Survival of the Fittest

The day I was born, my dad near about had a heart attack, or at least that’s the story. My parents are both fair-skinned and light-haired. Although technically, my mom truly does have dark roots but you don’t really notice them because she still gets her hair “frosted”. Last time I checked, that’s a pretty common ‘do for her age group. Anyway, I came into the world writhing and crying, full of life and all that good stuff. But I also came out with something that really threw my dad for a loop – I had a head FULL of nearly black hair. WTF?

I would have been confused too.

Anyway, clearly there are no paternity issues. Just like most of us, I recognize that I have some traits from my mom, and some traits from my dad. Some are good, like my big brains, blue eyes, and relatively normally shaped symmetrical head, and some are downright nasty, like my cankles, my big knees, and über mushy upper arms. I mean seriously – you’d think there would have been a selective advantage against such atrocities, but as it turns out cankles and big knees are all kinds of sturdy, so I guess that’s a good thing. The fat arms? Well, I suppose in the event that I’m stranded in Antarctica, it would take me a little bit longer to use up my own mush before I start gnawing on the arms of my friends.

Aside from all that loveliness, I try not to complain too much. Sure, I have a hard time finding boots that zip up over my cankles and ginormous calves (that I’m pretending are all muscle; laugh it up, Simpson!), but all in all I’d say things could be much worse. Yeah, I am as close to legally blind as you can get (dramatic, much?), but that’s nothing a pair of contacts and ultra thick glasses can’t fix.

Then you get the traits that are sorta ‘give or take’. I don’t mind having thinnish hair because it dries quicker. I don’t mind being short because I can make people do stuff for me with a quickness, and it’s always easier to take in length on pants than to let it out. I don’t mind having boobs because at least I didn’t have to stuff my bra when I was 14. Plus, boys generally like boobs. So I guess that’s good.

And then there’s the butt. Hoo boy. Again, there definitely is no denying my true lineage, but I swear there has to be some African American ancestry somewhere in one of my family trees. I guess it’s not impossible, being Southern and all… Because this is the truth: I have a little bit more rhythm than a lot of white folk (and I mean a little bit more…. I am no Beyonce for sure). I have slightly fuller lips (at least the bottom one) than a lot of white folk. Last but certainly not least, I have a ginormous ass for a white chick. It’s not proportional. It’s not right, and I have no idea where it comes from. It’s just not natural.

Here’s where the story gets funny. Because of said unnaturally large ass, I seemed to get harassed by the vast majority of black boys in my school. Maybe it was stylish for a regular looking white girl to wear such an unusually large backside, or maybe there’s some other reason why black boys (and a handful of white boys) like girls with junk in the trunk. Who knows. Either way, I remember one specific group of guys in high school who taunted me almost daily. How rude, right?! But I remembered it, not because of the fact that it was nearly daily, but because of what they said to me every. single. time.

“Girl, you be eatin’ all your cornbread!”

And with that, friends, I have embarrassed myself in front of the whole internets (but only slightly), and! I have given you a great recipe for cornbread. I won’t lie – I do fancy a piece of cornmeal-laden bread every now and then, but it’s not like I ate it all the time as a kid. I’m gonna chalk it up to science, and swear there’s some genetic influence quite a few generations back. Selective advantage? I won’t even try to answer that…

Zucchini Cornbread
adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 1 loaf 

this is a really good cornbread recipe, so let’s start with that. it’s not moist, so don’t expect a texture like banana and pumpkin breads. it’s drier, but it’s buttery (with browned butter – yum!) and has just enough sugar to provide a little sweetness, too. You don’t notice the zucchini much, but at least you’re getting veggies, if only a little dab! and to be honest, this is NOT the way Southern cornbread tastes. Southern cornbread is not as sweet, and maybe even a little more dry, a bit heftier. either way, it’s a great side item to a stew, or perhaps Thanksgiving? I ate it as a late-night snack this week, but that could lead to ill effects, as we’ve already discussed…

time commitment: 3 hours (includes cooking + cooling time; only about 30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c skim milk
1 large zucchini (about 10 ounces)
1 c spelt flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c sugar
1 t baking powder
3/4 t kosher salt
1/2 t baking soda
3/4 c medium-grind cornmeal

instructions
Position a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350 F. Spray or butter a bread pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until butter solids at bottom of pan turn golden brown, about 3 minutes. Scrape butter into a medium bowl. Set aside and let cool. Whisk in eggs and milk.

