Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bayonne Thin Crust

Native New Yorkers, and the vast majority of those who adopt this city as their own, routinely push their differences aside, uniting under the audacious belief, that New York City is in fact, the center of the known universe. This is however not meant to belittle the beautiful diversity this nation provides, expanding across the Pacific mountain ranges, through the Midwestern plains, and up the salt licked East Coast. And seldom will you find a New Yorker who doesn’t have a true appreciation for the international wonders of Melbourne, Paris, or Hong Kong. However, every story of trips taken, scenery viewed, foods tasted, and cultures enjoyed, ends with the same few words….."it just wasn’t New York." This local devotion to all things New York is exponentially magnified when applied to a simple slice of pizza. More commonplace than a burger and fries, no one meal is more thoroughly reviewed, discussed, and waited in line for, than the perfect slice. A commodity so deeply ingrained in the fabric of the city, that economists have long measured its economic strength by the prevailing cost of a slice.

And while I do often unapologetically subscribe to this philosophy of superiority, pizza is where I draw the line. As a native son of New Jersey, I know something most New Yorkers do not. The best pizza in the states, if not the world, does not come from New Amsterdam, and it sure as hell is not Chicago style deep dish, no the best pizza in the world comes from the small city of Bayonne. Located less than five miles from the Italian strongholds of lower Manhattan, and Brooklyn, the city of Bayonne did something borderline unimaginable….they took an old world New York style pizza recipe…..and made it better. Yes, there are pizzerias in NYC where you can obtain such a slice, but it was born in New Jersey, and since that time it has been gathering devotees with the first bite of every slice.

Below is my not so humble attempt to recreate that magic, using quality organic ingredients, and NYC tap water, straight from the mountains of the lower Hudson Valley.

3c flour
1 5/8 c water
2 tsp salt
1 tsp honey (or sugar)
1/2 tsp yeast

While this can certainly be mixed by hand, and then kneaded on an appropriately flat surface, I prefer to use an electric mixer. Add a 1/4c of warm water to the bowl, along with the honey and yeast, stir, and allow to rest for five - ten minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and let the dough hook work them together at a medium speed for about 4 minutes. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and allow it to rise. I like to make this a day ahead of time, as the flavors seem more robust and developed, but 2-3 hours should be sufficient if you double the amount of yeast and reduce the water by a 1/4c.

Basic Sauce:
14 ounce can of organic tomatoes
4 large cloves garlic
2 tbsp chopped basil
1 tbsp chopped oregano
2 tbsp chopped shallots
Extra virgin Olive Oil

Lightly coat the bottom of a pan with olive oil, and add the garlic and shallots. Sauté the alliums over medium heat for 1-2 minutes before adding the herbs. After an additional minute, add the tomatoes and cook on medium-high heat until it begins to reduce. At this point the tomatoes should be soft, to create a smoother sauce, crush the tomatoes with a potato masher, and continue to reduce until you have a relatively viscous sauce, adding salt to taste.
*You should grow your own, but if using dry herbs, cut the quantity in half.

When it is finally time to unwrap the dough, divide it into four equally sized portions, and using your hands on a well floured surface, create relatively flat circles. From here I
lightly flour the surface of the dough and using a rolling pin, thin the dough as much as possible, leaving slightly more at the edges for the crust. Once the dough is flat, cover it in saran wrap and allow it to rise slightly while you prepare the other ingredients. Set the oven to 500F.

Once the oven is hot, and the toppings are ready, ladle the sauce onto the center of the pizza spreading it out to form a thin layer. Add the other toppings sparingly, as too much moisture can hurt the crust, and brush or spray the edges of the crust with a light dusting of olive oil, before placing the pie on a preheated pizza stone. You can do this on a baking sheet, but the resulting crusts aren’t nearly comparable. If adding things such as fresh basil, make sure to add them near completion, as they are unable to withstand the high heat and will quickly turn black.
*I prefer a combo of mozzarella and parmesan.

