Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Roasted Root Pizza and Pasta

Pizza and Pasta are not only the perfect holders for almost anything, they quite easily hold the very same things. And they hold them in ways that kids love, or at least that make it easy to pick back out the things that kids don’t love. Add to this my newfound refrigerator pizza dough method and my newfound pre-roasting plan, and either are ready in 30-60 minutes with only about 10 of those minutes necessarily involving actual work. Ok, at some point you need to take the time to make the sauce, to roast and sauté the toppings, but it doesn’t have to be just before you eat! These combinations balance sweet and salty to perfection using what was last plentiful when there was plentiful to be had (maybe, you had a lot of it then and you roasted and froze it already, maybe you have some saved in a root cellar, maybe you got a winter share at your CSA, or maybe you can find at least some of this still at Sherman Market who keeps getting deliveries from local farms with root cellars and greenhouses): winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, arugula, and swiss chard.

So here’s the method:

1. When you have time, roast the squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and eggplant.  Refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for 3-6 months.

Peel and cut into ½” slices or cubes. Toss with olive oil and salt. Spread in a single layer on a cookie pan. Roast at 350 until soft all the way through, about 30 minutes. Cool and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.

2. When you have time, caramelize onions. Slice one or more onion in half and then into 1/8-1/4” slices. Heat 1-2 T olive oil. Sauté the onions on medium-high heat until they become translucent and just barely begin to brown. Turn the heat down to very low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions become a sweet soft brown pile, at least 30 minutes and ideally more like an hour. Cool and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
3. When you have time, make pesto and tomato sauce. Refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for 3-6 months.

4. 1-38 hours before you want to eat, make your favorite pizza crust, but rather than letting it rise for 30-60 minutes on the counter, put it into the fridge where it will rise much more slowly for 6-38 hours. Remove the dough from the fridge 1 hour before you want to eat. Let it sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes, then flatten on an oiled cookie pan and let rise for 30 minutes. Brush with olive oil, cover with toppings and bake at 400 for about 10 minutes.


Boil your favorite kind of pasta until very al dente, drain not quite completely, retaining about ½ cup hot liquid. Return to pot, toss in desired combination of toppings and 1-2 T butter or olive oil and cook for 3-5 minutes or until everything is heated through. Serve with grated parmesan or romano cheese

Topping/add in combos. These are the same for pizza or for pasta. When it’s pizza, start with a layer of pesto or red sauce, followed by a layer of grated mozzarella, and then throw on the toppings. When it’s pasta, use cubes or cut slices into strips, and top with grated romano or parmesan cheese.

1. Roasted squash, sautéed mushrooms (slice thinly and sauté on medium heat with olive oil and salt for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally), and caramelized onions.

2. Roasted sweet potatoes and caramelized onions and then after cooking but while it’s still hot as can be sprinkle with arugula or thinly sliced swiss chard which will wilt to perfection.

3. Roasted carrots, roasted beets, and crumbled goat or feta cheese.

4. Roasted eggplant, roasted tomatoes, and caramelized onions

5. Roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions, and then after cooking but while it’s still hot as can be sprinkle with arugula or thinly sliced swiss chard which will wilt to perfection

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Breaking Points and Breaks

Most days, no matter how much is going on, I relish standing in the kitchen for however many minutes I have, stirring and pouring, watching a meal emerge from piles of carefully selected ingredients or from the scraps at the bottom of the refrigerator.  There is something concrete and fleeting about making a meal that grounds the end of each day for me.  But then, every once in a while, dinner time approaches, and I head for the door, not because I have any wonderful plans to dine out, but just because I can't stand the idea of having to cook something.  The next day, invariably, I can't wait to hit the kitchen again.  The breaks, I'm convinced, keep me from reaching a breaking point.  Recently, this pattern spilled over into writing about food.  In fact, it jumped ship.  I've been cooking quite happily actually for the past month, but barely writing down a thing.  And I thought, oh, what a treat to just cook and then leave the meal, gone, in bellies and down drains.  How wonderful to not think about exactly what dash of this or extra time on that made it so good.  I had my break.  Now I can't wait to write more.  I'm not going to return to that set of meals; they belong to the ephemera.  But new meals do emerge each night. 

Winter just calls out for roasting.  Images of a georgeous standing rib roast got me through the cold and into Whole Foods, but the only local beef roasts they had were a Top Round and a Chuck Roast.  The butcher recommended the Chuck Roast.  I thought: "great, roasted hamburger meat.  Oh well, I'll feel virtuous."  It's one of the best roasts I've had.  Rich and tender with still enough sinew to look and feel like real beef.  And the flavor, well, maybe that comes from how we cooked it.

Chuck Roast 
serves 4-6

3 lb Chuck Roast
3 T coarse sea salt
2 T pepper corns
1 T rosemary
2 T olive oil

Preheat oven to 350.  In a mortar and pestle, grind the salt, pepper corns, and rosemary until almost all of the peppercorns are cracked, but most are still in large chunks.  Rub well all over roast.  In an oven-ready pan, brown the roast in the olive oil.  Transfer to oven an bake approximately 1 1/2 hours. 

Diane made these whipped sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving and told me about them.  I'm not sure how faithfully I recreated it, but the little spark of citrus, however much and in whatever form, brings out a whole new side of the sweet potato.

Diane's Citrus Whipped Sweet Potatoes
serves 4-6

6 small-medium sweet potatoes
1/8 cup cointreau
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt

Bake the sweet potatoes until very soft, 1-1 1/2 hours.  Peel sweet potatoes and whip, using a hand-held mixer on medium, with other ingredients.

This meal allows for a lot of time hanging out in a warm kitchen.  Renee's cocktail is light in a way that opens up the appettite, and warm in a way that fits perfectly with the season.

Renee's Ginger Lemongrass Opener

1/4 cup (2 oz.) ginger vodka
1/8 cup lemongrass water
1/2 tsp. simple syrup
1 dash angostura bitters