It just so happens that two people, especially important people to me, are far away right now. One will be back soon enough, soon I'll be able to count down to their arrival on the fingers to one hand. But the other, well, for her return I would have to count all my fingers and my all toes many times over before the day comes that I can give her a proper hug.

That return feels every bit as far away as it is.

In the meantime, I'm keeping the wistful glances at the calendar at minimum by keeping occupied with the imagined agendas of that homecoming. I'm squirreling anecdotes and stories away in the back of my mind, ready and witty, for the conversations that we'll have.

This dearest friend is also with me in the kitchen, or at least her influence was, when I was making this baked ricotta today. Light but with a gentle creaminess, dotted with pretty green bits of herbs and zingy with lemon, it reminds me of so many meals we've shared over the years of our friendship. On a plate between us, a meal that doesn't mind if it's forgotten when the gossip gets really good.

You'll know this is for you when you read it, so I promise that when you're home I'll make it for you - don't worry, I'll leave out the chili. We'll eat it with garlic-scrubbed shingles of grilled bread, drink something sparkling and catch up.

It will be the best time. Keep safe until then. Hugs to you.

SAVOURY BAKED RICOTTA

In testing for doneness, the cheese should not be completely dry in the middle. Similar to baking a cheesecake, the ricotta will swell slightly and retain a lazy wobble when set. As it cools, it will firm up some more, so keep that in mind while baking. Individual rounds can be made in muffin tins, and are pretty platemates to a simple salad.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 garlic clove, a fat and juicy one is best
  • Olive oil for greasing the dish
  • 8 ounces fresh whole milk ricotta
  • 1/4 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons minced mixed fresh herbs, I used (in order of most to least) chives, parsley, thyme
  • Zest from half a lemon
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes or minced red chili (optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg white, lightly whisked

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Cut the garlic clove in half horizontally and rub the cut sides against the interior of a 1-cup capacity ramekin. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the inside of the dish with oil. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, Grana Padano, herbs, lemon zest and chili (if using). Taste, then season with kosher salt and black pepper. Stir in the whisked egg white. Spoon the ricotta mixture into the prepared ramekin and place on a baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cheese is puffed and almost set in the centre, and beginning to brown in spots, around 35 minutes depending on the dimensions of your ramekin. Remove from the oven and cool at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Serve either in the dish or run a knife around the edge of the cheese and invert onto a serving plate with crackers or bread alongside. And maybe some wine too. Surely one with bubbles. Best warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 baked round, serving 4.

I am simply without the words to express my feelings for those who won't be coming home after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. My heart breaks for those left behind.

If you are able, please consider giving to aid organizations working to help rebuild. Yele Haiti, Médecins Sans Frontières , UNICEF and CARE and are just some of the many organizations working tirelessly on behalf of those who need it most right now.

Julie is also spearheading a project to bring together food bloggers to raise funds; I'll share more details as they come, but read the announcement of Blog Aid here.

The Canadian government has committed to matching Canadian donations, dollar for dollar, towards the relief effort and I hope we take full advantage of their promise.

November. It's been here for twelve days already, and I've yet to give it the appropriate welcome.

You'll find it standing just outside my door, arms laden with luggage full of fallen leaves most likely, softly tap-tap-tapping its foot as its waits with reserved impatience. Inside I'm running around frantically, with my hair in rollers and dirty dishes in the sink, not yet ready for its visit.

Those dirty dishes were for good reason I assure you, I've been making apple tartlets. Not just sweet but savoury-ish, with a mound of goat's cheese the tuffet for thin slices of apple, enamelled bronze by thyme-infused honey. They are mostly a task of assemblage, with little to do but cut, stack, brush and bake, but the opportunity to get out a rolling pin makes it seems as though you've done a some cooking. A fine dusting of flour across the hands always makes me feel I've been productive.

The tartlets came from the oven raised grandly at the edges, such is the miracle that is puff pastry. The layers of apple were curled and tanned lightly at their tips, finally adorned with ivory petals of Grana Padano. Though I'd intended something autumnal in spirit, this was almost downright festive. November, consider yourself greeted.

We tucked into these for a mid-afternoon snack, as is, full stop. Nothing more was needed. But if you were so moved, a crunchy pile of lightly-dressed bitter greens would be suggested my addition alongside.

But then, that would mean more dishes.

APPLE AND GOAT'S CHEESE TARTS WITH HONEY

A more savoury spin on a recipe from Bon Appetit. Even though I have scaled back the original quantities of honey and butter, I still had more than enough - in fact, there was an excess. If I had to offer a guess, I would think that 1/3 cup of honey and 1 tablespoon of butter would suffice, but I have included generous quantities below in the case of the desire of a more luscious result.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package of frozen puff pastry (2 blocks or 2 sheets), thawed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup dark honey, divided
  • 2-3 small thyme sprigs, plus more for garnish
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (around 4 ounces) fresh goat's cheese at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or white balsamic
  • 3 small Empire apples
  • shaved Grana Padano to serve

METHOD

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. If not ready-rolled, roll out the puff pastry block to a 9-inch square on a lightly-floured work surface. Use a 4-inch cookie cutter or ring to cut 4 rounds and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the second block, cutting 8 rounds total. Using the blunt end of a 3-inch cutter firmly press into each round, without going through, to form a border. Freeze for at least 30 minutes to firm up.

