Shishito Pepper Pesto Pizza


I’ve been home for two months, and while I’ve been baking, cooking, and sharing food with my family and friends, I haven’t blogged once. Sure, I had a bake sale, made some diabetes-inducing sticky buns for Father’s Day breakfast, and burned through our stashes of olive oil and butter at an unprecedented rate, but nearly everything I made was an old recipe of mine or from a cookbook—tried and true recipes that I had been waiting for months to make in a kitchen equipped with more than a not-quite-level stove, rickety table, and a medicine cabinet mirror. I made pots of black beans, thai curries, and dozens of cookies, but with all of those recipes already tucked away on this site I saw little point in adding to the redundancy that seems to take over the internet, one food blog at a time.

Last night’s pizza was what finally convinced me to log back on to Word Press. Also, my mom asked if I had let the blog go dormant, and you just can’t ignore a comment like that from the people that  raised you and are sending you to college (hi, Mom and Dad), so I figured a post on this pizza was in order.

Homemade pizza is a staple at our house, and while we normally go the carrot-walnut or margherita route I thought it was time to shake things up a bit with a few handfuls of shishito peppers that were taunting me in the crisper drawer. Shishito peppers, or their Spanish equivalent, padrón peppers, have been cropping up in recipes and restaurants more regularly, especially now that Trader Joe’s carries them and nearly every tapas restaurant serves blistered padróns alongside squares of Tortilla Española. They should come with a warning though: most of them are fairly mild, but every so often you come across a real scorcher. (Engineers out there: the probability of a spicy pepper is about 10%, though that statistic is a rough guideline when you factor in growing conditions and other environmental factors. You may just have to dive into this pizza and hedge your bets.)

Once blistered in a hot pan, shishito peppers are smoky with a lingering grassiness, and when paired with golden brown mushrooms and cherry tomatoes that have been sautéed in a hot pan until split open, you’ll wonder you’ve never piled the three onto a pizza with fresh mozzarella and aged parmesan. A final few dollops of homemade basil pesto when the pizza comes out of the oven ties the whole pie together, and before you know it you’ll be wishing you had made extra.


Shishito Pepper Pesto Pizza

Makes 4 10-inch pizzas, serves 4-6

2 lbs pizza dough

1 lb shishito or padrón peppers

4 teaspoons olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

1/2 yellow onion, finely diced

1 lb cherry tomatoes

1lb button mushrooms, sliced

Cornmeal, for the pizza peel

12 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan

1/4 cup freshly made pesto

  1. Once your dough has been made, divide it into 8 oz. portions and roll them into even balls. Place on a lightly floured surface, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour, until nearly doubled in size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 500F and place your pizza stone on the top rack of your oven.
  3. While the dough rises prepare all of the toppings:
  4. For the blistered peppers: Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over high high for 5 minutes. Add the peppers and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and cook, stirring every minute until the peppers are blistered in spots and tender, 8-10 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a small bowl and let cool slightly, then remove and discard the stems and cut the peppers into 1 inch pieces.
  5. For the tomatoes: Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet. Add the onions and saute for 2-3 minutes, until nearly translucent. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes have split and have begun to cook down. Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl and set aside.
  6. For the mushrooms: Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the same pan that you used to cook the tomatoes (unless you really like doing dishes, in which case go right ahead and get out a fresh pan), then add the mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Saute until tender and golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
  7. To assemble the pizzas: Roll out the risen dough into a thin, 11-12 inch circle, then transfer to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Top evenly with 1/4 of the tomatoes–this will not be a pizza with a traditional layer of sauce, so don’t worry if the tomatoes haven’t become soft enough to be considered a sauce.
  8. Add 1/4 each of the mushrooms and the peppers in an even layer on the pizza. Spread 3 oz. of the cheese in an even layer on top of the vegetables, then sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of parmesan. Transfer the pizza from the peel to the preheated pizza stone, and bake until golden brown and crisp, 11-14 minutes.
  9. Remove the pizza from the oven, and lightly dollop 1 tablespoon of pesto over the top of the pizza–again this should be more like a Jackson Pollack painting, than a smooth layer of pesto. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of parmesan over the top, then slice into wedges and serve. Repeat with the remaining pizza dough and toppings.

