Friday, September 09, 2005

True Original

As much as I love to cook, and as creative as I like to imagine myself to be, it is hard to ignore the fact that all I really do is embellish upon other people's recipes. Very few of the recipes that I have written about here have been truly mine alone; almost all of the time, I give credit to the source and make only a few changes to the original recipes. There are a few things that are mostly mine, like my quiche recipe and a couple of vegetable casseroles, recipes in which I started out with something from a cookbook but then adapted it to within an inch of its life until I could probably take credit. Until now, I can think of only one recipe, my Baked Pasta Casserole, that so far has been completely of my own invention, something in which I consulted no cookbooks and followed no guidelines.

This has been a slight bone of contention for me. I have daydreams of writing my own cookbook, of opening my own restaurant even. While there are cookbook authors who compile other people's recipes all the time, I would want to do something more truly My Own. I watch Food TV sometimes, and I read articles about chefs, and I'm always slightly amazed and awed by how effortlessly these people create their own recipes. It is something I strive for, to be able to completely dream up new recipes rather than being so dependent on the framework others have set for me through their own recipes. When a friend of mine, a chef from a resort out west, was in town recently and preparing an elegant and complex four-course dinner for us, an acquaintance asked him where he gets his recipes from. My friend looked askance at the questioner and replied that he doesn't use cookbooks. He, as he explained, "just makes things." I was dumbfounded. He was making a risotto at the time, and I wanted nothing more than to sidle up next to him, skip the dinner party, and just hang out in the kitchen watching him work.

There are people who have asked for some of my recipes, and I am always flattered by that, because sure, even though the general outline of the recipe may have come from someone else, it is my touches to it that have caused the request to be made. I have high aspirations though, and I can't settle for simply making something better. I want to create it in the first place. I want to do something start to finish, and do it extremely well. It is rare for me to think anything I do is good enough. This isn't a self-esteem issue, but rather a desire for personal growth that I hope I never lose. I would wither away if I weren't always pushing myself to get better at things.

Tonight was a breakthrough for me. I have been wanting to make a white pizza for a while now. However, I didn't have any recipes that I wanted to try, as is usually the case when I have something new to conquer. The Carnivore and I both enjoy white pizzas though it has been years since I've had one. Rocky's, a now-defunct local pizza parlor, had one that was excellent but which I can only vaguely remember. I think there was spinach involved, but my memory is too hazy to help me there. The Carnivore and I watched an episode of Emeril's TV show months ago in which he made a white pizza that had us practically drooling. I always meant to go to the website and download the recipe but never got around to it.

Last weekend, when I made whole-wheat pizza crust for the first time, I made a batch big enough for two crusts. Only one crust was used at the time, so I brushed the leftover ball of dough with olive oil, covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for use later this week. And then I pulled down cookbook after cookbook, searching for the perfect white pizza recipe to no avail. I couldn't find anything that appealed and I didn't have time to search Emeril's website before I went grocery shopping this week. So I winged it.

Tonight, a little nervously, I rolled out my dough onto my beloved pizza stone and pre-baked it for about 5 minutes at 400 degrees. Then I took a little of this, and a little of that, and though I didn't preciesely measure anything as I went along, I came up with the following:

(I'm going to have to work on the name a little)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (about 1 tsp)
  • Italian seasoning (approx. 1/2 tsp)
  • Clove of garlic, minced
  • Fresh basil leaves, shredded (3 or 4 small leaves)
  • Shredded mozzarella (1/2 cup or so)
  • Crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (approx 1/4 cup)
  • Crumbled Tomato-Basil Feta cheese (approx 1/4 cup)
  • Kosher salt (about 1/4 tsp)
  • Fresh coarse ground black pepper (about 1/4 tsp)
  • Grated Parmesan (maybe 1 Tbsp)
  • Red onion, cut in half and then sliced vertically - because its prettier when its sliced that way (around 10 or 11 slices)
  • Balsamic vinegar (approx 1 tsp)
  1. Brush crust with olive oil
  2. Sprinkle crust with Italian seasoning, minced garlic and shredded basil leaves.
  3. Top with mozzarella, gorgonzola and feta cheeses.
  4. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and parmesan.
  5. Arrange red onion on top.
  6. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar
  7. Bake at 475 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until cheese is slightly browned.

The Carnivore pronounced the pizza delicious (a high compliment from him), and I was thrilled with it. I served it as a main dish, which wasn't the best idea. The pizza was thin, and the size of it, along with the slightly crunchy texture, make it better suited as an appetizer, maybe served as a first course to a pasta dish, or served as a light lunch alongside a tossed salad. Regardless, I am finally feeling a sense of accomplishment again. For the last few weeks (months?) I have been kind of coasting with my cooking. There have been countless new recipes that I have tried, and even a few big events for me, such as finally mastering risotto, making a decent fudge and getting over my fear of active dry yeast. Today though, I have reached a long-held goal of mine and while it may seem minor to some, its a big step for me.

Granted, The Carnivore and Fat Baby don't mind being along for the ride with me.

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