April 15, 2013

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Pizza Dough, and Favorite Toppings

This pizza-dough recipe comes from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, one of my very favorite food-related books.

It is well-written. This is a book full of carefully crafted thoughts and essays by a talented writer. After reading this book, I read one of her novels, The Poisonwood Bible, which was also a really good book.

Ready for toppings
The gist of AVM is that Kingsolver and her family devote a year to experiencing what it is like to grow and raise most of their own food and buy the rest locally, aside from a few far-away necessities like flour, coffee, and chocolate. They roast and freeze their own peppers, slaughter their own turkeys, freeze and can tomatoes, can tomato sauce, hang garlic in a braid in their kitchen, store carrots in sand in their basement. She says in the book that through all of their gardening, planting, harvesting, and preserving, for "several full-steam-ahead weeks last summer, in countless different ways, we'd made dinner ahead" for the winter. So when people ask what local fare they could possibly be eating in January, her answer is "Everything." Spaghetti sauce over pasta doesn't seem like such a lame, quick meal when you've made the sauce yourself from ripe tomatoes. If you've thought ahead in the spring and summer, you have all sorts of great local options come winter. 

I had never thought that much about preserving when we rented a house, other than jam and pesto and cutting the kernels off of sweet corn in late summer and freezing it. Even while I had had my eyes opened by getting to know and eating in abundance all those CSA vegetables from May to October, I had bought into the assumption that because I lived in New Hampshire, winter was the season of not eating nearly as well or as deliciously. But Ms. Kingsolver opened my eyes to the fact that it didn't have to be that way! I could take charge and plan ahead!  

She elevated the level of thought I gave to my garden after we bought a house, helping me to think of gardening as where cooking begins, and preserving as a natural offshoot of gardening. I got excited about the romance of feeding us-- at least in part-- on what I had grown and tended in our own backyard, and about more purposefully seeking out the wonderful local foods we have here in the Upper Valley. For the last few years, our food life has improved as I've been learning to freeze plum tomatoes and cherry tomatoes whole, freeze trimmed, blanched green beans, can spaghetti sauce and stewed tomatoes and salsa, and keep a gardening journal to record when I plant things, what works and what doesn't, as well as my canning exploits to refer to from year to year. 

Roasted vegetable and ricotta pizza
I also love that in the book she writes lovingly about cooking. She talks about making her own pasta, making homemade mozzarella, the everyday smell of homemade bread, about favorite salads and casseroles and techniques in the kitchen and it all being very much a part of the pulse of their lives. 

I think cooking can be a really pleasant activity, and a thoughtful thing you do with and for your family. I've read other literature lobbying for the importance of cooking (and I can't wait for a new Michael Pollan book I've pre-ordered on the topic out this month) but this was one of the first I read and she was so eloquent. She questions the prioritizing of quick and easy, and wrote, "if grabbing fast food is the only way to get the kids to their healthy fresh-air soccer practice on time, that's an interesting call." It was refreshing to read something that said you should cook, and you do have time for it, and it is worth it. 

One of the many sensible points about cooking in the book is that if cooking good food becomes a routine (vs. a special occasion), then it becomes easier and more natural. An example is making homemade pizza for dinner Friday nights. They make this simple pizza dough that only needs to rise for half an hour and use whatever toppings they have on hand that are seasonal and/or preserved and delicious. The kids and any friends that are over can weigh in on what they want and help create the pizzas. By making it weekly, the recipe and the practice of making this homemade meal becomes ingrained and effortless. By having no-fuss, fall-back regulars that you always have the ingredients for-- flour, salt, oil, yeast, preserved tomatoes and other good veggies-- as she says, "Takeout is not the only easy way out." Homemade pizza is one way to cook simply, use anything and everything from the garden, and eat well any night.

