Recipe Only: Pizza

Pancetta, Pesto, and Pomodoro Pizza

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough – enough for 2 large pizzas or 4 small

  • 500 g all purpose flour
  • 1 g active dry yeast
  • 16 g fine sea salt
  • 350 g filtered water
  1. Combine all ingredients in a lidded bowl (I used a 4-litre plastic ice-cream tub) with your hands or a wooden spoon until no pockets of flour remain.
  2. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature to ferment for 18-21 hours depending on how warm your kitchen is. The dough is very forgiving, so don’t stress about the specifics.

Basil Pesto – makes about 1 cup

  • handful of almonds, toasted
  • 2 strips lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp roasted garlic, or substitute 2 fresh garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated parmiggiano reggiano
  • 120 g fresh basil, roughly torn
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • few grinds black pepper
  • generous 1/2 c olive oil, plus more for sealing
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until finely textured.
  2. Spoon into a small mason jar and pour in more olive oil to fully cover the top. Seal with the lid and refrigerate. It will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.
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Pancetta, Pesto, and Pomodoro Pizza

Pancetta, Pesto, and Pomodoro Pizza – makes 1 pizza

  • 1/2 recipe No-Knead Dough (above)
  • 2 San Marzano tomatoes, fished out from the can
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 5 bocconcini, halved
  • 5 slices pancetta
  • 1 tbsp Basil Pesto (above)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • finely shredded basil, to finish
  1. Preheat the oven to its highest setting or 525 degrees F. Place one rack as close as low as possible and the other as high up as possible. This will help you control the doneness of your crust and toppings later.
  2. Sprinkle a generous layer of flour all over a baking sheet and fold the dough gently (using more flour as necessary) to form a smooth ball.
  3. Stretch the dough out with your knuckles until it reaches the size of the pan. Fit it onto the floured pan. (This beautiful video will show you exactly what I mean.)
  4. Crush the San Marzano tomatoes between your hands and let the juices drip onto the pizza dough. Break the tomato into small pieces and dot them all over the stretched dough.
  5. Top with the bocconcini, cherry tomatoes, and pancetta slices in the order listed. Dot with pesto. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Bake on the bottom rack for 5-6 minutes, then transfer to the top rack to bake for another 6-7 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly, pancetta is crisp, and crust is lightly blistered and deep golden.
  7. Top with shredded basil, slice, and serve immediately (with chili flakes if I may add).

Goes well with a massaged kale salad…in the next post!

In the comments below tell me: What are your favourite pizza topping combinations?

a monumental predicament

I say, they’re a fruit. Because the ones that taste like fruit are the best ones.

When you’re looking for a tomato, you’re not looking for a bright green one nor a very firm one. You’re looking for intense reds, (perhaps even oranges, and yellows) with a bit of give when gently squeezed  – both are signs for high sun exposure and full ripeness which imply higher sugar content and flavour compounds.

Essentially, we’re looking for all the qualities that make fruit delicious. If deep down we really believed that tomatoes are a vegetable, we would’ve probably select bred the red out of them back when cauliflower became white. By the way, most green tomatoes are actually just unripe red tomatoes. Same goes with bell peppers.

But don’t we “treat them like a vegetable” by roasting them, stewing them, putting them in salads, and/or pairing them with cheese? Last time I checked, we’ve been doing all of the above with apples and strawberries. Guess those two won’t count towards my morning fruit bowl anymore. Pity.

So if you’ve ever found raw tomatoes too raw or bland, you’re probably-very-likely-basically-99% missing the acid-sweet fruitiness and juiciness you’re so accustomed to tasting in red berries, grapes, and plums.  I’ve got a few tips for you:

1. Buy fully ripe local tomatoes. Like all fruit, intense color and aroma are signs of ripeness in tomatoes. Give them a little pinch between your fingers – they should feel soft, like they might burst from the tiniest bit more pressure. Sourcing locally guarantees less travelling, which means they are vine-ripened instead of being picked prematurely. Get to know the farmers and vendours, start by asking for their favourite type and a few samples!

2. Season in season. Two birds with one stone here, but first, buy in season. I can’t stress this enough, there’s a time for everything. For tomatoes, it’s July through October here in Ontario. Second, but equally important, season with sea salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. I’ve already clarified the perks of salting your fruit.

