It’s starting to happen. Despite our best psychic and culinary efforts, fall’s coming on. We turned on the heat the other night. Just for an hour, just to take the chill off. But still. I’m starting to think about braising. But the surest sign? Wednesday night, after the farm share arrived, John asked me what was for dinner and when I said “greens,” he looked distinctly sad. When I demanded, “So, what?” he said “I’m tired of greens.” For the record, the greens were a mix of turnip, beet and kale, boiled quickly, drained and dried, chopped and then saute-ed with garlic and red pepper in olive oil. I folded in about half a can of canellini and topped it with eggs softly fried in olive oil. What did John say at the end? “Is there any more?” That’s besides the point though. It should just be mentioned.
In order to hold winter off a little longer but still let go of summer gracefully (ok, summer, I can take a hint, you don’t want to be hanging around here anymore), I’m looking for transitional foods, foods that come out of the summer but warm you up, that, you know, just take the chill off.
One of these was the eggplant dish from Naples that Mark Bittman featured a couple of weeks ago in the times. It was tasty and certainly simple, but nothing to write home (or for very long on the blog) about. Just some eggplant cooked soft, mixed with a fresh tomato sauce. I might have liked it better if I had the courage of my convictions in cooking the hell out of the eggplant. With the traumatic memories of a childhood rife with overcooking (except for steak; we liked our steak bloody!) still with me, I tend to be a little anxious about getting food off the heat.
A greater success was the pizza that we made as part of the Sunday night ritual with figs, leeks and pancetta. It’s a wonderful blend of tastes that offer up enough hearty earthiness to feel like fall but still has a bright summer freshness.
For three women who cook so much, I notice that the G3 are a little light on sharing recipes, so here’s a semi-formal write-up. Use your favorite pizza dough recipe. John is a master pizza dough experimenter, and I’ll have to get him to chime in some time on the various permutations of flours and liquids and heat that he’s tried out. I used this one from Molly Katzen for years in my previous life and was quite happy with it (it’s easy). Last week we tried Mario Batali’s crust via the Smitten Kitchen and I really liked it, although John muttered about soft dough and cold yeast. And you know what? Trader Joe’s dough balls work just fine too. Once you’ve settled the dough question, prepare the toppings:
Leek, Fig, Pancetta and Fontina Pizza (adapted from James McNair’s The New Pizza)
3 T Olive oil
8 oz thickly sliced pancetta (less, to taste, but it does taste awful good)
3 cups chopped leek, including some of the green part (rinse those suckers several times — leave no grit behind)
2 cups shredded Italian fontina
About 20 fresh figs, halved
In a large saute pan, heat the 3 T olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until the meat is translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove the pancetta, leaving the oil behind and set aside.
Add the leek to the pan and cook until tender and lightly colored (not too brown), about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add to the pancetta. Set aside to cool.
When topping time comes, you’ll need to decide whether to use a stone or a sheet pan, whether to precook the crust a bit, even fire up the grill and all those other important questions that we need to take up at some point. But the important point is to get the toppings on the pizza.
Brush the crust with olive oil and then cover it with the cheese. Follow up by spreading the leek and pancetta mixture evenly and then laying out the figs, cut side up. This is really quite a pretty pizza in the end, so you may want to fuss a little with how the figs look. Drizzle some more olive oil over the figs and perhaps spread some fresh grated Parmesan cheese on top of that. Cook 10-15 minutes at a high heat until everything looks sort of golden. McNair recommends 500 degrees. I used to cook pizza at 475 but we’ve been going up tp 575 with excellent results. It’s just a little frightening to push the oven dial up that high.
Slice it up, pour a nice glass of red wine, and feel elegant and sophisticated and not at all chilly, while eating this, looking at the soft evening light.