Little Tweaks

Between the cooking-for-one and the adjustments that come with starting a new job, it’s been a little quiet in my kitchen lately. But sometimes the recipes don’t have to be fancy to be victories.

Last week, drowning in CSA eggplant, I dragged out an old favorite and made a few tiny tweaks. Instead of spinach, I used a bunch of chard that also came in the CSA box. The chopped stems went into the roasting pan with the onions, chickpeas, and eggplant, and I stirred in the leaves at the end.

I also chopped up a handful of heirloom tomatoes and threw them in the roasting pan. I increased the cooking time to 40 minutes from 30, stirred a couple of times while the veggies roasted, and waited for the tomatoes to release some of their juices, leaving me with something slightly broth-ier than the standard curry. I also used more ginger and less curry, not so much on purpose as because I’d forgotten we were nearly out of curry powder.

I served it over leftover shell pasta the first night, over couscous the second. And I felt like I’d finally achieved one of the missions of this blog, taking something I already knew and using my instincts to make it better.

Next up: meatballs!

Cheeses I Have Made

Mozzarella
This was the first cheese I made after getting the crazy idea to make cheese put in my head when reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I got a hard cheese kit for Christmas that year, but I guess I hadn’t realized how long it took to make hard cheeses, so I punked out and did the 30-Minute Mozzarella instead.

cheesemaking

I remember we followed the microwave instructions, and the first time, we ended up with this strange rubbery mess. We tossed that, tried again, and got something slightly less rubbery to slice and serve on pizza. Ultimately, though, I ended this day deciding that homemade mozzarella was more trouble than it was worth, especially when the pricey (good, local, organic, etc., but expensive as hell) milk we used cost more than just going to the store and buying fresh mozzarella.

Ricotta
Fresh ricotta, however, completely justified the entire mozzarella-making process. During the first batch, we misread the instructions and didn’t realize we could make even more delicious cheese from our mozzarella leftovers — a huge mistake. The second time around, we ended up with a very, very small amount of ricotta (…I suspect we did something wrong, because by all accounts we should have had more), that we mixed with fresh rosemary snipped from our friend’s garden. It was lovely, and I swore right then that I’d go straight to the ricotta step next time.

Yogurt cheese
Technically I’m not sure this should count as either “making” or “cheese,” but dang, it’s so easy. I mean, the instructions amount to: 1) buy yogurt. 2) dump yogurt into a dish towel. 3) drain. I like to use a quart of whole-milk yogurt, place it in a thin kitchen towel, tie it to my kitchen faucet overnight to drain, and mix it with chives and black pepper, but after I bought cilantro-chive dip from Trader Joe’s and realized it was basically just this, I think I’ll be adding cilantro to my next batch.

fake ricotta

Fake ricotta
If you perhaps aren’t sure what is and is not technically ricotta, the nearly 500 comments on this Smitten Kitchen post are a fascinating read. But whatever you want to call this easy cheese, I made it the other night, and it was delicious and virtually effort-free. I used 3.5 cups of whole milk, a half-cup of cream, some sea salt, and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and drained it for about 1.5 hours. The cheese tastes surprisingly lemon-y (OK, maybe it shouldn’t have been surprising), but it added a lovely touch to homemade tomato sauce and held its own on crackers (… and green peppers, and pretzels, and virtually anything else that could be dipped in it).

Queso blanco
This one is fun mostly because I get to use a cheese press. So my “cheese press” is just an empty 28-oz. can with the top and bottom lids cut off, but whatever, it’s a cheese press, OK? Making this is pretty much the same as making the fake ricotta linked above, but with 1/4 c. vinegar to every 8 c. milk (I’ve always used cider vinegar because Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It told me to) and transferring the curds to the cheese press to make a pretty disc instead of just draining over a bowl. I still haven’t found a great way to store it and therefore never eat it all before it goes bad, but it’s one of the most satisfying, simple, yet impressive-sounding kitchen projects I’ve done to date.

Tomato and Mozzarella Tart with Cornmeal Parmesan Crust

Until four years ago, I didn’t like tomatoes.

OK, “didn’t like” doesn’t even begin to cover it. More like hated. Despised. Couldn’t even begin to understand the appeal of. In salsa or tomato sauce, they were fine, but a slice of tomato on a sandwich or in a salad? Nasty, nasty stuff.

