slow ferment pizza dough

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Since I make pizza once every two weeks or so, it’s only natural that my dough recipe has evolved over the years. The recipe I’ve been using lately doesn’t bear much resemblance to my favorite from several years ago beyond the obvious flour, water, and yeast. My current favorite couldn’t be easier to make – with a few caveats.

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The first is that it’s best if you think ahead – far ahead, if you can. I usually mix the dough on Monday night to cook it on Friday night. That being said, if I didn’t decide I wanted pizza until Thursday, I’d still use this recipe, with just a one-night rest.

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The second is that I’m using flour I special-ordered from Italy. I’ve entered the deep end, where flour for pizza is no longer taken out of the grocery budget, it comes out of my fun money allowance. But then I tried the recipe with bread flour (King Arthur), and to be honest, it was so good that it doesn’t seem like the special flour is worth the splurge.

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So, thinking in advance helps, and fancy flour might help, but after that, it’s just mixing up flour, water, yeast, sugar, and salt. I don’t bother with a whole wheat pre-dough; I just use half whole wheat flour in the dough, and the long wait in the fridge is plenty of time to soften the grains. I also don’t put much effort into kneading the dough. I mix it, put it in the fridge overnight, and spend a minute or two kneading it once it’s evenly hydrated. If you’d rather do all the work up front and forget about it for a few days, you can just knead it longer right after you mix it up.

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Then it sits in the back of the fridge until I’m ready for it at the end of the week. I come home from work on Friday, take the dough out to warm up, and go sit in my favorite chair with a book and my cat. An hour or two later, somewhat refreshed, the dough is easy to stretch out to a circle and ready to top.

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Another pizza splurge I indulged in last year was a Baking Steel. It does make homemade pizza better, and I recommend it, but of course a pizza stone will do a fine job too. With the Baking Steel, it gets so hot that the dough crisps and browns within a few minutes, so I put it on a high rack and turn the broiler on when the pizza goes in. This is not recommended with a stone, since the direct heat could cause it to crack (heck, in my experience, anything causes them to crack!).

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And then you’ve got pizza as good as you can get with a home oven. The bottom is crisp and browned, the middle is full of bubbles, the dough has great flavor on its own, even without whatever delicious toppings you pile on top. I’ve been making this new favorite for almost a year, and I have no plans to change it up – but you never know. There’s always something new to try, so maybe in a few years, I’ll be sharing yet another new and improved pizza method.

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Slow Ferment Pizza Dough
(adapted from Serious Eats’ Cold-Fermented Pizza Dough)

I’ve reduced the yeast from Kenji’s recipe, because with the full amount, my fermented dough was developing an unpleasant sour aroma.

Whether baking on a steel or a stone, I’ve found that the dough is easiest to transfer to the oven with parchment paper, but it crisps and browns better if the paper is removed once the dough sets. Furthermore, a baking steel is hot enough to burn the paper after a couple minutes in the oven, creating a mess.

10 ounces (2 cups) bread flour or 00 flour
10 ounces (2 cups) whole wheat flour
2 teaspoon salt
⅔ teaspoon yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
1¾ cups water

1. In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients until there are no dry bits remaining. Tightly cover and store in the refrigerator, at least overnight or up to 5 days. The following day, knead the dough for about a minute, until it’s smooth and elastic. Cover and refrigerate. (Alternatively, the dough can be kneaded for about 5 minutes right after mixing, with no additional kneading necessary.)

2. About two hours before baking, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Use a dough scraper or rubber spatula to transfer the dough from the bowl to a damp dishtowel or a lightly floured surface. Use a knife to divide the dough in half. Shape each portion into a ball. Cover the dough balls loosely with plastic wrap; leave at room temperature for 1½ to 2 hours, until the dough is easily stretched.

3. About 45 minutes before baking the pizzas, place a baking steel (about 6 inches from the broiler) or pizza stone (lowest rack) in the oven; heat the oven to its hottest setting. Line a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Stretch one portion of dough to a 10- to 12-inch round; lay it on the parchment paper. If necessary to even out thick areas and fix the shape of the dough, pull the edges to an even circle. Top with desired toppings.

