Sunday, February 28, 2010

White Pizza with Arugula Salad

The last time I was in LA was about 2 years ago. It was Memorial Day weekend and Tristan was going to be on the east coast so I decided to pack my bags and head south for a mini vacation. Besides seeing some of my favorite people (Shana, Tamara & Russ and Sooryun) I was looking forward to some fabulous food.

Shana had to leave town partway through my visit but left me with a thoughtful to-do list, including grabbing a slice at Abbot’s Pizza Company on Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice. And I’m so glad she did. 
After much deliberation, I settled on a slice of the gourmet wild mushroom. While it was seriously delicious -- partly due to their signature bagel dough crust –- I couldn’t stop eying the Salad Pizza that appeared after I put in my order: a large, thin-crust pie loaded with heaps of chopped greens, tomatoes, basil, avocado and feta in a lemon dressing. Two great dishes in one! Brilliant.

I pretty much forgot about this novel idea until a few days ago when I was leafing through cookbooks at the University of Washington bookstore. Long story short, Ina Garten had a simple white cheese pizza topped with arugula salad in her Back to Basics book, which quickly jogged my memory. 

This is more of an idea than a recipe. Use whatever pizza base you like (garlic oil, pesto, sour cream and olive) topped with whatever salad sounds good. Make it colorful with avocado, radishes and tomatoes or keep it simple with only greens. It all works.

White Pizza with Arugula Salad
I like serving these as individual pizzas but feel free to make one large pie. For a heartier meal, top the pizza with some crispy prosciutto before baking. Adapted from Back to Basics by Ina Garten.

1/3 cup olive oil, plus 1/2 cup for the salad dressing
6 cloves garlic, sliced 

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound pizza dough, divided into 4 pieces
Cornmeal for dusting
2 cups grated fontina cheese
1 cup grated fresh mozzarella
8 ounces creamy goat cheese or blue cheese
Salt and pepper
Large bunch arugula (7-8 oz), washed and spun dry
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 500˚F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and dust evenly with cornmeal (this is what gives the crust extra crunch).

In a small saucepan over low heat, heat olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes until simmering. Continue cooking at a gentle simmer for about 8 minutes, making sure that the garlic doesn’t burn. Set aside.

Using lightly oiled hands, stretch each portion of dough into a thin round, almost the size of a dinner plate (about 8 inches). Place two rounds on each parchment-lined, cornmeal-dusted sheet pan. Brush each round with garlic oil and top evenly with fontina, mozzarella and goat/blue cheeses. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer pizzas to the oven and bake until crust is crisp and cheese has begun to brown, 12-15 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Place arugula in a large salad bowl and drizzle with just enough vinaigrette to moisten. Toss well.

Plate pizzas and top each with a heap of salad. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pappardelle with Spinach, Mascarpone and Lemon


Like most people, I prefer plain, soothing food when I have a troubled stomach (rice pudding and congee have saved the day many-a-time). This was my predicament a few days ago and I couldn’t bear the thought of eating anything with the suggestion of meat or spice. But all is well that ends well because that’s exactly what led me to this dish.
I adore Jamie Oliver. And when it comes to his recipes, I find them down-to-earth and repeatedly delicious. This particular dish was no exception. Spinach is cooked down into a tender wilt and then simmered with a dash of cream, mascarpone and Parmesan before getting folded into hot noodles. I can see why he claims that kids love this meal, even if they don’t normally eat spinach. It’s probably the same reason why it tastes good on an unsettled stomach: because it’s comforting, creamy and just plain good.

Pappardelle with Spinach, Mascarpone and Lemon
You can easily replace the lemon zest with freshly grated nutmeg for a warmer, nuttier flavor. Adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe.

10-16 oz pappardelle, tagliatelle or spaghetti
Olive oil
2 teaspoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 bunches fresh spinach, washed well and spun dry
½ cup heavy cream
5 ounces mascarpone cheese
Zest of one large lemon
Salt and pepper
2 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. If using dry pasta, add it to water and cook according to package instructions. If using fresh, add it after beginning the sauce since it will only take a few quick minutes to cook. 

In a large skillet, heat a drizzle of olive oil and the butter over medium heat until butter melts; add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the spinach, one handful at a time, and cook until wilted and some of the water has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the cream, mascarpone, lemon zest and a little ladle of the pasta water. Bring to a simmer and season with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta, reserving some of the liquid, and stir into the spinach sauce. Add the Parmesan and toss well. Loosen up the sauce with a bit more pasta water (the sauce congeals and thickens quickly when plated so a little loosening at this point works wonders). Check for seasonings, and then serve immediately topped with grated Parmesan.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fish Tacos

I knew a few weeks ago that I would have last Friday off. I also knew a few weeks ago exactly what I’d do with my day of freedom: hit up Salumi’s. 
Mario Batalli’s dad, Armandino Batali, owns Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, a little deli in the Pioneer Square district offering top quality Italian meats and cheeses. Since they have especially limited hours (Tues-Friday, 11am-4pm), it’s virtually impossible to patronize if you work full-time on the other side of town. They have a few tables for eating in but the real attraction is their lunchtime sandwiches. I joined the long, snaking line around 11:15am, already late by local standards. After 40 minutes in the rain, I triumphantly left with one Salumi Muffo and one spicy pork & eggplant sandwich under my arm. Tristan was very lucky to have lunch delivered that day.

This longwinded account of last Friday’s lunch brings me to the topic of dinner that same night. My gut was leaden with meat and bread and nothing sounded good. I ended up roaming the market aimlessly, empty basket in hand, hoping for inspiration to strike. Then I saw these little hand-made, organic corn tortillas and it hit me. Fish tacos! Perfect.

I wasn’t actually exposed to fish tacos until later in life. During graduate school I began assisting cooking classes at PCC Natural Markets, and the first was “Baja Fresh” by Jenny Hurst. The tortilla soup and roasted tomatillo salsa were marvelous but what really blew my mind were the simple, baked fish tacos. After all these years, the thought of them still makes my mouth water. And after a gut-bomb-of-a-lunch, what could be more refreshing than chunks of flaky white fish, crunchy cabbage, diced avocado and radish slices all drizzled with a cooling citrus sauce? 

These are messy and delicious. Simple enough for a weekday meal but scrumptious enough for a dinner party.

Fish Tacos

A fresh mango salsa (like this one at Simply Recipes) and/or guacamole would pair beautifully with these tacos. Inspired by Jenny Hurst’s recipe from the Baja Fresh class at PCC.

1 ½ pounds firm white fish fillets, such as cod or halibut
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 rounded tablespoon finely minced cilantro
1 cup green cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
2 limes
8-10 small corn tortillas
Cooling Citrus Sauce (recipe follows)
Crumbled Cotija cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Rinse fish under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. In a small bowl, mix oil, salt, chili powder and cilantro. Rub fish on all sides with oil/spice mixture; place in a baking dish or broiling pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

In a small bowl, mix shredded cabbage with carrots. Squeeze a little fresh lime juice from half a lime over the top, add a small pinch of salt and toss well.

Before assembling the tacos, warm the corn tortillas. There are many ways to do this: in the microwave (20 seconds on high heat), in a hot skillet, or wrap the entire stack in aluminum foil and heat in the oven along with the fish.

To assemble, break fish into chunks and place down the middle of each tortilla. Top with cabbage and drizzle generously with citrus sauce. Sprinkle with avocado chunks and cotija cheese (if using). Top with a few radish slices. Serve warm with lime wedges on the side.

Cooling Citrus Sauce

1 cup whole milk plain yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate, or to taste
Pinch of salt

In a small bowl combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mini Soft Pretzels

Ever since I saw Deb’s post on miniature soft pretzels, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to make them. Then football season rolled around. 
So when Emily and Erik came over to watch a playoff game a few weeks back, I was on it. Besides the usual suspects -- crackers and cheese, roasted peanuts in their shells, chips and salsa -- I wanted to offer a big tray of salty, hot pretzels ready to be doused in mustard. 

The dough was easy enough, and the rolling out and making of proper knots took only a few tries to master. But I did learn a thing or two. First of all, even if you use parchment paper, oil it. Those suckers stick to it like nobody’s business, and having to forcefully pull them off deforms their delicate little shapes. Secondly, kosher salt isn’t coarse enough. I thought it would hold up but it immediately dissolved into the egg wash. If you, like most people, don’t have authentic pretzel salt lying around, a large, coarse sea salt will do nicely.

Since there were only 4 of us, I decided to freeze half the dough (portioned out but not rolled or formed). So when we were invited to a friend’s house to watch the Super Bowl a week or so later, my contribution was quick and easy. The dough defrosted in the refrigerator in a matter of hours and behaved exactly as if it were fresh. Next time I'd like to fashion it into little buns for pretzel dot sandwiches like the ones I had at Licorous last year (prosciutto, Gruyere, sauerkraut and a grainy mustard sauce). 
These are a bit laborious but the results, paired with a frosty beer, are well worth it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gnocchi with Sausage, Cream and Roasted Butternut Squash

Back in October I won a $50 gift certificate to La Spiga, an Italian restaurant in Capitol Hill featuring food from the Romagna region. Life became increasingly hectic –- the big move, travel, holidays –- so we didn’t find the time to take advantage until last Saturday. 

