Herban Life

Do you know how many half-drafts I've written trying to recap how my life has changed in the last couple months? Way too many. So I'm giving up on the long version.

Here's the down and dirty instead: Goodbye Pennsylvania. Hello Washington. New city. New job (new farm). New apartment. New (aka old, tiny) kitchen. New friends (pending...). Same boyfriend. 

If you still feel a bit in the dark about the whole thing, stay tuned. Details will be released slowly so as not to overwhelm you or me.

Oh also, I have a newfound obsession with homemade pizza night, inspired by newfound easy-peasy recipe for no-knead pizza dough. Why did I hardly ever make pizza dough before? It always seemed such a hassle, something to be planned ahead and fussed with. But no more! I hereby vow to have pizza once a week! Here's to new traditions!

Week one of the new tradition went swimmingly. The new farm doesn't have a lot going in the early spring season, but it does have some herbs that lived through the winter and are going gangbusters now (thank you temperate Pacific Northwest). My favorite new one is lovage, but that's a story for another post. This recipe was inspired by the vibrant chive blossoms bursting into the scene. Because, seriously, who doesn't want to eat pizza with purple flowers on it? 

Here's the trick. You do have to plan ahead...sort of. The pizza dough doesn't require kneading, but it does require a while to rise. The method that works best for me is to make it one evening, let it rise overnight, then shove it in the fridge right before I go to work the next day. It can hang out in the fridge (covered) for a couple of days. Before using, remove from the fridge, sprinkle with flour, shape into two balls,  and let it come to room temperature for an hour or two. 

Spring Herb and Asparagus Pizza

serves 4

STEPS

  1. Plan: Make dough at least 14 hours before you want to use it. Separate dough recipe into two balls.
  2. Prep: Chop up the fresh herbs and garlic. Mix with a healthy drizzle of olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Now you've got a rough pesto/herby "sauce." Chop asparagus into 2 inch pieces. Place in a saute pan with a little bit of water on high heat. Cover with lid and cook 1-2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  3. Assemble I: Preheat oven to 400. Sprinkle two cookie sheets with cornmeal. Pat one dough ball into a disk shape, then lift it into the air and make like a pizza pro--stretch the dough into a large pizza shape over the top of your fists. Lay it down on the cookie sheet and gently pat/stretch it out to the desired size with your fingertips.**  
  4. Assemble II: Spread herby sauce onto dough. Top with mozzarella cheese, asparagus, parmesan cheese, and chive blossoms. Bake for 20 minutes. Increase the heat to 450. Continue baking until bottom of the crust is crispy and cheese is gooey. Top with a few more fresh chive blossoms. 

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe Jim Lahey's No Knead Pizza Dough
  • 1 large handful chopped fresh herbs, such as rosemary, oregano, basil, and thyme
  • 4 garlic cloves (or 3 stalks green garlic)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • a sprinkle of coarse cornmeal
  • 1/2 pound asparagus
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
  • parmesan cheese, shaved or shredded
  • 1 handful chive blossoms, removed from stems and chopped roughly

**A note from Jim Lahey about shaping dough:

Treat it gently so the dough holds its character, its texture. When you get around to shaping the disk for a pie, go easy as you stretch it to allow it to retain a bit of bumpiness (I think of it as blistering), so not all of the gas is smashed out of the fermented dough... I offer you two approaches for shaping. The simpler one, executed completely on the work surface, is slower than the second, where you lift the disk in the air and stretch it by rotating it on your knuckles. Lifting it into the air to shape it is more fun, too.

 

 

strawberry rhubarb

Nothing says early summer to me like the sweet tang of strawberry rhubarb pie. Growing up in Steamboat, strawberry rhubarb time always coincided with the summer solstice. I'm fairly certain it was the mandatory contribution from my mom to the annual summer solstice extravaganza at Lynn Palmer's house out in the "county" (or was it "country"? I never could remember the right way to say someone lived outside of the town itself).

Living in sweltering Pennsylvania, the height of strawberry season usually falls before the solstice, but us farmer folk always have an excuse to gather out in the "county." Last weekend we fested and feasted to send off our friend Taylor, who left us for a new adventure in Alaska. Of course, my (self-imposed) mandatory contribution was a pie. 

Drought, then heavy rains, then extreme heat have been hard on our berries this year. After an early bumper crop, they continue to trickle in at lower rates than we'd like. One of these days after work, I'll muster up the energy to pick a few extra berries and sneak in one more pie in before the solstice passes us by.

I’ve found that simple is best when it comes to this pie. I’m a classicist–-all butter crust, strawberries, rhubarb, and sugar. And of course it has to have a lattice top. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll serve it a la mode, but I like it best for breakfast next to a cup of good coffee.

This recipe uses my go-to pie crust and can be used as an all-purpose dough for both sweet and savory pastries. The less man-handling of the dough, the better. Once water is added to flour and agitated, gluten networks start developing. This is good in leavened bread, but not in pie dough (it makes for a tough crust). Make sure to plan ahead. It wants to be refrigerated for at least 30 min (and up to a few days) before rolling out. 

    Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

    Instructions

    1a. In a food processor: Pulse together flour and salt, then add butter. You want the basic consistency of corn meal, with larger pea-sized chunks of butter visible. Run the motor as you crack in the eggs. Pulse until a shaggy dough forms. Drizzle in ice water until dough forms a ball. 

    1b. By hand: Sift together flour and salt. Cut butter into 1/4-inch pieces. Using your hands, rub butter into the flour until the mixture is the consistency of corn meal, with larger flakes of butter visible. Knead in the eggs until a shaggy dough forms. Drizzle in ice water and continue kneading until dough forms a ball. 

    2. Divide dough into 2 pieces, shape pieces into discs, cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

    All-Purpose Pie Dough

    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    2 sticks cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch slices

    2 eggs

    1-2 tablespoon ice water

    3. Slice strawberries–smaller ones can just get cut in half, larger ones in a few slices. Slice rhubarb like you would celery, into approx. 1/8-inch pieces. Mix berries, rhubarb, sugar, and flour together. Let sit while you roll out the crust.

     

    FILLING

    1 quart fresh strawberries, washed and hulled

    2 cups sliced rhubarb (about 6 nice stalks)

    3/4-1 cup organic cane sugar

    5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

     

    ASSEMBLY

    1.Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

    2. Roll out the crust: Dust a work area with a small amount of flour and slowly work the dough into a larger and larger circle with a rolling pin. Flip dough and dust surface with flour if necessary. When you think the circle is large enough, invert your pie pan and place it on top of the dough. Trim dough so that it is 1 1/2 inches larger than pie pan. Fold dough on itself or roll up on the rolling pin to transfer to pan. Press gently into pan, letting excess hang over the edge.

    3. Pour strawberry-rhubarb mixture into crust.

    4. Top it off: Roll second piece of dough into a circle slightly larger than the top of the pie pan. Cut dough into strips, about 1/2 inch wide. Place half of the strips vertically, 1/2-inch apart, on top of the filling. Make sure that there is a small overhang at the edge. Weave in horizontal strips in an alternating over-under pattern (alternatively, you can weave the whole thing on a flat piece of parchment paper and flip it onto the pie).

    Fold up overhanging pie dough from the bottom crust to seal together bottom and top. Pinch dough between your first finger, thumb and middle finger to create a scalloped edge all the way around.

    Bake for 10 minutes at 450, then decrease the temperature to 350 and bake for another 40 minutes. Let cool for 45 min before eating.