Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Firm Polenta with a Medley of Spring Vegetables

I love soft polenta.  I make it often during the cooler months.  It is substantial and satisfying.....a perfect accompaniment to stews, braises and hearty vegetable ragouts.  I like firm polenta too (soft polenta that has been allowed to solidify)...but it isn't something I have been in the habit of preparing for my own weeknight table.  Firm polenta requires a bit of advance planning (something I don't do a lot of for weeknight meals).  On the other hand, the fact that firm polenta must be prepared ahead makes it perfect for a formal dinner...or a private event through my chef I make it often for those kinds of occasions.

You can of course make both soft and firm at the same time—saving time and effort by preparing the foundation for a second meal while making the first.  I'm not sure why I haven't been in the habit of doing this since there is absolutely no extra effort involved in making a large batch of polenta as opposed to a small one.  It took having a rather substantial amount of extra polenta (destined to become firm for a formal dinner) to bring this rather obvious idea home to me.  Rather than throw away what wouldn't fit in the pan for my dinner, I scraped the extra into an oiled pie plate, spread it out into a thick disk and set it aside in the fridge.  As it turned out, I had enough firm polenta for two simple meals.  We enjoyed both immensely.

Because of that serendipitous extra, I have now added yet another "blank canvas"-style element (along with pasta, pizza, eggs, grain pilafs, etc.) to my rotation of weeknight meals.  It is equally delicious topped with a simple sauté of vegetables

Baked firm polenta with a sauté of  mushrooms and blanched
 asparagus with pine nuts and goat cheese
or a saucy stew-like preparation.  David Tanis even makes it into an impromptu "pizza" with melted cheese and fried sage.  The only trick is remembering to make extra whenever you make soft polenta.  And if you are person who isn't crazy about leftovers...or eating similar things two nights in a row...the firm is different enough from the soft that it won't feel like leftovers or the same thing.  In fact, you don't even have to eat it right away.  When made with water (instead of stock), firm polenta will easily keep for several days in the fridge.  We enjoyed the firm polenta so much I might even start making it occasionally just to have on hand—ready for a quick and simple meal.   

For each serving of firm polenta (depending on appetites) you will need to prepare 2 to 3 tablespoons of dry polenta—which will cook into portions of firm polenta weighing around 4 to 6 oz.  To make firm polenta, scrape the finished soft polenta into an oiled pan or plate and spread into a 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick round or oval (round if you want wedges of firm polenta...oval if you want random shapes or rectangular slabs). Then chill (cover it with plastic wrap once it's cold) until ready to use.  

To serve, use a sharp knife to cut it into portions and either pan fry it in a little olive oil or butter in a non-stick or cast iron pan...or bake it in an oiled pan (again, I like cast iron) in a hot (425° to 450°) oven.  You can also oil the polenta and grill it...which gives it a particularly nice look.  You can of course make your soft polenta plain, but you can also dress it up with a little cheese and/or some minced fresh herbs, if you like.

I served some of that first windfall of firm polenta with a medley of spring vegetables adapted from a recipe in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Suppers.  It was so good, I made it again last week so I could share it here.   Madison serves hers on toast instead of polenta...and if you haven't had time to make polenta, I think toast would be wonderful.  I also think this particular medley would be fantastic served with fish.  Madison's medley is made with just spinach and asparagus, but I have added peas.  I love fresh peas....and they are a fantastic addition—adding sweetness and visual interest. 

The medley itself follows the simple formula I described in a post a couple of years ago.  If you like, you can follow the instructions in that post and make this medley by blanching the asparagus and peas ahead.  If you do this, make sure you save some of the blanching liquid to use when you finish the medley.  One of the things I love about this particular recipe is the pale green broth—flavored with nothing but spring onions, green garlic, the vegetables and olive oil....  It is astonishingly flavorful.

The recipe is obviously very flexible.  You can alter the combination of vegetables...and the serving much as you like.  Just adjust the size of your pan accordingly...choosing a pan that will hold all the vegetables—not including the spinach—in a snug single layer.  I have written the recipe with quantities for one (it makes a super nice solo meal).  But if there are more of you, simply multiply the quantities to suit your number...and your appetites.

