Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fancy Pants: Golden Beet Caviar with Goat Cheese and Belgian Endive

Entertaining with beets. Is it possible to serve them to company and not come across as some doily-knitting, Borscht-toting grandma? Yes, yes it is. Enter Golden Beet Caviar with Goat Cheese and Belgian Endive. Sweet, bitter, tangy and creamy. Really good.

This recipe is a variation of one from Deborah Madison’s book, “Local Flavors,” and it is a total guiltless summer treat. I have mentioned in a previous post, and I cannot sing its praises enough. Her recipe is a lovely composed salad that uses three beets; red, golden, and Chioggia (those cute little bi-colored ones that resemble a bulls-eye). I chose to make the recipe more of an hors hors d'oeuvre, and stick to one color beet, since red ones tend to turn the whole lot blood-red as soon as you mix them together. Besides, the golden beets looked great at the farmers market.

As Madison notes in her book, the beet caviar is bright and refreshing, and I took her suggestion to make a batch and just keep it in the fridge. Even after the endive was gone, I was spooning the caviar onto rye crackers and mixed green salads…or straight into my mouth every time I passed through the kitchen.

Golden Beet Caviar with Goat Cheese and Belgian Endive

6 golden beets (though you can use any variety)
1 very small sweet onion, finely diced (I despise raw onions of any other variety—the original recipe calls for red onion, so go with your own tastes here.)
3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 Belgian endives
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
Olive oil

1. Remove leaves and stems, and trim root tips of beets. Steam the beets until they are tender-firm when pierced with a knife, 25-45 minutes, depending on their size. Cool, then slip off the skins. Dice finely by hand—or, alternately, cut into chunks and pulse in a food processor until finely chopped, but not mushy.
2. While beets are cooking, toss the onion in the vinegar and ¼ teaspoon salt, and set aside. Toss the beets with the onion and vinegar. Taste for salt and season with pepper. Toss again with parsley and chill.
3. Slice bottoms from endive and remove cores. Remove leaves individually, wash, and let dry.
4. Assemble: Scoop a spoonful of the beet mixture into each leaf, top with crumbled goat cheese. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer Pizza with Peaches and Prosciutto

Growing up, Fourth of July picnics in our neighborhood always involved the following:

1. One sacrificial pig: roasted all night long by a troupe of beer-soaked men who saw it as their patriotic duty to stand a drunken vigil as it reached succulent perfection;

2. A festive parade through the subdivision led by “Uncle Sam” waving from the bed of an old pickup truck (with a chintzy beard of cotton balls adhered to his face with Vaseline, he was predictably hung over from his previous night of Pig Duty with the other “Founding Fathers”); and

3. A huge pot-luck picnic by the neighborhood pool.

While the pig was always the centerpiece of the spread, I always saved room on my plate for what I like to call the Pillsbury Housewife Pizzas. You know exactly what I’m talking about here—a base of ready-made crescent roll or sugar cookie dough from the tube, cream cheese mixed with ranch salad dressing powder or powdered sugar, and topped with either salad veggies or mixed summer fruit. Spoon yourself some Suddenly Salad and a dollop of potato salad from the Piggly Wiggly deli counter, and you’ve got yourself a plateful of old school summer picnic magic.

Fast-forward twenty years to my adulthood. While I long for the mustard sauce-doused pork of my youth, I can leave the soggy, saccharine dessert pizzas behind. This Summer Pizza with Peaches and Prosciutto plays on all the elements of a sweet pizza, but stops just short of being a real dessert. Gorgonzola cheese is the creamy, piquant counter to ripe peaches. Fresh basil and mint lend a bright herbal flavor, and prosciutto and a little brown sugar perpetuate my favorite combination of salty and sweet.

If you’re drinking (and why shouldn’t you be?), try this pizza with a chilled Rosé or a yeasty, spicy, unfiltered Belgian wheat beer.

Prepared pizza dough, your favorite recipe (Note: I like to use the pizza dough recipe from the Joy of Cooking, which makes enough dough for two pizzas)
2 small to medium-sized ripe peaches, chopped
6 tablespoons crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
5 thin slices Prosciutto
5 basil leaves
8 mint leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
cornmeal for dusting
olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 475° F. If using a pizza stone (recommended), preheat it in the oven as well.

2. When oven and stone are preheated, stretch and shape pizza dough on a floured surface. Sprinkle pizza stone/baking sheet with cornmeal, and transfer the dough to the stone. Brush crust lightly with olive oil. Par-bake for approx. 5-7 minutes, or until crust is just barely starting to show signs of browning.

3. While crust par-bakes, lay slices of prosciutto in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook briefly, just long enough to brown it gently, about 2-3 min. on each side. Transfer to a paper towel-covered plate. Prosciutto will crisp up as it cools. Once cool, break prosciutto into small pieces/strips.

4. Once par-baked, remove pizza from oven. Sprinkle on brown sugar, then peaches, prosciutto and Gorgonzola cheese. Place back in the oven and bake for 5-7 minutes more, or until the cheese has melted and the crust has browned nicely. (Peaches will be heated through and perhaps a tad browned, but not broken down.)

5. Remove pizza from the oven. Allow to cool for 3-5 minutes, top with a chiffonade of basil and mint. Slice and serve.