Or in other words, the controlled chaos of homemade pizza pies.
Yeah, you're saying, "whine, whine, whine. What could be so hard about making pizza." Well, nothing is hard, really, but there are a few details here and there that are rites of passage. And last night, because of two wonderful friends and a husband who agreed to do the dishes, we have a couple of stories to tell and photos to share.
We started this a few months ago; gathering innocently enough to make a slew of Turkish recipes courtesy Margaret Rossetti and her recent trip to the cradle of civilization, and now we're hooked on mastering some of the simple but important culinary techniques we haven't, well, mastered. A pizza seemed like a tame conquest. But wait until you scatter a bit of corn meal on a 500 degree pizza stone, without protective eye wear, and you will get a feeling for the ups and downs of dough, determination, and deliciousness.
It started with the basics: bring dough (some from Fresh Market, some from Trader Joe's...gotta say Fresh Market's dough is hand's down easier to work with and roll out), and the fresh fixings of our choice. When you're cooking at Margaret's there is no, "good enough." So our pizza sauce, olive oil, and accoutrements including the pizza peels, were all top notch. I encourage you not to skimp on any of these details.
As I arrived with my bread board and my grandmother's rolling pin in hand, we wasted no time before beginning on appetizers. Delving into a lovely group of zucchini, we began by slicing them lengthwise, then grilling, then cooling them, and rolling them up with a filling of feta, olive oil, lemon and fresh herbs. We topped them with lemon zest and ate them for energy. (You'll see the photos and I will get a copy of the recipe to acknowledge and share). It was a good way to warm up to the main course.
Now preparing the toppings is just plain fun. From funky mushrooms to whole milk mozzarella, to spinach and herbs from the garden and gigantic summer tomatoes, all that was missing was a bit of Italian music and local red wine. (We quickly found a CD with a bit of Andrea Bocelli so all was not lost!) Even rolling out the dough was pretty easy. We topped it with a layer of olive oil and a layer of the finest pizza sauce and then stacked away with all the pretty stuff. You can omit the sauce and add ANY TOPPING YOU WOULD LIKE. We especially moaned with pleasure over the addition of macerated fresh garlic. Now that is the BOMB.
However, the fun waned a bit when it was time to cook them. Why? Well, when it was time to schlep our pies into the oven, we underestimated how tricky it is to slide it off the peel or the board and into the oven. (We later learned that you use corn meal like water when it comes to greasing the pathway. We got the hang of it by the 4th pie!) Oh well. That's when you get out the pizza cutter and simple pre-slice and serve. No one need know you inverted a good half of the first pie onto the stone nearly blinding us with smoke and enlisting a "what's burning?" from the peanut gallery in the next room. "Everything is fine, drink your wine." we shouted, and sure enough, after 9 to 12 minutes we were in cheesy, herby, tomatoey, meaty and crusty heaven.
WINE: Just so you know, we served it with a Layer Cake Primitivo Zinfandel. Transcendent...
Isn't it pretty? Dang, I didn't know I could do it. Although I will admit, that as I was adding the lemon zest I felt a certain calmness about my eventual success. Can I tell you how fun it was?
Okay, truth moment: This is the FIRST TIME I have ever made jam. I have no idea why I had to be this old before I tried something so simple, but that's just the nature of the beast. The prospect of it was made possible by a string of recent confidence building food experiments, the fact that spring and fruit make you giddy, and because this little bag of cherries in the supermarket was literally begging me to take it home.
That's how it starts, you know. Like a Sou Dr. Doolittle, I can talk to the celery...and the yogurt, and the orzo and they talk back. Whether it's the supermarket or farmers market, you simply stroll along the aisles and suddenly you look down and there's a bag of sweet, dark cherries in your cart, promising you a night of abandon and exhilaration. Well, I just had to give it a try!
Okay, we didn't get 'at it' right away, there was foreplay. My fingernails are still a bit tattooed with purple juice, but really, pitting a cherry isn't complicated, it just takes a long time. And if you need to meditate, this is the perfect task.