Click here for a printable version of the recipe.


ABC Kitchen’s Squash Toast


I like to think that college has turned me into somewhat of an opportunist—go explore Boston or Sommerville for a day? Sure, why not. Take a butternut squash from the dining hall’s autumn display and stealthily walk out of breakfast with a suddenly much heavier backpack? Of course. There were plenty of other decorative gourds where it came from, anyways, and I couldn’t bear to see such a seasonally appropriate food languish on top of the salad bar when I knew it could become so much more.

The butternut squash sat on my desk for nearly two weeks, staring me down every time I sat down to finish a problem set or write a paper. Last Saturday I finally decided put it to good use. This dish we made, a recipe for butternut squash toast with ricotta and caramelized onion jam is certainly nothing new, but the recipe from the John-Georges Vongerichten’s famed ABC Kitchen has been a favorite recipe of many home cooks for the past few years, and the combination of good cheese and fully caramelized, seasoned vegetables sounded too good to be true after eating dining hall food for the past few months.

So, with a few friends, a cutting board and a mixing bowl bought from Goodwill for two dollars each, the squash, a few drinking glasses of oil, vinegar, and a bowl of sliced onions taken, again, from the dining hall, we sat down in the dorm kitchen and had our first dinner party of the semester. After having eaten nearly all of our meals in the bustling dining hall—the kind with tall ceilings that noises reverberate off of so that that every meal is punctuated with the clatter of dropped plastic cups and the whir of the soft-serve machine—it was such a treat to sit down in a cozy kitchen and enjoy hearty bread topped with creamy ricotta, spicy roasted squash, and caramelized onion jam. The vegetables were cooked but still had life in them—a delicate balance to attain when cooking 5 gallons of broccoli florets for hundreds of students, but straightforward when roasting a single pan of sliced squash—and the contrast of the mild sweetness of the squash against the tangy onions tied all of the flavors into a perfect autumn tartine. It may have been our first dinner party of the semester, but it certainly won’t be our last.

Special thanks to Tufts University Dining Services for creating such a practical autumn display and for having all kinds of vegetables and vinegars in the salad bar. My friends and I are most grateful.

ABC Kitchen’s Squash Toast

Recipe from ABC kitchen found via Smitten Kitchen and adapted for dorm living

Serves 4 as a light main course

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion thinly sliced—I used 2 cups of sliced red onion, which worked well

1 teaspoon table salt

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar—I used red wine vinegar, which served in a pinch

3 tablespoons maple syrup—I used an equal amount of brown sugar

1 medium butternut squash, 2 ½-3 lbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons table salt

½ teaspoon red chili flakes

8-10 slices of hearty whole grain bread, a nice Pain au Levain or any sort of seeded rustic boule will work well

Extra olive oil, for brushing the bread

4 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese, at room temperature

Optional garnishes: chopped fresh mint, a few pinches of kosher or sea salt

  1. Heat the 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt, and saute for 10-15 minutes, until beginning to turn golden brown. Then add the vinegar and maple syrup or brown sugar, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook until the onions are thoroughly caramelized and jammy, 15-20 more minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel and seed the butternut squash, then cut it into ¼ inch thick slices (see the photos above for a visual). In a large bowl, toss the squash slices with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and chili flakes. Spread into an even layer on the prepared baking sheet, then roast in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the squash is tender and beginning to turn golden brown.
  3. Once the squash is finished, remove the sheet from the oven and transfer the squash to the bowl with the onion jam. Mash the squash into the onions with a fork until combined but not too homogeneous. Set aside and keep warm.
  4. Toast the bread under the broiler element until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Brush each slice of bread with olive oil, then spread with a heaping tablespoon of ricotta. Place a layer of squash on top of the ricotta and top with mint and salt, if desired. Serve immediately.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Cultured Butter


Myth: Cultured butter is butter that has traveled abroad.

Fact: Cultured butter is butter made with cream that has been “cultured” with bacteria before being churned to yield a rich, tangy butter. It is most commonly served in the UK and France, though that is not the origins for its name.


