[Fruit at the market, July 2013.]
A grey day here today, as it’s been the past few days, at least in the morning; except for the press of heat outside the windows I could almost pretend it’s San Francisco (well, sort of). I am up early to eat oatmeal and struggle through the last bit of cookbook edits — after a fitful night’s sleep, I foresee lots of coffee in my future. I jolted awake around 3:30 a.m. and was treated to a full 45 minutes of the early morning call to prayer — we are situated smack between two mosques — and then I couldn’t really get back to sleep, tumbling in and out of strange dreams in which I still partially lived in Washington, DC, but could somehow drive to California in a few hours … Whatever caused it, pretty much the last thing I want to do is re-write my introduction but it must be done. A pain au chocolat surely will help.
[Fresh orange juice — we didn’t use the sugar, July 2013.]
This weekend was a bit of a lazy one — lots of lounging about for me, unaccountably tired after what turned into a rather long work-week (I’m supposed to work 20 hours a week but that usually tends to stretch out to more than that), involving a trip to Rabat and lots of meetings and planning. Come Friday night it was all I could do to churn out a quick pasta for dinner that, I will admit, was not my finest effort. It happens. Yesterday morning we went for a run/walk down on the beach; the tide was in and we saw a few happy dogs and early swimmers and even a surfer, then came home for coffee and decided to go back down to the beach again to scout out a fancy(ish) beach club for (a pitifully slim) lunch and some more lounging about. I didn’t even swim, that’s how slothful I was. It was glorious. Home to roast a bunch of vegetables for dinner and now I am staring down at the words I wrote back in April and trying to edit them into something more coherent.
I mentioned last week that I’ve been cooking even more than usual here, mostly because of the effects of Ramadan. Saturday night I made a large batch of rice noodles and slicked them with a quick peanut/lemon/soy sauce blend then tossed it all with stir-fried vegetables. A girl at the consulate has organized an organic farm share and we were inundated with all sort of goodies last week, including tomatoes!, squash, a raggedy but delicious bunch of arugula, lots of herbs, potatoes. I hesitate even to mention how much it cost because I feel like I’m getting away with something but — a 1/4 share, which turned out to be an enormous quantity of vegetables, was $6.50 U.S. The farm also sells eggs (and, it turns out, whole chickens), which makes me irrationally happy, and I will avail myself of those soon.
Then last night I finished off some white beans I’d prepped earlier in the week, sauteeing them with olive oil, a small red onion, and the rest of the arugula, and served them with roasted potatoes, carrots, and more onions (plus a piece of salmon en papillote for DW). I’ve also made a delicious pasta dish with fresh ricotta and fresh peas (recipe soon), various quinoa and vegetable and chickpea stir-fries, quick spaghettis with fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, a vegetable-stuffed tart with emmenthaler and parmesan cheeses. I am trying to use what is available to me — no mushrooms just yet, no sesame oil, no greens (!), no tofu (though I have it from two reputable sources that there is a place to get tofu and other organic grains + goods; I will scout that out soon). Next year we have grand plans to grow a garden, but until then … So I have to be a bit more creative here, starting off, lacking my familiar cooking ingredients (not to mention implements; what I’d give for a good knife!) which is not bad necessarily, just a little more work.
Last week I put together something that I consider one of my best successes yet: a pizza with a polenta crust.
The recipe for the crust comes by way of Nikki at Art & Lemons and it caught my eye immediately because 1. I had all of the ingredients on hand, 2. It seemed fairly quick to put together, and 3. It was gluten-free. I am heading back to California on Saturday morning (more on that come this Friday) to spend some time with my brother and sister-in-law who will be visiting; faithful readers will remember that Emily is gluten-free, and thus I am always thinking about things I might like to cook for her when I see her. This pizza/tart, made simply from gritty polenta, olive oil, and water seemed just the thing. But I needed to test it out first.
First I sauteed the few vegetables I had left from a trip to the market the weekend before — I think I just had zucchini and a large red onion. Then I made the crust, using a tart pan with a removable bottom, which worked quite well, though at some point I’d like to make it on a cookie sheet in a more free-form, pizza-like fashion. I spread a can of tomato paste across the bottom of the crust — lacking fresh tomatoes for sauce, this was a good substitute — sprinkled the vegetables across it and topped it all with a healthy sprinkling of pepper, dried oregano and basil, and shredded mozzarella cheese. I baked the pizza until the cheese was melted and bubbling, then slid it from the oven to admire before we devoured.
Now, this will not taste like a traditional pizza in any sense beyond the topping. The crust is not made with yeast and there’s not a speck of flour to be found. And yet, it is wildly satisfying, especially with the traditional flavors of tomatoes and mozzarella; I think it would be especially wonderful with fresh basil, and I intend to make it again next week for Emily using the freshest herbs and vegetables I can find. It’s also a forgiving recipe: you can incorporate as many or as few vegetables as you like into the vegetable topping, and I think you could even skip the cheese if you’re vegan or more health-inclined. Just make sure to include a healthy amount of herbs to punch up the flavor.
Meanwhile — it’s back to work with me. I’m looking at these next few days as the final push, another minuscule step towards publication. And when the day comes when I hold that book in my hand … well, all these tired mornings will be well worth it.
Experiment with different vegetables and sauces here; I am itching to try a homemade pesto in place of the tomato sauce, topped with sauteed chard and corn fresh from the cob, plus a bit of fresh mozzarella. If you leave out the cheese, I imagine this dish will taste just as good, but make sure to season the pizza well with fresh or dried herbs so it’s not lacking in flavor. Next time I may attempt a sweet version baked with plums and peaches drizzled with honey and finished with generous dollops of Greek yogurt.
1 ½ cups coarse cornmeal
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups cold water
2 cups boiling water
1 can tomato paste OR 1 cup fresh tomato sauce OR 1/2 cup pesto
Vegetables of choice: sliced, fresh tomatoes or cherry tomatoes (uncooked), onions, garlic, zucchini, corn, mushrooms
1 to 2 teaspoons dried basil and oregano AND/OR 1/4 cup fresh herbs: basil, thyme, sage, etc.
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste
1 cup (or more) shredded mozzarella cheese (you may also use fresh)
Heat the oven to 375 F. Oil 1 10-inch pie or tart pan.
Combine the cornmeal, salt, olive oil, and cold water in a small bowl. Have the boiling water on the stove in a saucepan, and whisk in the cornmeal mixture. Cook about 10 minutes over low heat, stirring frequently. It will get very thick. Remove from heat, and let cool to the touch.
Use a spatula and wet hands to form the polenta into a smooth, thick crust, and spread it over the bottom and sides of the pan. Brush the surface with olive oil, and bake uncovered for 45 minutes.
Remove the polenta crust from the oven. Turn up the oven to a low broil. Spread the sauce onto the bottom of the baked crust; add the sautéed vegetables. Sprinkle evenly with the herbs and black pepper. Cover with cheese. Broil on the middle rack of the oven, about 5 to 10 minutes, until the crust turns golden brown on the edges and cheese is melted. Serve hot.