Category Archives: supper time

Small comforts

chicken-pie

I KNOW IT’S A CLICHÉ to write about “comfort food,” but the anxiety I’ve experienced  since the election has made comfort seem more necessary than ever. There is something calming about the normality of cooking, especially if you’re making something both comforting and nourishing.

Last week I made a mushroom-chicken pot pie topped with biscuits that fit the bill. Aviva showed me how to do this basically in one pot: saute onions and garlic with your choice of vegetables –some options: mushrooms, chopped potatoes or sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, cauliflower greens– in butter and/or oil in a cast iron skillet. Add a few tablespoons of flour and seasonings (salt, pepper, rosemary or thyme) and then add enough broth (chicken or vegetarian) to make a nice “gravy” for your pie. Add cooked chicken or leave it out for a vegetarian version. The sauce should be a little thinner than you want it as it’ll thicken in the oven. You can top with a biscuit dough, as I did here (Mark Bittman’s biscuit topping works well) or with a typical pie crust.

puff-pastry-pot-pie

Or, for the easiest method, do as I did recently and use puff pastry (buy it frozen and thaw it). Lay a circle of puff pastry over your filling, and cut a few slits for the steam to escape.

For any of these toppings, bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits or other crust is golden.

The pot pie is a little more ambitious than my usual comfort nourishment though. I gravitate toward the simplest form of cooking. Faithful readers of this blog (thank you!) know that I love SOUP, especially in fall and winter, when my go-to supper is soup and bread (or toast, popovers, cornbread, etc.).

Indeed I have a long family history with soup, one part of which I wrote about in my latest sketchbook:

soupspoon-jpg_0001

In just the last few weeks, I’ve run through a lot of my soup favorites: lentil with spinach and lemon, parsley-potato; chicken soup with matzo balls, red lentil soup; and of course, minestrone.

My latest soup creation is another lentil soup, this time with lots of carrots to brighten its color, and some seasoning to perk up the flavors. I adapted it from a recipe by British food writer Diane Henry for “Turkish carrots and lentils with herbs” in the book Plenty (no, not the Ottolenghi Plenty).

Henry’s recipe is more a side dish with fewer lentils and no real broth; I doubled the lentils and added more water for a soup-ier version. She suggests fresh mint, parsley or dill for the herbs — I chose to use cilantro (but I do want to try the mint version sometime.) Henry also adds 2 teaspoons of sugar, but I left it out; it didn’t seem to need it. The coriander seeds and red pepper, along with the lemon and herbs give it a bright and lively flavor.

carrot-lentil

This first serving was more stew-like; when I heated it up the next day, I added more water to make it more of a soup. Really good either way.

Carrot-lentil soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1/4 – 1/2 dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 6 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (or you can use tomato puree)
  • 4 or 5 cups vegetable stock or water
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped cilantro
  • lemon juice
  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute’ the onion until soft. Add garlic and spices and cook for two minutes. Then add everything else except the cilantro and lemon juice.
  2.  Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Add more water or broth as you like — it can be more of a lentil stew or a soup.
  3. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a glug of olive oil to the soup (I don’t but you might want to).
  4. Ladle into bowls, adding a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a good sprinkle of cilantro into each bowl.

I love Diane Henry’s concise description: “This shows just how delicious frugality can be.” And comforting too.

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, soup, supper time, vegetables, winter

August fixin’s

pasta and vegAUGUST REMINDS ME of my childhood: the sticky hot humid days in Chicago, barely relieved by the big swamp cooler in the basement. We had no air conditioning and my two sisters and I slept in an upstairs attic-type room, catching what little breeze we could from the open window and a fan. A thunderstorm was an evening’s entertainment:  From our screened-in back porch, we’d listen to the thunder, watch the streaks of lightning and smell the oncoming rain.

But best of all, August meant we would pack up the car (I always had a case full of books) and leave the city for a rented cabin in Ephraim, Wisconsin, or South Haven, Michigan, where we’d swim in Lake Michigan (Yes, we did that at home too, but here it was even better) and eat fresh peaches and blueberries, corn and tomatoes, trout and smoked whitefish, and bakery white rolls. And cherry pie.