Then, one summer in San Francisco, I got goaded into trying an heirloom tomato salad. And almost immediately, the clouds parted, the sun shone down, and I realized: Oh. THAT’S what tomatoes are supposed to taste like.

You still won’t find me popping a cherry tomato in my mouth (too oozy), and I usually get sick of tomatoes on sandwiches about 1/3 of the way through. But by and large, I’ve seen the light, and so when my good friends asked if we wanted to split a flat of gorgeous local tomatoes, I suddenly found myself with several pounds of fruit in my kitchen, waiting to be made delicious.

The me of four years ago finds this all very amusing.

tomato tart

So for the next week or so, it’s going to be a tomatopalooza in my kitchen, and I started off with this tomato and mozzarella tart. The night I made this was one of those nights, when Pete was working late and the couch was so comfortable and all I really wanted to do was slice up some cheese and sausage and call it dinner. But four pounds of tomatoes do not let themselves be ignored so easily, and the basil plant needed to be pruned, and oh hey, is that some extra mozzarella in the cheese drawer?

This tart crust was a first-time experiment that turned out delicious, and the rest of the recipe is simple — just slice, layer, bake, and eat. A good tomato season staple, for sure, and almost as easy as the non-dinner I would have made otherwise.

Tomato and Mozzarella Tart with Cornmeal Parmesan Crust

Ingredients
For the crust:
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole-wheat flour
1/4 c. cornmeal
1/4 c. grated parmesan
1/2 t. salt
1 stick (1/2 c.) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
2 Tablespoons-ish of cold water

For the filling:
6 medium tomatoes, sliced
2-3 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
a few basil leaves, slivered
salt and pepper
thyme (fresh or dried)

Instructions
1. Slice the tomatoes, place them on a layer of paper towels, salt them, cover with another layer of paper towels, and let drain until you’re ready to use them.

2. Preheat the oven to 350.

3. Make the crust dough: Combine the flours, cornmeal, parmesan, and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the butter and pulse 20ish times, until the mixture looks and feels sandy. With the food processor running, slowly add cold water until the dough comes together (you should be able to pinch it and have it hold shape). Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, form into a disc, wrap it up, and toss it in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

4. Pat the cold tart dough into the bottom and up the sides of a tart pan (I think a pie plate would work fine). Poke a few holes in the bottom with a fork, cover with tinfoil, add pie weights/beans/something to weigh down the edges, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust looks mostly baked. Remove foil and weights.

5. Arrange a single layer of tomato slices on top of the crust, and top with sliced mozzarella. Sprinkle basil slivers, thyme, salt, and pepper on top. Add additional layers of tomato, mozzarella, basil, and seasoning until you’ve used everything up.

6. Bake until the tomatoes are soft and the cheese melty, about 25 minutes.

Cherry Tomato Cobbler

I know this blog is supposed to be about taking recipes and customizing them and cooking by feel, but sometimes, recipes don’t really need my help. And that’s how I feel about this cherry tomato cobbler with gruyere biscuits. Blistered, gooey tomatoes, deeply browned onions, and cheesy, creamy, dumpling-y biscuits? There’s no reason to mess with that.

cherry tomato cobbler

The second I spotted this recipe in a borrowed issue of Martha Stewart Living, it moved to the top of my to-make list — but tomatoes took a frustratingly long time to ripen this summer. Last week, though, I spotted a few big troughs at a farmer’s market stand for $1/pound, and I hoovered up three bags as fast before the word “tomatoes!” was even out of my mouth.

Martha recommends baking this in a 2-quart, 2-inch deep baking dish, but I actually wish I’d put it in something bigger; it bubbled over a bit in the oven (stick a cookie sheet under the baking dish if you have any worries; it saved me a ton fo cleanup), and I had a lot of biscuit dough left over. Well, “left over” is an interesting way to put it; can you ever really complain about extra biscuits?

gruyere biscuits

If I had to offer one tip on this recipe, it’s this: Don’t cut the onion cooking time short. I almost always think recipes overestimate the time needed to cook onions, but this time, the 25 minute sautee means these onions are rich and caramelized by the time they go into the oven. I’m not sure my kitchen has ever smelled better.