We arrived a few minutes early and had time to sip a glass of chilled white while taking in the surroundings. The space was lovely with lots of dark wood, glass and romantic lighting. After being lead to the upstairs loft, we ordered a few plates to share: ricotta gnocchi, fresh pappardelle with duck ragout, pork tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto and, for dessert, an assortment of cheeses. We enjoyed every last bite. (I did, however, have one small bone to pick: they served plain, chalky pita bread before and during the meal. Someone should tell them that crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic wins every time).

Back to that gnocchi. These were made with ricotta cheese instead of potato, which I find impossible to resist, and were paired with a simple sauce of sausage and cream. So light, so fluffy, I was instantly obsessed. Two days later I found myself at Madison Market buying local chicken sausage, organic cream and a package of freshly made potato gnocchi (Monday evenings warrant shortcuts). I intended to recreate the meal with my own winter twist: roasted butternut squash.

When I got home I quickly peeled, de-seeded and diced the squash into uniform little squares. After a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and 40 minutes in the oven, they were caramelized and crispy.

The rest of this dish was a snap to assemble, taking only 15 minutes or so. Sausage, white wine, cream, garlic, nutmeg and Parmesan were simmered down into a creamy, velvety sauce, requiring only a quick toss with the hot gnocchi, squash and fresh herbs to call it dinner. Definitely doable on a busy night.

La Spiga’s version was absolutely delicious... but this! This was dynamite.

Gnocchi with Roasted Butternut Squash, Sausage and Cream 
This dish would do well with a few handfuls of baby spinach tossed in at the last minute. To make it vegetarian, replace the chicken sausage with sliced porcini mushrooms.

1 small butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and diced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 Italian chicken sausages
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 glass dry white wine
3/4 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground nutmeg
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1 package ready-to-cook gnocchi or 1 batch of homemade, ricotta or potato style
A good handful of chopped fresh parsley 

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place diced squash on a parchment-lined baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat and transfer to the oven. Bake, stirring once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 30-45 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil.

In the meantime, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Squeeze the chicken sausages out of their casings and place in the skillet (you can add a drop of oil at this point if necessary). Cook, breaking the meat up into bite-sized pieces, until sausage is no longer pink, about 6 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute. Pour in a hefty glass of white wine and bring to a boil, reducing it down to about a third of its volume. Add the cream, a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg and 1/3 cup Parmesan. Lower heat to a simmer and let it cook down a bit until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

When the pot of salted water reaches a boil, add the gnocchi and cook according to package/recipe instructions (mine only took about 3 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the skillet. Add a handful of freshly chopped parsley and toss to coat. If the sauce seems too thick, add a spoonful of the pasta water. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary. Serve hot garnished with freshly grated Parmesan.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


As most of you know, I hit the dusty trail last summer. My first destination was New York to see family and friends, bookended by Switzerland for the same reason. But the middle was reserved for a region of the world perpetually on the receiving end of my intrigue and fascination: the Balkans.

I grew up in an immigrant church with a fair amount of Yugoslavians, so the people and culture were quite familiar. I can’t tell you how many jokes we had about moussaka and the colon, or how many times I was dared to yell the Serbian word for diarrhea. But it wasn’t until I moved to Europe that I grasped just how alluring the Adriatic coast was. The civil unrest had ended and the former Yugoslavia was in repair. I knew that I wanted to experience it before a) it got too expensive and b) the rest of the world discovered this slice of paradise, again. 

Although it happened much later than planned, my big chance finally came last summer. We spent weeks traveling from Slovenia all the way down the coast of Croatia and eventually into Bosnia-Herzegovina. The panorama was breathtaking, especially the carved stone beaches jutting into the Adriatic Sea and the ancient cities surrounded by walls. But, and I say this with much disappointment, the food was quite forgettable.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that an article in the Times -- “The Balkan Burger Unites All Factions” -- jogged my memory.

We were on the island of Korcula, a luxurious little paradise known for being Marco Polo’s birthplace, and couldn't imagine sitting down to one more plate of mediocre pasta or pizza. So we went to Kristina, our sobe owner’s daughter, for some dinner advice. She explained that the restaurants are left for tourists since most natives grow/make just about everything they eat (bread, wine, vegetables, etc.). But if there’s one thing that gets them out, it’s Cevapcici.  

So we immediately found a stand offering these beloved ground meat sandwiches for about 4 bucks, the same price as the average espresso. We watched the woman behind the counter hand-form over a dozen finger-shaped sausages and put them on a large grill to sizzle. When she asked about condiments, we requested everything, plus an extra slathering of Ajvar, a mouthwatering spread made from red peppers, eggplant and chili. Along with plenty of salad fixings and a large, flat bun, this Balkan burger turned out to be our tastiest meal by far.
I’m so glad that Julia Moskin divulged where to get a cevapi-fix this side of the Atlantic. I know exactly what I'll be doing on my next trip to New York.