Monday, May 31, 2010

A Shaved Dinner

I know this sounds weird, a "shaved" dinner.  As far as I know it's not a new food trend or anything, it just happened to be the theme of tonight's dinner.  It started with a pizza recipe, which was complemented by a simple salad, and then, when I started to write this post, I realized they each contained shaved components, and there you have it, the theme for this post.  So without further ado...

Part 1 of Shaved Dinner: Shaved Asparagus Pizza
I just finished eating this pizza about 5 minutes ago, and I'm already itching to share it with you, because it's darn good.  I found the inspiration for it on, which is a fantastic blog.  I can't remember if I've plugged it before, but I will now: it's a great site. 

This simple pizza has elevated asparagus in my book simply because it is shaved.  Never thought of that before!  For me shaving asparagus takes away what I don't like about the veg (the stringiness) while enhancing the flavor, and particularly bringing out the sweetness.  I tweaked the recipe a little bit, adding pancetta (because I thought it would be good) and omitting scallions (because I completely forgot to buy them, although I bet they would be good).  Other than that I followed Deb's sound advice, and I have to say, I will be returning to shaved asparagus again and again.  Why?  Because it's easy to prep, versatile (I'm already envisioning some sort of pappardelle/shaved asparagus pasta something or other), and brings out a whole new side to this fantastic veggie.  Which, as it so happens, is in season, so you should get some ASAP and whip up this tasty pie.

Shaved Asparagus Pizza (Adapted from
Makes 1 thin crust 12 to 14-inch pizza

* 1 recipe of your favorite pizza dough (see below for my fave easy recipe), or pre-made dough from the grocery store, at room temperature
* 1/2 pound asparagus--8 or 9 stalks, perhaps?
* 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
* 1/2 pound mozzarella, shredded or cut into small cubes--you can use pre-shredded bagged mozz here, but I love the fresh mozz balls that you can find in the specialty cheese section of your grocery store, or at the very least, the vacuum sealed mozz balls, such as Bel Gioioso or Dragone brands
* 2 teaspoons olive oil
* 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
* Freshly ground black pepper
* 1 scallion, thinly sliced
* 1 scant cup finely diced pancetta (about a 1/4 inch dice)
* A few tablespoons of cornmeal, for dusting

1. Preheat your oven to the hottest temperature it goes--500 is typical. If you use a pizza stone, preheat it in the oven now.
2.  Prep the asparagus: wash your asparagus and pat dry.  Don't snap off the tough ends like you normally might when prepping asparagus, as they are useful to hold on to while you're shaving the asparagus.  Holding a single asparagus spear by its tough end, lay it flat on a cutting board and run a vegetable peeler from the base to the top of the spear to make long shavings.  Repeat with remaining stalks.  Don’t sweat it if some pieces are unevenly thick (i.e., the last slice of the stalk)--it all works out once it's cooked.  Discard the tough end and toss the shaved asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl.  

3.  If you are using pancetta, cook it in a saute pan over medium heat, tossing occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until browned.  Some of the fat will render out here, so no need to grease the pan.  Transfer the pancetta cubes to a paper towel lined plate to drain (just like you would with bacon).

4. Assembly time: Stretch out your pizza dough to a 12 to 14-inch round.  Dough should be quite thin, although you can leave it a little bit thicker around the edges.  Either transfer to a floured or cornmeal-dusted pizza peel (if using a pizza stone in the oven) or to a cornmeal-dusted cookie sheet or round pizza pan to bake it on. Sprinkle pizza dough with Parmesan, then mozzarella and pancetta.  Pile asparagus on top. Bake pizza for 10 to 15 minutes, or until edges are browned, the cheese is bubbly and the asparagus might be lightly charred. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with scallions (if using), then slice and enjoy!

Deb had the following suggestions for ways to tweak this recipe.  I think they would all be fantastic--perhaps I will try one next time:
-Toss a pinch of red pepper flakes with the asparagus, oil, s&p.
-Squeeze lemon juice over the asparagus after you remove it from the oven
-Add a few eggs by baking the pizza for 8 minutes, breaking the eggs on top, then finish cooking pizza and eggs together

Part 2 of Shaved Dinner: Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad 
If the concept of shaved veggies has you really excited, I would suggest a shaved fennel and arugula salad to accompany this fine pizza.  Shaved fennel and arugula is one of my all time fave salads, a combo that we have adopted & adapted from Jamie Oliver and Pi Pizzeria, our local high(er) end pizza place.  It's super easy:  

1. Take a fresh fennel bulb, cut off the fennel stalks, halve the bulb, and peel off any outer pieces if they are brown and bruised.  Using either a good chef's knife or a mandolin (my tool of choice), thinly slice either one or both halves of the bulb (depending on how many people you're making the salad for), stopping just before the tough root.  

2. Toss with arugula (I like buying the pre-washed organic boxes of arugula, but if you buy it in bunches, be sure to wash it well, since it is often sandy).  If you want, shave some Parmesan on top (your veggie peeler is a good tool for this).  