Peel and coarsely grate zucchini. Add to bowl with butter mixture and stir until well blended.

Whisk together both flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl. Whisk in cornmeal. Add zucchini mixture; fold just to blend (mixture will be very thick). Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top.

Bake bread until golden and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 55 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan; let cool completely on a wire rack. For best flavor, make a day in advance.

Enough To Make You Nuts

Since the grocery store trips were off-limits this week, the cooking has been a bit scarce. Last night, I had a bowl of cereal for dinner. The night before, Judy and I attended a GrubWithUs dinner at a weird restaurant. Tonight, I’m polishing off a hearty TV dinner, and I might dig into a couple of bites of that ice cream from way back when. Yeah, I know, I can’t believe it’s still there either – let’s just say I’m making each and every bite count. (Update – yeah, that happened. And now the ice cream is kaput.)

But when a coworker brought in a bag of zucchini, despite the scarcity of food that caused me to resort to the microwave, I had dessert on the brain instead.

It’s normal to think of dessert when you have zucchini in your hands, isn’t it? Sure, zucchini fries are great, too, and so is plain ol’ raw zucchini with cheese, but let’s be honest – dessert is never a bad idea (except with okra, as evidenced by the Iron Chef America I just watched). My buddy Jennifer makes a killer gluten-free zucchini bread, and since we’re over half a country away from her now, I don’t get to partake in it. Quite honestly, it’s almost enough to make us move back – but not quite. I’m afraid I’ve already gotten too accustomed to the warmish weather and would freak in five minutes of Chicago summer humidity, and one minute on a February day (plus, we’re seeing them again in 14 days!).

When I volunteered to take a couple of green tubers (are zucchini tubers?!) from work earlier this week, I had two potential recipes in my mind. One is a zucchini cornbread I’ve had stashed away in a pile of recipe clippings for a while now, and while I do love my cornbread (there’s a story behind that), I didn’t see the sense in making it to eat with cereal. I prefer cornbread alongside fried chicken, or something that I can dip it in, and milk just doesn’t appeal. The other recipe was a breakfast/dessert quick bread thing – what you see here. I saw it on Tara’s site a couple of weeks ago (the same site that reminded me of the chocolate ice cream – a theme, perhaps?), and that, I thought, was perfect for two reasons. One, I could take a loaf to work the next day as a payback for free zucchini, and two, it made two loaves (quick bread recipes always do, don’t they?!) which meant the other got frozen, with the thought that it’ll come in handy next weekend when our guests are in town.

The downside to making rich, chocolatey zucchini bread at 10 PM? It keeps you up at night – you smell it cooking for the almost-hour, and when it comes out, you still can’t eat it because it has to cool. And by that point, it’s bedtime and your teeth are brushed (although that usually doesn’t stop me…). Of course, there’s also the ‘I already mentioned I was making this yesterday so I can’t eat it because I’ll feel guilty at work all day’ thing too. Then, the fact that you’ve filled up your tiny house with the smell of the stuff, so much so that it wafts into your room and into your face, even when it’s buried underneath the covers and your cat is sitting on your head, is enough to make you nuts.

Of course, most of us aren’t that dramatic, are we?

ps – we’re off to Sedona for a few days. I’ll be taking a tiny blog break, and when I’m back, I’m planning to cut back to weekly posts. We’ll see how it goes, but this twice-a-week thing is getting hard. BUT! I think it’s time for a meat-heavy recipe, so I’ll work on that over the next little while too. Sound good? Thanks. Now, go eat some zucchini ;). 

