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Fig, Prosciutto, and Arugula Pizza

Can we all agree that the Harry Potter series is about the best thing since sliced bread (and while we’re at it, that sliced bread isn’t all that amazing)? The plot was fantastic, surreal, colorful, and riveting. The characters were fantastic. The series inspired this parody of “Fly Like a G6.” All in all, Harry Potter is superb.

For awhile, though (like for a decade, if I’m being honest), I wasn’t interested.

When the first few books came out and people at school loved them, I was skeptical. I thought, “You guys also freak out about, like, the Backstreet Boys, so I’ll be okay without your little trends, thanks.” (Sorry BSB fans — maybe it’ll make it better if I reveal that I secretly like this song).

Then people I respected started wearing round glasses and striped scarves to midnight premieres. That gave me pause, but I’d already made this proclamation about how I was way too savvy for silly fads, so I continued to snark and scoff. Harry Potter was probably lame! They were all just a little more impressionable than I’d given them credit for!

Eventually I realized something, though. If everyone insists the sky is blue and you’re the only one looking up and seeing hot pink, you might be wrong. Not always, mind you (there was that whole Twilight thing, and yes, I actually read the books before deciding they were awful this time), but usually. So I decided to flippin’ read Harry Potter already. But I didn’t get to it . . . and didn’t get to it . . .

Finally, the seventh book came out and all Harry-Potter-heck broke loose. Forget midnight premieres; people were dressed like Harry Potter at the midnight book release. When’s the last time people have lined up at midnight at a book store? Clearly, the awesomeness could not wait any longer. I borrowed all the books from my little brother and devoured them in no time flat.

And felt really dumb. Sorry, Harry Potter fanatics, that I ever doubted you.

I’ve gone through a similar transition with homemade pizza. I never considered it a fad, per se, and I knew it was probably good — but I just didn’t get to it. Okay, everyone was raving about their favorite toppings and how easy it was to slap a crust together and all that, but I just didn’t get to it. And okay, then everyone was grilling pizza and making dessert pizza and that sounded cool, but I just didn’t get to it.

And then one day I decided to throw my elementary school throwback picnic with a menu of updated childhood favorites, and I knew the time had come. And now I feel really dumb.

‘CAUSE HOMEMADE PIZZA IS AWESOME! This one, especially. I love Pioneer Woman’s crust dough, because you literally mix it up, throw it in the fridge, and forget about it for 3 or 4 days until you pull it out, stick some toppings on it, and bake. Speaking of toppings, these were the best of the best — a sweet fig jam, melty mozzarella, salty prosciutto, and a bunch of fresh, crisp, arugula piled right on top. It’s the Nimbus 2000 of pizza, y’all. Get to it!

P.S. I think I’d get sorted into Ravenclaw. How about you?

P.S. 2 – Starting Monday, I have a surprise for you! A week full of goodies. Just wait and see!

Fig, Prosciutto, and Arugula Pizza

Recipe by: adapted from Pioneer Woman
Yield: about 8 2-slice servings

Crust Ingredients:
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil
cornmeal for sprinkling

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons of fig jam (I just sort of eyeballed this)
kosher salt to taste
12 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
6 ounced prosciutto, sliced thin
a bunch of arugula
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan

*NOTE: this crust recipe makes 3 times the dough needed for this pizza — you can use it for other pizza recipes or just triple the toppings.

Sprinkle yeast over 1 1/2 cups of warm water. While the yeast foams for a few minutes, combine flour and salt in a mixer. Drizzle in olive oil with the mixer on low speed, until ingredients are combined. Pour in yeast mixture and mix until combined. Coat a medium mixing bowl with olive oil and plop the dough out into it. Cover this and put it in a draft-free area (like your closed oven) to rise for about an hour. Then scoop it out onto plastic wrap, wrap it up, and stick it in a ziplock bag (don’t skip this, because it will burst it’s plastic wrap). Throw it in the fridge (okay, or gently set it) for at least 24 hours, or (better yet) 3 or 4 days.

When you’re ready for pizza, preheat oven to 500 degrees (with a pizza stone in it, if you have one. I don’t, so I preheated mine with a pizza pan inside). On a sheet of parchment sprinkled with cornmeal, pat the dough out as thin as possible (using greased fingers). Drizzle the crust lightly with olive oil. Spread a thin (but not too thin) layer of fig jam all over the surface and sprinkle with kosher salt. Lay sliced mozzarella all over the pizza and sprinkle these slices lightly with kosher salt. Grind pepper over the pizza. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbling and gooey and oh dear.

Remove the pizza from the oven and lay the prosciutto all over it while it’s still hot. Right before you’re going to serve it, pile on cold arugula and sliced Parmesan. Cut into pieces and enjoy!

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Pretty Italian Pressed Sandwiches

Pressed —

— the air on East Bay Street was the wing of a pinned insect: dry and crisp, humming with vibrations (sound? wind?) as if still animate. The man approached us on the sidewalk with a swagger a few degrees too severe to be confidence, two hooks for hands, a face that blended into the darkness. Did we want to buy some flowers? My instinct was no-thank-you, but you uncrumpled a few dollar bills and suddenly we had a little bouquet: a peach rose haloed in anonymous blue blooms and holly berries, with the stems wrapped in tin foil.