Wherever you are, fresh produce is abundant this month, and dinner doesn’t have to be salad. On these lazy days, I love to center an August meal around corn on the cob. Or potato and green beans in a vinaigrette. Or cherry tomatoes, as in the photo above, roasted (or sauteed) with some garlic and oil and sprinkled with basil, to dress a pasta. With a side of green beans with lemon zest, and a simple salad with beets (dressed in another vinaigrette) and hazelnuts, it was a light but satisfying meal that didn’t take long at the stove.

blackberry cobbThis kitchen blog began in 2009 with Blackberry Cobbler No. 8, a recipe for the eighth version I had made of blackberry cobbler.

This week my daughter and I picked  blackberries (it’s been unusually hot here so it’s almost end-of-the-season) for a cobbler and decided that the No. 8  version is still hard to beat, with very tender biscuits with a touch of cornmeal. There’s not too much sugar in it, and a dollop of ice cream on the warm cobbler will suit it just fine.

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Filed under dessert, fruit, musings, summer, supper time, vegetables

Thanksgiving’s simpler sides

As usual this year, I am making cranberry chutney as well as a basic cranberry sauce with orange zest to take to the Thanksgiving feast. And green beans, perhaps with some toasted pecans or caramelized lemons (or both?). And rolls — not that anyone needs or even wants more carbs, but these are yet another Thanksgiving tradition (and there are so many).

Really, one day is not enough to appreciate all the side dishes of Thanksgiving tradition, and one doesn’t always have leftovers, so I decided to make a meal of some classic sides before Thanksgiving. When you’re just making a couple of dishes, of course it’s much simpler, and this meal was so good I may do another variation or two of side dishes after the big feast.

brussels

Roasted brussels sprouts were on my menu

I made a wild rice-brown rice pilaf with onions and mushrooms, topped with toasted pecans — the cranberry chutney on the side (I’d made extra) really perked up this dish. And I had just bought a bag of nice little brussels sprouts from the farmers’ market, so those were roasted, with a little pomegranate vinegar on top.

TdaysidesAnd of course, there were baked sweet potatoes.

Maybe it wasn’t the most beautiful or original supper plate we ever had, but it was very satisfying to give full attention to some of Thanksgiving’s less glamorous sidekicks!

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Filed under fall, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

Al fresco

zuccflowersIt’s well into August and the farmer’s market is bursting with pretty much everything. We finally got some rain here last week, which made the farmers really happy.

farmersmktEverything is fresh, beautiful and tasty!

newpotatoes

salmonsaladWith all these fresh selections, I’ve still been mostly in the salad mode, which has the great advantage of using little or no heat.

capresesaladI’ve  even had enough Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and basil from my own teeny garden to make a Caprese salad (with fresh mozzarella).

pizzaAnd occasionally I have turned on the stove or the oven, to make pasta with roasted or sauteed tomatoes and basil — or pizza with those same ingredients. (Mmmm, it had been such a long time since I had pizza.) And green salad alongside, of course.

springrollskin

Another great way to eat your salad is in a fresh spring roll — also called summer roll or salad roll.

springrollwrapI’d never made these before but it turns out to be pretty simple — just a lot of chopped salad ingredients (plus some thin Asian noodles — I used brown rice ones), some shrimp or chicken or tofu if you like, and the spring roll skins, which are briefly soaked in hot water, then rolled around the filling like a burrito. You can find instructions here and many other places on the Web, and adapt them as you see fit. And make or buy a nice sauce to dip them in.

alfruit dessertAlso,  all the marvelous fresh fruit this time of year makes it easier to eat a little lighter than usual. We’ve really been enjoying a simple dessert lately: a bowl of fruit with a nice dollop of maple-sweetened yogurt. Sitting outside on a warm evening with a slab of watermelon or a juicy fresh peach is appealing too.

bbbcakeBut I really couldn’t let August go by without baking at least one Blueberry Boy Bait! I made it when we had some company coming, and it was a fitting afternoon treat.