3. Make the cut. Pretty sure I don’t need to tell you to cut your beefsteak tomatoes, but cherry tomatoes deserve fair treatment also. Remember, you eat with your eyes first, and as soon as they see something red and round like a fruit they start searching for the nectar that’s presumably inside. Know that fact and manipulate it, so slice them tomatoes open and let their juice shine. (Also, salt and other seasonings tend to slide right off uncut tomatoes. That’s no rocket science.)

And let us not grow weary

in doing good,

for in due season

we will reap,

if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

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I have to admit, the first salad I ever became drawn to since being exposed to western culture was the caprese. Yet, I seldom attempt it simply because it’s so difficult to find truly delicious tomatoes that are bright and robust in flavour. Indeed, there is not a single perfect tomato, but as I was reading Andy and Michael’s Collards & Carbonara one morning with a lovely pairing of coffee that’s cooled significant from when I first poured it, I realized that I needed a variety to cover all the notes I wanted to hit in my caprese (for me those would be a mellow-sweet one, a bright-sweet one, and one that has a strong “tomato-y flavour”) . So don’t be discouraged by a couple of bland attempts! Go try out varieties that are grown close to you, ask for a taste, and choose the ones you loved most. Remember, if you liked it enough on its own, it can only get better from there!

Ingredients for the heirloom caprese, serves 4:

30 g fresh basil leaves

125 ml extra virgin olive oil

450 g local tomatoes (I used zebra cherry, lady finger, cerise orange, sweet olive, and lemon drop)

150 g fresh mozzarella, torn into 4 pieces

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

To make the basil oil, pound the basil roughly with a mortar and pestle (or cup and muddler, whatever to thoroughly bruise the basil),  with a drizzle of the olive oil. If you want the oil to stay clear, don’t grind, just stick to pounding. Pour in the remaining oil and let it steep while you slice the tomatoes.

To get the best slice surface, observe your tomatoes. There is a wall of membrane down the center of the tomato that spans across the flatter, slightly pinched-in sides of the tomato. Make your slice perpendicular to that membrane to expose the juicy seed chambers.

To plate, put the mozzarella on four small plates, arrange the tomatoes on and around each. Drizzle with the steeped oil generously (leave out the basil), and season to taste.

Enjoy!

 

slake

“1. to allay thirst by satisfying

2. to make less active, vigourous, intense, etc.

3. to cause disintegration by treatment with water”

– dictionary.com

That’s slake for you.

For some reason I thought that would be appropriate for this post, which is all about watermelon, which we’re all very familiar with. Most of the time we just eat things without giving it a second thought. Don’t worry, it’s not about world hunger today, nor is it about the dark side of food production. None of that sociological stuff. Rather, today we’re going a little deeper. Let’s get lost in chemistry.

Osmosis, actually.

Ever wonder why people salt their watermelon? Or if you’re gawking a what you’ve just read, you should start doing it too. Well, aside from what I mentioned over last time, salt also makes your watermelon sweeter. In a spoonful, a light sprinkle of salt makes osmosis happen on the surface of the watermelon – the water inside the cells get “sucked out” in attempt to balance sodium concentrations in and outside of the cell.

Blah blah blah, did I just lose you?

That’s okay, because here are the important 1-2-3 bits:

1. the drawn-out moisture that’s now sitting on the surface of your slice of watermelon makes it look more juicy and appetizing. You eat with your eyes first.

2. the moment you bite, the moisture is the first thing that comes in contact with your palate, so you’re tricked to thinking that it tastes juicier.

3. that moisture quickly leaves your palate, and you’re left with the slightly dehydrated watermelon, in other words, a mass of cells which are carrying a higher concentration of sugar.

But of course all that’s just too much info, so let’s just get down to the noshing bit. Who needs knowledge?

Leave your simple ways behind, and begin to live;

learn to use good judgment.

Proverbs 9:6

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Ingredients for the balkan granita:

1/2 c balkan style yoghurt, 6% MF

To make the balkan granita, place the yoghurt in a freezable container and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Take it out, stir it, and freeze again for 30 minutes. Repeat until icy and set but still scoopable.

Ingredients for the assembly:

chilled watermelon slices

small handful fresh sweet basil leaves

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To assemble, first chill your serving plates; place them in the freezer for 7-8 minutes. Meanwhile, roll up the basil leaves tightly into a cigar. Pour some olive oil over it and slice very thinly with a sharp knife. (The oil coats your knife as you slice and seals the broken cells from the air to reduce oxidation – keeping your lovely green basil from turning black.)

