Sunday, January 27, 2013

Italian Pie

 aka Pizza Pot Pie

With a nod to world peace, this post will attempt to bridge the wide gap between thin crust and deep dish pizza. Chicagoans love the deep dish and New Yorkers believe that only thin crust pizza, straight from Naples qualifies as pizza. 

I think the trouble is terminology.  Words mean different things to different people.  The word pizza, for example, is divisive.  When it comes to food favorites, expectations for one thing are not easily replaced by something different showing up on the plate. 

To Easterners and thin crust lovers reading this blog:
What if tonight you were served a casserole with fresh ingredients including cheese, sausage, veggies and some tomato sauce to hold it all together?  What if the bottom and sides were formed from a light dough, like a pot pie?  What if no one uttered the word pizza?

That’s what I did and we now have a new dish in our dinner repertoire that is different than the pizza we make on a 600˚F stone with dough rolled onto a peel and shoved into the hot oven for only a few minutes.  We call that pizza.

Think of this as pizza pot pie.  Mine starts with a layer of mozzarella topped with chunky fresh tomato sauce and then is packed with lots of roasted veggies like spinach, zucchini and mushrooms plus anchovies and thinly sliced chorizo (I don’t like peperoni).  The top is latticed with red peppers and sliced olives and sprinkled with grated cheese.   It is like eating antipasti in a nice hand-held package.

My husband has a purist version with sausage, mushrooms, and cheese. over a base layer of mozzarella and tomato sauce. Yours might include onion, green peppers, olives, spinach, pepperoni and sausage or any combination above.  Think about things you like in lasagna.   Or make a cheeseburger-inspired version layered with sauce, cooked ground meat, caramelized onions, cheesey layers of cheddar or blue cheese and roasted peppers.  Or check out an online menu from one of the many deep dish pizza restaurants in Chicago for inspiration.  After our first two, our next will be filled with layers of cheddar, ground turkey chili, black beans and salsa with a garnish of olives, sour cream and cilantro.  A chili  pie.

You can use either the very simple and light Bisquick-based dough recipe   or the biscuity dough recipe from King Arthur Flour for your pie base. 

These are  light, easy to work doughs that won’t overwhelm you, even if you have not made pizza or bread dough before.  It will remind you of  bread dough more than a pizza dough.  I recommend the Bisquick version for the busy.  You can even use biscuit dough but try not to use regular pizza dough.  

This recipe serves about 6-8 people.    It makes enough for two 9” pizzas baked in cake pans or one really large pan.  Try baking it in a large cheesecake pan that will allow you to pull the sides away to cut wedges with ease.  You could also use cast iron pans.  We liked the variety of a meat and a vegetable pie that two 9-inch cake pans provided.  If you are in a household with a serious deep dish versus flat pizza issue, bake this in a square or rectangular baking dish. Whatever you bake it in, lightly oil the pan.

Italian Pie
dough for two 9-inch cake pans (see recipe links above)
2 cups chunky tomato sauce (1 1/4 cups if smooth)
6-8 ounces thinly slice mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Filling layers: about 2 cups per pie placed in layers
Meat Lovers: Cooked Italian sausage, sliced pepperoni. sauteed mushrooms,  extra mozzarella
Antipasti: steamed spinach (1/2 cup), sliced sauteed zucchini (1 medium), sauteed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, provolone cheese, sliced Italian salami, drained marinated artichokes, olives, etc

  1. Once your dough is ready, press it into the pans and up along the sides.  King Arthur recommends baking the dough for 10 minutes at 425˚F before layering in the fillings.  Just like you pre-bake a dessert pie crust for certain soft fillings.  You can skip this step for the Bisquick version. 
  2. Start with a thin layer of cheese then sauce and customize your pizza layers from there.  Finish with more sauce and cheese.  Layering is important.  Plan to layer chunkier ingredients like broccoli and olives between strips or slices of roasted veggies, thinly sliced meats or cheese.  The layers will make the dish look good when sliced and provides contrast in every bite.  
  3. Bake your pizza pot pie for about 30-40 minutes, a few minutes less for smaller baking dishes.   It is done when the outside dough is browned and a knife inserted comes out steaming.  A thermometer stuck into the middle of the baking vessel but not touching the bottom should read 140˚F. 
Let your Italian Pie rest about 10 minutes before slicing.  It will hold together better.  Serve with a crisp salad.  These pies (especially the antipasti one) can be served at room temperature and reheat well the next day. 

Italians have been stuffing and topping dough for centuries.  Calzones, leftover spaghetti pie, eggplant timbales, even bruschetta with chunky toppings are related.  Give a pizza pot pie --deep dish pizza-- a try.  Call it what you want but make it with pure ingredients and you will be happy. 

Chicagoans: What if someone handed you a snack on freshly baked flatbread that had a lot in common with grilled cheese and tomato? …..

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chocolate Chestnut Dessert

It’s Inauguration Weekend, not just for the President of the United States but also for smaller elected offices dotted across our country.  For example, this is the weekend that new officers are “installed” at our local volunteer fire and ambulance company. 

Whatever you are celebrating this month, here is a simple and sophisticated dessert that takes little time and less effort.  Indulgent on winter nights but not too sweet.  The mousse-like pudding gets its structure from mashed chestnuts rather than eggs.  Combined with chocolate and vanilla, this dessert can be chilled in one large serving bowl or scooped into individual parfait glasses and refrigerated until serving.   Add a dollop of freshly whipped cream or enjoy them plain with some chocolate curls shaved onto the tops. 