3. Dress with a simple Dijon mustard-lemon juice-EVOO dressing and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.  

This was a winning combo with the pizza.  Enjoy!!!

Easy Pizza  Dough (From the new Gourmet cookbook)

* 1 1/4 oz package (or 2 1/4 teaspoons if it's from a jar) of active dry yeast
* About 1 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, divided, plus more for kneading.  You can replace up to half of this flour with whole wheat, if you'd like
* 3/4 cups warm water, divided. (105-115 degrees F)--if you don't have a thermometer, this is quite warm to the touch, just slightly cooler than shower water
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Mix 1/4 cup of the warm water, the yeast and 1 tablespoon of flour in a cup and let sit for 5 minutes. The yeast mixture should look creamy

2. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 1/4 cups flour and the salt. Pour in the yeast mixture, the rest of the water, and the olive oil, and stir until smooth.

3. Mix in the enough of the remaining flour (about 1/2 a cup) until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.

4. Turn the dough out on to a clean surface and knead with lightly floured hands, adding more flour if the dough starts to stick to your hands. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

Here is a good YouTube video that demonstrates kneading:

5. Form the dough into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Dust with flour and cover with saran wrap and allow to rise in a warm, draft free place for about an hour and a quarter, until doubled in size.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Leaving You With A Little Something

My sister Allison and I are off to Europe tonight (in theory, if the volcano would please dear god just stop spewing crap into the sky so our plane can leave).  We're visiting Ireland, Scotland and Amsterdam in honor of her graduation (with honors, yay Ali!), and very belatedly in honor of graduation (or so I like to tell myself, since I started working immediately upon graduating...times were different back in 2006, when there were jobs...) I don't know much about the food cultures of those places, other than boiled meat, sausage, and cabbage, so I don't know if I will be returning with any great ideas, so I wanted to leave you with one cookie recipe that will absolutely knock your socks off, so you have something to bake in my absence. 

My dad has always had a soft spot for this incredible triple or quadruple-y chocolate cookies from a Boston bakery chain called Rebecca's.  These cookies are so intense that he eats one over the course of several days, and if you ask for a bite he'll give you a piece about the size of your thumb nail, which is kind of stingy (sorry, Dad), but in fact is all you really need, because they are just that powerful.  It has been a personal mission of mine to bake something for him that matches Rebecca's cookies in intensity, and I think I have finally found that recipe.  I was waiting for my dad's approval before writing about them, because I didn't want to share something that was just so-so.  Fortunately, these cookies are not so-so, not even close!  (A few of my prior attempts, which I found delicious, did not make the cut, by his standards.)  These cookies come from Baker's Illustrated by way of Brown Eyed Baker, which is also the blog that turned me on to the Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies a few weeks ago.  They are triple chocolate, and totally amazing.  Along with the Thick and Chewys, I may never try any cookie recipes ever again.  I just don't need to, these are just THAT GOOD.

So without further ado (and apologies for being a lazy photographer, yet again), the recipe, in its original quantities.  When I made these I halved the recipe, because one man, even a chocoholic like my father, does not need 42 cookies at once.  Fortunately it halves very nicely.  It also gives the dry ingredient measurements in ounces, which is great if you have a scale. 

Thick and Chewy Triple-Chocolate Cookies (From Baker's Illustrated and Brown Eyed Baker)
Makes about 42 cookies 

* 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
* ½ cup (1½ ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* ½ teaspoon salt
* 16 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
* 4 large eggs
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
* 10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
* 1½ cups packed (10½ ounces) light brown sugar
* ½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
* 12 ounces (about 2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips

 1. Place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.  Melt the chocolate, stirring a few times, until smooth, then remove from the heat. (Alternatively, you could melt the chocolate in the microwave, just be careful to check it often, so it doesn't overheat and scorch.)

2.  While the chocolate is melting, beat the eggs and vanilla together in a small bowl, then sprinkle the coffee powder over to dissolve, and set aside.  In a separate medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

3. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 5 seconds. Beat in the sugars until combined, about 45 seconds; the mixture will still be quite granular. Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in the egg mixture until incorporated, about 45 seconds. Add the chocolate in a steady stream and beat until combined, about 40 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the mixer at low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not overbeat. Fold in the chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the consistency is scoopable and fudge-like, about 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheet(s) with parchment paper or silicone mats. Scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets with a medium ice cream or cookie scoop, spacing the mounds of dough about 1½ inches apart.  (If you don't have a scoop, make balls of dough that about the size of ping pong balls)

5. Bake until the edges of the cookies have just begun to set but the centers are still very soft, about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time.  Don't over bake these--You want them to stay soft and chewy!  Cool the cookies on the sheets about 10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling to room temperature.  Cool the baking sheets before scooping more dough onto them (I pop mine in the freezer for a few minutes to expedite this); the parchment paper can be reused. 

ENJOY!!!  And don't miss me too much while I'm away :)