Summertime in February

Here on the east coast we’ve enjoyed a lovely, yet fleeting respite from the cold.  And although snow is already back in the forecast for tomorrow, why not enjoy these little gifts from nature as much as possible while you can?

So we soaked up the sun on the patio with some margherita pizza and mojitos, made from ingredients from our summer garden!  It may be February, but with the tomatoes, basil and mint I preserved last year, it can still taste like July.

Basic margherita pizza

So simple and elegant, marghertia pizza highlights all of summer’s perfect flavors — fresh tomatoes, basil, does it get any better?

While fresh tomatoes are nowhere to be found this time of year, we used the crushed tomatoes we canned this past summer — about as close as you can get to the real thing.  And though basil is a decidedly summer crop, I happily discovered my grocery store was selling little basil plants from a local greenhouse.  I picked one up and also supplemented with the basil I had frozen at the end of the summer.

My favorite pizza crust is the neo-neopolitan recipe described here — thin, delicious, and easy to get on and off the pizza stone. And of course, some high-quality fresh mozzarella is also essential.  Perhaps I’ll try my hand at making the cheese myself next time…

To assemble the pizza:
Brush the crust with olive oil (add crushed garlic to the olive oil for an especially amazing flavor).  Top with crushed tomatoes to your liking and toss into the oven for about eight to ten minutes.  Remove, add slices of fresh mozzarella and basil, and pop back in for another couple minutes, until the cheese is a bit melted and the basil has wilted some.

mmmmm.

Classic mojito

Who doesn’t like a mojito?  There’s just something about that combination of mint and lime that tastes so refreshing and clean.  One sip and I’m transported somewhere…warmer and care-free.

When my spearmint plant was on its last legs, I gathered all the leaves and made a basic mint-infused simple syrup.  It’s been sitting in my freezer since then, but I finally put it to good use!

The procedure for a simple syrup is:  combine one part water and one part granular sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and stir until dissolved.  That’s it!

To infuse with mint, remove the boiling pot of syrup from heat and stir in a large handful of mint leaves.  Cover and let steep for about 30 minutes.  Strain the leaves through a fine sieve and voilà, you’ve got minted simple syrup.  This would work with any type of herb or flavoring (such as cinnamon, cloves, basil, lemon, etc).It will keep in the fridge for about two weeks, or 9-10 months in the freezer.

The basic recipe for mojitos is:

Muddled spearmint leaves
1 part lime
2 parts syrup
3 parts rum
splash sparkling water

It is fairly important that you use spearmint and not peppermint; it will not taste quite like a mojito otherwise.  With a mint-infused syrup, you do not need the addition of spearmint leaves except as a garnish — they are pretty!

To assemble, crush some spearmint leaves (if using) in a glass.  Add 1 tablespoon lime juice, which is about 1/2 a lime.  Add 2 tablespoons syrup and 3 tablespoons rum.

Fill the glass with ice and then top off with sparkling water.

As always, adjust the amounts to taste — I like mine a little less sugary, so I use more like 1.5 tablespoons syrup.

Now just sit back and pretend you are in the Caribbean!  Even as the snow starts to fall again tonight…

-R

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