What advice do you give your child the night before they leave for college? When I think back, I am not sure I gave my children advice when they went off to school. It was more of a plea to stay safe. The advice given to me the night before I flew 3000 miles away to school took me by surprise. I can remember it as clear as a cloudless California summer night, Dad said to me, “If you are going to drink, drink vodka. It is the purest of all alcohol so you won’t get a headache, and the cops can’t smell it on your breath.” “Ah, ok Dad.” Whaaat…? I mean what is an 18-year-old supposed to say to that?
Flashback to 1977 in California where I lived. I was moving to New York and in 1977 the drinking age was 18. I’m guessing Dad figured the likelihood of me drinking alcohol was a distinct reality. So maybe that explains his peculiar advice.
The other shock about Dad giving me advice on alcohol and drinking is Dad was not a big drinker. Yes, Dad enjoyed his cocktail at night, but he never had more than one drink. His ritual was a gin and tonic in the spring and summer months and a bourbon on the rocks in the fall and winter. He never drank in excess or was he a big fan of people who did drink a lot. Furthermore, I do not believe he ever took a sip of vodka in his life, so how did he know? Yet, there he was standing before me telling me what to drink. Maybe in his own way, he was telling me to stay safe and keep out of trouble. Giving practical advice is less emotional than saying I will miss you and you are moving so far away.
It wasn’t until I was married and with college-age children of my own, that I took Dad’s advice and vodka became my beverage of choice for cocktails. Maybe my influence came from Cosmos featured so elegantly in Sex in the City. Though, I made up my own Cosmo recipe using pomegranate juice, lime juice and vodka. However, the vodka gimlet I can distinctly point to my husband’s cousin for the credit.
We were at a pool party at Joe’s cousin’s home enjoying a small Palumbo family reunion one blistering hot summer day. His cousin was making vodka gimlets in honor of his father. I mean Uncle Frank was Joe’s Godfather so how could we refuse? Wow, Steven made them strong, but they were the perfect antidote on that sweltering hot day. Maybe more refreshing than the pool. It was love at first sip. From that day on, vodka gimlets became our preferred cocktail and set the standard for all vodka martinis to come.
Traditionally, gimlets are made with gin, lime juice and a splash of simple syrup. However, I prefer my gimlets made with vodka and without simple syrup. Adding mint leaves to the shaker and muddling the leaves with a slice of lime softens the strong vodka bite. The mint quickly infuses the cocktail with its herbal charm and tones down the alcohol. In my opinion, the mint infusion eliminates the need for the simple syrup.
I must confess, I do not mind strong cocktails because I like to taste the alcohol in my drinks and not be masked by a sweetener. Yet, making the perfect cocktail is all about balance, that is why I like adding fresh herbs to cocktails. In my opinion, herbs balance out all the flavors. Also, tasting the alcohol in your drink helps you to sip the cocktail at a slower pace. If a cocktail tastes like sweetened fruit juice, that cocktail will quickly disappear with a second trip to the bar already underway.
You do not need fancy vodka for a vodka gimlet, just a smooth and clean tasting one. For fun and to educate myself about local distilleries, I bought a vodka made in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Republic Vodka. It is made with grains from the Midwest, the NY Hudson Valley, and Brooklyn water. Don’t get turned off by Brooklyn water, the New York City Watershed is in my backyard with reservoirs all over Westchester County and this water is good and clean.
Brooklyn Republic Vodka has a clean taste with a silky smooth viscosity. I cannot drink most vodkas straight up, but I can drink Brooklyn Republic Vodka ice-cold as is. This is a delicious vodka and it is clear Brooklyn Republic Vodka knows what they are doing.
New York State, and in particular Brooklyn is developing a solid reputation for distilling local vodka, gin, bourbon and brewing beer all made with New York grain. It is an exciting development that is part of a resurgence for small wheat and corn farms all over the state.
Vodka Gimlet Variations
Vodka gimlets are a refreshing summer cocktail, but I enjoy them year round. For some variety, you can switch up the herbs. Thyme, rosemary or basil make terrific substitutions for the mint in a vodka gimlet or martini. Cucumbers are a nice addition as well. Muddle a slice of cucumber with the mint, or another fresh herb, then proceed as directed.
