Saturday, May 14, 2011

fresh rhubarb pie

If you ever want something from me, just make me a rhubarb pie, and I'll do absolutely anything for you. Yeah, you're right, that's not true. But I will wash your car or draw you a picture (both reasonable trades), and I'll maybe even give you a hug (I'm a good hugger--you won't be disappointed). As an additional bonus, I can positively guarantee that I'll be excited.

So I love rhubarb. Like love it. As in rhubarb pie is my favorite dessert in the entire world. Yes, I like brownies, monster cookies, pudding, carrot cake, and peach crisp, but rhubarb pie is it for me. My favorite. Not strawberry-rhubarb pie or raspberry-rhubarb pie. No weird meringue topping (eeeee) or streusel. Just straight-up rhubarb, with a little bit of sugar, enveloped in a delicious from-scratch, all-butter double crust. Oh, and don't forget the vanilla ice cream. Mmmmm..soo goooood.

Did I make rhubarb pie today? Absolutely. Will I share my recipe with you? Yes. But first I need to go off on a small tangent to tell you one of the reasons why I needed to bake something today:

I had to warm up.

I absolutely froze my butt off at the farmer's market this morning--40 degrees + showers + a brisk north wind does not equal ideal conditions for an outdoor market. Or any event requiring one to stand outdoors for five hours. My feet were still cold--even after I came home and took a nap. And drank a large amount of hot tea. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved my experience--I met so many sweet people and got to try all sorts of great food (examples:  indian-spiced mini-doughnuts, bacon-stuffed aebleskiver-pancake-ball things, chocolate-hazelnut crepes...!), and finally got to see what a day at the market is like. It's fabulous.

pie has such humble beginnings
So I have this internship at the Mill City Farmer's Market this summer where I get to convince people to eat their vegetables. Especially the ones that people don't generally know much about--the under-utilized ones are good too! This is why I spent five and a half hours outside this morning. So worth it. I love this job, too, of course. If you know me, you know that this is just the kind of thing I want to spend my Saturday mornings doing. Talking to people about vegetables and hanging out with farmers. And this market? Awesome. It is situated in the plaza between the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum in the warehouse district of  downtown Minneapolis. All kinds of amazing vendors. And a fabulous view. From our spot this morning, we could see down to the falls on the Mississippi River and the stonearch bridge--it was stunning, even if the river looked angry and the sky was grey. It didn't matter. So beautiful. You need to come visit me.

There's just such great energy at farmer's markets--if you've never been to one, you need to go. Really. It's just one of those things you can't quite get until you experience it. The people are different somehow. The environment is like none other. I don't know if I can explain it yet. I haven't figured out exactly why, but I love it.. Maybe I like it so much because I'm one of them, deep down. A farmer. And an artist. We all are, really, when we get back to our roots.

Oh man, I went off-subject more than I planned. I had things to tell you, though! And yes, I had to bake something to get warmed up. SO, rhubarb pie! As I mentioned in my last post, we have graciously been gifted a large amount of rhubarb, thanks to Spoonfather's receptionist, and I had told Spoon that I was going to make pie on a few different occasions this past week. I did it today, though--finally! And she left, of course, so I had to eat pie by myself. Sad. But I was warm, finally, and it is my favorite dessert in the entire world, so I wasn't really that sad. So here it is. The recipe for my beloved rhubarb pie. I hope you try it. And maybe make it for me sometime....haha. No really.

that weird ridge was from the lip of the drinking glass I used to roll out the dough. we need a rolling pin, apparently.

Rhubarb Pie

Not overly sweet--there is enough sugar to sweeten up the rhubarb, but it is still definitely a little tart. Just like it should be. This also makes it go perfectly with vanilla ice cream.

1 recipe pastry for a double-crust pie (or see my recipe below)

4 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 cup sugar
6 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 450. Roll out bottom pie crust to fit into a 9- or 10-inch pie plate. Combine sugar and flour, and sprinkle 1/4 of the mixture over pastry in the pie plate (this makes the bottom of the pie crisp and caramelized, and prevents a soggy crust--fancy, huh?). Heap the rhubarb over and sprinkle with the remaining sugar/flour mixture. Dot with butter, and cover with the top crust. Poke some holes in the crust so steam can escape, and place the pie on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 15 min @ 450, and then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 40-45 minutes. Let it cool, at least enough so you won't burn your mouth, and serve with good vanilla ice cream. YES.

Pie Pastry

One of the secrets to really fabulous pie crust is to distribute the butter evenly in little pieces throughout the dough. The best and easiest way to do this is with a food processor. You don't need it, but it will make excellent dough every time.

1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled or frozen (this is important--it must be very cold to make the pastry flaky)
1/4 cup ice water

Combine flour and salt. Cut in butter (or pulse food processor) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough begins to clump/form a ball. Wrap in plastic, form into a disk, and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Makes crust for single crust pie--double for a double-crust pie (I know you knew that, I was just making sure).

my bowl, after I ate all my pie. err, yes, I licked it clean.
Oh, and I get to write nutrition articles for the MCFM website too--if you want to read the one I wrote this month, it's right here!

one more thought to leave you with...

"The act of farming requires an examination of humanity, a dileniation between us and the other, civilization and the natural world. In two words: self-definition; in three letters:  art." 


Friday, May 13, 2011

shaved asparagus pizza

Hallelujah, people, spring has come!