5. Transfer the pizza on the parchment paper to the heated steel or stone. If using a steel, immediately turn the oven off and the broiler on to its hottest setting. After 1 minute, use a metal spatula to lift the pizza while using tongs to remove the parchment paper. Continue cooking until the cheese is bubbling and the bottom of the crust is spottily browned, about 4 additional minutes for a baking steel or 6-7 minutes for a baking stone. Use the metal spatula and pizza peel to remove the pizza from the oven and transfer it to a cooling rack. Cool for about 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Repeat with the remaining dough.

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crostini topped with ricotta and braised zucchini

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I often prepare elaborate multicourse meals just for me and Dave. Almost invariably, when I ask him to name his favorite course, it’s the meat, and just as often, mine is the carbs, although sometimes I make an exception for artichokes. This meal left me with a tough choice – bread is always a favorite, especially topped with cheese and vegetables cooked well, but I was also really pleased with the sauce I’d made from my homegrown tomatoes to serve over pasta. Dave, unsurprisingly, chose the ribeye.

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I was being stingy with the tomato sauce, both because it took longer to prepare and because my garden gives me more zucchini than tomatoes, so I certainly ate the most of this one. It might seem bland – neither ricotta nor zucchini is known for their strong flavors – but good bread, a generous drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of large-grained sea salt add plenty of interest.

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Considering that these toasts include a starch, a protein, and a vegetable, I could have skipped the pasta (and hoarded the sauce instead) and meat entirely! Dave might have missed his steak, but I certainly wouldn’t have minded filling up on these. Who needs multiple courses when the first one is so good?

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Crostini with Ricotta and Braised Zucchini (inspired by Annie’s Eats; zucchini adapted from Rachel Eats via Orangette)

Makes about 24 small toasts, depending on the size of your bread

If you have a flaked salt, kosher or Maldon, it adds a fun crunch when sprinkled on top.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
3 small to medium zucchini (about 12 ounces), ends trimmed, sliced ¼-inch thick
¼ teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 small sprig basil, leaves removed and torn (optional)
1 (12-inch) baguette, sliced ¼-inch thick
1½ cups ricotta cheese

1. In a medium nonstick skillet, heat the oil and garlic over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly golden, 4-5 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the zucchini and salt to the skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is softened and lightly browned in spots, 25-30 minutes. Stir in the basil leaves, if using.

2. Meanwhile, heat the broiler. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil until just golden. Flip each slice of bread and return the baking sheet to the oven; lightly toast the second side.

3. Spread some ricotta over each slice of toast. Top with a layer of zucchini, then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

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pizza with zucchini, goat cheese, and lemon

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Thank god for my zucchini plant. Despite some cucumber beetles and slugs, it is growing quite nicely. This is in contrast to most of my other plants. The tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber plants are all just barely holding on, and of course I can’t figure out what’s wrong with them. Seeing the huge, green zucchini plant and cutting off a zucchini every few days makes me feel much better.

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Almost all of my zucchinis so far have gone into enchiladas with goat cheese and black beans, but I saved one for a light, summery pizza. The zucchini is julienned and salted to draw out liquid, so it doesn’t waterlog the pizza. If you’re lucky, it might brown a bit in the oven too.

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I’m not completely sold on the slices of lemon called for in the original recipe; even sliced paper-thin, they still caused a few shockingly lemony bites. I did like the hit of tartness though, so I think a quick squeeze of lemon juice on the just-baked pizza would be a nice substitute. I’ll have to try that next time; since my garden apparently won’t be producing gazpacho ingredients, I’ll just make more zucchini pizza.

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Pizza with Zucchini, Goat Cheese, and Lemon Pizza (adapted from The Food Lab)

Makes one 10-inch pizza

I use a baking steel, not a baking stone. I’ve found that it makes for a lighter crust with a crisper base. However, if you leave the parchment paper on the steel under the broiler for the full five minutes, it will burn to a blackened flaky crisp. After one minute under the broiler, I use a spatula to lift the edge of the pizza and pull out the parchment paper with tongs.

¾ pound pizza dough (⅓ of this recipe)
1 small zucchini
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced into 1-inch cubes
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Place a pizza stone on a rack about 5 inches below the broiler and heat the oven as high as it goes for at least 45 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball; cover and set aside for about 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.