Roasted red peppers and olives
Feta, caramelized onion, and spinach

Pesto pizza

Pizza with pear, goat cheese, and candied pecans, topped with arugula with lemon vinaigrette
We don't always eat pizza Friday night, but we eat it a lot. But her point about routines is key. I love the idea that cooking is something worth creating routines for. 

Lately, if we're having pizza for dinner, I mix up the dough in the morning before work and let it rise for the 30 - 40 minutes it takes, then plunk it in a bowl and put it in the fridge for the day. Mixing it takes about 2 minutes active time while drinking coffee. When I get home, I cut the ball in half, roll each out, top, and bake.

Pizza Dough
from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

3 t yeast
1 1/2 C warm water
3 T olive oil
1 t salt
2 1/2 C all-purpose white flour
2 C whole wheat flour

In stand mixer with dough hook attached, dissolve yeast into warm water and add oil and salt. Mix the flours with each other, then knead them into the liquid mixture. Let dough rise 30 to 40 minutes. (I let it rise in a ball on a floured pizza stone in a warm spot.)

Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a 12-inch round. Using rolling pin to help, slide the round onto a cornmeal-dusted pizza stone. Use your fingers to fold over the perimeter into a crust.

Sprinkle with cheese, then tomatoes, then toppings, then a drizzle of oil and season with salt and pepper or other seasonings (if using tomato sauce rather than tomatoes, do that first, then cheese, then other toppings). Bake at 425 for 15 - 20 minutes until crust is brown and crisp.

Notes on tomatoes for pizza: 
My favorite thing of all is to cover a layer of mozzarella with a layer of fresh sliced tomatoes and then whatever other toppings of choice that go on the pizza. When you don't have fresh tomatoes or sauce, but want that tomato base, here are three things I've done in the winter months:
  1. Frozen plum tomatoes. I slice off the stem end and freeze them whole in freezer bags. Then I take out about 5 or 6 plums per pizza, let them warm up on the counter while the dough is rising. By the time I've rolled out the dough, they are just soft enough to be sliced, but not soft enough to be mushy. I lay them neatly on the pizza and they look so pretty and taste great and you'd never know they'd been in the freezer for months.
  2. Frozen grape/cherry tomatoes. I freeze the incredibly sweet yellow and red grape tomatoes whole in freezer bags. I take out a few handfuls (more than you think for one pizza) and saute them in a pan with some oil and salt and dried basil until they are thawed and some have burst and the excess liquid is gone. They are so delicious and sweet all by themselves with no other toppings on top of a layer of mozzarella. 
  3. Canned tomatoes. One other simple option in lieu of sauce is to simmer in a pan a can of drained diced tomatoes with a tablespoon or so of oil and some salt and until they have soaked up most of the oil. Then spread this on pizza. Or simply drain some canned diced tomatoes and sprinkle those on pizza, drizzle with oil, and season with salt and pepper. 
Favorite pizza toppings:
  • Mozzarella, tomato slices, fresh (or dried) basil
  • Mozzarella, chopped tomatoes, caramelized onions 
  • Mozzarella, yellow and/or red grape tomatoes simmered with oil, salt, and basil
  • Mozzarella, chopped tomatoes, corn, cheddar, cilantro
  • Mozzarella, crumbled feta, chopped tomatoes, caramelized onion and green pepper, kalamata olives or sliced black olives
  • Mozzarella, chopped or sliced tomatoes, finely chopped spinach or kale or swiss chard (a pile of chard cooks down quite a bit) 
  • Mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, Vermont Smoke and Cure pepperoni (not as healthful as veggies, but it is the best pepperoni!)
  • Roasted vegetables and ricotta cheese-- amazingly delicious and great way to use leftovers (will post this combination in more detail) 
  • Mozzarella, feta, spinach, and caramelized/sauteed onion
  • Pesto, sliced plum tomatoes, and mozzarella
  • Mozzarella, tomatoes, roasted red pepper slices and Kalamata olives
  • Goat cheese, pear, candied walnuts, topped after baking with arugula tossed in lemon vinaigrette

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