Yes, yes, maybe it did snow twice last week and we got humidity, 85, and severe thunderstorms yesterday, and you're probably thinking "Hm, what are you so excited about? Have you seen the weather these last six months?"

But I'm trying to be optimistic here--as I've been trying to do for quite some time now. It's all I can do. So I will continue rejoicing. Winter. Is. Over. Say it! Well, if you still need convincing, I'll help you out by making a list of reasons that it no longer appears to be winter. Here goes:

1. The grass is a deep, glorious shade of green that I feel like I haven't seen in ages.
2. The trees have leaves. And are full of birds. Birds don't live here in the winter, you know.
3. I haven't seen a snowplow in at least three weeks.
4. The last ice that fell from the sky was not classified by flake size or as "pellets," but rather likened to golf balls and quarters, and brought with it considerable anxiety for all who have to park their cars outside.
5. I managed to acquire an impressive sunburn last weekend. It's fine now, don't worry.
6. We've taken up napping in the sunshine in the hammock on our balcony--be jealous.
7. Tulips and daffodils. And lots of other flowers I don't know the names of.
8. My roommate has begun drinking ridiculous amounts of cold tea.
9. I don't have to go to school anymore. For a while. 
10. We are currently in possession of rhubarb and asparagus. Which does it for me--as far as food goes, it's definitely spring, as far as I'm concerned.

I hope you are convinced. If not, you've got some ridiculous standards.

Anyway, on to the point of this post. Which is rhubarb and asparagus, of course--how did you know?! Okay, I'll probably just stick to asparagus for this one, in the interest of not making it so long that you lose interest.

So my family actually grows asparagus--to sell. Like when the season really gets going, we cut hundreds of pounds of asparagus. So. Much. Asparagus. By the time late June rolls around, we are sick of it. Can you even imagine?! Sick of asparagus! I know, it sounds absolutely impossible. Well, it's possible, let me tell you. Fortunately, because we can't have it for 10.5 months of the year (and I won't eat it any other time), every time the snow leaves and spring rolls around again, it's all we want. And it's so good. So worth the wait, and so worth eating ourselves sick of it. Mmmm. I was lucky enough to make it home for a short while last weekend, and before I left, my lovely mother presented me with the first asparagus of the season (gasp! swoon!)--the very first. Spoon was overjoyed as well, and proceeded to enjoy asparagus sauteed in butter as her bedtime snack. Don't act surprised. You know we do things like this.

I had come across an interesting concept a while ago, and had stored it away in my mind for spring, when there would be asparagus. Asparagus + mozzarella + parmesan + dough....yes, asparagus pizza. And I know, we've written kind of a lot about pizza on here, but come on--nothing like this. This isn't like anything you've heard of before. And you're probably thinking that it sounds absolutely terrible, but you're wrong. Oh so wrong. Step outside of your box. Really.

This caught my eye partly because it was gorgeous, partly because it was fascinating, and mostly because it was a really crazy way to use asparagus. You don't just chop up asparagus for this pizza--you shave it into thin, curly strips and toss it with olive oil. Then you stretch your dough, top it with fabulous cheese, and cover the whole thing with your asparagus shavings. And no, there's no sauce. It's supposed to be that way--get out of your box--we already talked about this. Top it off with some crushed red pepper, a little lemon zest, and into the oven it goes, to get all charred and melty and delicious.

But oh goodness, you need to try this. We're going to recommend having it with white wine in the company of people who make you happy, but in reality this pizza is so fabulous, that it will probably make you unreasonably joyful no matter what. Really, though, white wine and awesome people. Just saying.

Shaved Asparagus Pizza

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 1 12-inch pizza

1 recipe your favorite pizza dough (we may have cheated this time and gotten some from Trader Joe. It's cool)
1/2 pound asparagus
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 pound mozzarella, shredded or cut into small cubes (get the good, whole-milk stuff--none of that part-skim nonsense)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Several grinds black pepper
1 scallion, thinly sliced
crushed red pepper flakes
zest of 1 lemon

Preheat your oven to the hottest temperature it goes, or about 500 in most cases. If you use a pizza stone, have it in there.

Prepare asparagus: No need to snap off ends; they can be your “handles” as you peel the asparagus. Holding a single asparagus spear by its tough end, lay it flat on a cutting board and using a vegetable peeler (or a sharp-ish little paring knife, which is what we used, since our peelers weren't quite working out), create long shavings of asparagus by drawing the peeler from the base to the top of the stalk. Repeat with remaining stalks and don’t fret some pieces are unevenly thick (such as the end of the stalk, which might be too thin to peel); the mixed textures give a great character to the pizza. Discard tough ends. Toss peelings with olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl. You should probably try a few, too--raw asparagus is actually quite delicious. And if you're like me, you're going to want to be eating while you're cooking anyway.

Assemble and bake pizza: Roll or stretch out your pizza dough to a 12-inch round. Either transfer to a floured or cornmeal-dusted pizza peel (if using a pizza stone in the oven) or to a floured or cornmeal-dusted tray to bake it on. Sprinkle pizza dough with Parmesan, then mozzarella. Pile asparagus on top. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and lemon zest. It's going to be pretty.

Bake pizza for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges are browned, the cheese is bubbly and the asparagus might be lightly charred. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with scallions, then slice and eat.

 Happy spring! And sorry it's been so long--we'll talk again soon.