It all starts with a bowl of crème fraiche, which normally will cost upwards of six dollars for a paltry amount at the store, but is incredibly easy to make at home. Just whisk a spoonful of yogurt into a bowl of cream and let it sit at room temperature for about a day until thick and tangy. If all you wanted was crème fraiche to serve on top of a bittersweet chocolate tart with a few flakes of sea salt (not a bad idea), stop here and store the crème fraiche in the fridge. Otherwise, continue on to churn the butter.


Churning butter is very straightforward: you have to agitate the fat molecules enough so that they clump up enough to leave any excess moisture behind. You may have done this already if you’ve ever over-whipped cream and were left with a chunky mess to serve on pie.


You can use either a jar to shake the crème fraiche until the butter forms, or you can use a handheld mixer until the butter forms.


This is what the churned butter in buttermilk looks like.


Pour off the buttermilk and save it to use in biscuits, cornbread, or dressings.


Now you’re left with pure butter. Pour a little cold water over it to rinse the butter, then pour off any remaining liquid and season the butter with sea salt to taste.


Spread the butter on toasted or warm bread, or toss some fresh pasta in the cultured butter with a handful of chopped herbs. The complex and tangy flavors of the butter make it best served with simple foods and fresh ingredients that will showcase each component of the dish.


Cultured Butter

Makes about 2/3-1 cup butter and an equal amount of buttermilk

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons yogurt with live-active cultures (Greek or regular both work)

A few pinches of sea salt

  1. Whisk together the heavy cream and yogurt in a metal bowl and cover with a dishtowel. Let sit at room temperature for 12-36 hours until the mixture is uniformly thick and smells tangy. If you stop at this step, you have crème fraiche. If you want to continue on to butter, continue to step 2.
  2. To churn the butter you have two options: use a handheld mixer to whip the crème fraiche thoroughly until the butter forms, about 2 minutes, or pour the crème into a jar and shake for 6-8 minutes until butter chunks form.
  3. Pour off the buttermilk into a separate container, leaving the butter behind. Pour some cold water (about 1 cup) over the butter and stir with a spoon to loosen any remaining buttermilk. Carefully pour off the water and press with a spoon to remove excess moisture.
  4. Add a few pinches of sea salt to taste, then spoon the butter into an air-tight container and store in the fridge. Use it for all of your toast and condiment ventures that would benefit from a smear of high-quality butter.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Sourdough Bread

Sourdough starter is a pretty incredible thing. It’s a very simple mixture of equal parts water and flour that’s fed gradually over a few weeks, while yeast and bacteria grow unprompted in the loose dough, until the mixture is full of bubbles and smells like a loaf of sourdough bread. It’s the oldest type of leavened bread there is, and was used by bakers everywhere before the commercialization of dehydrated yeast. Now, home bakers are more reluctant to bake with sourdough; after all, “wild” yeast from the starter can be unpredictable, and not everyone wants to spend the time to make a starter. However, starter can be bought online from many baking stores, and you can often buy a small container of it from a bakery. I took mine from work, which I suppose is the pizza cook’s equivalent of bringing home lined notebooks and boxes of ballpoint pens.

Once you have a starter, the rest of the loaf is very simple. A short sponge, dough, and an overnight rest later, your house will smell like you’re walking past San Francisco’s famous Boudin Bakery. This sourdough is bubbly, chewy, and nicely tangy. In the summer, it’s great topped with olive oil and fresh tomatoes or eaten with blue cheese and fig jam. In the winter it’s a great accompaniment to soups and stews, and there’s nothing better than a breakfast of sourdough toast, butter, and jam. Sourdough bread is a weekend project for home bakers and bread enthusiasts that’s delicious and satisfying.

Photos courtesy of Arjun Narayen Photography. Thanks, Arjun!

Sourdough Bread

Makes two large loaves

Sponge:

½ cup strong sourdough starter

1/3 or ½ cup water, heated to 80F (see note below)

1 cup all-purpose flour

Dough:

1 ½ cups water, heated to 70F

4 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 ½ teaspoons table salt

  1. Make the sponge: Combine the sourdough starter and water in a medium bowl until full combined. Stir in the flour until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 2-3 hours, until doubled in size.
  2. For the dough: Place the sponge and the water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, ½ cup at a time until all the flour is added. Continue kneading until the dough forms a ball, about 1 minute more then turn the mixer off; cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the salt to the dough, then knead on low speed until the dough is soft and smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer the dough to a clean surface and knead to form a firm ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly greased bowl and flip the dough over to grease the top as well. Cover the bowl, then let rise until the dough doubles in size, 3-5 hours.
  4. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Transfer the risen dough to a clean counter and stretch the dough to redistribute the yeast and fold it into thirds like a letter. Cut the dough in half and let rest for 15 minutes. Then, using your hands to cup the dough, shape it into a smooth, taut ball. Set the dough on the parchment paper, then repeat with the second piece of dough. Cover the loaves with plastic wrap, then refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.
  5. Remove the loaves from the fridge, then let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 3-4 hours.
  6. One hour before baking, adjust the oven rack to the lower middle position, then place a baking stone on the rack and preheat the oven to 500F. Once the dough is ready, slash the tops of the loaves with 3, ½ inch deep cuts across the top, then slide the dough rounds with the parchment onto the preheated baking stone and mist the loaves with water. Turn the oven down to 450, then bake for 3 minutes. Spray with another misting of water, then continue to bake until the loaves are golden brown and the internal temperature of the loaves is 210F. Transfer the loaves to a wire rack, then discard the parchment and let cool before slicing and serving.

Note: If you are using a 100% hydrated starter (equal weights flour and water) use 1/3 cup of water in the sponge. If you are using a 50% hydrated starter (2 parts flour to 1 part water) use ½ cup of water in the sponge.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Eggplant Tartines with Goat Cheese, Honey, and Olives


Recently, I’ve started listening to the Spilled Milk Podcast, which is (no surprise here) a food related podcast hosted by two Seattle-based food writers, Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette and Delancey) and Matthew Amster-Burton. Other than America’s Test Kitchen and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, it’s the only podcast I listen to. Each episode is about 20 minutes long and revolves around one ingredient. It’s so nice to know that there are other people out there who could talk at length about something so simple yet complex as onions, dried beans or even jam, and I think my friends are relieved that know they no longer have to listen to me discuss the pros and cons of various pasta shapes.

Thanks to the honey episode (not the eggplant episode, as you might think) of Spilled Milk, I came up with this idea for Eggplant Tartines with goat cheese, honey, olives, and fresh mint. They were talking about savory dishes with honey and Molly mentioned pairing eggplant with honey, goat cheese, and green olives. Obviously I had to try out that combination, and thought on and off about it for a few days when this tartine idea came to me during a long swim practice.


It all started with a batch of crusty bread (much like my No-Knead Walnut Bread, sans walnuts) and a pan of roasted eggplant.



Once the eggplant was nicely browned and tender, I layered it on some thick slices of the bread, then added fresh chevre and a drizzle of honey. (I used lemon flower honey because I like to collect those sorts of things much like other people like to collect state quarters, but any regular clover honey will work.)


After a quick stint under the broiler, the tartines were topped with Sicilian green olives, fresh mint, and a little black pepper. Even after just one bite, I knew that I had come up with something good. The goat cheese melted into the tender eggplant and the honey offset the pungency of the olives just enough to keep the flavors in balance. The mint tied everything together and enhanced all of the Mediterranean aspects of the dish. Two of these tartines is the perfect springtime lunch dish that’s filling and nutritious but not heavy. For those of you that think eggplant is bland or spongy, give this recipe a try—this is eggplant at its best.


Eggplant Tartines with Goat Cheese, Honey, and Olives

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as an appetizer

Inspired by the “Honey” episode of the Spilled Milk Podcast

2 teaspoons olive oil

4 Italian eggplants, trimmed and sliced lengthwise into 3/8 inch slices (Italian eggplants are on the small side, about 6 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Use 1 globe eggplant if you can’t find any.)