Freddie and Val sample the Blueberry Boy Bait

Freddie and Val sample the Blueberry Boy Bait

And what better way to enjoy it, as with so many of these meals and snacks,  than al fresco — the perfect summer way to dine!

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Filed under dessert, fruit, salad, summer, supper time, vegetables

All-in-one supper

allinoneThe one-dish meal is usually a pot of soup or stew (and sometimes a salad) but another way I’ve found to do this is an all-in-one supper roasted in the oven on a cookie sheet. (The clean-up is super easy too if you line the cookie sheet with foil.)

Because asparagus is in season, I’ve been making this meal recently with roasted potatoes and onions, asparagus and fish.

Lately, Dover sole is the least expensive fish on offer at our favorite fish store, and I’ve found that it’s so quick and easy to cook it in the oven.

Simply rub a little oil on top of the filets, then season with salt and pepper and a scattering of herbs if you like (I used fresh thyme here; dill or chives or parsley would be fine too) and a squeeze of lemon juice. It takes only five minutes or so to cook the thin fillets.

doversoleandlemon

I like to top the fish with lemon slices, caramelized in a skillet with a little butter or oil. It’s an extra step, but worth it.

The only trick to this all-in-one meal is the timing. I heat the oven to 400 degrees, start with the potatoes (tossed with a slick of oil), and then (when they’re getting soft), add the onions (also with a bit of oil). About 20 minutes in, I’ll add the asparagus (yes, a little oil and salt) and finally (when everything is about 5 minutes away), the fish, which cooks very quickly. If you are making this meal for more than two people, you will likely need two cookie sheets.

The potatoes and asparagus are forgiving (a little extra time in the oven won’t hurt) but check the fish often, as you don’t want to overcook it! It won’t hurt to open the oven every minute or two. If the filets are very thin or small, they may even take less than five minutes. As soon as the flesh turns white and flakes apart when touched with a fork, it’s done.

soleandasparagusAnd so is supper. All you need is a plate and a fork.
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Filed under spring, supper time, vegetables

Summertime easy

saladbowl
It’s been more than a month since I’ve written here, and in the meantime, we took a 12-day road trip to Montana (central and eastern) and a bit of Wyoming. For those of you who have followed my blog, you’ll know this trip in the rural West presents a challenge for me in finding food that I like, especially fresh vegetables.

I’ve written about my road trip kitchen and motel cooking tips before here, and here — and salads I made by boiling water in the electric kettle to cook bulgur and washing lettuce and other vegetables in my salad spinner.

But this year, I was lazier — ahem, that is to say, more practical (smarter?)– and often bought those packages of pre-washed spinach or salad greens that I usually eschew at home. Let me just say –they are great for travel! — Of course, I had my bottle of olive oil, plenty of lemons (and my lemon reamer) and some salt, so I had all the ingredients for dressing any kind of salad.

Also, I was inspired by a nice new blue speckled enamel salad bowl I bought at Ray’s Sports & Western Wear in Harlowton, Montana.

broccolirabe

Amy of Terra Verde Farms clued me in about roasted broccoli rabe. Just toss with a little oil and salt, roast at 400 degrees till it’s as done as you like it.

Back home, I really haven’t had much energy for making dinner. So we continue with salads (lettuce and radishes from the farmers’ market) and corn or bread or a quesadilla. If I am more ambitious (not much) I might just make pasta with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil and a sprinkle of pecorino. Or it’s cool enough to turn on the oven, occasionally I make a delicious  little piece of sockeye salmon and rice. Or some roast vegetables.