We were still cynical in the darkness — were the hooks real? a ploy for sympathy? Later I unwrapped the bouquet to put the flowers in a plastic soda bottle filled with water from the hotel sink, and we saw the tears from the hooks in the tinfoil. Eight years later, the flowers are pressed in a bag in the back of my closet somewhere I won’t happen upon them and be injured.

Pressed —

— a late September night when I was five, when summer hadn’t yet given up the ghost. Both my mother and father were both at work. My sisters and I knew that the weather was growing more sinister. What warned us? Was it the lightning? A phone call from my halo-haired mother at the hospital? A screeching report on the news? I don’t remember, but I remember the odd mix of fear and excitement as we realized a hurricane was coming.

I had vague notions about what to do in severe weather — something about getting on your knees in a school hallway, building a fortress for your vital organs with your spine, your little hands crossed over your head. Or something about being in a basement, which we didn’t have, or in a room without windows, or was it mirrors, or was it both? The hall closet in the center of the first floor housed a hot water heater I felt sure would burst and boil us all in the middle of the storm.

My sisters conferred and decided we would take shelter under the daybed in their room, nevermind that it was upstairs and nevermind that my scrawny five-year-old arms could’ve probably lifted it. Suddenly, their clutches were on me and I was being pushed, prodded, pressed under the bed — the first one under, destined to be pinned in by the wall in front of me and both of their bodies behind me.

As I felt myself being entombed by the bed frame, a bag of bricks settled on my lungs and thick claustrophobia blanketed my esophagus — suddenly I was clawing, kicking, screeching. After a few moments of intense struggle, my battered sisters gave me up for lost and climbed under the bed themselves, probably vowing to kill me themselves if the hurricane left me unscathed. I ran into the living room with a rebellious heart, opened the blinds, and stood in front of the window as if it were a movie screen, watching the weather bend the city.

Pressed —

— the crush as I fell off the end of the slide into the dirt, the crunch as the boy behind me brought his heavy shoe down on my nose, the splatter of blood on the hopscotch court and on my pink nylon windbreaker —

Pressed —

— full body weight on bone, a long night of pain, the eventual sling, the osteal memory: an ache along a marrow corridor.

— the pressure of “using the body to eliminate the body,” the weight of no weight, the bottomless glass of chocolate milk that was the road out.

— my hands pressed under the tiny basil plant, ensuring his baby roots made contact with the new soil beneath.

— freshly made ricotta cheese unceremoniously hanged in cheesecloth, mass and gravity pressing the extra water out toward the center of the Earth,

— a new cast-iron skillet placed on top of the wrapped sandwich and then, when the weight still seemed too slight, a cast iron grill pan added as well. The mass of cast-iron compressing the thick, crusty ciabatta down into a rainbow of provolone, salami, roasted peppers. The pesto negotiating a seductive path through the bread’s caverns.

What are your memories of pressure?

Pretty Italian Pressed Sandwiches

Recipe by: adapted from The Cilantropist
Yields: about 5 servings

1 loaf ciabatta bread
roasted red peppers or tomatoes
sliced hot salamis
sliced provolone cheese
fresh or deli pesto
fresh basil leaves

Note: Make this sandwich a day in advance so it has time to press, but don’t leave it for much longer or it will get soggy. When adding each ingredient layer to the sandwich, your goal should be to ensure there’s complete coverage of the previous layer so that when you cut your sandwiches, the colors will be distinct and complete, with no gaps.

Use a long serrated knife to slice the loaf of ciabatta lengthwise. Spread on a thin layer of pesto (don’t saturate the bread) and then lay out a layer of roasted peppers or tomatoes. Next, add about 3 layers of salami (overlapping slices) and a thick layer of cheese on top of that. Top with a layer of fresh basil leaves. Spread more pesto on the top slice of ciabatta and settle it on top of the sandwich. Wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate with a weight on top — I used a cast-iron skillet and a cast-iron grill pan. When ready to serve, use a serrated knife to slice into pretty squares.

P.S. This recipe was part of my elementary school throwback picnic! Visit that post to see more picnicky fun.

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Red, White, and FOOD!

Here are some Willow Bird recipes that are perfect for your 4th of July celebration! If I had to tell you just one thing you have to make in order to fully enjoy all the fireworks and summer heat, it’d be the Old-fashioned Burger Stand Burgers. Everything else is delicious, too, but I’m craving one of those tender, thin, salty, juicy, tangy burgers right this second! And it doesn’t get much cuter than the printable fry pouches and checkered trays.

Old-fashioned Burger Stand Burgers with Easy Fries (and cute pouch/tray printables!)

Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles

Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies

Deconstructed Pizza Bites

Pretzel Dogs

Red Berry Pie

Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade

Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade

Stay tuned later this week for a cute party banner that you can make with minimal effort and about $8. I made the whole thing while watching America’s Got Talent, so it obviously doesn’t take much concentration, either! Happy eating!

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