Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bacon Jam Pizza

Of the 20-some pizza recipes we have posted so far, I am by far the most proud of this one. It feels like a milestone, a turning point in our pizza-making from which we can grow to new great pizza heights.

Either that or this is the absolute best pizza we're ever going to make and it's all downhill from here.

Many of our pizzas begin with already established flavor combinations, which we then finagle onto a crust. The creativity lies more in figuring out how to make it work on a pizza, rather than in coming up with brand new topping pairings. This recipe, however, began with the mysterious and tantalizing words "bacon jam," followed by "what the heck goes with bacon jam?" And the most delicious discoveries emerged.

The bacon jam recipe is courtesy of my friend Tasty April. At her Labor Day party this year, she brought out a small jar of chunky brown paste, assuring us it we would want to put this condiment on everything. She was right.

Unfortunately, my first effort at making bacon jam failed miserably, as the combination of my gas stove with no legitimate "low" setting and my over-zealous cast iron skillet completely scorched it. So I made a few minor modifications, including the use of a slow cooker, and attempt #2 was a rousing success. As April suggests, the uses of this miraculous substance are endless, so if you come up with any other exciting applications, we'd love to know.

  1. Chop 1 pound of thick-cut smoked bacon into 1-inch pieces and cook in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Allow the bacon fat to cool for a few minutes. Then add 1 large onion, sliced thin, and 5 minced garlic cloves and saute over medium-low heat until the onion is translucent.
  3. Meanwhile, get out your slow cooker and put in the crisped bacon, 3/4 cup coffee, 1/2 cup water, 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne. When the onions and garlic are done, add them as well, along with all of that bacon fat.
  4. Simmer everything in the slow cooker on high, with the lid on, for 1 hour. Then turn it down to low and simmer for another 30 minutes. The bacon should be very soft and soggy, and there will be a lot of liquid left.
  5. Turn off the slow cooker and allow the mixture to cool for 20-30 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chunky parts to the food processor and discard the excess liquids. 
  6. Pulse the mixture in the food processor until finely chopped, about 5 pulses, or until it's a consistency you like.
  7. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.

The pizza magic happens when you add just the right toppings to the bacon jam base. Layer the toppings in this order:
  1. Whole wheat crust, par-baked
  2. Thin spread of bacon jam. You don't need much to have a very rich flavor. (Or to have super high cholesterol...)
  3. Grated mozzarella, just enough to help the toppings stick
  4. Crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  5. Thinly sliced pears
  6. Sliced shallots
Bake at 450 degrees F for 7 minutes. Eat and eat and eat some more.

We ended up making this pizza twice in one weekend because we couldn't believe how delicious it was!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Nacho Pizza, revisited

On a cold winter day nearly nine months ago, we first made the nacho pizza that inspired this blog. We were lazy, didn't want to go to the store, made a pizza with whatever we could find. It was awesome. Recently, we were reminiscing about that fortuitous discovery and revisited our dear nacho pizza recipe. With seasonal ingredients (and a little advance planning), it was quite possibly more delicious the second time around.

TOPPINGS (layered in this order):
  1. Very best pizza crust ever, par-baked
  2. Mix of grated cheddar and mozzarella cheeses
  3. Cooked black beans, tossed with taco seasoning (It's easy to make your own seasoning! Combine the following: 1 tablespoon chili powder; 1/4 teaspoon each garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper, dried oregano; 1/2 teaspoon paprika; 1 and 1/2 teaspoon cumin; 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper.)
  4. Thinly sliced onions
  5. Finely chopped fresh tomatoes
  6. Chopped green bell peppers
  7. Sliced jalapeños
 Bake at 450 degrees for 7-8 minutes. Top with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro leaves.



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fried Green Tomato Pizza

Remember that movie? The one where the dissatisfied middle-aged housewife becomes friends with the elderly woman at the nursing home and hears a tale of love and abuse and suspected murder? The one where the main plot twist involves barbecuing the abusive husband and serving him to the mean police officer? (Oh sorry, did I spoil that for anyone...)