Cherry Tomato Cobbler
(from Martha Stewart Living)

Ingredients
For the filling:
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 pounds cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I used my favorite Aleppo)
1-2 teaspoons salt
Pepper

For the biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (recipe suggests coarse: I split between regular and fleur de sel)
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, plus more for brushing

Instructions
1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Cook the onions over medium heat for 25 minutes or until nicely browned. Add garlic and cook for 3 more minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while you make the biscuit topping

3. Make the biscuits: combine flour, baking powder, and a teaspoon of salt. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter until small clumps form (it should feel somewhat sandy). Stir in the cheese and the cream. (Martha suggests using a fork, but I needed a spatula.)

4. In a baking dish, combine tomatoes, 3 tablespoons of flour, red pepper flakes, salt (to taste, but about a teaspoon) and pepper

5. Spoon clumps of biscuit dough over the top of the tomato mixture; you should be able to squeeze 6-8 dumplings in there. Brush the tops of the biscuits with cream and sprinkle with cheese.

6. Bake until the tomatoes are bubbling and biscuits are brown, about an hour and 10 minutes. Let cool slightly before digging in.

If you have extra biscuit dough, you can bake it separately on another baking sheet. The biscuits will be a little crispier than the ones in the cobbler, but they’re delicious in their own right. Mine took about 45 minutes to bake, so set a second timer and keep an eye on them.

Curried Eggplant with Spinach

Before I continue on with carb-fest 2011, how about an actual dinner?

Curried Eggplant

I’d never cooked eggplant before we started getting it in our CSA box a couple of years ago. I had no idea what to do with the thing, and so I was lucky that an issue of Food and Wine arrived almost immediately with what quickly became my go-to eggplant recipe. There was a point in the winter of 2010 that I think we were eating this at least once a week!

The first eggplant of the season arrived last week, and with it came the return of curried eggplant with spinach. It’s one of those great dump-and-roast recipes, and it makes great leftovers. (Everything will turn more yellow over time, though, so if you’re weird about food color, beware.) I usually serve this with naan, but as I learned the other night, it also goes great with warm spent grain soft pretzels!

Curried Eggplant with Spinach
(Adapted from Food and Wine)

Ingredients
1 large or 2 small eggplants, chopped into 3/4-inch chunks
1 large onion, diced or cut into wedges
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained
2-3 garlic cloves
2 tsp your favorite curry powder
1 tsp ground ginger
5-6 cups of baby spinach
salt and pepper
a few tablespoons olive oil

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 425

2. Chop up the eggplant, place in a bowl, cover generously with salt, and let sit for 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, chop up the onion and finely mince the garlic.

4. Cover the bottom of a roasting pan with olive oil. Mix the minced garlic, curry powder, and ground ginger with the oil.

5. Rinse and drain the eggplant, and add it, the chickpeas, and the onion to the roasting pan. Stir until everything is covered with the oil mixture, and season with salt and pepper.

6. Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice during the process.

7. Working in batches, stir in the spinach until just wilted. I always later wish I’d added more spinach, so you can be pretty generous with it.

The Great Spent Grain Baking Experiment, Part 1

We like to say we have San Francisco’s smallest brewery: a corner of a room off our kitchen, parallel to our pantry, wedged between the cleaning supplies and the door to the trash chute. It may be tiny, but it’s totally functional, and every couple of months, we get another batch of beer going in there.

This past weekend, Pete started a rye IPA, and in the process, he happened to mention that he’d read about people baking bread using their spent beer grains. I already had beer bread on the brain, and so the Great Spent Grain Baking Experiment was born.

There are a ton of spent grain recipes online, but my limited experience baking yeast breads and my nonexistent experience with spent grains made it tough to judge which one would be the best. So I didn’t even try to choose. Instead, I baked three different bread recipes and pitted them against each other in a vast whole-grain carb-off. (The results of which I’ll be eating for weeks; anyone wanna come over?) I also ended up making a couple of pizza dough rounds, some crackers, chocolate chip cookies, and soft pretzels, but I’ll talk more about those another day.

spent grain beer bread

First, some spent grain basics:

When we brew beer, it’s actually just like brewing tea — but giant, and with things like oats and barley instead of herbs. When that’s done, what’s left is a whole lot of soggy, slightly sweet, and still totally edible whole grains. (In the past, we’ve just composted the spent grain, for lack of a farm full of livestock to feed it to.)

