We spent this weekend in the vegetable garden. It’s hard to imagine a better use of a weekend, I think. You’ve got sun, you’ve got soil, water, and greenery. Those are the four main elements of life besides the ether, right?
My mom loves to tell a story about Pavlov (yes, the same Pavlov who was into studying dogs salivating in response to bells) who at some point in his adult life became severely ill. On the verge of death, he asked his assistant to bring him a bucket of soil from the river nearby. He buried his hands into this dirt, playing with it, and filling his mind with the memories of playing in the dirt when he was a child. The delight and strength this brought him helped him break his fever, and, miraculously, he recovered completely.
I’m rather fond of this story, myself, actually. Being in touch with the earth, quite literally, through the process of digging your hands into it does feel to me like it has this power to bring an unmistakeable sense of peace and wellbeing. I sure felt that way this weekend, crouched in the dusty, weed filled span of our garden plot, ferreting out weeds and replacing them with seedlings.
It was high time we got ourselves over there, for many reasons, not the least of which was that, because of some scheduling snafus and other everyday trivialities, we had neglected the garden right up until this weekend. We had neither weeded nor planted anything. I joked that we were going to leave it feral and use it as a foraging garden.
This joke had been funny to me for a couple of weeks, but that was more than long enough. When the moment came, I was eager to turn over the soil, clear it out, and get some vegetables started. We’ll see if anything comes up, given our late start. Vegetables work on their own time, listening only to the bidding of the weather and the sun. This is such a good reminder for someone like me who all too easily buys into the false masters of hurry and stress.
Our plot was destined to be full of late bloomers no matter what, though, as it’s graced with the presence of a bushy fruit tree that will generously offer cherries later in the summer, but that also generously offers many hours of shade every day. Pleasant for gardening under, but not conducive to farming tomatoes, for example. But, what is there to do but accept and adapt? As always. So we’re growing lettuces, chard, collards, spinach, thyme, and a few others. Swathes and swathes of greens. We also snuck in a couple cucumber and radish plants.
In a month and a half or so, I would be thrilled if we have some late season radishes for tiling a piece of buttered toast with. And this year I know how to grow them properly. Did you know that you have to dramatically thin the leaves of radishes to get them to grow the enlarged root that we recognize as a radish? Well I didn’t. My first ever crop of radishes looked splendid and healthy, a verdant explosion of leaves. But, when I went to pull them up, there was virtually nothing there. I suppose the radish gives us a lesson in the fruits that can come from a little adversity (as do wine grapes, actually). And they gave me a lesson in gardening.
But that will be over a month from now. Having no vegetable of our own at the end of the day, we instead picked up some radishes at the market. I decided to roast them and put them on pizza. Which, I promise you, is less weird than it sounds. The inspiration for this pizza came from the collision of a couple quite disparate ideas that rounded the corners of my brain a little too fast, ran into each other, and turned into something completely amazing.
Roasted radishes, simply put, are a thing. A few years ago they began to appear on the menus of nice restaurants, a trendy and innovative use of a vegetable that is definitely better known in its raw form. But, after a couple of years, I think we should now all be able to let go of the trendiness and accept roasted radishes as something that is plain old delicious and should be tucked into every cook’s bag of tricks, alongside kale salads and no-knead bread.
A while back when I was making the rounds of fun blogs I like to check up on when I’m able, I saw that Erin had a recipe for roasted radish and ricotta pizza. Roasted radish on pizza? Idea noted. And tucked into one corner of my mind. On a quite different day, I was taking the subway because of the rain and flipping through a food magazine – I couldn’t even tell you which one for certain – and there was a passing mention of a caccio e pepe pizza from a pizza joint in Rome. Caccio e pepe pizza? Yes please. I tucked that one into another corner.
Then yesterday, after we had spent the day in the garden, we were having a couple of friends show up for dinner. I already had some pizza dough rising (I often set some dough rising on the weekend. I can’t stop myself.). The two ideas suddenly came speeding out and caccio e pepe pizza with roasted radishes was born.
To get a sense of what it is like, imagine the most delicious, gourmet cheesy cracker you can conjure up, all redolent of sharp, pungent, salty cheese. But, give the thin crispness of it just a modest pillowy layer, as if a wisp of cloud somehow got caught in the middle of it. Add to the top of this the floral spiciness of a heavy handed shower of cracked black pepper and the sweetness of roasted radishes, their own peppery bite subdued by the roasting process. They’re a bit like roasted turnips but a young, tender, fresh faced version without a worry or care. They have never picked up any bitterness that turnips harbor.
It all works together marvelously. Some combinations are like that. Sun + soil + water. Good friends + good pizza + good beer. Crust + cheese + pepper + radishes. I can’t even wait to try it again with our own radishes.
Caccio E Pepe Pizza with Roasted Radishes (makes 2 pizzas)
For the crust:
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (about 105F)
- 1 tsp. active dry yeast
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 1/4 tsp. salt
- about 3 3/4 cup flour
- In a large bowl, combine the water and yeast and allow to stand until the yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the olive oil and salt and enough flour to make a sticky dough (a bit over 3 cups). Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and knead until smooth, about 8 minutes.
- Shape the dough into a ball and put into an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator overnight. (you can also just let it rise at room temp. for 2 hours, but the flavor is infinitely improved by a slow rise in the fridge)
For the Pizza:
- 1-2 bunches of radishes (how much you use depends on how heavily radish topped you want your pizza. I split one bunch between the two pizzas, but I would have been happy with a bit more radish action.)
- 2 cups grated Grana Padano (or Parmesan)
- 3/4 cup grated Pecorino
- 2 tsp. freshly grated pepper
- olive oil
- risen pizza dough (from above)
- Preheat your oven to 425F. Remove the tops and tips and slice the radishes into 1/2 inch thick rounds. Toss them with a bit of olive oil and salt in a baking pan. Put them into the oven and roast until they’re soft and starting to get a little golden in spots, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Put a pizza stone in the oven and turn the heat up to 475F and allow to preheat for at least 30 minutes, while you shred the cheese and get the pizzas ready. (If you don’t have a pizza stone, just turn the heat up and bake the pizzas on baking sheets.)
- Divide the dough in half. On a well floured surface, roll one dough half out into a circle that’s only about 1/8 inch thick. You can do this with your hands if you’re skilled like that, but I used a rolling pin. Transfer to a pizza peel (or baking sheet) that is generously sprinkled with cornmeal. Brush all over with olive oil. Top with half of the cheese and radish slices and sprinkle half the pepper over the top.
- Transfer into the oven onto the baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden and lightly blistered and the cheese is completely melted, about 9-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and put on a cutting board.
- Repeat with the second piece of dough and the remaining toppings.
- Slice and serve warm with a big old arugula salad for even a little more fabulous peppery flavor.