Movie titles aside, fried green tomatoes turn out to be the perfect pizza topping for all of you gardeners currently gazing wistfully at the never-to-ripen tomatoes left on your vines. I guess technically you could pick green tomatoes all summer long, but it seems like a fall food to me. A final recognition that the harvest is winding down and the cold is settling in.

  1. First, prepare three bowls for breading the tomatoes. In one shallow bowl or pan, put 1/4 cup all-purpose flour.
  2. In a glass measuring cup or similarly deep bowl, combine 1 lightly beaten egg and 1/2 cup buttermilk. (If you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can put a tablespoon of white vinegar in your measuring cup first, then fill up to the 1/2 cup mark with regular milk. Let it sit for a few minutes before adding the egg.)
  3. In another shallow bowl or pan, combine 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  4. Slice 3 medium-sized green tomatoes into 1/4-inch slices.
  5. Dredge the tomato slices in the plain flour first, then dip them in the egg mixture, then dredge them in the cornmeal mixture so they have a nice coating. Flour doesn't stick very well to the juicy tomatoes, so it might not look even.
  6. Pour about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a heavy skillet and heat on medium. Put the tomatoes in a single layer in the hot oil and cook about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. 
  7. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.
We decided to fry some jalapeños while we were at it, so just slice them up and follow the same steps above.

At this stage, I highly recommend helping yourself to a fried green tomato appetizer. Yum yum.

Now, if you still have any fried tomatoes left after your taste-test, it's time to prepare the pizza itself. Layer the toppings in this order:
  1. Very best pizza crust ever, par-baked with a drizzle of olive oil and 2 chopped garlic gloves sprinkled on the top
  2. Grated mozzarella
  3. The fried green tomatoes, evenly spaced across the top (and fried jalapeños if you choose!)
  4. Chopped red bell peppers or mild cherry peppers
  5. Chopped chives
Bake at 450 degrees for 5 minutes to crisp up the crust and reheat the tomatoes. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.

(Look at those two balls of dough in the background! More pizza en route!)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

French Onion Soup Pizza

With fall rolling in and my fingers permanently cold already, the thought of a steaming bowl of soup holds a special attraction. The richly mingled flavors provide the ultimate comfort: the opportunity to be warm from the inside. So in honor of chilly mornings and yellowing leaves, get out your stock pots and your stirring spoons and let's make a big vat of ... pizza?

... I know, it's confusing. You came to this pizza blog, then I go making you all nostalgic about soup, and now we're back to pizza again. Well, it's not as convenient to cup a slice of pizza between chilly hands, but this one should still satisfy your deepest soup cravings.

French onion soup essentially involves caramelized onions simmered in a broth of wine and beef stock and topped with cheesy croutons. We modified the recipe to achieve a saucier consistency for smearing on a pizza crust (aka the cheesy crouton), and we made it vegetarian.

1. First, melt 1/3 cup unsalted butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add 2-3 large onions, sliced; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 2 bay leaves; a sprinkling of thyme leaves; and salt and pepper to taste. Cook about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are very soft and caramelized.
raw onions
caramelized onions
2. Next, add about 1/2 cup red wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the wine cooks off, about 5 minutes. Stir regularly.
wine added
wine cooked off
3. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour over the onions and mix. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly, to cook out the raw flour taste.
with flour
4. Here's where our recipe veers off from the soup recipe. Add 1 cup of vegetable broth (or beef broth for the French purists among us) and simmer for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently, to thicken the mixture as much as possible. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
broth added
the final result

Once you've got all that done (are your arms tired from stirring?), the pizza itself is a piece of cake (har har).
  1. Whole-wheat crust, par-baked
  2. A generous spread of the onion sauce
  3. A solid covering of grated Gruyère (we ended up using about 1/3 pound of cheese)
Bake at 450 degrees for 7 minutes until the cheese is melted and a little bubbly. Enjoy with a fine French wine and an elegant side salad.

