Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Padrón Pepper Margherita Pizza {gluten-free}

Margherita pizza gets an update from piquant padrón peppers, a touch of chèvre, and a gluten-free, whole-grain crust. 

Our favorite nightshades are in season and Jay and I can't get enough of the little green devils. (In fact, we're a whole family of capsicum lovers – Catamus sits at the table as we munch, eating the stems. He's weird.) Usually we fry them up with olive oil and sea salt, but when we crave something more substantial, we tuck them into tacos, press them into savory cornbread, put them on pizza, or fold them into sprouted wheat tortillas along with melted cheese, chopped cherry tomatoes, salsa and avocado.

Tiny padróns are full-flavored peppers that hail from Spain. They aren't sweet the way bell peppers are, and only about 1 in 10 or 20 is spicy, thus earning them the nickname "pepper roulette." I've heard that since peppers cross-breed easily, if you get a batch of über-hot padróns, they've probably been contaminated by a spicy cousin. My favorite farms for padróns in Northern California are Riverdog and Happy Boy; both produce consistently delicate peppers. Otherwise, the best way to go about padrón vetting is to buy a small basket, cook them up, see how many are inedibly spicy and give you hiccups when you take a teeny nibble. If they're safe, then go back to the same place and snap them up. Another way to avoid the spice is to look for peppers that are small – preferably 1-2 inches in length – and a matte dark green. As the peppers mature, they develop more heat as well as a shiny, thick skin and lighter color that eventually explodes into bright red. 

Today I put the peppers on my favorite GF pizza crust, which is full of flavorful flours and free of gums, using ground chia seed and a bit of tapioca flour to create a dough that's extensible enough to trap air bubbles and bake up into a crispy base for all manner of toppings. We couldn't wait to tuck into gooey mozzarella, juicy cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, creamy chèvre, and the star of the show: piquant padróns.

I kept this pizza pretty simple with just the usual margherita suspects plus padróns and a bit of goat cheese. But do feel free to go wild. I imagine that some other good additions here could be marinara sauce, roasted garlic, slivered red onion, olives, lemon zest, cilantro pesto, or jamon serrano for omnivores.

Look for padróns at farmer's markets and well-stocked grocers. If they aren't about, feel free to use other peppers here such as banana peppers, gypsies, bells, or even roasted poblanos or anaheims for a bit of pep in your pizza.

Buon appetiti! 

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Own the padrón:

Pizza pizza:

Padrón Pepper Margherita Pizza {gluten-free}

If gluten isn't an issue for you or your guests, feel free to use these toppings over your favorite wheaty pizza crust. (This is mine.) And just a note that my GF pizza crust recipe makes enough for two pizzas but I've listed the ingredients below for one in case you want to change it up. Look for padróns that are on the small side and dark green. And feel free to play fast and loose with the toppings; I've listed some suggestions in the post above.

Makes 1 (10-11") pizza, serving 2-3

1 parbaked gluten-free pizza crust
1 1/4 cups (2.5 ounces / 70 g) small padrón peppers, stems snipped
1 teaspoon good olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4-6 ounces (170 g) fresh mozzarella, sliced and drained on paper towels
2-3 ounces (85 g) fresh goat cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup)
1 cup (4 ounces / 113 g) cherry tomatoes, stemmed and halved
flaky salt
cracked black pepper
handful small basil leaves

Follow the instructions for parbaking the pizza crust. Keep the oven at 500ºF.

In a small bowl, toss the trimmed padróns with the olive oil.

When the crust is parbaked, top it with the mozzarella, goat cheese, halved cherry tomatoes, oiled padróns, and a good sprinkle of flaky salt and black pepper. Use a pizza peel to slip the pizza into the oven and onto the hot baking stone (or inverted baking pan). Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly, 6-10 minutes.

Use tongs to grab the pizza out of the oven and onto the pizza peel, then transfer to a large cutting board. Drizzle with olive oil, top with the fresh basil leaves, and use a pizza wheel or large, sharp chef's knife to cut it into 6 pieces. Serve immediately.

Leftovers will keep well, refrigerated airtight, for up to 2 days. The best way to reheat them is to place pizza slices in a cast iron skillet over low heat and warm, uncovered, until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Raspberry, Lillet + Lemon Verbena Popsicles

Chill out with a boozy popsicle (a.k.a. poptail) kissed with fresh lemon verbena, citrusy Lillet, and raspberries.

