Week 17: Medieval – Spiced Almond & Pomegranate Cornish Hen Pizza

To kick off Season 6 of Game of Thrones, Reddit’s r/52weeksofcooking has called for a medieval style dish to sustain us through the first episode airing tonight. The pizza constructed to fulfill this requirement began with a 16th century sauce recipe designed to go with partridge or hen. The spice-heavy sauce calls for flavors of cinnamon, ginger, pomegranate and white almonds.

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The ingredients are pummeled into a mildly gritty texture to recall the days without blenders.

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A cornish hen takes the leading role of this pizza. Before roasting, a savory mixture of spices featuring cumin, allspice, paprika and cinnamon is rubbed over the skin for extra flavor. During the cooking and resting period, the crust is prepared.

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While the sauce does not win any pretty awards, it tastes like wintertime. A flurry of ricotta and mozzarella, both fair game cheeses according to White Oak Historical Society, are added for a bit of extra heartiness.

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When the hen is done resting, the thighs are sliced and added to the pizza with their crispy skin accompanying. With the meat cooked, the crust is crisped up in an oven of 550°F.

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The legs are set aside for presentation purposes. This pizza is ready to be spanked on the bottom and sent out to the hungry masses for devouring.

 

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To step these slices up from peasant food to slices fit for noblemen, a quick sprinkle of sliced almonds and pomegranate seeds really jazzes up the presentation.

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There is no better way to wash down a medieval experience, especially one gushing with cinnamon and spice, than a dainty chalice of cider (Eric Bordelet, Normandy, France), which also happens to make a great drinking game accompaniment at 4% abv.

And since nobody ever seems to find the gifs tucked away in each post:

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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.

Week 2 – Sous Vide: Short Rib & Mashed Potato pizza

Upon the insistence sous vide websites or books everywhere, short ribs are the showcase piece for this next pizza project. According to these various resources, short ribs can take anywhere from 12 to 72 hours, depending on preferred texture.

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I decide to try a 72°C bath for about 24 hours so the meat would be just beginning to fall off the bone. As short ribs are new to my kitchen, a 24-hour projection allows wiggle room for mistakes, one of which almost flopped the entire pie in its final stages.

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The half-pound of bone-in short rib purchase looks somewhat scant, but for a single pizza it proves to be plenty. To keep to the classics, mashed potatoes a la sous vide seems a fitting accompaniment for the ribs. Getting saavy with russett potatoes, the outsides are cut for potato skins for immediate enjoyment.

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Meanwhile, the fleshy insides were wrapped up and tossed into the sous vide in the final hours of the short ribs’ bath. After taking the short ribs out to begin building the sauce, I upped the temperature to 90°C for the final 20-30 minutes for the potatoes to soften just enough.

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For the sauce, I made a red wine reduction steeping yellow onions, shallots, garlic and thyme aromatic richness while amping up the savory elements by adding in short rib juices, duck fat and a quick dribble of sherry vinegar.

IMG_7006While the reduction finished, I shredded the short ribs and hand-mashed the potatoes to a chunky texture.

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Preheating the oven to 550°F with pizza stone in place, I rolled out a homemade whole-wheat dough and built the pie using the reduction both as a sauce and a short rib glaze.

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To accent the mozzarella base, I topped off chunks of St. Agur, a winner of a blue cheese, and Marco Polo, a cheddar that derives its personality from cracked green and black peppercorn.

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When it came time to pop the pizza into the oven, I realized I had made a huge mistake. The weight of the ingredients and the crust itself can be enough to cause the dough to stick to its resting place, especially when not enough flour and cornmeal is used in preparing the peel. This can also be remedied by using parchment paper.

The whole night’s effort came dangerously close to getting scrapped, despite having poured all of the ingredients into the one pie. Fighting to maintain an already strained patience, I managed to salvage the majority of the pie, cutting off a crescent sliver, which eased my ability to flour underneath section by section until the pizza came loose from the peel.

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The end result is not the prettiest, but the flavors are still in tact. With eyes closed and wine in hand, the end result is still rather satisfying.

With notes of peppercorn and savory richness, this pizza calls for a bold red with the same kind of instant gratification that comes with comfort food built upon comfort food. Starfire (Columbia Valley, Washington 2006) is a fleshy, indulgent Bordeaux blend with a moderate range of more exotic aromas such as black licorice, fresh mushrooms and wet forest leaves. The splotches of blue cheese can be pushy and challenging, but the wine overcomes with creamy waves of plush dark fruit. The red wine reduction mirrors the inherent sweetness of the fruit while occasional bursts of peppercorn on the pizza enhance the earthy aromatics.

If I could change anything about this pie, I’d switch out the whole wheat flour for bread flour to gain a smoother texture, distracting less from the winning topping here, the mashed potatoes. That and I would have remembered the damn parchment paper.

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.