Often I really can’t think of what we should eat for dinner (crackers and cheese?) but if I do decide to actually cook something, it must be simple. It’s summertime, after all.

beancornquinoaThe salad above is about the most complicated thing I’ve made in a month, and it was really pretty easy. Quinoa (I used red quinoa from Trader Joe’s) a can of black beans, corn kernels, green and red onions, halved cherry tomatoes (from the plants on my patio!), chopped cucumber, cilantro, a little chopped jalapeno, avocado pieces and a dressing with some oil and lots of lime juice, some lime zest and salt. You could vary this a number of ways, of course.

It made a good lunch today — but I don’t know what we’ll have for dinner.

It’s not that I’ve been avoiding the kitchen all the time. I made a jar of quick pickles using dill I had in the garden, and I bought basil from farmers’ market to make pesto.

picklesI made Blueberry Boy Bait for summer visitors. Lately, Steve and I have been picking lots of wild blackberries in the evenings, and I’ve made blackberry scones and blackberry crisp (in individual servings so we wouldn’t eat too much) and even blackberry focaccia —  but mostly I’ve been putting them into the freezer for the long winter ahead.

It’s summertime, I’m lazy, and the livin’ should be easy…

individualblackbcrisp

When it comes to dessert, few things are easier than a blackberry crisp. Add a tablespoon or two of sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice and a teaspoon of cornstarch to enough berries to fill two ramekins; top with a mixture of butter (you don’t need much), oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon (and chopped nuts if you wish.) Bake at 350 degrees till berries are bubbling and topping is crisp. Yum!

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Filed under dessert, salad, summer, supper time, vegetables

Pleasures of summer

yograsp

Yogurt and granola with freshly picked raspberries

Here are just some of the delights I’ve been enjoying this first week or so of July.

Salmon with lemon slices

Salmon with lemon slices

 Copper River salmon with blackened (caramelized) lemon slices. It’s nice to use a cast iron skillet for this. First, saute one (or two) thinly sliced lemon(s) in a bit of butter or olive oil until soft and starting to blacken; next, sear the salmon filet, then finish cooking in the oven at 300 or 325 degrees until the salmon is tender and flakes easily.

beanandbroccoli

Beans and greens summer salad

The base is cooked or canned white beans. I used cannellini beans that I brined the night before and rinsed before cooking. (This is a great way to cook beans that I learned from Cook’s Illustrated.) Make a dressing of olive oil, plenty of fresh lemon juice (and some zest if you like), a little garlic and some salt. You can basically add any chopped vegetables and herbs you like: for this salad, I used chopped raw spinach, chopped broccoli rabe (cooked crisp-tender), chopped green onions, a little sweet yellow pepper and some minced parsley, mint and dill. A second variation omitted the spinach but had more broccoli rabe and some basil.

Pie cherries from the farmers market

Pie cherries from the farmers market

Pitting pie cherries

Pitting pie cherries

Cherry pie

Cherry pie

I only had enough cherries for a small pie — and I decided to make the top crust only. (We never missed the bottom crust or its calories. And I didn’t have to decide whether to pre-bake it or not.)

You’ll need some nice fresh pie cherries, which are not always easy to find — and some sugar and cornstarch or other thickener for the filling (How much? Epicurious has a good basic recipe and you can adjust it according to how big a pie you’re making, etc.) Also a little lemon juice and zest.

Some people like almond extract in a cherry pie, but I don’t care for almond extract anywhere, so of course it didn’t go in.

cherrypieone

Later, that same day

I didn’t hear any complaints.

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Filed under dessert, fruit, summer, supper time, vegetables

Good things in March

Oatmeal scones with currants

Oatmeal scones with currants — and lemon marmalade

If not for St. Patrick’s Day coming up (a celebration in my family, which I wrote about here), mid-March would be kind of bleak, noted for the Ides of March (the occasion of Julius Caesar’s assassination). It’s an in-between season, neither winter or spring.

It is still rainy and blustery here, still a time to enjoy pots of soup accompanied by crusty bread.  But there are those times when you run out of bread and wish for some nice heart-warming baked goods you could whip up and take out of the oven in just about half an hour from the time you thought of it.  I’m here to tell you it can be done!