Maybe Dad was right about vodka being the purest alcoholic beverage which could reduce the likelihood of getting a headache after a night of fun. Yet, just to be on the safe side, please drink vodka gimlets, or any cocktail, responsibly. Have fun and please be safe.
Enjoy any one of these appetizers with your cocktail
Lime Mint Vodka Gimlet
Vodka gimlet is a very refreshing cocktail with the bright flavor of lime and fresh mint. There is no simple syrup added, which keeps the cocktail bright with a slight citrus sourness. The mint muddled in the vodka ties it all together. Fresh herbs make a wonderful addition to martinis. To me, they are a necessary ingredient to tone down the sharp bite of vodka.
Feel free to adjust the amount of vodka to suit your taste.
- 3-4 small fresh mint leaves
- 2 limes 1 lime for juice, the other used in the cocktail and garnish
- Handful of ice cubes
- 5 oz vodka clean tasting vodka that is not flavored
Add the mint with one thin slice of lime to a cocktail shaker and use the handle of a wooden spoon or a muddler and press down on the lime and mint to release the oils. Add a handful of ice cubes, then add freshly squeezed lime juice of one lime and the vodka into your cocktail shaker. Put the top on the cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 15-30 seconds.
Pour the cocktail in two 4 oz (125 ml) martini glasses, add a slice or wedge of lime for garnish. Serve immediately while it's ice cold.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Finally, I have an apricot dessert recipe to share. It has taken awhile, but from my research and inspiration, I found an apricot dessert that is not a galette, not that there is anything wrong with galettes, but I do like to have a variety. With some help from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, I developed a recipe for apricot streusel cake.
Apricots are my favorite fruit and when I find a perfectly ripe fresh apricot, it is hard for me to resist eating the whole basket. Until recently, getting a good and ripe apricot in New York is as rare as finding a four-leaf clover. You know they exist, but finding one takes a few years of constant searching. My fondness for apricots comes from a vivid childhood taste memory and growing up in Northern California. As a result, all apricots compare to that distinct and memorable flavor.
My parents had an apricot tree, along with a plum tree, a couple of apple trees and a cherry tree growing in their yard. I realize this collection of fruit trees gives the impression I lived on an orchard, or an expansive property, though that is not the case. These fruit trees are my dad’s romantic plantings for our suburban hillside home. Because I was not born when Dad planted these trees, I can only imagine his intent. In reality, once the trees were planted, they were left alone to fend for themselves. Rarely did I see Dad harvest the fruit from his trees, let alone prune a branch.
The fruit trees were my playground and fortresses, with a favored attachment to the apricot tree. I would climb up the tree and look for apricots that weren’t half eaten by the birds or bugs. The rejects were used as ammunition when I played war with two of my brothers. Perched up in my apricot tree I would attack the intruders with rotten apricots for the win. Chris and Andy would scramble about while picking up the fallen ammunition for their defense. It was all in good fun, but I was happy to have the apricot tree on my side.
Memorable Apricot Flavor
I considered the apricot tree as my turf and its’ fruit, mine. I did share with my younger brother as he was quite adventurous and never resisted the urge to climb anything that was taller than him. Together we secured our position either standing or straddling on a strong branch, then pluck off any ripe apricots within reach. If we got lucky and found apricots before the birds did, we brought inside a shirt-full of apricots for mom.
If the California sun has a flavor, it is apricot. The juicy saturated tang is lively and speaks of hours spent ripening in the dry heat, then cooled down from the evening fog. When I bite into an apricot, I can feel the heat of those summer days spent building forts and climbing trees. On those dry windless days, only something with strong flavor could tame down the arid heat. The bitter-sweet tang of ripe apricots did the job, almost as good as an orange Popsicle.
For me, all apricots compare to the ones I picked in my childhood backyard. It is not a fair comparison to the unsuspecting apricots that traveled 3000 miles to reach New York. It’s not their fault they traveled so far only to get bruised and battered along the way.
Fortunately, apricots are grown in the NY Hudson Valley and with the popularity of farmers markets, are now more available. I am so happy for this because since moving to NY and having many a disappointing and mealy apricot, I stopped buying them. It is just in the past couple of years I decided to give local apricots a try.
So now, my big adventure is seeking out reliable markets to get NY apricots that are ripe and full of flavor. I bought these apricots at a local farm stand in Yorktown, but the apricots are grown north of me and on the other side of the Hudson River in Marlborough NY. I have never been to Marlborough, but now that I know there is a winery and fruit farms there, I just might have to plan a visit.
