Friday Fennel Pizza

If it’s Friday, it must be Pizza — and I’ve got fennel on my mind.

Today’s pizza showcases a tempting combination of flavors and textures that covers all the bases.  We’ve got creamy ricotta,  fabulous fresh anise-scented fennel, slices of spicy sausage, and more.

This easy pizza begins with a mild ricotta base designed to complement fennel’s sweet and subtle flavors.  Any firm precooked sausage will work, but I’m particularly fond of linguica — or perhaps an Italian or Portuguese style laced with a hit of fennel or anise seed,  garlic, and red pepper.  

It’s not too late to latch onto fresh fennel before it goes out of season.  Its bulb is the most tender and mild part; to easily slice it, first cut the bulb into quarter wedges and remove any lurking hard center core.  Save those tougher stalks and shoots for use in soups, stews and other cooking projects.

 If you are as crazy as I am about fennel’s mild licorice flavor, sprinkle some of the feathery fronds across the pizza before popping it into the oven.

Remember to remove your smartly prebaked pizza crust (see here) from the freezer for a quick defrost before launching into pizza mode. If not, have one medium pizza crust ready for topping.  It’s that easy and that good!   

White Pizza with Fresh Fennel and Sausage

  Ingredients

  • 1 medium prebaked pizza crust or 1 recipe pizza dough 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Ricotta filling:
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese, good quality
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • Toppings
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 1 cup chopped seeded pepper, pasilla, or other
  • 1 cup fennel, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup sliced olives, optional
  • 8 oz. sliced fennel-flavored cooked sausage
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh or dried rosemary or oregano
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a medium pizza pan, roll out the pizza dough and prebake, or have prebaked pizza on hand. (see pizza crust)
  2. Preheat oven to 375° to 400° F.
  3. Prepare the ricotta filling: if the ricotta is watery, drain it well. Season with Parmesan, garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper and fold in freshly chopped parsley. This can be done ahead.   
  4. Toppings: thinly slice the onion, fennel, olives and precooked sausage.
  5. To assemble: lightly brush the crust with olive oil.  Spread the ricotta filling evenly over the crust.  Distribute the onion, pepper, fennel and olives over the ricotta and top with the sausage.  Season to taste with red pepper flakes, rosemary or oregano, and sprinkle the Parmesan and fresh fennel fronts on top.  Drizzle a little olive oil across the top.   
  6. Bake until the center is bubbly and the crust is browned, 15-20 minutes. Let stand briefly, then slice.  Yield: 1 medium pizza.

 

Food for the Spirit

Foraging is part of the Oregon lifestyle.  It’s exhilarating to head out on a hike—rain or shine—and return home with enough fresh berries or mushrooms bagged for a special treat.  I like to think I’m walking in the steps of other gatherers—who knows how long ago.

There’s a new cookbook out that’s getting a lot of awards and buzz. The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen is by Chef Sean Sherman who is resolved to revitalize indigenous foods and cuisine. Sean is a member of the Lakota Tribe, part of the Sioux Nation that was relocated in the last century from homelands in the Dakota and Minnesota territories to the fringe of the South Dakota Badlands. His people left behind powerful traditions and customs only to face misery and misfortune in a barren and foreign landscape.

Sean believes many other tribes have lost their cultural ties to native foods and customs, due to relocation. He and his team are busy creating and adapting new versions of indigenous cuisine based on natural and unprocessed foods, as well as promoting wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship and farming, food preservation and cooking techniques.  His cookbook offers resources and options for a new standard of traditional foods using modern techniques.

Here in the Pacific Northwest the Confederate Tribes of the Grande Ronde is on a similar path promoting their own indigenous food projects.  This past weekend, in tandem with our local community college, we planted 2000 camas bulbs on the campus’s Youth Farm site.

