With a few weeks to go before our kitchen shuts down for renovation, my husband, Les, and I are scrambling to use up all the random ingredients in our pantry, fridge and freezer. We decided to turn our adventures into a fun challenge, and it’s time for another episode.
Before we started our challenge, Les and I established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:
- Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
- The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
- Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
- Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
- Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (we do).
OK, let’s do this! Please press play on the video to see what kind if ingredients I had to work with for my third challenge!
It seems pretty obvious that I should make some kind of flatbread appetizer from these basket ingredients, right? And perhaps on another day, that’s what I would do. Les said himself that he might have made it too easy for me, and I tend to agree. Pizzas are such a regular entry for me, and I want to push myself out of my comfort zone, and that means—no pizza here today!
Artichoke and crab have become well-acquainted in other dishes I’ve made here on Comfort du Jour, including this creamy artichoke and crab appetizer dip and these crab and artichoke cakes that found their way to the top of a cobb salad. If you love these flavors together, please circle back to check out these recipes.
I wanted to try something different with these complementary flavors, and I had never paired them in a soup, nor had I even tasted them together in a soup. I was certain it would be delicious.
So that’s what I’ll be making from my mystery basket—soup! It was a tossup whether to take it in a smooth and creamy direction (think bisque) or rustic and chunky (as a chowder). Either would be tasty, and I decided to let the ingredients show me along the way which version would be best. The Kalamata olives don’t fit (at least not yet), so I set them aside. And then there was the matter of the pinsa dough, which is an interesting type of flatbread that is gaining some traction in the modern restaurant world. I like to think I am on the front of the curve with fun “new” foods, but I had only heard of pinsa very recently, so it has been a bit of a mystery to me. I will come back to that later.
To start, I rendered small cubes of bacon and set them aside to be a crispy topper for the soup, which would be delicious, regardless of whether I went creamy or chowder-y. Next, I sauteed a couple of leeks that were sliced thin, and that picked up all the delicious browned-on bacon goodness from the bottom of my pan. Diced baby red potatoes went in next, and it occurred to me that tossing them in there may have limited me to the chowder category, given that I’d have to puree the mixture to make it a bisque. I already had my doubts about pureeing the soup, because of the fibrous nature of the leaf part of the artichoke hearts. And now, potato skins, too? Hmm.
I cut up the artichoke hearts, reserving the tender “bottom” part of several, and tossing the rest into the pot, along with seafood stock, dry white wine and a bay leaf. After a good simmering, I would decide between bisque and chowder. I still had decisions to make about the Kalamatas and the pinsa.
The Kalamatas and artichoke hearts can play nice together, but the sweet lump crab has such a delicate flavor that I didn’t want the bold Kalamatas mingling with it in the same dish. Frankly, I was surprised that Les put the Kalamatas in the basket because he doesn’t really like their flavor. To balance them, I added in a couple of my favorite martini olives, which are a brighter flavor, soaked in vermouth and stuffed with preserved lemon peel. The result was a tapenade, an appetizer dip I had learned to make during my time in the catering kitchen. This version was delicious, but I was skeptical about whether Les would like it, so I added one more thing, a small handful of sweet sun-dried tomatoes, and that was perfect. I could serve this on the side of the artichoke-crab soup, but how?
Ultimately, it was the Kalamata olives—what I considered to be the red herring of this basket—that pushed me to my decision on the pinsa. I was confident that Les would like the balance of the tapenade mixture, and the pinsa dough would have to carry it. It helped to know a bit more about this interesting “new” bread product, so I’ll share what my research taught me.
What is pinsa dough, anyway?
Imagine the result if focaccia and a cloud had a baby. That’s pinsa, puffy and airy and very different from pizza dough. Pinsa dough has a high water content, which makes it a little fussier to work with, but gives it those lovely air pockets. The dough has a cold-and-slow fermentation method that guarantees terrific flavor. And pinsa is traditionally made from a combination of flours, including typical wheat, but also soy and rice flours. This gives it higher protein, easier digestibility and supreme crispiness when baked. It is light, crispy and heavenly to bite into. And though it may seem like an innovative take on bread, a new discovery from some leading-edge chef, pinsa has been around for a very long time—some say back to ancient Roman days. Who knows where it has been hiding all this time, but as I have said here many times, all things old become new again, and pinsa is back in the game!
As Les pointed out during the unveiling of my mystery basket, this flatbread dough he pulled from our freezer for my basket was given to us by a friend in the restaurant business. Our buddy, Dave Hillman, is always on the lookout for interesting foods, and he has three local-to-us restaurants of his own to serve as testing grounds for the fun things he finds. One of them, Burke Street Pizza, has won the favor of my native New Yorker husband as a “real deal” version of N.Y. pizza, but that’s not where the pinsa came from. Another of his restaurants, West End Poke, offers a modern approach to healthy eating with poke, a native Hawaiian dish that has rightfully gained a lot of attention in the mainland U.S. in recent years. Dave’s third local restaurant, a casual tavern eatery called The Quiet Pint, could best be described as a gastropub, a term Dave says means they “serve up your favorite pub fare, but with interesting twists.” One of those recent twists is pinsa dough, the base for the Pint’s creative flatbread pizzas.
The pinsa dough is the most unusual ingredient in my basket, and I needed time to consider how to give it proper attention. My goal is to take full advantage of its crispy nature and also to make it the key that ties the creamy, silky soup with the chunky, savory tapenade. And though the dough was already par-baked, I still had options for transforming it to serve a new purpose with the other ingredients of my mystery basket meal. The pinsa would become breadsticks.
From that decision forward, it was all a bit of a blur. The potatoes and artichoke hearts had become very tender during the simmer, so I pulled out my trusty immersion blender and pureed it smooth. This was not a problem with either the fibrous artichokes or the red potato skins; it was quite lovely. I added heavy cream, another splash of wine and about a cup of the sweet lump crab and let it simmer to heat through.
The delicate pinsa was fully thawed by this time, and I used my kitchen shears to cut it into strips about 1 inch wide. I minced several cloves of fresh garlic and drowned them in melted butter, which I brushed onto one side of my pinsa sticks. A few minutes in the oven, then I turned them and brushed the other side. They emerged from the oven with an ethereally crispy, perfect texture.
I topped the creamy artichoke crab bisque with additional fresh crab, the crispy bacon and a broiled lemon slice. A quick smear of my artichoke and garlic hummus (a recipe I shared a few days ago here) went down on the plate, topped with the kalamata-artichoke heart tapenade, and accompanied by the pinsa breadsticks, which pretty much stole the show.
I am super proud of the way I used these basket ingredients but, as always, the decision lies with our esteemed panel of culinary judges—Les. 😊
You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise in exchange for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀Terrie