Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pizza from the remains of the cheese platter....and a mystery....

In her book Cooking with the Seasons, Monique Jamet Hooker shares a recipe for a warm potato salad from her days at a French boarding school. The salad is made with the leftover ends of Camembert cheese. This sort of recipe makes sense in a culture where a daily cheese course—particularly at a school—might produce lots of little ends (plein de petits bouts) of cheese. Unfortunately Americans do not routinely pass a cheese platter. Consequently they don't have a great need for recipes using up the little ends. I make a version of her delicious salad, but I go out and buy a round of Camembert when I want to make it.

Americans do like to have cheese platters when they entertain. And the season for parties is now upon us. Just this past week I served a small cheese platter to a group of friends. I love cheese—I eat it most days for lunch—but even with my larger than average consumption of cheese, I was left with more than I would normally be able to consume. In the end I decided on a cheese based pizza—a variation on a Kale, Pancetta & Goat Cheese Pizza that I posted this summer.  But I could have made a cheese soufflé....Macaroni and Cheese or some variation thereof... Basically any cooked dish where an interesting blend of cheeses would be welcome would have worked. In general, you should never feel tied down to the exact cheeses listed in a recipe (unless you are aiming for an exact taste). For a recipe that will be cooked, as long as the cheeses you use melt well, go well with one another and go well with the other ingredients in the recipe, your final result should be delicious.

And my pizza was delicious. I left the bacon out, blanched, squeezed and chopped the kale before adding it to half of a caramelized diced red onion, layered in a couple tablespoons of pine nuts when I topped the pizza and used the ends (about 6 oz. total) of some soft goat cheese, a Spanish Mahon and a favorite cheese from Cypress Grove called Midnight Moon.

If you happen to have the remains of a holiday cheese platter on your hands, I encourage you to give this pizza a try. But the pizza really isn't the reason for today's post. Rather, today I want to share a bit of culinary mystery. I don't have the solution and am curious if anyone else has ever had a similar experience or if someone of a scientific bent can give me an explanation.

If you look carefully at the picture of my kale pizza you will notice that the kale is bleeding deep green into the cheese (and even dying some of the pine nuts green). The taste of the pizza is not affected, but the appearance is—to me at least—a bit unappetizing.

The only other time this has ever happened to me was for a class. I was teaching my Savory Bread Pudding with Chestnuts and Kale. Unfortunately in this case the effect was much more pronounced. I was preparing the tasting portion of pudding.  When I added the cooked kale to the bowl of bread and custard and began to fold, the entire contents of the bowl turned brilliant green—not army green—but a brilliant, teal green. Even the baked version of the pudding retained this astonishing color. (Since it was a holiday dish, you could have said it looked quite festive....but this really wasn't my goal.) In every other respect, the pudding was normal.

Then, during class, using the exact same ingredients (kale purchased in the same place and I assume from the same case), the demonstration batch of the pudding behaved as it always had—no bleeding whatsoever. The only difference between the two batches was that the kale I used on the tasting batch had not had time to cool completely. The kale I used in the demonstration batch was thoroughly cool when I added it. Because of this difference, I assumed that the bleeding had occurred because the cooked kale needed to be totally cool before being added to something else.

I completely forgot about all of this until the other evening when the cheese on my pizza turned green. My kitchen was cool and the kale had been sitting for a while before I put it on the pizza (I was able to spread it with my hands). While not cold, the kale mixture was definitely cool. I was a bit dismayed when I opened the oven and saw that brilliant, shimmery green color bleeding into the cheeses.

I do have one final bit of information that might aid in discovering the solution to my mystery: Typically I have two methods that I use when preparing kale. The first I generally use with young kale. With this method, the washed kale is added directly to a pan of hot oil. It is allowed to collapse and then cook in the oil (which can include onions, garlic, etc.) until it is completely tender. The second method, which I typically use with more mature kales, begins by first blanching the kale in rapidly boiling salted water until it is tender. The tender kale is transferred to baking sheets where it cools. Once cool, I squeeze out as much of the excess water as possible. The squeezed kale is briefly cooked in a bit of oil (which often includes onion, garlic, etc.). This final sauté removes any remaining water and adds flavor. Both times when the kale has bled green into the rest of the ingredients, I have prepared it using the second method. But I use this method a lot (Butternut Squash & Kale Quiche, Kale & Potato Spanish Tortilla, and Baked Pasta with Kale & Chicken—another great place to use up your leftover chunks of cheese), and you can see from the pictures on these posts that the kale didn't bleed in any of these instances.

So, there you have culinary mystery. I hope no one minds the departure from my typical format today...I promise to post a recipe in my next post...but I would really like to understand what might be causing this interesting phenomenon.  If anyone knows....or has an idea....or has experienced the same...I would love to hear about it. 

Yes, it was slightly green....but it was delicious....


Jeni said...

Hi there, you've got it nailed with your 'boiling' theory. You can boil kale in salted water for an hour or so to release an extremely potent dye to use as a clothes dye. That's how potent it is (and how potent you'd smell if you actually did this). As you're boiling in salted water, even for a minimal amount of time, I'd guess this is the culprit.

I wonder whether then sauteeing in oil helps to 'seal' it somehow so that the dye doesn't bleed into other foods, and the couple of times it has perhaps you didn't get all of the moisture out of it?

It somehow seems like a trivial comment now, but I really think that pizza looks a really beautiful balance of contrasting colours. I love a combination of earthy greens and cheese, and may be inspired to do a sourdough kale pizza tomorrow now, instead of the celeriac gratin I was planning on doing.

By the way, fab advice on how much liquid to put in a gratin - I was searching exactly for that information and couldn't find it anywhere else, then your blog popped up. It's useful to know general measures as well as 'look and feel', particularly as I often don't weigh veg.

Paige said...

Hi Jeni. Thank you for taking time to comment! I didn't know kale could be used to obtain clothes dye (but it makes sense, the color produced is really beautiful). I had wondered if my problem with the green bleeding didn't have something to do with not getting all of the moisture squeezed/cooked out...also about the sauteeing process sealing in the color. Next time I prepare something with kale I'll have to be more careful about this (I must have been in a hurry on the occasions when I had the trouble with bleeding).

Thanks again for commenting...and I'm so glad my info on gratins was helpful (BTW, a celeriac gratin sounds wonderful).