Green Pizza

26 03 2009

This is one of those posts written in desperation – the kind of desperation that comes when something is on its way out of season.  In this case, broccoli.  And while sage is pretty good year-round, its flavor is indelibly tied to the colder months.

The dish was invented in a different kind of desperation – the kind when you’re wandering around the grocery store looking for something to cook for dinner.  Preferably something easy, quick and healthy.  It was St. Patrick’s Day, but the sky was too blue and the air too almost-warm to consider cooking one of the more traditional celebratory dishes.  I still wanted to make something to commemorate the day.  I caught a glimpse of some deep green broccoli and thought that it was both nutritious and dressed for the occasion.  Into my basket it went, next to the Guinness, and I wondered how to make a meal out of a head of broccoli.  Well, I had pizza dough in the freezer, and some goat cheese and sage in the fridge… sweet!  Done shopping!

Pizza dough spread with sage pesto

Somewhere along the way I realized that I had all the necessary ingredients (pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano) for pesto just sitting there in the kitchen.  And the pizza came together.  Pesto and broccoli first, then a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, a drizzle of olive oil, and a handful of crumbled goat cheese. 

St Paddy's Day Pizza

Luck must have been with me, because this pizza was everything I wanted: fast, healthy, and holiday-appropriate.  Because I know that some of you out there like recipes, here’s how I made the sage pesto.  You should be able to figure out the rest of the pizza yourself.  (Those of you who don’t like recipes, well, I’m sure you’ll wing it anyway.)

Sage Pesto

 

In retrospect, just the pesto spread on the pizza dough and baked would make some fantastic breadsticks.  The recipe makes just the right amount for a two-person pizza, but it would also be great on pasta or spread on a turkey sandwich.

 

1 bunch sage, leaves picked, washed, and chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. pine nuts, chopped

2 Tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated

Squeeze of lemon juice

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  The texture will be chunky and “rustic,” but you could easily put the mixture into a food processor or blender if you want a smoother end result.

 

Makes about 1/3 cup (85 ml).

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Fournée au Chèvre

4 12 2008

Or, to sound less fancy-pants, bacon-wrapped goat cheese.

How could I not buy this?

Here in France I am often stumbling across “convenience” products like this which I suppose are commonplace to French consumers but are totally awesome to me.  I mean, bacon-wrapped goat cheese?  For two euros?  That’s awesome.  You might be able to find something like this in the prepared-food section of some gourmet grocery stores with a huge markup, but in France, it’s at the supermarket.

Obviously, I had to buy it.  I hatched a lovely plan to pan-fry these beauties and serve them warm on a bed of watercress dressed in apple cider vinaigrette.  The watercress was already washed and waiting in the fridge, the vinaigrette was already made, it was going to be the fastest appetizer salad ever in my kitchen.  I busted out the nonstick pan (didn’t want to risk my precious cheeses getting stuck to the pan) and started frying.

The great duo of bacon and cheese

That’s when I went into the fridge to get the rest of the salad ingredients.  Vinaigrette?  Check.  Gave it a little shake in its tiny Tupperware and it was good to go.  Carefully washed, dried, loosely wrapped in a paper towel and an open plastic bag a day or two prior, my watercress should have been fine.  But it had all gone yellow.  Crap!  Nick, intrepid soul that he is, tasted a leaf as I asked hopefully, “Does it taste yellow?”  “Blech.  Yeah.” Came the reply.  Into the garbage can it went, and the warm, crisped cheeses went onto our plates alone.  And we ate them that way.  Smoky, salty bacon and creamy, tangy goat cheese, it turns out, need no other adornment.  I will be buying these again for sure.

I’m sending this to Chez Loulou for the monthly Fête du Fromage roundup.  Look for it on the 15th!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Potimarron-Fingerling Gratin

2 12 2008

Celebrating holidays in a foreign country means making certain sacrifices.  As a case in point, I have yet to see anything resembling a fresh cranberry in Paris.  The various American épiceries are fully stocked with jars and cans of cranberry sauce, but if you want to make your own (like I always do) you’re out of luck.  However, as you can probably imagine, the markets of Paris offer up an incredible bounty from which to devise seasonal dishes from locally-grown ingredients.

Naked Chestnut Squash

Like this potimarron.  I forgot to get a picture of it before I stripped it bare, but there’s a good before photo herePotimarron is one of the more commonly seen winter squashes in the Parisian markets, yet somehow I had yet to cook one.  A little research turned up some interesting facts about the potimarron: the thin skin is edible, the name is derived from the French words for “pumpkin” and “chestnut,” and it apparently increases in sweetness and vitamin content the longer you store it (to a point, I’m sure).

