Plum Yum

Many, many plums. That is what I was facing as I began using up perishable food a few days before the weeklong retreat/intensive that begins my school year. I am not a great fan of plums, and even less of pluots. The ones that have been coming in my Full Circle box have been very good, but even still I am not likely to eat 3 or 4 in a day the way I can with nectarines or peaches. So I had about 15 plums and pluots hanging out, looking lovely and ripe but definitely not like they were going to survive for another ten days until I returned from my trip.

In another life, I would have made clafouti. Summer used to be an endless cascade of clafouti, moving through nectarines and cherries and plums as they came into season in turn. However, though there are indeed recipes out there, vegan, gluten-free clafouti is just nasty. So I needed something else to turn my pile of plums into an appealing and easily scarfable treat.

I ended up making a crumble (a crisp? I don’t really know the difference), taking inspiration from Deborah Madison and Jennifer Katzinger of the gluten-free Flying Apron Bakery in Seattle. It was delicious! Sweet enough to be dessert but fruit-focused enough to make a passable (if indulgent) breakfast. I had my auntie over for tea and we enjoyed some Plum Yum and a good chat.

Plum Yum (Vegan, Gluten-Free Plum Crumble or Plum Crisp)

6 T. Earth Balance, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (Deborah Madison says you can also use 6 T. canola alone or mixed with walnut or hazelnut oil)
1/4 C. brown sugar, packed
2/3 C. sorghum flour (I used sorghum because it was handy, I think rice flour or GF baking mix would work equally well here)
1/2 C. GF rolled oats (or sub the same amount of chopped nuts instead)
1/4 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon

Plum filling
3 lbs plums and/or pluots (skin still on), each cut into 6 or 8 slices
1/4 C. maple syrup
1 t. grated orange zest
tiny pinch of ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 375.
In a large bowl, toss the sliced plums with the maple syrup, orange zest, and cloves and set aside.
Using your fingers, work the Earth Balance with the rest of the topping ingredients so that you end up with a coarse, crumbly mixture. You don’t want big chunks of margarine remaining un-crumbled.
Arrange the fruit in a 2-quart gratin dish or sufficiently large casserole (I used a brownie pan) and cover evenly with the topping.
If you’re worried about spillage, set the dish on a sheet pan to catch drips.
Bake until the juices are bubbling and the topping has browned a bit, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. GF topping usually won’t brown as promptly as wheat flour topping, but on the other hand it’s hard to overcook this unless you actually burn it, so use your best judgement – once the plum juice is bubbling, take it out or leave it in til it looks like something you’d want to eat.
Let cool for 10 minutes and serve hot, or serve cold any time. (I recommend breakfast!)

The return of pizza

How freaking good does that look?

I have so many recipes for gluten-free pizza crust bookmarked. But the truth is that since even before I stopped eating wheat, I’ve always balked at any recipe containing the words “yeast,” “knead,” or “allow to rise.” I’m not a bread baker. I’m a cake queen, a mistress of vegetables, a goddess of savory dishes from all corners of the globe. I’ve conquered my fear of homemade beans and my pressure cooker paranoia. I’ve learned to ferment my own sauerkraut and kimchi. I’ve even finally managed to remember to defrost the darn stock/beans/etc. ahead of time, at least most of the time. But I’m simply not that interested in learning to make yeast breads.

The thing I miss about pizza is the convenience. It’s a magical meal where every part of the meal – starch, veggie, and protein – is stacked neatly together. For a few dollars you can get a slice of this efficient deliciousness just about any time of day or night. It’s tasty as heck, but if I’m going to put in hours of work it’s not going to be for pizza.

Well, today I made my first socca pizza for lunch. The whole meal took maybe 30 minutes, tops (which for me is practically an Olympic record), and, unlike some previous weird attempts I’ve made at gluten-free pizza, this actually recreated the experience of pizza. Savory, flavor-packed crust, crisp at the edges and chewy in the middle. Tomato sauce, veggies, and creamy cheese, piled onto a slice that actually survives being lifted and bitten into without flopping down and spilling its toppings hither and yon.

Socca pizza is similar to the socca de Nice I’ve made in the past. But instead of using chickpea flour to make crepes on the stove, you bake your chickpea batter in a skillet in a very hot oven. Then you top it with yummy things, run it under the broiler, and pretend you didn’t notice how the recipe said “serves 2 to 3” so you can, with a clear conscience, devour the entire thing.

