Monday, February 01, 2010

Guava Cheese Pizzalito

During my time in Miami I learned many things.
  • Humidity is exactly 100x worse than excessive heat. The combination of the two is 1000x worse.
  • Hurricanes are only as fun as the size of your alcohol stockpile. Also, it's a great way to finally meet your neighbors.
  • Everyone has cockroaches, it's only a problem if you regularly see them.
  • Firehose rain lasts about 5 minutes, then you've got a window of about 10 minutes to run wherever you need to go before the next one.
  • Look twice before you cross the road. And before you change lanes. And before you look twice. Remember: roads have two directions, just not always opposite ones, and you are free to decide which at whim.
  • If it gets too cold iguanas will rain from the trees.
  • The Rule of Law, that fragile glowing string that ties society together, is very, very thin, and frayed at the edges.
I also learned a lot about food. Collards can be edible if done right. Canistel, Monstera Deliciosa, Mamey and Black Sapote are all delicious fruits. Cuban Sandwiches and coffee? Yes please. Hogfish, Mangrove snapper, Pompano, Wahoo, Kingfish and 'Cuda? All great.

But if there's one food I'll miss most it's probably Guava Cheese Pastelitos. This was our Sunday Morning go-to food, whenever we were tired, hungover or had guests over. (Often all three.) Someone would be drafted to go to Karlo Bakery and pick up a box of the flaky triangular pastries, stuffed with guava paste and queso fresco. They're sublime. There are other kinds of pastelito in the case there, but you walk right by them, nose high, because they don't come close. The guava ones? Good. The cheese ones? Also Good. But it's like heat and humidity: the combo of the two increases their intensity logarithmically.

So we were watching a recent episode of Dirty Jobs where Mike Rowe was with Miami's Chicken Buster unit, the workers responsible for rounding up the thousands of wild chickens that inhabit the city. Before they start, the whole crew digs into a box of pastelitos and you can see Mike's eyes glaze over momentarily. Meredith and I looked at each other: the craving had struck. So the next day I picked up some ingredients.

Guava paste usually comes in either blocks or tins. I found this round tin from Goya at our local Asian/Mexican/Russian grocery store. It's a sticky thick paste. If you melt it on the stove it makes hallucinatorily good barbecue sauce. As for the cheese: Queso Fresco. A light, crumbly cheese you can find almost anywhere nowadays.

Get some frozen puff pastry and you can make quite passable, but not perfect, pastelitos with just these three ingredients.

But we didn't go that route. Some years back several of us were at the bar having a debate about pizza toppings. For example, I have long posited that strawberries would be good on a pizza, so long as the sauce was also a bit sweet. No one had faith in me. So we all got together to try out various experimental toppings. Out of that madness came: the Guava Cheese Pizza.

We recently bought a pizza peel ($14. Go Seattle Restaurant Supply!) which has greatly improved our ability to get bread and pizzas on and off our oven stone. And I've been messing about with Artisan Breadmaking in 5-minutes a Day, so we've had plenty of ready-to-go dough just sitting in the fridge. It was pizza time!

First comes the sauce. The sauce is very important. I always make my own. Not because I'm uppity about it. I do it because it's stupidly easy. I never measure anything or keep track, but basically: saute about half an onion and a minced clove or two of garlic, add a can of crushed tomatoes if it's winter or some fresh tomatoes if it's summer. Add a few shakes of dried oregano, basil, thyme, chile flakes or whatever else you feel like. Cook for about 10 minutes, or longer if you prefer. Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste. It's all about seasoning it to taste. For this pizza, I go light on basil and heavier on the sugar. You don't want it crazy sweet, just enough that it's not particularly savory.

Roll out the dough, about 1/8" thick. Spread out on a cornmealed pizza peel. Spread on some sauce. Add thin slices of guava paste. Sprinkle a good amount of queso fresco around. If you've also made up some caramelized onions, they go very well in here. Then I add some mozzarella to kind of hold everything down and glue it together, it melts better than the fresco.

Pop it in the oven. 10-ish minutes on the pizza stone at 500 degrees should do it. YMMV.

How is it? Outstanding. This is my go-to pizza for any "Make your own pizza" night. The guava is sweet, fruity and gooey. It's unexpected, but delicious. The queso fresco is salty and a bit crumbly. The caramelized onions play a nice background note if they're there. If you don't bother with the onions, and have dough ready in the fridge like I do, it takes about 40 minutes to make, start to finish.


Trish said...

Glad you're liking Artisan Bread in 5 min... my foodie friend Laura said you would!

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