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.


Blue Cheese, Walnut, and Fig Thumbprint Cookies

It’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve been back home for winter break. Much as I expected, Palo Alto has stayed more or less the same—there were some rumors about our favorite local restaurant closing, which prompted a frenzy of lunch visits and curry takeout orders all around the neighborhood, but it appears as though the claims were for the most part unfounded. Despite the continuity of our life here in California, it seems ever so slightly different after being away for four months. Things I used to take for granted, like eating my mom’s Almond Roca or taking my dog for a walk, are a treat after getting used to living in a dorm. It’s so nice to be able to see my high school friends and cook in our kitchen.

It seemed so luxurious to bake these thumbprint cookies for our Christmas Day party; I had forgotten how nice it is to use a standing mixer and dishwasher and to have all of the ingredients at my fingertips. I didn’t have to take the blue cheese from the salad bar or remove nearly a cup of chopped walnuts from the condiment station—what a treat!

We had a container of fig jam in the freezer left over from the summer (long story, but it involves homemade fig newtons), and after making a batch of fig and blue cheese focaccia, I thought the flavors would do pretty well together in a cookie. These cookies are barely sweetened, a resemble more of a savory shortbread, and have toasted walnuts and Roquefort folded into the dough before the centers are filled with fig jam. They’re a great accompaniment to a cheese plate and serve as great puzzle-solving fuel if, like us, you still have an unfinished 1000 piece puzzle that is the one lingering guest from your Christmas party.

Walnut, Blue Cheese, and Fig Thumbprints

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

1 egg

3 cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

4 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

¾ toasted walnuts, finely chopped

½ cup fig jam or spread

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. For the dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and pistachios and set aside. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream them together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Add the blue cheese and walnuts and mix on low speed until distributed throughout the dough.
  3. Taking 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls and place 1 ½ inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Using a wine cork or the back of a wooden spoon, press an indentation in the cookie. Fill the indentations with the fig jam. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes until just barely golden. Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Strawberries with Burrata and Balsamic

In case you missed it: this week on Kinsey Cooks is all about no-cook, no-bake recipes for meals that don’t heat up the house. Yesterday, I shared an Avocado Salad with Nectarines and Walnuts. Keep checking in this week for more heat-free recipes!

Someone asked me when I served this dish at our weekly Friday night pizza dinners if this is considered a dessert or savory food. It’s a really good question, because on top of a pile of sweet strawberries, there’s some salty, creamy cheese, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. While I don’t know if this is dessert or dinner, I do know that this is a delicious dish. It’s not a dish to be pigeon-holed. It’s what you eat alongside a piece of pizza and a selection of the many salads that are brought to Friday pizza night (this is California, after all). Maybe you’ll enjoy it as an afternoon snack when it’s 4pm and the idea of waiting until seven for dinner sounds unbearable. You could serve it at the end of a meal of grilled vegetables and fresh bread.

If you haven’t had a chance to try burrata cheese yet, there’s no better time to try it than this summer. Store everywhere, from Trader Joe’s to Whole Foods have started selling these balls of mozzarella filled with shreds of mozzarella mixed with cream. Fresh mozzarella is to burrata as Kraft singles are to sharp English Cheddar. It’s just that much better. With a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic reduction and a pinch of cayenne to add some spice, you can have something truly delicious in fewer than ten minutes that can be enjoyed at any time of the day.

Strawberries with Burrata and Balsamic

Serves 8 as an appetizer

4 cups strawberries, trimmed and halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon balsamic reduction or glaze, divided

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt

8 oz. burrata cheese, torn into bite-sized shreds

  1. Place the strawberries, olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl and toss to combine. Pour the strawberries out onto a serving platter, then top with the shreds of burrata. Drizzle the remaining teaspoon of balsamic across the top and serve.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Burgundy Roquefort Gougères

I measure my success in traveling and exploring a new city by how long it takes me to find the local cheese shop. They’re often tucked away on a side street, or down a covered stone alley, almost like the owners don’t want to be the center of attention or an attractant for hordes of tourists. I find myself fascinated by these fromageries and käseladens, because the cheese shop gives a unique insight into the local culture. In Switzerland, the cow themed cheese plates and knives are tucked alongside wedges of mountain cheeses like Sbrinz and Gruyere and bricks of milk chocolate. In Spain, cured chorizo hangs from the ceiling above the wheels of Manchego and Idiazabal. The utensils they sell suggest whether the area serves the cheese melted or sliced, if the cheese acts as a first course or dessert, and if cheese consumption begins at breakfast or lunch.

More often than not, I pay multiple visits to the cheese shop. My record for the most number of trips is the three trips I took in one day while touring Aix-en-Provence. I found it by chance the first time, and quickly bought a small piece of fresh goat cheese with walnuts. An hour later, I brought my friend in, where we had samples of blue cheese on walnut raisin bread, then bought nearly a pound of Roquefort. Just a few hours after that, we visited yet again to convince another member of our group to buy more Roquefort (it was probably to our advantage that they changed shifts in between the second and third visits). That night, we ate Roquefort with fresh baguettes in a hotel that was decorated as if the goal was to combine Caesar’s Palace with shag carpets and cow statues. The cheese was a welcome distraction.

Roquefort is a pungent blue cheese, aged just long enough to develop the oxidized crystals that add a touch of sweetness to balance the strength and odor. When folded into a choux paste and baked into little French cheese pastries known as gougères (also known as the savory version of éclairs or profiteroles), the resulting appetizer is an elegant addition to a cheese board. To complement the Roquefort, I added some burgundy wine extract to the gougères, which adds a touch of rich flavor without the alcohol. Think of these treats as the entire wine and cheese party because they combine bread, cheese, and wine into one bite. If, unlike me, you’re over twenty-one, you can substitute a portion of the water for burgundy wine.

Sweet accompaniments work best alongside these gougères, such as fresh grapes or summer stone fruits. For a rich contrast to the light and airy pastries, I put together some maple pecans made with smoked salt to complete the appetizer tray. Gougères are perfect for potlucks, tasting parties, and special dinners. If you’re a freezer hoarder like myself, stick these in the freezer for up to three months and then re-crisp them in the oven in times of culinary emergency. Enjoy these whichever way you like, but please, whatever you do, don’t call them cheese puffs.

Burgundy Roquefort Gougères

Makes about 45 Gougeres

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup water

½ teaspoon table salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 oz. Roquefort, crumbled

4 teaspoons burgundy wine powder

4 eggs

Sea salt, for sprinkling

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the butter and water to a boil. Take the pan off heat, then stir in the salt and the flour. Stir until combined, then return to the burner and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until a smooth dough ball forms and a shiny film with droplets of water is covering the bottom of the pan.
  3. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute to cool slightly. Add the Roquefort and the burgundy wine powder and beat until the cheese is thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed until well combined. Once all the eggs are added, beat on medium-high for another 30-60 seconds until smooth and shiny.
  4. Scoop 1 tablespoon sized portions of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spaced 1 ½ inches apart. If there are any points or craggy areas, smooth them with your finger dipped in water. Sprinkle the gougèreswith sea salt, then bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and puffed. Do your best not to open the oven door during the baking period. Let the baked gougères cool on wire racks, and shape and bake the remaining gougères.

Note: If you do not have Burgundy wine powder, you may substitute ½ cup of the water for ½ cup burgundy wine. The gougères can be frozen in a well-sealed plastic bag for up to three months and then re-crisped at 350F for 10 minutes.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!