Posts Tagged ‘kohlrabi’

Amish Asparagus and Serrano Ham Pizza

The green rockets of spring are taking to the air. Finally, we can get our noses out of the misted produce isles and the never-ending harvest of mediocre corporate veggies. Here in southeast Ohio, asparagus is the first hint of what is to come: morel mushrooms, ramps, strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries, kholrabi, garlic tops, arugula, mustard greens and kale, until the baby zucchini blossoms herald the full frontal assault of summer.

When I visited the Ervin Hershberger farm in Chesterhill Ohio, Ervin’s wife Rachael shoved a one-year old in my arms and we stumbled out back to the asparagus field. “I don’t know if there’s…oh my, we DO have alot of asparagus,” she said as I looked at the  green stalks peeking their delicious heads up from the field. Short and fat ones grew alongside long skinny ones just waiting for me to grab and twist before dropping them into the aspargus bucket. As my delight in the first bounty of spring heightened, I kept reminding myself, “Don’t drop baby John…don’t drop baby John…don’t…”

The best hint on buying asparagus is to never buy asparagus that has been cut with a knife. Asparagus has a fabulous way of telling you when you’ve reached the spot where the stalk turns to wood. Grab the stalk and twist – it breaks right at that inedible point.

While waiting tables in Chicago years ago, my friend Chrisensio told me that, while new to this country, he tried every job as a migrant worker. “The two jobs I would rather die than go back to are cutting asparagus and planting pine trees in a clear-cut forest.”  The field managers walked among the pickers, telling them to cut under the earth to get as much poundage as possible. Sounds like a real back-breaking job. It also gave me a hint of how are foodstuffs are managed by the large companies.

I decided to make a pizza with asparagus using Serrano ham from Spain. I will pair this magnificent combination with Manchego cheese (Spanish cheddar from the La Mancia region of Spain), sweet San Marzano tomatoes,and  fresh mozzarella.

Jamon Serrano means “Mountain ham” and can best be described as having a taste like Italian prosciutto crudo or the French Jambon Bayonne. This ham is dry cured with salt and is only made from the “Landrace” breed of pig from the Sierra mountains in Spain. The taste, compared to the  Prosciutto crudo, is more of an upfront salty-pork flavor and noticably lacking in the last Parmesan-umami taste at the back of the throat that prosciutto exhibits. I like this ham on pizza because of the amount of fat in each slice. I tear the fatty pieces  to cook in the oven (which creates some bodacious cracklings), while saving the crudo for topping the warm pizza.

I love fresh raw asparagus on pizza as much as the next guy but with this recipe, I take off the outer skin and “shock” the asparagus. This par-cooks the aspargus for 30 seconds and then fast-cools it, setting the chlorophyl or green color.

Asparagus and Serrano Ham Pizza

1 Easy Dough recipe

4 to 7 fat stalks of fresh, local aparagus

6 to 7 slices of Serrano ham

3 whole canned San Marzano tomatoes

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons shredded imported Manchego cheese

5 to 6 small balls of Boccocini (fresh mozzarella balls)

Make two 7 ounce dough balls. Freeze one for later or double this recipe for 2 pies.

Preheat an upturned cookie sheet on the middle rack of your oven set at 475 degrees.

Put a 3-quart pan filled halfway with water on a high burner to boil. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water.

Using a peeler, lay the asparagus down on cutting board and run the peeler down along the stalk, taking as little of the skin of as possible. Roll the stalk and peel the skin around the whole stalk. Do not run the peeler twice in the same spot or you will take the meat off and end up with nothing.

Fill a large bowl with water and add 4 to 6 ice cubes.

Place asparagus in the boiling water and count to 30 seconds. Do not walk away. Grab the asparagus with tongs and transfer to the ice bath.

Take the asparagus out of the water and cut each stalk in half lengthwise.

Cut the fatty portion off each slice of Serrano ham.  Wrap the non fatty portion around each half-stalk of asparagus.

Open the can of tomatoes and place in a colander to drain. Tear the best 3 tomatoes into filets. Place on a plate. (For true San Marzano tomatoes, note the D.O.P. or Denominazione D’Origine Protetta on the side of the can, the 3 seals on the left side of the can).

To Assemble the Pizza:

Form the pizza dough according to the easy pizza dough recipe. Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper.

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1. Pour the extra virgin olive oil onto the dough.

2., 3. Scatter the Manchego on the dough, followed by the fatty ham and the tomato filets.

4. Place the fresh mozzarella balls on top.

Place the pizza with the parchment on the preheated cookie sheet and close the oven. This pizza should cook in 10 to 12 minutes. Check for even cooking after 5 minutes and turn accordingly. The final pizza should be golden brown and more brown on the bottom.

Pull from oven and place aspargus on the pizza in spokes. You may have to trim the asparagus. Place one half mozarrella ball in the middle of the spoke. Serve immediately. Don’t cut this baby until you get a ‘wow factor’ response from your family or hungry guests.

Toro! Sweet Pepper Pizza

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Corno di Toro pizza with sweet peppers, heirloom cherry tomatoes, Gruyere cheese and anchovy.

