I spent a significant portion of my life steadfastly maintaining that mushrooms were for trolls. Most kids would have been content to simply wrinkle their noses and refuse to eat mushrooms, but I built up an elaborate justification for my distaste: namely that mushrooms are squishy and grow in wet, woodsy places. Where trolls live. And, what with my not being a troll and all, I couldn’t reasonably be expected to eat them. Of course, then I became a vegetarian, so I couldn’t reasonably be expected to eat cute little animals who had lived lives of suffering and misery either.
I can be rather difficult at times, which is probably why those who knew me in my troll-food days feel particularly vindicated when I call them to enthuse about an upcoming mushroom festival or to describe the day I spent helping a farmer inoculate logs with shiitake spawn or to report that I’ve just eaten an entire morel and asparagus pizza and boy was it yummy.
We like pizza at our house. We especially like Chicago-style pizza, what with one of us being from Chicagoland and all. In fact, the last time we visited the Windy City, we indulged in a late-night snack at Pizano’s despite relatively sated appetites. “Let’s go get a pizza,” I’d suggested when we found our time unexpectedly unspoken for. Chris hesitated. Hesitated! “I’m not really hungry,” he offered. “Neither am I,” I agreed, “but how often do we get to eat Chicago pizza?” So out we went. That’s how much we like pizza.
You know who else likes pizza? Our new president, a Chicagoan himself. So it made sense to commemorate his inauguration with homemade Chicago-style deep dish. Well, that an abundance of crisp, local champagne — an otherwise odd pairing that perfectly encapsulated the celebratory and egalitarian spirit of the day.
But back to the pizza: I’ve always assumed the deep dishes of gooey cheese and thick, crisp crust that arrive bubbling at your table were a complicated enterprise impossible to re-create at home. Not so; you can make deep dish pizza in your own kitchen.
Yes you can.
I’ve never been especially good about New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I’m opposed to self-improvement, it’s that I have trouble equating newness with the barren bleakness of January. I tend to make my resolutions at the beginning of the school year, when the world seems as new as a freshly sharpened pencil or a class roster filled with unfamiliar names. The arbitrary New Year in January, then, is merely an excuse to drink champagne.
However, in the weeks preceding the advent of this particular new year, I’d given a lot of thought to leafy greens. I frequently resolve to eat more greens, often going so far as to purchase lovely, crisp bunches of them and then watch them wither away in my refrigerator for lack of inspiration. But then I met Alice Waters. Well, I didn’t so much meet her as I read a biography of her, which prompted me to buy a few of her cookbooks and experiment with a bunch of her recipes, as a result of which I really started to get this whole leafy greens thing.
Alice Waters is one of my culinary heroes, but I often read her recipes and think, “There’s no way that could be any good — it’s too simple.” Then I make them anyway because I am always always wrong.
This one starts with flowers and ends with butter, and if the novelty of eating flowers doesn’t win you right over, the zippy nasturtium butter certainly should. It’s the foundation of the dish and a prime example of the simplicity that is Alice. You combine a few teaspoons of herbs, some shallots, and a handful of nasturtium blossoms with a few tablespoons of butter; let it sit for an hour or so; and that, surprisingly, is all the flavor you need. The pepperiness of the nasturtiums and the freshness of the herbs seep into the butter, creating a delightfully unexpected complexity.
Asparagus appeared in the co-op’s local produce section a few weeks ago, like magic. As if I wasn’t already high enough on spring. And because there’s a very short window before it’s back to dried out ol’ Peruvian asparagus, I’ve been buying several pounds of it at a time. Much as I’d like to, I’m not capable of eating several pounds of asparagus a week, and Chris wouldn’t touch asparagus even if it was deep fried and enveloped in multiple layers of bacon.
He is, however, a huge fan of pesto, and after stumbling upon this recipe at epicurious, it occurred to me that pesto made with asparagus might not look so different from pesto made with basil. Plus, you can do a hell of a lot with pesto, including freezing it, and the idea of a dollop of asparagus on baked fish in the dead of winter was rather appealing.
So I tossed a pound of asparagus and a few cloves of garlic into a baking pan with a little olive oil and a little salt, roasted it for about ten minutes, then dumped it all into the food processor with a handful of toasted pine nuts, some grated parmesan, and more olive oil. And voila, asparagus pesto.