Saturday, July 24, 2010


Summer’s cute phase is over, and our neighborhood has gone to seed earlier than usual. Weeds are bolting up through the cracks in our bluestone sidewalk, merging into a mass that’s more wilderness than pavement. The trees are raining frizzled leaves from the heat wave, which has also addled the human contingent: crime is doing its annual mini-spike. Not Son of Sam type stuff, but restless, fiddly transgressions. I see the posters plastered to telephone poles ("Wanted for Deception and Burglary"), and I hear neighbors whispering of stolen bicycles during evening dog walks. Last year around this time my bike got clipped. A few nights ago, our GPS was lifted (OK, so I asked for it by not locking the car) and our patio got broken into; nothing was taken, but a woman’s sandal was left behind as a calling card.

It’s time to say good-bye to friends for the summer, too. Many, with origins and family abroad, have already flown until September: Korea,
Canada, Spain. Each year, they lift away as naturally as birds migrating.
The upside? Some of those weeds in the sidewalk are wildflowers: thistles, sweet peas, morning glories, Queen Ann's lace. It’s easier to get a parking spot, and there's no need to queue up for a table in a restaurant. But still, all signs point to the inevitable: it’s a good time for me to pack up the brood and head out of town. This week marks the last one of routine, of stillness around the house while my kids sing and schvitz at day camp. From here on, I’m the camp director and we’re out of town more than in it. Once we hit the road my heart will lift with new possibility, as it should. It will also, quietly, sigh. The cover of this week’s New Yorker shows a happy family rolling out of town, car laden with sporting equipment. In the back seat, a girl stares miserably at the receding Manhattan skyline. I always secretly feel like that a tad, each time I leave. 

New York…rank July garbage and all, you're magnetic.

If you're wondering how any of these ramblings relate to food, or anything appetizing, I have just one word: zucchini. If there ever was an edible indicator of summer’s overripe, overly generous, poised-on-the-edge-of-decay stage, it’s zucchini. They recently made their yearly debut in our CSA basket, so they’re still on the delicate side. Soon they will balloon to the size of baseball bats, and even the constant baking of zucchini bread won’t be enough to keep up.
The gilt has not worn off the zucchini yet, though—on our summer table it’s featured prominently in pastas, gratins, and ratatouilles, its prodigious pulp not yet hidden away in breads and frozen for fall minestrone. My favorite at-home dinner right now is crisp, homemade pizza crowned with shaved zucchini–because also, I’m having a love affair with the no-knead baking technique in Jim Lahey’s My Bread. You can bet this book will hitch a ride wherever I go until September. And I know, I'm a bit of a late adopter of this minor craze, but better late than never: the bread turns out brilliantly every single time. If you’re a kneader by nature, you might miss the intimate, tactile interaction with the dough. The laissez-faire approach also goes against everything I learned in culinary school, about the science of having to muscle together all those good gluten strands with your hands. 

The  pizza crust recipe makes two full sheet tray sized pizzas, so you can freeze half the dough or make a few smaller, round pizzas. I whip up the simplest tomato sauce imaginable and use my beloved and scary mandoline to get those veggies paper thin, so they don’t make the pizza soggy. And the just-made, brine-dipped mozzerella from Caputo's is what I crave most of all...I might as well get my fill, because I'll miss it where I'm going. Farewell for now, Brooklyn!
You can, of course, use store-bought dough and/or sauce if you aren't in the mood for a project. On the topic of zucchini, I also like this simple pasta recipe from over at The Wednesday Chef. And, this article from last year’s New York Times offers some great ideas for using up zucchini. Readers: if you have a clever zucchini idea you'd like to share, Please! I invite you to pass it along in the Comments section.

Zucchini Pizza

Pizza Dough 
Adapted from Jim Lahey's My Bread
  • 3 3/4 cups bread flour (500 g.) or, substitute a cup or so whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (10 g.)
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt (5 g.)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar 
  • 1 1/3 cups room-temperature water (300 g.)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for trays
 Simple Tomato Sauce  
(enough for one pizza)
  • 1 large ripe tomato or two smaller ones
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil 
  • Sea salt to taste
Other pizza ingredients  
  • 1 small zucchini 
  • 1 small onion–preferably a spring onion (greens still attached) 
  • 1/2 ball fresh mozzerella, shaved or torn into shreds
  • Optional: Fresh ground pepper, basil leaves

Instructions for Dough: 
Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the water and mix with a wooden spoon or your hands until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough will be a bit stiff. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let sit at room temperature about 2 hours, or until the dough has more than doubled in volume. 

Using a large rubber spatula or bowl scraper, scrape dough from bowl onto a floured surface. Divide and gently shape dough into two balls, separate, and cover with a damp dish towel for a half hour or so. 

Meanwhile, when you're ready to use dough, preheat oven to 500 degrees (may want to do 475 degrees if your oven gets too hot). Prepare tray(s)–this dough will cover two 13 x 18 rimmed sheet trays. Oil tray–and your hands–liberally. Gently stretch dough the length of tray and then press evenly onto surface, concentrating on places where dough is thicker. Pinch together any holes that form.

Instructions for Sauce: 
Put a medium pot of salted water on to boil. Cut an "x" in bottom of tomato with a sharp knife. Once water boils, dunk the tomato for about 30 seconds, remove with a skimmer and refresh under cold running water. Then, you can easily peel the skin off. Cut out the stem end and then chop tomato into segments. Remove seeds and tomato jelly and discard, then mash up tomato flesh with your hands or a potato masher, until you have puree consistency. Stir in garlic, a few drops of olive oil, and salt to taste.
Assembly and Cooking: 
Preheat oven to 500 degrees if you haven't already. Cut off root and stem ends of onion and remove peel. Use a mandoline or sharp knife and, starting at root end, slice onion very thin horizontally, into rings. Slice zucchini into paper thin rounds. Top dough evenly with sauce, then cheese. Spread onions on top, then finally zucchini. I arrange slices so their edges are touching (not overlapping). They shrink during cooking. Put tray into middle rack of preheated oven, then bake for 25-30 minutes, until crust is crisp and browned and pizza looks ready. Rotate halfway during cooking, and lower heat to 475 degrees if top is getting too brown but crust doesn't seem done in the middle. When pizza is done, scatter with basil leaves and ground pepper, if you like.

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