Peep-Flavored Milk? You Bet!

In an effort to give milk an Easter twist, Prairie Farms teamed up with Just Born to create dairy products flavored like Peeps (in other words, sugar milk with food coloring). As the number one non-chocolate candy brand for the Easter season, the marriage of milk and marshmallow was dubbed “an obvious choice” even though customers won’t be able to watch these Peeps expand in a microwave.

The new flavors include Marshmallow Milk, Chocolate Marshmallow Milk, and Easter Egg Nog – all of which are available for a limited time.

Are You Ready For Dunkin’ Donuts’ New Bacon Donut?

Dunkin’ Donuts loves you…and bacon. And that’s why they are rewarding our loyalty with their new “Deluxe Bacon Donut”. Shirley Leung, Business Columnist and Associate Editor at The Boston Globe, tweeted delicious proof of the glazed donuts decorated with strips of bacon. It’s currently being consumer tested in participating shops in Providence Mass.

This isn’t the first time Dunkin’ Donuts has tested bacon-lover food in Massachusetts. Remember when we first heard about the Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich that later made it nationwide? Looks like DD understands America’s need to bacon everything.

Hooters Will Serve Bacon-Wrapped Wings During March Madness

To attract millennials, Hooters is taking a couple of points from Buffalo Wild Wings’ playbook.

Much like the hugely successful wing chain, Hooters will offer a limited-time menu during the NCAA tournament.

Items on Hooters’ promotional menu include bacon-wrapped chicken wings and a chili-cheese dog called “Porky’s revenge,” according to Foodbeast.

Hooters also expanded its wing menu in recent years to include more sauce flavors and stopped using frozen wings.

Offering limited-time menu items and wings has been a successful strategy for Buffalo Wild Wings.

The brand releases new chicken wing sauces 7 times a year in flavors like Korean BBQ and Chipotle Cherry Sting. Many of the special flavors have sold out.

Hooters had its heyday two decades ago, but has struggled to attract young customers.

The brand is also expanding overseas.

The so-called “breastaurant” is planning to open more than 30 restaurants in Southeast Asia over the next six years, executives announced in a release.

Hooters already has a presence in Thailand, and is looking to expand into Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as Hong Kong and Macau.

The company, which is known for scantily clad waitresses, has had flat sales in recent years.

Part of Hooters’ problem is an overall slump in the casual-dining sector as consumers turn to faster options like Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Five Guys.

But the brand has also dealt with competition from similar chains.

Tilted Kilt has more than 100 locations, with plans to open more, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, Hooters has been closing restaurants.

In addition to Tilted Kilt, Hooters is also facing competition from other “breastaurant” rivals such as Twin Peaks, Ker’s Winghouse, and Brick House Tavern + Tap.

Twin Peaks’ sales increased 68% to $165 million in 2013 over the previous year, as the chain nearly doubled its locations, according to Technomic. Sales at each of the latter two chains, which are the fourth- and fifth-largest breastaurants by sales, increased by 11% over the same time period.

These rival brands have succeeded by attracting a younger crowd and offering a broader menu than Hooters.

High Tech Farms Where Our Future Food Will Grow in Nothing But Air

If our planet is going to support an extra four billion people by the end of the century, we’ll need to find some creative new ways to feed ourselves. One option would be to turn buildings into farms and grow our crops in the air.

Both of these radical notions involve aeroponics, a method originally developed by NASA to grow food in space. Aeroponic plants require no arable land or soil, and only minimal water. Proponents say that with proper environmental controls, aeroponics could dramatically reduce agricultural energy inputs, eliminate the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and increase crop nutrient densities.

But is this sort of high-tech farming workable at the scales needed to feed entire cities, or will aeroponic veggies remain the exclusive snack of well-heeled nerds for years to come? To find out, I spoke with Caleb Harper, founder of MIT’s CityFARM and a pioneer in the development of the techno-farming methods that may, one day, feed the world.

But is this sort of high-tech farming workable at the scales needed to feed entire cities, or will aeroponic veggies remain the exclusive snack of well-heeled nerds for years to come? To find out, I spoke with Caleb Harper, founder of MIT’s CityFARM and a pioneer in the development of the techno-farming methods that may, one day, feed the world.