2. Slice the zucchini into rounds ⅛-inch thick, then slice each round into slivers ⅛-inch thick. In a small bowl, combine the zucchini, garlic, and salt; set aside for 30 minutes.

3. Drain the zucchini, then transfer it to a kitchen towel; squeeze it as dry as possible. Transfer the zucchini back to the empty bowl, add the oil, and stir to evenly coat it.

4. Gently flatten the dough, then pick it up and stretch it out to about 10 inches, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches unevenly, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

5. Line a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet) with parchment paper and transfer the round of dough to the peel, rearranging it to something reasonably circular. Top with the mozzarella, then the zucchini and goat cheese. Transfer the pizza with the parchment paper to the hot pizza stone.

6. Immediately turn the oven off and the broiler on (to high, if yours has settings). Bake the pizza for about 5 minutes, until the bottom crust is spotty browned. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack and drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the top, then evenly distribute the scallions over the pizza. Cool about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

goat cheese and braised lamb shank ravioli

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I do use my pasta roller for dishes other than ravioli – but not often. I make the occasional lasagna when I can carve out half a day, but cut pastas like fettuccine are rare. Homemade ravioli lets me get some of the creative flavor variations of lasagna with less – although not insignificant – effort.

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Some of my favorite ravioli recipes lend themselves to a nice plated first course, particularly the ones with fillings based on vegetables. But with braised meat as the star of this one, it’s rich enough to be the main course. I think the slight funkiness of goat cheese is the perfect complement to the gamey lamb.

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I didn’t want to lose or overpower any of that wonderful lamb flavor, so I reduced the winey braising liquid down to a sauce. Instead of using a starch for thickener, which could turn the sauce pasty and dull the flavor, I used gelatin. This makes a sauce that forms a glossy coating on the pasta. A little soy sauce (you could also use fish sauce) amplifies the meatiness of the whole dish. This is definitely a dish worthy of getting out the pasta roller.

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Braised Lamb and Goat Cheese Ravioli

Makes about 32 ravioli, serving 4 as a main course or 8 as a first course

I made my pasta using this method and the following ingredients: 5 ounces flour, pinch salt, 1 egg, 2 egg yolks, and ½ teaspoon olive oil.

1½ teaspoon gelatin powder
2 cups chicken broth
2 (1-pound) lamb shanks
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large carrot, diced fine
1 celery stalk, diced fine
1 onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup unoaked red wine
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1½ teaspoons soy sauce
10 ounces goat cheese
1 egg
¼ cup (½ ounce) grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
8 ounces fresh pasta, rolled to the second-to-last setting on a pasta roller

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a measuring cup, sprinkle the gelatin over the chicken broth.

2. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper. Add a drizzle of oil to the pot and add the lamb shanks; cook, without moving, until darkly browned on bottom, about 2 minutes, then turn and brown on all sides. Transfer the lamb to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium and add the carrots, celery, and onions to the pot; cook, stirring constantly, until softened and lightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste, and cooking, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the red wine and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the broth with gelatin, rosemary, thyme, and browned lamb to the pot. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the lamb is tender and can be easily shredded, about 3 hours, turning the lamb shanks every hour.

3. Transfer the lamb to a clean plate. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and finely chop it.

4. Remove the rosemary and thyme from the liquid remaining in the pot and discard. Over medium-high heat, simmer until the liquid in the pot is reduced to ½ cup, about 8 minutes. Add the soy sauce. Cover and set aside.

5. Combine the shredded lamb, goat cheese, egg, and ¼ cup parmesan cheese.

6. Place one rounded tablespoon of filling every 2 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to wet the pasta along the long edges and between the filling. Fold the pasta sheet lengthwise over the filling, pressing around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza cutter to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (Ravioli can be formed several hours in advance and covered and refrigerated or can be flash-frozen, then transferred to freezer bags and frozen for several weeks. Do not defrost before cooking.)

7. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Boil the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water and transfer them directly to a serving platter or individual plates or pasta bowls. Top with the sauce and addition parmesan and serve immediately.

