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.
Sharing the spotlight on this pizza is fennel’s root vegetable buddy, beets. Even in the grocery store, they are already rather neighborly.
With the help of a mandoline, roasted beets were thinly sliced and prepped for a marinade.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even still, neither pizza nor wine made it through the night.