The bulb of camas is greatly prized by tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Locally, the Kalapuya people consider camas their most important  staple which they re-hydrate and grind into flour for breads and cakes.  Common Camas, part of the lily family and related to asparagus, also has a spired stalk plus gorgeous star-like blue flowers.

Some compare the flavor of camas to that of a fig, but it is certainly not as ready to eat. The bulbs are known to contain inulin, a fiber which is indigestible until fully broken down through a long, slow cooking process. It traditionally takes 2 to 3 days of baking in a slow oven before the bulbs are fully blackened and edible; the inulin then turns to fructose and releases its inherent sweetness.

Fellow foragers should beware of Death Camas, which looks much like Common Camas, but displays white rather than blue flowers when in bloom.  Also, when digging camas bulbs remember that an entire plant will be eliminated, and no further bulbs can be produced.  Be selective about the variety and quantity gathered.

I’m with Sean.  I salute his endeavors to improve the health and well-being of his fellow Native Americans. I intend to plant a few of my own bulbs very shortly.  I hope to experiment with my own crop—whenever that happens.  At this point I’ll stay in the research mode gathering cooking ideas and searching for samples. Admittedly, beyond the traditional process of roasting bulbs in a slow fire for three days, I’m open to treating them to a long rest in the slow cooker. Now, that’s a traditional/contemporary twist!

Sweet Camas Spread

From Sweet Camas Cookbook by Madrona Murphy

A mild sweet spread, reminiscent of chestnut jam.  The chocolate addition is lighter and less sweet than chocolate nut spreads like Nutella

Ingredients
¼ cup camas paste (can be made from dried, powdered camas)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 tablespoon dutched cocoa powder (use for chocolate spread)

Directions

  1. Re-hydrate the dried, powered camas, as needed.
  2. Stir the water, oil and cocoa, if using, into the camas paste until smooth. Add more water if too stiff.
  3. The spread is highly perishable. Store in the refrigerator and use within a few days.
  4. To serve, thin with more water if unspreadable.  Serve with crackers, toast, or with cheese.

 

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A Pansy Tribute

Pansies are one of those simple plants that just keeps on giving.  There must be a pansy created for every condition and region of the country.  I first became aware of them in Greenville, South Carolina where they bloomed like crazy in the blazing summer heat.   In my McKenzie River garden,  violas and violets,  pansies’ relatives, were the first to poke their tiny purple heads out the early spring snow.

Late this summer, I hastily added a few pansies to fill out a sparse planter in my dooryard garden. Without much effort, they consistently carried on and bloomed with the least amount of care; and still, as  winter approaches,  pansies  remain one of the durable spots of color in my depleted pots.

I tend to go with plants that serve a dual purpose in my garden: I prefer attractive as well as edible varieties. Some are perennials, like herbs, towering garlic onions and nasturtiums.  Annual favorites are mesclun blends, petite tomatoes, and climbing baby cucumbers.  Weirdly, when it comes to harvesting the pansies I have resisted.  I’ve been happy to simply behold their nodding faces in a spectrum of purples, blues, reds and yellows, all perfectly framed by their deep green leaves.

As I headed out this morning, I was alarmed to note that the pot of pansies had diminished to a sad state of drooping heads and withered yellow leaves.  It signaled the end of a season.  Later in a moment of reflection, I decided to stage my own act of thanksgiving—gratitude for my garden and all the pansies that have given so much joy this year.

Back in the kitchen, I set about creating a special salad featuring the pansies in an end of season tribute.  So, here it is, a pre-winter canvas of mixed greens and fresh herbs with a bit of radicchio and shredded carrot for crunch.

The basis of the simple dressing is a mild yet flavorful German mustard blended with a bit of chives and lemon juice all whisked into an emulsion with extra virgin olive oil. Atop the greens, a few dried cherries are scattered with crumbled feta cheese, toasted almonds and walnuts.  Finally, a smattering of pansy blossoms and petals grace the plate with their gentle sweetness and color.