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fresh pasta with braised quail

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I have never seen a Meyer lemon for sale where I live. My local store used to stock blood oranges in the winter and rhubarb in the spring, but I didn’t see either this year. Sheets of nori? I’ve started ordering them online, along with golden syrup, peppermint extract, a big container of sprinkles, espresso powder, 00 Italian flour, herbal tea, looseleaf black and green tea, passionfruit concentrate, and my favorite brand of soy sauce. Living in a small town has its disadvantages.

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But I seem to have a steady supply of game meats. I’ve bought quail a few times, and this is my favorite way to use it (which isn’t to say that chicken drumsticks or thighs wouldn’t also be great in this dish). What I’ve learned about quail is that they are so tiny that it can be hard to find the meat. As someone who doesn’t much appreciate messing around with their food as they eat it, a salad topped with a whole quail was frustrating (although pretty).

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This pasta dish, with so little in it besides the quail, cooks it down to its essence. What sauce there is is concentrated quail stock. It’s intensely savory. It coats the pasta in the thin layer, with bits of shredded quail meat dispersed throughout. You can garnish the dish with teeny tiny drumsticks. And, amazingly, this is a dish I can actually find all the ingredients for in my little town.

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Fresh Pasta with Braised Quail (adapted from Marcella Hazen’s Marcella Cucina via epicurious)

Serves 4

4 whole quail, washed and dried
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
½ stalk celery, minced
½ medium carrot, minced
1 fresh sage leaf, minced
6 rosemary leaves (remove from 1 sprig), chopped very fine
½ cup dry white wine
1 roma tomato, diced small
1 pound fresh pappardelle or fettuccine
½ cup (1 ounce) freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1. Season the quail generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and quail, and cook without moving for 3-4 minutes, until well browned. Flip the quail; continue to cook until all sides are browned, propping the quail against the sides of the pan if necessary. Transfer the browned quail to a plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the vegetables and herbs; cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and use a spatula to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, return the quail to the skillet, and cover. Cook, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the tomato, cover, and cook for another 20-25 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep the pan from drying out, until the meat can easily be removed from the bones.

3. Remove the quail from the pan and shred the meat, discarding the bones. If desired, reserve the drumsticks with their meat for garnish.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just tender, 2-4 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water.

5. Add the shredded quail meat, pasta, ¼ cup pasta cooking water, and parmesan to the pan with the sauce. Toss the contents together until well mixed, adding more pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan and the reserved drumsticks.

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carrot-ricotta ravioli

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I recently made potstickers, and it reminded me how much easier dumplings like these ravioli are to make with homemade dough than with those little square wonton wrappers. With homemade pasta, you have a long strip of dough; after you drop dollops of filling along the strip, you can just fold the whole thing over at once, sealing the long end before cutting in between the filling. Contrast this with individually folding and sealing each square of dough when you use pre-made wonton wrappers. Granted, my method based on homemade dough can only make square dumplings, but it’s so easy that I’m tempted to make square potstickers from now on to avoid individually sealing each one.

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This is an easy filling too. The carrots and shallots are roasted in large chunks, browning and sweetening in the oven. The vegetables are transferred to the food processor with ricotta and parmesan, and then your filling is made with the touch of a button.

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The sauce, if you can call it that, is simply melted butter with parsley. A generous shaving of parmesan on the ravioli provides some salty contrast to the sweeter filling. Homemade ravioli is one of my favorite starter courses, and it really isn’t that hard – provided you start out with sheets of pasta and not a tedious stack of tiny squares.

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Carrot-Ricotta Ravioli with Herbed Butter
(slightly adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy)

4 main course or 8 first-course servings

3 large carrots (12 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large shallot, quartered
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream
5 ounces (½ cup firmly packed) ricotta
6 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg yolk
1 recipe fresh pasta dough, rolled to the second-to-last setting on a pasta roller
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced parsley

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish, toss the carrots and shallot with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Let cool slightly.

2. In a food processor, combine the carrots, shallot, and cream and puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Stir in the ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the egg yolk.

3. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 2 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Fold the pasta sheet lengthwise over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza cutter to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (Ravioli can be formed several hours in advance and covered and refrigerated or can be flash-frozen, then transferred to freezer bags and frozen for several weeks. Do not defrost before cooking.)

