Week 50: Umami – Mushroom Parmesan Pizza

I’ve been hoping for a pizza assignment like this since I first began this challenge. Umami is an attractive force in my food world with tomatoes ruling the majority of my cravings. While tomato finds its way into the sauce here, mushrooms are the focal point of this pizza.

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Shiitake and crimini mushrooms, while making up the whole of the toppings, remain just a portion of the umami bomb that was dropped.

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Tomato snuck in with a hearty rendition of my usual sauce. Parmesan was shaved over top.

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Oh and then a quick spritz of black truffle salt, a drizzle of white truffle oil and then a dash of MSG just for kicks.

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Fearing another salt overload as seen in last week’s pizza, I added a moderate amount of salt and chose to apply truffle salt to each individual slice.

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Then I ate the whole pizza.

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With a good burgundy nearby, this is not a difficult feat.

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Week 46: Underused Equipment – Heirloom Cherry Tomato & Spiralized Zucchini Pizza

No amount of salt on my keychain can make up for the shame I bring to Alton Brown fandom when I admit to having a spiralizer tucked neatly into my kitchen drawers. This week’s challenge has forced me to dust it off and transform the clunky contraption into a useful pizza-making tool. Here we go.

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Of all things worth spiralizing, zucchini seems a choice decision, if only for their general neutrality in both taste and texture. They’re also rarely found on the pizzasomm pizzas of 2016, which has deemed their spiralization a worthy task.

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For once, janky week-old zucchinis were able to escape refrigerator death by means of a glorious pizza bath.

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Not only did they escape eventual rot, but they looked good doing so. Just feast your eyes on those curls.

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Likewise, the sauce was concocted from dying fridge items, such as chive cream cheese, cottage cheese & homemade whipped garlic. A bit of basil and goat cheese were added for funsies. Cream, champagne vinegar and lemon olive oil brought in some pizzazz while also turning the goop into a more sauce-like consistency.

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The construction was simple and satisfying. More could be added for complexity if desired but the flavors were clean and fresh expressions of themselves.

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What a beaut. A scrumptious one, too.

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White Bordeaux offers the grassy, herbaceous quality needed to match that in the pizza while also letting the flavors of the pie speak for themselves.

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While the use of the spiralizer in my kitchen will likely not advance beyond the occasional vegetable massacre, the stage presence of the product is undeniable. Don’t be surprised to see more spirals appearing on future pizzas of mine, Alton Brown be damned.

Week 44: Dehydrating – Oven-Dried Basil & Tomato Margherita Pizza

This week’s dehydrating challenge was tough to work up the courage for considering how convinced the internet is in needing to purchase a dehydrator. I said nay to this advice, opting to find a more convenient solution: the oven. While I was tempted to sun-dry tomatoes, I’ve had bad luck in recent years with bugs invading what’s mine, thus I didn’t tempt the outside world with a yummy display of sunbathing treats.

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While the drying portion of the preparation was a success, I did not account for what dehydration means in the face of intense heat.

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My first attempt was unfortunately a dud. An edible dud, but not a pretty one.

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I took another swing at this pizza, this time with the additional challenge of dehydrating basil to complete the flavors of a classic margherita.

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This time I topped my tediously watched over oven goods after the pizza had completed baking. And for a bonus dehydrating affect, all tomato sauce areas not covered by cheese experienced a level of dehydration that concentrated the flavors even further.

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The spooky designs that came with desiccation seemed all too conveniently timed for the trick-or-treating season. Luckily, this pizza was more than just a halloween gimmick, it actually tasted pretty incredible for something so simple.

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To draw out the juicy flavors of this pie, a 2009 Rioja accompanied each bite.

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Having drawn the attention of my dearest babby, this pizza may have been devoured quicker than any other before it, making this second pie a definite win.

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 20: Outdoorsman – Charcoal-Grilled Veggie Pizza

Taking on the camping aspect of this week’s theme, I fought mild waves of self-doubt over how cooking pizza outdoors would actually go. In the kitchen, I rotate through most of the gear enough to anticipate any issues or difficulties. Cooking pizza dough on a naked grill didn’t come as intuitively as cooking a steak, so I tapped a Serious Eats guide for a smack of confidence that the dough wouldn’t just slide through the grates cartoon-like and melt over the coals. And it didn’t.

Preparation turned out to be the most important lesson in this setting. While this grill session took place in my backyard on a mild weekend afternoon, running inside for every forgotten item was pain enough for me to squeeze out a thoughtful camping lesson for reflection. If I truly were camping, I’d be boned nine times before food ever hit the grill.