Once that’s done, take the plates out of the freezer. Put the watermelon on the plates, dot with the balkan granita, garnish with basil, drizzle with olive oil, and season. (Just get everything on that plate.)

Enjoy!

 

Resistant Little Heart

If you’re cooking for a woman, make a good risotto and a salad. If you don’t have time to make dessert, you can go and buy some macaroons to have later.”

-Wolfgang Puck

The man’s right. On so many levels that probably never crossed his mind when he said those words.

One. Women I know love risotto. While there’s evidently something very attractive about the idea of rice that’s so immensely creamy and sensuous that it becomes one with your tongue, I would argue that it’s the al dente heart of that rice, a proof of perfect sensibility and restraint, that makes risotto that much sexier than rice pudding. You can quote that.

Two. Women are defensive of their toys, I mean, kitchen. Because, just like how children are forever fearing that their out-for-the-evening parents are late to return because they’ve died in a car crash, we girls grow up to fear that boys will burn down our kitchens once 30 minutes pass. Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me. But that doesn’t matter – risotto only takes 25 minutes, phew.

Three. Women love men who can cook. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. It’s just that everyone loves to have someone close who will, on the right occasions, cook for them. It could be a best friend, a brother, perhaps from a different mother, who cares? Who cares if they bought the dessert? They cared enough to make you risotto.

I cared enough to make risotto.

In all honesty, that’s all you need to make a good risotto. It’s not some pretentious art as gastromedia casts it. The only thing, which isn’t even difficult, is the constant stirring. Stirring increases the amount of the rice’s surface area which comes into contact with liquid, which in turn helps release the starch. This means you will have a very creamy risotto as the “creamy” texture is essentially the married portion of stock and starch.

And at all costs, keep tasting – that’s key to catching your perfect al dente!

I remind you that you should

stir up the gift of God

which is in you through

the laying of my hands.

-2 Timothy 1:6

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As much as I love risotto, I think I would still appreciate it more if it goes along with several varying textural components, not to mention a even coverage of all the flavour bases. Here, aside from the creaminess and al dente of the rice, there is equally the buttery firmness of the halibut, the crunchiness of its skin, as well as the near-transparent crispness of the fried basil and ginger. The acidity of the lime is hardly detectable in the finished dish, but it is crucial to the balance of flavours – it’s what keeps you coming for another bite without feeling weighed down.

Ingredients for the green basil risotto, serves 6:

3 tbsp coconut oil

1 c diced white onion

1 1/2 c short grain rice, do not rinse this!

2-3 tbsp green curry paste, depending on its strength

4 c unsalted chicken/vegetable stock

1 can unpasteurized full-fat coconut milk

1 c gently packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 lime, juice only

sea salt, to taste

To make the risotto, melt the coconut oil in a deep saucepan or small pot. Add the onions and sweat them until soft, being careful not to brown them. Tip in the rice and stir until the grains are evenly coated with oil and are translucent. Stir in the curry paste until fragrant.

Pour in 1 cup of stock and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, still stirring and keeping the heat low for about 15~18 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree the fatty portion of the coconut milk with the basil and lime juice to a vibrant green milk shake. Chill until needed. Stir the remaining watery portion of the coconut milk into the rice.

Once all the stock has been absorbed, taste your risotto and see if you like the doneness. It should be very creamy, but still retaining a bit of nutty texture in the center of each grain.

Incorporate the coconut basil mixture and take away from the heat. Spoon onto warmed plates and top with the seared halibut, fried basil and ginger (follows).

Ingredients for the crispy-skinned halibut, fried basil, and ginger:

2/3 c mild vegetable oil, for frying

12 ginger slices, thinly sliced with a mandoline or very sharp knife

18 fresh basil leaves

1 lb thick halibut fillet, cut into 6 neat portions

sea salt

To make the fried garnishes, heat the oil in a small saucepan until a chopstick’s point submerged bubbles vigourously. Add half the ginger slices and fry, spooning the oil over the slices occasionally until golden and crisp. Take them out and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat with the rest of the ginger.

To fry the basil, lower a couple basil leaves to the hot oil – be careful, it will sputter. Fry for 5-10 seconds, until crispy and bright green. Drain on paper towel.