I used wet spent grains, but they can also be toasted/dried in the oven. Some people swear by that; others say you get more of a beer-y flavor by using them wet. Frankly, I went with wet because it was easier. Toasting seemed like a commitment.

I mixed all of these breads in my stand mixer with the dough hook. I’m sure they could be mixed by hand, too, but I like the feedback I get from the mixer (dough still sticking to the sides of the bowl? add more flour!). If I were a more confident breadmaker, maybe I wouldn’t need that, but I’ll take any safety net I can find.

My grain mix included oats, rye, and a few different types of barley, all of which came from San Francisco Brewcraft. The grain mixture went through a grinder once at the shop, but after we were done brewing, I ran it through the food processor to get it a bit smoother before baking. I also drained any especially wet bits in a wire mesh strainer.

Okay! Let’s see some bread.

Bread #1: Braukaiser.com’s Treberbrot

Spent grain bread #1

I liked the straightforwardness of the Braukaiser recipe: 1/3 bread flour, 1/3 wheat flour, 1/3 spent grain, yeast, water, salt. It seemed like a good, basic start as I tried to figure out the proportions. Because I can’t just leave well enough alone, though, I split the wheat flour portion between wheat and rye flour, added about a teaspoon of caraway seeds, and stirred a touch of molasses in with the proofed yeast right before I added it to the dough. I needed to add an additional cup or so of flour, which was pretty standard across all of these recipes.

Treberbrot cross section

This loaf didn’t rise much, and I think I might have let it sit for too long while I was pre-heating the oven. But it pretty much punches you in the teeth with rye flavor, which is what I was hoping for. Some of that’s the caraway, of course, and a little is probably the rye flour, but I like to think it takes advantage of the rye in the spent grains, too. I worried I’d burned it but it actually came out just a touch underdone. I’d make it again, but maybe in a couple of smaller loaves next time.

Bread #2: Grub Post’s Spent Grain Bread

The second recipe stood out to me because it used the most spent grain, and believe me, I had a lot of spent grain to use up. It intimidated me because it called for making a starter rather than just proofing the yeast, and I’m not sure I did it right — I’m actually making another loaf of this as I write this post, and I’m still not sure I did it right — and the bread took forever to rise. But when it did eventually start rising, there was no stopping it!

spent grain bread #2

Yeah, that’s right. Two loaves. For reference, my original dough ball was about the size of one of those.

I used mostly bread flour in this one, though I switched to all-purpose for the last couple of cups, and ended up using a little more than six cups of flour total. My only changes to this recipe were to add some chopped fresh rosemary and thyme and some rosemary salt from our CSA.

Beer bread cross-section

These loaves looked amazing and smelled even better, so it’s a huge bummer that I drastically underbaked them. In my defense, they sounded hollow, which is apparently the universal signal for bread done-ness, but … they weren’t done. They do make fantastic toast, though, and they would have won the taste test hands-down if they’d been baked through. I’m giving this one another shot in a loaf pan and testing the inside with a thermometer this time; if I can get it to work, I can imagine making this recipe after every batch of beer we brew.

Bread #3: Food and Brews’ Spent Grain Bread

This recipe used the most water of any, and looking back, I probably could have just eliminated some of it; I ended up adding a lot of extra flour. I didn’t make any other changes to the recipe, but I did shape it into dinner rolls instead of a regular loaf.

Spent grain dinner rolls

I’m so happy with how these came out — and happy I decided to use it for rolls. This recipe isn’t very exciting as written, it doesn’t use a ton of the grain, and I’m not sure what I would have done with a whole loaf of it. But as homemade hamburger buns? Perfect! (We sacrificed one for the picture below. And then we ate it plain.)

Spent grain dinner roll cross section

Next time: pretzels, cookies, crackers, and pizza!