When Columbus first came to the island of Hispanola, he took time out of torturing the natives who refused to work in the silver mines to find new and exciting varieties of vegetables. Enter capsicum or the sweet pepper into world history. When he got these peppers back to Italy eventually, the locals looked at them with great suspicion and grew them only for decoration.

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Larry Cowdery in his sprawling pepper field and the fruits of his labor ready for killer pie.

These days, as you eat your way around Europe, you’d think these heirloom peppers had been around since the caveman days. Pollo Alla Romana Con I Peperoni (chicken and sweet peppers ) is often served on Ferragosto, August 15th-the main summer holiday in Rome. In Sicily, peperonata, which is either peppers stewed with tomato, onions and mint; or peppers with olives, anchovy, garlic and capers, are both a staple side dish or antipasta found on almost every table. In Spain, the Caldereta de Lagosta (lobster soup) served in the rocky North coast features the spiny lobster, sweet peppers, tomato, garlic and parsley. The list of great pepper usage goes on, from Hungarian Paparika to ‘ Ujja bi’l-Hrus, the Tunisian summer egg dish with caraway, harissa, sweet and hot peppers, paprika and tomato. But enough of these old worlds. Let’s get to the Ohio River Valley.

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Hot wax peppers, Larry and Kim’s horribly mean  pepper guard dog, and baby cayenne peppers.

Larry and Kim Cowdery grow an amazing array of peppers. Their Cayenne, Padron, Hot Wax and Habanero  will take your head off. Poblano, Sweet Italians and Sweet Yellows exhibit a more fruity quality when fresh from these impressive fields.

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Poblanos and sweet bell peppers abound at Cowdery Farms.

When the heirloom Corno di Toro Giallo starts arriving at Cowdery Farms, I’m like the sailor on the Santa Maria screaming “Land Ho!” from the crow’s nest. It’s a signal to all that tomato season is almost over and the pepper season is in its sweetest full swing. In Italian, Corno di Toro means “The horn of the bull” because of its shape, with Giallo meaning yellow. In France it is called Poivron Corne di Taureau.

These thick-walled beauties are prized by many sweet pepper lovers. In fact in 1994, the yellow Toro was named one of the sweetest by Sunset magazine. The sweetness of a freshly diced Toro is clearly evident when eaten fresh, but when roasted, as I like it, the spicy finish engulfs the sweetness in a wave of pepper. After you blurt the obligatory “Wow,” you want another bite. The facination ends when the pepper is inside you and you look around for more.

With all the varieties of vegetables that Larry grows in these fertile Ohio River fields, he’s another Toro fanatic.

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A typical haul of peppers for my breads and pizzas. Clockwise from top left: Spicy Padron, hot yellows,  sweet  Italian, Pablano, and Cayenne. Far left: jalepeno.

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Many thanks to Larry and Kim Cowdery for giving me such wonderful pizza and bread ingredients.

Yes, finally- the recipe.

1 round of pizza dough (choose recipe)

1 Corno di Toro  pepper

3 ounces Gruyere, grated

1/2 sweet or yellow onion, sauteed in 2 tablespoons butter until transluscent

15-18 heirloom cherry tomatoes

6 anchovy filets

Prepping the pepper:

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Light grill or burner on stove on high setting. (Note: when cooking peppers on your stove, make sure you have proper ventilation, and never walk away with the pepper on the flame.) (1) Brush the pepper with olive or vegetable oil. (2) Place the pepper directly over the flame. Cooking times may vary. You are not only charring the skin for easy peeling, you are slowly cooking the pepper and causing the juices inside to boil and produce steam, which releases the sugars and spicy pepper flavors. (3) You want a pepper that’s charred like these. (4) Put the pepper in a bowl and cover with wrap.

By letting the pepper steam in the bowl for 10 to 15 minutes, it will loosen the skin even more for easy peeling.

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(1) Place the charred pepper on a cutting board. You will not need anything except your fingers for peeling if you have properly turned the pepper while cooking. It is easier to start at the top or near the stem to get a good peel and peel all the way down. (2)Peel the pepper. Using your fingers, pull the top or stem off and discard. Pull your fingers down the length of the pepper and split it in half for easier peeling. (3) Place the pepper on your hand and take the residule skin off. Turn the pepper over and scrape the seeds off. I’ve found that several quick shakes in the sink can knock lots of seeds off.

Do not rinse the pepper under running water. It kills the flavor.

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Slice the pepper into thin strips. (The above photo is the flesh from 2 peppers.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place a pizza stone or upside down sheet pan in the oven to heat.

Form the pizza shell. Place on pizza screen or pizza peel.

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Sprinkle the grated Gruyere on the dough.

Agent Goon’s Top-Secret Video of cutting cherry tomatoes…

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Cut the cherry tomatoes using my secret method in the video. (Pssst this is top secret. You may show them to your friends but please kill them afterwards.) Sprinkle them on the pizza. Place sauteed onions on pizza, then (3) the peppers and anchovies.

Place in oven and cook for 7 to 15 minutes, depending upon oven. Remove when the crust is golden brown and the bottom is brown.

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