kale pizza

Thursday, February 6, 2014

It’s a cliché by now to talk about the beautiful simplicity of Italian cooking, but on a weeknight it becomes a very attractive culinary philosophy. I love cooking complicated dishes on the weekends, but most evenings I just want to make something delicious with a few ingredients. That’s why this kale pizza has become one of my favorite go-to recipes. That is, if you can even call it a recipe. It’s so simple, it’s really more of a technique.

The secret is to begin your pizza on the stove to get the bottom nice and spotted, and to finish it under the broiler which crisps the kale and creates an intriguing textural contrast with the soft cheese and fluffy crust. Loading it up with good olive oil makes it even more delicious. It’s very Neapolitan in style without the trouble of a wood-burning oven. If you can’t find cavolo nero (Tuscan kale), regular curly kale can work well, too, but it will be a bit more voluminous.

Makes two 10” pizzas

1 lb pizza dough, room temperature (store bought or homemade)
8 oz fresh mozzarella
1 medium bunch of cavolo nero (Tuscan/dinosaur/lacinato kale)
Good olive oil
3 cloves garlic
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano

On a floured surface, cut the pizza dough into two equal-sized portions and stretch them slightly into a disk. Let the dough rest as you prepare the toppings.

Remove the ribs from the kale leaves and tear them into roughly 2-inch squares. Toss the kale with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a bowl, rubbing and massaging the leaves so they’re evenly glossy. Thinly slice the garlic (or mince it if you don’t like large pieces).

Stretch one ball of pizza dough until it’s about 10 or 11 inches in diameter, being careful not to crush the edges so you’ll have a nice, bubbly crust.

Heat a very large (12”) skillet or frying pan over a medium-high flame and begin heating your broiler, adjusting the rack so your pan will just barely fit under it. You don’t want to use nonstick here—as long as you don’t burn the pizza, it won’t adhere. After about two minutes, your pan should be hot. Gently place the stretched dough in the pan, and have all your toppings at hand so you can top it very quickly. First, brush the dough with 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil, then sprinkle with half the sliced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Using your fingers, tear half the mozzarella into chunks and scatter them across the pizza, then spread half the kale over the cheese. You’ll want to use more kale than you would think necessary as it will shrink significantly.

Once you’re done topping the pizza, gently use a spatula to check the bottom. Once it has browned (or slightly blackened) in places, gently loosen the entire pizza with a spatula to be sure it hasn’t stuck. Move the whole pan under the broiler. You’ll want to shift it around during cooking to make sure the top browns evenly. It’s done when the kale and crust have nicely browned on the edges. Carefully remove the pan from the oven with oven mitts and use a spatula to move the pizza to a cutting board. Sprinkle it with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve it while you begin working on the next pizza, going through the same steps and using the rest of the toppings.

the best lentils

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I've finally done it. I've found the lentil recipe of my dreams. I always have so much hope for lentils, but in the end they're usually somewhat bland. I've always wanted to replicate the best lentils at Indian restaurants, but no matter how many spices I add, I've never quite been able to get it right. The answer, of course, can be found in Ottolenghi's Plenty, and the solution is a whole bunch of cilantro. If you're not a cilantro fan, this recipe will turn you off, but if you can't get enough of it, then by all means make these lentils as soon as you can.

What I love about Plenty is that every dish is so full of flavor: herbs, spices, fats. Too much vegetarian food tries so hard to be "healthy" that flavor moves into the background. You just can't build flavor without fat. We're hard-wired to enjoy food with a good lipid backbone, so feel free to add it with abandon on occasion. (Although, to be fair, even I cut down on the amount of butter stirred into this dish at the end. No need to guild the lily.)

As usual with Ottolenghi, it can be a struggle to find all of the ingredients for this recipe, but a good Indian grocer should have most of these things. The curry leaves in particular can be difficult to find, but they really add a nice element and I wouldn't recommend forgoing them. We made these after being cooped up in the house all day for Hurricane Sandy. I feared that the power would go out halfway through cooking and we would be left with a pot of inedible hard lentils, but thankfully we made it through the storm unscathed.

