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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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.

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.

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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 26: Gelatin – BBQ Pulled Pork & Pineapple Gelatin Morsels

Inspiration for this week’s gelatin challenge came from the leftover pineapple juice of last week’s creation. The thought process began with a play on a Hawaiian pizza and evolved into a pulled pork sandwich craving that could not be shaken.

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Pork shoulders were purchased and my first attempt at pulled pork began with a flavorful, smoky rub.

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To begin what would inevitably become the long road towards appreciating my slow cooker, I first took to the outdoors to light coals for a Weber grill that’s been aching to celebrate summer with a feast.

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Having never used wood chips for smoking, it’s hard to diagnose and fix any issues when I’m still learning how the grill itself best operates. Within a couple hours, I switched gears and opted for an indoor cooking session with a dusty item in the cabinet: the slow cooker.

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Onions made up the base of a cider vinegar stew the pork was to cook overnight in. The next morning, the onions were strained off and saved for topping later.

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As an anti-ketchup user, I am shocked at how magnificent the flavors of apple cider vinegar and ketchup combine together to create a simple yet perfect Carolinian BBQ sauce. It doesn’t excuse ketchup for being the way that it is, but it does now give it a reason to exist at all.

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Fresh pineapple juice keeps enzymes that are just as detrimental to gelatin as they are to human flesh (yes, that’s right. pineapples are eating you right back). Cooking helps to shut these enzymes down so that the gel can hold their shape.

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Using a combination of gelatin and agar agar, I managed to make gelatin faster than expected. The gel set so quickly I had to start from the beginning to set it in the shape of my choosing.

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Albeit not a very interesting one. I settled for the broken pieces of a thin and flat pineapple topping to debut my gelatin skills.

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BBQ sauce lined the bottom of this pie while pulled pork & onions bulked up the top.

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After a minute of cooling, the pizza was dressed with pineapple gelatin pieces and served with green onions.

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Mulderbosch’s single vineyard Chenin Blanc was able to tease out the softer pineapple notes with some tropical aromas of its own while cutting through the fatty richness of the pork. The combination was pretty incredible.

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Just watch out for that pineapple.

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