The surprising combination of canned artichoke hearts, sweet juicy pear, and buttery pine nuts under a blanket of fresh mozzarella makes for a fantastic pizza. Try a pine nut pizza next time you have Pizza Night and see for yourself. Recipe for a nutty gluten-free pizza crust included, as well as a peek at the cheesemaking process. (Skip to recipe.)
I can't believe how easy it is to make your very own, fresh, homemade mozzarella cheese! All you need is milk, a touch of something acidic, and rennet - plus some gentle stirring time, a bit of swishing with your hands, a quick draining, and kneading, and stretching.
And in 30 minutes you, too, can be nibbling on buttery, firm, fresh, stretchy, stringy mozzarella.
That's what I learned last week at a hands-on cheesemaking demonstration in NAIT's wonderfully equipped teaching kitchens. It was such fun.
NAIT (Northern Alberta Insitute of Technology) has a brand new cheese lab. This is part of the Culinary Arts program's plans to establish a centre of excellence for the training of artisan cheese makers in Alberta. The talented cheese-making instructor, Alan Roote, guided us through the simple process.
Large pots of milk were set out for us. Bowls of water with citric acid and others with rennet lined up in orderly rows for us eager students. Ladles lay at the ready.
Okay, everybody, grab a pot of milk, your two bowls and a ladle. Then gently and slowly stir, stir, stir. When the right temperature is reached, add the citric acid solution and wait for the magic to happen. You'll know it's happened when you cut through the quiveringly set milk and lift a spoon up from underneath. You should get a 'clean break' - you hold your breath and the sliced curds will split apart evenly. It's time to slice the curds into approximate cubes.
Then you gently lift and stir the curds with your hands a bit more.
Drain, salt, knead, heat again, and s...t...r...e...t...c...h, loop the strands together,
and s...t...r...e...t...c...h some more.
Voila - fresh, mozzarella!
Mine did not get a passing grade for beauty - I was too busy taking pictures, but those keener grade A students that took the time to really work their cheese were rewarded with smooth, satiny balls of professional looking mozzarella.
No matter. My lowly, lumpy example tasted just as good.
This homemade mozzarella is rich and buttery and melts beautifully. You can even pull it apart in long shreds - just like the string cheese you send in your children's lunches, but much more flavourful.
I brought my rather misshapen chunk of mozarella home and couldn't wait to turn it into something special. The 4 litres of milk we had started with in the NAIT kitchen turned into a generous 400gram chunk of mozzarella - enough for some serious nibbling and a sumptuous pizza.
Several years ago, on our driving trip around Europe, our first stop in Italy was the little town of La Spézia, where I tasted my first authentic Italian pizza in a small pizza joint that looked like mama and papa had just set aside a room in their home, plunked down a few checkered tablecloths and turned out heavenly, savoury, melting-topped creations from some aroma-producing brick oven out back. I will never forget those pizzas. The crusts were thin and crispy and many of the toppings were creamy, with scatterings of flavourful toppings, not the tomato-sauced, heavily cheesed versions we adore here in north America. My husband and two children and I each ordered a different variety, and we couldn't believe this was the same food we called pizza back home. I wanted to recreate the feeling of those pizzas, and this lovely lump of fresh homemade mozzarella was just the thing to inspire me.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: The sweetness of pears on pizza is lovely, and goes well with the salty tang of artichoke hearts and piney-ness of the nuts. Think pineapple on pizza, but mellower and more sumptuous.
If you have a favourite gluten-free crust, use it. I have included the recipe below in case you don't. It's quick and needs no yeast or rising time, however it does not have the texture of a more bread-dough-like crust, and its flavour is more assertive. I think the nutty crust complements these toppings nicely, though, and the almond and quinoa flours add protein.
*I like to use toasted quinoa flour as I think toasting takes away the grassy taste and brings out its rich nuttiness (however this step is not necessary). To toast quinoa spread it out in a baking pan no more than ½ inch thick, and bake at 250°F for 2 hours, stirring occasionally during that time. Cool and store in a glass jar in the refrigerator or freezer. I like to do several pans at a time, rotating them in the oven, to make a big batch to freeze.
Artichoke, Pear and Pine Nut Pizza
- 1 pizza crust - homemade, ready-made, or frozen, regular or gluten-free*(see below)
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon water
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ to 1 ripe pear, depending on size
- 1 can (14oz/398ml) artichoke hearts, drained
- ¼ cup (60ml) pine nuts
- freshly ground pepper
- 200-250 grams (¼lb) fresh mozzarella cheese
Prebake pizza crust if instructions require. If you have made your own crust, pat it into a pizza pan and let rise according to the recipe.
In a small bowl mix the tomato paste, water, oregano, and garlic powder. Spread this in a thin layer over the pizza crust dough. It will barely cover.
In the preheating oven, toast the pine nuts in a single layer in a pan, for 5 to 8 minutes or until just lightly toasted. Watch carefully as they burn quickly.
Cut the pear in half, cut out the core, but do not peel it. Cut thin wedges and lay them haphazardly all over the crust. Use as many as you think you'd like, leaving just a few spaces.
Remove any tough or stringy outer leaves from the artichoke hearts. I find there are always a few, and the best way to find them is to pull off any thicker looking outer leaves and tasting them. Cut the artichoke hearts into quarters and tuck them amongst the pear slices. Scatter the pine nuts over top, and give it all a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper.
Slice the mozzarella into ¼-inch or slightly thinner (.5cm) slices and drape them over the pizza toppings.
Bake according to pizza crust directions.
Makes 1 large pizza.
Gluten Free Pizza Crust
slightly adapted from February 2014 issue of the Alive magazine
- 3 large eggs
- ⅓ cup water
- ¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- 1 cup (250ml) almond flour
- 1 cup (250ml) quinoa flour* (see above)
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
In a large bowl beat eggs, water, olive oil, and honey. Add remaining dry ingredients and stir together until you have a thick batter. This will not be firm dough like a regular pizza dough.
Cut a round of parchment paper to fit into a pizza pan. (Trace the bottom of the pan onto the paper.) Lightly grease the pan with oil or cooking oil spray so the parchment paper will stick, and place the parchment paper into the pan.
Scrape the batter onto the parchment paper and spread out with a spatula to make a smooth, thin crust. Build up the outer edges slightly with the spatula to make a rim. Prick in several places with a fork.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges are starting to get golden. Check during baking, and if any parts of the crust balloon up, flatten them gently with a spatula or the back of a spoon.
Add toppings and cook for an addtional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and starting to bubble, with some golden spots.
Makes 8 slices.
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