 

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Bread
Adapted, barely, from Seven Spoons; makes 2 loaves

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (25 minutes active, 50 minutes baking time)

this is a relatively straightforward quick bread, which means you essentially mix the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry in another, then you combine. you don’t need a mixer or anything fancy, either. i’m guessing these would make great muffins as well, just that they’d obviously cook a lot less. as for the zucchini, since it’s a rather wet veggie, it’s not a bad idea to squeeze a little of the moisture into a towel, once shredded – don’t wring it out or anything crazy, but just a gentle squeeze or two will do ya fine.

printable version

ingredients
Softened butter or cooking spray, for pans
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c white spelt flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 c cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
1 c chopped walnuts, toasted
8 oz semisweet chocolate chips (it’s ok if you eat a few…)
1/2 c olive oil
1 c well-shaken buttermilk
2 eggs
1 1/2 c turbinado sugar
2 t vanilla extract
4 c shredded zucchini (2 regular zucchini measure about 3.5 c, which is what I used)

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lubricate two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans with softened butter or spray. Use a length of parchment to line the bottom and long sides of the pan, forming a sling, and lightly butter/spray the parchment as well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the chopped walnuts and chocolate. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil and buttermilk. Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in the zucchini.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until combined, taking care not over mix (you want to mix until the flour dissolves into the wet dough, but no further). Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake, rotating once, until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out almost clean, which should be around 45-50 minutes. Cool loaves in their pans on a rack for 20 minutes, then grasp the edges of the parchment to ease the bread out.

No Expiration

I am really bad about making phone calls, and living 2 and 3 hours away from most of our friends and all of our family doesn’t help. I blame my career – talking to patients and co-workers all day results in me being less likely to pick up the phone and dial up a friend just to chat.

That said, I appreciate that most of my friends are just like me in that respect. Because of that mutual bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) habit, we also tend to have plenty to catch up on when we do chat, and there’s no blaming one another for not calling sooner. It’s sort of awesome.

Cheryl is definitely one of my favorite friends of all time. She’s the one with the boat and the ex-boyfriend who just happened to be Indian (who made killer chai mixes), and the one with the current boyfriend with the camera, who also just happens to be awesome. Cheryl’s a person who I know, without a doubt, will always keep up her end of the deal, which is why we’ll be together at Thanksgiving for years and years to come and I know we’ll always keep in touch, even if we only talk to each other every few months.

We had the chance to catch up last week, and as is usually the case, we had quite a bit to talk about.

For starters, she has a fancy new job. It seems as if we’re all moving around these days, and while she’ll continue to live in Minnesota, she gets to shake it up a bit with some new surroundings. It’s very exciting, and I can’t wait to hear more once she gets settled in a little bit. I also can’t wait to hear how she’s faring with dressing like an adult, since she’s had it easy in her low-key lab set-up, right Cheryl?!

Secondly, she and Luke are making wine! How awesome is that?! It seems that homebrews are all the rage these days, and we never seem to land in a city that allows us to have things like basements and storage space, so we never get around to doing such things. The good part is that we get to partake in others’ brews, so we’re hoping that come Thanksgiving, there are a few bottles of wine coming our way :).

Finally, we had a random conversation about moving, and about accumulating loads of, well, crap. Generally, moving is a good excuse to rid yourselves of all of that crap, but this time we didn’t do the packing, so we didn’t do as much ‘cleaning’ as we would have liked. That said, we had a few boxes with questionable material inside. One box was full of bags, since I used to save practically every handled bag I got from shopping; clearly I did not need to store such things. Another box was extra-creepy: it seemed to be full of a smelly powdery substance that looked like pollen; perhaps something disintegrated over the course of two months? Who knows! Anyway, it was interesting nonetheless.

Most of my pantry items came through the move with flying colors, some that maybe should have been inspected with a bit more precision than others, though. But as it turns out, it was all for good. I drove home the other day (exactly one day after Cheryl and I had this random coversation about weird items found when moving), excited to make this Mexican casserole, a dish that would feed us for days – days! I got home, started pulling out my ingredients, and I realized I was missing two items: enchilada sauce AND canned green chiles. In a desperate move to avoid having to call Chris yet again with an on-the-way-home-from-your-already-long-commute-grocery-list, I panned the pantry frantically. Lo and behold, both, yes both, items were there. The only “issue” was the expiration date, a “best by 1/2009” stamp slapped across the bottom of both of them led me to hesitate for a few minutes a split second. I forged ahead, and things turned out just fine. So sometimes, all those weird, extra items come in handy – and as I found out, some things never seem to expire!