Lavender Shortbread

The first thing I knew how to bake was my family’s shortbread. I’ve known the recipe by heart since at least fifth grade, which was the year we had to give how-to speeches in Language Arts. Mine was How to Bake Scottish Shortbread, and my visual aids were bags of white flour and rice flour to pass around and let everyone feel the difference. In college, my mom used to send me care packages of shortbread, and we’d freeze a few pieces in our teeny tiny dorm freezer for shortbread emergencies. I’ve baked shortbread at least once per holiday season every year of my adult life, and it made a memorable appearance at my wedding. I make it the same way every time, and I would never, ever dare alter the recipe.

Um, until now.

Mom, you might want to avert your eyes.

lavender shortbread

We got a huge bunch of lavender from our CSA recently, and it’s been drying in the kitchen ever since. The suggested recipe that came with the bunch was for lavender shortbread, and of course I took one look at it, scoffed, and thought, “I can do better.”

Now: I set out to have measurements for this recipe. I planned to report just how much lavender you need to add to the world’s most perfect shortbread recipe for just the perfect touch of herb-y, floral flavor. But, um. Lavender is sort of a pain to work with, especially when it’s drying upside-down in your pantry. More buds ended up on the floor than in the bowl. And since most normal shortbread recipes maybe make 24 pieces, and this one makes 100+, I was kind of guessing anyway. I think I was shooting for 4 teaspoons, initially, because I couldn’t tell if the lavender technically was still fresh or if it was already dried and how that would affect the strength of the flavor. But 4 didn’t look like enough, so I went for 6, and then after I dumped that into the bowl of dough, it looked like a pitiful amount of lavender, so I scraped a few more sprigs’ worth of flowers directly into the bowl. So, um, 8 teaspoons? Enough that you can see a little bud of lavender in any 1-inch section of dough you pinch, I’d say.

And if you don’t want to mess with perfection, just omit the lavender.

Lavender Shortbread
Ingredients
1 pound (4 sticks) butter
1 1/6 c. sugar
3 c. white flour
1 c. rice flour
2 eggs
8-ish teaspoons of lavender flowers

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 300.

2. Pour the sugar into a large bowl. Slice the butter into tablespoon-sized squares and add the squares to the sugar. Leave them there until softened, half an hour or so.

3. Once the butter has softened, cream the butter and sugar together with your hands until smooth. Yes, with your hands. This is a tactile recipe; put your rings somewhere safe and get ready for lots of trips to the sink.

4. Add the eggs and keep mixing with your hands, delighting in how cold and squishy it feels.

5. Add the white and rice flour and mix with your hands until everything feels thoroughly blended. (It’ll still be sticky; that’s OK.) Add the lavender and blend a little more.

6. Turn the dough out into a long baking pan (11×17 is ideal). Pat it evenly into the pan, using the heel of your hand for the center and working the dough into the corners with your fingers.

7. With a knife, score the dough both horizontally and vertically into rectangular pieces. (I usually get 9-10 pieces down the short side and 11-12 down the long side.) Prick each piece twice with a fork.

8. Bake for an hour and 10 minutes to an hour and a half, stopping when the shortbread is just golden brown. (If you know your oven bakes unevenly — mine does — rotate the pan halfway through.)

Couscous with Apricot Vinaigrette and Almonds

A while back, Sabrina and I were talking about when a recipe is really and truly yours. She pegged it at the moment when you can make substitutions, when you can change it freely without fearing that you won’t be making the right thing.

I think it’s when you make something and forget it was ever a “recipe” at all.

Couscous with Apricot Vinaigrette and Almonds

That’s this meal for me. I’ve been making it for practically as long as I’ve been cooking (e.g. not just heating up a Smart Ones and pretending I’d made dinner). The original version came from Real Simple, apparently in June 2006, and I know I have the ripped-from-the-magazine copy somewhere in my unwieldy collection, but I can’t remember the last time I looked at it. I just go.

This is a meal I could handle making when I was 24. It takes less than 10 minutes. It’s not winning any nutritional trophies, but it’s not the worst, either. It makes delicious leftovers and only seems to get better with a day or two in the fridge. It can be eaten hot or cold. And though I’ll go months between making it, I seem to always have the ingredients for it in the house.

Five years on, this one is definitely mine.