½ teaspoon sea salt

4 slices artisan bread

2 oz. fresh goat cheese

2 teaspoons honey

¼ cup green olives, sliced (I used pitted Sicilian green olives)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 500F. Spread a rimmed baking sheet with the olive oil, then lay the eggplant slices out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with the salt, then roast on the top rack of the oven for 15 minutes. Using a metal spatula, flip the eggplant slices over and then return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes until both sides are golden brown. Remove the eggplant pan from the oven, then turn the oven to the broil setting.
  2. Place the slices of bread on a baking sheet, then place the eggplant slices on top of the bread slices. Put ½ oz. of the goat cheese on each slice of the bread, then drizzle each tartine with ½ teaspoon honey. Place on the top rack of the oven under the broiler element, then broil for 2-4 minutes until the edges of the bread are toasted and the goat cheese is golden brown. Remove the tartines from the oven, and place 1 tablespoon of the olives on each tartine. Scatter the fresh mint over the tartines, then top with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Broccoli and Ricotta Pesto

Broccoli can be a tricky thing to cook properly. Serve it raw or lightly steamed, and it can be too pungent and sulfuric. Cook it too long, and it will resemble a colorless mush. The key for sweet, nutty tasting broccoli is to cook it just long enough to lessen its pungency before the flavor begins to diminish.

The chart above shows broccolis life cycle once cooked. From zero to 15 minutes of gentle cooking, the broccoli will not be fully tender. From 15 to 30 minutes, that is where the traditional “broccoli smell” is created that permeates your entire kitchen and dining room for the evening. After 40 minutes of cooking broccoli, you are past the point of no return—the broccoli is now a gray-green and completely texture less. However, if you cook broccoli gently for 30 to 40 minutes, you have delicious, flavorful broccoli; the strong, cruciferous notes are diminished and the texture is ideal.

The only problem is that half an hour is a long time to be cooking anything on a busy weeknight. To cut down on the cooking time and still retain the same level of flavor in the broccoli, I borrow a trick from Cook’s Illustrated: a small amount of baking soda in the same pan breaks down the broccoli so that it enters the “delicious broccoli” range in about ten minutes.

Once your broccoli is perfectly cooked with garlic and red pepper flakes, place it in the food processor and make it into a pesto with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and ricotta. The resulting pesto is creamy, spicy, and just a little bit sweet. Spread it on garlic-rubbed bruschetta for a quick lunch, or toss it with hot pasta for an easy, vegetable-packed meal that comes together while the pasta water boils. It’s a new take on broccoli that I hope will become part of your weekly dinner rotation.


Broccoli and Ricotta Pesto

Makes about 4 cups, enough for 2 pounds of pasta or a large bread loaf of bruschetta

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 ½ lbs. broccoli, cut into 1 inch chunks (florets and stalks)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

½ cup fresh ricotta

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat, then add the broccoli, garlic, salt, baking soda, and red pepper flakes, and sauté until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 10-15 until the broccoli is very tender and looks like your worst vegetable nightmare.
  2. Transfer the cooked broccoli to the bowl of a food processor and add the lemon juice and pine nuts. Process until very smooth, about 30 seconds. With the mixer running, drizzle in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and process until smooth. Turn off the processor, scrape down the sides, add the ricotta, and process again until the ricotta is well incorporated. Adjust seasonings to taste. To serve, spread on bruschetta (recipe follows) or toss with al dente pasta (about 1 ½-2 cups of pesto and ½ cup of pasta cooking water per pound of dry pasta).

Bruschetta

Makes about 8-10 bruschetta

1, 2 lb. loaf rustic bread, cut into ½ inch slices

1 garlic clove, cut in half

Olive oil, for brushing

Broccoli-Ricotta Pesto

  1. Using a toaster or broiler, toast the bread slices until golden brown. Rub the cut edge of the garlic clove over both sides of each piece of bread, then brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Top with broccoli-ricotta pesto, and drizzle with olive oil.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Whole Wheat Seeded Boule


This is not the loaf of bread to make when you want an airy slice of white bread. This is the loaf of bread to make when you want a hearty slice of bread full of flavorful seeds with a dense and chewy texture. The crust is just crisp enough to crackle upon touching—does anyone remember that scene it Ratatouille?—but not so crisp as to cut the roof of your mouth.

The dough starts out with a simple sponge of flour, water, and yeast that sits overnight until foamy and risen, which adds another dimension of flavor and makes the bread taste like it came from a professional bakery. Some whole wheat flour, honey, quinoa, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds make up the rest of the dough, adding a unique texture to the loaf.


After the typical rising, shaping the dough into boules, and proofing, the boule is slashed on top with a sharp knife so that you can decide in which particular places the crust should expand while baking—a control freak’s dream.