For the halibut, blot the portions dry with paper towel and season the skin side generously with sea salt. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat.

Add a couple spoonfuls of the basil frying oil to the pan and swirl to coat in a shimmery layer.Place the halibut portions (don’t crowd the pan, do it in two batches if you need to), skin-side-down in the pan and leave them there for 3 minutes, to really crisp up the skin. Flip them over and cook for another 1-2 minutes, you want to see a thin line that is still translucent beige along the sides. Transfer them onto the plate, keeping the skin side facing upwards, and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before plating.

Plate up and serve with a salad as WP suggests or, if it’s a chilly day where you find yourself, consider steaming some green beans and yellow zucchini to brighten up your day!

Enjoy! (And for once, dessert is optional!)

the Original Drive-Thru

It’s always in the simplest, purest of ingredients that you notice the biggest difference. This time, I’m shining the light on a local farm that treats their hens right. And of course, happy hens => happy eggs => happy eating.

What’s even better? I don’t even have to stand in line at the farmer’s market to get them. They have a drive-through right at the farm, and literally all you need to do is “honk for service”. Yup, an egg drive-through. Where do I even come from, right?

Maple Ridge, British Columbia. And the adorable farm is called “Never Say Die” Nursery. See? Adorable.

But back to the eggs, gorgeous doesn’t describe them. And the term #yolkporn disgusts me. Seriously, don’t adulterate something so natural and nourishing. Whenever I come across a good egg it always makes me momentarily breathless. It must be the combination of the yolk’s bright tangerine color (#f28500 hex color code, look it up), the way the yolk stands so proudly in a visibly distinct sac of albumen when you crack it open that inspires me to treat it well.

This time, it’s poaching. There’s something about the tenderness of spring asparagus, the whimsy of sweet peas, and the viridity of a jiggly poached egg that makes them, together, instinctively irresistible.

As for those limp, watery eggs that have a sad, deflated, pale yellow yolk swimming inside of them, hide them in a box-mix cake or something. Do not attempt to serve them in their form. Also, never buy them again, for those eggs are from caged, drugged hens (in the name of mass economical production! oh joy!) and should not even be produced.

Hopefully you’ve seen the light as far as the topic of eggs, now go and convince your taste buds!

Take no part in

the unfruitful

works of darkness,

but instead

expose them.

Ephesians 5:11

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Believe it or not, this is my very first time poaching an egg. So as you can see, it really is nothing to be scared of. To be honest, I was pretty terrified right up to the point I lowered in the egg, but immediately I realized that you are physically incapable of messing this up so long as you follow along this little tutorial. Also, as if I have not drilled it into your kitchen backsplash, a good free range egg is not negotiable – you and your family deserve at least that.

So here goes:

How to poach an egg

Step 1: If your egg has been sitting in the fridge, bring your egg to room temperature by submerging them in a bowl of warm tap water for 5 minutes. Pat your egg dry and crack it into a small bowl. If your egg’s already at room temperature, just crack it into a small bowl. Take care not to break the yolk. (This should not be difficult as fresh free range eggs have very robust yolks!)

Step 2: Add 2 tbsp white vinegar to a large pot of water and let it come up to a rolling boil.

Step 3: Turn off the heat and use a spoon to stir the water quickly in a clock-wise direction to make a whirlpool in the pot’s center.

Step 4: While the current is still strong, gently tip the egg into the middle of the whirlpool.

Step 5: Cover and let it poach for 150 seconds (2 1/2 minutes), then carefully lift it out with a slotted spoon.

At this point you can either serve it immediately, or place it in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

Now let’s get on with the recipe!

Ingredients for the Penne with Pan-Roasted Asparagus, Sweet Peas, Pesto, and Caramelized Lemon

serves 4

340 g organic corn penne, or your preferred chunky pasta (I like penne because it’s the same shape as the asparagus)

1 large lemon, scrubbed clean and halved

3 tbsp olive oil

600 g asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch sticks on the diagonal

1/2 c basil pesto (recipe follows)

2/3 c white wine (whatever you have on hand, I used chablis)

1 1/4 c frozen sweet peas

lots of fine sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil to season

To make the asparagus penne, cook the pasta as directed on the package.

Meanwhile, heat your cast iron on the stove until very hot. Place the lemon halves, cut sides down in the hot pan and hold them down firmly for 30~60 seconds, or until the surface is well-browned and caramelized. This will completely change the flavour profile of the lemon and give it a sweeter, deeper dimension. Slice off and reserve the caramelized parts only. (Use the rest for lemon water or something.)