Couscous with Apricot Vinaigrette and Almonds
(Adapted from Real Simple)

Ingredients
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 cup water
2 green onions, thinly sliced
a little less than 1/4 c. rice vinegar
1/4 c. apricot preserves
1 tablespoon olive oil + more for dressing
1 tablespoon butter
salt
pepper
a couple handfuls of slivered/sliced almonds

Instructions
1. Stir the water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and butter together in a saucepan and bring to a boil

2. Dump in the couscous, stir until moist, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.

3. Whisk together the apricot preserves, rice vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil (to taste). I usually use a pyrex measure for this and microwave it briefly to help the preserves get soft.

4. Fluff the couscous with a fork. Stir in the green onions and almonds.

5. Pour the dressing on top of everything and stir until coated. Add more salt and pepper if desired.

Makes 3-4 servings.

Zucchini and Turnip Pie with Potato Crust

Every other Wednesday, I pick up my CSA box from a neighbor’s house, and it’s probably my favorite 15 minutes of the day — unloading all the gorgeous, fresh produce, poring over the newsletter the farm includes with flavor notes and cooking suggestions. (Now, thanks to my friend Marissa, I’m even trying to draw my vegetables). This week, the most exciting things I unloaded were some giant, rock-like Purple Viking potatoes and the season’s first zucchini. I know that a few weeks from now, I’ll be whining and moaning and wondering why my zucchini is multiplying like so many bunnies, but for now, it’s a delight.

My first thought was to re-make a particular tart from last summer, but it turns out I’d completely misremembered how to do it — I thought it had a cornmeal crust when in fact it had no crust at all, and the layers of potato and zucchini, while certainly delicious, were pretty much the only compelling things about the recipe. But my furious googling for that recipe turned up many others that gave me new inspiration.

Shredded Potatoes

I smushed a bunch of ideas together and ended up with a quiche-like filling poured into a crispy potato crust, which — why on earth have I not made a crust out of potato before? So easy: shred potatoes, add egg, bake, eat something that tastes suspiciously like french fries. I’m guessing the filling could be any vegetables you wanted; the turnips were a last-second addition when I realized I might finally have a use for a few that had been in my fridge far too long. (I actually should have picked up more today, but I left them in the CSA swap box and took extra basil home instead.)

My biggest surprise was that I used less of everything than I planned — one potato instead of two (granted, it was a hefty potato); only one zucchini; even less cheese. Full disclosure: Pete came home in time to finish up the seasoning, so I can’t claim much part of that, but I will say that what he added was totally delicious and not at all what I would have done. That’s part of the learning, right?

Zucchini Pie in Potato Crust

One last thing: If you have an awesome grater like I do, then by all means, shred everything. (Sometimes I grate things just for fun, this thing is that awesome.) If you don’t, slicing/chopping would be just fine for everything but the potato crust.

Zucchini and Turnip Pie with Potato Crust
Ingredients – for the crust
2-ish cups potato, shredded
1/4 of a medium onion, shredded or finely chopped
1 egg
salt and pepper

Ingredients – for the filling
2-ish cups zucchini, shredded
the rest of the onion, shredded or finely chopped
1/2 cup of turnips, shredded
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
a bit of shredded cheese
spices of your choice (we used: regular salt and pepper, shallot salt, and a bit of Chinese five-spice powder)

Instructions
1. First, make the crust. Preheat the oven to 400. In a bowl, combine the shredded potato and onion and season with salt and pepper.

2. Beat the egg, pour it over the potato mixture, and stir.

3. Butter/oil the baking dish of your choice (mine was a 9″ glass pie plate) and press the potato mixture into the bottom and up the sides.

4. Bake the crust for 40 minutes. (One recipe I read said something about baking for 25 minutes, then brushing it with olive oil, then baking for the other 15 so that it would get crispier. I did that, but I’m not sure it added much except a dirty kitchen brush.)

5. While the crust is baking, shred up the rest of the vegetables. When the crust has about 10 minutes to go, start to saute them in a little butter/oil/saute magic liquid of your choosing. Season them as they’re getting soft.

6. In a large bowl, beat together the 2 eggs and 2 whites. Stir in the vegetables and add cheese, if you’d like, or any other seasonings.