To get the rustic appearance and crust, the boules bake on a preheated baking stone in a very hot oven with a pan of water beneath them to add some moisture to the baking environment. After half an hour or so, two gorgeous loaves will appear from your oven.

Once you suffer through an agonizing hour of waiting for the boules to cool before slicing, it’s really up to you how you serve them. We had them for dinner alongside a cheese and dried fruit plate with salad and a polenta tart, but this bread also forms the basis of my new favorite snack.


Toast a slice or two of this bread and top it with ripe avocado slices and a sprinkle of smoked salt. The mild, creamy taste of the avocados complement the crunchy seeds of the bread, and the smoked salt adds the perfect level of savory flavor to the toast. It’s an incredibly healthful snack that is both simple and filling. Served alongside a crisp green salad, it makes for a perfect lunch, while on its own is an afternoon snack to look forward to at the end of the day.


Whole Wheat Seeded Boule

Adapted from Flour’s recipe for Multigrain Sourdough

Sponge

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup whole wheat flour

¼ teaspoon active dry yeast

¾ cup water

Dough

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

1 ½ cups water

3 tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon active dry yeast

2 ½ teaspoons table salt

1 tablespoon white vinegar

5 tablespoons ground flaxseed

¼ cup sunflower seeds

1/3 cup quinoa, rinsed

  1. For the sponge: Combine all the sponge ingredients in a medium bowl and stir until a sticky dough forms. Cover with plastic wrap and let set at room temperature for 8-16 hours.
  2. For the dough: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, and the water and mix on low speed until a dry, shaggy dough forms, 2-3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and let sit for 10 minutes so the dough can absorb the water and become more hydrated.
  3. Add the sponge, honey, and yeast to the dough and turn the mixer to medium speed, letting the ingredients become well incorporated, 3-4 minutes. Add the salt and vinegar and knead for 3-4 more minutes, until the dough is smooth and cohesive. Add the flaxseed, sunflower seeds, and quinoa, and knead on medium speed until the seeds are well incorporated, 3-4 minutes. Turn off the mixer, remove the dough from the dough hook, and let it fall back into the bowl. Cover the dough with a clean dishtowel and place it in a warm spot to rise for 2-3 hours—a turned off oven with the light on works well. The dough will not quite double in size, but it will have risen noticeably.
  4. Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Take each half and form it into a round ball by tucking the edges underneath while moving it in a circular motion with your hands on the countertop. When the dough rounds have a taught surface, place them each on its own piece of parchment, about 8 ½ by 11 inches. Place the parchments on an inverted baking sheet, cover the dough rounds with a clean dishtowel and let rise for 2 hours, until relaxed and slightly puffy. 30 minutes before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  5. When the dough is ready to bake, place a rimmed baking sheet in the bottom of the oven and have a pitcher of water nearby. Slash the dough rounds by creating 4 perpendicular lines in the center of each loach with a sharp knife, as seen in the pictures above. Gently slide the dough rounds onto the baking stone, fill the bottom baking sheet with water from the pitcher, and quickly close the oven dough. Bake the rounds for 28-32 minutes, until deep golden brown. Remove from the oven, discard the parchment, and let cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Homemade Ciabatta

I love everything about baking bread—the way the house smells when the yeasted dough rises over the course of the day, the dried dough and flour that stays on your fingernails despite your best attempts to scrub it off, and the sound of a knife cutting through the crust of bread still warm from the oven. At the risk of sounding eighty years old, it is refreshing to have part of your day controlled by a tiny organism that has been around for millions of years, rather than an endless stream of Snapchats, Facebook notifications, and Amanda Bynes tweets. Homemade bread is a lot of work, but nothing can compare to what the end result tastes like. The best breads, the ones that seem like they came from a bakery, normally require a little more time and dedication than the typical sandwich loaf, as they normally involve an overnight rest, like this Ciabatta. Ciabatta means “slipper” in Italian, in reference to its oblong, flat shape that boasts a bubbly, loose crumb.

The dough starts off with an overnight ferment, which in this case is called a biga, that consists of flour, water, and a dash of yeast. After just 8 hours, the batter is full of carbon dioxide bubbles and is ready to mix with the rest of the dough.