Inspiration for Apricot Streusel Cake
A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a recipe for Strawberry Sour Cream Streusel Cake by Nigella Lawson. One night I needed to make a second dessert after my first dessert was an epic fail. I knew Nigella’s baking recipes are reliable, and her strawberry streusel cake recipe looked easy to make. Although it was my first time making her cake, I made some substitutions because I was pressed for time and could not go to the store. Because my jar of vanilla was almost empty, I used almond extract instead. Almond extract is strong, so I used less than the amount for the vanilla. As long as I kept the almond flavor within reason, I believed it would pair nicely with the cake and strawberries.
Additionally, I switched crème fraîche for the sour cream because that was all I had available. The result was a tender cake with a balanced flavor of strawberries and almonds. The almond flavor was especially a big hit, and it gave the cake an unexpected and memorable flavor.
Sour Cream vs Crème Fraîche
I don’t know what it is about crème fraîche, but when I use it in baking or in pancakes, the outcome is a remarkably tender cake. Ironically, despite the fact there is more fat in crème fraîche than sour cream, the cake tastes lighter. The results are magical. Crème fraîche is considered a specialty item and therefore is more expensive than sour cream. You find it in the specialty cheese section of your store. It has more fat than sour cream, but it does not have any additives and is less tangy. I made this streusel cake with both sour cream and crème fraîche and liked both results. Some stores do not carry crème fraîche, but please do not go driving all over town looking for it. It is just not that important, plus you can spend your time more wisely, like looking for good apricots.
Apricot Streusel Cake
Recently I bought a pound of fresh apricots and it occurred to me the recipe for strawberry streusel cake would work with apricots. Apricots are not as watery as strawberries, but I thought the fruit purée would still have the right consistency for the cake. It is not often you see an apricot cake, so it is a pleasant surprise.
Apricot streusel cake has many personalities as it is like a coffee cake but is equally at home as a dessert after a roast chicken dinner. It is similar to a peach cake but has a lot more butter and jammy flavor. Because there is so much butter in the cake batter a familiar aroma of an all-butter pie crust wafts out of the oven as it bakes.
It may smell like pie, but this is definitely a cake. A cake that is tender, moist and easily transportable. Serve it for breakfast or dessert as it is right at home for either course. It is a perfect cake to bring along for a summer weekend getaway, picnic, or brunch with friends. It also tastes great the second day. However, my real assurance came from Joe when after he took one bite said, “This is awesome.”
More Apricot Love
Substitute the peaches with apricots in Peaches and Berries with Bourbon Sabayon
Apricot Streusel Cake
Almond extract or bourbon are great complimentary flavors with apricots. I like to use either one with this cake or a combination of both instead of vanilla.
This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Strawberry Sour Cream Streusel Cake.
- 7 oz (200 g) fresh apricots about 5-6 small apricots
- 3 TB (72 g) apricot jam
- 1 ½ tsp (4 g) minced fresh ginger a small piece just over an inch long and a half-inch wide
- 1 ½ tsp (7.5 ml) fresh squeezed lemon juice *see notes
- ½ tsp (2 g) almond extract *see notes
- 2 tsp (6 g) cornstarch
- Smidgen pinch of Kosher salt if needed
- 2 cups (309 g) all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup (164 g) granulated sugar
- 1 tsp (4 g) baking powder
- ½ tsp (2 g) baking soda
- 12 TB (188 g) cold butter 1 ½ sticks cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1 cup (8 oz / 225 g) crème fraîche or sour cream
- 1 large egg
- 1 ½ tsp (8 g / 7.5 ml) almond extract or 1 TB (15 ml) Bourbon
- 2 tsp (13 g) Demerara sugar
- 8 g sliced almonds (small handful)
- 2 fresh small apricots
Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C / Gas Mark 5 with the rack in the middle position. Oil or butter a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan. Reserve until later.
Make the apricot purée
Peel and cut up the apricots then place in the blender or container for an immersion blender. Add the apricot jam. Zest the lemon peel and grate the ginger over your container or blender to catch any of the lemon oils and juices from the ginger.
Make a slurry with the almond extract, lemon juice, and cornstarch then add to the blender or your container. Purée until smooth. Taste the purée and if it seems too bitter, add a smidgen pinch of Kosher salt. Taste again then set aside. The flavors will balance out when added to the cake.