There's a small garden a few blocks from our apartment that is downright magical. It's a permaculture garden full of fruiting and vegetable-ing plants suited to our specific microclimate here on Potrero Hill. It's used to teach people how to garden, and it's open to anyone who wants to come plant, harvest, weed or mulch.

This ever-evolving space is run by the Urban Permaculture Institute of San Francisco. I consider it a small miracle that this little garden hasn't been bulldozed to make room for a four-story stack of condos, like most other lots in the neighborhood. The owner must be a saint.

My favorite aspect of this garden is the giant bush of lemon verbena that blossoms into the sidewalk. Right now it’s abloom with tiny lavender flowers. I always rub a leaf or two as I walk by for some instant aromatherapy; the bright, citrusy scent never fails to lift my spirits. And the fact that this plant exists where it does gives me a small glimmer of hope for humankind.

It also makes me crave poptails.

I got the notion to pair the lemon verbena with berries and Lillet Blanc, a citrus-kissed wine-based aperitif that I adore in the summertime (and, who am I kidding? all the time).

I first tried making the pops with blueberries. They were tasty, but the flavor of the berries muddied the brighter citrus notes of the herb and booze. Also, the berries oxidized, turning the pops a not-so-pretty purple-brown. Raspberries turned out to be the perfect pairing, making hot pink pops that sing with flavor. I'm guessing that ripe strawberries would work well, too.

The alcohol in the Lillet keeps these grown-up treats from freezing rock-hard, which is kind on one's teeth, though you’ll want to eat them straight from the freezer lest they turn prematurely slushy. Woe betide she who tries to photograph these on a warm day…

If you’re looking for more popsicle love, you're in luck: it's popsicle week, as hosted by Wit and Vinegar! Peruse all the offerings on this pin board, and you can even score a hard copy of my tayberry rose geranium buttermilk popsicles this month in Click Magazine.

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Raspberry, Lillet + Lemon Verbena Popsicles 

Makes 10 popsicles

½ cup (100 g) organic granulated cane sugar 
1 cup (235 ml) water 
¼ cup lightly packed lemon verbena leaves 
 2 ½ cups (10 ounces / 285 g) raspberries, plus extra for the molds 
1-2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon juice (to taste) 
1 cup (235 ml) Lillet Blanc

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, remove from the heat, add the lemon verbena, and let steep 30 minutes. Strain the mixture, squeezing the leaves to extract all the flavor. Discard the leaves. 

Add the lemon verbena syrup to a food processor with the raspberries and smaller amount of lemon juice. Pulse until broken down, about 10 1-second pulses. Pour the raspberry mixture through a fine mesh sieve and work the mixture through, leaving behind the seeds. Stir in the Lillet, taste, and add more lemon juice if you feel the mixture needs it. 

Divide the puree among your popsicle molds. If they don't come all the way to the top, add some halved raspberries, pressing them down. 

Freeze the popsicles until firm, at least 3 hours and up to several days. To remove, dip a mold in a cup filled with hot tap water for 5 seconds, then remove. These popsicles freeze fairly soft due to the alcohol, so devour immediately or re-freeze once removed from the mold. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Baked Green Chilaquiles with Sweet Corn + Summer Squash {gluten-free}

Homemade tortilla chips coated in a nap of tomatillo salsa and tossed with summer squash and corn make a cozy nest for baked eggs and a dose of melty cheese. A gluten-free and vegetarian recipe. 

I've been waiting all year to make a summery version of the baked chilaquiles that Erika and I concocted last winter. The originals, made with red enchilada sauce, kale and black beans, have become a favorite meal in our house to throw together for dinner or brunch. This version gets a warm-weather update from sweet corn, sauteed zucchini and shallot, and tomatillo salsa. Also ALL THE CHEESE. We could eat these for days (and luckily the recipe makes enough so that we will!).

Baking your own tortilla chips in the oven is easy-peasy, and results in a lighter version than the more traditional frying method. The chips get tossed with green salsa and vegetables, then topped with cheese and eggs that bake right into the chips. The long slow bake makes the eggs slightly custardy underneath their crispy tops. The whole thing is not unlike deconstructed and way less fussy enchiladas. Or really saucy nachos. We are fans. 

Also, how cool is my friend Amelia who made this beautiful bowl by hand, and also inspired the original baked chilaquiles by coming over for an impromptu brunch when I happened to have a jar of enchilada sauce in the cupboard? She is the best. 