The firm polenta is terrific with the delicate vegetables of this spring medley.  It absorbs the light broth...and adds substance to an otherwise light dish.  That said, I find that firm polenta is somehow less heavy than its soft counterpart...which makes it much more appealing as the weather warms up. In fact, now that I've been reminded of how good firm polenta can be, I will probably make a point to occasionally make it during the warmer months.  I'm certain it will make a fantastic partner for the vibrant vegetable sautés and sauces of summer.      


Baked Polenta with Ricotta & a Medley of Spring Vegetables

For each person you will need:

1/2 T butter
1 t. olive oil, plus more for drizzling, finishing
1 small spring onion, white portion plus some of the green, trimmed, halved and finely sliced
1 clove (or up to a whole head, if you like) of green garlic, peeled and minced
Salt & pepper
1 4 to 6 oz. wedge/slice of cold polenta (see below)
2 to 2 1/2 oz. (trimmed weight) asparagus (from about 1/4 lb. untrimmed), well rinsed and cut in 2-inch lengths on the diagonal
About 1/2 cup water
1/4 c. shelled peas
a spoonful of whole milk ricotta (about 35 to 40 g.)
10 g. finely grated pecorino (a couple tablespoons)
Pinch of nutmeg
1 1/2 to 2 oz. (two small handfuls) stemmed young spinach (well-rinsed)

Place a cast skillet in a preheated 450° oven.

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a small sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the spring onion and garlic, along with a pinch of salt, and gently sweat until the onion has softened (about 5 minutes.)

While the onion cooks, brush the bottom (flat surface) of the polenta with olive oil and add to the hot skillet in the oven.  Brush the top with olive oil.  Place the pan in the oven.

When the onion is soft, add the asparagus and enough water to come about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up the sides of the asparagus (in my pan, this was about 1/4 c. water).  Season with salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until the asparagus is about 3/4 cooked, or "tender-crisp" (about 5 minutes).  Add the peas and bring back to a simmer...continuing to cook and adding more water if the water level dips below 1/4 of the way up the sides of the vegetables.  Cook until the asparagus and peas are tender....another 3 minutes after adding the peas.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

While the vegetables simmer, mix the ricotta with the pecorino and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

When the peas are tender, the polenta should be hot.  Remove the pan from the oven and smear the top of the polenta with the ricotta mixture.  Set aside in a warm place while you finish the vegetables.

Add the spinach to the pan of vegetables a handful at a time, turning to coat in the vegetables and broth as you do.  Cook until the spinach is collapsed (and tender)—adding more water if you would like more vegetable broth.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Stir in a drizzle of olive oil.

Transfer the ricotta-topped polenta to a serving plate and mound the vegetables on over all, allowing some to drape over the sides.  Pour any liquid remaining in the pan over and around. 

(Vegetable Medley adapted from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen)

Basic Polenta

1 c. Polenta (organic stone-ground, if available)
salt & pepper
3 T. unsalted butter

Bring a large pot of water to a simmer—this water will be used in the polenta and also as a bain-marie (double boiler) over which to cook the polenta. While the water is coming to a boil, place 1 t. salt in a 1 ½-to 2-qt. stainless bowl. When the pot of water comes to a boil, measure 3 cups of the water into the bowl with the salt. Using a whisk, stir the water into a whirlpool as you slowly pour in the polenta. Keep whisking in the same direction until the polenta is completely blended in and there are no lumps. Set the bowl over the simmering pot of water. Continue to whisk every few moments until you can see that the grains of polenta have begun to absorb the water and are suspended in the liquid and no longer settling in a mass at the bottom of the bowl. This should only take a few minutes. Cover the bowl with foil, sealing the edges securely. Cook for 1 ½ hours, keeping the water at a bare simmer. Occasionally uncover and stir the polenta with a rubber spatula—adding more hot water if the polenta becomes too stiff. Reseal the foil after each stirring. When finished, the polenta should be thick, soft & smooth and have no raw taste. It may be used immediately, made into firm polenta (see below) or held for up to 4 hours over steaming water. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the butter just before serving.