Potimarron insides, with paring knife for scale

I purchased the cute little squash about a week before Thanksgiving without any real plan regarding what to do with it.  The same market trip yielded a bag of fingerling potatoes, another impulse buy.  A few days later, when I realized it was high time I start getting my Thanksgiving menu in order, the two supremely seasonal vegetables jumped out at me.

*Peeling not required

Recalling a butternut squash gratin I have made in years past to generally good reviews, I thought I’d riff on the idea, working potatoes into the mix.  The potimarron, taking after its namesake nut, is one of the starchier winter squashes out there.  While this makes it able to hold its own when combined with potatoes, I didn’t want the dish to be too heavy (this was for Thanksgiving, after all).  I figured the tangy sweetness of leeks simmered in hard cider would offset the richness of the squash and potatoes.  Top it all off with my favorite fresh chèvre, and I had just the gratin I was looking for.  I may not have had sweet potatoes as usual, (ed. note: except that I did, on this salad) but it didn’t feel like I was sacrificing a thing. 

Click through for the recipe and Nick’s gorgeous photo.

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Fennel Focaccia

29 09 2008

It kind of looks like an onion, with celery growing out the top, and dill instead of leaves.

I must admit, I was pretty excited when I saw the ingredients for this month’s Foodie Joust: Fennel, Dairy, and Parsley.  I’ve never been a fan of licorice or anise-flavored anything, but sometime over the last couple of years I fell in love with fresh fennel.  The anise-y-ness is mild enough to be tolerable, and it evolves into a subtle sweetness when the fennel is cooked.  So I immediately jotted down four or five recipe ideas – some old favorites, some new inventions – and ran them by Nick.  He wanted to try the focaccia with caramelized fennel, parsley, and goat cheese, so I started working on a focaccia recipe.

Dimpled focaccia dough

I have a little bit of starter going in my fridge for bread-baking purposes, and I thought it would give my focaccia the character that so many recipes seem to lack.  I have also determined that the potato in focaccia dough is by no means optional.  It gives the finished bread an unmistakable texture and helps to keep it moist, too.  And it turns out that focaccia is pretty fun to make.  Sure, it takes a while, but you can use all that rising time to prep your toppings, cook dinner, answer emails, do a little online shopping… or whatever it is you like to do in idle moments at home.

Before...

For this recipe, I essentially braised the fennel:  I sliced it thin, browned it in olive oil, then threw in some white wine and tarragon vinegar and let it cook down until the liquid was gone and the fennel was tender.  I figured the caramelization process could finish in the oven.  As for the parsley, I chopped it up with the fronds from the fennel andmade a sort of paste with a little olive oil.  And the cheese?  Well, I picked up an awesome little fresh raw-milk chèvre at the market.  It had a much fuller and more distinctly goat-y flavor than your average fresh goat cheese, and it stood up well to the bold flavors imparted by the fennel and the parsley.

So head on over to the Leftover Queen’s forum and vote for me!  (The voting should start on Thursday, October 2nd, and ends on the 5th.)  Keep reading for the recipe…

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More Tomatoes!

5 09 2008

On the way home from work the other day, as I walked past the corner fruit-and-vegetable seller, I noticed he was arranging tomatoes for his sidewalk display.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that they were some very cool, dark green kumato tomatoes, and I picked one up.  The man asked me if I was familiar with these tomatoes.  I responded in the affirmative and he informed me that these were very good.  So I picked up another one.  And another one.  Soon my hands were full, but the man had the foresight to go and get me a bag, which I filled to my heart’s content.  Two and a half euros later, I was the proud owner of an almost- kilo of kumato tomatoes.

It was sunny outside my kitchen window that day.

I’ll admit this wasn’t a completely random purchase.  I did have a recipe in mind when I saw them – Clotilde’sTomato Tarte Tatin recipe from her book, Chocolat & Zucchini.  (I have the French version, but I assume it’s in the English versions, too.)  I have a hard time leaving recipes alone, however, so I riffed on the idea of a roasted tomato tart baked with a crust on top, Tatin-style.

Awaiting their destiny

I love the way roasting brings out the deep sweetness and enhances the complexity of fruits and vegetables.  And I’ve done some good things with roasted tomatoes in the past.  These particular tomatoes, probably due to their being all squished together in my tart dish, took a lot longer to start getting roast-y than I anticipated.  I eventually had to very carefully pour out some of the excess liquid from the dish so that we could have dinner before 11 pm.  (Not that that’s entirely abnormal in France, but my alarm goes off at 5 am.)