Come late summer, I look forward to making this dish with homemade tomatillo salsa. Until then, the storebought stuff works beautifully and makes this a doable dish for when you need foods in a hurry. I'm obsessed with the mild stuff from Santipapas which is organic and made here in San Francisco. Frontera also works well and is widely available, and sometimes you can find fresh salsas made locally in the refrigerated section of grocers. 

Feel free to mix up the vegetable matter here, too; the recipe is quite flexible and takes well to all sorts of variations. Fresh shelling beans would be pretty special, as would bell or poblano peppers. 

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Feel free to double this recipe and bake it in a lasagna pan to serve a crowd.

Makes 4 servings

For the chilaquiles:

10 (6") corn tortillas, cut into sixths
3 tablespoons (45 ml) light cooking oil (such as sunflower; divided use)
sea or kosher salt, as needed
1 (16-ounce / 475 ml) jar green salsa (such as Frontera or homemade; mild or medium depending how you like it), plus a little extra for serving if you like
2 medium zucchini (8 ounces / 225 g)
2 medium ears sweet corn
1 small shallot (or 1/2 a small yellow onion) peeled and thinly sliced
4-6 large eggs
3/4 cup packed, grated mild melting cheese such as jack or goat gouda (3 ounces / 85 g)

For serving:
chevre, feta, or cotija cheese, crumbled
cilantro leaves
a large handful cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
lime wedges
1 or 2 ripe avocados, sliced
sour cream or thick, whole milk yogurt

Make the chips:
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 400ºF.

Cut the tortillas into sixths and divide between two rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle each pan with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a few pinches of salt, and toss with your hands to coat lightly. Spread the tortillas in an even layer and bake until golden and crisp, 10-15 minutes. They will be a little toothsome but will soften up considerably when salsa-ed and baked.

Make the chilaquiles:
Trim the ends off the zucchini and cut them into fairly thin rounds. Shuck the corn and holding a cob in a shallow bowl by one end, use a paring knife to cut off the kernels.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wide skillet set over a medium flame. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally until tender, 5 minutes. Add the sliced zucchini and a big pinch of salt, and cook until crisp-tender, 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place the tortilla chips in a large bowl, pour in the salsa, and toss with your hands to coat. Fold in the cooked zucchini mixture and the corn kernels. Oil a large baking dish (I use an 8x12-inch oval one) and spread in the tortilla mixture and any sauce hanging out on the bottom of the bowl. Bake until the chips are hot and starting to crisp a bit around the edges, 10-15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle on the cheese. Use the back of a soup spoon to make 4-6 divots in the chips (depending on how many eggs you want). Carefully crack the eggs into the divots and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt. Return to the oven and bake until the eggs are set to your liking, 12-18 minutes. (Alternatively, you can fry the eggs in a skillet to order if not serving the chilaquiles all at once.)

Remove the chilaquiles from the oven, scatter the cotija, tomatoes and cilantro over the top, and serve immediately with the salsa, avocado, sour cream, and lime wedges for drizzling over the tops.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Caprese Gazpacho

Italian salad meets Spanish soup in this icy gazpacho filled with the flavors of caprese: balsamic vinegar, basil, fresh mozzarella, and loads of tomatoes. A naturally gluten-free recipe. 

Meet my new favorite soup.

At least, it will be for approximately 2 more minutes. 

See, gazpacho is a warm weather thing – something that doesn't really happen here in San Francisco. When it does, it lasts precisely long enough for me to buy gazpacho ingredients, lug them home, make gazpacho, and chill gazpacho. The moment I pour myself a bowl of icy tomato soup, kissed with chile, herbs and vinegar, Karl the Fog rolls in, laughing his ass off. "How do you like your pathetic cold soup now?" I hear him mocking. (Actually, I love Karl because he's keeping my kitchen at a sensible temperature for baking recipes for my book. But still. We have our moments.)

The last time Karl foiled my gazpacho plans was about 8 years ago. By the time he took off again and let the sun shine in, we opened the container to find the gazpacho frothing and fermented. We promptly threw it out. Racked with guilt at wasting so many precious tomatoes, I hadn't gazpachoed since. 