Make the cake
In a large bowl add the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Use a small whisk and stir the mixture until evenly incorporated. Add the butter and use your fingers to smoosh the butter and mix in with the flour mixture. Do this until your flour looks like coarse sand, just like making a pie crust by hand. Measure a ½ cup (125 ml) of the flour mixture and add to a small bowl. Reserve for the streusel topping.
Add the crème fraîche or sour cream, egg, and almond extract (or bourbon) to the large bowl with the flour mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. This batter looks thick, but it should be smooth.
Add just over half the batter to the prepared pan and spread over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. You want to create a flat bottom well for the purée to rest. Try to get the batter about an inch up the sides. Do not worry about making the bottom level even. The batter is sticky, and I found wet hands helps move the cake batter into position.
Add the apricot purée in an even layer across the bottom and nestled inside the well. Make sure the rim of cake batter is taller than the height of the purée. Spoon the remaining cake batter on top and cover the purée being careful not to push the apricot purée up and over the rim.
Make the streusel topping
Add the sugar and almond slices to the small bowl with the reserved butter-flour mixture. Toss with a fork or your fingers until it is evenly combined. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the top of the cake.
Slice each apricot in half then each half into five wedges. Arrange the sliced apricots over the top of the cake in a haphazard pattern. Sprinkle with a few more sliced almonds.
Bake the cake until it is light golden brown, about 45 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the center of the cake to make sure it is cooked through. You will see some crumbs on the toothpick, but nothing should look wet or raw.
Completely cool the cake on a wire rack before you remove the springform pan and serve.
In the original recipe, Nigella added 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract to the fruit purée. I divided the liquid between the almond extract and lemon juice. Almond extract is strong, so I do not recommend using 2 teaspoons in the recipe. However, I have used anywhere from 1/2 tsp up to 1 tsp with good results. Feel free to divide the lemon juice and almond extract equally, or only use lemon juice. However, keep the total liquid at 2 teaspoons.
I peeled off the skin of my apricots, but I will leave that decision to your discretion. Apricot skins do not have that fuzzy offensive texture of peach skin, so I do not believe it is necessary to peel them. The apricots peels will purée thoroughly in a blender or with an immersion blender.
If you cannot get fresh apricots, use canned apricots packaged in their own juices as a substitute. Dry off the can juices from the apricots then weigh or guesstimate by size pairing the halves to make 5 apricots for the purée. There is no need to peel canned apricots.
Minced candied ginger is a nice addition to the streusel topping. Don’t go overboard with the candied ginger as the apricot is the star of the cake. Nutmeg is another spice that pairs well with this cake. Add about a half teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg in the cake batter to complement the apricots and almond flavor.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
In Spain they call it, a la plancha. Italians refer to it as, a la piastra. In Greece, on a staz. No matter what you call it, it’s a centuries old Mediterranean technique for grilling vegetables, fish and meats. In Spain they use a round metal plate, but in Greece they use a piece of sheet metal placed directly on the grill. From Italy, a stone or a metal plate creates a hot flat surface over an open flame. Essentially, it is a flat metal or stone griddle, set over a grill grate over an open flame. Mediterranean cooks know how to grill their vegetables because these grilled vegetables never tasted so good.
This technique does not produce fancy crisscross grill marks on your grilled vegetables, but what you do get are tender vegetables that retain some bite and have a good sear from the stone or griddle. Ultimately, the more surface area that touches the vegetables, means more flavor on your grilled vegetables from the sear. Another bonus is, no more vegetables falling through the grates and flare ups. Mediterranean style grilled vegetables are sweet, lightly flavored from the fire’s smoke, and seared to perfection.
A New Way with Grilled Vegetables
It all started yesterday on an impulse after coming upon the phrase, “… a la piastra,” in one of my cookbooks. It was an “Ah ha” moment for me with the realization of a refrigerator full of vegetables and an old cast iron griddle begging for use. With my fingers crossed and plans for dinner and a blog post on the horizon, I decided to give “A la piastra” grilling technique a try. It was just meant to be.
I do love the flavor of grilled vegetables, but when I grill chicken or meats, I don’t always grill vegetables for a side dish. Mainly, I do not want my whole dinner tasting all the same. Also, depending on how many people we are cooking for, there is just no room on my 22-inch charcoal grill.
