Collard Green Pesto Pizza

A cross between my father’s Italian-American heritage and my mother’s Southern childhood, this collard green pesto pizza combines culinary traditions in exciting ways. Being from the northeast, I grew up without ever seeing collard greens at home or in grocery stores. I never even tasted them until about six months ago, when I was experimenting with vegetables out of which to make pestos. I love pesto, especially on pizza, so the idea for this recipe ended up being a no-brainer as soon as I tasted my collard green pesto. A vegetable pesto has the power to transform pizza night, taking it in a different yet delicious direction.

This particular pizza omits the layer of cheese that figures on most other pizzas, so let me explain. It’s not that I don’t love cheese, I do; however, I feel that it is often unnecessary. When I come up with pizza recipes, I prefer to go without the cheese layer - believing that a pizza that is great without cheese will be great with cheese as well. Consequently, this pizza isn’t nearly as heavy as a cheesy one, which also means that the vegetable topping gets to play a more prominent role. But if you love cheese on your pizza, by all means add a layer of cheese - it will be phenomenal. Read more.

Cranberry Tart

As soon as the first bags of cranberries arrive in the produce section at my local farmer’s market, I smile because I know that autumn’s officially here. The leaves are beginning to change their colors, the mittens are coming out, and best of all, it’s time to bake some cranberry tart. I love pies and tarts… they are both delicious and impressive. And aren’t those two qualities we all want out of Thanksgiving? The tastes and textures of fillings and crusts always complement each other so well, and the tart’s aesthetic brilliance is the cherry on top. The color of cranberry tart in particular is spectacular; it looks as if it contains food coloring, but no, the ruby color is all natural. Read more.

Savory Sweet Potato Side

Finally, I’m writing a Thanksgiving post. I spend so much time thinking about what I’ll be serving for Thanksgiving, that one would expect me to spend a little more time actually writing about it. Sadly, however, as soon as Thanksgiving prep begins, I’m forced to push most other thoughts and projects out of my head. The pinnacle of all food holidays, Thanksgiving is a time of very high expectations for those of us whose passion is cooking, so once mid-November arrives, I’m all in.

An important part of Thanksgiving lies in the memories it evokes. This makes it nearly impossible to alter the menu; we all have sentimental affinities for at least one of the staple Thanksgiving dishes, whether it be the stuffing, the green beans, or the sweet potato casserole. So, due to the fact that so many Americans are loyal to its marshmallowy cousin, I’m a bit hesitant to recommend the substitution of a savory sweet potato dish. But then again, I can’t be the only one who finds the traditional Thanksgiving sweet potato dish to be too sweet for its own good. Sweet potatoes already contain enough natural sweetness as is; a little savoriness is just the edge they need.

Like most people, I’ve always had one oven. At Thanksgiving, then, I’ve always had to prepare all side dishes either the day before, on the stove top, or last minute after the turkey comes out off the oven. But it is with great enthusiasm that I can now say I have a second oven. It’s in my basement, which is fitting because when I was younger, most of my Italian relatives had second kitchens in their basements so that their principal kitchens wouldn’t get dirty. I gave up on having a pristine kitchen long ago; as I like to say, I cook far too much to keep clean (in actuality, I just don’t like cleaning). But for busy times of the year such as Thanksgiving, the second oven proves to be very useful. I also get to feel like my great aunts, which is a great feeling because although I remember them being quite old, I mostly remember them being very happy, very Italian, and very loving… and who doesn’t want to feel more like that? But I digress. If you only have one oven at Thanksgiving, I recommend making this dish ahead of time, then reheating it just before serving. Read more.

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate babka: the stuff that dreams are made of. At least my dreams. Even if the last stray slice gets stale after hanging around for too long, it toasts beautifully and morphs into a warm, oozy, slightly crunchy piece of wonder. Babka toasted on a panini may be my favorite way of eating babka. When I first began baking babkas a few years ago, I loved them. But I also sensed that there was room for improvement, and consequently immersed myself in a baking frenzy from which I have only recently drawn back. I’m indebted to all my friends and family who have eaten one or another version on my journey towards this recipe: the babka of my aforementioned dreams.

My main sticking point with babka is that it can run a bit dry. Pouring a simple sugar syrup onto the finished and still hot babka helps eliminate at least some of this dryness. Poking holes in the dough helps distribute the syrup; but because it is a yeast dough, the syrup nonetheless tends to collect in some areas more than others. I love these unexpected moist pockets of sweet goodness, even if they were surrounded by much drier pockets. Still, I was not satisfied with the dry pockets, so I started playing around with a basic brioche dough recipe. I replaced some of the butter with oil, four tablespoons of traditional flour with potato flour, and even went so far as to incorporate tangzhong. During my prior experimentation with tangzhong in the recipes of other baked goods, I’d previously concluded that a shorter knead time improves the final product. But with brioche dough, unfortunately, a long knead is necessary for the full development of the gluten. To make tangzhong work in a brioche dough, I recommend a long knead before adding the tangzhong mixture, followed by a shorter final knead before resting the dough. All of this, you might be wondering, just to eliminate some dryness? For me, it’s worth it. Read more.