Monday, September 3, 2012

Corn and Tomato Pizza

Have you ever wondered what summer tastes like? I mean, what summer REALLY tastes like? I'm sure you think you've tasted it. Perhaps you've tasted it in parts. But I'm telling you, this pizza (or pie, if you will) is what summer tastes like. It is everything about summer that you look forward to all year, and it's what you'll miss the most as the weather turns brisk. It's the freshest corn of the year, the late summer harvest, and the sweetest cherry tomatoes you've ever had in your life (my dad grew them in his yard!).

The is a white pie, starting with a light and creamy béchamel base and topped with a hard grating cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, or in my case Asiago, and perfectly melty fresh mozzarella. I used local mozzarella from Narragansett Creamery. It's absolutely the best, and it just so happened to be on sale at Whole Foods last week :) Instead of slicing the cheese you just rip it into clumps. It will essentially liquefy under the heat of the broiler.

Fresh garlic and chili flakes add subtle sharpness and spiciness to this creamy and summery pizza pie. The cherry tomatoes roast under the broiler, sweetening and deepening their flavor tenfold. The corn (also local) roasts on top of the pie, adding sweetness and crunch, rounding out this pie to perfection. Finally, fresh basil (also from my dad's garden) adds a bit of brightness. This pie is a summer dream, and in my case was very very locally sourced.

I absolutely love Jim Lahey's pizza dough. It is full-flavored and chewy-textured. The perfect crust. I have reviewed his cookbook and shared the dough recipe previously. It follows his revolutionary no-knead technique, and then marries it with his technique of broiling pies on a very hot pizza stone to mimic the results obtained by using a coal-fired oven. Although I have yet to invest in a thicker pizza stone to retain heat better and brown the bottom more (I'm thinking a restaurant supply store should have a good one), I did adjust my technique a bit from the last time (I raised my pizza stone a bit closer to the broiler so my cooking time was closer to what was stated in the book, and also occasionally opened the oven door to try and force the broiler back on when it would intermittently turn off), and was happy with the results overall.

Corn and Tomato Pie
Makes 1 (10 to 12 inch) pizza
(From My Pizza)

1 ball of pizza dough, shaped and waiting on a floured peel
60 g (1/4 cup) béchamel sauce (recipe follows)
10 g (about 3 T.) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (I used Asiago)
60 g (about 2 oz) fresh mozzarella, pulled into large clumps
1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped
Pinch of chili flakes
Fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
50 g (4 to 6) cherry tomatoes, halved
60 g (about 1/3 cup) fresh corn kernels
8 medium basil leaves, roughly torn

Put the pizza stone on a rack in a gas* oven about 8 inches from the broiler. Preheat the oven on bake at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Switch to broil for 10 minutes.

With the dough on the peel, spoon the béchamel sauce over the surface and spread it evenly, leaving about an inch of rim untouched. Sprinkle the surface with the Parmigiano and distribute the mozzarella. Evenly sprinkle the pie with the garlic, chili flakes, and salt and drizzle just a little olive oil over the top. Arrange the tomato pieces over the pie and scatter the corn on top. Distribute the basil around the pie.

With quick, jerking motions, slide the pie onto the stone. Broil for 3 1/2 minutes under gas (somewhat longer with an electric oven), until the top is bubbling and the crust is nicely charred but not burnt.

Use the peel, transfer the pizza to a tray or serving platter before slicing it into wedges. Serve immediately.

*For an electric oven, place the stone 4 inches from the top heating element, and preheat, on bake, at 500 degrees F for the usual 30 minutes. Then, open the oven door a few inches and leave it ajar for about 30 seconds. Some of the ambient heat will escape, but the stone with stay just as hot. Now close the oven door and switch to broil for 10 minutes to heat the surface to the maximum. Open the door and slide the pizza in to broil. Because the stone is so close to the element, you may need to pull the rack out a few inches to get the pie centered on the stone; do it quickly and don't worry about losing too much heat. With the door closes, broil for roughly 2 minutes longer than specified for gas--until the crust is adequately charred but not burnt and the toppings are bubbling.

*For a bottom broiler, start with the stone in the broiler at the lowest level or on the floor of the oven. Preheat on low for about 20 minutes, and then switch to high for another 5 minutes. Slide in the pizza, close the drawer, and broil as instructed by the recipe (most often 3 1/2 to 4 minutes), until bubbling and properly charred--checking to be sure it's not burning.

Béchamel  Sauce
Makes 470 grams (about 2 cups); or enough for about 8 pizzas
(From My Pizza)

486 g (2 cups) whole milk (I used low-fat and still got excellent results)
113 g (1 stick) unsalted butter
18 g (about 2 1/4 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
2 g (1/4 teaspoon) fine sea salt
3 rasp grates of nutmeg or a pinch of ground nutmeg

Pour about one-third of the milk into a saucepan. Cut the butter into a few chunks (so they'll melt more easily) and add to the milk. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring, until the butter melts but without allowing the milk to reach a boil.

Meanwhile, put the flour in a medium mixing bowl, add the remaining milk, and whisk into a slurry. Once the butter has been completely incorporated into the hot milk; ladle some of the warm mixture into the cold flour mixture to warm it. Pour the contents of the bowl back into the saucepan and whisk it in. Stir in the salt.

Over medium-low heat, whist the mixture frequently--to prevent sticking--as it cooks and thickens. The béchamel is done at about 180 degrees F, when it has reached the consistency of a runny sauce or heavy cream. Grate in the nutmeg and allow the sauce to cool to room temperature. It will continue to thicken slightly as it cools. Use the béchamel immediately or cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 5 days; bring it back to room temperature before using.

*Note* Although Jim Lahey's béchamel technique is not classically French (making a roux and then whisking in the hot milk), I've tried it and it worked beautifully. I may not use it for all of my béchamel needs (making macaroni and cheese, etc), but I'm glad to have learned something new and will definitely use it in the future for making white pizzas and to make béchamel for other purposes. This recipe can easily be reduced. I made less based on how many pizzas I planned on making.


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