At CityFARM, the “plant factory” supported by MIT’s Media Lab, crops like broccoli, strawberries, lettuce and peppers dangle from shelves stacked along glass-paneled walls. As Harper explains, when plants are suspended in open air and misted with an ultra-fine spray, their roots bloom with tiny hairs, dramatically increasing the surface area available for nutrient uptake.

“Growing in this way allows plants to activate all of their root system,” Harper said. “In soil, a plant may dig around and wait, but it doesn’t fully express its ability to gain water and minerals. In aeroponics, you can drive the plant much faster.”

To fully optimize the growth environment, Harper’s research team is using data science tools to meticulously monitor their crops’ needs. Sensors attached to sentinel plants monitor vitals such as leaf turgor; this information is fed into computers and used to determine exactly when, and for how long, the plants require misting. The water-mist contains carefully doled out portions of every nutrient the plant needs—nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and the like. Harper claims this approach to be 70 to 90 percent more efficient than traditional watering methods, with the potential to be 98 percent more efficient.

When water and nutrients are available in abundance, plant growth often becomes limited by light. CityFARM is pushing this boundary by using LED growth lamps to augment natural sunlight. The LEDs are tuned to the red and blue portions of the visible spectrum plants use for photosynthesis. In nature, plants have sift through many different wavelengths of light to filter this “photosynthetically active” part out. Heliospectra, the company that makes city farm’s growth lamps, believes the sun is old school and that, with a well-calibrated growth lamp, many crops can do without it entirely.

The experiment may be small-scale for now, but so far, results have been, well, unnaturally good. CityFARM’s crops grow three to four times faster than they would in nature, on a 30-day cycle, 365 days a year. Harvests from the 60-square foot building have supplied produce to the Media Lab’s three hundred employees.

Food for the Future

There’s no denying the technological ingenuity on display at CityFARM . Same goes for other proof-of-concept indoor farms, like Chicago O’Hare airport’s aeroponic garden. But are such systems scalable? Their tech-intensive poses clear challenges. At the end of the day, anyone interested in aeroponic growing will have to weigh the benefits of improved yields against cost of technological investment.

“We’re just at the point of scaling it for high-value products—you see pharmaceuticals and cosmetics companies using these techniques,” Harper said. Soon to follow suit, Harper predicts, are crops that are expensive in supermarkets and easy to grow, like leafy greens, herbs, and out-of-season berries. Scaling up further may become economically viable if aeroponic systems can be retrofitted into the existing glass-curtain walls of high-rise buildings, a possibility which CityFARM is exploring.

A radically different option may be to go smaller. Harper’s latest project involves building 2 x 2 x 2 foot aeroponic grow boxes in which every single aspect of a plant’s environment is precisely monitored and controlled. He calls it the “personal computer for food.”

“Inside the box, we create climate: everything from CO2 to oxygen to temperature and humidity,” Harper told me.

A plant’s flavor is as much a product of its genetics as its environment. By curating all of the environmental factors, Harper imagines that individual users will be able to create their own “designer veggies,” the recipes for which can be saved, stored and shared all over the world.

“Once you’ve grown something, say, a tomato, you get a data recipe,” Harper told me. “That recipe says exactly how much CO2, water and light to use. Then you call your friend, he downloads the recipe into his box, and presses play. He’ll then be able to make the same exact tomato—same texture, color and flavor.”

Of course, designer boxes that allow you and your friend to grow identical vegetables on opposite sides of the world are a far cry from a system that feeds a city. But to Harper, the personal computer is just the beginning.

“Say you had 10,000 of these little boxes scattered about a city. As products, their individual use and value is very limited,” Harper said. “But if they could talk to each other and learn from each other, eventually, we have a distributed food computer. Part of my work is grappling with what that would even mean.”

It may be decades yet before fields of corn and wheat become a common sight on city skylines, or before plant computers infiltrate our homes. But such ideas speak to the desire to reinvent agriculture in a way that’s compatible with the modern, urban world. Today, it’s estimated that every calorie Americans consume costs roughly ten fuel calories to produce and ship from farm to table. If Harper is correct that his high-tech grow methods can decrease energy consumption by as much as 80 percent, that’d be a win for the environment and the bottom line.

