Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grilled “Ratatouille” Pizza

I’ve had a lot of different food jobs; from my first to my current, normal to abstract, I’ve always worked in the field in some way. From country club server and kitchen extern to restaurant cook, food shopper and beyond, there’s been a little bit of just about everything in my culinary-laced work history.

Perhaps the most desperate and thankfully short-lived job for me was working at a kids’ cooking school. Based out of a multi-colored former KFC kitchen, the small business taught cooking classes for children as young as three years old. It was as impossible as it sounds.

There were step stools in front of the sinks, only plastic knives, and worst of all, a CD of kids’ party music that played songs like “The Name Game” and “Love Shack” on repeat, class after class. As I mixed jugs of Kool-Aid, I could have only hoped for a Chrysler as big as a whale to get me the hell out of there.

I was overqualified and underwhelmed, but it was a job with flexible hours that put a few bucks in my pocket while I was still in school. And it did involve being in a kitchen—somewhat. I worked there for such a short amount of time that I often completely forget about it until something triggers a memory, like whenever I hear “Love Shack,” or whenever I make pizza dough.

It all came back to me while I was working on this pie. I used to make pizza dough mostly every day there, sometimes twice a day, and it was the best part of that job. As one batch got pounded into oblivion at the hands of hyperactive five year olds, another would quietly rise on the counter.

As I molded my pizza dough into a crust on my kitchen counter, I suddenly had a newfound respect for the silence in the room. Then, I went out into the pouring rain and fired up the grill.

You see, it rained almost every day last week, and it rained hard. But I was dead set on my all-grilled pizza concept. Everything would be grilled: the toppings, the dough, everything. Of course, when I actually had time to make the pizza it was pouring. So I slipped on my wellies, threw on my rain coat and hood, and grilled with an umbrella. I’m just that much of a badass, I guess.

Thanks to the movie, we all know that ratatouille is a traditional French vegetable stew. Ignoring the technicalities, I named this “Grilled Ratatouille Pizza” because all of the veggies that I grilled for my pizza are ones that you will commonly find in ratatouille.

Grilled sliced eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, red onion and red bell pepper are layered decoratively on a grilled whole wheat crust over roasted red pepper tomato sauce and melted Asiago cheese. Finished with basil from the garden, every bite of this fresh pizza was worth standing out in the rain for.

Grilled “Ratatouille” Pizza:
Yield: 1 Pie
Red Pepper Tomato Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus about ¼ cup for grilling vegetables
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 4 red peppers: 2 roasted whole, peeled and seeded, and 2 fresh cut down on all sides for topping
- 3 large tomatoes, quickly blanched to remove skin, seeded, and roughly chopped
- Handful of fresh basil, divided
Pizza Toppings:
- 2 large zucchini, sliced thin
- 2 large yellow squash, sliced thin
- 1 eggplant, sliced thin
- ½ red onion, peeled and halved
- 1 pound whole wheat pizza dough
- 1 cup shredded Asiago cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
• For sauce: in a small pot, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium high flame; add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the tomato paste, roasted peppers and tomato and cook until the juices release, about 5 minutes. Add half a handful of torn basil leaves to the mixture and season with salt and pepper. Pulse in a food processor until smooth.
• Heat the grill to medium high and clean well. In a large bowl, toss all of the pizza topping vegetables with ¼ cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill all vegetable slices on each side until they are soft and with grill marks; set aside on a tray.
• Pound out and stretch pizza dough to form a fairly thin crust—it does not have to be a circle. Lay the crust on the grill grates and keep a watchful eye. The dough will have a nice char, but you will need to spin it once or twice as not to burn it. When one side looks crispy and well-browned, flip the dough over. Each side takes about 4 minutes.
• On the cooked side of the dough, pour on red pepper tomato sauce and spread out evenly. Sprinkle with a layer of Asiago cheese. Continue to keep an eye on the crust, giving it a slight spin if needed to keep from burning. Turn off the grill and arrange the vegetables on top of the cheese. Garnish with fresh torn basil leaves, slice and serve.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Greek Salad Bites

My favorite way to eat hummus is straight up as a dip with pita chips. It is so addicting. I usually prefer to make my own as it gives me the freedom to add as much or as little lemon juice or tahini paste as I like. And it’s so easy—with just few quick pulses in the food processor, you’re done.