To make Firm polenta, spread the finished (buttered and seasoned) polenta in an oiled dish in a 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick round or oval.  Chill until firm.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Use within a week.  Makes 6 to 8 portions firm polenta.

(Method for Basic Polenta, adapted from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.)

Printable Recipe 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Making Friends with Angel Food Cake

I have never been much of a fan of angel food cake.  I know this will come as a shock to some...but I have always found it to be a bit too sweet.  This is of course something that can be corrected...with the accompaniment of a simple berry compote...or a tart lemon cream.  What could not—or so I thought—be mended was the rubbery, Nerf ball-like texture.  The cake always struck me as something created by someone on an ultra abstemious, fat-restricted diet—only desirable if you weren't allowed to have anything else to eat for dessert.  But even then, my preference would be for a nice bowl of fresh fruit....

But as with almost every food that I have ever come across that is beloved by many and disliked by me, I discovered that the problem was with the versions that I had tasted...not the actual food itself.  Recently I have found that angel food cake can not only be can be delectable—tender and light... and with a fleeting sweetness that dissolves so quickly in your mouth that you immediately want to take another bite.

Part of the problem with the angel food cakes usually encountered is that almost everyone uses a mix (which are pretty much awful)...or purchases a substandard bakery version (they can always be found in the prepared food sections of the grocery stores in the spring...during the height of strawberry season).  I would guess that scratch versions are rare because most people don't bake enough to have a use for a dozen or more egg yolks (angel food cake uses a lot of whites...and no yolks).  But the larger impediment probably has to do with having to beat egg whites.  Getting them just right can be a bit tricky. 

I made my first angel food cake a few years ago at the request of my mother.  She wanted one for her Mothers' Day dinner dessert.  Remembering the angel cakes of my childhood I wasn't very enthused about it, but it was for Mothers' Day....  I began as I always do by looking up a number of recipes.  Not surprisingly, I found them all to be fairly similar.  Angel food cake follows a pretty standard formula:  The weight of the sugar and whites should be equal.  And whatever the weight of these, the flour should weigh a third of that (so, in my recipe the sugar and whites are 15 oz. each, and the flour weighs 5 oz.).  Most recipes also call for cake flour (which should give a nice light, tender result), salt, cream of tartar and vanilla. 

The mixing method is always some variation of whipping the whites with all (or most) of the sugar and then folding in everything else.  You will find recipes that start with all the sugar in the bowl with the whites (this makes the process quite slow, but it also prevents over beating)...and others that use a more traditional approach of adding the sugar gradually to the whites as they are whipped.  Sometimes some of the sugar is held back and mixed with the flour and folded in at the end.  And, as you can imagine, the method you use is what makes the difference between a light, tender indifferent cake...and an awful cake.

The first few times I made what I felt were fairly indifferent cakes.  Not terrible...but nothing to get excited about either.  Since everyone is used to marginal angel cakes (or so it seems to me...), mine seemed to go over just fine.  But I still wasn't very happy with it and I continued to read up on angel food cake, altering my recipe a little bit each year.  

With strawberry-rhubarb compote

Last year I made one that pleased me very much.  I made careful notes but forgot about it until Mothers' Day rolled around again this year.  When I made it again this year, I was once again super impressed.  I wish I could point to all of the recipes that contributed to my final version...but I can't.  There were just so many, some of which I can't even locate at this point.  I do know that I relied pretty heavily on Joy of Cooking, an article in Fine Cooking by Flo Braker...and Shirley Corrhier's comments on the topic in her book Bakewise

Mostly what I discovered is that the whites need to be beaten less than you think. Most people are probably over beating the whites (I know that I was).  The wording "beat whites until stiff and glossy" (which is what you find in a lot of recipes) is misleading.  When it comes to angel food cake, stiff whites are over beaten whites.  The finished whites will indeed be glossy...and hold their shape—but they should not be so firm that you have to bang the whisk on the edge of the bowl to get it to release the whites.  They should be soft and form what I would call floppy...or droopy...peaks.  

When you lift the whisk out of the bowl, a gentle shake should release the beaten whites so that they flow easily from the whisk into the bowl.  (It is worth noting that while you will be able to turn the bowl of beaten whites upside down without having them slide out of the bowl, by the time you add the remaining ingredients, the batter will be pourable—if you have to scoop to get the final batter out of the bowl and into the pan, the whites were over whipped.)   

Flo Braker, in a very good article in Fine Cooking, makes the observation that the goal is to beat the whites to their optimal capacity...not their maximum capacity (i.e. "stiff").  When you are done whipping the whites they should still have a suppleness and elasticity to them.  If beaten to just this point—and no further—when the cake is placed in the oven and the beaten whites are subjected to heat, the bubbles formed during the whipping process will be able to continue to expand without bursting.... and will reach their maximum capacity in the oven. If they had already reached their maximum capacity while being whipped, they would still expand in the oven, eventually pop and the cake would collapse (sometimes a lot) and probably toughen. 

Much is also often made of the folding in of the dry ingredients.  The reason for this is that improper folding is inefficient and creates more opportunity for crushing the carefully prepared egg foam.  And I agree this is important...but a supple egg foam (see above) is much more forgiving than a firm and stiff egg foam.  As long as you are using a rubber spatula, whisk or mesh angel food cake folder...and are using the proper motion you should be fine. 

An "angel food cake folder"...  I don't know of any other name for this
odd looking implement.  It is probably what my great grandmother
used to make her angel food cakes.

To fold, cut down through the center of the batter with your chosen implement until you touch the bottom of the bowl.  Drag/scrape across the bottom toward yourself and continuing up the side of the bowl.  Turn the batter over on itself (toward the center—you will need to rotate your wrist and forearm to do this) as you bring your folding implement up and out of the batter.  As you are lifting the whites from the bottom and depositing them on the top, turn the bowl a quarter of a turn with the other hand.  Start the motion over again cutting down through the center.  The motion should be continuous and rhythmic....cutting down, scraping up, depositing the batter in the center and turning the bowl...and repeating until the batter is homogenous with no visible streaks of flour. (It is much easier to do than to describe....)

Finally, make sure you use a large, ungreased 10-inch tube pan for this recipe.  My recipe is very large and the cake will come all the way up to the rim of the pan while baking.  

If your pan is smaller, simply make 2/3 to 4/5 of the recipe.  As for the preparation of the is left ungreased so that the baking cake can adhere to the sides and climb to its full height.  Because the pan is ungreased, the golden brown crust will remain in the pan when the cake is tipped out—revealing the beautiful and pristine white crumb of the cake.

I'm glad that I have finally made friends with angel food cake...making them is apparently in my DNA.  I am told that my great grandmother made an angel food cake that was so good she was able to sell them to bring in a little extra money.  The story that has made it to my generation says that she used to sit on the back stairs while she whipped the whites by hand.  Amazing.  I will not be giving up my stand mixer any time soon....but now that I know how good this cake can be, I will continue the family tradition...hopefully making angel food cake more than just once a year.

Angel Food Cake

5 oz. cake flour
5 oz. powdered (also called confectioner's or icing) sugar
3/8 t. salt
15 oz. egg whites
1 3/4 t. cream of tartar
10 oz. granulated sugar
2 t. vanilla

Sift the cake flour, powdered sugar and salt together and set aside.

Place the whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the whisk attachment, run the mixer on medium low until the whites are frothy.  Add the cream of tartar.  Increase the speed to medium and beat until the bubbles are small and uniform and you can see the trace of the whisk in the egg foam (this will only take a minute or so).  Increase the speed to medium high and gradually add the sugar, beating to soft and floppy peaks (a minute or two).  DO NOT BEAT TO STIFF PEAKS...the egg foam should fall easily from the beater with a little encouragement (you shouldn't need to bang the whisk against the edge of the bowl).  Quickly add the vanilla.

Add the dry mix in three additions, sifting over the meringue and folding in.  

Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan (see note).  Run a palate knife through to get rid of any pockets.  If you dripped batter on the sides, run a rubber spatula around the edge of the pan.