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with ¼ teaspoon salt and the parsley.

5. Boil the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water and transfer them directly to the skillet with the butter. Once all the ravioli are boiled, lightly toss them in the butter to thoroughly coat. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan.

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cappuccino fudge cheesecake

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Cheesecake, the more I think about it, is an almost perfect choice for bringing to dinner parties. It’s universally loved. It’s rarely complicated to make. It can be made several days in advance (or farther in advance and frozen). It transports well. The only tiny potential issue is that a full slice of cheesecake after a big meal can be tough to tackle.

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I get together with a group of friends every month; usually it’s some version of a potluck – perhaps the host will provide salad greens and dressings while everyone else contributes toppings (and wine). Or perhaps the host will provide corn tortillas and barbacoa and everyone else contributes toppings and sides. Last month, the host provided crostini, zuppa toscana, and salad. I was thrilled she didn’t have a dessert planned, providing me with an opening. Cappuccino fudge cheesecake seemed to fit the theme.

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Still, I was worried that 2 pounds of cream cheese, 1¼ pounds of chocolate, 1½ cups of heavy cream, and 1½ cups of sour cream would be overkill after bread and soup and lasagna, so I pared down the recipe to something more reasonable. Considering how much my friends raved, I’m not sure I needed to make a smaller version. Yes, there were leftovers, but there was no shortage of people to take them home. I might start bringing cheesecake to all the parties; I can’t imagine anyone will complain.

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Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

16 servings

5 ounces chocolate cookies
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons dark rum
1½ tablespoons instant espresso powder
1½ tablespoons ground whole espresso coffee beans (medium-coarse grind)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons light molasses
3 large eggs

1 cup sour cream
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
chocolate-covered espresso beans

1. For the crust: Spray the bottom of a springform pan with nonstick spray. Either grind the cookies with a food processor or place them in a ziptop bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add the sugar and butter to the crumbs and stir until evenly mixed. Press the crumbs into an even layer covering the bottom of the prepared pan and up the sides an inch or so. Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

2. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan; pour over the chocolate and stir in the kahlua. Gently whisk until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth. Pour 1½ cups of the ganache over the bottom of the crust. Freeze until the ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve the remaining ganache; cover and let stand at room temperature to use later for decorations.

3. For the filling: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Beat the cream cheese on low speed until smooth; add the sugar and beat until blended. Mix in the flour. Combine the rum, espresso powder, ground coffee, vanilla, and molasses in a small bowl until the instant coffee dissolves; beat into the cream cheese mixture. Beat in eggs one at a time, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.

4. Pour the filling over the cold ganache in the crust. Place the cheesecake on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the top is brown, puffed and cracked at the edges, the center two inches moves only slightly when pan is gently shaken, and the cheesecake reads 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Transfer the cheesecake to a rack. Cool 15 minutes while preparing the topping (the top of the cheesecake will fall slightly). Maintain the oven temperature.

5. For the topping: Whisk the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl to blend. Spread the topping over the hot cheesecake, spreading to cover the cheesecake filling completely. Bake until the topping is set, about 10 minutes. Transfer the cheesecake to a rack. Refrigerate the hot cheesecake on a rack until cool, about 3 hours.

6. Run a small sharp knife between the crust and pan sides to loosen the cake; release the pan sides. Transfer the cheesecake to a platter. Spoon the reserved ganache into a pastry bag fitted with small star tip. Pipe lines one inch apart atop the cheesecake. Repeat in the opposite direction, making a lattice. Pipe ganache around the top edge of the cake. Garnish with chocolate-covered espresso beans, if desired. Chill until the lattice is firm, at least 6 hours. (Cheesecake can be made 4 days ahead. Wrap loosely in foil, forming a dome over the lattice; keep chilled.)

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creamy brussels sprouts and mushroom lasagna

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After making a few lasagnas that all started to look the same, I needed new ideas. Here’s one, cooked in homemade broth with meatballs between the layers of pasta, that breaks the mold. 19 steps! 125 miniscule meatballs! I’ve been excited about that recipe since the moment I saw it, almost a year and a half ago, but even with my obsessive weekend cooking habits, I haven’t found time to make it.

