Thursday, December 11, 2008


Committing to seasonal foods means opening up to some serious shifts in the kitchen. I like change. I like the discovery or rediscovery of flavors, textures, implements. I like being done with something, and moving on. The sweet, nutty smoothness of sweet potatoes and yams suddenly offers unbounded possibility, and in a few months I’ll be happy to throw out the few that are sprouting at the back of the veggie bin. But most of these seasonal comings and goings are just that: renewable and renewing, but not totally new. Not the kind of shift that will change your culinary life forever. I can think of two things in the past ten years that have had an unprecedented and and transformational impact on my cooking. Most recently is Ruth Riechl’s Gourmet cookbook. Every single thing I have tried has been both easy and delicious, so that while I want to make and remake each success I want even more to try another new thing, every single thing in that tome. A few years before that, it was my friend Liz’s pizza.

I went from being someone who never made pizza at home – and I worked in a pizza joint for years, I knew what to do—to someone who makes it at least twice a month. And of course pizza is so incredibly versatile that we could list it as the quintessential food for every season. But Fall and Winter are probably my favorite times to make pizza because I love the extra heat that the oven gives to the back side of the house, and the way that the aroma of onions, bread, and cheese overtakes the beginning of stuffy winter smell. And, one of the pizza toping staples that Liz introduced is carmelized onions, which use of course one of those roots that’ll last the whole season in the right bin (provided of course that you bought or dug up enough).

The last time I made Liz’s pizza I discovered something I should have already known: Market Basket specializes in local foods! Ok, not quite the way you might imagine. They don’t seem to put any special effort into buying local produce or meats, and they don’t identify origin. But they are a local chain. Not only does that mean that they do less shipping of things like managers and accountants, it also means that some of their private label foods are locally made. Like the Market Basket mozzarella. Processed and packaged in Amesberry, Ma. The Whole Foods private label cheeses mostly come from Texas. I haven’t followed the whole food chain yet, to figure out where Market Basket brand’s milk comes from and what it’s treated with (and I do feel strongly about growth hormones and dairy). I’ll report back when I get there.

Liz’s Pizza
The pizza dough recipe is from The Joy of Cooking with one key change: substitute half of the flour for corn meal. And it really works better if it’s coarse cornmeal.
Combine in a large mixing bowl and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 ½ cups stone ground corn meal
2 T olive oil
1 T salt
1 T sugar
Mix to blend all of the ingredients, then knead for 10 minutes. Place in a large bowl lightly covered with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 ½ hours or until the dough has doubled in volume. Punch the dough and divide it in half. Roll each half into a ball and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Flatten each ball, lay it on a cookie sheet, and stretch it into a rough rectangle almost as large as the cookie sheet. Let sit another 5-10 minutes.

Brush the dough with olive oil.
No sauce.
Slice two blocks of mozzarella cheese (it’s nice to use one fresh and one aged) or one block of mozzarella and one block of fontina and lay to almost cover dough.
Mostly, the toppings should be your choice, but the onions are always requisite. What follows is my current fall/winter favorite.
Thinly slice 2 large onions, preferably Vidalia or Sweet. Heat 1-2 T olive oil in a pan and drop in sliced onions. Saute, stirring often, over a medium-high heat until they just start to wilt, then turn the heat low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 30-45 minutes, or until the onions have turned a gentle brown and are quite mushy. Set aside.
Slice ¼-cup to ½-cup of sun-dried tomatoes.
Spread arugula over the cheese.
If you are going to use meat, put that on now. If I’m using meat, I use either chopped prosciutto or pepperoni.
Sprinkle on the sun-dried tomatoes
End with a sprinkling of carmelized onions.

Bake at 475 for 10-15 minutes.

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