I made pizza, hummus, bruschetta, spicy tequila popcorn, and sweet noodle kugel with dried fruits & nuts. I had planned on making the bread, but Metropolitan does such a great job and their baguettes so reasonably priced how could I resist? Since I never buy beer (don't like it), Dan brought the beer - Dan always brings the beer. Ilya brought fresh strawberries & soft chocolate chop cookies. After the savory was enjoyed I washed and cut the strawberries and put them out with some warmed Nutella. Even with homemade pizza proceeding it, the 30 second nuked Nutella and strawberries stole the show. There was also lots of great wine brought by guests. All was good, but the Genesis brought by Greg & Annie was a stand out.
The pizza was a pretty big hit. I was very happy with the way it came out. I like plain cheese pizza so there were no fancy toppings - the pizza itself was the star and need not fancy dressing to shine (in my no so humble opinion). The recipe I use for the dough is the result of trail and error of many tries combining a number of different recipes & techniques to give me the results I wanted. Greg & Annie were asking about it because they had made pizza, but apparently their crust was so tough it was difficult to bite thru. Discussing methods we quickly figured out the biggest difference was the kneading of the dough - I don't knead the dough. I am not an expert on the science between how kneading releases the gluten in the dough, but I do know that too much kneading will make your end product tough and breads won't rise as nicely. So this is my recipe for my pizza dough. There is one caveat - you have to plan ahead at least one day.
Toss the following into the food processor work bowl:
- 1 3/4c all-purpose flour
- 1tsp sugar
- 1 1/2-2tsp kosher salt
- 2 1/4tsp yeast (one package)
- a bowl with 1c of flour
- 3/4c of really really warm water - tap is fine, let it run and get almost HOT - should be around 120-130F (49-55C) if you have a thermometer
- add 1 tbsp of olive oil to the water
Now toss it into a ziplock bag and pop it in the fridge for at least 24 hours. I am not sure what it is, maybe the slow rise keeps it tender, but this makes the best thin crust pizza dough. This dough will keep up to a week in the fridge. It will actually develop even better flavor the longer it is around. You can just pull out what you need. As long as you let it set in the fridge for the first 24 hours, you can also freeze the dough for a couple months - let it thaw in the fridge. But honestly, there is very little chance you'd have any left at the end of the week to worry about freezing for later.
Now you are ready to make your pizza...
Take the pizza dough out of the fridge and let it get to room temp. I do not have a pizza stone and have a little apartment sized electric oven, yet I can still get a good crispy thin crust. First, I put my sheet pan in the oven, on the middle rack, & turn it up to about 400-410F (205-210C). I divide the dough into two balls - I do this because I can only fit that much on my sheet at a time, if you have a bigger cooking surface you can make it any size you want. Lightly flour a good sized sheet of parchment paper (just to be clear, as was asked at the party, use parchment paper specifically made for use with food - not the stuff you'll find at a stationery store). Now start stretching out the dough. Mine never comes out perfectly round... usually more oval & kidney shaped. You have to be patient. I gently hold up the dough and let its own weight stretch it, slowly working my way around.
For pizza sauce I use either crushed or pureed canned tomatoes. I just let it simmer with some fresh crush garlic, a chiffonade of fresh basil, and salt & pepper to taste. I just put a couple of soup spoonfuls of the sauce, not a lot. It is ok that you see the dough thru it, it should not be covered completely. Make sure you leave about a quarter to half inch uncovered for the crust. Next the cheese. I only use fresh whole milk mozzarella. I grate it fresh for the pizza (this is great for grating and storing!). Do not go overboard with the cheese. I then trim the paper the pizza is on, leaving 1 or 2 inches around. This also lets me transport the pizza to the hot baking sheet easier. It only takes 8-10 minutes to have a nice hot bubbly pizza. I like my kinda browned on top, so sometimes I will leave it under the broiler for maybe 30 seconds to a minute at the end (that is all it needs!). TA DA! You now have oven fresh pizza!
The spicy tequila popcorn is a slightly bastardized version of 101 Cookbooks' Chile Lime Tequila Popcorn. I use all the same spices (except the lime - I used lemon because it was what was in the fridge), but so I could prepare the topping ahead of time I just tossed them all into the food processor with room temp butter. Everything combined nicely and I stored it in the fridge till I made the popcorn. I only make stove top popcorn, because even plain it tastes miles better than microwave. I made a couple batches of popcorn and tossed them into my big silver bowl. Then with the burner off there was still enough heat in the pot to melt the spiced butter. I just poured about half on the popcorn, stirred it gently from the bottom to the top to toss the popcorn and then did the same with the rest of the butter.
Lots of the foods could be made the night before making it very easy. The bruschetta topping was very simple. I drained a couple cans of diced tomatoes, mixed in some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, and s&p. They marinated nicely overnight. I just toasted some sliced baguette in the oven, rubbed it with a garlic clove while it was still warm, & then topped with the tomato.
The hummus is easy and also can be made ahead. I also made the noodle kugel the night before. The kugel is from my favorite cookbook - Olive Trees and Honey by Gil Marks. It is a vegetarian cookbook and I am not vegetarian, but it is one of my all time favorite cookbooks. It is arranged in the best way - a section for each veggie or noodle or bread... with many variation showing how different regions, cultures, & countries express their individuality even when the base of the recipe seems to be the same. The kugel is sweetened with honey and cinnamon & spiked with dried fruits and nuts.
It was a fun relaxing night, indulging in all the goodies we had been denying ourselves for a week. It was a night filled with bread & wine (and beer). It was a nice relaxing night for old friends and a shout out to a new friend made that night, Susan, who we all got to meet just days before she had to return to Geneva. I think this is definitely the start of a new Passover tradition.