WHY HELLO THERE. And welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes, at our fresh new digs!
For those of you just joining us, this is the blog form of a long-running series of Facebook notes I’ve made, detailing my culinary misadventures and slow descent into madness for future generations to reflect on and find the warning signs of my eventual ascension to Godzilla-level threat to humanity.
I’m Jon O’Guin. Most of you know me. For those who don’t, hold on tight.
First, some general house-keeping.
Now, our long-time readers will not have noticed my long absence in posting these notes, as, despite my best intentions, I would frequently forget they existed for months at a time, and then suddenly produce 3 in two weeks. At the behest of my friend and collaborator Alan Vandegrift, we’re going to get that closer to 1 post every week. For the first two months, we’ll be dropping some of the old notes in addition to these new posts, in order to give newcomers an idea of my particular style, and to give me time to build a back-log of written notes.
We’re also introducing a new format option for the blog. See, in my previous notes, my record-keeping skills regarding the exact recipe requirements have been…’loose’ is too gentle a word. “dangerously negligent” is better, but let’s aim for “totally batshit insane”. As such, we’re going to add a complete, fairly dry re-cap of the recipe at the end, and link to it at the beginning. If all you’re looking for is something to eat, then TAKE THE PLUNGE. If you’re here for silly stories, let’s begin.
WHERE EVERYBODY HAS YOUR NAME
Until recently, I was living and working in Pullman WA, a wonderful town to get drunk in, and a moderately hard town in which to find paying theatre work. But I certainly tried. And in my time there, I worked on many collegiate shows, and made many friends. I also worked a wide variety of paying jobs, from Bakery Assistant to Simulated Client to First Responder/Janitor. But eventually, I decided to move back to the West side, and seek my fortune there. I had several applications out in the world, and I felt hopeful for the new chapter I was beginning. That was in September. I’m currently still unemployed, and living in my parents’ basement. One can imagine my chagrin.
Now, if you’re not from Washington, or really any of the West coast states, you might be surprised to learn the broad difference in the terrain. Western Washington is a rain-soaked realm of moss, mountains, and mud. Eastern Washington is rolling hills of wheat and barley and barely anyone for miles.
It’s like the Hobbit movies. Only with less digital manipulation.
Having returned to the home where I was raised, I decided to appease my new landlords with an offering of food. I decided to make Pizza! And Pasta, but that’s a story for another time. A simple enough endeavor, if you ignore that I’m a show-off.
I’ve talked before about the differences between my family’s approach to cooking, and my own: My parents convinced me that Ramen was a specialty meal, and that meatballs for spaghetti were just Italian sausage squeezed from its casing into a pan. My family makes large amounts of serviceable and simple meals. I make huge messes while attempting to make something wacky, refined, and/or interesting.
The exact philosophies at play can be discussed another time, but it can be summed up here with the fact that, when presented with a ball of pizza dough, my father put a squeeze of bottled pizza sauce, shredded cheese and pepperoni on it, and was satisfied. My mother added some olives and pineapple, and was content.
I made a Sausage and Swiss Chard pizza with no sauce. Because nothing can ever be simple with me.
PIZZA FOR YOUR PIE-HOLE
Firstly, I should credit Bon Appetit magazine for the basic recipe that I proceeded to run rough-shod over. I’ve always enjoyed both their magazine, and frequently rely on them for at least the general thrust of a recipe.
This specific recipe was meant to be a weeknight meal made easy: just buy some dough, cook the meat and veg, bake the whole thing. My family immediately ignored that, and made the dough ourselves, using a recipe my parents told me came from “Your brother’s…track coach? No. Swimming coach? One of those.” A description that couldn’t fail to inspire confidence. My brother later clarified it was a swim coaching assistant. Which is even less impressive. Still, the man (woman? They never gave a sex on this mysterious dough-person) made a mean dough. I’d tell you the recipe, but they made it without me. Seriously, I was downstairs playing board games with my friends, figured it was time to start the dough, and came up to find my parents had made the dough, and made themselves pizzas, rather than wait for the one I had announced I was making. Their trust never fails to inspire. Fortunately for my ego, they let me pick what bag of Caesar salad we’d have with the meal. And if you think that’s an unimportant job, you’ve clearly not been to a produce section in a while.
You know, one president of the USSR lost his faith in communism after a trip to a US supermarket. “Gaze upon frankfurts, ye mighty, and despair.”
The recipe starts with you breaking down ¾ lbs of hot Italian sausage in an oily pan. My family nodded at this, and added a whole pound, because, I mean, have you seen us? Restraint isn’t our strong suit. You brown that up for about 4 minutes. You’re not supposed to move it, so the bottoms get really brown, and the tops cook in the oven. My father accused me of witchcraft, and insisted we brown the whole things, a demand to which I acceded, rather than be burnt at the stake
SWISS CHARD 3: SWISS CHARD WITH A VENGENCE
I had to walk around SoHo with a sign saying “I hate Vegans”.
If you’re unfamiliar with Swiss chard, here’s a breakdown: It’s the bastard brother of Spinach and Beets, and is super healthy for you, despite tasty mildly like dirt. For this recipe (and most), you tear up the leaves, and chop the stem into 1 inch chunks. This is because, as one would expect from a Swiss plant, it’s a tough little devil. It’s also not in anyway Swiss, instead growing on the Mediterranean, making your last assumption racist. Plantist. Whatever. Apparently people call it Swiss because the first guy who ever mentioned it in a book was Swiss. Which is why we call it British Evolution.