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This one isn’t quite that original, but I had never put brussels sprouts, one of my favorite vegetables, in lasagna before. I can’t remember adding heavy cream to lasagna either, instead depending on the bechamel and cheese to add rich creaminess.

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I did reduce the cream by half, and I still found it plenty decadent. The mushrooms dominated the flavor, but not in the overly earthy way of some pure mushroom lasagnas. It definitely hit the spot, even without meat or tomatoes, some of my standard lasagna crutches. But I still want a completely free weekend that I can spend making homemade broth and (125!) tiny meatballs to layer with fresh pasta.

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Creamy Brussels Sprouts and Mushroom Lasagna (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

8-10 servings

Stirring the creamed mushrooms and the creamed brussels sprouts together does not result in an attractive mixture. However, it won’t make a difference in the final lasagna, and it simplifies the layering.

As the picture above shows, I divided the ingredients between a loaf pan and an 8-by-8-inch pan. I baked one immediately and put the other in the freezer for an easy and indulgent meal a few weeks later.

For instructions on boiling and rinsing the noodles, see step 4 of this recipe. You’ll only need half of a recipe of fresh pasta.

I’ve increased the brussels sprouts and decreased the mushrooms slightly, because even though I didn’t have enough mushrooms when I made this, they were the dominant flavor. I love brussels sprouts and want to taste them.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
16 ounces button mushrooms, roughly chopped in a food processor in 4 batches
2 medium shallots, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup white wine or sherry
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Brussels sprouts:
2 tablespoons canola oil
24 ounces Brussels sprouts, shredded on the grated disk in a food processor
salt and pepper
½ cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
12 ounces mozzarella, shredded
salt and pepper

To assemble:
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles or 12 7-by-3-inch lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ cup (1 ounce) grated parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. For the mushrooms: Heat the butter in a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid they give off has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to sizzle and brown, about 12 minutes. When the mushrooms are browned, add the shallots, garlic, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until the shallots are translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until the mixture is reduced to a loose paste, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl; wipe out the skillet.

2. For the brussels sprouts: In the same skillet, heat the oil over high heat until shimmering. Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and a pinch of salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until well-charred on most sides, about 10 minutes. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until reduced to a loose sauce-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms; stir them together.

3. For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture is pale brown and nutty, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk in a thin, steady stream. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and 12 ounces mozzarella. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. To assemble: Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread one-sixth of the cheese sauce on the bottom of a 9-by13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Top with one-fourth of mushroom/sprouts mixture, another one-sixth of the cheese sauce, and a sprinkle of grated mozzarella. Repeat the pasta, sprouts, and sauce layering three more times. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining béchamel and mozzarella.

5. Transfer to oven and bake until heated through and top is browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley, let rest 10 minutes, and serve.

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arugula salad with prosciutto, figs, walnuts, and parmesan

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This is my salad of the season. It seems like there’s always one, something I make every time we have a big meal (i.e., every Saturday night). This one was so good we had it for Sunday lunch too.

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Maybe I should start making soup as a first course instead of salad, especially this time of year, but this salad seems appropriate for winter. It has deep, rich flavors from the prosciutto, figs, and walnuts, so it doesn’t taste bright and light like a lot of summer salads do.

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And yet, even piled with crisp prosciutto and slivers of parmesan, it’s still a salad, still mostly vegetables. That makes it a great accompaniment to rich winter braises and casseroles. If this is my salad of the season, I’m glad it’s still early in the season.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Arugula Salad with Prosciutto, Figs, Walnuts, and Parmesan (from Cook’s Illustrated)

4-6 servings

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into ¼-inch-wide ribbons
1 tablespoon raspberry jam or honey
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup dried figs, stems removed, fruit chopped into ¼-inch pieces
1 small shallot, very finely minced (about 1 tablespoon)
Table salt and ground black pepper
5 ounces lightly packed stemmed arugula (about 8 cups)
½ cup toasted, chopped walnuts
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved into thin strips with vegetable peeler

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; add prosciutto and fry until crisp, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper-towel-lined plate and set aside to cool.