Transfer to a 350° oven and bake until golden, cracked and springy.  A skewer will come out clean and an instant read thermometer will register 206°....about 45 minutes.  Don't start checking until the cake has been in the oven for at least 35 minutes.

Cool upside down (place the cone over a funnel...or wine bottle...or simply upside down on a rack—most pans have three handles/legs around the top edge for just this purpose) for two hours, or until completely cool.  Cooling the cake upside down will keep the egg foam bubbles fully extended as the cake cools—they will tend to want to shrink and collapse from the pull of gravity as they cool when the pan is right side up.

Remove from the pan by tilting the pan and gently rapping the bottom edge of the pan on the counter, rotating the pan as you may need to run a palate knife around the top to release the top edge first.  Release the bottom and inner column in the same way. 

Note:  Shirley Corriher in her book Bakewise suggests rinsing the pan with hot water (just pour it out...don't dry it) right before adding the batter.  She likes the way it warms up the pan...and also that it adds some steam to the baking process.  I have found that when rinsed with hot water the cake comes out of the pan a bit more easily.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pizza with Green Garlic Cream, Asparagus & Mushrooms...and an Announcement

Way back during my first year of blogging, as I posted yet another seasonal pasta recipe, I made the observation that I had probably misnamed my blog—that if I were telling the truth about my own personal eating habits I would have dubbed my blog "Pasta & Cake....Every Day".   I thought of that post this week as I contemplated today's post because I am sharing yet another pizza recipe.  I eat a lot of homemade pizza too (pizza and pasta are both fantastic vehicles for whatever the season and the market brings)—and so far this year it looks like my blog could have been subtitled "'s what's for dinner".  If my math is correct, almost a quarter of my posts this year (including this one) have been for pizza....

But I have two very good reasons for posting this particular pizza.  The first has to do with the sauce.  Long time readers will know that I am not in the habit of putting tomato sauce on my pizzas.  I wrote a post on this very topic a few years back.  It isn't that I don't like tomato's just that it can be somewhat limiting.  There are so many other interesting options—almost all of which have appeared on my blog:  a simple smear of plain or infused olive oil....ricotta cheese...vegetable purées...and most recently, a mixture of crème fraiche and fresh cheese.  Recently I discovered (via two different pizzas at two different restaurants) another delicious option—reduced cream.  

Reduced cream (heavy cream simmered until it is thickened and reduced in volume by 1/3 to 1/2) makes an amazing sauce.  It is silky...and surprisingly ethereal.  It may be used plain (just put a quarter to a third cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan and simmer until it is thickened and reduced) or combined with a bit of pureed roasted garlic...or, as in my recipe today, mixed with a whole head/stalk of softened green garlic.  When I build a pizza, I typically spread 2 to 2 1/2 ounces of cheese on top of the crust before adding other toppings and then more cheese.  When you sauce your pizza with reduced cream you can dispense with that bottom layer of cheese. 

The green garlic version of the reduced cream is the second reason that I wanted to share this particular pizza.  Not only is it fantastic with the asparagus that is pouring into the market at the moment (if you've never had asparagus on a pizza before, you are in for a treat...I posted another one a few years ago), it would also be wonderful topped with the greens that have just begun to fill the stalls (kale, spinach, chard...).  Furthermore, the reduced cream sauce makes an excellent vehicle for the green garlic itself and posting the recipe gives me a chance to talk a little bit about green garlic. 

I have been bringing green garlic home with me from the farmers' market every week for the past three weeks.  I have used green garlic before (even featured it in a post), but I have never paid very special attention to it at the farmers' market...possibly because it wasn't that abundant at my old market.  But at the market I have been shopping at since last June (The Brookside Farmers' Market in Kansas City), it is abundant...and it is truly a special treat.

Green (or new) garlic is to garlic what spring onions are to the onion family:  the early, young version of what eventually becomes the storage garlic (and onions) that we see in the grocery store.  For years now spring onions have completely replaced regular onions in my kitchen during late spring and early summer.  I am guessing that I will in the future be using new/green garlic in the same way. 