After some time in the standing mixer (don’t try to knead this dough by hand, it’s far too wet), the dough rises, and is gently turned every half hour for an hour. This encourages the gluten to reorganize and provide structure to the rising dough without depleting all the air bubbles that have taken so long to develop.

Once the dough has doubled in size, it gets turned onto a heavily floured work surface and divided into two even pieces. Whatever you do, don’t squash all the air out of it now, because your ciabatta is a loose dough, and due to the lack of structure, can easily come out of the oven looking like a brick.

This ragged half of dough is then folded like a business letter, and placed on parchment to rise until doubled in size.

Once it’s risen, it is almost ready for the oven. But first, you have to press it down to a larger rectangle with your fingers to get the traditional slipper shape.

A hot baking stone and a few mists of water make a crusty loaf that is excellent while warm and drizzled with olive oil and sea salt, or slice lengthwise for pressed paninis. Or as you saw last week, slice it and serve alongside my white bean spread. The loaves will last for a few days at room temperature, but trust me when I say that there is no way that there will be any left after a few short hours.

Ciabatta

Makes 2 loaves

Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated

Biga:

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup water, room temperature

1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon instant yeast

1 ½ teaspoons table salt

¼ cup milk, room temperature

¾ cup water, room temperature

  1. For the biga: combine all the ingredients together in a medium bowl and stir until smooth. Let sit, covered, for 8-24 hours at room temperature.
  2. For the dough: place the sponge and all dough ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low until roughly combined. Increase speed to medium low and mix for 4-6 minutes until the dough collects on the paddle. (You may think this will never happen, but sure enough, at around 5 minutes, the dough will all glob onto the paddle, be patient!) Change to the dough hook and need on medium speed until the dough is smooth and shiny, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough to a large bowl, and let rise at room temperature for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
  3. Turning the dough: Grease a rubber spatula and use it to gently fold the dough from the edge into the middle. Turn the bowl 90 degrees, then turn again. Repeat 6 more times until the dough has been turned a total of 8 times—you should have made 2 full revolutions with the bowl. Cover the dough and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat the folding and let rise another 30 minutes until doubled in size—the dough will rise for a total of 1 hour in step 3.
  4. Shaping the dough: 1 hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 450F. Cut 2, 12″ x 6″ strips of parchment paper and liberally dust them with flour. Turn the risen dough out onto a heavily floured work surface, and resist the urge to punch it down and lose all of the air bubbles. Divide the dough in half and press it into a rough 12″ x 6″ rectangle. Now, take the ends of dough (facing the long way) and fold them in towards the center, just like you would fold a business letter. The loaf should be 7″ x 4″. Repeat with the second loaf. Transfer the loaves to the parchment, orienting them seam side facing down. Cover the loaves and let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes until bubbly.
  5. Baking the loaves: Slide the parchment paper and the loaves onto a pizza peel or inverted baking sheet. Flour your fingertips, then use them to press the dough down to 10″ x 6″ rectangles. Slide the parchment and loaves onto the baking stone. Using a mister bottle of water, spray the loaves with water immediately on entry, plus 2 more times while in the first 5 minutes of baking. Bake the loaves until deep golden brown, 22-27 minutes total. Transfer loaves to a wire rack to cool and remove the parchment paper. The bread must cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving. It will last a room temperature for up to 3 days.

Pesto Stuffed Flatbreads

It’s not everyday that the mainstays of Indian, Italian, and Middle-Eastern cuisines combine, but when they do, you’ll wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.

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Pesto Stuffed Flatbreads take Italian pesto, Middle-Eastern pita-bread dough, and the Indian method of cooking parathas (stuffed, unleavened breads) and meld all the flavors into an addicting appetizer. (Just ask Aidan, he ate 4 flatbreads within a few hours.)

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The flatbreads are grilled in a cast iron skillet and have a chewy, almost bubbly texture that’s better than any oven baked bread. But the star ingredient in this dish is without a doubt the pesto.

Traditional Italian pesto is made by combining fresh basil, salt, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan into a smooth paste. If you (understandably) don’t have pine nuts on hand, you can substitute an equal volume of toasted almonds. Admittedly, this will cause a few Italian grandmothers to roll over in their graves, but much fewer than would if you omitted the nuts altogether. Moral of the story: never leave out nuts in your pesto.