Because this was somewhat impulsive, and I was “recipe testing”, I did not cook the vegetables in an organized manner, but fit the different vegetables here and there along with our dinner of stuffed rainbow trout. I was not sure how long the grill would stay hot, so I cooked things together instead of one at a time. Regardless of my cooking organization, I don’t mind a hodgepodge of grilled vegetables because my job was to use up a bunch of vegetables and test out this grilling technique. I call this mission a delicious success, hodgepodge or not. Now, I have a beautiful mess of tasty grilled vegetables ready whenever I want them.
Grilled Vegetables a la Piastra
What I discovered is if you have a cast iron pan or griddle, they create a hot surface to make delicious grilled vegetables, fish and meets. I have yet to test other types of food, but I can’t imagine there is an issue using this technique for shellfish, chicken or steak. Grilling a la piastra or plancha, works particularly well with thin vegetables or sliced vegetables that would normally fall through the spaces on a grill grate. I loved using this technique with thinly sliced zucchini, asparagus, sliced onions, and garlic scapes. Some additional vegetables I want to try are fennel, eggplant and mushrooms.
It is my opinion that grilling bell peppers works better over the open grill grate. They just took longer to get blistered and charred when on the hot surface vs the grill grates. Also corn works better over the open fire and by better, I mean it does not take as long to cook.
Fruit like lemons and oranges grill nicely on a hot plate, but my mind is not made up for peaches. My peach halves stuck to both the grill grate and the cast iron griddle, but this was also the first time I grilled peaches.
How to Grill Vegetables a la Piastra
First, this technique is best using a charcoal grill, but I believe will work with a gas grill, but you won’t get the smoky flavor. Using either grill you must make a hot fire that will last for a while depending on how much food you are grilling. Get the charcoal good and hot, then place the griddle pan or stone on your grate. Heat up your griddle surface for 15 minutes until the surface gets really hot. Close the lid if you are using a gas grill, keep the lid off if you are using a charcoal grill.
Once the grill is hot, oil the grill grate. Do not oil the hot griddle. It is possible that the oil soaked paper towel could burst into flames from the heat of the pan. Instead, generously coat the vegetables and fish in canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point. Arrange the vegetables on the surface of your “griddle” and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the vegetable.
Depending on the surface area of your plate, you will need to cook the vegetables in shifts. Just to be organized, cook the same vegetables all at the same time. Once done, remove the vegetables off the grill and place them spaced out on a tray or plate. If you pile them up, the vegetables will steam and get soggy.
Once done, let the grill plate cool completely before handling. If possible, use tongs and a scrubby to scrape off any stuck on bits while the surface is still hot. It is easier to clean off the charred bits when the plate is still hot, but not at the expense of getting burned.
Equipment for Grilling Vegetables
- You need a grill, preferably a charcoal grill but a gas one will work fine.
- Good quality charcoal without lighter fluid and a charcoal chimney to start the coals.
- BBQ quality oven mitt or glove.
- A cast iron pan or griddle, pizza stone, baking steel or food grade metal or stone surface that can tolerate temperature up to 700°F (371°C). Some pizza stones can only withstand temperatures up to 500°F (260°C) or lower.
- Long metal BBQ tongs without plastic tips.
- A good BBQ spatula.
- Several trays for putting the grilled vegetables on.
- A timer is helpful
What to do with all these grilled vegetables?
Serve grilled vegetables with grilled fish, grilled tofu, grilled chicken or steak, or roast chicken.
Assemble a platter of grilled vegetables, olives, cured meats, cheeses and crusty bread. Dine al fresco for a light dinner or a cocktail party.
Make a light pesto dressing with muddled basil leaves, smashed garlic, olive oil and vinegar and dress the grilled vegetables.
Grilled vegetable sandwiches with crusty bread, basil mayo or sriracha mayo, with Gouda or mozzarella cheese (smoked or plain) and grilled vegetables.
Frittata with grilled vegetables.
Where to buy a La Plancha griddle pan?
