Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pizza Poser

I wonder what the Italians think of all the different forms of "pizza" we seem to have invented in the United States.  Remember English Muffin pizzas?  The name alone is almost blasphemous - an English pizza?  I used to make these a lot as a kid, because they were a tasty snack I could make myself out of items we always seemed to have in the kitchen, even when we were out of food.  An English muffin, a jar of sauce, some shredded mozzarella (this was before fresh mozzarella was common and readily available in the grocery stores and we had to settle for that gummy, yellow stuff.  It was tough growing up in the 80s).  There was also the French bread pizza (now French pizza?!).  French bread was also something we always seemed to have in the freezer, before the low-carb diet craze made my mother afraid for bread.  Then of course, there was the California pizza phenomenon, popularized by Wolfgang Puck and brought to the masses by California Pizza Kitchen, which used ingredients never before imagined on a pizza, like smoked salmon and barbecued chicken.

One of my favorite pizzas served at CPK is the shrimp scampi pizza.  There's no red sauce and its super garlicky.  I decided to try out my own version of the recipe using yet another unusual dough replacement - store-bought Naan (Indian pizza!). Now I firmly believe that nothing is better than good, homemade pizza dough, but sometimes I just don't have the time or energy for the kneading, rising, flouring and stretching that it requires.  I've found that packages of Naan are a great easy replacement.  They're perfectly portioned, thin, and much closer to what pizza dough should be than an English muffin or big hunk of bread.  But let's not call them pizza - how about flatbread?
A note about shrimp - harvesting of shrimp can cause huge environmental damage.  Huge nets trawl the oceans and bays for shrimp.  They scoop up whatever lies in their path, and anything that is picked up besides shrimp (fish, turtles and other marine life) is thrown back into the ocean dead.  It causes great disruption to the delicate underwater ecosystem.  Farmed shrimp - particularly in Asian countries - produces huge amounts of waste and fertilizers that run back into the waterways, so its really not a better option.  Your best bet?  Wild pink shrimp from Oregon, where they use bycatch reduction devices to limit what they pick up.  Hard to find, but worth it.  And if its impossible for you to find, the next best choice is U.S. farmed shrimp.  Most U.S. shrimp is farmed inland in closed tanks, so it reduces the waste going back into the oceans.  Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch for more information on sustainable seafood.
Shrimp Scampi Flatbread
serves 2
2 pieces packaged Naan (I used whole wheat)
3 oz. fresh mozzarella (preferably buffalo), thinly sliced
2 Tbl olive oil
1 large shallot, halved and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 oz. shrimp, peeled, deveined, and patted dry
juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper
1/2 Tbl unsalted butter

  • Preheat oven to 500º
  • In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium-low heat.  Add shallots and cook, stirring occaisionally, until lightly golden and carmelized, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, spread mozzarella evenly over each Naan.  Place on baking sheet and cook in oven until cheese is melted and bubbly.  Remove from oven and set aside.
  • When shallots are carmelized, add garlic to pan and turn heat up to medium.  Saute another minute.
  • Add shrimp and cook about a minute until shrimp just starts to turn pink.  Add lemon juice and white wine, and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer until liquid is mostly reduced.
  • Add butter to pan and stir until melted, then remove from heat.
  • Divide shrimp mixture evenly over each Naan.  Return to oven and heat another 2 - 3 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand a few minutes before cutting into quarters.
For a light Saturday supper, serve with a mixed green salad tossed with a vinaigrette made from lemon juice, dijon mustard and olive oil.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Irish Eyes

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  I hope everyone is wearing their green and drinking a Guiness.  We celebrated St. Patrick's a little early last night and went to see my friend Lucy's father's band perform, The Boys of the Town.  They're an Irish trio and they are great!  Lucy is also in a band that performed last night, and she rocked it out on lead vocals singing a couple Cranberries songs.

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I also made a traditional Irish meal.  I usually make Irish Soda Bread for this holiday, but I've always made the Americanized version, which is slightly sweet with raisins and caraway seeds.  But in Ireland, soda bread is a heartier brown bread.  This month's Bon Appetit featured this recipe that I decided to try.

Mrs. O'Callaghan's Soda Bread
adapted from from Bon Appetit, March 2010
olive oil for brushing pan
3 cups all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 stick chilled butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 cups buttermilk
  • Preheat oven to 425º
  • Brush a heavy nonstick baking sheet with olive oil
  • Whisk together both flours, sugar and baking soda in a medium bowl
  • Cut in butter until its reduced to pea-sized pieces
  • Add buttermilk and stir until a shaggy dough forms
  • Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead 10 times until dough holds together.
  • Shape into a 7" round
  • Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cut an "x" in the center
  • Bake about 45 minutes, until deeply browned and bottom sounds hallow when tapped
  • Transfer to baking rack to cool

This bread called for something soupy to sop up.  A traditional Irish stew is made with lamb and root vegetables, so I decided to make a vegetarian version.  It was very hearty soup that made great use of all the winter vegetables we still have tucked away.

Irish Vegetable Stew
3 Tbl olive oil
1 Tbl unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
1 large leek, well washed, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup pearled barley

2 1/2 pounds assorted root vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips and carrots, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 cup dark beer (like Guiness!)
1 quart vegetables broth
1/2 medium cabbage, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
  • Melt butter in olive oil in a large dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat
  • Add onions, garlic and herbs and cook for 1 minute until fragrant
  • Add leeks and cook for about 10 minutes until softened
  • Add barley and stir until grains are coated
  • Add root vegetables and cook 2 more minutes
  • Pour in beer and cook 2 minutes
  • Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil
  • Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes hour
  • Add cabbage and simmer another 30 minutes until vegetables are tender
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hey There, Pudding

The weather this weekend has been teasingly Springlike, but that has not stopped me from craving homey, Winter comfort food. I've been thinking about rice pudding for weeks. The super creamy texture, the warm scent of cinnamon and vanilla just begs to be enjoyed on a cold evening wrapped up in a warm blanket. Or maybe on an early Spring day with the windows open. Oh heck, I could eat rice pudding any time!

My first rice pudding was made a few years ago for Christmas. I used Ina Garten's recipe for Rum Raisin Rice Pudding. And I expected it to be a humble addition to the dessert table, passed over in favor of chocolate cakes and apple pies, but the rice pudding was the hit of the day. Yes, everyone loves rice pudding.

This weekend I decided do something a little different with my rice pudding. I always have some Taza chocolate in the pantry, and I've been trying to come up with the perfect vehicle for the discs of Cinnamon Chocolate Mexicano. Definitely the right match for a cinnamon -scented rice pudding.

I used arborio rice for this recipe. It makes creamy risotto, it makes creamy pudding. And I know they're pricey, but using a whole vanilla bean is very important. The extract is just not the same.

Be sure to cook this over really low heat for a long time. Low and slow is always the key to creaminess. You could use another good quality bittersweet chocolate for this recipe, but I highly recommend Taza if you can find it.

Mexican Chocolate Rice Pudding
serves 4 - 6
1/2 cup arobrio rice
4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved and beans scraped
1 cinnamon stick, halved
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 x 2.7 oz. package Taza Cinnamon Chocolate Mexicano chocolate, or 2.7 - 3 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • Stir together rice, milk and sugar in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir in vanilla beans and pods, and add cinnamon stick.
  • Bring rice mixture just to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 - 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • When rice is thick and creamy, remove from heat. Add a spoonful of rice mixture to a bowl with beaten egg to coddle. Stir egg into pot with rice, return to heat and cook 2 - 3 more minutes.
  • Stir in chocolate until melted and well combined.
  • Serve warm or chilled.