This time, gazpacho and I got to spend one day together. Inspired by the juicy leavings in the bottom of a bowl of a chopped up caprese salad that Jay's been making (milky mozzarella whey, syrupy balsamic vinegar, peppery olive oil, salt and pepper, basil bits, and most importantly plenty of fresh heirloom tomato juice) I whipped up some gazpacho with similar ingredients, adding cucumber, chile and avocado for some traditional flavors and crunch. I tested the recipe yesterday, when my personal assistant (a.k.a., my really awesome niece) was over. We sweltered and drank cocktails as she entered expenses into a spreadsheet and researched cute electric fans for my studio (a.k.a., our living room) and I pureed tomatoes in the kitchen. We sat down to a couple of cool bowls and inhaled the revivifying contents. 

Today I made a second round in order to tweak a couple of things and take pictures. Like clockwork, the sky clouded up as I put the final touches on the bowls. 

Suddenly it was drizzling. 

Ah well, this gazpacho is too good to be wasted. Plus it's filled with cheese, so it manages to appeal even on a cooler evening like this one. We accompanied bowls with sweet corn polenta topped with sauteed zucchini and basil pesto, and, shivering, reveled in summer's bounty.

Many gazpacho recipes call for peeling and seeding tomatoes, but I found that this method works better and is a zillion times easier: chop the tomatoes, pulse them in a food processor, then press them through a strainer, working as much of the liquid bits though as you can. The skin and seeds get left behind, leaving you with a silky puree. In go some chopped ingredients and flavorings, and voilà: buon appetito.

Or should I say, "disfrute de su comida?"

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Summery Soups:

Caprese Gazpacho

Exact quantities will vary based on how sweet/acidic/juicy your tomatoes are, so don't be afraid to tweak things to your liking as you go. Do use the ripest, juiciest tomatoes you can find; heirlooms, beefsteaks, early girls, or dry farmed tomatoes are all good options. Look for specimens that feel heavy for their size and are uniform in color.

Makes 4 servings as a light meal, 6-8 as a starter

2 1/4 pounds (1 kg) ripe red tomatoes, stem bit removed and cut into large chunks (5-6 cups)
3 medium garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 small shallot, chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/4 - 1/2 a jalapeño, seeded and minced (optional, if you like a bit of heat)
4 ice cubes
2 tablespoons (30 ml) balsamic vinegar, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon (15 ml) flavorful olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/2 teaspoons (9 ml) red wine vinegar
2 cups (275 g) cherry tomatoes, stemmed and halved (or quartered if large)
3/4 cup (90 g) finely diced cucumber
a large handful basil leaves, finely chopped (~1/4 cup) plus more for garnish
a good grating fresh black pepper
2 (8-ounce / 225 g) containers fresh small mozzarella balls (ciliegine), drained and halved or quartered
1 large avocado, chilled, peeled, pitted and cubed

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the tomatoes, garlic, shallot, jalapeño and salt (you may need to blend this in batches depending on the size of your food processor). Puree smooth. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh (though not super-fine, as that will take forever) sieve set over a large bowl. Use a flexible silicone spatula to work the liquid through, pressing on the solids to extract as much of the good stuff as you can. You should have about 4 cups of liquid. Discard the pulp.

Add the ice cubes to the tomato juice; they will help chill it down quickly and loosen the mixture a bit which you will want once you add all the goodies. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, red wine vinegar, sliced cherry tomatoes, diced cucumber, chopped basil leaves and black pepper. Stir until the ice is melted and the soup is cold. Taste, adding more salt or vinegar if you feel the soup needs it. The flavors will continue to emerge as the soup sits. Serve now, or chill for up to 2 days.

When ready to serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with the mozzarella balls, avocado, and a drizzle of olive oil, and a few torn basil leaves.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wasabi Caesar Salad {gluten-free}

An eggless Caesar salad recipe gets a kick in the pants from a dose of wasabi paste, smoked salmon, nori crisps, and crunchy vegetables. 

First off, I want to say THANK YOU for all the kind notes regarding my soon-to-be cookbook! I've been overwhelmed by the sweet and supportive comments, emails, Twitterings, Facebookings, and even (!) Google+ love coming at me all week. Getting to share this big piece of news with you all has made the whole thing feel so much more real, and fun to boot. I'm all warm and fuzzy.

Speaking of warm and fuzzy, my nineteen-year-old niece Cierra is one of my very favorite people in the world. She's loving, personable, gracious, smart, talented, gorgeous, and a billion other positive adjectives. I feel incredibly lucky to have her in my life. 