Anywho, add the chopped stem to the sausage, and let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Then toss the meat and stem into a bowl. Make sure it’s a large bowl. That’ll be important in a minute. FORESHADOWING.
Then, toss the leaves in the warm sausage drippings. Yeah, just let the fat and stuff cool for a minute, then throw the leaves in and get them all slick and oiled up. I can only assume, as the process mildly disgusted me, that it must give vegetarians apoplexies. Anyway, take your warm oil-leaves, and add them to the bowl.
That’s definitely not going to fit in there. Which is a sentence I have never heard before.
Once you’ve gotten a bigger bowl, and wept at your own bitter incompetence, the next steps are easy. Stretch the dough into a big oval to fit a large baking sheet. Or, you can be like me and say “Hey, we already have a pizza stone in the oven. Screw ovals!” Because really, when was the last time and Oval did anything important that didn’t involve omelettes? So we made a circle! ROUND IS BEST, OVALS…REST? Look, the chant was a spur of the moment thing, and clearly a bad idea in retrospect. Let’s pretend it didn’t happen and move on.
Just oil up your dough, stretch it out, and hit it with salt and pepper. Then, give it 1/6th of a cup of parmesan, and…OH NO. My ancient enemy.
They say Rosemary is for remembering. I long only to forget.
Now, I’ve heard about people out there who have genetic make-ups that make certain foods unpalatable. It’s typically Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, and other green things. I also have personal experience with it: My brother hates cilantro, because it tastes like soap to him. I’ve never understood that, because I happen to hate the taste of Rosemary, and there are a LOT more Rosemary-scented Soaps than Cilantro-scented ones. There’s something about the slightly oily feel to its pine-needle-like taste…I just don’t like the herb.
But that won’t stop me from using it, because I’m powered by suffering. Sometimes it’s got to be my own. So toss ½ tbsp. of the garbage green on the dough. Then pour the sausage and chard over the top, then drop 1 cup grated Fontina and 1 cup Ricotta over the top, then another 1/6th of a cup of parmesan, and ½ tbsp. Rosemary’s Demonic Herb.
At this juncture, you will notice something about your pizza: He is way too big.
Another sentence I have never heard before, except on roller coasters.
Let me comfort you by saying it will reduce in the oven. Let me warn you that it will still be quite tall for a pizza. Well, just slap that bad boy in the oven, on the stone or baking sheet, for 20 minutes at 450.
At this juncture, I went and made pasta. Using a noodle my parents had never heard of, and a sauce we’d never seen before. But we’re already running a little long on this note, so I’ll save the story of that for next time.
In the end, you take your pizza out of the oven, and marvel at how it actually ended up looking like a normal pizza, kind of. The only major problem with the pizza can be summed up in one word: richness. Between the sausage drippings, the olive oil, the cheese, this pizza is a slick sumbitch. It has a great earthy taste, and the toppings are good, but the crust just couldn’t fight the oil, leaving the middle flimsy and soft. We mistook it for undercooked at first. Maybe it’s our own fault, and you should stick to a mere ¾ lb of sausage. Maybe pre-made pizza dough is a little more resilient than the recipe we got from the Mysterious Swim Man/Woman. Who can tell? It’s certainly edible. IT’s a real earthy pie, too. It tasted more refined than any pizza I’d ever had before. And I’ve had some swanky pizzas in my day.
But dig in and enjoy the result of your efforts. And, if you need a side dish, check out our next note, for enough pasta sauce to kill a mule.
3 tbsps olive oil (divided into 2 tbsps and 1 tbsp)
¾ lb hot Italian sausage, no casing
1 bunch Swiss Chard, chop ribs 1”, tear leaves.
Salt & Pepper
1 pound room temp pizza dough.
1/3 c grated Parmesan
1 tbsp Rosemary
1 c grated Fontina
1 c ricotta.
- Preheat oven to 450, and put rack in top third of oven. If you’re using a pizza stone, put it in as oven heats.
- Heat 2 tbsps olive oil over medium-high heat. Toss in the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces. Cook it for 4 minutes until the bottoms are browned. You can go longer, give them a general browning, if you’re really worried. Toss in the chard STEMS, toss the whole shebang, cooking for 2 minutes or so, until the chard is “crisp-tender”. Remove the meat and stems with a slotted spoon, putting them in a medium bowl.
- Let the pan cool until the fat and such is warm, then toss the leaves in the drippings, making sure to coat them. (This fat will let the leaves crisp up in the oven.) Hit them with salt and pepper, and toss in the same bowl.
- Coat your dough with remaining olive oil, stretch out. The original recipe called for an 18”x 12” oval. I went with a 14” circle. The oval goes onto a rimmed baking sheet, the circle goes on parchment paper. Salt and Pepper the dough, then sprinkle half the parmesan and rosemary, then the chard and sausage, then the fontina and ricotta (I just spooned blobs of ricotta out until the cup was empty.), and finish it with the remaining parmesan and rosemary.
- Bake for 18-22 minutes. You’ll want to rotate the baking sheet if you’re using that method. Then take her out, let it cool for 5 minutes, and dig in.