Personally, I can’t wait to plug in my food box and start designing dinner.

Florida Officals: Don’t Eat Python Meat

With the Florida Python Challenge on the horizon, officials are warning residents to be extra cautious when it comes to eating python meat. The novelty pie known as “Everglades Pizza,” which also contains alligator meat and frog legs, has become an attraction at a number of Florida locations, but diners should be wary of exactly where the python is coming from. Burmese pythons in the Everglades contain some of the highest levels of mercury found in a living creature.

“For some reason, the pythons that are coming out of here, they have mercury concentrations higher than mine waste, a mercury mine,” said Everglades superintendent Dan Kimball. “According to (USGS scientist Dave Krabbenhoft), they’ve never found anything that has this high of mercury levels that’s still alive. It is amazing.”

In 2014, two dozen python tails were sent to Dr. Krabbenhoft to test in the USGS Mercury Research Laboratory in Wisconsin. The tests found that the samples contained a mercury concentration of 5.5 parts per million, which, according to the USGS report, is “about three times greater than concentrations in tail tissues of the American alligator.” Florida residents are warned against eating fish with levels higher than 1.5 parts per million.

At least one pizza parlor in Naples is offering “Everglades Pizza” in relation to the upcoming Python Challenge.

HOW FOOD AFFECTS YOUR MOOD

We all have busy lives whether you’re a student, a parent, a business associate, a doctor or what have you. It becomes much easier to grab the burger at the fast food restaurant nearby or make a quick trip to the vending machine for a mid day snack than to cook a healthy meal. When life gets busy, the first thing to go is a proper diet. Unfortunately, this can lead to a snowball effect of bad dietary habits.

Diet and mood are intrinsically linked, and it’s often hard to distinguish cause from effect. While a full schedule undoubtedly gets in the way of good eating, food itself actually alters mood too.

Serotonin, a chemical produced in the brain, affects mood by transmitting messages from one area of the brain to another — in particular, to the brain cells that regulate mood and well-being. To simplify the issue, the more serotonin present, the better your mood. Serotonin is created by the brain; it’s not an outside agent that can be injected into your bloodstream. But if you understand the production process, you can put your body in the right circumstances to produce it. For the most part, this comes down to diet.

EAT GOOD PROTEIN

Amongst the amino acids contained in protein is tryptophan. Eating foods like fish, game meat, poultry, and eggs fills your bloodstream with protein, which then breaks down into its many amino acids. Once the tryptophan reaches the brain, it’s processed into serotonin.

Ironically, though, a protein-heavy diet itself will actually slow serotonin production. When protein breaks down, it releases numerous amino acids, all of which are competing for space in the bloodstream. This creates a traffic jam of sorts, slowing tryptophan’s journey to the brain. To fix this, you need to…

EAT GOOD CARBS

Carbohydrates — found in grains, nuts, fruits/vegetables, and (of course) refined sugar — trigger the release of insulin, which causes amino acids to absorb into the bloodstream. Most amino acids, that is. Insulin doesn’t affect tryptophan. It does, though, clear the roadways for tryptophan’s trip to the brain.

But you can’t follow up protein with any carbohydrate — the trick is to eat the right carbs. Sugar and white breads certainly release insulin and spark serotonin production, but it’s too much too fast. The tryptophan gets used up abruptly, and serotonin levels fluctuate, resulting in mood swings.

Better carb options are wheat breads, fruits/vegetables, and nuts. These options will boost your mood and enable you maintain a healthy diet.

BE AWARE OF OTHER FACTORS

Food affects mood in a variety of ways. In addition to the serotonin cycle, there’s the placebo effect and sensory association. Sugar leads to a spike in carbs/energy, but that may not be why kids bounce off walls at a birthday party — it might just be they’re at a birthday party and feed off each other’s energy. Association works when your senses, a particular smell or taste, triggers a memory. The smell of peach cobbler may take you back to your grandmother’s house, triggering a good mood. Just because there is a positive feeling associated with a particular food does not mean you must give in to your senses. Being aware of the way your brain reacts to various stimuli can help you refrain from indulging in unhealthy foods and creating harmful dietary habits.

MONITOR YOUR CRAVINGS

When your mood swings low or life gets stressful, what do you want? What’s your “comfort food?”