I topped my pizza with marinara sauce from a jar, a sauté of dino kale, red onion, and garlic, and dollops of vegan cream cheese. I left the sauce off of a section of the pizza, and I couldn’t decide which style I preferred. I’d take a bite of one and say to myself, “Oh God, this is the one, no sauce, so crispy and delicious.” And then I’d take a bite of the marinara side and go, “PIZZA! YUM!” and it just went on like that back and forth until the whole thing was gone.

I’m so excited to have pizza back in my life again. And seriously, making socca pizza is almost as easy as heating up a frozen pizza, only it’s five times cheaper and a billion times more delicious. I’m already thinking about which toppings I’ll use tomorrow…

Socca Pizza with Kale and Red Onions
This dish was inspired by a post from Celiacs in the House, and adapted from recipes from the blogs A Mingling of Tastes and Simply Sugar & Gluten Free, and The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook by Cybele Pascal.

Serves 1-2, as a main dish.

For socca crust:

1 T. olive oil + 1 T. olive oil
1 C. cold water
1 C. chickpea flour (also called besan at Indian markets; Garfava flour works, too)
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. dried rosemary
1/2 t. dried oregano

For toppings:
1/2 jar marinara sauce (optional)
2 t. olive oil
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
5 leaves kale, washed, stems removed, and sliced
Vegan cream cheese (optional)
High quality olive oil & sea salt if you are opting not to use marinara sauce

Put a 12-inch cast iron skillet (10-inch is fine, too, the crust will just be a bit thicker and chewier) into your oven and preheat oven and skillet to 450 F.

In a blender, combine water, chickpea flour, 1 T. olive oil, salt, cumin, rosemary, and oregano. Blend until smooth, scraping sides of blender if necessary. Refrigerate batter until oven has preheated.

Remove cast iron skillet from oven. (Careful! It’s very hot!) Put 1 T. olive oil into pan and swirl carefully to coat the bottom and about 1/2 inch up the sides. Return oiled skillet to the oven for a few minutes until oil is hot and shimmering.

Remove skillet from oven, pour batter into skillet and place back into oven and cook for 15 – 20 minutes, or until center is set and edges are browned and pull away slightly from the pan.

Turn on broiler. Leaving the socca crust in the pan, spread on a layer of tomato sauce (some like it thick, some like it thin). If you are not using marinara sauce, drizzle some good quality olive oil and sprinkle some nice sea salt. Or skip both – it will still be delicious, I promise! Spread kale topping (see below) evenly across the pizza. Dot with knobs of vegan cream cheese, if using. Place pan under broiler until cream cheese is very lightly browned, being careful not to let the kale burn, about 3 minutes.

Remove pan from broiler and let pizza rest for 5 minutes. A steady hand and a spatula will easily slide the pizza from the pan onto a waiting surface, where you can cut it into slices and devour.

To make topping: Heat olive oil in a pot or pan and sauté red onion until it begins to brown. Add in garlic and sauté until it begins to brown. Add kale and saute until it reaches your desired texture (some like it al dente, some like it meltingly tender).

Tomato basil scones

This past week was all about trying out my new Vitamix blender. For my very first recipe, I made a potato soup following a blog recipe specifically intended for the Vitamix. It turned out to be the worst thing I’ve ever cooked. The thing of it is, the Vitamix’s blades go so fast that they can turn whole veggies into hot soup. However, this rapid whirring does not actually cook the soup. The internet seems quite divided on whether or not putting raw onions into Vitmaix soups is a good idea. I can say with total confidence that I am now firmly in the camp of “No freaking way, never again.”

The soup emerged as a greyish sludge (which I had been expecting since I opted to leave on the potato peels for flavor and nutrition). It was so acrid and bitter (from the half a raw onion I’d blended into the mix) that it was inedible. I should have just thrown it away, but instead I spent an inordinate amount of time cooking it on the stove, trying to mellow the onion, adding sprinkles of this and that in an attempt to recover it. The soup barely made it over the line to “edible,” but the acrid flavor stayed with me all night. Ugh.

Well, lesson learned! The Vitamix is not a place to dump raw veggies and expect them to turn into soup. Duly noted.

