Monday, May 17, 2010
I found my favorite cookbook, The Taste of Summer, in a small-town used book store, right before I started working as a cook/housekeeper for the rectory at St. Francis de Sales in 2004. The recipes are, as the title suggests, summer-oriented and entertaining-friendly: Lots of grilled meat and vegetables, salads, cold and hot soups, appetizers and desserts. The extra tips are also extremely useful: picnic-packing recommendations, wine pairings, and instructions for optional advance preparation of each dish. The extensive menu suggestions with each recipe served me well for a long series of semi-formal 4-course dinner parties, 12-20 people each, throughout the first year of my culinary career. But just one or two dishes make a perfectly lovely dinner at home, no special occasion required.
It is the source of my most popular party food of the Royal Street years (Goat Cheese and Pesto Torta), my go-to picnic-potluck salad (Green Bean Salad with yellow pepper, jicama, and tomato), the chicken chili of which I made way way too much for the Blue Room college graduation party (I told people not to eat before they came!), my standard rosemary-lemon roasted chicken, pesto chicken, the best grilled lamb with mustard-sage crust, the best pasta with Italian sausage and peppers, summer squash gratin with leeks and rice, plum-hazelnut tart, almond cookies with lemon and port, wine-poached peaches with raspberry sauce... seriously, I've probably made 1/3 of the recipes in the book. Only one was a total flop (possibly user error), and only 3 or 4 weren't good enough to my taste to make again (mostly in the soup chapter). The pages are splotched and sticky and the binding has separated from the innards.
After my allergy diagnosis, I didn't use it for a long time, since I was trying to learn how to cook gluten- egg- dairy- and frequently meat- free. The specialized diet blogs and vegan cookbooks helped me tremendously, to the point that I am now revisiting "normal" cookbooks with the confidence to alter the recipes as needed. So I've come back to it, and my current favorite is a recipe I somehow never made in the St. Francis days: Pizza with leeks, pancetta, and fresh tomatoes. It's a little bit labor intensive, like any homemade pizza, but so so worth it. In fact, the first time I made this, I also made a Manly sausage and mushroom pizza in case Brooks didn't care for the Girly/California pizza, but he actually liked it better, and he's no wimp in the manly pizza-eating department. So here is the recipe, to tempt you to keep an eye out for this book. I have simplified the preparation steps and changed the cooking method, since I haven't been brave enough to try grilling pizza as instructed.
Pizza with Leeks, Pancetta, Mozzarella, and Tomatoes
Modified from The Taste of Summer
1/2 pound tomatoes
3 leeks, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
1/2 pound pancetta (I usually use bacon, either regular or turkey)
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (on mine I use whatever mild goat cheese I can find)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Pizza dough for 2 9-inch rounds
cornmeal and oil for the pans
Oil two baking sheets and sprinkle with cornmeal. Cook the bacon in a frying pan and drain on paper towels. Pour off the grease but keep a tablespoon in the pan. Add the sliced leeks and saute over medium-low heat until tender. Remove from heat. Slice the tomatoes thinly and blot on paper towels to remove excess moisture. Roll out the pizza dough and transfer to prepared baking sheets. Top each with half the leeks, half the mozzarella, and half the bacon (crumbled). Arrange the tomato slices evenly and sprinkle with fresh basil. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes or until done.
Eat and marvel at the utter deliciousness!