Ottolenghi's spiced red lentils with cucumber yogurt
(with a few small changes)

1 cup split red lentils
1.5 cups water
1 bunch cilantro (rinsed if gritty) (about 3.5 cups)
1 small onion, peeled
2.5 inches peeled ginger
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 thai green chile, seeds removed
1.5 tsp brown mustard seeds
4 tbsp peanut oil
1.5 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
10 curry leaves
1.75 cups canned chopped tomatoes (I used crushed tomatoes, but you can use whole tomatoes and crush them during cooking with a spoon)
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp fenugreek (optional)
.75 cup Greek yogurt
.75 cup finely diced and peeled cucumber
1.5 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1.5 tbsp lime juice

Rinse the lentils in a colander under running water, then soak in 1.5 cups of water for 30 minutes.

Cut the cilantro bunch somewhere in the middle to separate the leafy parts from the stemmy parts. Chop the leaves roughly and set aside. Throw the stalks into a food processor with the roughly chopped onion, ginger, garlic, and chile. Pulse a few times to finely chop everything without turning into a paste. I suppose this could also be done by hand.

Put the mustard seeds into a heavy pot and set on medium heat. When they begin to pop, add the peanut oil and then the chopped onion mixture. Reduce heat to low and stir for about 10 minutes. Grind the coriander and cumin in a spice grinder (or use the preground stuff if you're not a fanatic like me) and add it to the pot along with the turmeric, paprika, and curry leaves. Continue cooking and stirring for a few minutes.

Add the lentils and their soaking liquid, with the tomatoes, sugar, and fenugreek. Add a pinch of salt. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are fully cooked.

Mix the yogurt, cucumber, olive oil, and a bit of salt, and allow to sit at room temperature.

Stir in the butter, lime juice, and chopped cilantro leaves (reserving a few for garnish). Season with salt to taste. I served it with brown basmati rice and the yogurt and a few cilantro leaves spooned over the top.

ana sortun's whipped feta

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ana Sortun owns an expensive but very good restaurant in Cambridge called Oleana, but she also owns the much more reasonable Sofra bakery. I took Richy there on his very first trip to Boston and we've been visiting occasionally ever since. Sortun's food is full of fresh, Turkish flavors and is perfect when your spirits need a bit of a lift.

The best thing to order at Sofra is the mezze platter, for which you choose a selection of five prepared vegetables, many of which are also on the menu at Oleana. Our favorites are the beet tzatziki, muhammara (walnut-red pepper spread), and the whipped feta, which is a blend of sweet and hot peppers with feta cheese. It's perfect when spread on their very good za'atar bread and is great as an appetizer. With bread and a salad, it could also be a full meal.

The recipe calls for goat or sheep's milk French feta, which I was able to find at Russo's in Watertown, along with Bulgarian and Greek fetas. I hardly knew that Bulgarian feta existed and felt as if I had entered a feta wonderland. There were so many types that I started at the selection for a few minutes, examining the various packages as harried shoppers tried to elbow me out of the way. If you're unable to find such an extensive feta selection, I'm sure the supermarket stuff would work just fine. French feta is a bit creamier and milder, but I hardly think it would break the dish to try something different. The recipe also recommends a blend of Urfa and Aleppo peppers, but it seemed foolhardy to add new items to my already overflowing spice collection. In a pinch, you can probably substitute regular red pepper flakes.

With the weather turning colder and a hurricane raging along the East coast, it feels wonderful to bring a bit of Mediterranean sun onto the table. The bright, rich flavors of this dish are just what I need on this rainy day. We enjoyed it with a beautiful watercress, pear, and fennel salad from Nigel Slater's "Kitchen Diaries." The pears right now are perfect and they won't last much longer.

Whipped feta
adapted from Ana Sortun

8 oz French feta (preferably sheep or goat milk)
1 red bell pepper
1.5 tsp dried Aleppo pepper
1/4 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbs olive oil

Line a baking sheet with tin foil and roast the red pepper under the broiler, turning it so that it blackens all over. Let it cool slightly, then peel, seed, and chop it roughly.

Crumble the feta into the bowl of a food processor and add the pepper and the rest of the ingredients. Process for about 2 minutes until smooth. Garnish with Aleppo pepper.

