I am also humbled because there are still so many amazing food blogs in the running. When I entered the project, my intention was to push the boundaries of my own home cooking and hopefully refine my blogging practice. Get through a couple rounds, work hard and enjoy myself, I thought. I didn't consider that I might get this far in the contest. I am enjoying every challenging minute, making new friends and cooking like a mad woman.
The challenge this round:
One recipe, 100 variations! We're challenging each of you to put your own spin on the same recipe. How you do it is up to you. Will you try out some molecular gastronomy techniques? Share a super-secret trick? Or re-envision the dish from a different perspective? You'll be asked to put your own spin on Pizza. For the purpose of this contest and challenge, we are defining pizza as having a solid base, a sauce and at least one topping.
It's not a little daunting to be making pizza for Nancy Silverton. I mean, c'mon! And I am NO baker. Horrific flashbacks to the Great Macaron Melt-Down of 2009. So instead of tackling a traditional pizza dough I decided to make my solid base out of something I love more than chocolate: polenta. Above see one gorgeous slice of polenta pizza with ricotta, crispy olives, and turkey sausage.
This has been by far my favorite challenge. The cooking was executed in one night, in good company and with lots of red wine. Thanks to T & P for giving casa FST their support and good humor during challenge five. Above is the wine T brought. Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007. She picked this up at K&L in Hollywood, the perfect way to prime our palates for pizza. Lush black fruit, subtle tannins and a leathery finish. Many layers of flavor in this wine, I wouldn't have wanted this to be the second bottle and miss a single note.
Key players, clockwise from top left: crispy prosciutto, sliced olives, spicy turkey Italian sausage, organic cherry tomatoes. I remove the sausage from its casing and break into bite-sized chunks as it cooks.
I like this marketing feature at Whole Foods. It's nice when and where we can to actually make choices about food sourcing.
My sauce. I made the same basic sauce I make every time I make red sauce. Learned it from a college roommate who was evil incarnate but an amazing cook. A few cloves of garlic and a small diced onion sauteed in olive oil until the onion is slightly translucent. Add the cherry tomatoes and fresh oregano, sautee until tomatoes burst, releasing their liquid. Sometimes I add a little red wine and/or vinegar. This time, reaching into the cupboard I pulled out sherry vinegar and figured what the heck. This was a good non-decision. The sherry vinegar added a lovely richness to the sauce without sacrificing acidity. After the tomatoes burst and other liquids are added, sautee until reduced to the desired thickness. For pizza, I reduced this for about 45 minutes, until very thick. If I were tossing over pasta or kale, I would leave the sauce a little thinner in texture.
In theory, making the polenta crust is very easy. In practice, I learned a couple things. First, I learned that organic cornmeal from the deep bulk bins at my Whole Foods acts a lot differently than the boxed corn meal I am used to using. The cornmeal from the box quickly makes a nicely textured polenta using a 2/1 water/cornmeal ratio. Not so for the organic stuff. 2/1 yielded me a large pot of fairly dry mush. I continued to add water (I don't ever add dairy to my polenta on principle) until I achieved the desired consistency. The appropriate ratio ended up closer to 4/1 water/cornmeal. The resulting polenta was bright yellow and lusciously textured. Second self-teachable moment: riffing loosely from this recipe published in the NYTimes, I am told to use oil to make the small batches of the soft polenta more spreadable in the pizza pan. I tried this and ended up with some very oily polenta. Instead, I simply added a little more water to thin the polenta just a hair, then smoothed it into the cookie sheet I used as a pizza pan. That was easy. I was able to fill about a quarter of the pan at a time.
Above, my good friend T pours more cab. You can also see the tomato sauce spread across the cooked polenta pizza crust. Initially, the crust is cooked solo before adding sauce and toppings. Don't be afraid to cook the crust until crispy. It might shrink a little in the pan. This is ok. If you don't cook the crust until crispy, it will end up too soft and won't adequately support the toppings.
After pulling the crisp crust from the oven, start to add toppings. Tomato sauce and ricotta cheese. My cheese philosophy in a nutshell: sometimes cheese overwhelms other ingredients. Because I adore polenta, I chose a simple creamy ricotta for evenly balanced presence and flavors of all ingredients.
For textural interest, crispy prosciutto and fried olives.
Reinsert pizza into oven until warmed through. To the left is the side with crispy prosciutto, to the right is spicy Italian sausage.
Right about this time we break into a bottle of Tobin James Chateau le Cacheflow. I became acquainted with Tobin James on one of many business trips to Paso Robles. One afternoon, starting the long drive back to L.A. I stopped in for a little tasting. They make quite a few wines I adore, this is their lower end bottle. At $11.50 in the tasting room, I bought a few of this spicy/jammy Syrah/Sangiovese/Barbera blend to have on hand for whatever. Stopping in at Tobin James on the east side of town on the 46 is now a definitively established routine. The lovely folks in the tasting room know I am driving and always help me carefully choose just a couple wines to taste.
We're ready to eat and everyone waits patiently while I shoot the necessary snaps.
The three of us made some serious headway into that pizza pie, and T took some home for Chef C.
Making friends, influencing people, eating pizza and drinking red wine..