Pizza

Green, White, and Red–It’s either an Italian Flag, or Pizza Margherita

The forecast for Sunday was for a high of only 93 degrees F, so I decided to build a 900 degree F fire, and cook a couple of pizzas. Why the hell not?

Speaking of Hell, Dante would have Loved this

Fortunately, I spent most of my time indoors, making the crust and sauce. I will do a step by step explanation of this process in a series of posts, but here’s an outline of what to do. I will also give an alternative cooking method, for those who do not have a bakery-sized brick oven. The following is for a Pizza Margherita, one of the originals, and still the best.

Ingredients

Dough for two Pizza Crusts–1 1/2 cups OO Italian Flour, salt, water, yeast

Pizza Sauce, preferably made with Italian or locally grown Tomatoes

Italian Mozzarella Cheese

Fresh Basil

The basil goes on after the pizza comes out of the oven. It probably wouldn’t look too sporty, otherwise, after a couple of minutes of this.

Out of the Saucepan, and into the Fire

Other than eating this, the best part is smelling the basil cook on top of the really really hot pizza, right out of the brick oven. Simple and complex–the heart of a good pizza.

Herr Orff, one of my German Professors at the University of Alabama, came to class one Monday, and said, “I had some of that food that you people eat every weekend. What do you call it? Pit-sa. It was very good.” That actually is the correct pronunciation of the word pizza-if you’re German. Good thing he didn’t eat one of these. He might never have gone back to Deutschland.

Morel Omelette

Breakfast is Served

I may be the only person in North America who puts dried mushrooms on my Christmas list every year. First on the list are Morels, as they are something of an extravagance, and are five times more expensive than dried Porcini mushrooms.

I always get Morels from the Left Coast, from Pistol River Mushrooms in Oregon, and the quality is always superb. My two favorite Morel dishes are Turkey Breasts in Morel Cream Sauce, and this Morel Omelette. As it was a holiday this July 4th, why not go for the gold?

Ingredients

2-3 large Morels, rehydrated and chopped

Morel Water

1 sweet Pepper, chopped

3 Scallions, chopped

3 Eggs

1/4 cup diced Ham

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese

Parsley

Salt and Pepper

Diced tomatoes are also great in this, but I forgot to add them. Begin by cooking the pepper and the white part of the chopped scallion in olive oil. Then add the morels. In the meantime, mix the rest of the ingredients together, including the green parts of the scallion. When the veg is cooked, pour in the egg mixture, and have a 400 degree F oven ready. No omelette folding or flipping here.

After the egg mixture has started to set up, throw the whole thing in the oven. Have a cup of coffee and chicory, and listen to Beethoven or Wagner. Then take it out when it’s firm, and serve a couple of people with this. An English muffin goes well with it.

I never use all of the Morel water, as it is always full of grit from the wild harvested fungi. I should start using the method described by Marcella Hazan in the priceless Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. There she describes how Italians will filter dirty mushroom soaking water through paper towels or a fine strainer, and save it for soups and stocks. Now that’s what you call a food culture.

Macs and Cheese–Old School

Put in a casserole, and warm in the oven

As the talented James Hemings and the fastidious Thomas Jefferson brought this dish from France to the brand new USA, I make this Frenchified Macs and Cheese regularly. It’s especially good with Easter Ham, or any other ham. Or anything else.

The plan here is to start with a béchamel sauce, turn it into a variety of mornay sauce, and then add the cooked macaroni, which in Jefferson’s day was just a generic term for pasta. Then it can all sit until it’s time to warm it in the oven.

Ingredients

For the Béchamel Sauce

2 tablespoons Organic Butter

2 tablespoons Flour

Organic Milk

Salt and Pepper

For the Mornay Sauce

1/3 cup each of grated Colby and Cheddar Cheese

1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan Cheese

For the Finishing Touch

1 cup Macaroni, cooked in salted water

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Add the flour, and cook while stirring for a minute or two. This is a blonde roux, so don’t let it darken. Add enough milk to make a fairly thin sauce, as the cheese is the main thickener. A thorough whisking will be required to remove all the lumps. Season, and taste.