A Pre-Winter Salad with Pansies

Ingredients
Per serving
3-4 organic pansy blossoms
2-3 cups mixed greens with radicchio and shredded carrots
1 tablespoon fresh parsley and/or other herbs
2 tablespoon toasted walnuts and/or almonds
2 tablespoons dried fruit: cherries, blueberries or cranberries
2 tablespoon feta cheese, large crumble
Dressing
¾ teaspoon German or Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced chives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Pinch salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Directions

  1. Rinse and dry fresh pansies and any other available fresh flowers, mixed greens and herbs.
  2. Toast the nuts.
  3. Prepare the salad dressing: place mustard in small bowl, add the chives, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and combine well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify.  Adjust seasoning and set aside.
  4. In small mixing bowl, place the salad mix, tear the petals from 1 or two blossoms, drizzle with part of the dressing and toss to coat.
  5. To serve: plate the dressed greens mixture, top with crumbled feta, dried fruit and nuts, and tuck in remaining flowers.  Drizzle with a bit more dressing and serve. Yield: 1 serving.

 

Turkey Adventures

Thanksgiving turkey is such a tradition, it’s hard to imagine the perfect holiday dinner without it.  But, when faced with wresting a big honking turkey  I’ve often fantasized with options less overwhelming… like succulent bundles of turkey wrapped around a luscious filling.

This year, it finally came to pass.  Of course, my fantasy wasn’t quite as easy as imagined.  It would have been smart to prepare the exotic mushroom pâté ahead of the big day.  I opted to go with a fresh turkey breast cavity… with two breasts.  That meant double the effort; and naturally, I wanted to test this idea in the multi-cooker.

The good news is that it worked out just fine.  Once I had boned the first breast and pounded it out, the second went very quickly.  Happily, the two stuffed and rolled breasts fit nicely in the bottom of the pot, too. The mushroom pâté filling was the perfect complement, it provided great flavor which penetrated into the the turkey breasts.  Apologetically, there was such urgency to eat, I was barely able to get one photo…

More good news.  My favorite part of the turkey is the skin, so how would that work in a pressure cooker? Turns out, browning the breasts in the pot with a sprinkling of paprika was enough insurance to maintain a beautiful color and tasty skin—no flabby weirdness!  With a mere 20 minute whirl in the multi-cooker, dinner was ready in a flash.  Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Turkey Breasts Stuffed with Mushroom Pâté, Multi-Cooker

Ingredients
Whole turkey breast, bone-in, skin on (2 breasts total)
Salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 cup chicken stock

Mushroom Pâté
1/4 pound mushrooms, combination domestic, exotic and dried soaked, sliced
1 tablespoon butter and evoo combination
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, rosemary, sage each
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons dry sherry or brandy
3 green onions, chopped
½ lemon, juice of, approximate

 Directions

  1. Prepare pâté and cool completely: sauté the  mushrooms in butter and oil to soften, add garlic and toss, add thyme and rosemary, sage, nutmeg and salt and pepper add sherry, cook down, and point up with lemon juice if necessary.   Process until well minced, not pureed.  There should be no liquid.  This can be done ahead.
  2. Bone the turkey breasts: with boning knife, remove one breast at a time from the cavity. From the top of the cavity, cut the breast away from the bone, scrape down with boning knife along the bone to loosen; work around the cavity until the breast is removed. There will the oyster and other random pieces which can be used or reserved for another purpose. Repeat with second breast.
  3. Lay out one breast at a time, skin side down and cut horizontally from the narrowest part of the breast to about ¾” from the thick end. Open the breast to form a large piece. Cover with plastic wrap and pound evenly to ½” thick.  Season both sides with salt and pepper. Repeat.
  4. To fill and roll: Divide the pâté in half. Cut side up, starting in the center of each breast, spread an even layer of pâté over the cut sides, leaving ½” or more uncovered at edges. Roll the breasts up by starting at narrowest part of the breast and tightly roll up like a jelly roll, tucking in the edges.  Tie the rolls securely with kitchen twine.
  5. With multi-cooker set to Saute, heat enough oil to thoroughly coat the bottom of the pot until shimmering. Brown the two rolls on all sides for about 10 minutes, adding a light dusting of paprika.  Pour in 1 cup chicken stock and heat the stock. Turn off the pot and reset to High Pressure for 20 minutes (45 minutes to 1 hour in conventional oven).  Seal the pot and bring to pressure.  Once the cycle is complete turn off the pot and let the pressure come down normally for 10 minutes.  Carefully remove the lid and check the internal temperature. It should reach at least 155 degrees, as it will continue to cook as it sits.  If not, reset pot for another 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the breasts to a warming plate or board, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes before artfully carving into slices. The pan dripping will make delicious gravy.  Yield: 2 rolls, 4 or more servings.