NOTE: If you wanted to actually make soup, you would add 2 quarts of beef/vegetable broth at step #4 above and simmer for 10 minutes. Alternately, if you have leftover onion sauce after making your pizza, you can easily transform it into soup by adding more broth. Then take some chunks of crusty bread, top them with thin slices of Gruyère and broil them in the oven or toast in the toaster oven until the cheese is melted. Float the croutons on the top of the soup to serve.

(See, you got a soup recipe after all!)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Veggie Squares

The other month, I heard an amusing story about a pizza competition, and although I more-or-less remember the story, I cannot remember where I heard it (friend? coworker?? radio???). I hear the voice, I think I even picture hand gestures, but I have no specific recall of who or where or whatfor. Fortunately (or not), ML has an equally vague memory of said story, so at least I'm not just dreaming up pizza anecdotes.

The tale goes something like this: There was a major pizza-making competition and a high-profile Italian chef was brought in to award the prizes. Contestants made all sorts of remarkable gourmet concoctions, using wonderful ingredients, but after tasting each recipe the chef announced, "Dees-a good, but eet's not-a pizza!"

All of that to announce — officially — THIS IS GOOD, BUT IT'S NOT A PIZZA.

At least not quite.

It contains three main components you might expect from a pizza: a bread-based crust, a layer of cheesy substance, and a variety of veggie toppings. After that it goes straight from not being a pizza to being plain old GOOD. Like clean-off-the-platter-in-a-matter-of-minutes good. Take it to a potluck and you will be winning awards from the other guests.

Now, this recipe is originally a convenience recipe that calls for biscuit dough from a tube, dry ranch dressing from a package and mayonnaise. But one of my rules of thumb when grocery shopping is to try only to buy foods that contain ingredients I might actually have in my kitchen. So no high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. No mono-benzo-sodi-nonsense. Takes a bit more time to read labels and requires going without Twinkies, but makes me feel like the food is healthier and my body has fewer weird chemicals to digest. Let me tell you, you don't particularly want to read the ingredient list for refrigerated biscuits or dry ranch dressing. Also let me also tell you, everything about this is super easy to make from scratch with familiar ingredients — especially if you have a food processor.

The biscuit recipe comes from my dearly beloved "Super Natural Every Day" cookbook by 101 Cookbooks.
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the middle of the oven.
  2. In a food processor (regular blade), combine 1&1/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1&1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1&1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon baking powder. Pulse a few times to mix.
  3. Cut 1/2 cup cold butter into very small cubes and sprinkle across the top of the dry ingredients. Pulse about 20 times, until dry and sandy looking.
  4. Add 1&1/3 cups plain yogurt and pulse a few times until yogurt is just incorporated. Don't over-mix! A few dry patches are fine.
  5. Scoop out the dough onto a floured surface. Knead five times and then press out into a rectangle that is about 1-inch thick. Use additional flour as needed to prevent sticking.
  6. Cut the slab of dough in half and stack on top of each other. Repeat the flattening and stacking two more times.
  7. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 10"x14" jelly roll pan. 
  8. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until the top is slightly golden.
  9. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
cutting in half

stacking the halves

Have I mentioned it isn't really pizza? Well, this isn't really cheese either... Combine all of the following in a medium bowl and mix well. Spread evenly across the cooled crust.
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme

As this was originally a convenience food recipe, I suppose you could take the easy way out and chop your veggies with the food processor. However, all of those drooling potluckers will laud you for how pretty it looks, so take advantage of that. Personally, I like to select four brightly colored veggies and chop them evenly and finely. Then I lay them out across the surface of the cream cheese in narrow strips, both to make it attractive and to ensure that each square ends up with an even assortment of vegetables. Here I used cucumbers, red bell peppers, carrots and broccoli — but any of your favorites will work. Cut the not-a-pizza into squares and serve!

I'm not kidding about the potluck. We took this to a Labor Day gathering and it was gone before the burgers were even on the grill.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pesto Pizza the Third

As fall gradually creeps in, it looks like the basil season is, sadly, winding down. My plants appear a little scraggly, less prolific. *sniff* But all sadness about the end of summer aside, now is prime time to mix up more pesto and make the most out of every last leaf. So if you're ready for pesto batch #2, here's a fresh and tasty combination of toppings to try out.