In the past, I’ve tried store brand hummus and have never really been happy. As with any pre-made product, you always compare it to homemade. Is it really worth buying when you can just as easily make it? Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I recently received a coupon to purchase a Sabra Hummus product. I’m not blowing smoke when I say that this stuff is really good; creamy and with just the right balance of that classic chickpea, garlic and tahini flavor mix, it tastes as close to homemade as I’ve ever tried. If you’re pressed for time or even just feeling a little lazy, it’s worth it.

The Tastemaker Program allows Foodbuzz Featured Publishers to opt-in to try various food and kitchen products to taste, test and review, and with Sabra Hummus there was added incentive. By creating an original recipe with Sabra brand hummus and posting it on my blog, I am entered for a chance to win a free trip to the Foodbuzz Festival in San Francisco this fall and have my recipe featured during their Friday Night Festival Cocktail party.

At the store, there were so many hummus options to choose from, including Sabra’s two new Basil Pesto and Buffalo Style flavors. But to give me more freedom in my creation, I stuck with the classic.

Since I wanted to incorporate my personal favorite way to enjoy the chickpea dip, I built my idea on having a pita chip base smeared with hummus. From there, Greek Salad Bites were born. I topped the hummus/pita chip base with a mini Greek salad with small diced tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives and feta cheese mixed with a basic vinaigrette.

They are simple, familiar, and pretty addicting!

P.S. 100th post! Woo hoo!

Greek Salad Bites:
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced small
- 1 medium cucumber, seeded and diced small
- 8-10 each kalamata olive, pitted and diced small
- ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 bag pita chips (or homemade)
- 1 tub Sabra classic hummus
• In a medium bowl, combine diced tomatoes, cucumber, olives and feta cheese.
• In a separate small bowl, make a vinaigrette by slowly whisking extra virgin olive oil into red wine vinegar. You should only need several tablespoons to create an emulsion and thicken. Add oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Pour vinaigrette over vegetables and cheese; mix until well incorporated.
• Lay out several pita chips at a time and spread about a teaspoon of hummus on each chip. Top with Greek salad mixture and serve.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lucky Lavender Ice Cream

I like everything about lavender; the color, the smell, the taste; even the word “lavender” itself sounds elegant. The blue-purple shade of its buds is one I’d choose to paint a room with, and the sweet, clean notes of lavender’s perfume attract me to any soap or candle that holds its scent.

When it comes to the gentle aromatic taste of lavender, the immediate and best idea that comes to my mind is to turn it into ice cream. I tried the fragrant flavor for the first time last year and have been dreaming of making it myself ever since.

Without its pretty flowers lavender resembles rosemary, but all accusations are squashed at the first sniff. To sweeten and flavor the ice cream base, I added simple syrup which I infused with several of the spiky sprigs. For a little extra sugar, I also mixed in a couple of tablespoons of honey.

Now, I wouldn’t say that lavender ice cream is the type you’d eat piled high on a waffle cone three scoops at a time (save that for peanut butter ice cream); it’s more of a light palate cleanser after a heavy meal. The softness of the herb served frozen makes for an after-dinner treat that defines refreshing.

The only thing that is more refreshing than lavender ice cream is to finally say that I got a job. Yep, after over a year of searching and trying, I got my first, “real world” big girl job as Jr. Cooking Editor for a publishing company in NYC. Can I get a “Hell Yeah!”? I start in a week.

While writing this post, I found out that lavender is said to represent luck. Now that I think about it, it was only a day after I purchased my lavender plant at the farmers’ market and planted it that I got the call to interview for the position; coincidence? Maybe not! I knew I liked this stuff…

Lavender Ice Cream:
Yield: About 5 cups
- ½ cup simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar brought to a boil)
- 4 large sprigs fresh lavender
- 1 cup milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons honey
• In a small pot, add lavender sprigs to simple syrup and bring to a boil to infuse. After the syrup has come to a boil, turn off the heat and let the lavender continue to steep until the syrup has become detectably fragrant, about 10 -15 minutes. Remove lavender.
• In a medium bowl, whisk together the infused simple syrup (cooled) with milk, heavy cream, honey and pinch of salt. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, or overnight.
• Add the mixture to an ice cream machine and prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions.