Year of Yeh #7: (variations on) Pizza

Bold or surprising flavor combinations are a hallmark of Molly Yeh’s recipes. The key to many of Yeh’s recipes is trusting her flavor combinations – even when they seem odd – and then being blown away (by how good tahini is in a milkshake, or how adding what seemed like way too much ginger actually resulted in the perfect carrot salad).

But when it came to Yeh’s pizza recipes…I just wasn’t feeling her flavors. The pizza recipes in Molly on the Range are: Hawaiian-inspired pizza pockets, squah-and-arugula pizza, walnut-and-zucchini pizza, and butter-and-salami pizza. Maybe this isn’t very open-minded of me, but I am somewhat of a pizza traditionalist: I don’t really like toppings like butternut squash or walnuts on pizza. So my husband and I made three pizzas of our own, following Yeh’s recipe for pizza dough, but then using our own inspiration for the sauces and toppings. We ended up making three pizzas: (vegan) sausage, cilantro-garlic-corn, and pesto with sun-dried tomatoes.

The recipe: (variations on) pizza
Difficulty level: Moderate
Time: 1 hour (longer if you make pizza dough from scratch, but a lot of that time will be inactive)

Vegan-sausage pizza with spicy tomato sauce.

Making pizza from scratch (the recipes as they are written in the cookbook have you make your own pizza dough) was a learning process! The components and process of making pizza dough are similar to (maybe even exactly the same as) those of bread dough. But pizza dough is a bit tougher because you have to stretch and shape the dough. It took a lot longer than I expected to work the dough into a reasonably thin pizza crust. It’s also tough to transfer your uncooked pizza to a pizza-stone in the oven. My husband and I accidentally deformed a pizza doing this.

Luckily, pizza is robust to mistakes! You can deform your pizza, burn or dry out some of the toppings, and/or leave the dough too thick…but the pizza will most likely still taste good. The cilantro-garlic-corn pizza got deformed, and the corn dried out a bit in the oven…but it was still pizza with creamy cilantro-garlic sauce: it was delicious. The sun-dried tomato pizza wasn’t stretched thin enough, so it was pretty bread-y…but again…it’s pesto pizza: it was still very good. The (vegan) sausage pizza had the fewest technical mistakes, and was also very tasty – and as a bonus, our non-vegetarian friends really liked the vegan sausage too.

Maybe someday I will be more daring and non-traditional, and try Molly Yeh’s actual pizza recipes with toppings like butternut squash, zucchini, and walnuts. But regardless of what pizza toppings you like, I am a huge proponent of making your own pizza! (And side note: I think that getting store-bought/pre-made pizza dough is just as valid as making your dough from scratch)

Technical notes:

  • It’s hard to get pizza dough thin and perfectly round. The key to stretching the dough to an ideal thinness is patience; it just takes a while. As for the key to getting your dough perfectly round…I still don’t know.
  • It’s also challenging to transfer pizza from your work surface to a heated pizza stone in the oven (this was how my husband and I accidentally deformed our first pizza). The best solution that we came up with was putting our pizza on a sheet pan, and then putting the sheet pan on top of the pizza stone. If you know of a better way to get pizza onto a pizza stone, please let me know!
  • Pesto is delicious, but more challenging to work with than marinara or white sauce because it is so oily! Our pesto pizza leaked some oil in the oven.
  • Some toppings shouldn’t be put on until after your pizza has been baked and removed from the oven. Sun-dried tomatoes burn quickly at 500 degrees F, and corn dries out.
  • Pizza freezes really well! If you are making pizza and end up with extra pizza dough…just make an extra pizza and freeze it!

Month in review: September 2019

Hello and HAPPY AUTUMN! I’m glad to be writing this wrap-up, because I’m quite ready for September to be over. The month started out with a cold that knocked me out for a few days, but things were busy and stressful even after I recovered. I didn’t read or bake as much as I had hoped to, but I still got a little bit done!

Books read:

So…I only finished reading one book in September. Luckily, it was a really good book! Lost Children Archive is about a family of four that embarks on a summer road trip to “Apacheria” during the “immigration crisis” at the United States’ southern border. It is a touching book that strikes a great balance between somber, heart-breaking, sweet, and funny.

Bakes inspired by the books:

I baked two things this month. Inspired by The Truffle Underground, I made fungus-filled pizza…which is disgusting phrasing but delicious eating (it was a pizza that had baker’s yeast, bleu cheese, and porcini mushrooms).