Za'atar bread

1 lb frozen pizza dough, thawed and left at room temperature for an hour or so (I get this in the Whole Foods freezer section).
1 tbsp za'atar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Place a pizza stone on a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 500 degrees (or hotter, if your oven allows) for 30 minutes. On a floured pizza peel, stretch your pizza dough so it's about 18 inches in diameter. Using your fingers, create dimples all over the dough for the oil to collect in. Drizzle the oil over and then sprinkle with za'atar and salt. Slide the dough onto your pizza stone and cook until golden brown on top, which should only take a few minutes. Let cool slightly, cut into thin strips, and serve.

Watercress, pear, and fennel salad
from Nigel Slater

1 bunch watercress, trimmed of tough ends, washed, and spun dry
1 large slightly crisp pear, cut into thin wedges
1 large bulb fennel, thinly sliced (preferable with a mandolin)

For the dressing
1 lime, juiced
3 tbs lightly flavored olive oil
salt, to taste

Whisk the dressing together, remembering that it should be slightly salty and toss with the rest of the ingredients on a platter.

roasted mushroom lasagna

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I have been plotting a mushroom lasagna ever since I discovered how inexpensive mushrooms are at my local Chinese market. Obviously, Ina Garten's recipe is a touchstone, but I wanted to try something a bit different. I was sure, however, that like Ina, I wanted something with bechamel and no tomatoes or ricotta. I wanted something like the original lasagna bolognese, bubbling on top with browned besciamella (which is, incidentally, the Italian word for bechamel and tons of fun to say. Richy may have judged me for the number of times I said "besciamella" for no reason while I was cooking).

But I also wanted intense mushroom flavor, which I felt was somewhat missing from Ina's recipe. Clearly, I need to make ROASTED MUSHROOM LASAGNA. Roasted mushrooms are so much more flavorful than sauteed mushrooms. I suppose more of the water in the mushrooms evaporates during roasting so the flavors are more concentrated. The trade-off is that the texture can turn leathery if you overcook them even the slightest bit, so take care that you take them out before that stage. It's best to taste them along the way to be sure.

I used a mix of cremini, maitake, shiitake, and brown beech mushrooms. I roasted the smaller and more exotic varieties on a separate baking sheet because they cook a bit faster than the creminis. In a pinch, you can of course use only cremini, portabella, or even white mushrooms and the flavor won't be too impacted, but I enjoy variety. The important thing is that they're well-roasted and appropriately layered with besciamella and parmigiano, because nothing can taste bad when smothered in this much dairy. It makes for a decadent fall meal, but it's easily brightened with a simple green salad. It pairs very well with an acidic Italian wine (like a Barbera) to cut through the richness.

Roasted Mushroom Lasagna


3/4 lb dried lasagna noodles
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano

For the besciamella
4 cups whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg

For the mushrooms
3/4 lb cremini (baby bella) mushrooms
3/4 lb mixed mushrooms (maitake, brown beech, oyster, shiitake)
4 tbs unsalted butter
1 tbs olive oil
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 large onion, peeled
salt (about 1 tsp)
freshly ground black pepper (about 1/2 tsp)

Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the cremini mushrooms into 1/2 to 3/8-inch thick slices and spread on a large baking sheet. Pull apart or slice the other mushrooms as appropriate, so they are generally all the same size. Spread them on another baking sheet. Slice the onion into rings 1/4 inch thick and divide between the two baking sheets. Melt the butter and drizzle it over the two pans of mushrooms, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme (I also used a bit of fresh rosemary, but only a single branch) to taste. Toss the mushrooms and then add olive oil as needed to coat them thinly. Place the pans in the oven and check on them after 10 minutes, stirring as needed. The ones on the edges of the pan will cook faster, so it's good to mix them occasionally. You will also want to rotate the baking sheets so the same one isn't always on the top rack. Check on them again after another 10 minutes. They will be ready when they begin to brown and smell intensely fragrant. Mine were done in about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, start the besciamella. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. In a larger pan, melt the stick of butter. When the foam begins to subside, add the flour and stir vigorously for about a minute with a whisk. Add the hot milk and continue stirring continuously for a full five minutes. You may want to set a timer, because the 5 minutes will seem to pass very slowly. What you want is a very thick sauce. Once thickened, remove the sauce from the heat and add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook according to the package directions. Drain and pull apart so the noodles don't stick while you're assembling the lasagna.