A recipe I came up with recently, oatmeal scones, is quick, easy and satisfying. You can make it plain or add currants, lemon zest or caraway seeds for a very respectable substitute for Irish soda bread (which Americans seem to remember only once a year — and then it turns out the authentic version is not what we had in mind anyway.)

oatscones3

This afternoon the idea of oatmeal scones materialized into a plateful of them so quickly that Steve could hardly believe it. Set the oven to 425 degrees now, and you can be eating them soon.

If you’re in the St. Patrick’s Day spirit, serve them with something green –perhaps Anna Thomas’ green soup,  a skillet full of sauteed chard or kale with some garlic and lemon, or maybe a chopped kale-lemon-walnut salad like the one I made today.

kalelemonsalad

Kale-lemon-walnut salad, inspired by a Portland friend

For the salad, finely chop a bunch of lacinato kale and one medium organic (or unwaxed) lemon, skin and all. Add a quarter cup of chopped toasted walnuts. (Some chopped apple would be good in this too. Or some dried cranberries.) Sprinkle with salt and drizzle in as much olive oil as you like, perhaps adding more lemon juice (stir in half a teaspoon of honey if it’s too sour for you). Very healthy!

Now would you like that scone recipe? I’ve kept the recipe small-ish (6 scones) because these really are best fresh. But if you’d like to make a dozen, it’s no problem at all to double the recipe.
oatscdoughcurrants

Oatmeal scones (makes 6)

  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or substitute all-purpose flour)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small pieces
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup nonfat yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons currants (optional)
  • zest of one lemon; 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (both optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

  2. In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients (flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, brown sugar)

  3. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the butter is the size of small peas

  4. In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, mix the egg and yogurt together, then add to the dry ingredients, mixing only until it comes together into a soft dough.

  5. Sprinkle a generous portion of oats on a counter or wooden board. Form the dough into a thick circle about 6 inches in diameter and lightly press the dough into the oats on each side, so the disc is coated with oats on both sides. Then cut the dough into six wedges, like this:oatcurrant2

  6. Put the wedges on a baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, till golden. Serve them warm.

On any day of the year, these scones will go well with both savories and sweets, from breakfast to coffee or tea time to dinner.

oatsconesandtea

I must say these scones were delicious with lemon marmalade, accompanied by a  strong cup of Irish Breakfast tea. They lifted my spirits,  chased away the March blues, and almost made me forget the tea was decaf!

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Filed under baked goods, breakfast, dessert, Praise for other cooks, salad, soup, spring, supper time, vegetables, winter

Still winter…….

sweet potato with marinated feta and olives

Baked sweet potato with marinated feta and kalamata olives

Well, when we were in Southern California, it was all very well to subsist on loads of mandarins and quick meals of tacos or lemon fettucine (along with twice-weekly fabulous huevos rancheros breakfasts at Esau’s Cafe).

Back in the Pacific Northwest, it’s still winter and something heartier is needed. I made my usual round of soups — minestrone, potato-leek, mushroom-barley and lemony lentil with spinach — and then looked around for some non-soup inspirations.

In a used bookstore in San Francisco, on our way south to Carpinteria, I had picked up a book by Diana Henry, called “Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons.” (See why I had to buy it? … and more about those pickled lemons later.) Henry is a food columnist for The Telegraph in London and her writing is very appealing, as are the recipes.

Henry offers many Middle Eastern recipes, but this one is not traditional, as sweet potatoes are seldom eaten in the Mediterranean. I think it would be excellent with regular baking potatoes too, and it’s simple and quick to put together.

Break up 6 or 7 ounces of feta cheese and mix with 1/2 a tablespoon of fennel seeds, a medium red chili, seeded and cut into fine slivers, a crushed garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed coriander seeds and enough olive oil to moisten. Cover and set in a cool place or refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend.

Bake four medium sweet potatoes until tender.  Split them open lengthwise and sprinkle with a little olive oil and freshly ground black pepper, then fill with the marinated feta and sliced kalamata olives. Scatter chopped cilantro over all and serve.

