About a month ago (this post, like most of my posts recently, is long overdue--hey, it's summer!), Patrick and Willy came over for yet another one of our dinners. It so happened that at work at Food & Wine that day I picked up the July issue of the magazine, thumbed through it, and found about a million recipes I wanted to try. I settled, though, on one that sounded perfect for a hot, humid day: Za'atar Flatbreads with Cucumber-Yogurt Salad. Za'atar (or zatar), a Middle Eastern spice blend that usually contains crushed sumac, dried thyme, and sesame seeds, is one of my very favorite ingredients, but I had only ever eaten it in restaurants and had never before cooked with it. But, like they say, there's no time like the present--or, at this point, the recent past. I promptly dog-eared the recipe, and, on my lunch break, strode the few blocks over to the market in Grand Central and, more specifically, to the Penzey's Spices stall therein. I grabbed a bottle of zatar and was halfway to having dinner on the table.
Well, maybe not quite halfway. But the rest of the recipe was remarkably simple. When I got home from work, I stopped into Peppe's, one of the many respectable pizzerias in my neighborhood, and picked up a round of pizza dough for $3. At home, I pounded it out, oiled it, and slapped it on a very hot charcoal grill, spooning a mixture of zatar and olive oil on the side facing up. About 6 minutes later, we had hot, yeasty bread that was perfect for scooping up the verdant, cooling accompanying salad of cucumber, spinach and peas bound together with Greek-style yogurt:
To round out the vegetarian menu, I prepared another dish courtesy of Food & Wine: a green bean, roasted red pepper and cherry tomato salad that I had sampled in the test kitchen earlier that week. Brightened up with fresh thyme and basil from my garden and topped with crunchy, nutty toasted almonds, the salad perfectly rounded out the evening's menu:
I'd say everyone was pleased, particularly Willy:
Za'atar Flatbreads with Cucumber-Yogurt Salad
Adapted from foodandwine.com
All-purpose flour, for dusting
12 oz. prepared pizza dough, divided into 2 pieces
5 oz. baby spinach
1/2 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
1 cup peeled and finely diced cucumber
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tbsp. chopped mint
2 tbsp. chopped dill
2 tsp. minced garlic
One 17-oz. container Greek-style plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1/2 cup za’atar spice mix
1. Preheat the oven to 450° and place a pizza stone on the bottom rack to heat for 30 minutes. Alternatively, light a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill on high.
2. On a lightly floured work surface, flatten the pizza dough into two 9-inch rounds, about 1/4 inch thick; transfer to 2 well-floured pizza peels or inverted baking sheets. Let stand until slightly risen, 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, wilt the spinach with 1 tablespoon of water over high heat. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. Squeeze out the liquid and chop the spinach; transfer to a bowl. Add the peas and mash lightly with a fork. Stir in the cucumber, parsley, mint, dill and garlic. Add the yogurt, lemon juice and 2 tbsp. olive oil and stir to combine. Fold in the romaine and season with salt.
4. In a bowl, combine the za’atar with the remaining oil and a generous pinch of salt.
5. Shake the pizza peel a few times to loosen the dough. Dust flour under any areas that stick. Spread the za’atar oil over the dough. Slide the rounds onto the hot stone and bake for 10 minutes, until golden and crisp. To grill the flatbreads, oil one side lightly and flip that side onto the hot grill. Spread the za'atar oil over the side facing up. Grill for about 6 to 8 minutes.
6. Transfer the breads to a work surface and cut into wedges. Serve with the cucumber yogurt.
Green Bean, Roasted Red Pepper and Cherry Tomato Salad with Toasted Almonds
My improvised version of a Food & Wine test kitchen recipe
1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Lightly coat 2 red bell peppers in oil and place in the oven on a baking pan to roast until they are soft and their skins are blackened, turning occasionally, about 14 - 16 minutes. During the last few minutes of cooking, place a large handful of whole, preferably blanched almonds on a small baking pan and toast in the oven. Remove peppers from oven and place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a tight layer of plastic wrap and set aside to cool. Remove almonds from oven and set aside to cool.
2. Blanch one pound of trimmed green beans in a shallow pan of salted water until bright green and still crisp, about 4 - 6 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Place green beans in a large bowl.
3. When peppers are cool enough to handle, peel skin from them, open them up and remove their seeds. Slice peppers into strips and add them to the bowl with the green beans.
4. Cut one pint of cherry tomatoes into quarters or halve one pint of grape tomatoes. Add tomatoes to bowl.
5. Dress salad with a mixture of lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, to taste. Add generous handfuls of chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme and basil, and mix well.
6. Coarsely chop the almonds and sprinkle them over the salad. Divide between four plates and serve.