The Recipe that made me human
I created the Flank Steak Mushroom Pizza with Gorgonzola Cheese on a date night with my boyfriend. When we first started dating, I was starting at a new job and teaching yoga at two different studios. Very busy. My goal was to spend time with Craig, even though I didn't have much to spare. Craig suggested preparing a meal for me or, better yet, for us to make it together. I agreed; after all, my favorite thing to do is to cook.
Craig's first option was a recipe he has wanted to do for a little while, Coq au vin. We discussed the method over the phone. As much as I wanted to do that recipe, the thought of coming home from work and making a time-consuming recipe tired me even more, sorry Craig. I suggested a homemade pizza instead. We decided to go grocery shopping together for the items needed to add more time together. I had never gone grocery shopping as part of a date. I found the experience to be quite enlightening. We were able to take time to talk about our likes and dislikes in matters of food, from tomato sauce to blue cheese. It broke the ice and relaxed us after a busy day at work. The new job I had just started was at a restaurant's kitchen, which is mentally stressful and physically demanding. To have the time with Craig to relax before cooking was perfect.
Let the cooking begin . . .
We got home and divided the ingredients among ourselves. Craig not only enjoys eating good food, but he also loves to cook. Although he always plays his skills down, Craig is a great cook. His eagerness to learn new things and techniques has inspired and refueled my passion for cooking. We went through the process for the pizza and divided the ingredients. I highly recommend prepping for this recipe before assembly, only because it can go fast once you begin, it was time to start spinning the dough. Here is where Craig became concerned.
No, I do not throw the dough up in the air. I use a mixture of flour, panko, and cornmeal to spin the dough on the table. I use both hands to turn the dough in a fanning motion. Meaning that I start with my fingers closed together, and as I press down, I rotate the hands outwards while spreading my fingers apart.
The flour works as a lubricant because it helps the dough move on the table. The panko and cornmeal work as a grinder, making small cuts to the dough, which allows the dough to spread outward. The cornmeal/panko also helps keep the dough thin, like forking a pie dough before you pre-bake it. If this method is not for you, skip the panko and cornmeal. Flour the table and dust the dough, and use a rolling pin.
A pizza with a twist
I normally like to make this pizza on the grill. If you would like to do it this way read on. Once you have your dough at the desired size, transfer it onto a sheet pan and grilled it. You want to create marks but not cook them thoroughly. I only used the oven the last time I made this recipe. We had not used the grill since Craig's move to my place, so I skipped the grill part. The reason I like the grilling step is that it gives the pizza a brick oven taste.
Now that the pizza has its grill marks, we grilled the flank steak. I prefer to grill the steak to medium-rare for a few reasons. When I eat beef, which is on a rare occasion, I like my beef cooked medium-rare. At Medium-rare, the cuts are juicier, the seasonings mingle with the sweetness of the meat, and the meat is tender. I also like medium rare for the pizza application, because the pizza still must go into the oven. After the meat rests and goes back to the oven, I am looking at a medium well cut of beef. Cooking the meat before putting it on the pizza will make the meat dry by the time the pizza is done.
Topping for the pizza
Once you decide which temperature you will cook your flank steak, allow it to rest. Here is why this is a great date night recipe. Since we are letting the meat rest, Craig had poured us some wine. We talked about how I don't really drink and how wine is not his go-to choice for liquid accompaniment. We laughed and continued cooking together. He cut the mushrooms while I started the balsamic reduction.
For the balsamic reduction, we took about half a bottle of Balsamic vinegar and simmered it until reduced by half. You will see the marks of vinegar on the side of the pot as the vinegar reduces. Another way is to take a spoon and dip it in the vinegar. Pull the spoon out and wipe your finger across the back of the spoon. If the area of the spoon that is clean stays clean and the top portion does not run down, then the vinegar is thick enough. Once the vinegar is ready, move aside and remove from the heat.
