Monday, November 12, 2012

UnRecipe: A Day Late, A Dollar Short, But Still Delicious

I get zero points for blogging about seasonal ingredients today. But at the time I made all this stuff, I was cooking with seasonal ingredients like a Mofo. Garden tomatoes and fresh oregano? Looking outside into most PacNW gardens, it's a whole lotta soggy earth, wilted plants and gray skies, but a month or so ago, we were all still enjoying fresh-picked goodness. So let's jump into the Way-Back Machine and pretend it's still summer, shall we?

Yes, more effing tomatoes! I love these little guys!! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Gardening isn't ridiculously hard to do, but it's still a bit of work, so when you do yield even a modest harvest of edible goods, you want to celebrate them. Short of putting them in a glittery dress and making them learn to twirl a baton for an upcoming parade, you want to prepare them in a way that shows off their flavor and doesn't just drown them out as some supporting ingredient role. I didn't have a ton of tomatoes this year, but for the ripe lil' gems I got, I was celebrating the eff out of them. I went on a Pizza Rampage for a few weeks this summer -- not a bad thing to do, I admit -- and I was enjoying this magical food at several favorite spots, including The Station Pizzeria, which I happily shared many photos of their pizza-deliciousness. Working with fresh ingredients is what transforms pizza from cheap college junk food into something really special. I was particularly inspired by their spicy Cipolla, which has a mix of sausage, pine nuts, onions and fresh ricotta, as well as their Not So Classico, which had a sweet tomato confit, chevre and mozzarella, and a mix of arugula pesto and fresh arugula on top.

Inspired pizzas from The Station, and our own garden goods - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I wanted to make an UnRecipe - MacGyver pizza mashup of these pizza inspirations, using items from our garden, fridge and pantry staples and some CSA greens. I wanted to make everything as from-scratch as possible, so I used my go-to flatbread dough recipe from Epicurious, and that great homemade ricotta method using the microwave from Serious Eats. Fresh ricotta on pizza? To. Die. For. And making your own dough and fresh cheese isn't as much work as you'd think. The microwave method for fresh ricotta from Serious Eats has a lot of passive time, with the microwave zapping the milk and vinegar mixture, which is just enough time to throw together a batch of dough. You can use the dough hook attachment on your mixer or use your hands -- it really only takes fifteen minutes or so to put together a quick dough. You're just getting it mixed until everything comes together, you don't want to overmix and create concrete. Once the combined dough is balled up in a neat, clean round and placed in an oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap to proof, say Peace Out, and let it sit until dinner time when you're baking this bad boy. Same with the ricotta -- I made a double batch, based off the Serious Eats instructions, so it took a little more than double the time in our microwave to curdle and get cheesy. I drained off as much of the whey as I could, stirring the mixture through paper towels and a metal sieve, but once it got to Greek yogurt consistency, I set the cheesy sieve atop a big, empty measuring glass and set the whole thing in the fridge to just let gravity finish the job. I checked on it periodically throughout the day, stirring to agitate more of the whey to drain. The resulting ricotta wasn't as thick or crumbly, more creamy, like a thickened pudding, but because I baked the ricotta with the pizza, the oven evaporated a lot of the excess liquid.

You got the White Stuff, baby. Making cheese and bread - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I wanted the finished pizza to have a spicy mixture of pickled and fresh vegetables. I skipped the meat just because I thought sausage flavoring might overpower the vegetables and I wanted to highlight the freshness of everything. But if I were to add a meat, prosciutto would be a good candidate. I pulled some fresh oregano leaves and chopped them up super-fine, mixing it with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar for a basic dressing. This was tossed with halved fresh cherry tomatoes and pickled goodies like chopped kalamata olives and pickled peppers. Once the dough was proofed and rolled out to make a rustic, aka, lopsided and butt-ugly, shaped pizza, it was covered with the vegetables and dollop-bombed with the fresh ricotta. Into a hot oven the whole thing went.

Garden-delicious with pickled olive and pepper goodness - photos by Wasabi Prime
It was a pretty heavily-laden pizza, but luckily this flatbread recipe yields a sturdy crust. The oven pulled a lot of the extra liquid from the ricotta and gave it a little color, but kept it creamy. If you had more crumbly ricotta, you could probably wait until adding it towards the tail-end of the baking, just so it wouldn't get rubbery. Once the pizza was finished, I sprinkled chopped fresh arugula on top to give it a peppery, green finish.

Pizza from scratch, from cheese, to bread, to tomatoes - so worth it! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
The result was, of course, fantastic. While not something I'd make every day, it's good to make a meal like this now and then to remind your palate of what homemade tastes like. You never realize how much pre-packaged food we eat, even the stuff you get from restaurants -- if it's a big chain, chances are, some of the ingredients they use are premade. Granted, no one's going to die if you have a $5 takeout pizza now and then, but consider the notion that if you're going to treat yourself with some comfort-junk food, make it slightly less junky by making it yourself.

More garden-delicious delights - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I got struck by the Homemade Bug again when I had more ripe cherry tomatoes and was getting tired of just having them in a salad. I had an image pop into my head of the whole tomatoes baked into an herbed cheesy bread. Sounded like a good idea as any. Short of The Voices in Your Head that ask you to do evil, bad things, the ones that suggest a cheesy tomato bread is a far more socially acceptable option.

Cheesy tomato bread rewarded by a spot on Sunset's website - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I used the same flatbread recipe, but mixed in finely chopped herbs and shreds of Parmesan cheese right before baking it. I formed it into more of a loaf than a flat pizza dough, so that it would yield thicker slices. I used a mix of herbs -- oregano and rosemary, as that's what was left in the garden, but a dry mix of thyme, oregano and red pepper flakes would work just as well. I made little divots in the dough and pushed the whole cherry tomatoes in. A quick drizzle of oil and more cheese over the top, and into a hot oven it went to bake. The tomatoes caramelized, shriveled and popped, which doesn't sound good but that's what I wanted. They stayed sunk into the bread, binding with the dough, and they were a nice fruity bite as you ate the herbed dough.

It was a complete UnRecipe tomato cheesy bread, because I didn't really have any set plan over how it would come out, just a vision in my head of what the finished result could be. And I was glad to see it pretty much matched the picture in my mind. I was so pleased, I entered it into Sunset Magazine's photo contest, where they would showcase harvest-worthy images. I was pleased to see the bread made it online, which of course is all that's left of this loaf, as it was gobbled up without a trace. Will definitely make this again, maybe using olives, since we're at a loss for truly garden-fresh tomatoes these days.

And there ends our trip in the Way-Back Machine of Summer. No lush gardens to pluck fresh produce from at the moment, but we can still dream of seasons to come and how to celebrate those harvests in the kitchen for future meals.

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