Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sundays with Sparky: Exploring a cookbook - Fanny At Chez Panisse

Not long ago, I was looking for something else entirely, when I stumbled upon a cookbook by Alice Waters. Not just any cookbook, though - a children's book, written in the voice of her then seven-year-old daughter, Fanny Singer.

I highly recommend Fanny at Chez Panisse: A Child's Restaurant Adventures to parents who want to educate their children about what they eat.  The book is a story all about food: where it comes from, how it's grown, how to eat it (with fingers!) and how to cook. Truthfully, at nine, Sparky considered himself a bit sophisticated for it, but we sat down and read together how Fanny grew up inside stock pots in the kitchen, learned to eat halibut baked in fig leaves and was solely responsible for raspberry inspection. The charming story was rescued from being twee (at least, for Sparky) by a full-color illustration of the famous fire at Chez Panisse. After the the story is a short illustrated cookbook.

So I sent Sparky off with the book and the mandate to find us something for lunch, but couldn't resist peeking over his shoulder...raita? no,...cornbread? NO,...quesadillas? OK, quesadillas...but look, there's a pasta with garlic and parsley...No? Ok...roast potatoes and garlic mayonnaise? Sigh, OK - what about calzones? Calzones! OK!

I had previously frozen a quadruple batch of Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day pizza dough, most of which had gone into pizza bites for snacks, so I pulled out the last batch and thawed it on the counter. When it had softened, I set Sparky to kneading the dough, which (I noted with not just a little pride,) he did beautifully without any direction.  Almost any pizza dough recipe - or purchased pizza dough will work here.

We then set two balls of dough aside to rest a bit as we assembled our other ingredients. Being as a calzone is kind of a kitchen-sink recipe, I took a lot of liberties: instead of the recipe's prosciutto (which never lasts long at our house,) I added Italian sausage; instead of fresh herbs, I added frozen pesto, instead of chives I used shallot, which Sparky chopped up after donning his cut-proof gloves (which now fit considerably better.) He "let" me mince the garlic, so he could recover from a case of onion tears, but not until after I showed him how to release the the garlic paper by giving the clove an "indian burn" between two fingers and thumbs.

Still, we happened to have a lovely knob of goat cheese as called for in the recipe, and we made do with string cheese for our mozzarella: after all, Sonoma and its garden-fresh foods are very far away. I think both Alice and Fanny would forgive us.

The filling ingredients were well blended, and the dough rolled out and carefully stretched by hand - we got a little help by draping it over a bowl to rest between rollings.

The ingredients were then summarily dumped slightly off-center on the oblong of dough, water applied to the edges, and the dough was folded over the filling. Sparky decided to crimp with a fork, and I went over the edges with an empanada fold, just to be safe. Then over the top with an egg and olive oil wash, and into a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.
After working his fingers near to the bone, Sparky decided to pour himself a cold one (in this case, an Izze Blackberry soda I'd been saving) and dig in.

They came out spectacularly well: meaty and rich, with a nice tang from the goat cheese, bit of a burn from the garlic - for the first time, I think we turned out something restaurant-quality in my kitchen!

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