Luckily for me, for Disher, and for the sanctity of dinner, I had also made tomato basil scones to go with our soup. And the scones totally saved the day. They were savory and just a little bit sweet. They were moist but light, bursting with tomato flavor, and truly beautiful to behold. They were incredibly easy to make, they were undetectably both gluten-free and vegan, and they handily used up the half a bunch of basil threatening to wilt in my fridge. We ate a bunch (okay, I ate a bunch!) and then I froze the rest. They’ve reheated beautifully – I’m going to make a second batch soon and freeze them all, as they are perfect for a tired-night, no-cook supper of soup and scone.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Tomato Basil Scones
The original recipe for Tomato Rosemary Scones is from Vegan Brunch, and I found it online here. I’ve changed it a bit, reduced the sugar (maybe less is needed since basil is a sweeter herb?) and made the directions more clear. The original recipe has directions for making triangular scones – the directions here will result in drop scones, as shown above.

3 cups gluten-free baking mix + some extra in case dough is too sticky
(1 teaspoon xantham gum if your mix doesn’t already contain it)
2 tablespoons baking powder (or less if your mix already contains it – I used 1.5 tablespoons additional with a mix that contained baking powder)
2.5 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 (14 ounce) can tomato sauce (about 1 1/2 cups) (*see note)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and pepper.

In another bowl, combine wet ingredients and basil.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid. Gently mix with a wooden spoon.

Add a little extra flour if the dough seems sticky. In the bowl, use your spoon to gently divide your dough in two, and then into quarters, and then divide each quarter into thirds.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Scoop the dough into 12 mounds on the cookie sheet (like drop biscuits).

Place scones on the baking sheet and bake 14-16 minutes or until the tops are firm. Remove and let cool a bit on plate or cooling rack. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

*Note: I made “tomato sauce” by putting a can of ground tomatoes in the blender just until the consistency was smooth and even. I recommend using plain tomatoes as opposed to a flavored pasta-sauce type of tomato sauce.

Socca it to me!

I know, I know, terrible pun. I really couldn’t resist. Usually I exhibit much more restraint.

So the other day I was starving and having one of those “Waah, there’s nothing to eat!” days. What I did have, however, was a copy of The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook by Cybele Pascal, which is subtitled “How to bake without gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame.” I reserved this book from the library after I bought two gluten-free baking books and found their recipes nearly impossible to convert to vegan. Flipping through the book I saw good pantry lists and and substitution advice as well as yummy-sounding recipes, from muffins and scones to brownies and cupcakes to several different kinds of yeast bread.

Tucked in amongst the recipes for savory baked goods (this is a smaller section than I would have liked, since I tend to prefer the savory side) I found a recipe for “Socca de Nice,” or Mediterranean chickpea-flour crepes. Chickpea flour, while an esoteric flour for most cooks to have in their pantries, is a pretty standard staple for us gluten-free bakers. The recipe was simple and fast, used ingredients I had on hand, and on top of all that I’ve been curious about socca for years but had never tried one.

I whisked together the very brief list of ingredients, heated my cast-iron skillet in the oven, and swirled out a crepe to bake. These are not crepes as I tend to imagine them – something very thin and flexible that you can fold around something else. These are firm and a bit thick, very toothsome. The recipe recommends cutting them into wedges, and that’s exactly the sort of thing socca seems to want to become – nice sturdy wedges drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper, eaten hot immediately out of the oven. They have a very mild “beany” flavor (I used garfava flour, which contains both chickpeas and fava beans, so that might be why) that works wonderfully with their savory, hearty taste and mouthfeel. These would make a great easy base for a pizza-style dish (especially good for “top your own pizza” nights where everyone else is using a pre-baked wheat pizza crust – socca batter takes much less work than pizza dough but would make a satisfying flatbread-type base).

I enjoyed my socca plain and with two fast, easy toppings from my beloved Moosewood Cooks at Home: olive tapenade and creamy, garlicky butter beans. They were delicious and incredibly filling – my mouth was begging me to keep eating long after my stomach was pleading for me to stop!

Socca de Nice
from The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook by Cybele Pascal

1 1/2 cups cold water
3 tablespoons olive oil*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon cumin
High-heat cooking oil like super canola oil, super safflower, avocado (I used peanut oil since I don’t have a nut allergy)

Preheat oven to 550 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together water, olive oil, and salt.

Add chickpea flour, a little at a time, whisking in completely. Stir in cumin. Whisk for about a minute. You want this batter smooth! Add a little more water if it seems too thick – you want it thin like crepe batter.

Preheat an 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven, 4-5 minutes. Remove (with an oven mitt or potholder, it will be HOT!). Put a little high-heat oil in the pan and swirl it around to coat. Then, working quickly, add a heaping 1/2 cup of the batter to the pan, swirling it around to fill the pan in an even layer.

