A totally unnecessary pizza.

A friend give me a small crop of Delicata squash. A chunk of cranberry wensleydale cheese sits in the fridge. I’m not eating those walnuts lately and I meant to reach for the bag of spinach at the farmstand but it seems they put kale in its place.

This is how this “Autumn” pizza came together.

I stretched the crust and par-cooked it for about a minute; pulled it out and kept it on a cooling rack while I topped it in this order:

  • shredded Robinson Farm cheese
  • roasted squash
  • carmelized red onions
  • crushed walnuts
  • blanched kale
  • cranberry Wensleydale, crumbled
  • kosher salt
  • slathering of olive oil

Back into the oven we go to cook on the stone for about 5-8 minutes. I could’ve kept it in there longer but the toppings were starting to brown already.

The taste was good, but it wasn’t exceptional. It could have used a little more salt, or maybe some kind of sausage or ham or some more cheese. All in all a fun experiment and a good lunch! I’m writing this post from the basement, behind a stack of boxes, because if there is such a thing as the pizza police I’m sure they are on their way to my house right now.

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Good Bread.

In Worcester today, knowing that my kitchen is out of bread for breakfast, and also knowing that I’m not in the mood to make any, I decided to pick up a couple of good loaves from Birchtree Bread Company.  Pictured in the top two photos is their Country Loaf.  I also picked up a square of Rosemary and Olive Oil Focaccia which is in the bottom photo. They make only naturally-leavened breads, in about a dozen varieties throughout the week.  They also have a small  selection of very good (and huge) pastries and cookies, a lunch menu, a toast menu and a nice selection of coffees.  I also just read they have a pizza night on Wednesday and Friday which I haven’t been too. Yet. The County Loaf is 6.99; considering it’s size, taste and likely nutritional content it’s well worth it! The chalkboard with the names of maybe 2 dozen regional farms that they source from made me feel good about spending money there as well. The place itself is spacious and there’s live music a couple of nights a week.

http://www.birchtreebreadcompany.com/

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The Country Loaf is a light-wheat loaf. It just looks like 2 different colors because of the lighting in my kitchen…

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New regular feature on Elemental Pizza that’s not about pizza: an exploration of small farms in Central Massachusetts!

(But it always leads back to pizza eventually anyway because I’m putting these local cheeses, vegetables and Italian sausages on my pies so if you’re just here for the pizza, stick around for a while).

It’s ironic that after five years of being vegetarian, and finally getting a job in a vegetarian kitchen, I had decided to start eating meat again one year after beginning that job. I moved out to Barre, Ma. and found myself in much closer proximity to a whole new, up until then for me at least, way of buying food, especially high-quality meat and dairy products. Working in the kitchen of The Insight Meditation Society, my appreciation for wholesome and fresh food deepened as I got to know more intimately the vegetables brought to our kitchen door by Many Hands Farm and other nearby growers. I  learned what “CSA”means, and also how it’s possible to skip the grocery store altogether: just drop some cash into a wooden box by the creaky freezer in the back of the barn and take what you want, via the honor system, just about any time of day. My short journey to omnivore started with a bowl of chicken broth to acclimate my system, and two nights later I was at a picnic table at nearby bbq with hamburger juices running down my chin.

Part of my reason for going vegetarian was revulsion towards the industrial-meat system which produces incredibly cruel and unsanitary conditions for the animals, mounds of environmental pollutants that are unable to be absorbed into the earth or atmosphere and the very mediocre and often unhealthy quality of the meat produced, due in part to the prevalence of antibiotics and growth hormones and the un-natural diet many of these animals are forced to eat.

Coming to Barre and seeing the abundance of quality meat and dairy products, I couldn’t not try them out. And although I’m not a purist by any stretch of the imagination, if I have the extra money to buy the local stuff, I will and usually do. Here in this feature I’ll write about some of the farms that I buy from or have visited. I’ll update this list as I discover new ones which I’m sure will be ongoing because there’s just so many of them out there once you start looking.  I’ll mostly include here places to buy meats, cheeses,  milk and grains or flours. If you’ve got some good suggestions you’d like to see included here, leave a comment and I’ll check the place out!

I’m starting this series with one farm that’s a no-brainer for me, one of my favorite all-around favorite establishments for summer food, beer, meat and entertainment right here in Barre. I guess I’m getting a little wistful because it’s 20° in March and their farm store will, hopefully, be back open again in just under a month.

Carter and Stevens Farm, Barre, Ma.

https://www.carterandstevensfarm.com/

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(beef, ice cream, raw milk, deli, occasional bakery products or breads, brewery, pumpkins and bbq with live music during July and August!)

Although the farm store is closed from November to mid-April, the brewery is open year-round and they have an annex at a separate location in Barre (between 181 and 281 Old Stage Rd.) where it’s possible to buy raw milk  November through March. The farm store is a great place to buy their frozen beef, pork and raw milk, but I don’t tend to buy many other kinds of goods there because they’re a bit pricey for my budget. The ice cream is the best I’ve ever had and it’s made using milk from their own grass-fed cows, and with dozens of interesting flavors including soft-serve. The bbq, which takes place Friday and Saturday nights in July and August, is a busy yet relaxed place and often has live local  bands, although they’ve started to move them into the brewery lately on the weekend nights. OH YEA. They’ve opened the Stone Cow Brewery there now too, just this past summer, selling beer on tap as well as growlers of different sizes to go.

http://www.stonecowbrewery.com/

I think they have begun to brew with their own barley and hops as well. You can buy a beer to go and hang out at the bbq until the sun goes down together with families with children, bikers, farmers, hippies and anybody else from varied walks of life that knows the value of a good local farm!

Also, don’t miss the pumpkin-throwing catapult, always seen in action during the fall Harvest Fest…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

 

 

 

 

They’re not weird, they’re “rustic”.

Today I was lucky to have my good friend Sabra Saperstein and her aesthetic sensibilities not only helping make this ravioli but photographing the process!

I’ve posted the ricotta cheese making process and recipe, and the creation of the filling, so now this is the culmination of the process; the dough and and filling of the ravioli.

The pasta dough recipe that I used:

This amount of dough was perfect for filing with one gallon of milk’s worth of ricotta  and one small to medium roasted butternut quash.

  • 10 ounces  all-purpose flour
  • 2 whole large eggs
  • 4 yolks from 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound (pre-squeezing) cooked spinach, wrung out very well. Frozen spinach works too.

And now for a photographic journey through ravioli making…

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The dough. 
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The dough cut up into 8 equal pieces before rolling. 
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Being rolled through the pasta rolling machine. 
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We got about 12 ravioli per sheet. 
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Fold the sheet over, squeeze out the air and press to seal.

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Cut apart with a ravioli/pastry cutter. A regular knife works too…
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Tomato sauce doesn’t work at all for anything containing something sweet like butternut squash. This one’s best with olive oil, kosher salt, fresh-ground pepper and grated parmesan.

 

How to make ricotta cheese.

Freshly made cheese can’t be beat. Some cheeses are actually very complicated to make and involve many different elements and steps but ricotta cheese is without doubt one of the easiest cheeses to make.  Heat milk, add an acid as a curdling agent, stir, strain, eat.  Ri-cotta,in Italian means re-cooked, because this cheese was traditionally made from the whey that’s left over after making mozzarella.

For this recipe I’ll use:

A. 1 gallon of whole milk. Raw milk is best, and it’s guaranteed safe to use in this context (it’s safe anyway…) since heating to 180° is beyond the usual pasteurization temperature (which is around 165°). I’m using just regular grocery store milk right now because I just didn’t have 7.00 to shell out for a gallon of milk this time…

B. 1/2  cup of white vinegar or lemon juice.

C. Optional: 1 teaspoon salt (you can mix it with the vinegar and pour them into the milk together)

 

 Step 1.

