Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Setting aside spades and worries

Pepper and Eggplant Coca
It's been a quiet summer for the two of us. We stuck pretty close to home, busy tending to ideas and vegetable beds, hoping that in time they'd flourish. But summer is fast fading, which means that many of our good friends, who've spent the summer away, will be back in town. I'm thinking that it's time that we set aside our spades and worries for a little and think about breaking the quiet, about maybe having a party.
When we do, this flatbread is sure to be a part of it. (If you want to get fancy, this flatbread is technically a Catalan coca of sorts.) It is perfect late-summer party fare--just red pepper, onion, and eggplant cooked down into a luxurious mess, spread out on thin stretches of dough, and then slipped into a hot oven for a scant few minutes. There, the onion especially melts and chars, while the dough blisters and bakes up shatteringly crisp. Cut into squares, it is ready to be passed around.
In a row
This flatbread is decidedly unfussy. The dough, though yeasted, is forgiving. I have let it sit out an hour or two longer than it really should have and then stuck extra in the fridge for later use. It held up just fine. You could definitely cook down the vegetables a few hours, maybe a day even, in advance. And with everything prepped, you could easily keep turning out flatbreads with a party in full swing.

Onion, Red Pepper, and Eggplant Coca
Adapted from Sam and Sam Clark's Moro East

112 g / 1 cup bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1/3 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
75 ml / scant 1/3 cup water
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium eggplant, cut into half-inch cubes
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
2 medium Spanish onions, roughly chopped
2 red peppers, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped rosemary

To make the flatbread dough, place the flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly. Stir together the oil and water in a cup. Make a well in the flour and then pour in the water mixture a little at a time, mixing constantly with your hands. When all the yeast mixture has been incorporated, transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead well for at least 5 minutes. If the dough is still stick, add a little more flour; if it is too stiff, a little more water. It is ready when no longer tacky but soft, elastic, and smooth. Put the dough in a clean, oiled  bowl and leave to rise until doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours. After proofing, it can be chilled until needed. Give it some time to come back to room temperature, about an hour.
For the topping, first toss the eggplant with the salt in a colander and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a heavy, 10-inch sauté pan and, when hot but not smoking, add the onions with a pinch of salt. Give them a good stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peppers and cook for 15-20 minutes more, until the onions are golden and sweet and the peppers soft. Be sure to stir them often so they cook evenly and do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Blot the eggplant dry with a towel, add to the pan along with the rosemary, and cook for a final 15 minutes, stirring often, until the eggplant is soft all the way through. Remove from heat and rain off any excess oil. Check the seasoning and set aside to cool.
When ready to bake the flatbread, preheat the oven to 525 degrees F (with a baking stone, if you have one). Divide the dough into two and roll out half very thinly to make a 12-inch by 8-inch oblong. If it's being stubborn, cover and let rest for a few minutes for the gluten to relax and then try again. Place it on a peel, if using a baking stone, or on a baking sheet, if not. Spread half the vegetables over the surface, right up to the edges of the dough. Bake for 8-15 minutes (flatbread baked on a stone will take significantly less time), until browned and crispy underneath. While the first flatbread is in the oven, start rolling and topping the next one. They are great served piping hot from the oven or at room temperature.
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pie season