The Big Green Egg has a la plancha griddle for the Big Green Egg. It could work on other round grills depending on the size of the pan and your grill. (Not an add)
Lodge makes a round carbon steel griddle pan. They also make griddle pans in different sizes, shapes and materials. (Not an add)
Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style
- red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 red onion sliced into rings about ¼-inch .5 cm thick
- 1-2 leeks sliced in half lengthwise, cleaned and root and dark green parts trimmed off
- 4-6 garlic cloves peel on
- 2 zucchini sliced lengthwise into ¼- inch .5 cm thick slices
- 1 yellow squash sliced lengthwise into ¼-inch .5 cm thick slices
- 12 or more asparagus spears ends trimmed
- 8 garlic scapes optional
- 2 lemons cut in half across the width.
- 1 peach cut in half across the equator optional
- 2 ears of corn husk and silk threads removed optional
- 1 fennel bulb stalks removed and sliced in 1/4 -inch (.5 cm) slices (optional)
- 2-3 TB Canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point
- Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 loaf French bread sliced on a diagonal optional
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 TB Red wine vinegar
- 1 large bunch of basil leaves cleaned and stems removed
Prepare your grill. If using a gas grill, heat to 450°F (230°C). For a charcoal grill, fill a charcoal chimney to the top with charcoal. Rest the chimney on the charcoal grate. Light the chimney according to manufacture instructions. Heat the charcoal until all the coals are very hot. They will look mostly grey with streaks of black throughout each lump or briquette. Put on an BBQ mitt and carefully empty the hot charcoal onto the grate. Add an additional half chimney’s worth of charcoal and spread out over the hot charcoal. Arrange the charcoal over the bottom of the whole grate, but with one side having more charcoal than the other. Place the top grilling grate on the grill and the grill pan over the side with the most charcoal. Heat until the grill pan and grate are good and hot, about 15 minutes. Close lid if using a gas grill. The grill pan is hot when you flick water on the grill pan and it bubbles up and dances on the surface.
While the grill is heating up, add the zucchini slices, asparagus and scapes in a large bowl and drizzle about 1 TB (15 ml) of oil over the prepared vegetables. Use the remaining oil to baste the remaining vegetables. Arrange the onion slices and leek halves on a sheet pan and baste with oil on both sides. Baste some oil over the cut surface of the cut lemons. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of Kosher salt over the vegetables, except the bell peppers.
When the grill is hot, arrange the bell peppers on the side of the grill without the grill pan. Every few minutes, use long tongs to turn the bell peppers over so the whole pepper gets a good char and is blistered, about 15 minutes. Once the bell peppers get black all over, place them in a medium bowl and tightly cover with foil and plastic wrap. Set aside to allow the peppers to steam in the bowl for at least 15 minutes.
If using corn on the cob, place them on the grill grate with the bell peppers. Start the corn when you start the peppers. Cook the corn turning them periodically to get an even char on all sides, about 8-10 minutes total.
Meanwhile, arrange the onion slices, garlic cloves and leeks on the grill pan. Cook for 2 minutes then turn over on the other side. You want the onions and leeks to get soft with a nice sear on both sides. Once done, remove from the grill and place on a tray. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. The garlic is done, when you see some brown spots on the peel and they are soft in the middle.
Place the lemon halves cut side down on the grill or grill pan and cook until a good sear develops on the cut side, about 3-4 minutes.
When there is room on the grill pan, arrange the zucchini and yellow squash slices on the grate and cook about 2-3 minutes per side. You want browned surface on both sides and tender slices of squash with a slight crispness. Place the squash on a tray when done. Lightly sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Cook the asparagus and garlic scapes on the grill plate. Turning each asparagus spear and garlic scape over around 3 minutes per side. You want the asparagus and scapes to get soft but still have some bite. When done, place the vegetables on a tray. Lightly sprinkle with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat.
If you are grilling the fennel add the fennel slices when there is room on the grill pan and cook 3 minutes per side, or until soft but still firm. Place on a tray when done. Sprinkle on Kosher salt and black pepper and toss to coat.
Add the sliced French bread, if using, on the grill and toast until the bread is golden brown. How long it will take will depend on how hot your fire is at this time.
When all the vegetables are cooked, remove the skins off the bell peppers by rubbing your hands over the charred skin and pulling off the skin until it is all clear. Do not run the bell pepper under water, or you will wash away all that delicious flavor you worked so hard to make. Clean hands and remove the core from each pepper and slice into slices.
Remove the garlic peels off each clove. Take 1-2 grilled garlic cloves and rub it over the toasted French bread. Add any remaining cloves to the vegetable platter.
Arrange all the vegetables on a platter in piles. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, and torn basil. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Grilled garlic scapes taste great minced and placed on top of ricotta cheese toasts. Or, mince and add to the olive oil and fresh basil, then sprinkle over the grilled vegetables.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
If I were to make myself a birthday pizza, Squash blossom pizza would be it. I can’t imagine a prettier and sunnier looking pizza. It has everything I love, fresh edible flowers, soft and decadent cheese, and crispy bread all in one gorgeous pizza. Squash blossoms are a rare treat available only for a about a month in the summer when there is an abundance of male and female flowers on zucchini plants. The male flower is picked, leaving some to continue pollinating the female flowers to grow squash. Luckily my birthday falls during this time allowing me to indulge in one of mother nature’s seasonal gifts.
Squash Blossom Pizza
Unless you grow your own vegetables, finding squash blossoms is challenging. It is like going on a scavenger hunt but instead of knocking on the doors of strangers looking for a wire coat hanger to shape into a sculpture, you go from farmer to farmer looking for squash blossoms. Ask your favorite farm stand vender if they have squash blossoms and if they can sell some to you. Also, I recommend getting to the farmers market just as it opens pick out the squash blossoms before it gets too hot, or before they disappear. Fortunately, I was able to arrange to get these squash blossoms from Rochambeau Farm Stand, for which I am very grateful.
For a 10-inch (25.5 cm) pizza you will need around 12 squash blossoms. From my experience squash blossoms come in all different sizes so I recommend buying a few extras.
Preparing squash blossoms for this pizza is not difficult. All you need is to trim the stems off each blossom then cut the flower open and remove the stamen. Once the pizza dough is ready, arrange the open blossoms in two concentric circles to cover the pizza. The blossoms curl up somewhat but try to get them as close together as possible. The next time I make this pizza I will cut a few extra blossoms in sections, so I can fill the bare spots and get more blossoms per square inch.
Watch out for bees and other insects hiding inside the closed flowers. Once you cut open the flower, carefully inspect each flower and shake off the little critters.
Use store-bought fresh pizza dough from your favorite pizza parlor or buy the dough from the grocery. I hear Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods has delicious pizza dough for sale. My local family run grocer has good pizza dough as well, so look around they are usually found in the refrigerator aisle.
If you feel up to it, make pizza dough, but keep in mind some recipes require you start the process 4 days in advance. I have not posted a recipe yet, as I am still developing my pizza dough recipe. Developing a pizza dough recipe takes time and lots of practice so until then, I have tested pizza dough recipes from Serious Eats, or the 72 hour pizza dough with whole wheat flour in The Baking Steel Cookbook.
Cheese for Squash Blossom Pizza
Creamy burrata is recommended for squash blossom pizza. It pairs well with the tomato sauce and the squash blossoms. It is not too rich, and you add it after the pizza is done baking. If you cannot find burrata, look for any soft and creamy type of cheese like good quality fresh whole milk ricotta, goat cheese, or fresh mozzarella. The goat cheese I would add to the pizza after baking, but the ricotta and mozzarella I would arrange on the pizza before I place it in the oven.
A 10-inch pizza is a small pizza, often considered small enough for one serving. In good conscious, I cannot recommend one person eating 4 oz of burrata. It’s just not healthy to eat a quarter pound of cheese no matter how much you love burrata. If you want your pizza as a single serving, please dollop half the amount of cheese over the pie using 2 oz instead of 4.
Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata
Use store-bought pizza dough enough for one 10-inch pizza (about 7.5 oz / 212 g in weight) or make your own pizza dough. Making your own pizza dough takes some advance planning as some recipes takes from 48- 72 hours to mature.
Makes one 10 inch (25.5 cm) pizza and serves 1-2 people.
Use a quick, fresh tasting tomato sauce flavored with olive oil. See notes for a recipe.
- 10 – 12 fresh squash blossoms
- 1 fresh pizza dough portion for a 10-inch 25.5 cm pizza
- 1 TB 15 ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for finishing the pizza
- Kosher Salt
- ¼ cup 75 ml fresh tomato sauce
- 4 oz 125 g burrata
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Remove the pizza dough from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking. This step allows the pizza dough to relax and come up to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 500°F / 260°C /Gas Mark 10 one hour before you want to cook the pizza. If you have a pizza stone, lower the rack at the bottom position and place the stone on the rack. If you have a baking steel, position the rack 6 inches (15 cm) under the broiler (top rack) and place the baking steel on the rack. Or, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Preheat stone or steel in the oven.