7. Pour the filling mixture into the crust and pop it back into the oven until it looks set — probably about 20-25 minutes. (Mine was 20 on the dot.)

8. Let cool for about five minutes so it’s not a sloppy, eggy mess when you cut into it.

Arugula “Potesto” Pesto

Arugula Pesto Pizza

A few years back, when we lived in the neighborhood affectionately known as the Tenderknob, a friend of ours turned us on to Za Pizza. Or, I should say, turned us on to the Potesto pizza, because frankly I have no idea what any of Za’s other pizzas taste like. Why would I? Carbs topped with carbs, roasted garlic, and fresh pesto pretty much covered all my bases.

We moved out of Za’s delivery range three years ago, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that since then, we’ve been trying foolishly to recreate the Potesto for ourselves. We don’t do it consciously; it’s not an epic quest. It’s just that we’ll have pizza dough, and we’ll be wondering what to put on it, and inevitably someone will say, “how about some potatoes?” and someone else will say, “and we’ve got garlic…” and pretty soon, we’re making another knockoff Potesto.

This week, I was moving things around in the freezer and uncovered a forgotten ball of frozen pizza dough. And we had potatoes. Of course.

Unbaked Arugula Pesto Pizza

It’s appropriate that pizza would be one of the first posts on this blog, because if you want to talk about something I’ve eaten a lot of mistakes of, it’s homemade pizza. For people who really like pizza, we took our sweet time getting a pizza peel, and even with the peel, dinner can go from pizza to calzone with one false twitch of the wrist. Of course, this was the one time I actually got all of the pizza onto the stone instead of onto the floor or the bottom of the oven or some such. I could totally pretend that I’m some sort of home-oven-pizza genius. But I won’t, because that would be a lie.

No, the problem with this round was that I took on too much. I wanted to try slicing the potatoes with a mandoline for the first time, which — well, that’s a story for another time, but they came out super-thin, which was the whole point, and yet I still decided to toss them in the oven to pre-bake them a little. Bottom line, this was very nearly potato chip pizza. On top of that, I wanted to caramelize onions for the first time ever (yes, ever; re: not a cook), and I had no idea how long that would take, and so they also got a little crispy.

But it’s OK, because everything came right back to life thanks to this pesto (OK, the ball of mozzarella sliced on top of the pizza might have helped, too). As I learned, you really don’t need too much arugula to pull it off; I was using a fairly old bunch from our CSA, and once I thinned out all the yellowing leaves, I worried it wouldn’t be enough. (After blanching, rinsing, and squeezing, I had a ball about the size of my fist.) Lesson learned: it’s fine. And if it’s not fine, just add more olive oil.

I’ve made versions of this pesto a couple of times now; I think Michael Chiarello’s was my original base, but the vitamin C thing scared me off, so I merged it with a basil pesto recipe from our CSA and a little bit of “thaaaat looks right” and came up with something pretty tasty. Still room for improvement, though, so let me know if you’ve got any favorite arugula pesto tricks. Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve got so far:

Arugula Pesto
Ingredients
2-ish cups arugula leaves
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2-3 smashed garlic cloves, depending on how much you like garlic
a small fistful of pine nuts (1-2 Tablespoons? I have tiny hands)
olive oil — probably 1/4 to 1/2 cup, but I add it straight from the bottle
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
1. Wash the arugula and place in a sieve/mesh strainer/whatever you’ve got.

2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil.

3. Blanch the arugula in the boiling water for a few seconds. Then rinse it under cold water until it’s cool enough to handle. (This step may be totally unnecessary, but I trusted Chiarello at first and now it’s habit)

4. Squeeze as much water out of the arugula as possible. If you’re anything like me, you will be bummed by how little arugula you have left. It’s OK. You can always add more olive oil.

5. Dump the arugula in a food processor (or chop it first if you’d like; my food processor is pretty awful but can generally get through wet arugula, so I just go straight there). Add smashed garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts, and give it a whirl.

6. Add olive oil (I do it in a steady stream while the food processor is still chopping) until things start to look good and pesto-y.

7. Give it a taste. Add salt, pepper, more cheese, more olive oil, whatever you need.

I like this on pasta, but it’s also a fabulous base for a faux-testo Potesto pizza of your own creation.