Peach and raspberry pie!
I'm kind of crazy about fruit pies. They are pretty much everything I want in something sweet--just rich, flaky pastry spilling over with bright, luscious fruit. But I hardly ever make pies. I know, I know. A terrible shame. But you know how it is. Fruit pies are a finicky thing. Between pulling together the pastry, piling in the fruit, and letting it all bubble and bake, there can be a lot of heartbreak. So as much as I love them, I don't bake pies nearly enough.
But I'm hoping that will change, starting with this pie--peach-raspberry with pecan crumble. It is so, so good. It starts out with peaches--blanched and peeled, then roasted until silken and slumped. Then, come the raspberries, stirred into the still-hot peaches. These, once piled into a buttery shell, get mounded with pecan crumble, which bakes up golden and craggy. It's a bit involved, I know. A pie that will likely keep you in the kitchen all afternoon and leave you with a sink full of dishes. There's no hiding that. But this pie is also spectacular, quite possibly the best I've had. The peaches are intense, concentrated, deeply floral from their roasting. And the raspberries scattered throughout are so perfect with them, little pockets of jammy, puckery brightness. The pecan crumble too is spot on--it delivers needed crunch, with all that slumped, soft fruit. All in all, swoon-worthy.
Frozen pie shell, raspberries, peaches Peeling peaches Roasted peaches
The pie comes from the new Hoosier Mama Book of Pie. Hoosier Mama is local pie shop here in Chicago--an impressive sliver of a storefront and bakery that turns out wonderful pies all year long. They are very serious about their pie there. They are all about buttery, flaky pastry, all about intense, swoon-worthy fillings. It is my kind of shop. So I'm really glad that they've decided to share some of their pie wisdom in this book. Paula Haney and Allison Scott offer encouraging instruction. They recognise that pie-making is something that has mostly fallen out of favour at home and that the wisdom that went with it is largely lost to us. So they explain their process in detail and illustrate with lots of step-by-step photos. These definitely help with potential heartbreak. I am particularly thrilled to have picked up their crimping technique. The crusts at Hoosier Mama always have the most gorgeous, defined crimp. And now mine aren't so bad looking either.
I really would like to make more than one or two pies every year. Pie is just too good to not have around more often. And from here on out, I don't think it's going to be too much of a problem. The peach-raspberry pie is a bit demanding--one to keep in mind for when you want to make someone feel really special--but there are plenty of easier pies in the book. I'm already thinking about my next pie,  likely Lemon Chess with Sticky Blueberries. The gooey filling comes together in five minutes, and the blueberries should be a snap too. And then there's the pie after that. The first apples have already started showing up at the markets, and this book gives apples a lot of love. Classic apple, caramel-apple cider, apple and quince, dutch apple with sour cream custard, etc., etc. I can't wait! This, friends, is the start of pie season.
Fruit in the shell Pecan crumble Baked pie
One final note. As you can probably see, my pie filling is a little runnier than it should be. I wasn't very diligent in following the roasting directions for the peaches. I didn't have an appropriate-sized baking pan and thought my peaches were cooking too quickly, so I pulled them out at the 25-minute mark. It didn't occur to me at the time just how important the long roast was. But this pie's crumble topping mounds over the entire surface. That means none of the water remaining in the peaches evaporates in the final bake. Those peaches need to roast for at least 40 minutes. My mistake.
Slumpy slice

Peach-Raspberry Pie with Pecan Crumble
From Paula Haney and Allison Scott's Hoosier Mama Book of Pie
NOTE: To peel peaches, bring a wide pot of water to a boil. Using a paring knife, make an X in the bottom of each peach. Blanch the peaches for 45 second or so, in batches if need be. Remove the peaches with a slotted spoon and immediately transfer them to a bowl of ice-water. Peel the peaches, starting from the X. If a peach is being stubborn, try repeating the blanching process. If this doesn't work, take your vegetable peeler to it.

1 single-crust, blind-baked All-Butter Pie Dough shell (available as a PDF here)
125 g / 1 cup raspberries
1230 g / 8 cups peeled peach slices (see note above)
15 g / 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
.5 g / 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
200 g / 1 cup granulated sugar
31 g / 3 tablespoons potato starch
Pinch of kosher salt
1 recipe Pecan Crumble (see below)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Pick through the raspberries, discarding any stems, leaves, or shrivelled berries. Set aside. (There's no need to wash them--the berries grow way off the ground.)
Place the peeled peach slices in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice and almond extract and toss until the peaches are well coated.
Place the sugar, potato starch, and salt in a small bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour the dry ingredients over the peaches and gently toss until most of the dry ingredients cling to the peaches.
Spray a 9 x 13-inch non-reactive baking pan with cooking spray. (I used butter without much issue.) Transfer the peaches to the baking pan and bake for 20 minutes. 
Remove the pan from the oven and stir the peaches, making sure to scrape out any ingredients that stick to the sides of the baking dish. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 more minutes. 
Repeat this step until the peach juices are thickened and translucent. The peach slices should be tender but still hold their shape. Stir the raspberries directly into the hot peaches and cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, spoon the fruit into the pie shell and top with 1/2 of the Pecan Crumble. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crumble is lightly toasted. (I'd recommend setting your pie plate on a baking sheet--you might get a few drips over the side.) Top the pie with remaining crumble and bake 20-25 minutes more, until the top is crispy.
Cool for at least 1 hour before slicing. The pie can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days and in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Pecan Crumble
From Paula Haney and Allison Scott's Hoosier Mama Book of Pie
NOTE: To toast the pecans, spread them out on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees F for 10 minutes.

148 g / 1 cup all-purpose flour
100 g / 1/2 cup granulated sugar
30 g / 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
50 g / 1/2 cup toasted pecans
84 g / 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
Pinch of kosher salt

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Mix on low until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Increase the speed to medium and mix until gravel-sized pieces form.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before using to top a pie. The crumble can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.