Like spring onions, after trimming away the root, you may use not only the white (or rose) portion...but also the green.  The very first green garlic to come into the market will not even have begun to form cloves or a looks very much like a slender leek.  You can tell it is garlic by taking a sniff....the stalk will smell like garlic.  Later, the heads will begin to swell with the forming cloves.  You may still use the whole thing, but as the season progresses, the sheath that protects the cloves will begin to toughen a bit and you might want to slip it off and discard it (depending on what you will be using the garlic for).  The darker portion of the green also becomes tougher as the season progresses...and again, depending on use, you might want to use only the white and pale green portions.

In general, you can use green garlic everywhere you would use regular can just use more.  You will get the wonderful taste and aroma of garlic, without the heat and strength of storage garlic. Suzanne Goin makes the observation in her book Sunday Suppers at Lucques that when green garlic season comes to an end she feels bereft.  I imagine I will feel the same.

Before I end my post today I wanted to make an exciting announcement.  I have been asked by the growers of the Brookside Farmers' Market to be their official Market Chef!  For the moment this means that I will be developing recipes for them with the beautiful ingredients I find at the Brookside Market.  The recipes will appear on my blog in the normal fashion (as part of a normal post).  Additionally, I have set up a separate Brookside Market page (tab at top) where all of these recipes will be cataloged...and if the specific grower of the featured ingredients hasn't been mentioned in the post, they will be acknowledged on the market page.

Green garlic from Ki Koko Farms
Asparagus from Urbavore Urban Farms
Every now and then an opportunity comes your way that just feels like a perfect fit...and for me, this is one of those.  As anyone who reads my blog already knows, the farmers' market is one of my favorite haunts.  I look forward to the opening in the spring...and am at a loss when it closes in the late fall. People often ask me what is my favorite thing to cook...and I never know quite what to say...I love to cook (and bake!) a lot of things.  But it occurs to me that what I truly love best is cooking from the ever changing palette of the seasons.   I hope that this new partnership with the Brookside Market will encourage even more people to get out, explore their local market...and bring home something fresh and beautiful to cook for their family and friends.  

Asparagus & Mushroom Pizza with Green Garlic Cream

1 T. unsalted butter
1 stalk/head of green garlic—white/ivory and pale green parts—finely sliced
salt & pepper
1 T. white wine (see notes)
1/4 c. heavy cream

1 T. olive oil
3 1/2 to 4 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced a scant 1/4-inch thick
1 T. unsalted butter
1 medium spring onion, white and an equal amount of the green, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced

4 to 4 1/2 oz. asparagus, trimmed, rinsed and cut very thinly—1/8-inch thick or less—on a long bias (about 2 to 2 1/4 oz. trimmed weight)—see notes
1/2 t. olive oil
1 oz. finely grated Parmesan
2 to 2 1/2 oz. coarsely grated Fontina or low-moisture mozzarella
1 ball of pizza dough (see below), rested

Preheat the oven and pizza stone to 500°F an hour before you plan to bake the pizza. If you made the dough ahead, pull it out of the refrigerator when you turn on the oven.

Place a tablespoon of butter along with a tablespoon of water in a small sauce pan and set over moderately low heat. When the butter has melted, add the green garlic along with a good pinch of salt.  Gently stew the garlic until it is softened and the water has evaporated/been absorbed and the garlic has softened (about 5 minutes).  

Add the white wine and continue to simmer until the wine is reduced and the garlic is sizzling gently in the butter again.  Add the cream and simmer until thickened and reduced by one third to one half.  Taste and season with salt and pepper; set aside. 

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium sauté pan set over medium high heat.  Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender and caramelized.  If you like, add a splash of water, or white wine, to deglaze the pan...continue to cook until the water/wine has evaporated.  Transfer to a plate and season the mushrooms with salt and pepper.  Let the pan cool briefly before returning to moderate heat.  Add a tablespoon of butter.  When the butter is melted, add the spring onions along with a pinch of salt and cook until soft and tender (five minutes or so).  Return the mushrooms to the pan, toss to combine and continue to cook for a minute or two to blend the flavors.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Set aside. 

