Tomato-Basil Thin-Crust Pizza

August 31, 2007

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Along with Pesto Flatbread, this is one of my favorite summer treats. The mozzarella di bufala, a fresh Italian cheese made from the milk of water buffalo, is so light, the heat of the just-from-the-oven pizza melts it. Pizza with bufala makes a perfect hot-weather supper, and if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers—but don’t count on it!—you can have it cold the next day for lunch. SAM

2 cups all-purpose, high-gluten flour [do NOT use soft-wheat flour]
1 tablespoon stone-ground cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon sea salt [preferably Guerande fleur de sel]
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/4 cup warm water
2 ounces mild, hard cheese like Monterey Jack, finely grated
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn into 1-inch pieces
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
2 ounces mozzarella di bufala, pinched into 1/2-inch pieces

Place a large pizza stone—if you have one—on the middle shelf of the oven and preheat to 550 degrees F. In a food processor fitted with the plastic blade, combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt. With the processor running, slowly pour in 1 tablespoon olive oil, then just enough water to form a ball.

Cut two 12-inch rounds of parchment paper and place on two pizza peels or large baking sheets. Knead the dough two or three times and cut in half. On a lightly floured pastry board, roll or stretch each half into a 10-inch round and transfer to the parchment paper. Spread evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, then the hard cheese, basil, tomatoes, and cumin. Slide the pizza and parchment paper onto the stone or place the baking sheet with the pizza on the oven shelf and bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Dot immediately with mozzarella di bufala.
Makes two 10-inch rounds.

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COOKING TIP: Mozzarella di Bufala

August 31, 2007

Mozzarella di Bufala is a delightful Italian cheese made from the milk of water buffalo. It’s too fragile for baking, but it’s an exquisite addition to salads, especially fresh tomatoes and basil. It also melts perfectly on top of a hot pizza right out of the oven. If you can’t find bufala, you can spread grated fresh mozzarella under the tomatoes before you bake your pizza. Or sprinkle it with grated Parmesan, also, before you bake it.


Pepper-Artichoke Tart

August 30, 2007

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You can go wild with combinations of fresh peppers in this savory summer tart. The Sweated Onions make a great palette to work off of. And with the nutty-tasting Gruyère and deceptively rich goat’s cheese, even your most dedicated carnivores won’t notice they’re not eating meat. SAM

Savory Pastry or Whole Wheat Savory Pastry
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 large bell peppers
2 or 3 small poblano, chipotle, or banana peppers, trimmed, seeded and thinly sliced [See Hot Pepper Prep Cooking Tip]
1 jalapeño pepper, trimmed, seeded and thinly sliced, if desired
1 tablespoon marsala wine or dry sherry
2 ounces log goat’s cheese
2 ounces water
1 ounce Gruyère cheese, finely grated
2 large marinated artichoke hearts with stems, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare the pastry and press it into a 9-inch tart pan or 10-inch oval gratin dish. Blind-bake for 10 to 15 minutes until slightly crisp.

In a large chef’s pan over low heat, sweat the onions in 1 tablespoon of oil for 15 minutes. Add the garlic and continue sweating until the onions are translucent, stirring occasionally, about 15 additional minutes. Smash the garlic with a spoon and stir through the onions. Meanwhile, in a medium chef’s pan over medium-high heat, santé the peppers in 1 tablespoon oil for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the marsala wine and stir vigorously to release the fond or sticky juices on the bottom of the pan. In a small pan over very low heat, melt the goat’s cheese in the water, stirring frequently. Smear the bottom of the pastry crust with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Layer the Gruyère, then the onions and garlic, then the artichokes, then the peppers. Pour the melted goat’s cheese on top and bake for 20 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.


COOKING TIP: Whole Wheat Savory Pastry

August 30, 2007

For a light whole wheat crust, follow directions for Savory Pastry but use 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, and 1 tablespoon cornmeal.


Okra-Tomato Salad

August 29, 2007

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I can hear it now, cries from around the globe: ‘Cold fried okra? Are you serious?’ You bet I am. Leftover fried okra is fabulous in salads. The cornmeal adds a nutty crunch. And the richness of the okra takes tomatoes and lettuce to an entirely new dimension. Those of us in the rest of the world have a lot to thank Africa for, and okra is right at the top of the list. SAM

12 large cherry tomatoes, halved
1 (3-inch) cucumber, peeled and very thinly sliced
6 tablespoons Mustard Vinaigrette, divided
3 ounces arugula or mixed salad greens
4 heaping tablespoons cold Fried Okra
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
Toasted pumpkin seeds and/or crumbled cooked bacon

In a large salad bowl, marinate the tomatoes and cucumber in 1 tablespoon vinaigrette for at least 30 minutes. Add the salad greens, okra, and pepper and gently toss with the remaining vinaigrette. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and/or bacon.
Makes 4 servings.


Fried Okra

August 28, 2007

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If you want to deep-fat fry okra, go for it. I prefer to sauté it. This way, it’s crunchy, not at all greasy. Even the extra cornmeal is crunchy and wonderful. Be generous with the salt and pepper and hope for leftovers. Tomorrow, we’re putting Fried Okra in a salad. SAM

4 tablespoons stone-ground cornmeal
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound fresh okra, trimmed and sliced in 1/4-inch pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

In a 1-quart plastic zip bag, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper. Add the okra, seal the top, and shake until the okra is coated. In a large, heavy skillet, preferably iron, over medium-high heat, heat the oil until a pinch of cornmeal bubbles furiously. Add the okra and sauté, turning frequently with a wide spatula, until crisp and brown, about 15 minutes. Serve as a side dish or in salads (recipe tomorrow).
Makes 4 servings.


Pomodora (Italian Bread Soup)

August 27, 2007

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In old Italian kitchens, pomodora was a way to use stale bread. What started as frugality, ended as a delightful soup that tastes sublimely of summer. The cup of fresh herbs is very important—don’t skimp. Use a good bakery ciabatta or French bread. Even if the bread seems hard as a rock, it will melt in the hot soup. SAM

1 1/2 pounds onions (2 large), thinly sliced
1 medium green or red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 chipotle or poblano or jalapeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons roasted, ground cumin
1/3 cup marsala wine
1 28-ounce can tomatoes with juice or 4 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped fresh tomatoes
2 bay leaves
3 cups water or chicken stock
1/2 pound stale crusty French or Italian bread, torn into large chunks
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped fresh herbs: sweet basil, Thai basil, oregano, thyme, and/or parsley mixed to taste
Shredded cucumber or chopped avocado
Sour cream, yogurt cheese, or crème fraîche

In a large chef’s pan over low heat, sweat onions and bell pepper in 1/4 cup oil, covered, for 15 minutes. Add the hot pepper and garlic and continue sweating until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 15 more minutes. Uncover and raise the heat to medium high. Add the cumin and sauté, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the marsala and reduce, about 2 minutes. Add the bay leaves, tomatoes, water or chicken stock, bread, remaining 1/4 cup oil, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat, add the herbs, and let rest, covered, 1 to 2 hours. Remove the bay leaves and pureé with an immersion blender or food processor fitted with metal blade. Garnish with yogurt, shredded cucumber or avocado, sour cream, or crème frâiche.
Makes about 2 quarts.