 

 

 

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Nixtamalized Corn = Hominy = Posole

Nixtamalization is getting a lot of buzz these days, especially with the many vested in preserving and promoting the traditional foods of Mexico.  For anyone else interested in authentic flavors and elemental nutrition it should matter, too. It seems we have come full circle from what the Aztecs knew centuries ago.

The Aztecs would grind the kernels of their maize or field corn against the limestone rocks found in the riverbeds, and they discovered the beneficial interaction between the two.  They noticed how their bodies responded after eating corn that had been ground in limestone. This corn did not cause digestive problems and gave them energy and spiritual alertness.

Scientists have since confirmed that lime releases niacin, an essential amino acid, in the corn.  The increased health benefits of nixtamalized corn are substantial:  it can reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, and contribute to the optimal functioning of other body processes such as digestion, cellular repair and elimination of toxins. Niacin also seems to reduce the level of triglycerides in the blood and much more.

Hominy is made with either white or yellow corn, but specifically it is from flint or dent corns which have a tougher outer seed coat than others. Soaking the kernels in an alkaline solution loosens or dissolves this outer portion. In the process, the kernel absorbs water and the alkaline solution which is key to nixtamalization. When cooked, the chemical composition of the kernel is altered, boosting the nutritional value of maize.  This process also provides hominy with its readily identifiable flavor and chewy bite.

Posole, hominy,  nixtamal, are all the same thing: they are corn that has undergone the nixtamalization process. Posole, a derivation of the Nahuatl word for hominy, has come to broadly refer to a soup or stew made with hominy.  So popular is posole in Mexico, it is considered a national dish, with various regions proclaiming their unique version as the best.

Here’s an easy posole made with a combination of pork, tomatillos, and pasillas or other hot peppers.

The hominy and tomatillos  provide added thickening power and flavor that melds with the pork into a rich and supple stew. Serve it straight up in bowls with favorite toppings like avocado, cilantro and crema. Or, cook it down until thick for a tortilla filling. Enjoy with spicy slaw, fresh avocado, salsa, cilantro and whatever else pleases you!

Pork Posole

Ingredients
2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 large onion, slice into strips
2-3 pasilla peppers, or other hot peppers, seed & cut into strips
3 cloves garlic, divided
1½ – 2 lbs pork sirloin, trim, cut into strips
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. oregano
7-8 tomatillos, husk, quarter
1 tomato bouillon cube
Few dashes favorite hot sauce
2 tostadas or corn tortillas, in small pieces
1½ cup water, enough to barely cover
2 cups cooked white hominy, rinse and drain

Accompaniments:  warmed corn tortillas, guacamole, cilantro, crunchy slaw, hot sauce