Mexican Chicken Casserole
adapted from Cooking Light, January 2011; serves 8

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (45 minutes active)

a couple of quick notes on this recipe: I’m not convinced that making my own roasted tomato salsa added much to the recipe. Not that it’s hard to make, but if you’d like to keep the food processor on the shelf and shave off a little time, you could probably get away with skipping the salsa part and buying a jar of roasted tomato salsa. i left it in the recipe so you can decide for yourself. also, the chicken. I figure most of us don’t have shredded chicken sitting in the fridge, so I added this step into the time commitment above. i bought a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken and shredded it the night before. my shredded chicken was about 5 cups, so you can save the remaining 2 cups for a mexican chicken salad or panzanella salad, or whatever else you fancy.

printable version

ingredients
Salsa
8 plum tomatoes, halved and seeded
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, quartered
olive oil
1/3 c chopped fresh cilantro
3 T fresh lime juice
1/8 t black pepper

Casserole
3 c cooked chicken breasts &/or thighs
1 c chopped onion
1 c fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 c diced zucchini
1 c chopped red bell pepper
1 T minced garlic
2 t chili powder
1 t ground cumin
1 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 c (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 c (4 ounces) crumbled cotija or feta cheese

instructions
Preheat broiler.

To prepare salsa, combine first 4 ingredients on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Broil 20 minutes or until charred, stirring once. Remove from oven; cool slightly. Place tomato mixture in a food processor; add cilantro, lime juice, and pepper. Process until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Shred chicken meat and measure out three cups.

To prepare casserole, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, corn, zucchini, and bell pepper; sauté 6 minutes or until tender. Add chicken and next 5 ingredients (through green chiles); sauté 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat.

Spread 1/2 cup salsa over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Arrange half of tortillas over salsa (they will obviously overlap quite a bit). Spoon 2 cups chicken mixture evenly over tortillas. Top with 3/4 cup salsa. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of each cheese. Repeat layers, starting with remaining tortillas and ending with remaining cheeses. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes until bubbly.

One Last Hoorah

Before you start reading today, think for a second. How many true friends do you have? Not how many friends you have on Facebook, or how many follow you on Twitter, but real, honest-to-goodness friends. Because that’s what we’re gonna talk about today. That, and zucchini fries, of course. But I’ll get to those.

I used to think I was loaded with friends. I suppose I am, really. I mean, I know a lot of people, and I like them; I figure they like me too. We talk here and there (or text or g-chat, is more like it), we eat and drink together, and sometimes we’re in each other’s weddings or taking trips together. That’s friendship, right?

The trouble, is that my own vision of friendship is so warped lately. Things happen, people drift apart, and as I’ve realized over this last year or so, people change and sometimes there’s just nothing you can do about it. It sucks, quite frankly. It sucks bad.

But in having those experiences, I’ve realized a thing or two. As a result, this is my advice to you: cherish the time you have with the ones you love, be a good friend to those who reciprocate your friendship, and don’t let something as silly as distance tear you apart. There is nothing more sad, more depressing, than looking back at a friendship that used to be rock solid, and realizing that in the blink of an eye it was ripped from one end to the other, and tossed out like a dirty rag. Don’t let that happen.

The difficulty in having friendships, is keeping them. Life happens – we grow up, we get married, we have children, we have busy jobs, we text instead of call, and sometimes we have to take opportunities that are offered to us. Leaving our friends in NC was so hard when we moved to Chicago 6 years (6 years!) ago, and now that we’re settled in here, we’re realizing that now, people will leave us. Being on that side of the coin feels so different, and not in a good way.

Our friends, Hope & James, are moving tomorrow. Apparently Hope (yes, the reigning Iron Chef) is interested in getting the letters M and D behind her name, and James is looking into a career in whittling (sorry James, I had to do it) unless he decides to work the valet at the VA once they’re settled into their larger-than-life apartment house in the “Deep South” state of Mississippi. I will miss them both, but I’ve learned over these last few years that distance doesn’t have to change a friendship and real friendships will make it, even if you can’t go to Irazu together every month or sit lakefront, drinking wine and watching the fireworks. All it takes is a little bit of effort, a long road trip here and there, and a flight when Southwest posts their specials (hmmm… does SW fly there? probably not.). Plus, I’ve never been to Mississippi, so there’s that, too.