In a medium-sized bowl, drizzle the olive oil over the asparagus and season with salt & pepper. Toss to coat. Add the cheeses and toss to combine.

To build the pizza: On a lightly floured surface, roll or stretch the dough out into a 12- to 13-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan, baking sheet or peel that has been lightly dusted with semolina, fine cornmeal, or rice flour.

Spread the garlic cream over the crust, leaving a half inch border around the edges bare.  

Scatter the mushroom/spring onion mixture over the cream, followed by the asparagus/cheese mixture.

If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in its pan on the pizza stone in the pre-heated oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 8 to 10 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, after the crust has set (5 to 6 minutes), slide the pizza off of the pan to finish cooking directly on the pizza stone.
If you are using a pizza peel, slide the pizza directly onto the hot stone and bake until browned and bubbling (about 8 minutes).

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.  If not serving immediately (if making a second pizza, for example), transfer to a wire rack so that the crust won't get soggy.

  • If you don't have an open bottle of wine on hand, simply start with 2 T. of water and cook the garlic until soft and sizzling in the butter.
  • It is very important to cut the asparagus on a long bias, thus exposing as much of the interior of the spear as possible.

Asparagus that is cut straight across (even if it is very skinny) will not cook properly in the amount of time the pizza will be in the oven. Furthermore, the asparagus will not be able to release its fragrance (which will essentially be sealed in by the skin) into the other ingredients and the pizza will not taste like asparagus.

(Garlic Cream adapted from Food & Wine)

Pizza Dough:
1/2 cup warm water (100º-110º)
1 1/8 t. (1/2 package) active dry yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt

Combine the water, yeast, and 3/4 cup of the flour in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add the oil, salt and another half cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape. Sprinkle some of the remaining quarter cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough. At this point you may use the dough immediately or cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 12 to 24 hours. Pull the dough out of the refrigerator to let it warm up a bit, about an hour before baking the pizza.

When ready to make the pizza, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 to 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and baked.

(Crust adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins)

Food Processor Method:  Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved.  Place 1 1/4 cups plus 2 T. of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend.  Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous.  Begin to run the mixture in long pulses until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute.  If the dough seems wet and sticky, add some of the remaining 2 T. of flour a bit at a time, pulsing after each addition.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

David Lebovitz's Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Granola

I think I have mentioned before that I sometimes share recipes on my blog mostly for my own benefit.  Since I cook so many different so many different places....and under such a variety of can sometimes be difficult to remember what I did on a particular occasion with a particular recipe.  My blog has been a wonderful way to document—not just with words, but with pictures (which are extremely helpful)—what I did and how I did it.  This documentation gives me a reasonably good chance of reproducing something that I particularly liked on a future date.  Today's post is one of those kinds of posts—although, I think anyone who loves peanut butter...and chocolate...and granola...will be happy to know about this recipe.

The recipe is for David Lebovitz's fantastic Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Granola.  When I made it the first time a couple of years ago—and loved it enough to make it immediately again and give it as a gift—I made it exactly as it was written (or so I thought) and shared a picture of my results with a link to Lebovitz's original post on my Facebook page, thinking this would be enough.  But this weekend, when I went to make it again, I found that I couldn't remember a few things....  Old fashioned or quick oats?  What brand of chocolate?  Etc, etc..... 

So...for my own future are my observations and preferences, in no particular order:

The original recipe calls for maple syrup or honey...your choice.  But since I think granola is better on the sweeter side...and honey is sweeter than maple syrup, I went with honey.  Also...peanut butter and honey sort of belong together.  At least in my mind....

I have only made this recipe with old fashioned oats.  I think they give an addictively chewy and substantial result.  I can only assume that quick oats would give a lighter—and also less clumpy (since the peanut butter goop has to cover more surface area with the more thinly shaved quick oats)—result. 