Another recent inspiration was from the engaging Italian cook, Lidia Bastianich, whose braised Swiss chard and cannellini beans recipe is very satisfying. It was similar to some greens-and-beans I make, but in this case the chard is cooked till very tender, and crushed tomatoes add a lively note. The original recipe called for more olive oil than I thought it needed and for a dab of tomato paste, which I didn’t have. I’m sure it’s dandy as she made it, but I’ll give you my slight adaptation, below.

beansandchard

Cannellini Beans with Swiss chard, adapted from Lidia Bastianich

  • 1/2 pound dried cannellini beans (or 3 cups canned beans, drained and rinsed. You can also make this with Great Northern beans)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • a big bunch of Swiss chard
  • about 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes (such as San Marzano)
  1. Rinse the beans and soak overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain, transfer beans to a large saucepan and cover with fresh cold water. Boil for about 40 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat, stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt and let the beans cool to absorb the cooking liquid.

  2. Rinse the Swiss chard and cut off the stems (save for soup stock). Slice the leaves crosswise about every two inches.

  3. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to the boil. Drop in all the chard at once, stir and cover the pot. Cook for five to ten minutes, until the chard is thoroughly tender. Drain the cooked chard well in a colander. Also drain the beans.

  4. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil with the sliced garlic in a skillet over medium-high heat, until the garlic is sizzling. Toast the red pepper flakes in the skillet, then pour in the crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil.

  5. Add the beans, season with salt, and heat rapidly, stirring. As it’s simmering, stir in the chard and bring to a boil over high heat for a couple of minutes, tossing the mixture and stirring constantly. As the juices thicken, drizzle in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and simmer another two or three minutes.

sausagepolentabeans

The next night, I served the leftovers with some polenta and a grilled chicken sausage. Great winter meal!

mandarinbowl

Mandarins were perfect for dessert

Oh yes –what about those pickled lemons?

pickledlemons

Diana Henry’s recipe for pickled lemons is very simple: sliced lemons, sprinkled with salt and paprika. How do they taste? I don’t know yet… it takes about three weeks before they’re ready. Stay tuned.

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Filed under baked goods, Praise for other cooks, soup, supper time, vegetables, winter

Lemon pizza!!

As soon as I read about this “pizza with a twist,” I knew I had to try it. Lemons on pizza– what a natural for me, two of my favorite foods combined.  But would it really be as good as it looked?

This recipe for “Pizza Sorrentina” (created by a fourth-generation pizzaiola in Naples for her mother Rosaria, who loved lemons) in the Wall Street Journal, gives directions for a homestyle version of the Naples-style crust, using 00 (doppio zero) flour,  a very finely ground flour producing a tender and puffy crust. You bake it in an oven set to 550 degrees (pizza in Naples is baked in wood-fired ovens that reach 950 degrees).

I don’t usually use the 00 flour for pizza, but I happened to have some so I did something that I very rarely do and followed the recipe. I also never buy smoked mozzarella, but this time I did that too. And I soaked thin lemon slices in water for 15 minutes, just like the recipe said.

I have to say, this pizza was just terrific! Soaking the lemon slices meant that the peel was chewable, not hardened, and the sharp clean flavor of the lemons contrasted beautifully with the smoked cheese.

One of the three 8-inch pizzas, along with the salad, was a fine dinner for the two of us. But one very hungry person could probably eat the whole pizza.

Will I make it again? Sure, but I probably won’t follow the recipe to the letter next time. My regular pizza dough is a little different than this recipe, but I like it just as well.  And I might use a different cheese, or another herb besides basil (though the basil is very good). However, I’ll definitely keep the lemons and I’ll definitely soak the lemon slices!

Want to read more about pizza? My press, Reaktion, has Pizza: A Global History as part of its Edible Series. Did you know that pizza wasn’t really an “Italian” food outside of Naples until well after World War II?

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Filed under baked goods, bread and pizza, fall, supper time