These individual pizzas come from the episode where the "cheftestants" were asked to create a delicious and healthy lunch that would be served to, and voted on by, kids at a weight loss camp. I found these pizzas to be easy to make and very very yummy!
The Pizza Sauce:
First you have to chop the onion. I tried to chop it as finely as I could so that would get a smooth sauce.
I sautéed the onion until soft, and then I added the garlic - it's key at this point to make sure the heat is not too high - you do NOT want to burn that garlic - that would make the sauce taste bitter.
As I wrote above, the recipe called for puréed tomatoes. However, I was in a rush and went only to Eli's for all my ingredients, and since Eli's is a more of a "specialty" market, I could not (at least on that day, at that time) find any puréed tomatoes, so I bought crushed tomatoes instead. I found when the sauce was properly cooked down, it was still too lumpy to be a pizza sauce, so I used my electric beater to smooth it out. An immersion blender would have worked as well.
The recipe calls for 4 normal-sized whole wheat pitas. I have to say, the ones I got at Eli's were great. They had great flavor and were not too thick. They were not the standard Thomas' Sahara pitas. In fact, I made this recipe a second time with the Sahara pitas, and it did not come out as well - amazing the difference that one component can make!
Anyway, the whole idea of using pita as the "crust" is brilliant - they obviate the need to buy pizza dough, are already round, and have substance to them to hold all the toppings - and the fact that they are whole wheat makes them healthier than regular white flour pizza dough.
Before putting the sauce on the pizzas, you're supposed to put ¼ cup olive oil (total) on the four pitas. This is WAY too much olive oil. All they needed was a drizzle spread out on the pitas. Using the full amount led to pools of oil in the middle of the pitas that I mopped up with paper towels before putting on the sauce. I would recommend half the amount called for.
When made for the Top Chef competition originally, the recipe called for sausage. Just as a matter of personal taste, I am really pleased that this version calls for prosciutto. That's just me, but I've never really liked sausage pizza.
The toppings are pretty straightforward, and that's one of the reasons this recipe is so amazing. The toppings are sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.
First you put on the tomato slices.
The sliced fresh mozzarella went on next. I cannot tell you how much I love fresh mozzarella. It has such a wonderful slightly sweet and tangy flavor and spongy but slightly firm texture. It feels so good in the mouth uncooked, such as when part of a caprese salad (fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil) or as part of a cold antipasto. But another great thing about fresh mozzarella is how well it melts and acquires a slight "skin" (in a good way - provides a great texture contrast) and mild earthy taste when cooked. My advice is to use fresh mozzarella that is directly wrapped in plastic, and not the fresh mozzarella that is packed in water, because it runs the risk of being too watery and releasing that water during the cooking process.
I arranged the mozzarella so that it covers the pizzas evenly, but wouldn't run over the sides when it started to melt.
Putting the basil and prosciutto on after the pizzas were cooked made no sense to me, and so I deviated from the recipe. During the last two minutes of cooking the pizza, I added the prosciutto and basil. I felt applying just a little bit of heat to the basil would warm up the oils in both of the prosciutto and basil to release their scent and flavors. I think I was right. The prosciutto slightly tightened up and intensified in flavor, and the basil wilted just slightly. The whole pan of pizzas let off an amazing aroma.
The individual pizzas were adorable and fit perfectly on the plates.
My Suggestions To Make This Already Great Dish Even Better:
The only thing I can think of to make this dish better is to substitute in fresh buffalo mozzarella. Buffalo mozzarella might have even made these pizzas more amazing. Buffalo mozzarella is different from regular cow's milk mozzarella because Buffalo milk has a higher fat content and more milk solids than cow's milk, making Buffalo mozzarella richer and slightly creamier in texture and more buttery tasting and flavorful than cow's milk.
The other thing I'd suggest to make the recipe easier is to use dried oregano instead of fresh oregano, especially since the amount called for is so little (so it obviates the need to waste all the left-over fresh oregano if you have nothing else to use it for), and because the difference between the flavor imparted by fresh oregano and dried is de minimus.
