Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tomatoes and Pears

I came home from work tonight and saw the pile of tomatoes on the counter and knew it was time to take action.  They'd been ripening there (after being plucked from my friend Rory's garden) for a week or so, slowly moving from "these are so green I don't think they could possibly ever turn red.  They must be a yellow variety," to "hey, whaddaya know, they're a little orange today," to "holy crap, I'd better figure out what the heck I'm going to do with those."  I'm not much into raw tomatoes, unless they're having a salsa party, and I made salsa last weekend.  I flipped through the index of The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook for inspiration, and suddenly I was making pizza!
My go-to weeknight pizza crust hails from Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita cookbook.  When our kitchen was destroyed by The Great Deluge a few years ago, it was one of the few cookbooks that was damaged beyond repair, but I salvaged the page with the pizza crust recipe before throwing out the soggy book.  The dough only has to rise for half an hour, and the pizza only takes 5-7 minutes to bake on a stone. The quick rise allows just the right amount of time for preheating the pizza stone and prepping all the toppings and cheese, so I didn't want to mess with making tomato sauce.  The ripest of my tomatoes were only about 1.5 inches across, so I opted for marinating them in balsamic vinegar, which soon called out for fresh herbs (from the deck), a little olive oil, and a few grinds of black pepper. 

The cheese drawer held a hunk of asiago and a small block of parmesan reggiano, which is totally worth the seemingly outrageous price- it packs so much flavor you'll never go back to that green can, and it goes a long way.  Use the small holes on your grater and you'll be amazed at how long a few ounces will last.  Also, while I'm handing out cheese advice, wait to add it as a melty topping until the last minute or two of cooking.  I don't remember where I heard this, but it's true: the flavor is best when the cheese has just been warmed.

Digging in the fridge, I came up with a red bell pepper I'd bought at the Farmer's Market on Sunday and a bunch of organic broccoli that was on sale at Central Market last weekend. Have I mentioned how fabulous that place is?  Probably.  When I need ingredients I've never heard of, they generally have what I need.  The cashiers never have to ask me what that piece of produce is, though they might occasionally confirm "water chestnuts, right?" before typing in the code.  The people who work there seem happy and relaxed.  I buy all of my spices from the bulk department there; it's much cheaper than buying them in jars, the spices are fresher, and I can buy a few tablespoons of an ingredient if I don't think I'll use it often.  Fennel seed, for example, is repulsive to me, but I'll buy a little if I'm trying a new recipe or making garam masala or something.  

I had a little extra time to kill before the dough was ready, so of course I started leafing through cookbooks, trying to figure out what to do with all the rest of the pears I'd bought on Saturday.  They were 78 cents a pound, so naturally I bought ten, with the clear image of my favorite pear cobbler in mind. I've been biking to work four times a week since the first of March, but the past few weeks I've let things get in the way ("I baked a cake. I can't carry that on my bike").  I knew the cobbler would not be easy to transport by bike, and I bake way too often for the goods to stay at home, so I had to find another pear path.  
Ozark Pudding Cake
buttery pear cupcakes

Last night I made an Ozark Pudding Cake from Julie Richardson's new book Vintage Cakes, which used up two of my lovely pears.  Tasty, but again, not too bike-friendly.  I decided to modify one of my favorite recipes from Richardson's previous book, Rustic Fruit Desserts (which I cannot recommend highly enough).  Mimi's German Apple Cake only takes about 15 minutes to assemble, and it quickly became a staple in my kitchen in circumstances when the need for cake arises out of the blue (does this happen to other people?).  Anyway, I decided that cupcakes would be more portable, so I doubled the recipe, used chopped pears instead of apple wedges, and added a little cardamom because it is so nice with pears.  The finished product was buttery, moist, and delicious.  Now I just have to figure out how to pack them in my panniers without smashing them.

Oh, right, I was making pizza!  It turned out surprisingly well with my improvised tomato vinaigrette sauce and a sparse sprinkling of cheese.  Sorry, I was busy eating and forgot to take a picture.


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