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.


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Fig and Blue Cheese Focaccia


Within seconds of unwrapping one of my birthday gifts—a jar of Fig and Walnut Butter—I already had a plan for how I would use it. The image of a chewy, well-risen focaccia with a layer of Fig Butter and a scattering of creamy, thoroughly veined blue cheese was quickly constructed and before I knew it, we were all sitting down to a dinner of polenta tart with a warm rectangle of the focaccia and my favorite chocolate cake for dessert. The sweetness of the figs pairs well with the pungency of the blue cheese and the thin slices of shallots, and the crunch from the walnuts is a nice contrast to the bubbly dough.

My family always gives the best birthday gifts, and this year was no exception; all of the presents I got for my 18th birthday were so thoughtful, and unsurprisingly, food-related. My dad found the aforementioned Fig Butter as well as two new types of cookie butter, one with graham crackers and the other with vanilla wafers that I anticipate will surpass my love for specculoos. From my mom, I received a cutting board for “The Obsessive Chef” that delineates measurements, knife cuts, and angles along the surface. (I cut garlic cloves at a 45 degree angle into a fine brunoise, how about you?) My brother gave me the amazing gift of a water carbonator, which he knew I had had my eye on for a while, and is by far the coolest kitchen gadget I’ve ever used and has prompted me to make carbonated water at all hours of the day.

I am so lucky to have a generous family that allows me to have fun in the kitchen and share food with them. If my 18th birthday was any indication of what the rest of my life will resemble, then I can’t wait to see what comes next.


Fig and Blue Cheese Focaccia

Makes one, 12″ x 8″ focaccia, serving 8 for appetizers

Dough:

1 cup water, warmed to 100F

1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon table salt

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Topping

1 small shallot, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon olive oil

½ teaspoon sea salt

Scant ½ cup fig preserves (I used Fig and Walnut Butter from Stonewall Kitchen, but any sort of fig preserves will work)

3 oz. blue cheese, crumbled (I highly recommend Point Reyes Blue Cheese)

Freshly ground black pepper

  1. For the Dough: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the water and yeast, stir to combine, then let sit for 5 minutes to activate the yeast. Add the flour, salt, and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and mix on low until the flour is combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and knead for 5-6 minutes, until the dough gathers around the hook and becomes almost smooth and shiny. This dough will be very sticky, so do not try to knead it by hand. Turn off the mixer, remove the dough from the hook, then cover the bowl with a dishtowel and let rise until doubled in size, 1-1 ½ hours.
  2. Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 450F and place the remaining tablespoon of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the risen dough onto the oiled baking sheet, then turn over a few times to coat all of the exterior with the oil. Stretch the dough out into a rough rectangle, about 12″ x 8″ in size, using your fingers to shape the dough. If the dough resists stretching, let it rest for 5 minutes, then try again.
  3. Toss the shallot with the ½ teaspoon olive oil in a small bowl, then scatter the shallot slices over the surface of the focaccia. Sprinkle with the sea salt, then bake in the preheat oven for 10 minutes, until puffy and risen. Remove from the oven, and spread the fig preserves over the surface of the focaccia, then distribute the blue cheese on top of the preserves. Return the focaccia to the oven and bake for another 4-5 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, then slice into 8 even pieces and serve.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

 

Carrot-Walnut Pizza


I think I can guess what you just said to yourself. Is it, “What! Carrots and walnuts don’t belong on a pizza?” Well, actually, they do. I wish I could take credit for this incredible combination, but it actually comes from a pizza place in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While working as a TA during graduate school, my dad tried it during a pizza-fueled marathon exam grading session. Years later, it has become a mainstay for our homemade pizzas. Unfortunately, I think we’re the last surviving makers of Carrot-Walnut pizzas—we haven’t been able to find the pizzeria that sells such a pizza in Cambridge, and I will never know what the original tasted like.

Once baked, the grated carrots get firmly anchored to the crust and cheese and blister slightly under the intense heat of the oven. The walnuts, too, toast gently and taste sweeter alongside the carrots, which manage to minimize the traditionally bitter mouth feel of walnuts. And the best part is that when sliced, the toppings stay on the pizza. My biggest pizza pet-peeve is when the cheese refuses to stay on the pizza. Luckily, that is nowhere near the case for this recipe.


Underneath the toppings is a thin layer of a freshly made tomato sauce, full of garlic and basil. It only takes a few extra minutes of work to make homemade sauce, and it is worth it every time. Delicious toppings and a phenomenal sauce only need one more thing for this pizza to reach restaurant quality, and that is a pizza stone. Once preheated, it works quickly enough to allow the crust to be crisp on the bottom yet not cracker-like.