Pour your milk into a pot and heat it to 180°. Be careful not to burn it! Stir frequently, heat slowly and use a ‘flame tamer’ if you’ve got one. Burned milk in not fun. image

Step 2.

The moment the milk reaches  180°, turn off the burner and pour in the vinegar or lemon juice.  Stir it gently for a minute or so to distribute the acid evenly and watch in amazement as the curds separate from the whey. That’s chemistry, folks. Molecules and stuff. You can let if sit for a few minutes to continue separating.image

Step 3.

After a couple of minutes have passed, strain the newly curdled mess into a colander lined with cheesecloth or just a colander if the holes are relatively small. It’s going to make a mess, there’s no way around it. You will likely have ricotta cheese clinging to the walls. When most of the liquid has run out, after sitting anywhere from 10 minutes to a half-hour, you can pick up the corners of the cheesecloth to squeeze out the remaining liquid. How much you strain the cheese will depend on what you’re using it for. As this is going in ravioli, I want it to be on the drier side. Ok, you’re done! Smear some still-warm cheese onto some toasted sourdough with kosher salt and olive oil and feel your brain synapses freaking out.

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Straining the whey from the curds.
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If you use cheesecloth cleaning up is a little easier…
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1 gallon of milk came out to be 515 grams,  18 oz., 1.1 pound or around 3 cups. (This is a large serving bowl)

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Flour, salt, milk, oil.

Now to turn this all into butternut squash ravioli filling:

What you’ll need:

Roasted and mashed butternut squash, (cooked with olive oil, salt, pepper and sage is how I do it, make sure you’ve got some nice browning on the edges.)

Ricotta cheese

Grated parmesan cheese

Nutmeg

Salt

Pepper

And a last minute addition on a whim, pure maple sugar grated into the mix:

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Use 50/50 squash/ricotta mix and add the rest of the ingredients to taste. Just mix it all together in a bowl and you’re done. 

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Il Formaggio!

 

This blog does have pizza in the title after all so I figure now that I’ve gotten some thoughts on basic elements out in front, it’s time to post some eye candy for the pizza lovers in my life.  This is the first pizza I ever made with homemade cheese. Thanks to Casey Coman for tutoring me on making mozzarella cheese at home! This is also a heads up that a ricotta-cheese making tutorial is coming your way soon. (uh, Casey thanks again for teaching us all in the IMS kitchen how it’s done). This will lead into a demonstration of my first ever ravioli making attempt…

This pie is composed of the following elements:

flour, water , salt, yeast, tomatoes, oil, garlic, milk, fresh basil. That’s it. with-homemade-mozz-april-27

More essential elements.

 

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Picked up a couple of pantry staples while out tonight and spotted a miraculous full moon just over Mt. Wachusett on the way down-town. I’m super lucky that even though I live in a central Mass. backwater of 5,000 people I can still buy Caputo 00 flour any day of the week at a very good price from the local gourmet food store called “The Country Gourmet”.

I’ve decided to start learning how to use 00 flour in other things besides pizza crust. I suppose there are other things in life besides pizza so why not try pasta and cookies with it too?!  00 flour is very common in Italian bakeries and pizza shops; it’s more finely milled than what you would find on the shelves in the US and has a gluten level roughly equivalent to that of all-purpose flour.  Since 14-15% gluten is best for pizza crust like (what you’d get with bread flour), it’s nice to mix in some gluten flour or do a 50/50 mix  of 00 and other kinds of flour such as AP or bread. You’ll also need to cut back a tiny bit on the amount of liquid in your recipe as the 00 doesn’t absorb as much as other flours. It’s really an amazing flour to work with. Kneading a pizza dough made with this flour is like kneading a cloud made out of silk and the cooked crust is full of air and extremely lightweight  but sturdy at the same time. Only the Italians could architect something that is so contradictory, useful and sensual all at the same time.

There’s not much to say about the salt. It’s good salt. Salt is old, it goes in everything. The ocean, tears, pasta water. Use salt and eat. img_1048