TOPPINGS (layered in this order):
  1. The very best pizza crust ever, par-baked.
  2. Generous spread of homemade pesto
  3. Grated mozzarella
  4. Chopped leeks
  5. Slivers of bacon, par-cooked just enough to be not-raw, but not enough to be crispy (optional)
  6. Halved cherry tomatoes and/or sliced tomatoes
  7. Sliced bell peppers
Bake at 450 degrees F for 7 minutes and top with just a teensy sprinkle of extra Parmesan.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Roasted Cherry Tomato Pizza

You may recall from our Kale Salad Pizza recipe my love of food blog 101 Cookbooks. Or maybe I only mentioned my enthusiasm for Heidi's raw tuscan kale salad and forgot to elaborate on how much I truly enjoy every single recipe she creates. Every. Single. One.

So I anxiously awaited the arrival of her latest cookbook, "Super Natural Every Day," and this summer have been working my way through the many delicious combinations of whole, healthy ingredients. I'm not getting a commission for selling cookbooks or anything, but if you have any foodie bones in your body, you should buy this book. Even if you don't like to cook, the pictures are stunning enough to set it on your coffee table and drool over it on a regular basis.

This pizza recipe emerged after flipping to a page describing how to make oven-roasted cherry tomatoes. We already enjoy cherry tomatoes on pizza for their juicy, punchy bite of tomato-ness, so intensifying and sweetening that flavor sounded exciting. Fortunately, we had several tubs of golden cherry tomatoes already on hand from our CSA.

OVEN-ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES (from Super Natural Every Day):
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the rack in the top third of the oven.
  2. Wash and remove all stems from 1 pint of cherry tomatoes. Slice them in half and place them in a large baking dish.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pour over the tomatoes and toss to coat.
  4. Arrange the tomatoes with the cut side up so that the juices don't run out and roast them for 45 to 60 minutes, until the tomatoes shrink and start to caramelize around the edges.
  5. You can use them right away, or let them cool and store them in a glass jar along with any leftover olive oil. Top off the jar with additional olive oil to help preserve the tomatoes. They will keep for about 1 week in the fridge.
Cut-side up in the baking dish

Roasted, with more olive oil than the recipe calls for

Stored for later

TOPPINGS (layered in this order):
  1. Whole wheat crust, par-baked
  2. An entire batch of oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, thinly spread over the crust, with any remaining olive oil. If you want an extra tomato-y pizza, consider using two batches.
  3. Several handfuls of fresh basil, torn into large chunks
  4. A chopped garlic scape or 2 minced garlic cloves
  5. Grated mozzarella
  6. Grated Parmesan
Bake at 450 degrees for 7 minutes. Top with another sprinkle of Parmesan and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil if it looks dry.

We had friends over for dinner that night and made both this pizza and our go-to-for-impressing-guests Potato-Leek Pizza and it was a toss-up which one people liked more.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Perfect Pesto Pizza

Here you can see a basil plant in our backyard:

What you can't see is the second equally enormous plant immediately behind this one, nor the big bunches we have been receiving each week in our CSA box. I suspect we would have basil growing out our ears if we weren't careful. Of course, there is only one logical option for such an inundation... make pesto!

I base my pesto on the recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Simply in Season, which contains wonderful everyday dishes using seasonal produce from the northern half of North America. It's the perfect cookbook if you shop regularly at a farmer's market or participate in a CSA, and provides helpful tips for how to eat seasonally and inexpensively.

First, toast 1/3 cup of pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Personally, I like to use walnuts since they're a little less expensive than the others and we usually have them on hand. You don't need any oil, just keep stirring the nuts to keep them from scorching until they start to turn golden and smell fragrant. Allow the nuts to cool.

Next, put all of the following into a food processor and finely chop:
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 toasted nuts
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

With the food processor running, gradually add 1/3 cup (or more to get a consistency you like) extra virgin olive oil to make a thick paste.

If you intend to use the pesto within a few weeks, you can store it in a glass jar with a lid. When you first put the pesto in the jar and each time after you use it, flatten out the surface of the pesto with a spoon and pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface. This helps the pesto stay a bright green color (it oxidizes and turns brown in contact with air) and keeps it fresh longer.