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The bread dough is simple, and incredibly easy to make, even if you’re not familiar with using yeast. Just let the yeast proof with some warm water, sugar, and oil until bubbly, then add flour and salt. Knead it by hand or in a standing mixer until it looks just like this:

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Once the dough has been kneaded, it has to rise for about an hour until doubled in size. This serves two purposes: it lets the network of proteins in the flour (mainly gluten) relax, making for a more cooperative dough when it comes time to shape the flatbreads. Secondly, the rising time lets the yeast produce carbon dioxide gas, which forms small air bubbles in the dough and prevents the finished bread from looking like a brick.
The dough should go from this:

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To this:

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The hardest part of this recipe is forming the flatbreads, which can take a little practice, but anyone can do it. Just turn your dough out onto a floured surface, and divide it into 8 pieces.

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Take one piece and flatten it into a small circle about 2 1/2″ in diameter, then spread 1 heaping teaspoon of pesto into the center.

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Fold the edges of the dough into the center and seal the edges tightly by pinching the seam. Now pinch the seam again; you don’t want to have to deal with a pesto explosion.

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Now, carefully stretch the dough into a circle about 5-6″ in diameter. If you let your dough rise long enough, it should be pliable and this process should be fairly easy. If the dough resists stretching, set it aside for 5 minutes while you shape another flatbread, then try again. The end result should look like this; you know you’re on the right track when the dough has been stretched thin enough to see the flecks of basil in the center.

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Don’t worry if the flatbread isn’t completely smooth because any uneven surfaces end up working to your advantage, adding texture by allowing the surface to cook almost unevenly so that certain areas are deeply browned and crisp and other parts are soft and pillowy.

Now to cook them, heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Lay the flatbread in the pan, then cover with a lid and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the underside is brown and the top has bubbled up.

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Flip the flatbread and cook for another 2 minutes until the other side is brown as well. Remove the flatbread to a plate and cover with a clean dishtowel, and cook the remaining 7 flatbreads.

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While one flatbread cooks, you can shape the remaining flatbreads to save time. Serve these as soon as possible so that when you rip them open, a burst of basil-perfumed steam escapes into the air.

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These flatbreads will impress anyone you serve them to, whether it’s for a weekend lunch or a summertime barbeque. Dip them in olive oil, pair them with fresh mozzarella and ripe tomatoes, or simply serve them hot, straight out of the pan.

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Pesto Stuffed Flatbreads
Makes 8 flatbreads

Pesto
3 cups fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet until golden brown
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Flat-bread Dough
3/4 cup warm water (about 100F)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour (If you want to make these with whole wheat flour, use 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour and 2/3 cup whole wheat flour.)

For the flat-bread dough:
1. Place the water, yeast, salt, and olive oil in a large bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let sit until the yeast has begun foaming, about 5 minutes. Mix to recombine.
2. Add in the salt and flour, and slow mix (low speed if using a standing mixer) until all the flour is incorporated. If using a mixer, increase the speed to medium and knead for 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and glossy and springs back easily when pinched. If mixing by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, until smooth, glossy and springy.
3. Return the dough to the original bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until almost doubled in size, 45-60 minutes.

While the dough is rising, make the pesto:
1. Add the basil, garlic, salt, and pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well chopped, about 8 pulses. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
2. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until well incorporated and the pesto is a smooth sauce.
3. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the parmesan. Adjust with additional salt to taste and set aside.

To cook the flatbreads:
1. Once the dough has fully risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Taking one piece of dough at a time, roll it out to a circle 6 inches in diameter and place a tablespoon of pesto in the center, spreading the pesto to a circle 2-3 inches in diameter.
2. Fold the edges of the dough into the center so that the end result looks like a hockey puck of bread dough, with no visible pesto, making sure all edges are very tightly sealed. Carefully roll out the dough into another circle, this time to a thin circle about 8 inches in diameter. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces.
3. To cook, heat a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat for 5 minutes until very hot. Gently lay one flatbread in the pan and cover, letting it cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pan lid and flip the flatbread, letting it cook for another 2 minutes until golden brown on the bottom. Don’t worry if it puffs up, that means everything is going well!
4. Remove the cooked flatbread from the pan and cover with a dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining flatbreads, and serve immediately.