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).

Collard Greens and Butternut Squash ~ Week of December 16th

Braised Collard Greens and Beet Greens with Tomato, Red Onion, and Tempeh Bacon

This week in our Small Mixed box from Farm Fresh to You:

Satsuma mandarins (1.5 lb)
Pink Lady apples (1.5 lb)
Savoy cabbage (3 lb)
Collard greens (1 bunch)
Butternut squash (2 lb)
Salad mix (0.5 lb)
Leeks (1 lb)

I was a huge fan of collard greens in college. I used to boil them for a long, long time until they were super tender and then eat them with lemon juice and hot pepper flakes. I never ate collards growing up or had any other exposure to them, rather I knew about the idea of collard greens, as this slow-cooked Southern food that you cooked forever with a ham hock or something. So I just cooked my (vegetarian) version of this idea. After a trip to New Orleans I brought back a ton of Zatarain’s boxed mixes for Red Beans & Rice, Dirty Rice, and Jamabalaya. I would throw in cut-up veggie sausage and cook my collards and make these feasts that recreated a cuisine I had basically never eaten. (It’s impossible to actually eat this food in New Orleans if you’re vegetarian.)

I don’t boil greens for hours anymore. I try to give them a little more love and let their flavors stay bright and their nutrients stay in their leaves and not leach out into the cooking water. But collards can be tough, and they do need some attention to make them shine. I usually improvise a recipe based on a collard green technique from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison that has delicious Southern flavor (or what I imagine to be Southern flavor in my head) while still keeping the greens bright and lively. She recommends a brown butter sauce to replace the bacon flavor, but since we don’t eat butter I use tempeh bacon, and then I’ll throw in whatever other veggies seem like they’ll be happy in there, too.

Braised Collards, Veggie-Southern-style

2 bunches collards, long stems and tough ribs removed
Salt
1 onion (red or yellow), diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
5 strips tempeh bacon*, cut into small pieces
1 T. olive oil

Plunge the greens into a large pot of boiling salted water, cook them for 10 minutes and then remove to a bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet (I use a wok) over medium heat. Add onion and pepper flakes, stirring occasionally until the onion is beginning to soften. Add the garlic and tempeh bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly colored and the tempeh lightly browned. Add the greens, their reserved cooking water, and 1 tsp. salt. Cook for 30 minutes and taste again for salt. They can use a lot, but the tempeh bacon should bring a lot of flavor.

Variations: You could add tomatoes, peanuts, bell peppers, cubes of cooked yam… the sky is the limit! In the photo above, I used one of bunch collards, one of beet greens, and added tomatoes.

*The brand of tempeh bacon I use – Lightlife – is flavored with a soy sauce that contains wheat, so it is NOT gluten-free. You can make your own tempeh bacon from Veganomicon. I recommend making a big batch of thin slices and then freezing it to thaw as needed.

Things are not what they seem

One of the things I miss most in my efforts to be gluten-free is pizza. Not because I love pizza so much, or ever get cravings for it. If I did, I would probably experiment with gluten-free pizza dough – the mix made by Gluten-Free Pantry is supposed to turn out quite a nice one. What I miss is the ease of it – whether it’s walking down to the corner for a slice until 2am, or picking up the phone for a pie any time at all (yes, there is 24 hour pizza delivery here in SF), or pulling one of my beloved Vicolo crusts from the freezer and filling it with caramelized onions and chard.

Zucchini-Crust Pizza with Cherry Tomatoes and Red Onions

Zucchini Crust Pizza with Cherry Tomatoes and Red Onions

I’ve heard rumors that Whole Foods, which has recently added an entire GF bakery section to some of its stores, carries pre-made GF pizza crusts, and maybe some day I’ll make a special trip there to check it out. (Or, since they’re threatening to put in a new Whole Foods four blocks from my house, maybe the pizza crusts will come to me!) But so far my food co-op doesn’t carry any easy GF pizza-like choices, so I figured this was one convenience food that was gone with the gluten.

Then the other day I was wandering around the internet and came across a recipe on the gluten-free vegetarian blog Book of Yum for Zucchini-crust Pizza. I’ve been getting a steady supply of zucchini in my box all summer, not enough to qualify as a backlog yet, but enough that I’ve been looking for new ways to use them up.

I modified the recipe a bit – it was a little heavy on the cheese for my tastes – and baked a pan of it. It didn’t come out crispy at all, so it wasn’t really crust-like, but it tasted good and made a nice, easy dish for breakfast or lunch, a sort of very flat, not overly rich quiche whose toppings I could vary each time. If I had used the amount of cheese called for in the original recipe it might have been crispier, but I don’t think I could have stomached a pan of it before it went bad. And of course, with any amount of cheese in it, I couldn’t count on assistance from Duck.

Here’s the recipe as I modified it. For the original, probably crispier version, check out Book of Yum. Continue reading