For the mushrooms, pre-sliced mushrooms are great. I bought whole mushrooms to show off my knife skills, which I did by showing Craig how fast I can slice mushrooms. Saute mushrooms at medium heat. Add about a teaspoon of olive oil, let warm but not smoke. Add mushrooms. Here is where patience is tested. The mushrooms will go through different stages. They will soften up and release liquid, and some people might consider them cooked. To fully get all of the mushroom's flavors, sauté them until all the liquid is gone. The mushrooms will shrink and darken. Do not add anything to the mushrooms until all liquid is released and gone. Then, add a pinch of salt and pepper. I love garlic, so I would add garlic and some fresh basil if possible. Allow to cook for another minute and then set aside.
Not too much not too little
I prefer a garlic/oil base to most of my homemade pizzas. For this pizza, it was no exception. The other option I prefer is to add canned diced tomatoes instead of pizza sauce. Let me clarify, there is nothing wrong with pizza sauce. When I order pizza, it comes with pizza sauce. But if I am going to make my own, I want something different. We brushed the pizza with oil and crushed garlic. Feel free to at crushed red pepper flakes too.
Then we cut the flank steak into thin strips. Again, it is a pizza, and the meat should break off as you bite it. Place strips on the pizza. You can make it as meaty as you want, but it was one of our first date nights, so I was not too liberal with the steak. I did cover most of the crust because I like to have some steak with every bite. Topped it with the mushrooms. I have added caramelized onions to the date pizza but not on the one I recently made, only because I forgot. Same with fresh Arugula, which would go at the end as the pizza is pulled out of the oven.
A personal note
Here is a tidbit on flavor layering and placement. The flank steak, although it is not from a wild animal, it still has a gamy feel to it, most meats do. Wild game is more pronounced in them because of what they eat and how they live, but the gamy flavor comes from the meat. The mushrooms accentuate these flavors with their nuttiness and woodiness. The blue cheese or Gorgonzola will also emphasize some of the similar tones but will add a creaminess and saltiness to the palate. I prefer Gorgonzola, it is creamier. Caramelized onions and balsamic reduction add sweetness while Arugula will cut through the heaviness of all the essential ingredients with its sharp, bitter mustard flavor.
On the whole, you have a dish that covers most of the taste palate; sweet, salty, pungent, and fat. There is an excellent show on Netflix that includes these tastes, very fascinating. Its titled Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. When the flavors are covered, there is a fullness to the dish and a sensation of satiation when consumed. An overall feel good. Not one taste is overpowered.
Burn, baby burn . . .
Back to the date. I added all of my ingredients. Reserving the Arugula and balsamic reduction for last. Unfortunately, instead of putting the pizza in the oven to finish, I wanted to give it the brick oven feel by completing it on the grill. I turned the grill too low and put the pizza in. Can you guess what happened next? I burned the pizza!!! All of my showing off down the drain. I laughed it off, really I did. I was more embarrassed than anything. Still, an excellent cure to embarrassment is laughing at yourself first, and so I did. The pizza burned at the bottom only, and the top was still good to eat. Oh, I forgot to mention, this is also the first time I meet Craig's daughter. She was not there for the cooking, she was busy working in a different room, but she sure could smell the burnt pie.
Not Bad after all
Anyway, we still drizzled the pizza with balsamic reduction and picked off the toppings off the dough. Craig had a frozen pizza, and he popped that in the oven, and we ate my amazing pizza toppings as an appetizer.
We are doing the dishes, and I confessed to Craig how embarrassed and sorry I am for burning the pizza. He told me that burning the pizza was the best thing to happen because of my culinary background. Burning the pizza made me human to him. It shattered the ice of sorts. We started sharing our past kitchen fails. How nervous we both were and meeting his daughter. I wanted to create a great impression. After charring the pizza, my hopes for that impression were pretty much none existent. Burning the pizza led us to be able just to be ourselves without pretentiousness. We were able to show ourselves the people we were and not who we wanted others to believe we were.
I have made the Flank Steak Mushroom Pizza many times since, and every time I claim redemption. I might adjust the ingredients here and there. Still, this pizza is by far my favorite, not just because it tastes delicious but because it made me human.Print