Fire Roasted Tomato & Ricotta Pizza

Okay, everyone, let’s give it up once again for the good people at Bon Appetit magazine!  Honestly, when it comes to cooking magazines I’m an easy mark.  I was walking through the Kowalski’s Market near work, innocently looking for lunch of some sort, when I saw the cover photo of the March 2012 issue and knew immediately that I had to have it.  It was a brilliantly colorful image (of course) of a Tomato & Stracciatella Pizza with a big headline that read “Make Pizza Like a Pro”.  It was a wonderful rustic looking thing, with charred bits on the edges of the crust, and dotted with swirled dollops of a creamy cheese which I later learned was stracciatella.

Hmm.  Pizza like a pro sounded like a challenge, and I have to admit I’m getting to be pretty confident with my pizza skills.  It’s not always perfect, but it’s usually pretty darned good.  But right below that bold headline it said “Pie Master Jim Lahey Shares His Secrets”, and at that point I knew I had to have it.  Blast you, Marketing staff at Bon Appetit!

So, fast forward to the results:  I did learn something from this article, and I’m glad they pushed my buttons to make me buy it.  First, I learned how to get tomatoes onto my pie without going for the can of sauce.  I don’t mind sauce, but it really isn’t a favorite in my house.  My girls are partial to the sauceless variety, with a layering of extra virgin olive oil instead.  I did brush the crust with olive oil, but the addition of crushed tomatoes was wonderful.  I will say that the original recipe calls for canned tomatoes, and I trusted my instincts and substituted canned fire-roasted tomatoes instead.  Big flavor win!

Secondly, the method for making crust here takes more time (overnight), but the resulting texture is something that I’ve been wanting to create for a long, long time.  It definitely required some skill in handling, but the slightly wet and sticky dough yielded a crust that was crispy on the bottom but light and chewy everywhere else.  I’ll go back to my other methods for crust from time to time, but this is probably my favorite of any I’ve made.  We were very happy with this pie.

To sum it up: thanks Jim Lahey for sharing your secrets!  We’re pizza hounds in this house, and you just made our dining experience a little bit better!  I can’t wait to apply these methods to some of my tried-and-true ingredient combinations to see what happens.  Bon Appetit!

Crust (2 pizzas):

Ingredients:

  • 3-3/4 Cup All-Purpose Unbleached Flour
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

Preparation:

Whisk flour, salt and yeast in a medium bowl.  While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 1-1/2 cups of warm water; stir until well incorporated.  Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball.  Transfer to a large clean bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72 degrees F) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).

Transfer dough to a floured work surface.  Gently shape into a rough rectangle.  Divide into two equal portions.  Working with one portion at a time, gather four corners to center to create four folds.  Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball.  Dust dough with flour; set aside on a work surface or a floured baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining portion.

Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about one hour.

Pizza:

Ingredients:

  • 1 ball of dough for crust
  • 1 14.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt
  • extra virgin olive oil

Preparation:

During last hour of dough’s resting, prepare oven:  place pizza stone on rack in upper third of oven.  Preheat the oven to its hottest setting:  500-550 degrees F for one hour.

To prepare tomatoes, place contents of the can (with juices) in a stainless steel bowl, and crush with your hands.  Alternatively, puree in a blender.

Working with one dough ball, dust dough generously with flour and place on a floured work surface.  Gently shape dough into a disk.  Sprinkle pizza peel (or cutting board) lightly with flour.  Place dough disk on peel.  Drizzle olive oil over the crust.  Spread 1/2 of the crushed tomatoes over the crust, almost to the edges.  Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese evenly over the crust, leaving approximately 1/2″ of the crust uncovered.

Using small back-and-forth movements, slide pizza from the peel onto the hot pizza stone.  Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until well browned on top.

Remove pizza from oven, and allow to rest on pizza stone.  Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt, then sprinkle with red pepper flakes.  Place dollops of ricotta cheese in random locations on the top of the pie, and then sprinkle the oregano to taste.

Enjoy!