Preheat the oven to 375. Start the assembly by spooning enough sauce into a 9 X 12 baking dish to cover the bottom. Cover with lasagna noodles, followed by more sauce, 1/3 of the mushrooms, and 1/4 cup parmigiano. Place a 2nd layer of noodles, more sauce, 1/3 of the mushrooms and 1/4 cup parmigiano, and follow with a 3rd layer of noodles, more sauce, the final 1/3 of the mushrooms and 1/4 cup cheese. Finally, place the 4th layer of noodles, the last of the besciamella, and the remaining 1/4 cup parmigiano. Place the baking dish on a middle rack in the oven and check after 30 minutes (though it may take longer as our oven tends to cook things rather quickly). The top should be brown and bubbly. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

beet fritters

Monday, October 29, 2012

We've really developed a taste for beets around here, but sometimes I feel like I'm running out of ways to cook them. I just can't do beet and goat cheese salad anymore. But what else can you do? Thankfully, the New York Times took up this important question and presented the world with this recipe for beet fritters. Everything is better fried, including beets. Plus, you don't even have to cook them first! You just grate them raw. This recipe still takes quite a bit of time, with an hour for draining and an hour for chilling, but the results are worth it in the end. The fritters can make an entire meal with a bit of couscous or bread and salad.

The original recipe doesn't call for grinding your own spices, but I'm totally hooked on it. I've dedicated an old coffee grinder to spice grinding and I'll never go back to that 7-year old bottle of ground cumin ever again. Spices lose tons of flavor after they've been ground, so it's really worth dragging out the mortar and pestle or coffee grinder and investing in bags of whole spices, which are usually available inexpensively at Indian groceries.

Between the freshly ground spices and fresh herbs, these fritters pack a lot of flavor. Although you can use a mix of herbs, the dill is fairly essential. If you have to pick one, you should stick with that. At our lunch party, we served them with whipped feta and za'atar bread as an appetizer, and they work really well as finger food. You can prepare them ahead of time and store them on a tray in the refrigerator, frying them when you're ready.

Beet and beet green fritters

1 bunch beets, with greens (about 1 to 1 1/4 lbs beets)
2 eggs
1/2 cup mixed chopped herbs (a mixture of parsley, fennel fronds, mint, and dill)
1 tsp caraway seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 cup bread crumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 oz feta
Rice flour (or all purpose flour) for dredging
1/4 cup peanut (or canola) oil
1/4 cup olive oil

For the dipping sauce
7 oz container Greek yogurt (preferably full fat)
1 tbs chopped dill
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
Pinch salt

Wash the beets and their greens thoroughly. Set the greens aside and peel the beets. Grate them on the large holes of a box grater and set in a colander with several pinches of salt to drain for about an hour.

While the beets drain, bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Throw in the beet greens and cook for about a minute, until wilted. Drain the greens and run under cold tap water until thoroughly cooled. Squeeze out excess water, chop, and set aside. Grind the cumin and caraway in a spice grinder.

Squeeze as much liquid out of the beets as you can. The first time I made these, I was a bit too thorough and drained so much liquid that the fritters were on the dry side. You will want to squeeze out a good amount of beet juice, but don't kill yourself doing it. Throw the drained beets into a large bowl with the two beaten eggs. Add the bread crumbs, beet greens, cumin, caraway, feta, herbs, pepper, and a pinch of salt. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Make the dipping sauce by mixing all of the ingredients together in a bowl and seasoning as necessary. I prefer to serve the yogurt at room temperature. (The Times recommends plain yogurt, and if you're feeling lazy you can try that instead).

If the beet mixture feels too wet to form into patties, add more bread crumbs as needed. Form the beet mixture into patties of approximately 2 tablespoons each and dredge lightly in flour. You should have 15-18 patties about 1/2 inch thick. Heat the oils in a skillet (I used my cast iron) over medium-high heat until very hot (it will take a few minutes). Cook the patties in batches (being careful not to burn yourself!), flipping after the flour has browned and set them aside to drain on a paper towel. If the oil isn't hot enough, your beets will absorb too much oil and feel rather heavy. Serve while hot.
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