Flip the light on in the oven and keep an eye on it, removing the pizza when the cheese starts to bubble and the crust turns a golden brown.
Pairs pretty well with a medium bodied Shiraz, Cabernet, or light Chianti. Also not so bad with a six pack.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

1st Harvest

While I can certainly understand that the average person is less inclined than myself to attempt back flips at the sight of a radish; allow me to briefly explain my level of excitement. This tiny red globe, born from seed, spent a mere five weeks nestled in the dirt before reaching its potential, but mentally I planted those seeds months prior.

Two weekends in October, six friends, gourmet fare, and conversation thoroughly lubricated by a consistent flow of alcohol, resulted in an obvious, albeit astonishing, revelation. Everything has changed; well more specifically our perception of everything has changed. Perhaps experience has made us a little smarter, a little slower to judge, a little more receptive to opinions we would have previously dismissed as not in line with our own. Or perhaps the realities of the recession have forced us to realign our priorities, while the visible aging of our parents has enhanced a sense of our own mortality. But regardless of the source, the resultant is the same, a desire to leave a lasting legacy, regardless of its size and somehow fulfill our social responsibility.

Although equally likely lies the scenario that these revealing verbal exchanges were nothing more than a bunch of overeducated, financially privileged, late 20-somethings waxing poetic about problems that they do not now, nor are they likely to experience in the future.

Yet without paying much regard to the previous sentence and potentially blindly ignoring the potential hubris involved, a theme emerged: Sustainability.

And not the overused, holier than thou, altruistic image most commonly associated with the word in modern times, but sustainability in the sense that a genuine effort will be made to sustain my physical and mental self, the relationships in my life, and the greater community through a re-evaluation of the food system in general. Minimizing waste, by using the entire product, whether plant or animal, sourcing humanely raised and organic ingredients, and to the limits that my Brooklyn fire escape will allow….growing my own food. And probably most importantly talking about it….not everyone has a compost pile of their own, but simple decisions, like buying organic over conventionally raised products helps in it’s own little way to protect the environment and the world at large. I believe that there is very little we can do to the earth, that with ample time, it cannot successfully repair. However, whether the planet keeps humanity around for that process.... is still up for debate.

I ate the radishes with nothing but a spread of butter, and sautéed the greens in olive oil with salt and pepper.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

New York Strip

Starting with the domestication of fire, and culminating in the post WWII suburbanization of America, the grill has long been the domain of men. A fact that I imagine unjustifiably upsets a large number of feminists. And I say unjustifiably because they should take solace in the fact that even a modestly trained primate can season and flip a piece of meat; coupled with the fact that despite claiming dominance of the grill so many centuries ago, weekend after weekend, men manage to murder perfectly good pieces of meat, proving yet again, we truly are the (mentally) weaker sex. So let's go over the few simple steps required to maintain your manhood, and the respect of your guests.

Hopefully, you have selected some grass-fed, organic beef from a butcher like Paisanos, but even if you make your purchasing decisions like a modern day troglodyte basking in the rays of the industrialized food system, it should still taste good, so.... Brush both sides of the steak
with a dab of olive oil and liberally apply salt and pepper. Toss on a hot grill and rotate after about 3-4 minutes and then flip after another 3-4 to create well defined x-cross grill marks. I would suggest this as a good time to prepare a salad or grill some veggies or other nonsense, but I have to start that at least a few minutes prior, because I have a very tiny attention span, and am quickly mesmerized by the fire jumping up to kiss the meat. I charred up some zucchini, tomatoes, portabella mushrooms, and onions, but maybe some thinly sliced cucumbers and tomatoes with feta in a vinegar based dressing....sounds perfect right?

Ok, so the steaks have been on the grill for about 8 minutes on each comes the important part...take them off, put them on a plate, and leave them the eff alone. I mean it, don't murder a perfectly good steak, wait 10....15 minutes, and then you can start thinking about serving your masterpiece....having trouble waiting? Grab a beer and a lawn chair, quality takes patience.