There were lots of comments and questions on Lebovitz's original post about putting the chocolate chips in the oven...  Wouldn't they melt?  Lebovtiz says that commercial chips are made with baking resistant chocolate so they will be fine.  He goes on to say that if you chop up a bar of quality chocolate instead, you will have some difficulties (i.e.—melting in the oven).  So...even though I was dubious... and even though several commenters had had difficulties with this very thing...I trusted that the chips wouldn't melt.  (In general I think Lebovitz's recipes are accurate and reliable.)  And just like he promised, they did not melt.  I remember that they did seem to want to get soft....but found that if I carefully turned the granola over with a pancake turner—as opposed to vigorously stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula—that the chips maintained their shape and their presence in the granola. 

Because I was in a hurry this time, I didn't look up my old Facebook post to see if I mentioned what kind of chocolate chips I used.  I always keep Nestle's semi-sweet chips on hand, but for some reason I had it in my head that I had used Ghirardelli's Bittersweet (60%) chips (which are my favorite).  It became evident very quickly (when I tried to stir the granola at the half way point) that I had not used Ghirardelli's Bittersweet before.  The chips were visibly melting and I was unable to stir.  When I checked my Facebook post, I saw that I had mentioned that I used Nestle's....  (Now I have it written down in two places...hopefully I'll bother to look before I dive in next time.)

Because I was unable to stir the recent batch of granola, I did discover something useful.  If you happen to be someone who prefers your granola in large, snackable shards (I admit to being one of these kinds of people), then not stirring is the way to go.  You will be able to break the granola up a bit after it cools, but it will still tend to want to remain in large clumps and chunks.  If you like a more free-flowing granola—appropriate for sprinkling over your yogurt at breakfast—make sure you stir once or twice (during the baking process, and as the granola cools).

Finally, I discovered this last time that purchasing dry roasted nuts and seeds isn't as straight forward as one would hope.  Look for nuts and seeds that have just nuts/seeds and salt.  A national brand that shall remain nameless adds all kinds of junk and flavorings (including celery, paprika, onion and garlic flavoring...not things I want in my sweet granola...).  If unadulterated dry roasted nuts are not available you can always purchase raw product and toast and salt them yourself.  Or...simply buy nuts that have been roasted with oil.  Either of these is better than being able to taste garlic...or your granola. 

This really is a fine recipe...and if you love granola...and peanut butter and should definitely make it.  I do have to admit though, I laugh every time I read one line of the recipe.  Lebovitz tells us that you can "store the granola in an airtight container at room temperature. It will keep for one to two months."  It is of course likely that this is a true statement....but I'm not sure in what universe someone could manage to make a batch of this granola last for longer than a few days.


David Lebovitz's Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Granola

If you want big shards of granola that you can snack on, don't stir the granola as it bakes.  If you want a more traditional, separated, granola, be sure to stir once or twice during baking...and a few times as the granola cools.

3 cups (300g) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup (150g) dry roasted (lightly salted) peanuts
3/4 cup (120g) chocolate chips
1/2 cup (70g) sunflower seeds (dry roasted, lightly salted)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 cup (130g) smooth peanut butter (regular)
1/2 cup (160g) mild-flavored honey
1/4 cup (60g) packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 325ºF (165ºC).  In a large bowl, mix together the oats, peanuts, chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, and salt.

In a small saucepan, warm the peanut butter, honey, brown sugar, and water over low heat, stirring constantly just until the mixture is smooth. The mixture will be barely tepid...don’t get the mixture too hot or it will separate.  (If this happens, stick the pan in a large bowl of ice water and stir until the mixture cools down and becomes homogenous and smooth.)

Scrape the peanut butter mixture into the dry ingredients and mix it in well, coating the oats, peanuts and seeds well.

Transfer the granola mixture to a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread it in an even layer.

Toast the granola in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the granola is a golden brown all over.  If you are going to "stir" during baking (see note above), use a pancake turner-style spatula to flip the granola over in sections...stirring in the traditional sense will smash the softening chocolate chips.  When you stir, make sure you get the granola on the edges moved toward the center and the granola in the center of the pan moved to the edges since the edges tend to darken quicker than the center. Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Makes about 6 to 8 cups, depending on whether you have shards or crumbly granola. 

Storage: Store the granola in an airtight container at room temperature. It will keep for one to two months.

(Recipe from