If I still haven’t convinced you that Carrot-Walnut pizza is worth your time, maybe my brother can. Every time we make pizza, his only toppings are carrot and walnuts, and after devouring the entire pizza, he sits back and remarks, “I am always amazed by how well carrots and walnuts go together on pizza. It’s just so good.”

Who knows, maybe someday these toppings will be back in action at local pizzerias, but for now, I hope you’ll try it at home.

Carrot-Walnut Pizza

Makes 4, 12 inch pizzas, which will serve 4 teenagers or 8 adults

Dough

1 ½ cups warm water

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 ½ teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups all-purpose flour (try to get a low protein flour like Pillsbury or Gold Medal)

2 teaspoons table salt

Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon salt

28 oz. can diced tomatoes, pulsed until smooth in the food processor

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Toppings

Cornmeal, for dusting the pizza peel

16 oz. part-skim, low-moisture mozzarella cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater

3 carrots, grated on the large holes of a box grater

1 cup walnuts, chopped

  1. For the dough: Mix the water, yeast, sugar, and oil in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Let the yeast proof until bubbly for 5 minutes. Add the flour and salt and mix on low to combine, then increase the speed to medium and knead until smooth and shiny, 6-8 minutes. Cover and let rise until doubled in volume, 45-60 minutes.
  2. For the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic cloves and sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes and salt and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Off heat, stir in the basil and set the heat aside.
  3. 30-45 minutes before baking the pizza, place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 500F.
  4. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured work surface and divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll each dough ball out into a 12 inch circle, then transfer to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Spread ½-2/3 cup sauce into an even layer onto the dough, leaving a ¼ inch border along the edges. Sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella in an even layer on top of the sauce. Next, spread ½ cup of the grated carrots all over the pizza, then finish with ¼ cup of chopped walnuts all over the carrots.
  5. Slide the pizza from the peel onto the preheated baking stone, then bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown, rotating halfway through baking. Transfer to a cutting board, let sit for about a minute, then slice and serve. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the remaining ingredients to make 3 more pizzas.

Note: If you do not have a pizza peel or a pizza stone, spread a baking sheet with cornmeal, then place the rolled out dough on the baking sheet and top as described in step 4 and continue with the rest of the recipe.

Grape and Ricotta Pizza


This pizza was the last thing to come out of my oven since the heat wave started this past weekend. A family ordinance was put in place, outlawing oven use and encouraging alternative forms of energy consumption, such as the grill and minimal use of the stovetop. It’s been rough. This is not to say that we haven’t had delicious food—Sunday night my dad and I made fusilli with grilled onions, cremini mushrooms, and a grilled garlic and lemon vinaigrette. Still, not being able to turn on the oven on a moment’s notice has stifled my creative juices (at least that’s what I’ve been saying in attempts to get a lift on the oven ban).


Anyways, back to the pizza! It uses the traditional Italian pairing of cheese, honey, and black pepper, along with sweet grapes and olive oil. The toppings are used judiciously, so the crust stays crisp and light, especially when baked on a hot pizza stone.

Within a few short minutes in the oven, the grapes swell and then release their juices, so that when you bite into a hot grape, it has slumped in on itself and the concentrated flavor is sweeter than normal. Black pepper adds heat to counteract the sweetness of the grapes and the honey. It’s the perfect appetizer for a summer meal or barbeque, provided, of course, that you can turn on your oven.


Grape and Ricotta Pizza

Makes 2, 12-inch pizzas, serving 8-10 as a first course

Dough

¾ cup warm water

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

½ teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

Cornmeal, for dusting the pizza peel

Toppings

2 cups seedless red grapes, halved

½ cup part skim ricotta

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons honey

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. For the dough: Mix the water, yeast, sugar, and oil in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Let the yeast proof until bubbly for 5 minutes. Add the flour and salt and mix on low to combine, then increase the speed to medium and knead until smooth and shiny, 6-8 minutes. Cover and let rise until doubled in volume, 45-60 minutes.
  2. While the dough rises, move the oven rack to the upper-middle position and place a baking stone on the rack. Preheat the oven to 500F for 30 minutes.
  3. Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and divide into 2 pieces. Roll one piece out to a 12 inch circle. Transfer it to a pizza peel brushed with cornmeal. Dollop ¼ cup ricotta in small pieces all over the dough, then cover with 1 cup of the grapes, cut side down. Sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle with 1 teaspoon each olive oil and honey. Slide the pizza onto the baking stone and bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Slice and serve. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make the second pizza.