Dry Aged Prime Rib

New Years Eve!  Sure it’s a little bit of a made-up event, a self-selected arbitrary point in the space-time continuum.  No other life on earth seems to notice the change from one year to the next, but maybe that’s the point!  Whatever your beliefs on how we got to this point, there is no disagreement that we humans have the gift (curse?) of self-awareness, and New Years Eve seems like perfect time put that gift to its best use.  Some of us make resolutions to better ourselves, some make plans for the betterment of the world around us.  Me?  I like to roast a big hunk of meat and savor a bottle of fine wine.   Sorry world, you’re on your own for one night…

There are so many great New Years Eve dishes, but prime rib is absolutely my favorite.  I don’t think I’m alone, because a quick Google search for prime rib recipes gave me 4.2 million results.  That seemed a bit much, so I pointed my browser to the Food Network site, where the same search yielded 49 recipes. I could work with that. They were all fantastic, but the Dry Aged Prime Rib Roast from Guy Fieri was the clear winner for me.  I was eight days out from the big night, the perfect amount of time to do my own dry aging, so I got right to work.

If you look at the recipe link above, you’ll find that Guy provides a nice 3:17 minute video where he demonstrates his technique.  It’s very helpful, and I highly recommend you take a minute or three to watch.  I found the process of dry aging to be quite simple.  I simply rinsed our five pound roast and patted it dry, then covered it in cheesecloth and left it alone in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  At that time I removed the cheesecloth, which had soaked up quite a bit of the juices, covered the roast with a fresh layer of cheesecloth, and put it back into the fridge.  There I let it sit undisturbed for another eight days.  At the end of that time (on New Years Eve) I removed the prime rib from the refrigerator and it looked fantastic.

So far so good!  Guy was right, it had a real weathered look at this point, but we trusted him when he said that’s exactly what we wanted.  We trimmed a little of the fat cap on top to remove the excess, and then it was on to the next step, covering the roast with a spice rub.

Full disclosure, our roast came with a seasoning packet, and after a little discussion we decided that we’d just use this rub rather than making the rub Guy lists.  It was purely a matter of convenience, and I certainly intend to try the recipe at some point.  From the ingredient list it looks fantastic.

On to the seasoning.  For this, my daughter – and skilled assistant – Kelly helped me to cover the roast with the seasoning rub.  The scent of the salts and herbs was intoxicating by now.  We took our time to ensure that we covered every square inch of that roast with the rub, and when we we were finished, our mouths were literally watering.

Finally, we’re ready to roast!  For this we peeled and cut our carrots and onions, layering them on the bottom of the pan.  The meat was placed carefully on this bed of vegetables, and then I added two cups of water to the pan.  As noted in the recipe, I was careful to watch the level of liquids during the roasting process, as they would be needed later for the au jus.  I’m well aware that a great au jus can elevate the prime rib experience to something sublime, and I also know that a bad au jus can put a damper on the entire meal.  This was New Years Eve and so I wanted to do it right!

After placing a meat thermometer in the heart of the roast, I placed it in the oven which had been preheated to 450 degrees F.  We’ve had this oven for many years, and so I knew that a good long pre-heat would be necessary to get it to a legitimate 450 degrees.  I held that temperature for 45 minutes beforehand, so ensure that we’d be cooking as prescribed by the recipe.  After 40 minutes at this temperature, I left the door closed and reduced the cooking temperature to 275 degrees F.  After nearly two hours the meat thermometer showed an internal temperature of 135 degrees F, and the roast was removed to a cutting board, and kept under tented aluminum foil for 15 minutes.  During that time I prepared the au jus per the recipe, and the results were fantastic!  The spice rub carmelized in the inital heat to create a slightly crunchy crust of flavor, while internally the meat was perfectly pink and medium rare.

In my mind New Years Eve is a special night, and should be spent with family and friends.  I believe in making the event memorable, and this recipe fit perfectly with that intention.  It required some forethought and care, but the results were well worth the investment of my time.  I’d gladly prepare it again, and probably will!  We savored it with a bottle of 2006 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino which I’d been holding for a special occasion such as this, and the pairing was sensational.  I hope your New Years Eve was special as well.  All the best to you in 2012 and beyond.