Most people crave sweet things — chocolate, candy, pie, etc. While the carb intake will increase serotonin, keep a close eye on how you respond to those cravings. Respond wisely, with good carbs, and you could get the energy you need to pull yourself up by your dietary bootstraps. Respond poorly, and you may just dig yourself deeper into the cycle of low mood, bad eating. This can lead to weight gain which plays a significant part of the detrimental cycle.

RED VELVET OREO

So you thought Oreo had run out of ideas for new flavors? Think again. Milk’s favorite cookie is back to spread more joy than we ever thought imaginable with the release of the Red Velvet Oreo.

Like many Oreo flavors before it, Red Velvet started out as nothing more than a rumor, but alas, it turns out the dream concoction is actually true. The limited edition flavor will include 20 cookies per pack. Yes, that is a bit less than your traditional Oreo pack, and yes that means you will have to buy even more than you had originally planned. Each pack will cost $4.50, and will hit local grocery stores and retailers on February 2nd. The brand plans on keeping store shelves stocked for about 6-8 weeks (or until supplies last) to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Love is certainly in the air.

A Map of the United States Illustrating Which Cuisines Are Disproportionately Popular in Each State

Huffington Post associate infographics editor Alissa Scheller created a map of the United States showing which types of cuisines are disproportionately popular (compared to popularity in other states) in each state. Using restaurant review data provided by Yelp, Scheller not only designed the map, but also provided the top five disproportionately popular cuisines by state, which offers some surprises.

The True Story of Traditional New Year’s Lucky Foods

As funky fumes of sauerkraut blanketed our house year after year, the younger me resented the letdown of New Year’s Day. The excitement of Christmas was officially over, it was time to head back to school, and of course my family’s good luck food wasn’t something kid-friendly, like cookies or ice cream. My mother cooked up her annual big pork roast, mess of sauerkraut, and a pot of black-eyed peas. I wanted none of it, dining sulkily on a pallid pile of mashed potatoes.

Now I’m the one who’s gladly stinking up the house with kraut, pork, and peas; I like these foods and don’t just limit them to the turn of a new year. But I’ve always wondered about our family custom. My mother grew up in Ohio with lots of German and Polish neighbors, while my dad’s gaggle of military brat siblings lived on Air Force bases in Florida and Louisiana. Mom brought the pork and kraut to our table’s traditions; Dad, the black-eyes. But which cultures started these celebratory superstitions in the first place? And why those foods?

To dig a little deeper, I chose four popular regional American good luck foods of the new year—the pork and sauerkraut of the Midwest, the greens and black-eyed peas of the South, the pickled herring of Scandinavian immigrants, and the lentils of Italian-Americans—on a quest for the facts behind the fortune.

All About Cash?

food-collards

Cabbage, the star of sauerkraut, is green like money. As are collards and other sturdy braising greens, obviously. Round, disc-like lentils resemble coins. The silvery scales of pickled herring give off the glint of wealth. Pork comes from pigs, an animal rich with fat. As for black-eyed peas…one of the reasons tossed off lazily in encyclopedia entries and Internet listicles is that they resemble coins. Even my four-year-old won’t buy that one.

Coins, paper currency, richness: money, money, money. To me, though this oft-cited connection to moolah is as fishy as herring. Bank notes aren’t always green, for instance. Other meats, such as lamb, are marbled with lots of rich fat, not just pork. Plenty of fish have silver scales besides herring. Let’s examine not just the food themselves, but which cultures identify with them most closely, and what role those foods played in their daily lives, here in America and in their lands of origin.

Black-Eyed Peas and Long-Cooked Greens: From the Talmud to the Civil War And Beyond

food-bep

When you find a coin—any coin—that looks like a black-eyed pea, please call me. Until then, let’s go back at least 1,500 years to trace the good-luck associations of this healthy, historically significant little bean (and yes, botanically speaking, they are beans, not peas.)

“In the United States, few foods are more connected with African-Americans and with the South,” wrote Jessica B. Harris, a scholar of the foodways of the African diaspora, in the New York Times. “Without the black-eyed pea, which journeyed from Africa to the New World, it just isn’t New Year’s—at least not a lucky one.” Two physical properties of dried black-eyed peas (much more likely available in the depths of winter than freshly shelled ones) symbolize good things to come: the promise of germination when planted, and increasing significantly in size when cooked.

