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Pizza, please. August 20, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, pets, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Fond as I am of cooking, this past week has given me an overdose.

It started on Friday, when I went up to cook a farewell meal for six before our good friend Huma and her twins Sasha and Rashu headed off to the United Arab Emirates for the school year. Since they’d be gone ’til next June, I wanted to give them a worthy sendoff. The kids had requested the famous Crock-Pot Mac’n’Cheese (see my post “The best ever mac’n’cheese” for the super-easy, super-delicious recipe). But of course I couldn’t leave it at that, so I made my Super Summer Squash Casserole, Think Pink Gazpacho, and mixed green and yellow wax beans. (Recipes for the squash casserole and gazpacho are in my posts “Super summer squash recipes” and “A gazpacho rainbow.”) After spending gazillion hours standing up chopping vegetables and scuttling from pan to pan, not to mention the hour and a half drive to the Poconos to serve the meal, I was bushed.

Then on Saturday, don’t you know I had to turn around and do it again? Since we’d had to skip the Friday Night Supper Club (a delightful tradition—see our post “The Friday Night Supper Club” and start your own!), the gang rescheduled for Saturday night, and guess what they wanted? Crock-Pot Mac’n’Cheese. Turns out there were going to be eleven people there, so I made another huge summer squash casserole and two platters of my luscious Caprese Salad with spirals of red and yellow tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of olive oil and salt, all served in pie wedges on beautiful red romaine or other stunning lettuce leaves. (The recipe for this one is in my post “What to do with all those ripe tomatoes, part one.”) Alas, we didn’t have so much as a crumb of leftovers to take home (again).

Sunday, our friend Ben was out with some buddies, so I had one of my favorite simple summer suppers—corn on the cob, green and yellow wax beans (can you tell I love them and eat them as often as possible when they’re in season?!), and a bowl of mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes. (I love the mix of colors—red, pink, gold, orange, red with yellow streaks—and flavors. Every bite is different!)

But as all gardeners know, produce doesn’t sleep. So yesterday saw me up at 6 a.m., slicing a Xerox box full of heirloom paste tomatoes and tossing them into my two enormous LeCreuset Dutch ovens and my Crock-Pot to boil ever so slowly down for the tomato sauce I planned to make and can. (The chickens were ecstatic to get an entire compost bucket’s worth of tomato tops, and of course our tomato-loving golden retriever, Molly, got her share as well.)

Then it was time for dinner, and another opportunity to use some of those wonderful fresh veggies. I made a simple pasta sauce of sweet onions and mushrooms sauteed in olive oil with fresh basil, thyme, and oregano, then tossed in chopped red and yellow bell peppers, corn scraped from the cob, and chopped artichoke hearts. While the sauce was simmering and the pasta was cooking, I tossed together a salad of romaine lettuce, scallions, mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes, radishes, fresh mint, basil, dill, and fennel, kalamata olives, purple bell pepper, and sliced hardboiled eggs (thanks, chickens!). I poured the wine, set out an assortment of salad dressings (including my own-made vinaigrette), topped each plate of pasta with sauce and a liberal handful of grated Parmesan, and voila! Simple but satisfying, though admittedly, the tomatoey atmosphere of the kitchen (which is also our eating area) made for a rather confusing experience. (Imagine smelling tomato sauce but eating something else.)

Which brings us to today. This morning, I sauteed onions, garlic, peppers, and herbs in olive oil, reheated the lusciously thick, cooked-down tomatoes (now reduced to a single Dutch oven), added wine, lemon juice, salt, hot sauce, and balsamic vinegar, and fired up the water-bath canner. (The recipe for this sauce is in my post “What to do with all those ripe tomatoes, part three.”) lf you’ve never tried water-bath canning, I urge you to take the plunge (so to speak). lt’s incredibly easy, and so satisfying! I now have ten gleaming wide-mouthed pints of rich, luscious tomato sauce on the counter. And with bags of tree-ripened, locally grown organic peaches, plums, pears and apples in the fridge, it won’t be long before an assortment of chutneys joins them!

Meanwhile, though, I’ve had just about enough of standing over a hot stove for one week. So tonight, I’m thinking about pizza. In fact, there’s seldom a time when our friend Ben and I don’t think about pizza. How about you? Anyway, as it happens, I have exactly one jar of homemade tomato sauce left from last fall’s canning. And I have a jar of Stonewall Kitchen’s luscious pesto, thanks to some kind-hearted relatives who gave me and Ben a Stonewall Kitchen monthly gift subscription for Christmas last year. After all this cooking, I’m prepared to take a few shortcuts with tonight’s pizza, but I’m not prepared to settle for less than fabulous pizza. Here’s my plan: I’ll buy a prepared round of pizza dough. (Do any of you all have advice on this? Cheese-aisle refrigerated rounds, frozen rounds, Boboli, frozen bread dough? Favorites?) And a bag of pre-shredded mozzarella.

Then, when it’s time to put the pizza together, I can take my pizza dough, spread a thin layer of pesto on it, top that with the tomato sauce, top that with the shredded mozzarella, add a liberal dusting of dried basil, oregano, and thyme, and then some toppings. Tonight, I think I’ll add some sliced black olives, diced orange bell peppers, chopped sweet onion, and maybe some marinated button mushrooms. Or a few of those artichoke hearts. Or some fresh-off-the-cob corn. Hmmm… (Our friend Ben, no slouch when it comes to pizza preferences, listed some of his in the post “Ben Picks Ten: Veggie Pizza Toppings.”)

We still have a big bowl of salad from last night—I find that it’s usually still fine the next day as long as you dress the individual bowls rather than the whole salad—and we can enjoy both with a bottle of Quaff, a red wine from our favorite local winery, Pinnacle Ridge. Our heat-loving friend and fellow blog contributor, Richard Saunders, is joining us for dinner and bringing a bumper crop of hot peppers so I can process them for him. (He’s promised to cut them up and wash everything, thank goodness. I’ll toss the chopped peppers in the blender, puree them, and pour the puree into an ice-cube tray Richard has bought especially for the purpose. Once the cubes are frozen, I’ll put them in a labeled and dated freezer bag for him, so he can thaw each cube as he needs it. He’s envisioning many a chili, salsa, and taco-fest ahead.)

Pizza and salad! Yum. But hmmm, that oven’s going to be heated up, and there are those bags of luscious tree-ripened fruits in the fridge, and Huma sent us home with a whole quart of whipping cream… Maybe I’ll make a peach-plum crisp and whip up some cream to put on it for dessert…

        ‘Til next time,