Sunday, October 17, 2010

PFB2010 Challenge #5: Polenta Pizza & Red Red Wine

I am both elated and humbled to have made it to round five in Food Buzz's first Project Food Blog.  Elated because having so many friends, family and readers weigh in positively on my blog via their votes is a source of great joy.  Also, earning approval of the #pfb2010 judges is Herculean. Who are the judges? Dana Corwin, editor-in-chief of Food + Wine Magazine, Nancy Silverton founder of La Brea Bakery and co-owner of Mozza, and Pim Techamuanvivit author of both The Foodie Handbook and the blog Chez Pim. These are food/media superstars. Herculean. That's all.

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.

tobin james

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..


tgirl said...

Fantastic evening Liz!!!! Both pooches have the same expression ..."please sir, my I have another." Guilty as charged.

Michael / South Bay Foodies said...

Wow! That sauce looks amazing...and a polenta crust!? Yum. Ah, and I am a big fan of your beverage choice. Gotta have something to wash that pizza down! :D

Anonymous said...

Interesting! Polenta pizza. Honestly say I've never tried that.

Anonymous said...

Interesting! Polenta pizza. Honestly say I've never tried that.

Kristine G said...

love the wine pairings that you include with your blog. a nice touch everyone appreciates. :)

Alisa said...

How creative! The polenta crust looks awesome :)

Amelia PS said...

interesting choice for the base!

Anna said...

That looks delicious, no wonder the dogs are drooling. lol, great job.

Isabelle said...

Polenta crust? Man, does that ever sound delicious. You can't see me right now, but I've got pretty much the same "gimme some pizza, please?" expression on my face as your pups. :)
Good luck with round 5. You've got my vote!

Food, she thought. said...

@t u are so naughty

@Michael pizza + wine. Don't mess with perfection

@gastronomnom would love to cook it for you & Amy someday

@Kristine can I get you a glass of wine?

Thank you @alisa @Amelia & @Anna!!!

Sippity Sup said...

Seeing as you frequent K&L and the SAME Whole Foods as I do I am guessing we are neighbors. You are getting my vote. It only seems "neighborly". GREG

~Lisa~ said...

My kind of night! Wine, pizza and more pizza! Voted and thanks for stopping by!

riceandwheat said...

Good friends, great wine, awesome polenta-pizzas - that's my kind of party! I love the idea of using crispy polenta as crust and must try this out myself soon. Sounded like you guys had such a lovely and delicious party!

muriqui said...

omg! it's like you're trying to teach me how to cook!
I looooooove this.

Food o' del Mundo said...

You had me at polenta crust, then you added those gorgeous vegetables and red wine. Beautiful post. You have my vote! -Katy

Food o' del Mundo said...

Polenta crust, fresh tomatoes and red wine? Wow! You've got my vote! -Katy

Reeni said...

I am really loving the polenta crust! And those delicious toppings - they are perfect with polenta. Good luck!

Libby said...

Girrrrl, you had me a POLENTA. *drool*

Lana said...

I'd also take polenta over chocolate any day:)
Love the simplicity of preparation and the rustic look of that sauce. I'd definitely go for the crispy prosciutto side.
Great post! Thanks for the wine recommendations - always nice to discover something new.
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Gluten free - yay! Looks great

Mariko said...

Awesome idea. And the veggies are mouth watering.
I just got momofuku for my bday yesterday. YES! I'm definitely doing the bacon one ASAP. I love ramen. I wish it was a little colder here so I could eat it everyday. Wait, no I don't wish it was colder here.

Winnie said...

Beautiful! Fantastic job and you have my vote, for sure ;)

Chic Cookies said...

Got my vote! Love your photography. And I've always had this polenta fear. This makes me want to conquer that!

Rachel Joyce said...

I loved the use of polenta as well as learned a lot about it. Cheers for educating your readers while they drool over your pizza. Good luck in the next round!

Cindy Waffles said...

Polenta pizza crust, that's a great idea! Looks very tasty indeed!