Monday, July 6, 2009

What the Hell Is Amaranth?

What on earth is this stuff, I wonder. Asking around at my local co-op yields little help. The customer service person checks the Internet and blithely reports, "It's like spinach."

No it ain't, I grumble to myself, as I eye the shock of lurid magenta leaves in my refrigerator.

But I'm not daunted for long. I never met a vegetable I didn't like, and this punk rock spinach impostor is not going to get the best of me. I taste a raw leaf and find it earthy and bitter. Aha. A perfect companion for goat cheese. "I am going to make you into a pizza, little one," I tell the bunch of amaranth.

I'm happy with the result. The taste of amaranth is only vaguely reminiscent of spinach. It's got a bitter undertone, a minerally aftertaste, a flavor that approaches sweetness but shies away at the last minute. I'm hardly doing it justice. It's like if Swiss chard decided to take a Charles Atlas bodybuilding course. Like if spinach and beets finally stopped caring what their parents thought and ran away together to Morocco. Like if kale quit its $300K/yr job and joined an ashram instead.

Do try it.

Amaranth and Chevre Pizza

If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven while you preheat. If you don't have a pizza stone, then do the first part of the baking on a cookie sheet or pizza pan. Slip the crust off the pan, dress it, and put it right on the rack when you return it to the oven.

The crust:

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 package yeast
1/2 t salt

Mix these together. Add all at once:

2 T olive oil
1 cup tepid water (110 degrees F)

Stir together until it is dough. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let rise 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, assemble these things:

A sprinkling of cornmeal or semolina
1 bunch amaranth leaves
1 clove garlic*
1 scallion
1 small chevre (4 ounces is fine)
1-2 T olive oil
Salt and fresh-ground pepper

*I used mild, sweet uncured garlic because it was in the CSA box from Harmony Valley. If you use cured garlic, make it a small clove.

Wash the amaranth and steam it. I shook the water off and put it in a covered bowl in the microwave for 4 minutes, then let it sit another 4 minutes. Press out the excess liquid and chop roughly.

Slice the garlic as thinly as you can. Do the same for the scallion.

Mess up the cheese a little--just make it into chunks that will look pretty on the pizza crust.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

By now your dough should be ready. With floured hands, turn it out onto a floured surface and give it 6 or 10 quick kneads. Press or roll it about a quarter inch thick.

Sprinkle the cornmeal or semolina on your pizza stone, pan, or cookie sheet. Slip the crust onto the sprinkled sheet and bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven, brush the crust with half the olive oil, and dress it: cheese first, then amaranth, then garlic and scallions, then brush these with the rest of the oil. Sprinkle with salt and a grind or five of fresh black pepper. Return to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Let the pizza rest for a couple of minutes before cutting. Mangiamo!