While the tomatoes were roasting, I smeared a round of puff pastry with the contents of a whole head of roasted garlic which I had made a day or two before.  The pastry was store bought because I was feeling too lazy to make my own pâte brisée, but I think I’ll make the effort next time.  Even the supposedly all-butter pastry has a weird chemical taste that has no place on my dinner plate.

The roasted garlic was good...

Anyway, once the tomatoes began to dry a bit, I dolloped fresh goat cheese over them, like so:

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The French Make Pizza, Too!

2 06 2008

It goes by the name “pissaladière,” and is a traditional Provençal snack.  Like any regional recipe, there is disagreement as to what goes into a “real” pissaladière, though I think that all would agree is is made with a sturdy pizza-like crust and caramelized onions.  (No floppy extra thin crust here.)  Other traditional toppings include anchovies, niçoise olives, thyme, tomato, and garlic.

The cool thing about having extra calzone dough in the freezer is that it gives you the ability to make off-the-cuff pizzas, as long as you remember to thaw the dough a few hours in advance.  (You could also put it in the fridge in the morning, if that’s better for your schedule.)  When the time comes, roll out the dough, add your toppings of choice and bake.

Being in France, and finding myself with a handful of onions that needed to be used, I decided to go the pissaladière route.  I started by caramelizing the onions in lard with a pinch of salt and some fresh thyme.  If the pan started to get dry, I just poured in a little white wine to moisten the onions and let them continue cooking to a nice, deep brown color.

Roasted tomatoes and garlic

Meanwhile, I thought that some roasted tomatoes would make a good addition, so I sliced the one rather lackluster tomato I had and placed it in a baking dish.  I sprinkled the slices with salt and pepper and drizzled them with olive oil.  Then I thought that some garlic would punch up their flavor even more, so I threw in a couple of cloves and topped it all off with a sprig of thyme.  Into the oven went the pan while the onions slowly caramelized on the stove.  The added bonus of this step was that the oven was already preheated when I was ready to bake the pissaladière.

Assembly of the dish took no time at all.  First I smeared the roasted garlic onto my rolled-out dough (pissaladière is usually rectangular in shape, which is actually easier than a round pizza, in my opinion).  Then I spread the onions evenly over the whole thing.  Next came the tomatoes and a smattering of goat cheese because, well, I had it on hand, it is delicious with all the aforementioned ingredients, and I wanted something a little heartier than a straight onion and tomato tart.  I baked it on a sheet pan lined with parchment and sprinkled with cornmeal to prevent sticking (which probably wouldn’t have been an issue, but it never hurts to play it safe).

Pissaladière

Even easier than the calzone, and it made an excellent light (well, except for the lard) meal which we finished off with a simple green salad.  I’m sure I’ll end up doing something similar with the last ball of dough, and then making a point of keeping such dough on hand for quick dinners.





A Picnic by the Canal

8 05 2008

Given the incredible weather we’ve been having this week, I decided it was too nice last night to have dinner inside.  I won’t go into the various unfruitful market trips I embarked on before realizing that most of what I needed was in my fridge, instead I present to you:

Spanish-inspired picnic salads

Arugula and Piquillo pepper salad with Chorizo and goat cheese in Sherry vinaigrette.  I packed the salads into individual serving-sized Tupperware (What do you call non-Tupperware brand Tupperware?  Airtight plastic container just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) and placed them in a bag with a bunch of grapes, a baguette tradition, a bottle of rosé, and a couple of cookies.  Now that picnic season seems to be in full swing, we have a cupboard dedicated to picnic supplies: paper napkins, plastic utensils and cups are all at the ready for a last-minute weeknight picnic.  We took our dinner to the Canal St. Martin, a few blocks away and sat by the water alongside hundreds of Parisians who had had the same idea.

Bridge over the Canal St. Martin at dusk

We got there just as the sun was setting, so the temperature was just perfect.  We enjoyed our picnic and watched the sky slowly grow darker.

Crescent Moon over the Canal St. Martin

Nick got this photo of the crescent moon just above the buildings.  I love pictures taken at this hour of the evening, where the sky is still a brilliant blue but here on Earth it is already dark.  It reminds me of a Magritte painting.

So this is what people are talking about when they wax nostalgic about Paris in the Spring!








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