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While the coals heated up, I prepped the veggies first, skewering mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and canned artichoke hearts (which were thankfully placed in a pop-top can).

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The dough was patted out in advance, ready to determine the course of this night with how well it faced the grill. To my surprise, the crust was rather easy to manage once it settled in over the heat. It bubbled up and took on a rather rustic look within minutes. Rotation helped to cook portions of both crust and vegetables evenly over the meager amount of coals used.

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With one side of the dough fully cooked, I flipped the crust over for a kiss of heat so that texture wouldn’t be too soft amongst the toppings.

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The sturdiness of the dough was rather fortunate as I gave no thought to the weight of the toppings as they were piled on. It was only during the transfer back to the grill that I realized how heavy the pizza had become, but the crust stayed true to the cause.

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With coals pushed to one side, I set the pizza on the other end and tried to capture enough heat under the grill cover to melt the cheese a bit. The results were somewhat lackluster but the flavor remained unaffected.

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With big, juicy toppings to chomp into, this pizza had a glamping charm to it that would only suit a rosé. Something crisp and funky from Corsica to feast with.

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But just as the realities of camping with wine have struck me before, this bottle was corked and completely ruined for enjoyment. So I did as I did last time and grabbed a beer.

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Yes, Ballast Point sold out for a billion dollar check but that doesn’t mean I love this beer any less. It’s refreshing AF and great alongside whatever just came off the grill. Cheers.

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.

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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.

Week 1 – Soup: Tomato Soup & Pepperoni Twists

Thrilled to get a chance to expand my soup repertoire, I used this first challenge to hunt down a tomato soup recipe worthy of repetition, with or without its pizza flair. By using tomato as a base, the expansion into the pizza realm would be as natural as garnishing with cheese and croutons, which, while delicious, would be a snooze fest. Instead, I swam around the internet until I found a perfect companion for the tomato soup: pepperoni twists.

Having just discovered the outrageous beauty San Marzano tomatoes can bring to a sauce, I already had my main dancing partner in mind for this project. Since these tomatoes are not often found fresh, the canned version helps to significantly diminish the amount of prep work involved. Tomatoes and artichokes are the only canned produce items I keep stocked as they both are able to maintain the same quality as their fresh counterparts with the added bonus of minimizing kitchen labor.

Wanting a basic soup to showcase the charm of San Marzanos, I worked off a Chowhound recipe, adjusting all the while to suit my fancy. A few springs of thyme were steeped during the simmer for a whisper of herbaceousness while I cut the cream altogether to keep the tomatoes singing brightly. To make up for the omitted liquid, I stretched out the soup with 1/2 a cup more broth.

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Building the pizza dough from a Cook’s Illustrated standard found in The New Best Recipe, I chose to experiment with this batch using half bread flour and half whole wheat, resulting in a more textured but equally workable dough.

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As for the pepperoni twists themselves, I kept true to much of the recipe, choosing to use an indulgent amount of pepperoni so as to pack in the pizza essence.

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The marriage of tomato soup to pepperoni twists is straightfoward and obvious, yet so captivating. With each dip of bread, the sweet, meaty oil slick left behind infuses an attractive savory character into tanginess of the tomato. The fusion remains present in every spoonful to follow inspiring a pepperoni twist massacre.

Chosen to pair for its boldness of style and fresh acidity, 2006 Tenuta di Trinoro – “Le Cupole,” Rosso, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy is a Bordeaux blend mainly featuring Cabernet Franc (47%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30%). The decade of age has soften its edges, but the tannins remain firmly textured while the pairing proves to be just as hedonistic as the dish itself.

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Having leaned a little heavy on the red pepper flake usage in both recipes, the heat from the spice lingers and challenges the weighty alcohol level of the Tuscan. Even still, the bolt of intense fruit present in the wine refreshes the palate with dominating aromatics of black cherries, cooked blackberries and vanilla. Notes of tar and dusty tobacco mirror the savory components brought on by pepperoni, though the pairing seems to thrive on the contrasting of elements.

While hearty enough to stand up to the aromatics of this dish, the Tuscan is notably enjoyable all by its onesie. Meanwhile, tomato soup may never seem complete without a batch of pepperoni twists nearby. They may be distant lovers, capable of existing apart, but there will always the memory  of those couple passionate, wintery nights by the fireplace being engulfed by a cold, hungry pizza kitten waiting for a shiny upvote to appear.

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Knowing future challenges will not be as forgiving, I am exceedingly pleased with the outcome of my first r/52weeksofcooking metatheme challenge. Bring it on, Week 2.