Instructions

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté to soften, add the pepper strips, 2 cloves garlic cut into thin strips, and continue to cook until the peppers have softened and garlic is aromatic. Remove all from pot and set aside.
  2. Season the pork strips with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high and add remaining 1 tbsp. oil to the pot.  When shimmering add the pork and brown on all sides.  Add the third clove of garlic cut into slivers, and toss briefly along with smoked paprika and oregano.
  3. Stir in the tomatillos, crumbled tomato bouillon,  a dash of hot sauce, the corn tortilla pieces, water to barely cover the pork, and stir to combine well.
  4. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the pork is tender. Or, to use multi-cooker, seal the lid, bring to high pressure and cook for 25 minutes. Turn off system, let pressure come down naturally for 10 minutes, then release remaining pressure.
  5. When the pork is tender add the reserved onion and pepper medley. Stir in the hominy and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or longer, until flavors are well blended and the posole has thickened. Adjust seasoning.
  6. Serve the posole in bowls with favorite garnishes. Serves 4.

 

Salsa and the Art of Fermentation

The tomato crop is just about over and done with for this highly productive year.  Markets everywhere were awash with heavy, ripe tomatoes.  Across the street, my wonderful neighbor had such a bumper crop on her hands that she kept a steady stream coming, in hopes I would use more.

Nothing says summer like sweet, juicy tomatoes fresh off the vine. They were everywhere this year and they went into everything!

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One noteworthy success worth sharing came by way of an outstanding homemade fermented salsa, which started out as a fairly basic version.  Earlier, I had tested a batch of fermented baby cucumbers and hot peppers, and they were crazy good. The cukes were reminiscent of old fashioned half-sours. Well, why not salsa?

The ferment process is fairly intuitive; there is no cooking required, just a scrupulously clean work space and tools.  All it takes is a little time and salt to transform vegetables into a new realm of complex flavor and nutrients. The salt acts as a natural preserving agent while tiny microbes busily gobble up the sugar and transform it into lactic acid—which in turn serves as a natural preservative. It’s a happy environment for beneficial bacteria to flourish, to keep harmful bacterial in check, and to become rich in probiotics.

There are a few simple tricks that will help ensure proper fermentation and prevent the risk of food-borne illness. As with all pickles, the vegetables need to be kept completely submerged below the surface of the liquid solution.

C02 builds up during fermentation and those bubbles need to go somewhere. I started out with the jar loosely covered with cheesecloth and lid, set in a small bowl for run-off, and knew I could do better.Salsa Ferment.ph

I found a handy fermentation lid that works like a charm and I’ve since learned there are many similar devices on the market.

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Once a mason-type jar is properly filled, the lid is screwed on and water is poured into the well on top which creates a vapor lock.  A small cap is then placed over a center vent which allows pressure to release safely.

When the salsa is prepared and in the jar, it’s a simple matter of topping it off with brine to secure it all.  It is left to ferment on the counter for 2-5 days or longer, depending on the temperature of the room. The warmer it is, the quicker the process.

As it ferments the salsa mellows and develops robust but nuanced character; the harsh saltiness shifts into an intriguing, pleasantly sour taste. The longer the salsa ferments, the more pronounced the flavor. Once achieved, enjoy the salsa as is or refrigerate for longer storage. It will hold for several months.

Likely it won’t last that long, though.

Naturally Fermented Salsa

 Ingredients
1 cup onion, dice
3 cups tomatoes, seed & dice
1 cup mixed peppers, seed & dice (serrano, jalapeno, pasilla are good)
2 cloves garlic, mince
Handful of fresh cilantro
Lime juice to taste (start with ½ lime)
1 teaspoon salt
Brine ratio: 1-2 teaspoons salt to 1/4 cup water

Instructions

  1. Mix together all the ingredients including the salt.
  2. Place the salsa in a 1 quart mason jar, pressing down to release some liquid. The vegetables should be submerged under the liquid.  Place a lid or other weight to submerge the salsa.  Finish with a bit of extra brine if needed and top off throughout fermentation process.
  3. Ferment for 2+ days at room temperature (mine took 5 days, then sat in fridge 4 more days before using).
  4. When  the fermentation period is complete, the salsa is ready to eat or can be stored in the refrigerator for several months.  Yield: about 1 quart

Let Them Eat Bread!