Interestingly enough (or not so), this is where zucchini fries enter the story. With their move right around the corner, we were in need of one last hoorah. We had H+J over for dinner a couple of weeks ago, and if you can believe it, I repeated a dish. Gasp! Truth is, I’ve never met a fry I didn’t like, and having some zucchini lying around reminded me of this snack-type recipe I’d made almost 2 years ago (before my kitchen resembled a photo studio) – resulting in baked zucchini ‘fries’ with one of the best sauces since Ranch dressing – spicy, smoky, Spanish romesco.

If you’ve never made or eaten romesco sauce, you should certainly check this out. Smoky paprika, sweet roasted tomatoes and peppers, and nuttiness from, well, nuts (almonds, to be exact) make this an extra special mixture that will last well beyond these crunchy, cheesy fries; it plays nicely with seafood, but I like it best aside a big ol’ pork chop.

The rest of the night’s dinner, you ask? A simple salad with poppyseed dressing, mushroom-tomato lasagna (with smoked mozzarella), and a peach-almond galette. One tasty dinner, and a perfect excuse to hang out with two lovely people. You certainly don’t need good food to have good friends, but sometimes they just go hand in hand.

Zucchini Fries w/ Smoky Romesco Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2008; serves 8

printable version

ingredients
romesco sauce
3  medium red bell peppers
2  plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2″ thick slice of bread from a baguette, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 T almonds
1  T evoo
1  T  red wine vinegar
1/2  t Spanish smoked paprika
1/4  t  kosher salt
1/4  t  ground red pepper
1  large garlic clove

zucchini
3  large zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1  c  dry breadcrumbs
1/2  c coursely ground almonds
1/4  c  grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2  t  salt
1/2  t  freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
cooking spray

instructions
Preheat broiler.

To prepare sauce, cut bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place bell pepper halves and tomatoes, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten bell peppers with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 15 minutes. Peel and coarsely chop, reserving any liquid.

Combine bell peppers, reserved liquid, tomatoes, and next 8 ingredients (through garlic) in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed. Refrigerate until ready to use (can be made a couple of days in advance, if needed).

Preheat oven to 400 F.

To prepare zucchini, cut 1 zucchini in half crosswise; cut each half lengthwise into 8 wedges. Repeat procedure with remaining zucchini. Combine breadcrumbs, almond meal, cheese, salt, black pepper in a shallow dish. In another dish, whisk eggs until combined. Dip zucchini in eggs; dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Place zucchini on sheet pan coated with cooking spray. Lightly coat zucchini with cooking spray. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately with sauce.

Wild Things

My loving, darling husband has a stupid-crazy-job these days. He works harder than anyone I know (certainly harder than me), and he’s in school two nights a week to get yet another degree so he can work even harder (but hopefully bring in more cash for that B&B he’s gonna buy for me in Napa one day…). I miss him a whole bunch, and those nights we get to watch TV together are extra special lately since there’s not an abundance of them.

This week, we ate veggie pizza together and watched a movie. It was nice.

We watched Where the Wild Things Are, a movie I’ve been wanting to sit through for a while now. It’s relatively short, in movie terms, and perfect for a weeknight. It made me a little weepy, but those movies are the best – the ones that touch you, make you think, and make you relish the good moments. It makes you remember how hard growing up can be, and how in our adult lives we take so many things for granted. I think that little guy took things for granted too, and eventually realized he had to “go home”. His friend, who I assume was an alternative version of him, experiences a similar realization, and the unity at the end of the film was really something. Like I said, weep-worthy.

It didn’t hurt that I got to hear the voice of Sopranos star (the best series ever) James Gandolfini throughout, and it made me chuckle to myself every time I pictured him in strip clubs, NJ gangster-style but then saw him on screen as a frumpy, troubled creature trying to find his way in the world while throwing sticks and pouting cliffside.

For dinner, I made pizza. Veggie pizza. Grilled veggie pizza. Grilled veggie pizza with ramp pesto. That’s more like it, right? You see, I’ve been waiting patiently for ramps since I first used them last year. Wild things in their own right, they are so pungent, so fragrant that, even a year later, I still remember the taste of ramps in the way that I remember the taste of my gramma’s lemon pound cake – it’s always there, though the frequency of consuming it isn’t, and that’s a sad fact.

