One of the things I miss most about my time spent living in the Midwest is the changing of the seasons. Don’t get my wrong. I understand that living in Southern California, I am certainly spoiled by the weather, but with the two options being hot and hotter, I sometimes reminisce about a cool fall breeze, or a refreshing spring shower (I don’t get too carried away about missing Chicago winters, however).
Fortunately for me, we’ve been experiencing a particularly unusual summer, and have had several days of rain. If I could hand-pick any sort of rain from the sky, it would undoubtedly be a warm summer rain. I can probably count on one hand how many times we’ve had them here in the So.Cal., but I love them just the same. To me, they act as a gentle reminder to appreciate the amazing weather we have every other day of the year. But more importantly, just as April showers bring May flowers, summer rains promise even more than the average colorful and delicious bounty of crops.
My latest venture to the local farmer’s market left me overwhelmed by the season’s harvest of crimson-colored berries, stone fruit in every hue of the rainbow, and the techni-color array of vegetables available. And after tasting my new favorite herb, the sour-lemon-like sorrel greens at the beloved Saly Cortile Cucina a few weeks back, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bundle of such greens for the picking at my favorite stand. Traditionally, sorrel is a spring green, but with Southern California’s climate the way it is, it was a welcome find on this hot summer day. Needless to say, I left the market with my arms full of produce and the wheels in my head turning.
When I got home, I knew exactly what I’d serve alongside my grilled chicken that night. Making quick work of the strawberries and plums, I arranged them atop a generous pile of peppery arugula and the tart sorrel greens. I then whipped up a quick balsamic vinaigrette, and called it a day. Kenny gave me his stamp of approval when he went for seconds of this Summer Harvest Salad a la Jenny, and I made variations for days, only stopping when I ran out of ingredients. I can’t wait to see what else they have for my salad fixings next week!
I’ve included the basic recipe for you, but know that it is very easily adaptable. Want to make this a main dish? Add goat cheese or slivered almonds for some protein. Don’t have plums? How about fresh peaches, instead? Use your imagination, and get inspired by what you find in your garden or local farmer’s market.
Many moons ago, my brother and I were regulars at a local Jewish summer camp. We’d spend weeks bunking with our friends, Israeli dancing, and taking part in the fun activities of our choice. Being the nerd that I am, I actually really enjoyed the educational programming as well, because our advisers challenged us to see the world in new ways and to think outside the box. Our counselors, charged with keeping us alive and well during the few weeks of the year we spent away from home, were usually young adults who not long ago were campers, themselves. This camp left lasting impressions on both my brother and me, and through our experiences there, lifelong friendships were fostered.
Fast-forward a good many years, and all of those little campers and counselors have grown. We lead different lives with varying interests, but through the web of social media, many of us have reconnected. In fact, after acknowledging our fellow foodie status online, an old camp friend reached out to me, and invited me to a pizza party at her house. Dana, one of my very first camp counselors, works as a registered dietitian, is mom to two incredibly cute and articulate young girls, and is wife to my brother’s former counselor, Matt. Dana and Matt have created a very inviting atmosphere in their backyard, complete with an urban garden that rivals the one I picture in my dream house and a brick pizza oven that guarantees fun and tasty gatherings.
I was so excited to be included in one of the Saly Cortile Cucina’s famous pizza parties for two reasons. First, I was going to reconnect with old camp friends. My last camp memory of Matt included him personifying one of my favorite Muppets, Kermit, as he serenaded us with The Rainbow Connection. And Dana was the counselor responsible for teaching me and my bunkmates some of the more significant lessons for any tween girl, how to shave our legs (I wonder if she remembers that), and more importantly, how to be a great and memorable counselor. Second, Dana had recently posted photos of the bounty from her urban garden, and I couldn’t wait to forage through it, myself.
When I asked Dana what I could bring to the party, she explained the guidelines. She provides the dough, and the dinner guests come bearing the toppings of their choice. They’ve had everything from Asian teriyaki mushrooms with truffle oil, garlic shrimp scampi, and everything in between. At that point, I knew the bar was set pretty high, and I had a great time dreaming up the toppings I would bring.
As the guests arrived for the party, many of us camp alumns, we schmoozed, imbibed on some of the best wines Paso Robles has to offer, and observed the chefs in action, each of us waiting our turn.
I watched guest after guest meticulously designing their colorful, mouthwatering works of art, and patiently waited as Matt attended to them in the oven. Finally, with a nudge from my sidekick, Kenny, I took my turn. The guests gathered around as I smeared honey-sweetened mascarpone cheese on the dough Dana prepared for me. Then they grew quiet as they observed me assembling slices of juicy white peaches, like a fan. Peaches on a pizza? Bare with me. I gave Matt the cue that my pizza was ready for the oven, and when it came out, I was ready with the toppings: balsamic reduction drizzled on the warm fruit, topped with a bundle of fresh peppery arugula and salty strips of prosciutto. I knew I had done well when the biggest skeptic of them all, my dear husband, nodded with his mouth full of gooey peachy goodness.
For my next trick, I tried my hand at a sweet variety of the ever-popular peach pizza. Again, Dana prepared the dough, and John, master pizza tosser, prepped it for the toppings. I smeared a layer of the honey-sweetened mascarpone cheese, fanned more slices of white peaches, and sent it to bake. When Matt returned with a bubbling pizza, I drizzled more balsamic reduction, and topped it with torn mint leaves. This pizza signified the start of the dessert pies!
As the evening wound down, Kenny and I said our good-byes to both old and new friends, with our stomachs full and hearts content. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a warm summer night than with a group of friends, playing around in the outdoor kitchen, tasting each others experiments, and enjoying the company.
Thanks again to the good folks at the Saly Cortile Cucina!
Juicy white peaches adorn this memorable summer dish.
For the dough
1½ cups hot water
1 tbs sugar
1 packet of dry active yeast
2 cups white flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp salt
extra flour and oil for prep
For the pizza
¾ cups balsamic vinegar
¾ cup mascarpone cheese
1 tbs honey
1-2 large white peaches, sliced
6 fresh mint leaves, torn
For the dough
Dissolve sugar and yeast in hot water, and set aside for ten minutes.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine white flour and whole wheat flour. Make a well in the center of the flour.
Add 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil and ½ tsp salt to the water/yeast, and pour into flour well. Mix with a dough hook set on second speed until fully kneaded.
Remove doughball and coat in oil in a large bowl. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for one hour.
Punch down, cut into three sections, and roll each into individual balls.
Coat the three balls with oil, and place in individual tupperware containers for one more hour. (You can also freeze at this point. When ready to cook, make sure dough is at room temperature for at least one hour).
Dump each ball into a well floured surface, flatten, turn over, and flatten again (Do not knead!). Work dough by hand into pizza shape, and brush with extra virgin olive oil.
Top as desired and bake according to pizza recipe.
For the pizza
In a saucepan, cook balsamic vinegar over medium heat until it reduces by about half. Set aside.
Prepare pizza dough according to package directions.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Combine the mascarpone cheese and honey together until they are well blended, and smear the mixture onto the pizza dough.
Fan the peach slices on top of the cheese, and bake for 10-15 minutes, until pizza bubbles.
Remove the pizza from the oven, drizzle balsamic reduction to taste, and top with torn mint leaves.
If you want to save time, I recommend the wheat pizza dough from Trader Joe's. It's certainly not as good as homemade, but it works well if you are in a pinch for time.
This recipe was written for a conventional kitchen oven. If you are lucky enough to have a brick pizza oven, adjust cooking time accordingly.