May 26, 2014

on sunny days

( Lake Zürich )

On our walk back from the park late Saturday afternoon Zach asked me what, if anything, I had underestimated about life in Switzerland before we moved here. There are so many things you think about and imagine before you move somewhere, and most of them don't have any concrete answers. It's easy to imagine the rhythms of life somewhere else, but it's impossible to actually know what your life will be like. I can easily imagine a life in Rome eating pizza and sketching at the Pantheon, but I can't conjure up the in between moments, the quiet moments, or even the social moments with friends (or will we even have friends).

Anyway, it was an interesting question, and there are surely a lot of answers, but the one thing that came to me first, as we walked home with the sun on our back, was the weather. I swear I've found paradise when the sun is out. The city opens up to you in so many ways when it's sunny and warm; there's the lake, the parks, the playgrounds, and walking trails in the nearby woods, and did I mention the lake? In the summer especially nice weather makes Zürich feel like a beach community. We live three blocks from the lake and a ten minute walk from the nearest lakeside swimming spot complete with a high dive and baby pool. From there, with my toes in the lake, it feels like I can reach out and touch the Alps. Days like that I dig in, and exist happily here in our home away from home. The sunny days lifestyle is so good that I can imagine myself here for a long time, long enough for Alice to grow up and consider Zürich her home. 

( at the park near our apartment )

( Alice and Zach in Zug, Switzerland )

On not so sunny days you'll find me stirring and wondering how on earth we are going to get rid of the gigantic wardrobe in our bedroom - that we lovingly refer to as "the monster"- because we most certainly aren't bringing it back to the States. The thrifted midcentury furniture will come with us, because those are the items that will make anywhere we are feel like home. After I've revised my "take" and "leave" list I sit and think about how I call two places home and how it might be nice to call one place home and so I go online real estate hunting.

( Alice at the "Badi"- in the baby pool and on the beach )

In my mind I know I need to be present and content where I am, but the mind is a funny thing, always sending us into the future before we've spent long enough in the now. I think if it was sunny everyday I'd spend less time agonizing over our limbo-land status because I'd be too busy watching Alice in her pink polka dot bikini playing in the sand (that belly!!). 

I'm curious, do you feel firmly rooted where you are? Can you imagine yourself living in your current spot forever, or are you constantly thinking of what is next? I guess I'm just interested to know if the "what is next" is only an expat-ism or if everyone feels it. I think the difference for us might be that we feel it most of the time; we will eventually move back to the States, this isn't a forever home. But maybe you feel the same way.

May 23, 2014

amazing pizza at home

I was about to email this pizza dough recipe to my friend Emily. She has access to a wood burning pizza oven. I figured that if I could make amazing pizza in my simple kitchen oven that she'd be able to make AH-mazing pizza in a legit pizza oven. I could almost see the bubbles and the slightly charred edges of the pizzas she and her husband would be able to make and eat. But here's the thing, Emily lives in New Haven, Connecticut, and has access to some of the best pizza in the United States. A good pizza dough might not be as vital to her as it is, to say, me, who lives in a pizza dead zone. As I was typing up the recipe and email I realized that there are most definitely other pizza dead zones - arguably anywhere outside of Naples, Rome, New York, and New Haven - and that you might live in one of them. If you do, then this pizza dough is for you. 

This recipe is from the well known pizza spot in Brooklyn called Roberta's and was featured in the New York Times a couple months ago. Roberta's pizzas are made in a wood-fired oven, but they adapted the dough recipe so it would produce good results at home in a normal oven. We don't have a pizza stone or a peel (the sheet of wood that helps you transfer the pizza to the oven) and we still ended up with great pizza. The dough rises effortlessly to a soft a chewy state. If you shape an outer ring of crust that's slightly more doughy than the middle, you will be pleased by the puffy ring of deliciousness bordering the cheesy middle. Even though it's weighted down by sauce a an ample amount of cheese, the pizza is light. The crust is full of air bubbles, which separates this pizza from the dense store bought variety. 

The dough is easy. You need only a few ingredients and you can kneed the dough by hand in a few minutes. (Following the initial kneading you need to let it rise for 3-4hrs.) The only slightly tricky part is that the ingredients need to be weighed. This success of this recipe is not left to the variety of ways you and I might measure a cup of flour, no, it's 153 grams of all purpose flour and 153 grams of type 00 flour. You will need a scale. It's a good investment these days as many recipes are being converted to weight measurements. And even if you only buy it so you can make this pizza it will be a good investment. 

I think I forgot to mention that I LOVE pizza. It's my favorite food. Given a choice of a last meal, I'd pick pizza. I grew up on what most would consider good New York pizza, except it came out of Connecticut, out of a tiny pizza restaurant called The Pizza Post. It's tucked in a little shopping center, behind the gas station and next to a nail salon and an ice cream shop. That's my way of saying it's nothing fancy and it's a bit of a hidden gem. They make pizzas with bubbly crusts and thin chewy middles. It's pizza perfection. From The Pizza Post I went on to spend nine years eating pizza in New Haven.  I was a student almost that whole time so I ate a lot of pizza. I don't know if it's widely known or not, but New Haven is home to some incredible pizza. There's Pepe's and Sally's in the Italian neighborhood Wooster Square and Modern Apizza on State Street. Most New Havenites have allegiances to one or the other. Zach and I are Pepe's people. The thin crust pizzas are served on large baking sheets, cut into rectangular pieces. The middle is light and floppy, but not at all soggy, while the outer crust is slightly crispy on the edges, but soft and doughy in the middle. It's worth the wait in the line that stretches around the block every evening. (We quickly learned that if you order a pizza to-go in person, it will be ready in fifteen minutes.)