Final Word On this Dish:
MY FRIENDS AND I LOVED THESE PIZZAS!!!
More About this Episode:
I distinctly remember this episode - this is the episode where everyone got in trouble! Basically, as I wrote above, all the contestant chefs were asked to create a delicious and healthy lunch that would be served to kids at a weight loss camp. Each meal had to, in total, be less than 500 calories. So, on Day 1 of the challenge, the teams of chefs created their lunches, with a nutritionist on hand to calculate how many calories were in each ingredient, and ultimately calculated how many were in each lunch. But THEN, was Day 2 - and on Day 2, there were no nutritionists or other "inspectors" watching, except for the cameras of course. And the recipes were, not very surprisingly, a little different from the day before. Betty's meringue cookies that at first were made with Splenda (and were a complete flat failure) were now being made with good old fashioned cane sugar, and - big surprise-worked -they were puffy, pretty, light and fluffy. Contestants who the day before had carefully been measuring out mere dribbles of canola oil, were now liberally squirting olive oil everywhere. There were other transgressions as well. Alas - how many calories are in each of the pizzas when following the recipe in the Top Chef Cookbook? I do not know, BUT, I do know one thing: These pizzas were super-delicious and super-easy to make.
Cooking with Wine:
Sometimes, it's frustrating when recipes call for only ¼ cup of wine. The questions always are, "Do I open I bottle of wine for this? Should it be a good bottle or an "off" wine? Is there such a thing as a 'cooking wine'?" Nowadays, there really isn't such a thing as "cooking wine." I don't think you can find "cooking wine" anywhere anymore. Rule of thumb is that is you can't (or could never) stomach drinking it, you shouldn't cook with it. So, what I do is I immediately save leftover wine that I have (whether whit e or red) in my refrigerator with a cork in the bottle. I even mix leftover wines (white with white and red with red, of course!), but that old wine is saved for the sole purpose of cooking with it. For drinking, you'd never mix wines, and frankly after only a day for red and a couple of days for white, leftover wine is no longer worthy of drinking. But in the fridge, even if the wine starts to oxidize, it's fine to cook with. Wine goes bad (for drinking) when exposed to oxygen, heat, and light - but when cooking, that's exactly what you do - you apply heat; it's out in the light; oxygen certainly gets incorporated in it; and most, if not all, of the alcohol is released or burned off. So the bottom line is that leftover wine, especially when only ¼ or ½ cup is called for in a recipe, is perfect for cooking.
My thoughts on the Top Chef season premiere, after the jump.Episode One: Melting Pot
Finally! Top Chef is BACK. And this time in NEW YORK! And Carolyn Dizon is HAPPY. My home town!!!! If New York is not the culinary capital of the world, then it's at least definitely the capital of the United States.
Padma says this is the toughest season yet. When she says that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere - she is not kidding. I have friends that literally say, "I don't travel - why should I? I live in NY." I won't name names.
OK - on with the show!
The Quickfire Challenge was MEAN!!!! If you basically cannot work with apples in the Big Apple, you're out after the Quickfire. And I was wondering why there were 17 contestants. Ah-hah. Talk about elimination "Big Apple" style! So some poor shlub was going to get eliminated without even making it to the big game. It made me sad. Still - it WAS just working with apples. If you can't properly peel apples with a paring knife, you probably shouldn't be in the game.
Now, first of all, I had a SERIOUS problem with ANYONE making it through the top nine to finish safely, when half of his apples were all covered with blood. As far as I'm concerned, even the most beautifully peeled apple, covered in blood, is not a properly peeled apple. I would have made him do all of his bloody apples over. Chef
Tom, come on, what were you thinking? I know you would never SERVE those bloody apples.
I think it's important to note - and his name will come up again - but Stefan (from Finland) was the first to finish the apple peeling competition and was immune from elimination.
So, after Round 2 of the Quickfire, the fine chop, or "brunoise" of the apples, there were only five left, and they had to make a dish using the apples. And let's cut to the chase here - the last two - the ones on the chopping block (so to speak) - were the ones who made apple SALADS??? I felt no sympathy for either of them. And it was obvious that Chef Tom did not love the salads. So Patrick squeaked by and apple salad maker No. 2, Lauren, got eliminated.
