablemates out of adding a splash of orange juice.

For those who indulge in this brunchtime combo, consider keeping sour cream close by for a truly hedonistic experience.

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.