Ingredients:

  • 6 rib beef roast, bone in, approximately 10 to 12 pounds
  • 1 package cheesecloth, cut in half (approximately 1 yard)
  • 1 sheet pan
  • 1 roasting rack to fit in sheet pan
  • Special equipment: Space in back of refrigerator for up to 10 days

Seasoning Mixture:

  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 4 tablespoons freshly cracked tri-color pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated onion
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon coriander, toasted and cracked
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 carrots, washed, ends trimmed and cut into large (3-inch) chunks
  • 2 yellow onions, peeled and quartered
  • 2 cups water

Au Jus:

  • Pan drippings from roast, about 1 1/2 cups
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preparation:

For the roast:

Remove roast from packaging, rinse well. Pat completely dry, wrap with 3 layers cheesecloth. Place on a rack on a sheet pan in back of refrigerator, fat side up. After 24 hours, remove, unwrap, discard cheesecloth and wrap with a fresh piece. Place back in refrigerator for 6 to 9 days undisturbed.

Remove roast from refrigerator. Remove cheesecloth, cut away the fat and trim the ends and any discolored parts of roast.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Place roast on a rack in a large, heavy roasting pan.

For the seasoning mixture:

In a medium bowl, combine spices and mix well. Be sure to crush the larger spices well for a uniform rub. (You can use mortar and pestle or large wooden end of a pounding mallet in non-glass bowl.) Rub roast with olive oil, then rub with seasoning. Let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Prepare vegetables, make a bed in the roasting pan with the vegetables and pour in the water. Be sure to check the liquid level in the pan occasionally and add additional water, if necessary. (You will need this liquid to make the au jus.) Place roast on top of vegetables and place in hot oven. Roast at 450 degrees F for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, reduce heat to 275 degrees F and continue to roast for approximately 2 hours, or until internal temperature (stay away from the bone while checking temp) reaches 135 degrees F. Remove from oven, remove from roasting pan, loosely tent and allow to rest for 15 minutes while making the au jus.

For the Au Jus:

Strain drippings from roasting pan, skim fat from drippings. Place roasting pan over 2 burners, heat on medium high and add in drippings, stir to deglaze, add in wine and stock, reduce by 1/3, about 5 minutes on steady boil, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat, add in butter. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Strain once more into serving vessel.

Fennel Salami Thin Crust Pizza

This was an impromptu creation, and what a pleasure it turned out to be!  The buttery taste of sauteed fennel bulb, combined with the tangy snap of fennel salami and asiago cheese were a series of contrasting flavors bursting in the mouth.  Enjoy this pizza with a glass of Jacob’s Creek Shiraz, and you may find yourself lingering for a long time at the dinner table!

Ingredients

  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 ounce thinly sliced fennel salami
  • 1/2 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly shredded asiago cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Roll out pizza dough with rolling pin to form crust approximately 15 inches in diameter.  With fork, lighly tap the dough over entire surface.  This will prevent unnecessarily large bubbles from forming in the crust during the baking process.

Use pizza peel or equivalent to slide crust onto baking stone in heated oven.  Bake for 12 minutes, until crust begins to brown on top.

While crust is baking, slice fennel bulb crosswise into thin strips.  Saute gently in pan with butter until strips begin to soften and become translucent.  Remove from heat.

When crust has finished baking remove from oven.  Flip over, and continue preparation.

Pour extra virgin olive oil on crust, and brush until the entire surface is covered with oil.  This will tend to bring out the golden brown colors of the baked crust.  Sprinkle salt and freshly cracked pepper over the entire surface.  Don’t be shy, as this adds a wonderful flavor.

Spread sauteed fennel over the crust, and then cover with shredded mozzarella.  Cover the cheese with the layer of sliced fennel salami, and cover finally with the asiago cheese.

Bake on pizza stone for an additional 10-12 minutes, until cheese is lightly browned.

Remove from oven, and let pizza sit for five minutes, allowing the cheese and toppings to settle.  Slice, and serve with a cool glass of your favorite red.  I suggest the Jacob’s Creek Shiraz.

Thin Pizza Crust

Where once I was a deep-dish pizza fanatic, I now find that my tastes run very much to the thin-crust pizza.  I’ve grown to appreciate the crisp flakiness, and the way that my toppings are now allowed to shine.  This is a simple crust recipe, but it really does the job:

Ingredients

  • 1-3/8 cup flour all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 cup very warm water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preparation

Place honey in 1 cup measuring cup.  Fill with 1/2 cup very warm water, and stir in yeast.  Allow to proof for five minutes.  Mixture should have frothy head, ensuring that the yeast has been activated.