If you want to freeze pesto for use through the winter, omit the garlic and cheese and pour the pesto into ice cube trays. When frozen, you can pop the cubes out and store them in a bag in the freezer. It's easy to defrost a cube or two as you need them; just add garlic and cheese.

All of this talk about pesto might leave you wondering "where's the pizza?" Well, one of the best parts about making super delicious homemade pesto is that the pizza itself can be very simple. We put artichoke hearts on ours, but I thought they were unnecessary and over-complicated the flavors. The pizza would have been perfect with just three toppings:

TOPPINGS (layered in this order):
  1. Whatever crust you have on hand, par-baked. The very best pizza crust ever or the simple crust are equally delicious for this one.
  2. Thin spread of pesto. A little flavor goes a long way, so there's no need to overdo it.
  3. Grated mozzarella cheese or thin slices of fresh mozzarella
  4. Thinly sliced fresh garden tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
That's it! Bake at 450 degrees F for 7 minutes. There's no need to top this one with more Parmesan or olive oil, since the pesto supplies more than enough of those flavors.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ratatouille Pizza

As I was afraid, when I googled ratatouille to make sure I was spelling it correctly, the first three search items were about the animated film. Nothing like associating French cuisine with a talking rodent.

Then again, in our apartment, we automatically associate ratatouille with an outrageous French accent and the gratuitous use of the three French phrases we know: oui, oui; impossible (approximately *ahm-pos-seeb-leh*); and les poissons. I had to turn on some Edith Piaf and stick my recently acquired Bastille Day flag above my desk in order to channel the appropriate je ne sais quoi for writing about pizza.

The wine, unfortunately, is Australian, so it's not helping much.

Ratatouille, for the layperson, is a traditional French dish of stewed vegetables, usually high summer veggies like tomatoes, eggplant (aubergine), zucchini, bell peppers, onions, garlic, basil and marjoram. I have always thought of it as a way to use up garden excess while producing a delicious, colorful meal.

Even though our zucchini plant succumbed to destructive squash bugs the other week and our tomatoes seem averse to actually ripening, we realized we had a pretty good assortment of the necessary ingredients on hand. There were a few leftover zucchini in our fridge, a green tomato fell off the vine when we were trying to fix the stake, our white Japanese eggplant were reaching full size, and various peppers were turning red.

The combination is tres délicieux, although you should feel free to substitute whatever fresh summer produce you have on hand.

TOPPINGS (layered in this order):
  1. Very best pizza crust ever, par-baked
  2. finely chopped garlic
  3. diced tomatoes (fresh if you have them; we used some leftover canned ones)
  4. sliced green tomatoes (if you have abundant ripe tomatoes, combine #3 and #4)
  5. very thinly sliced zucchini
  6. thinly sliced onion
  7. shredded mozarella
  8. very thinly sliced eggplant, tossed in olive oil (I recommend small, skinny Japanese eggplants. If you use a larger eggplant, be sure to salt it for 20 minutes and press out some of the liquid before putting on the pizza)
  9. thinly sliced red bell peppers or mild cherry peppers 
Bake at 350 degrees F (lower than usual) for about 15 minutes (longer than usual), until the eggplant is tender all the way through. Top with grated Parmesan and an assortment of chopped fresh herbs such as basil, marjoram, oregano, etc.

Bon appétit!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pita Pizza

Imagine, if you will, two creative individuals with similarly creative careers (aka they work nonstop doing things they enjoy for piddling amounts of money) arriving at home late one evening after their respective gigs. They are a little hungry, a little grumpy and not at all interested in having a pile of dishes to wash. The fridge seems awfully bare and the pickings look slim, until—voilà—one of them notices that the stale pita bread in the bottom of the lefthand fridge drawer strongly resembles a pizza crust. Out comes a crusty-rimmed bottle of pasta sauce, a few soggy mushrooms, the last artichoke hearts floating in the jar, a chunk of leftover cheese. A few minutes in the toaster oven, and the pita pizza is born.