But black-eyed peas also have a little-known ancient history as a good-luck tradition that started not in Africa, but with a list of five foods mentioned in the Jewish Talmud to eat on Rosh Hashanah (the new year) to ensure good fortune. Black-eyed peas are not on this list, but fenugreek seeds are, explains historian Gil Marks in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. The Talmud refers to fenugreek seeds as rubia, which sounds like yirbu, meaning “to increase.” Sephardim confused that with lubia, the word for black-eyed peas, and they began incorporating black-eyed peas into their new year’s good-luck spread. Some sources say that Sephardic Jewish colonists introduced this custom to the American South (Jews settled in Georgia as early as 1733).

Black-eyed peas, which were first domesticated in Africa 5,000 years ago, were thought to have made their initial arrival in North America though slave ships, predating the arrival of Jews in the colonies. And Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is usually celebrated in September. So it seems unlikely that the Talmud alone was the spark of the black-eyed pea’s associations with fortune in the South, especially when the food became so prominent in the diets of slaves—and, eventually, their masters.

After the Civil War, hungry Union soldiers ate up Southern crops, but they left behind black-eyed peas, which they considered livestock feed; the hearty legumes provided much-needed sustenance during the Reconstruction for Southerners of all classes.

“Peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold,” goes an old Southern saying. It’s worthy of note that all three were staples of hard-working households that were not flush with income. Collards, turnip, mustard are all common braising greens of the South, though cabbage can make a cameo, too. Cheap, plentiful, and easy to grow, collards in particular are flat, like paper currency, and thus favored.

Paired with the rice and black-eyed peas of the iconic dish Hoppin’ John, greens make a nutritionally complete meal that balances color, texture, and flavor. Put on the Bud Powell Trio’s 1953 recording of “Collard Greens and Black-Eyes Peas” while supping on just that, and your year is already off to a fantastic start. Quite likely a hunk of cured pork flavors your beans or greens, raising your good luck up another notch.

Pork and Kraut: Progress, Fermented Cabbage, and the Cycles of Farm Life

food-pork

Pork is a celebratory dish in any pig-loving culture. Pigs relentlessly root ahead as they eat, as opposed to the backwards scratching of chickens and turkeys, and so are considered a symbol of progress. “And sauerkraut with pork was eaten for good luck on New Year’s Day, because, as the [Pennsylvania] Dutch say, ‘the pig roots forward’,” historian William Woys Weaver wrote in Sauerkraut Yankees.

All over the Midwest, people pounce upon superstition and put a glorious hunk of pork at the center of a holiday table. I took a casual poll of friends who live or grew up in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, and they all immediately mentioned a meal of pork and sauerkraut as an indispensable New Year’s ritual. Besides the high population of folks with German heritage in the Midwest and swaths of Appalachia, there are also pockets of people with Hungarian, Polish, and Czech ancestry.

My mother’s pork roast (usually a boneless pork butt cooked separately from the sauerkraut, but a one-pot braise of pork and kraut is common) is only one manifestation of the torrid Midwestern pork-and-cabbage love affair. Pork-stuffed cabbage rolls and kraut with chunks of kielbasa also appear at New Year’s meals. They’re rib-sticking, savory fare for a wintery day, but is there a reason for this tradition besides the direction a pig dines?

“Everybody rejoices when November kills its pig,” reads a Latin inscription under a painting depicting pig butchering on the great clock of the Münster cathedral. Pork has always been a cultural touchstone in Germany and Eastern European countries. Peasants who raised pigs slaughtered them in the fall, in part because it’s a good food safety practice to embark upon the time-consuming task of butchering a large animal when it’s cold outside. The weeks following the slaughter afforded more fresh cuts of pork than the preserved hams and sausages relied upon otherwise, and a family could plan ahead and reserve a choice cut of pork for New Year’s Day.

As for the sauerkraut, the fall likewise was the height of cabbage harvesting, and thus the shredding and pickling of pounds and pounds of it to preserve as sauerkraut. If you’ve ever brined your own sauerkraut, you know it can take six to eight weeks to ferment—in fact, I start my own batch of kraut in late October with designs on New Year’s Day feasting. The timing is too perfect, as is the culinary pairing: rich, fatty, and salty pork is the soulmate of tart and lean kraut.

