Week 27: Tacos – Mushroom & Pepperoni Quesadilla Tacos

This week’s r/52weeksofcooking challenge required a melding of two of the most cooked items in my kitchen: pizza & tacos. Creating a hybrid would prove to be somewhat straightforward as I have also mastered my quesadilla craft during my desperate time with all the ingredients to make tacos but no meat. As a result, this taco experiment began with a pizza quesadilla base.

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On its own, this would make for a dope midnight snack. But we must march forward.

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With pepperoni already lining the foundation of our taco, cumin & black pepper mushrooms made up the meat of the taco.

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With another melting of cheeses, using a mozzarella and Mexican blend throughout, the mushroom tacos were built and ready to be dressed.

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To crush this pizza-taco hybrid, tomato sauce, ricotta & red pepper flakes made up the final touches before it was eating time.

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The pepperoni kills it. There’s a touch of spice here and there so habanero sauce could easily be included or ignored.

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For the sake of the pairing I opted out of extra spiciness so that a red wine has a shot at being a decent pairing. While the fruit in this Grenache is soft and juicy with black raspberries for days, the alcohol is emphasized by the spice and throws the wine a tad off balance. A noticeable but forgivable offense when I’m too busy jamming out with these little handheld feasts.

double taco dance

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 16: Root to Stem – Shaved Asparagus & Ricotta Pizza with Stem-Infused Whole Wheat Crust

This week is a challenge that speaks directly to the most wasteful aspects of my cooking. While I do my best to make stocks out of bones and stems to feed my soup-making habits, my creativity stops there. The asparagus used to top this week’s pizza will find their cheesy ricotta home built above a crust interlaced with nutrients leached from their usually-discarded stems.

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The process was as simple as using a stock created from the stems to substitute for the water used in the crust.

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From here, regular pizza-making resumed. The yeast frolicked in the warm asparagus water that made up their new home and went about business as usual.

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With extra nutrients fortifying the dough, I decided to make a whole wheat flour to create as healthy a pizza package as I could stand without stripping away the essentials.

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Shaving the asparagus was both equal parts time-consuming and oddly-satisfying. There are core portions that could not be shaved down due to mechanics, thus they were chopped up for additional texture.

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The cheese was a simple mixture of ricotta, lemon olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice.

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The lemon olive oil can really help make any citrus flavors pop. I used it as the base sauce for the rest of the flavors to play off of.

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At 550F, pizza doesn’t take much longer than 8-10 minutes in the oven.

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The crust was perfectly chewy with a light crisp to the bottom. To keep the texture more appealing, the shavings of asparagus were each swirled into a gusty little toppings, which were admittedly rather time-consuming to stage as well.

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The effect was worth the effort.

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With a dab of coarsely-ground black pepper on top and wine nearby, these puppies were ready for quick consumption.

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The wine was a Gruner Veltiner, chosen for the qualities it would mirror in the pizza, such as the waxy vegetal notes, peppery aromas and the overall clean style. Neither of the two survived the night.

Mona Lisa & Vouvray

Mona Lisa is an Italian market, deli and restaurant prized for keeping harder-to-find goods like white anchovies, fresh pasta, and Italian amari. Having contemplated the deli-section artichokes with hungry eyes, I opted for Pizza Bianca, a white spinach pie, with the addition of artichokes. Expectations for a delicate, light pizza were shattered upon its arrival.

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An entire atmosphere of mozzarella with puffy clouds of ricotta engulf the toppings below making this pie look intimidatingly rich compared to original expectations. Surprisingly, the crust maintained a thin and crispy base with a doughy upper layer that unified well with the pillowy topography above. Each bite was like a lunar exploration, never quite knowing what might be unearthed from within the rocky cheesescape.

When given the task of pizza topping, artichokes offer some tangy relief that regulates super cheesy situations. As the main representative of spring on the classic Four Seasons pizza, artichokes have a long-standing relationship with Italy, where its cultivation is the highest worldwide. Even still, artichokes are notoriously frustrating to pair with wines, requiring a tart, acid-driven white wine to offset the organic acid known as cynarine that makes everything taste sweeter. With a geeky weakness for acidic, mineral driven whites, I plucked a bottle of Vouvray to pair, no problem.

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Vouvray is a French wine region of the Loire Valley producing medium-bodied whites made entirely of Chenin Blanc. The style rewards in its complexity, displaying a wide range of aromas spanning from quince to cheese rind, wet wool to chamomile. 2013 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Sec is youthful and dry with notes of citrus peel, wet asphalt and bruised yellow apples. For a pizza burly with cheese, Vouvray offers a vibrant backbone to the experience, refreshing enough for intensely creamy bites and dry enough to stand up to the sweetening effects of the artichokes. Vouvray has long been my number one homie, but now we’re officially pizza homies.