I have to say, I was confused as to why not one, especially with that brunoise already made, didn't try to make a quick, simple but delicious apple crumble or apple brown betty.
Whatever. What do I know? I wasn't there. So - now the 16 "cheftestants" got to go to their apartment, which I must admit had a gorgeous view of the city. Here's the problem with having a great view of "the city." It means you don't live in "the city." I am guessing based on the views they showed that they were all staying in New Jersey.
So they all settled in, AFTER - the now famous "knife block ceremony." I give this one an A+ for creativity, but in the end, about a B (at first a C-) for fairness. Each cheftestant pulled a "neighborhood" of New York City, and had to create a dish "inspired by" the neighborhood they "pulled." Now, as I discussed before, most of these people are
not from New York, or haven't been near New York in ages. How they knew that Long Island City is known for Middle Eastern, or Astoria is known for Greek, or whatever is beyond me.
The reason I felt that the challenge was not the most fair is because someone can be a truly fabulous chef and yet have not a clue what Indian food was all about. But then came from Hawaii, and he put my doubts to shame. He had no idea what to do, what to make, what "Indian food" meant. But he studied the market, explored, and investigated the spices, asked some questions, and ended up making one of the top three dishes at the end of the day. And isn't that what we want chefs to do? To be inquisitive? To challenge themselves? To push beyond the limits of their comfort zones? es, Gene proved me wrong that this was an "unfair" challenge.
I'm not going to go through each of the cheftestants and what they made - that would take forever. BUT, how about a few stand-outs? And how about a few "Jeez, what happened????" moments?
Of course props to Gene for creating an authentic and traditional South Indian dish without even knowing it.
But I want to talk about the "Chinese" duo. What were they thinking? Especially Patrick. Again - I WAS NOT THERE, BUT, if I had gummy black noodles I had never worked with before, I'd be rinsing the heck out of them with cool water to get rid of all that starch and getting them up to temperature just before serving. There is no excuse for gummy, overly starchy noodles or pasta, ever.
I give my own props to Leah for veering away from "Little Italy" Italian, which can be so heavy, overcooked, and overly sauced.
Some overall comments that never cease to amaze me. WHY is there EVER a situation where not not everything makes it on the plate. Plate it all and fix it later!!!
Gail looked gorgeous. My only criticism: Gail, you have a great body -- start showing it!
OK, so now onto the judges' winners and losers.
The winners were easy: Stefan, Gene and Leah. I wasn't there to taste, so if they gave it to Stephan, I trust them, but I still have to say, I'm "mucho" impressed with Gene.
The losers were also pretty easy: Ariane and Patrick. Ariane managed to squeak through by a hair. The issue apparently was technique vs. inspiration. Ariane had pathetic technique in (not) making her farro, and Patrick had no inspiration in making a bland blah blah blah pseudo-Chinese dish. At the end of the day, I would have wanted one more episode to see if Patrick found his inspiration. In my view, to call yourself a "chef" and compete for "Top Chef" and not have technique is unforgivable. But, again, I wasn't there. Perhaps there was more to it than that. I don't see Ariane lasting long, so in the end, does it really matter? (Perhaps only for the reunion show, but
that's about it!)
My top picks so far:
Stefan OF COURSE -- he won the Quickfire and the Challenge. His food had "a lot going on," but he still "kept it simple." Personally, I loved that he understood the nuances of the subtleties of spice and flavor contrast.
Gene - he's got spunk and "the hunger" and "figured out" Southern Indian food -- props to him.
Leah - her food seems to have soul, and I loved that she, as a New Yorker, strayed from the typical Southern Italian fare of Little Italy, and took Italian fare a step further --her interpretation. I appreciate that. And not only me, her food was called a "focused and dramatic statement."
Jeff (my outlier) - he has nice hair, and he admits it and is proud of it. I want to see how he does in this competition. Why not?
See you next week!!!