Besides that, the long shreds of kraut are thought to symbolize a long life. And then there’s the whole cabbage-green-money connection, even though American paper money hasn’t always been green. Besides, by the time kraut hits the table, any past resemblance to cash is long gone.

Pickled Herring: Silver Scales, Global Trade, and Migratory Flukes

food-herring

Silver-scaled herring probably look more like money than any other fish, and historically, the herring catch was crucial to economic prosperity of merchants in the market towns of the Hanseatic League of the North Sea.

Atlantic herring was and is an important food to many Europeans. It’s high in Omega-3 fatty acids and lends itself to preservation via pickling, fermentation, drying, and smoking. Pickled herring in particular are popular in Scandinavian, Dutch, Nordic, Polish, Baltic, and Jewish cuisines. The 17th century Dutch poet Voost van den Vondel referred to the fish as “royal herring,” not just for the nourishment the fish provided, but for the flourishing international trade it created. Imports of wood for shipping casks and salt for preserving and exports of pickled herring drove a sizeable portion of European trade.

It’s a quirk of herring that their migratory patterns are unpredictable; waters that were thick with the fish for decades could suddenly experience dismal catches. According to Time-Life Books’ Foods of the World: The Cooking of Scandinavia, “Herring, appearing offshore one year in shoals a half dozen miles long and wide, the next year could vanish almost completely…so varied was the herring that it was looked upon as a bearer of divine messages. Even when herring was abundant, there was always the hazard that there would not be enough available salt to preserve the catch.” To eat herring at the New Year was not only a celebratory rite, but a small prayer of sorts, a wish for the catch and the trade to line up with prosperity.

With herring’s cultural significance so widely dispersed, the eating of pickled herring for good luck is thus not concentrated in any one region of the United States. However, areas with a large Scandinavian population, such as Norwegian and Swedish communities in Minnesota, will indulge in herring bonanzas this December 31, when tradition dictates to eat the fish at the stroke of midnight.

Italian-American Lentils and Ancient Roman Money

food-lentils

“Of all the legumes, lentil is more frequently mentioned in Greek and Roman literature,” writes Kimberly B. Flint-Hamilton in Legumes in Ancient Greece and Rome: Food, Medicine, or Poison? Lentils were a staple in the ancient Mediterranean world, and would have been a common sight, especially in lower-class households. When I peer at the contents of my piggy bank, lentils do not spring to mind, but if you consider what ancient Roman coins look like—irreguarly round, often with a brownish patina—the connection between lentils and good fortune makes a lot more sense.

To this day, all over Italy, people welcome in the New Year with various lentil dishes (“It wouldn’t be New Year’s in Italy without lentils and sausage,” said Mario Batali himself), and the tradition endures in Italian-American families. One such dish is cotechino con lenticchie. Cotechino is a large pork sausage; when the cylinder is sliced, it likewise bears a coin shape. Brazil, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary also have special lentil preparations for the New Year.

Despite my own fondness for sausages, greens, lentils, and fishy things, this year I’ll stick to my family’s own mash-up of good luck foods, the pork roast and the stinky kraut and the slightly musky black-eyed peas (they go together surprisingly well.) Luck is something humans no influence over, but the solace we take in cultural and culinary identity is. These rituals of eating special foods remind us who we are, where we’ve been, and the ways we hope to thrive.

Recipe of the Week: EGGPLANT PARMESAN PIZZA W/ CRISPY CAPERS

Ingredients:

Pizza dough:

  • 400 grams (2 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) of bread flour
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1/2 tsp (if let ferment in the fridge), or 1/4 tsp (if let ferment in room-temperature) of instant dry yeast
  • 328 grams ~ 340 grams (328 ml ~ 340 ml) of water

Tomato sauce:

  • 2 cans (800 grams total) of peeled Italian tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • More salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Eggplant parmesan topping:

  • 2 ~ 3 long Asian eggplants (approx 750 grams)
  • Aged Parmigiano cheese for grating
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 1/3 cup of capers, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil for frying
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 large fresh Mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • Chili flakes for sprinkling