For Lost Children Archive, I made banana-ginger cheesecake bars. Both of my bakes this month were pretty experimental, and I am happy to be taking more risks in my baking now. In the case of the banana-ginger cheesecake bars, the risk didn’t result in anything spectacular; but the mushroom pizza was amazingly good!

Books in progress/October reading goals:

I’m currently about halfway through Lab Girl by Hope Jahren; I have mixed, but overall positive feelings about it so far. I am also still working on An Orchestra of Minorities! It is long (~450 pages) and I have been getting through it pretty slowly, but I hope to finish it this month. I also hope to read The Invention of Nature and Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis.

Some great blog posts I came across in September:

  • Katie at Never Not Reading posted a moving piece about the value of reading books about people who are different from you (something I wholeheartedly agree with)
  • Vee at Millenial Life Crisis nicely summarized the essentials of self-esteem
  • Ashley at Mental Health at Home tackled the notion of “drug seeking” – a phrase that is commonly and wrongly used to describe people who use medication – and explained why it is problematic
  • Tess McClure published an amazing article about the dark side of the “healing crystal” trend that is especially popular amongst consumers who practice “alternative” lifestyles

Favorite photos this month:

The Truffle Underground (and my above-ground fungal feast)

The book: The Truffle Underground by Ryan Jacobs.

Last month, I read The Truffle Underground by Ryan Jacobs. This non-fiction book exposes the fraud, corruption, and even violence that goes on in the truffle mushroom industry – generally, without the knowledge of the consumer. As a lover of fungi, I was compelled to learn about the dark side of the delicacy known as truffle mushrooms.

Although the subject matter of The Truffle Underground intrigued me, the first 60 (or so) pages of the book did not. I thought the book got off to a boring start without any real hook. In fact, I felt like the writing was attempting to be intriguing – without much success.

After the slow start, however, The Truffle Underground really picked up. The book became compelling partly because the rampant corruption in the truffle industry is shocking, and partly because the writing starts to flow better after the first few chapters. Jacobs exposes issues in the truffle industry ranging from malicious sabotage of competitors, “under-the-table” dealings, tax evasion, and fraudulent mislabeling of much less valuable truffle species as the delicacy Tuber melanosporum. One thing that has especially stuck with me is that “truffle oil” is one of the biggest lies in the food industry: it is virtually never made purely from Tuber melanosporum, and oftentimes contains no mushroom in it whatsoever.

Overall, I’m glad that I read The Truffle Underground. Learning about the dark side of the truffle industry was unsettling, but it also provided me with a much more nuanced perspective of the industry. After reading this book, I will probably never eat any food product with the word “truffle” in its name (besides chocolates, of course). If you want to learn about the world of complexity and corruption that lies beneath one of the finest delicacies in the food world, I definitely recommend this book – just be warned that it can be a bit boring at times.

The bake: fungus lovers’ pizza.

While it turned out to be a fascinating read, The Truffle Underground turned me off of truffle mushrooms in the strongest way possible. So a bake that incorporated “truffle oil” or “truffle cheese” or any BS truffle product was out of the question. Instead, I turned to some other edible fungi that I love: Saccharomyces cerevisiae (bakers’ yeast), Penicillium roqueforti (blue stilton cheese), and Boletus edulis (porcini mushroom) – and combined them into one fungus-tastic pizza!

I didn’t follow any recipe for the pizza. I just bought pizza dough from the grocery store, then topped it with a homemade garlic-ricotta sauce, mozzarella cheese, bleu cheese, porcini mushrooms, and basil. I had read that a common mistake with homemade pizzas is overloading the dough with too many toppings, so I was pretty modest with the toppings. I baked my pizza on the top rack of an oven at 450 degrees (F), and took it out when the crust was lightly browned.

This pizza was AMAZING! I probably could have been more generous with the toppings, and also taken the pizza out of the oven a couple minutes sooner. That being said, it was still deliciously decadent, and the various flavors (garlic, ricotta, bleu cheese, basil, etc) worked well together. While I will probably never eat anything “truffle”-flavored ever again, I still love and appreciate edible fungi in the forms of yeast, mushrooms, and bleu cheese.

Served with a dash of hot sauce and a fungal-fermented drink (BEER!)