Monday, May 26, 2014

Pizza and Pickled Red Onions

Pancetta & Brussels Sprouts with Goat Cheese Pizza
The two things in the title have nothing to do with each other, but they are both things I had been working on in the last few days. In the continuing story of my love affair with making new breads, pizza dough is another new step for me. I have been making pizza dough from my old (© 1966) Joy of Cooking since I started making pizza dough long, long ago. I liked the recipe just fine, and I also found that the dough makes a really nice loaf of "Italian" bread if there is any left over. In Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Maker's Apprentice", he also has a pizza dough recipe.

Recently, watching one of the Unique Eats shows on TV, someone was making pizza dough and all they really said was that it was made very simply, from flour, salt, yeast and water; the dough was formed into balls and refrigerated until needed. This sparked my curiosity, and I had been wanting to try this out. And then along came Peter Reinhart's book and there is a recipe for a very simple pizza dough that is formed into balls and kept refrigerated until needed. Serendipity, I'd say! So I made the dough a few days ago. The water called for is to be iced water, the dough is mixed and kneaded and formed into balls before refrigerating; check. The following day I got out two balls of dough and set them on the counter for the stipulated 2 hours before using them.

Spinach Pizza: brush dough with EVOO, sprinkle with Parmesan, add spinach, top with Mozzarella
The book is very clear about how to form the dough for the pizza. One is to use the backs of the hands only, lifting the edges of the dough and quickly stretching and turning until you have a dough that can be tossed in the air, as the professionals do. Ha! I figured I would have dough landing on the floor somewhere, so I just skipped that last step. That said, this dough was unlike anything I had ever used. When the balls of dough went in the fridge the dough was still quite sticky. After resting for 2 hours on the counter, the dough was spongy and dry and very easy to work and stretch. Even when my fumbling backs-of-hands slipped and the dough fell in a little heap on the counter, it was remarkably easy to just lift it back onto the backs of hands and continue. The dough did not stick to itself. It stretched very easily and kept the stretched shape. This was very new territory for me. 
Spinach Pizza served

That first day, I stretched the dough too far, making a slightly larger than 12-inch pizza. The book said 9 - 12 inches, but no more than that. The center of the dough was so thin you could read a paper through it, and there just wasn't enough dough there to support even the relatively scant toppings. Okay, it was my first time. I was overambitious with the stretching. On day 2 I kept a careful eye on the stretching, stopping at around 9 inches. I set this onto the pan (sprayed with cooking spray and sprinkled with cornmeal) and gently lifted the edges, turning as I went and got the dough to a nice 12-inch circle. It had a bit more thickness in the center, as I was careful not to stretch that too much. The pizzas were far nicer and had a little more support. On day three I stretched the dough to about 11 inches total, and I liked the weight of those pizzas far more.

The baking was the other thing new. I had never, ever, set my oven so hot to make a pizza before. A temperature of 400 or 450 seemed too hot. Then again, my husband likes to plop all his pizza toppings toward the center of the pan, so that's a lot of thickness to get baked through. I don't use so many toppings on my pizza, generally, and I like to spread my toppings all the way to the edge. Still, the oven seemed too hot to bake the pizza through. With this new dough, and endeavoring to keep the toppings minimal, I set the oven to 500 on Convection (which is equivalent to 525 regular). The first night, with that very thin crust, I set the pan on the 2nd rack up from the bottom. The top of the pizza was definitely done, but on trying to cut, I found the center of the crust was still gummy and not quite done. On Day 2, I removed that 2nd shelf and set the pan on the lowest rack. At exactly 8 minutes the top was done. When I cut into the pizza the bottom crust was crisped. Success!

So, that is my pizza story. I am looking forward to doing this again, sometime soon. I am wondering how this pizza dough would perform if stretched only to about 8 or 9 inches and made on the grill? I love grilled pizza, so this is something I am looking forward to trying. In the meantime, I had been seeing various people on TV making pickled red onions. The recipes go all over the board from all white or cider vinegar and a LOT of sugar, to a very mild rice vinegar and only a tablespoon or so of sugar, to cooking them in the brine, to pouring the brine over raw onions - and on and on and on. I went a middle of the road route for my first effort. The red onions turn a beautiful bright pink. They keep their crunch but lose their "bite". They are excellent, and I ate some with my pizza last evening. Yum!
Pickled Red Onions

Pickled Red Onions

Makes 1 quart jar

2 red onions, sliced in 1/3 to 1/4 inch thick rings
4 cups boiling water

1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 "true cinnamon" quill about 4-inches long
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
5 allspice berries
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, smashed
3 whole cloves

Place the sliced onions in a large bowl and pour the boiling water over, tossing to expose all the onions to the hot water; let stand two minutes and drain the onions in a colander. Pack the onions into a glass quart jar.

In a saucepan, combine the brine ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute, remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm before pouring over the onions in the jar. Seal the jar and refrigerate for at least a day before using.

Red Onions: Raw          -         just brined            -           after 2 days
The change from the dull purple of the onions raw, to the color when the vinegar brine first hits them to the beautiful rose color after a couple of days is just wonderful. They are so pretty. And they are delicious. Use them as a topping on sandwiches, or in a salad. The onion bite is completely gone, and you have a flavorful condiment to use for anything you can dream up.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.