Instructions:

  1. To make the pizza dough: Start the night before, or at least 9 hours before serving.
  2. If you are proofing your dough in the fridge for 18 to 24 hours (starting the night before), use 1/2 tsp of instant dry yeast.
  3. If proofing at room-temperature (a “cool” room) for 18 to 24 hours, use 1/4 tsp of instant dry yeast.
  4. If proofing 9 hours before serving (in the morning on the same day), use 1/2 tsp of instant dry yeast and proof at room-temperature.
  5. Mix bread flour, sugar, and instant dry yeast evenly in a large bowl. Add 328 grams of water first, and mix together with a wooden spoon until a wet dough forms (if the dough seems dry/doesn’t come together, add another 10 grams, or 1/2 tbsp of water). Let the dough sit for 15 min for the flour to hydrate, then with your hands, pull the dough up then fold it over itself. Turn it 90 degrees and repeat for a few times. Wait for another 15 min, then repeat again. This helps to encourage elasticity of the dough without kneading.
  6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then let proof either in the fridge or at room-temperature (as instructed above).
  7. To make the tomato sauce (can be made the day ahead): Blend the tomatoes in a blender until smoothly pureed. Set aside. Heat up extra virgin olive oil in a sauce pot over high heat, then cook the garlic and fresh thyme until lightly browned on the edges. Add the diced onion, tomato paste and salt, and cook for 5 min until the onions are soft. Add the pureed tomatoes then turn the heat down to medium-low. Partially cover the pot (or it will splatter) and cook for approx 30 min, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced by almost 1/2.
  8. Taste and re-season with salt (probably need another 1/4 tsp) and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside until needed.
  9. To prepare the eggplant parmesan topping: Preheat the top-broiler on high.
  10. Remove the tips of the eggplants, then cut into very thin (1/8″, or 3mm) slices. Scatter over a parchment-lined baking sheet in roughly a single layer (some overlapping is fine). Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil, then grate a thin layer of Parmigiano cheese evenly over the top, season with salt and pepper, then place 3″ under the broiler. Cook until the top surface is nicely browned, then transfer the cooked eggplants to another sheet, and repeat with the rest. Set aside until needed.
  11. To fry the capers, heat 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil over high heat. Add the chopped capers and fry for approx 5 min, until the capers are shrivelled and slightly crispy. Drain through a fine sieve, then mix 3 finely minced garlic into the frying oil (no need for further cooking). Set the capers and garlic-oil aside until needed.
  12. To assemble the pizza: Preheat the oven on 500ºF/250ºC (or higher if your oven goes), with a pizza-stone or a large inverted cast-iron skillet in the middle-rack. Preferably, allow 30 more min after the oven has reached desired temperature.
  13. From my experience, the trick of working with a sticky dough is: You want to oil your hands (no flour needed) for grabbing the dough out of the bowl. Then flour the dough, while you’re spreading it. So, place a parchment paper on the counter, larger than the size of the pizza you’re making (the recipe will make 2 large, or 3 medium pizzas). Lightly oil the surface of the parchment, as well as your hands. Gently separate a portion of the dough from the bowl and transfer onto the lightly-oiled parchment. The dough will be very wet, feeling more like a blob. Then flour the top of the dough, just enough so it doesn’t stick to your hands (dust more flour as you go, but do not over-flour it). Then gently press and spread the dough outward to make it into a thin disk, but careful not to pop the air-pockets within the dough. Think of it more like re-distributing the air-pockets.
  14. Now set the flatten dough on the side and let rest for 20 min, very loosely covered with plastic wrap. Repeat with another dough.
  15. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over the dough, then a thin layer of toasted eggplants, then tear the mozzarella on top, then sprinkle evenly with crispy capers, then grate more Parmigiano cheese over, then finally, scatter some minced garlic-oil over the topping and brush the dough-edges with the oil. Slide the pizza onto a board by pulling the parchment, then transfer again onto the pizza-stone (or on top of an inverted case-iron skillet). Bake until the crusts and toppings are golden-browned and bubbly, approx 10 min (turn the oven to top-broiler for the last 5 ~ 3 min if the topping needs more heat).
  16. Sprinkle with more crispy capers, and chili flakes. Serve immediately.