There was a time when the dinner roll was ubiquitous fare with evening meals throughout America. In the early half of the 20th century, most popular was the Parker House roll, that fluffy darling known for its addictive sweetness.  The cloverleaf roll and other flavorless knock-offs followed, and by the 70’s and 80’s the dinner roll had morphed into throw-away status, a mere place-holder for the most ravenous.

Before we knew it, our evening bread threatened to drift into obscurity.  For those conforming to diets and health regimens, the dinner roll was typically viewed as not worth the carb outlay and restaurateurs were forced to take a serious look at the role bread played on the plate. They recognized the value of bread: it bought time and was an affordable meal extender.  On the other side, diners’ palates were becoming more sophisticated. “Either give us something worth eating, or forget about it,” they demanded.

Enter the army of artisan breads. Apparently, the French knew what they were doing with their beloved baguette. It wasn’t long before delightfully innovative loaves had fully captured our attention and claimed a well-deserved place at the table. We made the turn from soft and fluffy dinner rolls to artfully crafted bread—worth eating every crunchy, chewy, tangy bite.

Me?  I’m somewhere in the middle. I enjoy a slice of crusty bread dipped in flavored olive oil. Currently on my counter?  I’ve got my own light, yeasty rolls cooling on a rack; they’re enriched with sweet potato, accented by fresh sage.

sweet potato rolls

Shades of Parker House rolls!  These slightly sweet copper-tinged beauties serve a dual purpose:  they are both nutritious and delicious.  The sweet potato provides a good hit of valuable nutrients like vitamins A, C, manganese, calcium and iron, plus it brings a touch of sweetness and adds fiber for the dough’s structure.

This particular recipe is actually reworked from a gluten-free one by Erin McKenna in her excellent cookbook, Bread & Butter.  In my version, the dough is quickly mixed by hand to bring the dry and wet ingredients together. I use instant dry yeast which cuts down on rising time. Best news here, no kneading is required. The scooped dough is dropped onto a baking pan with limited space between the rolls. Within the hour they double in size, ready for the oven where they rise up and support each other to form light pull-apart rolls.

These rolls have real character; they are a match with a simple smear of butter and they can stand up to big flavors.  I’ve used them as sliders with sausage, kraut, and spicy mustard.

They are perfect for breakfast with eggs and such. They are just right with minestrone soup, and the dough makes fantastic pizza!

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You get the idea, they are dinner rolls worth eating.

Sweet Potato and Sage Rolls

Adapted from Erin McKenna’s Sweet Potato and Sage Pull-Apart Rolls from Bread & Butter

Ingredients
1 tablespoon cornmeal for the baking pan
½ tablespoon butter for baking pan
1-½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat, spelt, or teff flour
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sweet potato puree (from 1 small)
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon dried sage or 1 tablespoon fresh, mince

Instructions

  1. Ahead: Prepare the sweet potato puree: bake 1 small for 6-8 minutes in microwave, turning once half way through. Let cool, scoop out the pulp, mash it well, and reserve ½ cup for puree. Butter the sides of 8×8” or 9×12” baking pan, line the bottom with parchment, sprinkle with cornmeal.
  2. In medium bowl whisk together flours, instant yeast, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a 2 cup measure or small bowl, combine the puree, 1 tablespoon butter, milk, agave, sage, and warm for 40-60 seconds in microwave to melt butter and bring it to 110-120°.
  4. Make a well in the dry and pour in the liquid; with a spatula stir to combine, until it is the consistency of a sticky dough.
  5. Using a 3-tablespoon ice cream scoop, measure portions into pan with no more than 1/2 inch between each roll on the pan. Cover the pan with a towel and let the rolls rise until light, 45-60 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the rolls for about 16 minutes–half way through rotate the pan. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the rolls cool on rack for 10 minutes before unmolding. Yield: 9-12 rolls.