I came home from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market today with two kinds of amazingly juicy and flavorful peaches (Spring Crest and an unspecified yellow, 2# each), a bulb of fennel, a bag of three red onions, pickling cucumbers, and a little paper bag with about eight morel mushrooms. I’ve been coveting the morels for a while, but have been deterred by, oh, the extravagance — $12/half #. Turns out that mine were about $3, and the kind mushroom man even threw in a few extra.
For the peaches, all were dipped in boiling water for a minute before being plunged in an ice bath, cut with an x, and slipped out of their skins. They were both clingstone (as opposed to freestone), so I did my best to extricate as much flesh as possible with my knife. The Spring Crest peaches were mixed with half their weight in sugar and the juice of a lemon; they’ll be boiled into peach preserves tomorrow. For a peach crisp, the other half were mixed with just a couple teaspoons of flour in my beloved Emile Henry pie dish to thicken up the juices (recipe, such as it is in its simple genius, from Chez Panisse Desserts; no added sugar necessary if you’ve got sweet fruit), and baked with a crisp topping — flour, dark brown sugar, oats (ALL crisps need oats, as far as I’m concerned, and no nuts), salt, butter (I have the luxury of having some Echire in my fridge that I’m just dying to get rid of before it goes bad; I’m happy with Challenge butter, too), and cinnamon; I also added a bit of cardamom, black pepper, and dried thyme for intrigue. Baked it until it bubbly, and let it cool down a little. I knew once my serving spoon effortlessly glided through it that it would be just what I wanted.
I pulled some noyaux ice cream that I had out of the freezer to accompany it, because cold ice cream melting into a warm crisp is one of my favorite things in the world. I made it when I had apricot pits to spare from an apricot preserves project. Noyaux are the almond-like kernels found in the middle of stone fruits’ pits. They look like this…
They impart a slightly bitter almond flavor, much like Amaretto liqueur, which is, in fact, made mainly with noyaux (not almonds). It may seem like a tedious endeavor to get them out, but it’s fun if you’re in the mood. The key is cushioning, because it involves wielding a hammer. Fold a plush dish towel under a cutting board, and fold some paper towels into layers. Scatter a few apricot pits (or peach or cherry) amongst the paper towels on the cutting board, and tap-TAP with a hammer until each cracks open and extricate the nuggets inside. I infused 20 of them in 2 cups cream, 1 cup milk, and 1/3 cup sugar for about half an hour and added a pinch of salt and touch of vodka before chilling and spinning it into ice cream (I’m often leaving the yolks out of my ice cream now for a cleaner flavor; it’s also nice that it’s easier this way). I still have about 25 noyaux leftover from that; they’re in my freezer, but I’m not sure if that will preserve them.
To make candied fennel, the fennel bulb was sliced, poached until tender in water, salt, and lemon juice, and then poached in a weak simple syrup until translucent; method from The French Laundry Cookbook. I’ll have it with the crisp or ice cream/sorbet or yogurt or something over the next month. I was inspired to make this by Carol’s recent post.
The pickling cucumbers will turn into refrigerator pickles in the next couple days, and the red onions will also be pickled.
And now… morel pizza talk. I was craving pizza last night, but in a moment of lucidity, $15 for a delivered pizza seemed a little outrageous. I had instant dry yeast, flour, salt, and water, so there was no excuse for me not to make it myself. I used a drop-dead easy recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. You just mix the ingredients together (I subbed 10% of the flour with whole wheat flour; and he suggests chilling the flour before mixing), divide the dough into pieces, shape them into balls, and chill (or put in oiled bags in your freezer and defrost a day in advance of baking). Then, you take out however much you want over a three day period, and put it on the counter 2 hrs before you want to eat (so that it can fully proof). Fire up your oven as high as it will go, shape the dough using your best impression of a pizzeria worker, and bake for about 8 minutes. Since the chill in the fridge slows the growth of the yeast, the flavor is deeper/smoother and the texture creamier than a shorter, more laborious method.
I admit, though, that sometimes drop-dead easy isn’t enough for me. I kind of messed it up… before saving it. The recipe calls for 20 oz flour and much less water, but in a fog of carefree ease, I added 20 oz of water, too. I discovered that after the dough was supposed to be done mixing. Sure, it had looked suspiciously wet, but I’ve seen many wet doughs pull themselves together eventually. This one was still wet… and pretty tough with gluten when I pulled an ear to check it. So, I did some quick math, and added the appropriate amounts of flour, salt, and yeast to fix it. I mixed it in a stand mixer to integrate it, but I was concerned that that the gluten already formed was getting too strong, so I kneaded it by hand to even it. It’s pretty hard to over-knead a batch of dough by hand, so I hope that I closed the gap some between the high and low gluten levels.
When I came home with my morels this morning, I was determined to have morel pizza for lunch, but I wasn’t sure how the morels would like being baked in a scorching oven. Reinhart talks about how the mastery of pizza involves mastering the moment when the crust and the topping are done at the same time, without sogginess or burning. Since I don’t really like mushrooms and tomatoes together, my pizza was only going to be cheese and vegetable, so I decided not to tempt fate trying to conjure up perfect topping-crust timing wizardry. I would simply heat the crust and the topping separately.
I followed Suzanne Goin’s advice to soak the morels gently in warm water to clean, because they did look a touch dirty, and dried them as best I could. Then I adapted a recipe from the Mustard’s cookbook for Morel Mushroom and Goat Cheese Toasts, subbing what I had on hand — red onions for shallots, feta for goat cheese, dried thyme for fresh, and pizza crust for toast. The morels were sauteed with red onions, thyme, black pepper, oil, butter, and cognac, eyeballing all of the amounts.
I shaved some parmesan cheese onto the shaped dough, baked it for about 8 minutes at 500F, crumbled on some feta, topped it with the morel mixture, and garnished with parsley. It was pretty amazing. And yes, the only thing better than morels on pizza is morels with cognac. The crust was nicely webbed, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside — and didn’t seem damaged. Not bad for a roughly $4 pizza, hastily photographed so that I could eat.
This was all done by 2:00pm, which is great, because I have a new candy bar to (hopefully) finish up…