Our dear friends, Caitlin and Garrett, traveled up from Birmingham last week (along with their dream of a 7-month-old, Asa) for a much needed reunion. We camped out in a family friend’s cabin just up the mountain from our place, giving us a beautiful space to relax and play while also making it easy to come down from the mountain for some barn work. Tim and Garrett (with some much-needed assistance from Tim’s dad) spent two back-breaking days hanging 12-foot drywall sheets on our ceiling. I’m relieved to report that only two more 12-foot sheets are left for me to help hoist onto the ceiling.
The drywall hanging was huge progress, but equally important were the time we got away from the barn to relax, hike, get to know Asa, and share lots of good conversation and food with Garrett and Caitlin. Good conversation and good food are a huge part of our friendship with these two. They lived and farmed with us for a year, and I think we all look back at that year with a lot of nostalgia for the many (daily, I would say) incredible meals we shared and long evenings we spent laughing and talking around the dinner table.
During that year, Garrett became the pizza-making master. We would come home after a long day of working in the field or serving our CSA members, and would rejoice at the sight of flour strewn across the butcher block and the smell of browning crust coming from the oven. So when I was daydreaming about meals for our week at the cabin, pizza was a given. I’ve been playing with some sourdough recipes, and wanted to give Garrett a break from pizza-chef and try out a sourdough pizza crust on he and Caitlin.
My sister shared some sourdough starter with me a few months ago. Though my mom taught me to knead bread dough when I was little, and I’ve been baking bread regularly since college, I’ve never delved into the world of sourdough.
I made one attempt at creating a starter some years back, and somehow created a brick of rye instead. Needless to say, I was happy to receive a healthy and non-brick-like starter from my sister. I’ve been playing around with different sourdough recipes (also included in last week’s menu plan were sourdough English muffins), and have found some great ones, as well as good sourdough advice, on the Cultures for Health website. Their pizza crust recipe provided the canvas for our meal last week.
Pizza is an amazing canvas for seasonal eating. The earliest of spring greens transformed into pesto and then topped with thinly sliced radishes and bacon; fresh summer tomatoes paired with balsamic-broiled eggplant or summer squash; the last push of late-September tomatoes turned into a rich sauce and topped with sausage and baby fennel.
Every season has endless pizza potential, but winter is probably my favorite season to dish it up. Cracking open a can of last summer’s tomato sauce, pulling peppers or broccoli and maybe some bacon or sausage out of the freezer, throwing on some sweet winter greens, and, presto! It’s simple, satisfying, and delicious.
The sourdough crust recipe has taken this winter’s pizza to a new level. It’s got great flavor, a nice chewy texture, and is also really easy to work with.
The recipe recommends ‘feeding’ your starter three times before turning it into crust, so I usually pull my starter out of the fridge the night before, feed it, and then feed it again in the morning and at lunchtime the next day. I’ve also appreciated this recipe’s recommendations to pre-bake the crust and then brush it with olive oil to keep the toppings from making things soggy. I’m really hoping that by sometime this summer I’ll be able to try out this crust in our outdoor cob oven (there’s no way we’ll want to fire up our wood-fired cookstove in July, even for pizza!), but this crust is great even in a conventional oven. Last week, we topped one crust with slow-cooked onions and garlic, last summer’s roasted cherry tomatoes that I’ve started preserving using Elliott Homestead’s super-simple method, and fresh mozzarella. The other featured bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and fresh arugula.
I don’t think I’ll do much recipe posting on this blog. I don’t usually cook from recipes, and developing them seems daunting and time-consuming to me. Maybe eventually I’ll try my hand at recipe-development, but for now I think I’ll just occasionally share a meal we love or a basic approach to farm-fresh, seasonal eating. Like pizza. So here’s a few suggestions for creating delicious pizza at any time of year:
- Find a good crust recipe (slow-rise or sourdough recipes give a chewier crust, while quick-rise crusts are a bit more bread-ey.)
- Don’t be scared to bake said crust at a high temp (500). Ideally, bake it on stoneware.
- If you’re out of canned sauce or don’t have fresh tomatoes, don’t limit tomato sauce as your sole base. Any type of green has the potential to make a great pesto. And simple olive oil and fresh garlic make a great base for cheese and your other toppings.
- Don’t overload the toppings. Choose two or three that you want to feature. If you prep more than you need, resist the temptation to load them on the pizza and set them aside for another meal.
- With the exception of tender greens, I prefer most ingredients to be pre-sauteed or roasted (as opposed to just cooking them on the pizza).
- Be creative! Don’t go out and buy fresh peppers in December because you think they belong on a pizza. What’s seasonal and at hand can make a great pizza-topper.
- Make pizza often, and enjoy every bite.