Because I don't have 7 children or a zucchini garden I tend to do things in small batches the first time. I bought the small canning jars, 12 in all, expecting to use only about 5 or so. In the end, I only filled three and all who have tasted have made me promise to make more. Anyway, sometimes you learn best by muddling through.
First of all, there are LOTS of YouTube and Blog videos about making preserves, and a lot of them range from maddening to vague, with only a few punctuated with the kind of help a self made cook really needs. So hopefully my learning curve will help you. If you're interested, I chose to use a recipe from a blog by David Lebovitz. It's great and very simple. When I read his blog I knew he was my kind of mentor, especially when he talked about learning to do this without a perfect recipe. You go Dave.
Next, it's important that you have everything out and ready to go. This happens FAST and you will want things at your fingertips. I'll get to the tools as well as the ingredients in the recipe below.
Finally, go buy a loaf of ciabatta bread now, 'cause you are GONNA WANT this slathered on it the next morning when you make french toast.
Recipe: Pitifully Easy Cherry Preserves
Sterilize the jars and lids. I just run them through my dishwasher. It's okay if when you take them out and fill them they're hot. So is that blazing red syrup you're putting in them.
Now. Get a roll of paper towels close at hand, a good, sharp paring knife, and for heaven's sake, wear black. Wash cherries thoroughly, remove stems. Cut each cherry in half, like you would do if you were going to pit an avocado. Peel off one side. Dig out the pit with the knife and place the two halves in a bowl. (Sometimes it's not two halves, sometimes it ends up in 5 pieces, but it doesn't matter. Just start stacking them up.) Now, chop 3/4ths of them into smaller pieces and leave the last 1/4 a little larger. Not as big as halves, just not mince-meat.
Place in a large, deep dutch oven. (I LOVE using my cast iron pot.) add the lemon juice. Cook over moderately low head until they're all nice and soft, like they would be if you were cooking cranberries for Turkey Day. About 20 minutes if you're cooking on a lower heat. Now, take them back out and measure them. For me I ended up with cherries AND syrup close to 3 cups. Now, measure out 3/4 that amount of sugar. Put the fruit back in the pan, add the sugar and the lemon zest and before the magic begins there's one more task. Okay, take a small glass plate and place it in the freezer. It is our cheat plate to test when our concoction is done. Now, turn the heat on almost to high, get your best wooden spatula, make sure no one is going to run in your kitchen asking you to take a phone call, sign for a package, or switch TV channels.
The next 7 minutes belongs to your pot. Stir in the sugar and keep cooking, and you'll see it all come to a rolling boil. You don't want a violent boil, just keep it going. Stir for about 4 minutes and the mixture should start to show less bubbles and a little bit of thickening. Take the pot off the stove, pull out the plate, and put a bit on the syrup on the plate and back in the freezer. This is now the moment you can change the channel for any helpless people in your home, or put the towels in the drier. Now, back at it. After about 4 minutes, check the freezer. When you nudge the syrup, does it kind of wrinkle and hold? If not, cook the syrup a bit longer, 2 to 3 minutes and check again. It will probably be good the second time. Now we're not looking for a rubbery consistency, just a bit of a wrinkle. You do NOT want to turn this to a crystal, overcooked mess. Those cherries deserve your vigilance!
Guess what. You're DONE! Take the pot of yumminess and add that dash of Grand Marnier. It REALLY brings out the depth of flavor and it sounds fun when you're telling people what your secret ingredient is. Okay, place in jars with about 1/2 inch room at the top, and seal tightly. You can, at this point, move to a water bath and seal so you can store for a long time. But this isn't going to last, 'cause it's waay too awesome, so I just let them sit on the counter for about 3 hours until they're not hot, and then you put them in the fridge.
They'll last for about 2 to 3 months. If they do, you have serious issues about avoidance. I'm telling ya, the next morning the ciabatta will do all the talking and you'll be smacking your lips!
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style centers around a love for combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.