Since I don't have permission from Roberta's or the NYTimes and because I'd rather not step on any toes I'm not going to write out the recipe here, but instead link to it and send you on your way. The video that accompanies the article and recipe is incredibly helpful in making and shaping the dough. I think you'll get more out of it and likely make a better pizza by following their example instead of mine.

Roberta's Pizza Dough
(If you live in Zürich, I found 00 flour at Jelmoli)

and once you've got the dough here are some pizzas to try....
Pizza Margherita 
Cheeses Pie
The Green and White

Oh, and I'm also curious if any of you have the Roberta's cookbook and what you think? It's sitting in my Amazon shopping cart and I'm wondering if it would be great to have around or just more cookbook clutter.

And please share your favorite pizza dough recipe, I'm always curious to try a new one.

May 13, 2014

a family favorite

Friends, you'll be glad to know that Alice is an enthusiastic eater. I'd venture to guess that sitting down at the table is one of her top five favorite things; along with using the printer as a drum set, opening and closing the dishwasher soap tray, shimmying and shaking to So Glad I'm Here, and thumbing through Pat the Bunny. So far she's liked everything we've given her. Okay, that's not quite true, she doesn't like plain yogurt, but I don't know many people who do, so we'll just sideline that one for now. She is not a dainty eater. She uses her fingers to rake food into her fist where it makes a quick trip to her already open mouth and, along with most of her hand, disappears. We gave up on the spoon a while ago. You would too if it became a constant tug of war. She prefers to feed herself, and although I spend way too much time cleaning the floor - anyone have a dog we can borrow at mealtime? - it suits us just fine. I could go on and on about feeding Alice, how I like that she chooses what she wants, that she paces herself, how it's good for her dexterity and hand eye coordination, that I love the face she makes when she tries something new, but let's leave that for another post and chat about spinach gnocchi instead. 

These little green globes are our current favorite thing to eat. Zach even went so far to say that he likes gnocchi night better than homemade-tortilla taco night. I might be with him on that. And Alice is definitely on board; the little goober ate all eight of her gnocchi before I even had a chance to snap a few photos and serve myself. In trying to come up with words besides "awesome" to describe them, all I keep thinking is "gentle". And that they are, soft and delicate, with a melt in your mouth quality. We can thank the ricotta for that. Ricotta pillows laced with spinach and parmesan. If it's the ricotta that lends the airy texture then it's the parmesan that brings the depth and richness. The gnocchi are so flavorful that they could be eaten alone, but I toss them in a simple sage butter sauce, because I like the earthy flavor it brings. I think Alice would tell you she likes the earthiness too considering she ate a nice big handful of dirt yesterday.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi - Marcella Hazan
note : I have made these gnocchi four times. This last time was the best, and funny enough I used frozen spinach. I tend to shy away from frozen ingredient substitutions as I prefer the fresh stuff, but frozen is what I had on hand and they turned out beautifully. I think it might be because you can get exact weights on the frozen, and with the fresh it's a bit of a guessing game - do you weigh pre or post stem? Know that they are good with fresh spinach, but me mindful of the amounts/ratio.

another note: The recipe calls for prosciutto, but I never have that on hand so I've skipped it all four times. Feel free to include it, I bet it's good.

450 g / 1 lb fresh spinach
285 g / 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed
25 g / 1 oz butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped prosciutto
150 g / 5.5 oz ricotta
75 g / 2.5 oz flour
2 egg yolks
115 g / 4 oz freshly grated parmesan cheese

If using fresh spinach, trim away all stems and clean it in a few changes of water. Put the barely damp spinach in a pan with 2 teaspoons of salt, cover the pan, and turn the heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain it and squeeze out as much water as you can. Chop it coarsely and set aside.

If using thawed frozen spinach, cook in a covered pan for 5 minutes. Drain it and squeeze out as much water as you can. Chop it coarsely.

Melt the butter in a small skillet. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the chopped prosciutto if using and stir to coat. Stir in the spinach with a bit of salt and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Turn the spinach-onion mixture out into a large bowl. Allow it to cool and in the meantime measure your other ingredients. Once it has cooled to room temperature stir in the egg yolks, followed by the ricotta, flour, and parmesan. Taste and correct for salt.

Next, form small balls out of the mixture. It will be sticky, but you should still be able to roll it - stickily - in your hands, if not, add a touch more flour. Hazan recommends 1/2 inch across, but says you can stretch to 3/4 inch if that is easier, and I think our gnocchi were closer to 3/4 than 1/2. Do what works for you.

Drop the gnocchi, about 10 at a time, into salted, boiling water. When the water returns to boil cook for 3-4 more minutes. With the first batch taste one after 3 minutes to know if they are done or of you should extend to 4 minutes. I found that 4 minutes was perfect with this last round. When the last batch of gnocchi goes in the pot, start your sauce.

Sage Butter Sauce
75 g / 2.5 oz butter
6-8 whole sage leaves
parmesan cheese for sprinkling

Melt the butter in s small skillet over medium heat. When the foam subsides, and the color of the butter becomes golden, but not brown, add the sage leaves. Cook for a few seconds, turning the leaves over once, and then pour over your pasta.