In food processor, add flour and salt.  Pulse several times to mix.  Add extra virgin olive oil to yeast mixture.  Turn on food processor and slowly pour in yeast mixture.  Allow processor to run until all the flour has been incorporated into one piece, then allow to run for one minute longer.

Note: If not using food processor, combine 3/4 cup flour and yeast mixture in bowl, and mix with electric mixer for three minutes.  Add remaining flour, approximately 1/4 cup at a time, and mix with wooden spoon.  When mixture becomes too stiff to mix, empty onto floured countertop, and knead in remaining flour.  Knead for ten minutes.

Allow dough to rest covered on floured countertop for ten minutes, until it is relaxed and pliable.  At this point it is ready to be used for thin crust pizza.

Fire-Roasted Red Peppers

Over the years we’ve enjoyed a number of meals which have called for bottled red peppers.  They taste terrific, but it has always seemed a bit crazy to pay the sort of prices they ask at the grocery store for those tiny little bottles.  We decided we should learn how to roast them ourselves, just to save a little cash.  Unknowingly, we also introduced ourselves to a world of heightened flavor, and with very little effort.Most recipes for roasted red peppers call for the use of the broiler flame in the oven, and that’s a wonderful, easy way to go.  I’ve found that I love bigger flavors, and the best way I’ve found to take the level of flavor through roof is by roasting my peppers on the grill instead.  It infuses the flesh of the pepper with a smoky nuance which is difficult to surpass.

Many cooks will leave the pepper whole while roasting, but in the interest of simplicity I like to prepare it a bit first.  I core and seed the pepper, and then flatten it with my hand.  In that way I can expose the maximum amount of skin to the open flame, and roast the pepper most efficiently.

I do appreciate recipes and techniques which are simplified to reduce manual effort, but where my grill is involved I’m generally a babysitter.  I’ve been on the receiving end of far too many overcooked meals from distracted grillers who don’t pay attention to what’s happening out there on the fire.  As a result, I’m sensitive to the thought of “treating” someone else to the same.  I turn up the flame on these peppers, but then I stand guard, ready to turn them every five minutes or so to ensure they’re done evenly, and perfectly.

Now, with respect to the amount of attention I pay to these peppers on the grill, I cannot escape the irony of the fact that they need to be completely charred before they are done.  I turn them again and again, always leaving the skin side to the flame.  They really shouldn’t be hurried, and it usually takes about fifteen minutes to render them completely black.  I’ve learned from experience that this is the single most important aspect of roasting peppers successfully; let them char until you look at them and wonder why you just wasted such a beautiful thing.  If you stop short of that point, the skin isn’t going to loosen and you’ll end up fighting the darned thing.  Roast it until it’s black.

As I stand and wait, it strikes me how the smoky haze rising from the grill during this process is rich with the deep, slightly musky scent of juices as they splatter and steam on the flames.  Standing over the grill in the heart of winter, as I did today, is difficult, but that heavenly scent is often reward enough.

When  the skins are completely charred the peppers are ready to be taken from the fire.  I carefully remove them with grilling tongs, and place them in a heatproof container with a sealable top.  If no such container is available, aluminum foil will definitely work, as long as you pinch and seal the edges.  Simply close the container, and perform the second most important step in the process: walk away!  Leave the sealed container alone for at least twenty minutes, as this is when the internal heat of the pepper will turn its juices into steam, loosening the skin so that it can be removed.  As a side benefit, the sugars of the raw pepper will be caramelized.  The sharp tanginess of the raw pepper will be converted into the rich, sweet flavors of the finished product.

After twenty minutes have passed, remove the peppers and lay them flat on your cutting board with the charred skin facing upward.  The flesh will likely still be hot, so be careful not to burn your fingers.  Remove the skin by rubbing it along and off the flesh.  If you’re gentle and careful, you should have a large square of warm, velvety soft pepper with some amount of charred bits clinging to the edges.  Some cooks rinse the flesh at this point, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  The aroma and the texture are intoxicating to my senses, and I don’t care to lose any of that for the sake of some perceived cleanliness.

My final step is to cut the peppers into thin strips for serving.  I drizzle a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil over them, and when they’ve cooled I store them in the refrigerator in a glass jar.  In the end I’ve saved a little cash over the purchase price of bottled peppers, but the real benefit is the incredible infusion of smoky flavor and the tactile pleasure of creating a gourmet treat for the senses.