2. Whisk jam and vinegar in medium microwave-safe bowl; stir in figs. Cover with plastic wrap, cut several steam vents in plastic, and microwave on high until figs are plump, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons oil, shallot, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper; toss to combine. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Toss arugula and vinaigrette in large bowl; adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Divide salad among individual plates; top each with portion of prosciutto, walnuts, and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

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sweet potato mezzalune with sausage ricotta filling

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Last year, I got all excited about turchetta and couldn’t wait to get started cooking it as part of a big turkey feast. And then I waited, and waited, and waited, until I had time to spend two days cooking an extravagant meal (not required, I realize, but I love doing it). It was January before I could dedicate the time, plus round up some friends to help us eat all the food I insist on making.

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The wait wasn’t bad though, because it gave me time to peruse untold numbers of recipes to find just the right ones for my fusion of Italian food and Thanksgiving food. That was my favorite part. I had a lot of fun cooking too. The meal itself…well…of the thirteen recipes I made, I’ve chosen to share just four with you (although the rustic dinner rolls were really good too). The turchetta and wine-braised turkey legs were overcooked, the pumpkin panna cotta separated, the green bean pasticcio wasn’t beany enough.

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Or maybe the main meal just didn’t seem as good because I’d already filled up on the mezzalune I served as an appetizer. Mezzalune are like ravioli, but wrapped in gnocchi dough instead of pasta dough. Gnocchi dough, it turns out, is easier to work with than fresh pasta; it’s sticky, but on a well-floured surface, it stretches easily and doesn’t break.

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I made turkey sausage with the turkey tenderloins that don’t get used in the turchetta, but if you don’t feel the need to go overboard on everything, feel free to just buy some sausage, turkey or otherwise. (I also made these with homemade venison sausage for Game Night.) The mezzalune can be formed and boiled ahead of time, so when it’s time to eat, you just need to add them to a skillet with some butter and push them around a bit until they’re nice and crisp and brown. And then don’t spoil your dinner by filling up on them. Or, even better, make these your dinner so you can eat as many as you want.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Sweet Potato Mezzalune with Turkey Sausage Ricotta Filling (mezzalune inspiration from John Besh; gnocchi from Gourmet via epicurious; filling from Lidia Bastianich)

Makes about 50 appetizer-sized dumplings

1¼ pounds russet potatoes
1 (¾-pound) sweet potato
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1½ to 2 cups (7.2 to 9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
⅓ cup (0.67 ounce) grated parmesan cheese

12 ounces turkey sausage
1 cup ricotta
¼ cup (½ ounce) grated parmesan
¼ cup minced parsley

4 tablespoons butter
additional minced parsley for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Pierce the russet and sweet potatoes in several places with a fork. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, turning once, until no resistance is met when pierced with a fork or skewer. Cool the potatoes slightly, then peel and force through a ricer or the fine holes of a food mill into a large bowl. Spread the potatoes over the surface and up the sides of the bowl to allow steam to evaporate. Cool potatoes completely, stirring once or twice to release more steam.

2. Push the potatoes to the sides of the bowl, forming a well in the center. In the well, beat together the egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir the egg mixture into the potatoes. Add 1½ cups of flour and ⅓ cup parmesan to the potatoes, kneading to evenly incorporate. Add additional flour as necessary, until the mixture forms a smooth but slightly sticky dough.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sausage, ricotta, ¼ cup parmesan, and parsley.

4. Divide the dough in half. On a well-floured surface, roll half of the dough to 1/16- to ⅛-inch thickness (a millimeter or two), flouring the top of and below the dough as necessary. Use a 2½-inch round cutter to cut as many circles as possible. Scoop a scant 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each round. Working one a time, pick up a round, gently pull two opposite sides of the circle, then fold the stretched ends of the dough over the filling, pinching the edges to seal. Transfer to a floured tray or baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining cut rounds. Before re-rolling the scraps, roll, cut, fill, and seal the other half of the dough. Re-roll the scraps as necessary to use up the remaining filling.

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add one-quarter of the mezzalune, and cook until they begin to float, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mezzalune to a tray or damp dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining mezzalune. At this point, the mezzalune can be covered and chilled for several hours before finishing.

6. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Transfer half of the mezzalune to the skillet. Cook, flipping occasionally, until browned and crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining mezzalune. Serve immediately, topping with the remaining parsley.

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