Chestnuts are native to the Americas though it is the French who savor the fruit in many desserts and alongside roasts.  Here, the chestnut tree was primarily prized for its wood. 

Thanksgiving chestnut dressing recipes using the fruit (or nut) have been making a strong comeback in recent years as cooks explore new and old ingredients.  The chestnut has a slightly grainy texture that is easy to mash up and mix with other ingredients, both sweet and savory.  Chopped, it compliments the aforementioned dressing and roasted Brussels sprouts, updated green bean casserole and other green vegetables. 

Chestnut trees along the eastern United States all but died out in the early 1900s due to blight.  The American Chestnut Foundation has reintroduced them over the past thirty years using a hybrid of the American and Asian species.  Most supermarkets now carry chestnut puree or, in my case, cooked and peeled chestnuts.  They are most often the sweet chestnut, imported from Europe or Asia.  Do not substitute water chestnuts for chestnuts.  They are not the same thing. 

Chestnut Chocolate Dessert
Serves 2, recipe can be tripled

12 chestnuts, cooked and peeled
¼ cup each water and sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
     -or ¾ cup chestnut puree
4 squares dark chocolate (1/2 bar)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon rum

  1. Place the chestnuts in a small saucepan with the sugar and water over medium heat.  Swirl the mixture as the sugar melts.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Let cool 10 minutes then puree.  Scoop puree into a medium bowl and set aside.  
  2. Melt chocolate with butter in a small glass bowl on low in the microwave, using thirty-second increments, stirring between blasts.  Remove chocolate mixture when there is still a little solid left and allow mixture to finish melting in warmed vessel.  
  3. Meanwhile, whip cream with rum.   
  4. Using a rubber spatula, stir chocolate into chestnut puree.  Next fold in whipped cream.  
  5. Divide mixture among glasses or a single serving bowl, cover and refrigerate at least one hour, until firm.  Serve with more whipped cream, chocolate curls or a little powdered sugar. 
Those who have tasted Mont Blanc, the mountainous trompe l’oeil dessert made from vanilla-scented chestnut puree and whipped cream will recognize this inspiration for this light chocolate creation. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ramen Noodle Day is Janaury 11

Actually, its Momofuku Ando Day, the man who invented ramen noodles (and cup a noodles). 

Still a young man when he witnessed Japan’s post-WWII food shortage, Ando later experimented with ways to provide shelf-stable instant ramen (noodle) meals.  He famously felt that "peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat."

Momofuku Ando was a true visionary who looked to technology with an open heart to solve a global problem.  His innovation, to flavor and pre-cook noodles via flash-frying, made a quick meal that fit his vision: tasty, inexpensive and easy to make. By the microwave era, he had developed his cup of noodles complete with its own reheating vessel. 

Ramen noodles are still seen as a satisfying solution for hungry families because they are cheap (about 20¢ package) and provide a feeling of fullness. Despite being, on balance, a good deal, families struggling on food assistance have noted that they get tired of a ramen noodle diet, something any student on a tight budget can appreciate.

The truth is the nutritional value is questionable and the flavor packets do not add much since they are, like bouillon cubes, high in sodium and other additives. Some note a slightly artificial taste.  As a result, those that can toss the flavor packet and add in other flavor ingredients. Many of the add-in recipes combine inexpensive proteins and accessible vegetables with ramen noodles that fit into almost anyone’s budget.  I believe that one of the keys to our nation’s hunger issue is to increase the number of cooks in the kitchen who know how to make simple, inexpensive, nutritious meals like these.  The instant quality of ramen makes it a good first step for inexperienced cooks with limited kichens.

The celebration of chef-chic ramen bars over the past few years has spurred a re-imagining of these noodles.  Everyone from Martha Stewart to Alton Brown to David Chang (whose restaurant empire Momofuku is named for Ando) and more have contributed to the world’s ramen cookbook. 

To succeed in convincing people to cook more, keep it simple and make it delicious.  We all deserve to eat pure foods.  Here are three easy and cheap recipes that you can learn, teach to someone else or use to guide a new cook in uncertain circumstances from processed to pure foods that really satisfy.  These recipes serve two as a side, one as a main dish.

Spicy Peanut Ramen Noodles
Cook the noodles according to package instructions, leaving out the flavor packet.  Once drained, stir into the hot noodles ¼ cup peanut butter, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, a sprinkle of dried chili flakes and sliced cucumbers.  Cooked or canned chicken, chopped unsalted peanuts and sliced scallions are other tasty add-ins as are leftover cooked vegetables like broccoli or zucchini.  If you have a fresh lime, squeeze a little on top before serving. 

Mac N Cheese Ramen
Cook the noodles according to package instructions, leaving out the flavor packet. 
Once drained, stir into the hot noodles 1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese and ¼ cup milk.  Stir vigoriusly to melt the cheese.  Many people like to add chopped tomatoes, thinly sliced red or green peppers, cubed ham and/or hot sauce. 

Chicken Noodley Soup
Heat a can of low-sodium chicken broth and add a peeled and sliced carrot and sliced celery stalk.  Simmer until vegetables are tender 5-10 minutes.  Add ¼ frozen peas and noodles, leaving out the flavor packet.  Cook three minutes until noodles are tender. Remove soup from heat.  Add in sliced leftover meat like chicken or pork.  Firm tofu is nice too.  Just slice it in bite-sized pieces and gently heat it in the hot soup.  A dash of soy sauce is nice if you are adding pork or tofu.