(Photo: Smitten Kitchen)
This weekend I'm sticking close to home, doing a couple of things: finishing 'moving in' to my apartment and making pizzas.
I've been in my apartment since March, with a roommate. One of the two rooms does not have a closet, so the place can function as a 2 bedroom with one person using a hall closet for storage, or a lovely and roomy 1 bedroom with a living room/office. My roommate (we originally met two apartments ago) invited me to move in to take over his lease when he relocated. He moved this weekend and I've decided to keep the place to myself, at least for a while. It is the first time in my life that I've had my own place where everything is mine (including the messes! and the plastic!), and I have full control over my home environment.
Though I haven't finished unpacking the last of my boxes, I have to say it feels really nice. All my years in NYC have been spent in shared apartments, with most of my worldly possessions piled in my bedroom. You can understand an obsession with storage solutions and fascination with de-cluttering, even while feeling a complete failure at it. Now, with my things spread out over a 2 room apartment, I see that I really don't have so much stuff. There is room to breathe, and it feels lovely. The downside to having my own place is that I've met some amazingly wonderful people in my roommates, and having never lived alone wonder how I'll like it after a while. We shall see!
Now, the pizzas. I was inspired by two things seen on the internet- Oliver Strand's article in the NY Times last week advocating aging the dough overnight for a better crust, and Smitten Kitchen's Shaved Asparagus Pizza (pictured above). Making pizza doesn't seem like the best thing to do on the first warm weekend of summer, but I'm having fun with it. It is a great way to use up leftovers and try new cooking techniques. The leftovers are mostly from The Art of Eating (related post below), and things my roommate left behind.
New techniques include aging pizza dough overnight- actually, I'm re-acquainting myself with pizza dough, period; I haven't made pizza since high school! And Smitten Kitchen's idea of shaving asparagus is sheer genius. The first pizza (made using Smitten Kitchen's dough recipe and not aging it) came out really well and used up all of the leftover asparagus. I still consider myself a fairly unwilling veggie eater, so having a half pound of asparagus go down in a flash on top of a pizza is pretty amazing. For cheese, I just used fresh grated Parmesan- which came wrapped in plastic. Cheese is an ongoing plastic issue. I'd like to learn to make it but don't see giving up fine cheeses such as aged Parmesan, not completely. The best I can do is to be choosy with it. For now I bring a one pound hunk of parm home, remove the plastic and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator- which is made of re-usable #5 plastic- and it lasts me at least a couple months.
For today's pizza I'm trying the dough aging technique and using parm cheese as well as a hodgepodge of leftovers from the fridge: jarred pasta sauce, a bit of pesto, a tomato, oven roasted first to bring out flavor, and most of a shallot, caramelized. Roasting the tomato and caramelizing the shallot are also new techniques for me, and it is a good thing I do have the apartment to myself since I smoked up the place pretty good with the shallot. Roasting a shallot in a dry skillet for 20 minutes before adding oil? Really, Mark Bittman, really?? In the end the shallot came out OK, but that was a LOT of smoke.
The dough isn't right- I screwed up the flour measurement and had to add a lot more in the kneading process, which I know doesn't do good things- you aren't supposed to knead pizza dough much. And plastic avoidance played a part here. The recipes say to cover the dough with plastic wrap while it is rising. Instead, for the first pizza I coated the dough with a bit of olive oil (which the recipe calls for anyway), then flipped it over a couple times in the rising process to prevent a hard skin from forming on the exposed dough. For the second pizza dough, aged overnight, I covered the dough with a tea towel. That must be what cooks did before the invention of plastic wrap, right? It didn't work. Maybe I should have dampened the towel from the start (I dampened it half way through), or maybe there is a better plastic free technique out there-- anyone? The dough formed a skin, which sort of worked itself back in while forming the pizza, but not really.
But here's the thing- pizza is very forgiving. It might not be as gorgeous as the pictures from Smitten Kitchen and the NY Times, but it still tastes pretty darned good.