I felt especially lucky today when, home for the summer and needing some extra work to fund her Manhattan lifestyle the next school year (she studies theater at a conservatory in New York) she agreed to do some personal assistant type work for me, a.k.a. boring-ass crap that piles up on your to-do list, gnawing away at you day after day as you try to shove your growing anxiety aside and do more urgent work. For example, "renew passport" has been on my list since mine expired 5 years ago. With no plans to leave the country, I managed to find something more important to do every day for the last 5 years. And yet I anticipated the day when I would wish to travel, have no passport, and resort to being smuggled away in a car trunk/duffel bag. If I managed to procrastinate this simple task during 5 years of Bojon and part-time employment, I certainly wasn't about to prioritize it over writing a freaking book. Cierra to the rescue! 

Today was one of the best days of my life. 

While Cierra cheerfully made my life worth living once more, I made this salad, in between apologizing for the tedium I was inflicting upon her and trying to feed her things in order to quell my guilt. The inspiration comes from Samovar, my favorite place to have tea and healthy bites in the city. I took Cierra there earlier this year for a day of aunt-niece bonding while she was in town for winter break. We met at Kabuki for a long soak, had tea and lunch afterwards, and then got our booties kicked by my favorite yoga teacher. One of the dishes we shared was Samovar's wasabi caesar salad. It could have been the post-sauna bliss, or getting to spend the day with my favorite person, but I wanted to marry that salad. It was cold, briny, creamy, crunchy, and kicky with just enough wasabi to keep things interesting. 

Determined to re-create it at home, I got the best wasabi I could find, which was powdered real wasabi. Real, fresh wasabi root is extremely expensive and hard to find, and the stuff we usually get in the states is actually horseradish colored green, freeze-dried and rehydrated. I mixed the powder up with the usual Caesar suspects (minus the raw eggs which give me the creeps): anchovy, garlic, lemon, oil and mayonnaise for emulsion. The resulting dressing was incredibly bitter, nothing like Samovar's. I switched to less expensive wasabi powder with the same disappointing results. I finally purchased a tube of wasabi paste, and bingo: the assertive wasabi spice I was after. Fake wasabi FTW.

Crispy nori snacks stand in for the croutons here, and I throw in some vegetables frequently found in Japanese cuisine in the states: radish, cucumber, and avocado. Sarah's lovely salad inspired me to add a sprinkle of black sesame seeds. Smoked salmon adds the protein needed to turn this into a nourishing meal worthy of serving to your favorite person. 

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Salad Days:

Wasabi Caesar Salad

Feel free to add or subtract what you like from this salad. I can imagine edamame, scallions, kaiware sprouts or daikon or watermelon radish making lovely additions. The dressing is so flavorful on its own that it could make a nice dip for crudités. I love a good kale caesar and think this recipe would work equally well with torn dino kale in place of the lettuce. You want the flaky, hot-smoked salmon for the fish here rather than the more thinly sliced and cold-smoked lox.

Dressing (makes enough for several salads):
1 large clove garlic, crushed and peeled
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon (15 ml) wasabi paste, more or less to taste (I used 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)
1/4 cup (60 ml) good-quality mayonnaise
1/4 cup (60 ml) sunflower oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)
1 teaspoon tamari (or soy sauce if not gluten-free)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon juice

Salad (makes 1 large or 2 small servings):
4 cups little gem lettuce (or romaine hearts) leaves, rinsed and spun dry
1/4 of a medium cucumber, thinly sliced (1/4 cup)
2 medium radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced (1/4 cup)
~2 tablespoons dressing from above
4 ounces (115 g) smoked salmon, broken up into large pieces (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup shaved parmesan (1 ounce / 30 g)
1/2 a large avocado, ripe but firm, peeled and cut into chunks
a big pinch black sesame seeds
a few nori crisps, torn

Make the dressing:
If you have a mortar and pestle, work together the garlic, anchovy and salt to a paste. Work in the wasabi, then the mayonnaise. Slowly drizzle in the oil, stirring or whisking constantly to form an emulsion, then stir in the tamari and lemon juice. (Otherwise, put the garlic through a press, mince the anchovy as finely as you can, and whisk in the remaining ingredients as described.) Taste, adding more wasabi, lemon, salt, or tamari if you feel the dressing needs it. The flavors will come out as the dressing sits. Cover and chill until needed, or up to 1 week. 

Make the salad:
In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, cucumber and radishes. Drizzle with the dressing (it will be thick) and use clean hands to toss until evenly coated. Gently toss in the smoked salmon, parmesan and avocado. Sprinkle with the sesame and nori strips and serve immediately.