The next step is crucial. Add the cheese, and heat to the point of melting. DO NOT let the sauce boil at this point. The cheese will separate into its various components if exposed to an excessive temperature. After the cheese has melted, add the strained macs. I use one of those Chinese spider strainer thingys to scoop them out of the pot. All that’s left to do at this point is to put the macs in a casserole, and heat them in the oven at suppertime, or any time.

Mr. Jefferson was often derided for being “more French than American” by his political enemies, despite the fact that he wrote The Declaration of Independence. The farmers knew better. Not long after his inauguration, a group of dairy farmers began making him what was billed as “A Mammoth Cheese.” The finished wheel of cheese was engraved with the words, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” The cheese weighed 1230 pounds when it reached Washington. How many servings of macs and cheese this made is not recorded.

Ham Quiche with Fresh Greens and Herbs

Almost Green Eggs and Ham

Having scored a pillow sized bag of greens and some fresh pasture-raised eggs from our local farmer’s market, at the Festhalle, we decided it was quiche time again. We had our own fresh herbs to add to the mix. This is my old recipe, with a fresh local twist.

Ingredients

1 Creole Pie Crust

8 ounces Swiss Cheese, cubed

1/2 cup Ham, cubed

One handful of Greens, shredded (We bought Collards)

4 organic Eggs

Heavy Cream (Enough to fill the Crust)

Fresh Herbs, chopped (We had Chervil and Parsley)

Salt and Pepper

Nutmeg

Again, crank your oven up to 400 degrees F, as this pie crust goes in uncooked. Add the chopped pieces of the cheese into the uncooked pie shell, and then the ham. Saute the greens in butter until soft (my wife prefers collards to be boiled, but I was cooking). Mix the cream and egg mixture together, with the sauteed greens and chopped herbs, and season. Pour that over the filling in the pie shell, season with nutmeg, and bake. Ours cooked for 65 minutes. The result is as close to edible green eggs and ham as you will ever get, and will even make you feel good about eating all that cheese and cream.

Homemade Ricotta, Two Ingredient Version

Two Ingredients, Fresh Ricotta

Time for a chemistry experiment for big kids! This one involves heat, a liquid, and some acid. The result is money in your pocket and some great food in your belly.

Homemade Ricotta

1-2 Quarts organic Whole Milk

Acid (2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice or Vinegar, 1/2 Teaspoon Citric Acid)

Optional: Salt, Cream, Herbs

Tools needed are a large non-reactive pan ( I use a stainless steel lined copper one), a colander, and some cheesecloth. Pour the milk into the pan, and add the acid. Stir thoroughly once, and bring the milk up to 170-190 degrees. Ultra pasteurized milk works fine with citric acid, though I have not tried it with any other of the acids. The heat/acid combo causes the milk solids (curds) to separate from most of the liquid-instead of using a thermometer, you can just watch the transformation take place, as it reaches the maximum effect when the milk begins to boil right around the edges of the pan. At this point, turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let sit for at least five minutes.

Place the cheesecloth in the colander in the sink, or in a bowl, if you want to save the liquid portion, which is known as the whey. No whey? Yes whey. Pour the cheese mixture into the cheesecloth (a single layer of cheesecloth is sufficient). Let drain for a minute or two, tie up the cheesecloth and hang the ricotta to drain–I just hang it off the faucet on my kitchen sink. I leave it for an hour or more, and take it down to cook with it or store it. It should look like the above picture.

The manifold uses for ricotta are well documented, and it can be used for any meal–try some in scrambled eggs sometime. As a teaser, I’ll give notice that I will eventually post my favorite ricotta recipe, Penne alla Pastora, in the future. It’s so complicated that it has a total of five ingredients.