Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cooking Floyd: Mid-Winter Bring Your Own Toppings Pizza Party

Cabin fever tends to strike everywhere in January but thanks to early and unseasonal cold and snows in December it seems to be hitting Floydians especially hard this year.  Last Sunday in an attempt to drive off some of that winter depression and celebrate my birthday we held a Mid-Winter Bring Your Own Toppings Pizza Party.  The premise was we would supply crusts, sauces and cheeses, and salad, and our guests would bring their favorite toppings to personalize their pizzas.  The turn-out was huge with some guests driving in from 30 miles away, braving the dark, deer, and potentially slippery roads.  This was definitely the largest gathering we've had in our home to date and gave us a good idea of the maximum capacity our house will hold and still be comfortable for socializing.

We had a great group of people attend ranging in age from 2 to 70 years old, and just as diverse in occupation.  Some of our guests were born and raised here with family histories dating back to the original land grants while others of us were recent (and not so recent) "blow-ins" as the Irish call them.  Conversation was lively.
We started off with a salad topped with Dilly Beans, Sweet Gherkins, Asparagus, Pickled Mushrooms, Roasted Red Peppers, Caramelized Tomatoes, tiny Herbed Currant Tomatoes, Feta steeped in Rosemary Oil, Artichoke Hearts and Kalamata Olives, all but the last two from our pantry shelves and freezer. The salad was accompanied by a choice of Sundried Tomato, Tahini Parsley, and Buttermilk Ranch Dressings.
Tahini-Parsley Dressing
1 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup tahini
4 tsp soy sauce
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp honey
1/3 cup water
4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Mash garlic and salt together until they form a paste.  Add tahini, soy, vinegar and honey and combine.  Add water 1 tsp at a time until pourable.  Stir in parsley.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons powdered cultured buttermilk
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery leaves
3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion
1 small shallot, minced
Salt and Pepper to taste
Whisk first 3 ingredients in large bowl. Mix in remaining ingredients. Cover and chill at least 1 hour to blend flavors.  Buttermilk powder can be found in the baking aisle or near the canned/powdered milk at the grocery store.

Sun Dried Tomato Dressing
½ cup chopped sundried tomatoes (after rehydrating)
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¾ cup olive oil
1 small clove garlic smashed to a paste with a little salt
4 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, mixed (parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, chives, any combination) or 1 tablespoon dried of mixed dried herbs
salt and pepper to taste
Place the dried tomatoes in a small bowl and add just enough boiling water to cover them.  Allow to rehydrate until most of the water is absorbed.  Drain the tomatoes, reserving the water, and chop.  Return to the bowl along with the reserved water.  Add the remaining ingredients, stir, and adjust the salt and pepper to taste.
When all the toppings were set out and the oven was hot and ready there was much discussion of the art of pizza building and topping arrangement.

First there was a choice of sauces: classic pizza sauce, marina, chunky spaghetti sauce, and a meat sauce.  Cheeses included hard Mozzarella, fresh Mozzarella, a mix of Colby and Monterrey Jack, Asiago, Parmesan, Chevre, Feta, and Ricotta.  There was sausage, pepperoni, burger, bacon, smoked salmon, and anchovies.  Spinach, olives, roasted red pepper strips and spread, pesto, caramelized onions, a mix of fresh onions and peppers, pepperoncini, shitake and button mushrooms, fresh and roasted tomatoes, garlic confit and fresh garlic, olive oil and garlic oil, and an array of herbs rounded out the spread.  Everything from standard classic pizzas to white pizzas to new creative combinations came piping hot from the oven.

Pizza Crust (recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour)
Yield: 4 personal size pizzas, 2 standard round pizzas, or 1 large Sicilian pizza
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
7/8 to 1 1/8 cups lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Dissolve the active yeast with a pinch of sugar, in the water.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and make a well in the center.  Pour the yeast water into the well and add the olive oil.  Combine ingredients, stirring from the center of the well out to the edge, gradually moistening all ingredients.  Depending on the humidity of your house, you may have to add a little water a bit at a time to moisten everything.  Mix and knead the dough until it holds together but is kind of shaggy in appearance.  You don't want to over knead it.

Allow to rise at room temperature for about 45 minutes, then cover with plastic and refrigerate for 4-24 hours.  This allows the crust to develop flavor.  I usually go for the full 24 hours.

After the dough has chilled, allow it to sit at room temperature for an hour before working it.  Divide the dough into the number of balls you want (see yield above).  Shape and stretch it.  If the dough is fighting you by snapping back, allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes and then continue to shape it.  Allow the shaped crust to rise a little while preheating the oven to 450F.

Lightly drizzle the pan with olive oil and place the shaped crust on it.  DO NOT TOP THE CRUST!  The oil will promote a nice brown crust.  Bake untopped for 8 minutes, rotating the pan at 4 minutes.  At 8 minutes, pull the crust from the oven and allow to cool.

At this point you can choose to wrap and freeze the crust for later use or add your toppings.

To bake your topped pizza, heat the oven to 500F with the rack placed in the middle.  Depending on the amount of your toppings, baking can take anywhere from 8-15 minutes.  Pull out of the oven when the pizza has reached your desired melted golden cheesiness.

Topping off the evening were slices of my friend Nancy's lemony pound cake, her gift to satisfy the birthday girl's love of citrus.
Everyone declared the evening a great success and a sure cure for the mid-winter doldrums. Suggestions were made that the Bring Your Own Toppings Pizza Party should become an annual event, but I'm thinking that if we ever get that outdoor wood-fired oven built it will make a fine entertainment for a summer's evening as well!

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