I whipped up a batch of pesto with my first supply of ramps (ask Jennifer about my excitement when I saw them in the store; I think I embarrassed her), and used some of it to toss with some potatoes earlier in the week. I used a little more on this here pizza, and thank goodness, there’s still plenty left and with that, I made this egg omelet sandwich and still have more. You’d think it was regenerating or something, but it’s not; I’m just really making it last. Plus, ramps aren’t something you need to eat in large amounts, unless you’re hoping the resulting bad breath might keep your landlord or your in-laws, or perhaps even your spouse, away. I don’t have a landlord, I love my in-laws, and as for my spouse, I like to keep him as close by as possible.

Of course, that’s another story when he tries to steal my pizza. Which he did. Try, that is; I tend to have ninja-like reflexes when it comes to my food. Steal it from me, and you’re liable to wind up with a black eye, or maybe a missing finger if my fancy Japanese knife is nearby. Just don’t try it, for your sake and mine. I try to stay out of jail these days.

Although, with pizza that tastes as good as this one, a black eye or missing digit might be worth it. Just maybe.

Got any fancy pizza plans coming up? Share your favorites with us – don’t be shy :).

Grilled Veggie Pizza with Ramp Pesto
Loosely adapted from Cooking Light; serves 4

yes, there are multiple steps in this pizza-making process. but let me tell you a few things: it’s all easy, and three of the four “components” can be made in advance, and in large quantities. the pesto? you just read all the things I’ve done with it already. you can also freeze it in little ice cube trays for later. the pizza sauce? you can buy it, or make a batch that’ll last through 3-4 pizzas. the dough? double the recipe and freeze one for next time – I should have, because I have another pizza recipe up my sleeve for ‘vegetarian month’. once these are made, the pizza comes together in 30 minutes – perfect weeknight fare!

printable version

ingredients
pesto
2 small bunches of ramps, leaves separated from stems/bulbs
1 c grated Parmesan cheese (or other hard cheese)
1/3 c Marcona almonds (or other nut)
1/2 c walnut oil (or sunflower or olive oil)
salt and pepper

pizza dough
2 to 2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c warm water, divided
1 packet of active, dry yeast
2 T evoo
1 t sugar
3/4 t salt
cornmeal, for dusting the bottom

pizza sauce
1 T evoo
3 T minced garlic
28-oz can of organic diced tomatoes
1 t fresh cracked pepper
1/2 t salt
1/2-1 t Italian seasoning or other dried spice (parsley, oregano, basil)

pizza toppings
1 baby zucchini, quartered
1 baby eggplant, quartered
1 red bell pepper, quartered
salt and pepper
1 c fontina cheese, shredded

instructions
make pesto.
heat olive oil in large saute pan over med-hi heat. chop ramp bulbs and stems and saute in pan for about 5 minutes to soften. add sauteed ramps, raw ramp leaves, cheese, almonds and a pinch of salt and pepper to food processor and blend. through the top with processor running, slowly drizzle in 1/2 c of oil. will make 1 1/4 cups of pesto. adjust seasoning and sit aside. [can refrigerate or freeze.]

make pizza dough.
Combine water & yeast; let sit for about 5 minutes. By hand or w/ stand mixer (dough hook attachment), combine flour, sugar, salt. Add yeast mixture and oil. Mix until sticky ball forms. Transfer to floured counter and knead until smooth (will probably add more flour as you go because the counter gets sticky and the dough is sticky; add by tablespoons). Total kneading time is 1-2 minutes (you can also do this in the mixer). Put in large bowl that is oiled or sprayed and turn down over to cover with oil/spray. Cover w/ plastic and let rise in warm place (I preheat oven to lowest possible temp, like 100, and then open door to let heat out before putting in; best is about 80 degrees) for an hour, or until about doubled in size. Take dough out, back on floured surface and deflate dough. Roll out to desired shape and dust one side with cornmeal. [alternatively, you can refrigerate dough overnight to let flavor develop. then take out 1 hour before using to let come to room temp, punch down dough, and roll out onto floured surface.]

pizza sauce.
heat olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. add garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. add tomatoes and their juices, salt, pepper, and spice. bring to boil. reduce to low and simmer for 25 minutes. if you like your pizza sauce clumpy, leave it as is. if you like it smooth (I do, for pizza), blend it in a food processor or break out that handy dandy immersion blender. [refrigerate if making in advance, and if you make a lot, you can can it or freeze it.]

