Week 41: Bottled Sauces from Scratch – Elote Pizza with Red Onion, Avocado & Homemade Mayonnaise

When considering a “bottled sauce” to tackle for this week’s challenge, the list was surprisingly short. Homemade mayonnaise has been a long overdue project, which originally made the DIY queue to up my sandwich game. While mayo doesn’t play a significant role in my food otherwise, there are some dishes that lean heavily on the condiment. Elote, grilled Mexican corn slathered in mayo, cheese and lime, is not only a tasty street food treat but also has serious pizza potential.

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To begin, white corn was roasted in the oven for 30 minutes at 400°F.

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For extra pizzazz, some care was taken to char the outside over a stovetop flame. Beyond the actual act of eating, this was probably the most satisfying portion in the making of this pizza.

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The mayonnaise-making party began with finding the right oil, which I didn’t have any one suitable type, thus fashioned a three-part blend of canola, coconut & avocado oil. I used 3/4 cup of oil to 1 large egg yolk, a seemingly agreed upon ratio.

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With a bit of fancy hand jiggling and a steady oil-pouring hand, a fresh batch of mayonnaise was born into this world.

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From here, all flavors mildly related to elote were yanked from the fridge for integration. Feta played as a stand-in for the lack of cojita. Red onions and avocado generally have no place on corn but can definitely play well on the flat surface of a pizza.

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The charred corn-off-the-cob was mixed with all things creamy: mayo, feta and crema Mexicana. A dash of Tajin was added for evenly spread flavor.

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Mayonnaise and crema Mexicana also made up the base sauce.

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While the oven did its duty, orange wine was poured to enjoy in advance as it can be rather cerebral and a sip before food allows for less distractions and finely-tuned judgments.

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The pizza cooked beautifully, thin with just enough structure for the weight of two ears’ worth of corn plus all the accompanying goodies.

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Avocado, hot sauce & a squeeze of lime finished the pie.

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The Radikon orange wine had so much personality to offer with abundant acidity needed to balance with the lime juice squeezed over the pizza. While orange wines can range significantly in quality, good ones keep drinkers intrigued with the complexities achieved. This one caught my attention, and happens to play nice with even mildly spicy food.

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The pizza was a delightful play on balance, both between creamy and bright flavors and the sweet and spicy elements present as well. The orange wine worked as an equalizer as well and had no issue handling the double dose of spice this pizza saw. What I mean by all this is that this pizza was killer and I liked it a lot.

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Week 39: West African – Tatale, Yam Fufu & Peanut Sauce Pizza

This week’s theme, West African, gifted me the opportunity to work with plantain and yam, two semi-standard produce items I tend to ignore.

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As ugly as this once-green plantain now is, it’s still kicking inside. I’d like to applaud myself for spending weeks with this blackening fruit and not turning it into some kind of pseudo-banana bread.

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Peanut is a common feature in West Africa sauces and stews. Here, it made the base of the pizza using the broad stroke flavors of this recipe’s sauce to create my own.

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Unlike a well-ripened banana, plantains seem to keep their structure even in their old age. It took more effort than expected to mash in shallots and cayenne for a tatale recipe.

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The plantain cakes caramelized in the pan, some more than other, which gave it a candied sweetness. Cornmeal can be mixed in to the batter to create a more stable texture.

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Meanwhile, yam was cut up, boiled and mashed for an addition of fufu to the pizza, an admittedly silly topping when considering fufu’s role as a starchy vessel to assist in eating other dishes.

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Peanuts are crushed to finish the pizza.

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The peanut sauce is liberally applied and the plantains divvied up to see at least one piece per slice. Fufu and peanut crumbles finish the pie.

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And without the use of cheese, this pizza turned out accidentally vegan.

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Pretty damn tasty vegan pizza. And the wine pairing only improved the situation.

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The sweeter flavors of plantain and yam needs a style with more luscious fruit to offer. Jaffurs’ Santa Barbara Viognier of Bien Nacido Vineyard offers pineapples and peaches with a rounded texture that dances quite nicely alongside our pie. The two complement each other without either pizza or wine taking over the experience.

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.

Zia’s Gourmet Pizza & Valdeorras

From 5 to 10pm, a mere five hours each day, Zia’s Gourmet Pizza cooks up an array of quality-driven pies that gently push the boundaries of pizza composition. The pizzeria is driven by the high standards set by founder Khlaed Waleh and showcases ingredients such as yogurt, cranberries and turkey pastrami without bowing to expected norms like pepperoni. Welcoming and unpretentious, Zia’s offers visitors to Normal Heights a chance to expand their pizza horizons through slice-at-a-time exploration.

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Every pizza features a whole-wheat crust, airy and light with a rustic flair. For how easily it crumbles with each bite, the texture is surprisingly crisp and well structured. First off the by-the-slice line up is a crowd favorite, the Papay, a playful and zesty pizza alive with peppery spinach, mozzarella, garlic, capers, and a yogurt sauce counterbalancing the spice with a creamy tang. Pairing up with this savory ass-kicker is a wine matched in both structure and aromatics: Rafael Palacios, 2011 As Sortes, Valdeorras.

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Hailing from Galicia in northwestern Spain, Valdeorras is an up-and-coming region reviving the native white grape of Godello. Featured as the main component in the style, the varietal was nearly extinct until the late 20th century, but has been slowly building a cult following in recent years. Displaying fruit-driven roundness and acidic backbone, Valdeorras keeps a core minerality of wet river stones fleshed out with aromas of lemon curd, apple blossom and lime zest. With some of the delicate floral characteristics dashed away by the Papay’s zestier components, the Potato slice proves to be an overall better dancing partner.

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Succinctly named, the Potato features rosemary potatoes, garlic, scallions, feta, cream cheese and mozzarella over a red sauce. Upon first glance, the potatoes appear as dishearteningly dull as getting a plate of home fries for breakfast when you wanted hash browns. On the playing field, these puppies pack earthy appeal with a smooth texture melting into every bite. Fragrant wisps of rosemary, scallions and garlic build upon each other, lingering long after each bite while the tomato sauce chimes in with an occasional bright hello and without much contribution otherwise. Meditating on flavors alone, the experience is best likened to a well-crafted stew: herbaceous, comforting and delightfully rustic. With the pairing, both pizza and wine are able to showcase their distinctive personalities without hindering the other’s. They’re not going to have each others babies or anything, but they sure do dance prettily together.