Keep the pan on medium heat, add 1 tbsp of the oil just to coat the bottom and add the asparagus. Season generously and let it sit undisturbed for 20 seconds or so to get some browned, crispy bits. Stir a couple times, just until all the pieces are bright green.

Transfer the asparagus into a large salad/mixing bowl. Stir in the frozen peas to stop the cooking process. By now the pasta should be cooked. Drain and toss it with the vegetables.

Keep the element on and add the remaining oil to the pan and stir in the pesto to wake up its flavour. Deglaze with the white wine and stir until the alcohol burns off. Pour the sauce over the pasta mixture and stir through. Check and adjust the seasoning.

Divide between four plates. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, top with an optional (but definitely recommended) poached egg, and serve with a slice of caramelized lemon.

Enjoy!

To make a vegan pesto, throw 50 g sweet basil, 2 garlic cloves, 3 tbsp toasted pine nuts, 3/4 tsp sea salt, and 1/2 cup olive oil in a small food processor and whiz to a textured puree. Store in a glass jar, pour a thin film of olive oil over top to seal and cover with the lid. This will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks.

 

 

Caught

Like everyone, I use filters. Oh how we adore them. We filter our lives through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It’s fantastic – it’s like Sephora, except not just for the female visage – it’s for everyone’s cyber avatar (which could arguably be a disturbingly independent, distinct identity from its owner).

But filtering is more than selectively publishing life statuses and photographs. Filters obscure, and make mild of perception. They deceive and dismiss the reality, the rawness of things.

Do you agree, that the heart is felt with more reality, above all else?

Do you agree, that the heart is beautiful?

But we filter the living breath out of it.

I’m far from perfect – I’m me, and I know better than anyone that I am despicable – but I try.

I try to be the person I want to become, and stop trying to become the person I want to be, else I’ll always wallow in self-loathing and self-pity because I will always be a step behind.

Let’s be honest. With ourselves and those around us. (This does not equate with being nasty.)

And keep hashtagging edited photographs with #nofilter. You wanted real, didn’t you?

Therefore let us celebrate the feast,

not with old leaven,

nor with leaven of malice and wickedness,

but with the unleavened bread of sincerity

and truth.

1 Corinthians 5:8

Also, raw is beautiful, just look at this beauty of a feast.

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This is honestly the best fish I ever had, and what’s even better is that it’s part of my 7-Ingredient series. I originally wanted to bake it en papillote, but the four-pound beauty has outgrown the paramenters of my parchment paper by an unsalvageable margin.

What I ended up doing was even simpler. Basically, from what you see above, I just covered that whole thing with aluminum foil, pinched down the sides tightly, and put it in the oven at a really low temperature. The result was phenomenal – the flesh was incredibly buttery and tender. And because I love all parts of fish, I ate the skin too, which was also extremely rich and creamy. That’s not all, the few roasted, sweet lemon slices basically worked magic and managed to permeate the entire fish with their vibrant perfume.

Ingredients for the slow-baked trout:

1 fresh trout, 3-4 lbs, cleaned (I had mine freshly caught and I highly recommend that)

4 tbsp coarse sea salt

1 small lemon, thinly sliced

3 tbsp basil pesto

1 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size half-moons

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

few rounds freshly ground black pepper

To make the slow-baked trout, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F, with the rack placed in the center. Cover the bottom of a large roasting pan with aluminum foil. Drizzle it all over with 1 tbsp of the olive oil.

Meanwhile, prepare the fish. Trout have a slimy protective coating that also happens to be the source of its “fishy” taste. To remove this slime, rub the skin of the trout generously with 2 tbsp of the salt – that’s right, massage it with lots of love. Leave it for 2 minutes and rinse off the trout under cold, running water. Pat as dry as possible with paper towel, and repeat the process again with the remaining salt.

Place the cleaned, dry trout into the prepared pan. Smear the pesto onto each of the lemon slices and fit them snugly, overlapping slightly, into the abdominal cavity. Add the zucchini to the pan and season everything with black pepper and a little more salt. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake for 20 minutes, turn off the oven, and let it sit in the hot oven for another 45 minutes, up to an hour.

Serve with boiled new potatoes and/or a light green salad.

Enjoy!