make pizza!
preheat grill (outdoor or indoor). grill eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper chunks until a good char forms. cut eggplant and zucchini into small pieces. place red pepper in ziploc bag for 10 minutes; peel and cut. mix all together in a bowl. plop pizza down onto grill (cornmeal side up) and grill for about 3 minutes; flip and grill 4 minutes. remove from grill.

spread pizza sauce over top of pizza. spread random dollops of ramp pesto around (use ~1/3 c). add mixed veggies, sprinkle with salt and pepper and add cheese. grill for another 4-5 minutes or until cheese melts (if grilling inside, it might help to place under broiler for a couple of minutes unless you like a dark pizza crust). slice into 8 pieces and enjoy!

May’s Carpaccio

I like to consider myself a die-hard carnivore, the kind of person who enjoys her steaks bloody, or “barely dead” as my mom would say. I commend restaurants like Mado because they don’t waste; they use as much of the animal as possible, and they even teach courses on swine butchering and tweet about beef tongue. Plus, it’s not every day I get to try tripe and beef heart and Mado gives me that opportunity; the closest thing to offal I had growing up was fried chicken gizzards, and man, I loved them so.

So yeah, vegetarian I am not, nor could I ever be.

But for this month, I’m going to try. As Hubs will quickly interject, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Why volunteer to take away part of my life that I cherish? I openly laugh at people participating in Lent (if you are one of them, I’m sorry, but I will still laugh at you), giving up their favorite food and torturing themselves for 40 days. Nonetheless, here I am. Attempting to eat a vegetarian pescaterian diet for an entire month is a sure-fire way to send me, and the Hubs, straight to the crazy house. But keep the straightjackets and padded rooms away for now, please.

Let’s set the record straight, so that no one is confused here: this is not permanent, people. Hell, no! Are you out of your mind? A life without rack of lamb and bacon is a life I do not care to be a part of, please and thank you. I’m only testing myself, and I do have two reasons. For one, we joined a meat and produce CSA this year, and come June we’ll be up to our eyelids in more meat than we can shake a stick at. I figure I’ll appreciate it a lot more after a month of going without.

Okay, that’s a sorta stupid reason, I know. But my second one is more plausible: I want to branch out and become more versatile in my eating and cooking. I love so many vegetarian dishes, yet so rarely do I eat a purely vegetarian meal and this is a way for me to force myself to do so. Plus, it’s Spring and there are so many good veggies on the brink of seasonality that if I can do it for one month, May has to be the easiest because I’m not missing any hearty winter stews and chilis, and it’s not quite burger season – yet.

So with that, lets discuss zucchini – one of those lil’ veggies that’s rip roarin’ and ready to go, right about now. I’ve come to appreciate zucchini, and what better way to serve it than thinly sliced and raw so that it’s freshness is appreciated, celebrated, and not stewed and melded ratatouille-style. Thin-sliced meat (which I’m now missing as I type this…damnit) is often called “carpaccio”, and if you’ve never tried it you are certainly missing out.

While this is assuredly meat-free, serving zucchini in this way lets the true taste and brightness of this “summer squash” stand on its own, with light, delicate flavors of lemon and basil to accent and mounds of fluffy, creamy ricotta cheese to add textural contrast.

My favorite carpaccio ever? Well, no. But for May, or as a side dish any day, it’ll work!

Zucchini Carpaccio
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2010; 4 side servings

this recipe works best if you have a mandoline slicer, but if you don’t you’ll just have to take your time and slice slowly with a regular ol’ knife. I used a mandoline, but realized too late that it was on the wrong setting, and as a result have 1/4″ slices where they should be almost paper thin. no matter how thick or thin the slices are, you’ll still love this as a refreshing side with almost anything.

printable version

ingredients
2 medium regular or 4 baby zucchini, trimmed
Coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 green onion, thinly sliced
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T good evoo
4 oz good ricotta cheese, more or less to your liking
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped into thin strips

instructions
Using knife or mandoline, cut zucchini into paper-thin rounds. Arrange rounds, slightly overlapping, on large platter. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt and pepper, then green onions. Whisk lemon juice and oil in small bowl. Drizzle dressing evenly over zucchini. Drop small spoonfuls of cheese all over zucchini. Sprinkle with basil and serve.