If you have neither stone or steel, place a baking sheet pan upside down on top of the bottom rack, similar to the baking stone, and preheat.
If you do not have a pizza peel, reserve a sheet pan to the side of your work space and cover with a sheet of parchment paper. Once the dough is shaped, you will assemble the pizza on the sheet pan instead of a peel.
Prepare the squash blossoms
Trim off the stems of each squash blossom and discard. Open each blossom by cutting down the side of each blossom with kitchen scissors then and cut away the stamen. Discard the stamens. Set aside.
Shape the dough
When you are ready to cook the pizza, assemble all the equipment and ingredients you need for the pizza. The peel, extra flour and some corn meal for the peel, and all pizza ingredients. Arrange them on either side of your work space, giving you plenty of space to shape and assemble the pizza, but still within arm’s reach.
Lightly flour your work surface and pizza peel, if using. Tip your pizza dough in the center of the floured work surface. Press down on the center of the dough ball and flatten to form a disk. Press near the edge of the dough with your fingertips, creating a rim border about 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick around the pizza dough.
Hold your hands in a loose fist and drape the disk over the tops of your fists. Holding your fist in front of your body stretch out the dough and allow it to drape down over your hands. Move the pizza dough around in a circle to evenly shape the pizza dough. Stretch the dough from the outer rim with your thumbs, and from the weight of the dough draping over your fists.
When your dough stretches to a 10-inch diameter (25.5 cm) pizza, place it on your floured pizza peel or prepared sheet pan. Shake the pizza peel back and forth to see if the pizza dough will slide off the peel. If it sticks carefully add more flour or corn meal over the pizza peel by lifting up the edges of the pizza and dust the pizza peel. Do this around the pizza until the dough slides easily.
Assemble the pizza
Quickly assemble the pizza. Spoon the tomato sauce in the center of the pizza and spread it evenly over the surface leaving a one-inch (2.5 cm) border. Starting at the inside edge of your border, arrange the squash blossoms in an even and circular pattern around the pizza in two concentric circles. The exterior side of the blossom faces up. The tips of the flowers in the inner circle will overlap the stem end of the flowers in the outer circle. Place two blossoms over the center of the circle with the stem ends touching each other.
Shake the pizza peel to see if it is loose and will slide. If the pizza is sticking, carefully lift up the edges and dust with flour or corn meal until it easily slides.
Slide the pizza off the peel and position on the stone, steel or sheet pan. If you are not using a peel, place the sheet pan holding the pizza on top of your baking steel, stone, or upside down sheet pan.
To slide the pizza off the peel, position the pizza peel towards the back of the stone or steel. Give the peel a definitive shake, pulling your peel towards you. You want the pizza to slide off the peel with one good shake so don’t be timid about pulling the pizza peel towards you. One good jolt helps the pizza slide off and retain its shape. Pull the peel out of the oven then close the door and bake.
Bake in the oven until the crust is golden and crispy anywhere from 8-12 minutes depending on your oven. Lift up the pizza with a large spatula and inspect the bottom crust. That should be golden as well. If you are using a Baking steel it may take less time. Use the time as guidelines because individual conditions vary. Half way through baking, Use a large BBQ spatula to rotate the pizza from front to back to ensure even cooking.
When done, remove the pizza from the oven and slice into quarters with a large and sharp chef knife or pizza cutter. Cut the burrata into 4 even sections and place in the middle of each pizza wedge. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. If you have good quality finishing extra virgin olive oil, use it here with a few grounds of fresh black pepper.
Nancy Silverton’s specifies a Passata di Pomodoro sauce for this pizza. It is made with 2- 28 oz (794 g) cans of whole plum tomatoes, a shy tablespoon of sugar, a shy tablespoon of Kosher salt, and ¼ cup (75 ml) extra virgin olive oil. The skins and seeds are removed from the tomatoes using a food mill, “passed through” as the name indicates. I do not have a food mill, so I just puréed the tomatoes and can liquid with an immersion blender after I removed the seeds. FYI, the brand SM whole plum tomatoes (San Marzano tomatoes from California) have the skins already removed. Heat up the olive oil in a large pot and carefully add the tomato purée and the remaining ingredients. Simmer until it thickens. About 30 minutes.
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