Saturday, December 3, 2011


I know I promised my recipe for beef barley soup but honestly, after the day I had it just seems so... uninspired. Seriously. Google a recipe for beef barley soup and it probably won't be that different, so why waste the entry?

This morning I finally made it to the open house at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) down in Chelsea (and appropriately on the same block as Eataly). If every college opened like ICE, they'd have no issue getting students to pay up. As I walked in the door I was greeted by friendly staff and a few people serving beverages- a mimosa while I learn about school? Don't mind if I do.

The room had about 100 people in it for the open house and the presenters that followed were dynamic and kept those creative wheels spinning in my brain. I couldn't stop imagining what doors could be opened if I really got serious about my culinary endeavors. In between the speakers, we were treated to two cooking demos- one culinary, one pastry. The cooking one was what caught my attention (no surprise there), with an apple and butternut squash soup garnished with spiced pepitas, pumpernickel croutons, and duck confit. Talk about delicious. There were so many different flavors that every bite seemed to have just a slightly different taste. It was a perfect example of how expertise, creativity, and patience can take any dish and elevate it to a completely new level. This silly little soup had me completely captivated as I thought of what I  could do to transform my everyday meals.

After the demos (the second was a perfectly sweet salted caramel eclair), we toured the kitchens and I spoke with a few faculty members. One in particular, the director or culinary management, was extremely interested and encouraging. We talked about my interests and the direction I may want to go with my culinary dreams which is food media. He was a wealth of information and as we talked about finding my voice I felt so encouraged to just explore. He didn't try to sell me the diploma program but instead directed me to some of his colleagues in the food industry that he thought may be willing to provide guidance. By not selling the school, I began to really see ICE as a place for passion, which cannot be sold.

I know I am sounding like a total dreamer, but as Ive said, it was an inspiring experience and the push I needed to figure out what exactly it is I should do next with my culinary hobby.

Sorry for all the talk! The good news? I made a much more inspired dish than some throw together soup!

Caramelized Onion Pizza

I've made this before, but never on the blog and never with such careful detail. I decided to really focus on developing flavors in this dish, as with the butternut squash soup, and decided not to skip the little details.

For dough, I defrosted the whole wheat pizza dough I made a few weeks ago in the fridge overnight. Once defrosted, I put it in a bowl right next to the preheating oven while I composed the rest of the pizza.

The most important component was the caramelized onions...

1-2 T EVOO
1 T unsalted butter 
2 onions
pinch dried rosemary 
pinch dried thyme 
pinch dried red peppers
sea salt 
cracked black pepper
1 T balsamic vinegar

1. Heat large skillet (mine is cast iron) on low-medium heat. Add olive oil and butter to pan. Allow butter to melt into oil.
Note: You need the butter for great flavor in the caramelized onions and the EVOO to raise the smoke point.  
2. Turn heat to low. Add sliced onions, red pepper flakes, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper to taste. Be gentle with the spices but more liberal with the salt and pepper.
Notes:  If you use salted butter, remember to adjust your salting of the dish. The red pepper flakes will intensify immensely as you slow cook for an hour- use appropriately.  

3. Be patient. The onions will take an hour or more to fully reduce and caramelize. Keep the heat low, you do not want to brown the onions, you want them to sweat and slowly change color. Slow means sweeter onions and deeper flavor development from the spices. 
4. After 45 minutes to an hour, add 1 T balsamic vinegar to onions. Continue to cook onions at least for 15 more minutes.  Note: The  balsamic adds sweetness and depth. Another option for the pizza is to make a separate balsamic reduction. I've done this and it is a pretty special addition- it also takes more time, which I decided to skip tonight.

5. After the balsamic vinegar is fully incorporated and reduced, about 15 minutes, taste onions. They should be very soft and almost "melt" in your mouth. The balsamic vinegar should not be immediately identified. Keep cooking if the flavor is too acid. 
The onions should top your pizza crust first. Then it's time for component number two... fresh herbs. 

For freshness I used a few tablespoons of fresh Italian parsley, which I had on hand, but basil or a mix of  a few fresh herbs would be tasty too.  

What's pizza without the cheese? I've made this pizza with a variety of cheeses but the main thing with it is.... don't use just one cheese and no fresh mozzarella! I used a combination of sharp cheddar and Parmesan prior to the oven and then a crumble of goat cheese as soon as the hot pie came out of the oven. Why these three? Because I had about an ounce of cheddar, three ounces of parm, and three ounces of goat cheese leftover. (Hey- I may be into cooking but I am still a 23 year old making my $$ work for me!) Other cheeses that would be good? Smoked mozzarella, fontina, or gouda... just not all together because they'd be too creamy. I suggest mixing a creamy and hard cheese (parm or asiago).  Whatever you use though, please grate it yourself. The flavor of block cheeses doesn't compare to pre-shredded.

Notes: I used very little cheese by grating it with a Microplane grater/zester. The only caveat here is that the cheese melts very fast, so next time I would cook the crust first if I used such a thin cheese layer.

Bake the pie at 500 degrees on a lightly oiled baking sheet for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts (see note above) and the crust is crispy. Use your hand to flatten out the dough or a rolling pin... the defrosted dough can be a bit more difficult to manipulate so I used the pin for assistance. If you use a pizza stone, which means you are luckier than I, preheat it with your oven for at least a half hour and use cornmeal on the stone instead of oil.

Do I really need to say serve hot and bubbly?

I promise the time taken on the onions is worth it. Time and patience cannot be substituted for great flavor. Make it for guests as an appetizer, for your family dinner, or for your single self (ahem... like me...). Why only make something especially delicious when you have to share? Hello leftovers!

The time and care taken for this simple pizza only solidified the passion that stirred in me today, which hopefully showed in this entry. Stay with me as I embark on the next step in my culinary journey.

I got a five miler in just before dark... thank goodness because I couldn't stop until I ate 1/3 of the pizza! Happy trails :)

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