Put pan in oven and cook 5-7 minutes, till browned a bit around the edges. Remove from oven. Flip. It should be golden brown on the bottom. Remove to plate, add a little more oil to the pan, another 1/2 cup batter and cook, and so on.

This recipe makes 4 socca, ie 4 servings. Eat hot. You can cut it into wedges and dip it into olive oil, or drizzle olive oil on top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

* to add herbal flavor, you my heat 1/2 teaspoon of dried herbs like rosemary or thyme in the olive oil for 2 minutes over medium heat. Let the olive oil cool before making recipe.

You may also make these on the stove top. Pascal says she likes the texture slightly better in the oven, but the stove top is much quicker. To do so, heat your cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add a little olive oil. Once hot, add batter. Cook about 1 minute, flip, cook 1 minute more. Remove from pan.

Gigondes (creamy, garlicky beans)
from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

1 1/2 cups drained canned gigondes, butter beans, or giant lima beans (14-oz can)
1 T. olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 T. minced fresh parsley or basil (I used 1 t. dried parsley)
1/2 C. Creamy Garlic Dressing (recipe follows)

Gently rinse beans and drain. Place drained beans in a bowl, sprinkle with olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, and 1/2 cup dressing. Mix gently with a wooden spoon. Store refrigerated up to 3 days, serve at room temperature.

Creamy Garlic Dressing
(this dressing is also amazing over warm polenta!)

1 1/2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/4 C. plus 2 T. olive oil
2 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 T. chopped fresh basil (or 1/2 t. dried)
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. fresh ground black pepper
1/4 C. soy milk

Put the garlic, oil, vinegar, basil, salt, and pepper into a blender or food processor and whir for a couple of seconds. With the blender still running, slowly add the soy milk, whirling until the dressing is thick and smooth. Covered and refrigerated, this dressing will keep for at least a week.
Makes 3/4 cup.

Olive Tapenade
from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

2 1/2 cups drained pitted black olives (2 6-oz cans)
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
2 T. pine nuts
1-2 T. extra-virgin olive oil

In a food processor or blender, whirl the olives with the garlic, pine nuts, and 1 T. of the olive oil until mixture is somewhat smooth. (It’s okay if some of the pine nuts remain whole.) If mixture is too stiff, add remaining olive oil.

Makes 2 cups. Covered and refrigerated, this spread should keep for about a week. It is best served at room temperature.

On a roll

In planning out the ultimate vegan, gluten-free Thanksgiving, part of my strategy was to make a list of the traditional foods I imagined people would associate strongly with being part of this holiday meal, and then find a way to include those, either in actuality or in essence. Things like green-bean casserole and sweet potatoes with marshmallows may be vital to particular family traditions, but I was aiming for more catch-all categories, like “stuffing,” “potatoes and gravy,” and, of course, I would eventually have to deal with the big one, “turkey.”

Blue Corn Muffins with Green Chiles

One thing I went back and forth about was the category of “bread” or “rolls.” Some kind of bread or roll is usually part of any big American holiday feast, but Thanksgiving is so carb-heavy that it seemed a little absurd to go to the trouble of making gluten-free vegan bread (which I’ve never done before) just so there would be one more plain starch on the table along with all the fancy ones.

Then I came across a recipe from Karina, the Gluten-Free Goddess for Blue Corn Muffins with Green Chiles and I knew a hot basket of these would get the meal started off right. Karina was even kind enough to tell me how to freeze and reheat them, so I was able to make them a week in advance, which was a great boon for streamlining the T-day preparations. (Scroll down to the bottom of the comments below Karina’s recipe for her freezing advice.)

I made the muffins exactly as directed, with the only difference being that, with the muffin papers about 2/3 full, I had enough batter for 16 rather than 12 muffins, which was perfect. This was my first foray into the type of gluten-free baking that uses GF flour combos and I was a little nervous, but thanks to Rainbow Grocery’s extremely well-stocked bulk section and Karina’s tried, tested, and true muffin expertise, everything went perfectly.

My one comment on the muffins is that, unless they were piping hot, the texture seemed oddly grainy and soft in the center. Once they were hot, though (I reheated them in the toaster oven right before we sat down to eat and then kept them warm in a basket wrapped in a towel) that softness seemed like melting goodness. There were a couple left over, and we ate these the next day with butter (er, Earth Balance) and those twice-toasted muffins were the best of the whole batch!