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C). In a small saucepan over low heat, start to melt the butter. Once it's about halfway there, add 1/2 of the honey, the thyme sprigs and a pinch of salt. Stir gently until all the butter has melted and the honey is warm. Remove from the heat and leave the honey to steep while you get everything else ready.

In a small bowl, stir together the goat's cheese and the vinegar, seasoning again with a pinch of salt. Peel, halve and core the apples, then cut into 1/8-inch slices. Remove the chilled pastry from the freezer and use an offset spatula to spread a scant 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture within the demarcated border. Top the cheese with a stack of apple slices. Brush the honey butter mixture over the apples and sparingly on pastry edge.

Bake in the preheated oven until the apples are soft and the pastry is golden and puffed, around 30 minutes. To serve, drizzle the tartlets with the reserved honey, the shaved Grana Padano, and some picked thyme leaves. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8.

Notes:

• In the photograph, I toasted a meager 4 or 5 pecans and (as my Grandmother would say) "bashed the blazes out of them" for a final, crunchy flourish. They're not essential, but make a fine addition. Walnuts would be tasty too. If you have them on hand, bash away.

• Although I have not tried it, I am tempted to substitute a blue cheese for the goat's cheese, omitting the vinegar.

When Sean and I were considering menus for this weekend, I gave him the declaration of "I feel like something Labour Day-ish" as my input into the proceedings. I always try to be helpful.

My description may have been cryptic, but it was the best that I could do. It is the last long weekend of summer, and no matter how we'd felt the week preceding, I wanted to take full advantage. I wanted summer sent on its merry way with every bit of its deserved fanfare.

And so we're laden with corn to be husked, peaches for pies and tomatoes (from our garden!) for jam. We're thinking of burgers and coleslaw and drinks so cold that they send shivers down your spine.

But even hours before a grill was lit, our celebrations were well underway.

You see, my Monday through Friday breakfast is merrily unvaried. Lately, with the day starting cooler, I chat with the boys over a bowl of steel cut oats, drowned with extra milk, finished with a palmful each of granola, pepitas and blueberries. It's filling and simple, and I like it that way.

However yesterday morning, instead of reaching for the oats I built towers of buttermilk pancakes. And then to begin today, we made something equally special.

Clearly, I define Labour Day weekend not by barbecues, but by breakfasts.

I am wary to christen these early meals brunch, for all its connotations of rubberized omelets and Hollandaise gone awry. But Saturday or Sunday breakfast, enjoyed with leisure, now there is a meal I can get enthusiastic about.Without the hustle to get everyone ready or out the door, we have the luxury of moving without haste. A long weekend's hours before noon, why, that's the time to revel inactivity.

Before I continue, I know what you're thinking. "Hold up here. Your discourse is all well and good, but that photo looks like Brussels sprouts. For breakfast? And this is supposed to be festive?"

I promise you, these sprouts feel fancy. And I'd be happy with them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Elevenses and tea, too.

These are not those grayed-out and useless Brussels sprouts, boiled within a moment of their lives and then left in their misery on cafeteria steam trays. These were shredded whisper-thin, jade and emerald strands wilted only barely by a warm slurry of bacon and sweet shallots. A slice of country bread charred in black tiger stripes by a grill pan, was tucked under the salad - but not before a smear of blue cheese had its opportunity to melt into its cragged surface.

The crowning touch to the plate was a simple egg, fried in butter and with frizzled, brown tips, its yolk still soft and lazy. Broken open, the yellowness provided sauce for all, its fat the vehicle for the aromatic notes of the cheese and opposition to the twang of vinegar.

Tomorrow morning is the last morning of the last long weekend of summer, and I'm planning my finale. I'm might even break out the water goblets.

Good times.

EGGS WITH SHAVED BRUSSELS SPROUT SALAD

Once the Brussels sprouts are in the pan, the cooking should take only 2-3 minutes to prepare - at most. The sprouts are treated as a warm salad rather than a cooked vegetable; their raw edge is tempered, but their crunch should not be completely lost.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, cleaned of their tough outer leaves
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons Gorgonzola Dolce, at room temperature
  • 4 thick slices peasant bread
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • Butter or oil for frying eggs

METHOD

Using a mandoline or the slicing blade of a food processor, slice the Brussels sprouts finely. Toss through with fingers to separate into strands.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp - but not terminally so. You want crunch, but not bacon bits. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels. Reserve around 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in the pan, discarding any excess.

With the pan still on medium heat, sauté the shallots for 30 seconds or so, stirring constantly. You want them translucent, but not scorched. Add the prepared sprouts, tossing them through the shallots and bacon drippings. Season sparingly with salt and pepper. Once coated, it should only take a few seconds, deglaze the pan with the vinegar, scraping up any sticky brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Continue tossing the sprouts until they are brightly coloured and barely cooked. Remove from the pan immediately, stir in the reserved bacon, and check for seasoning. Set aside.

Meanwhile, toast the bread slices on a grill pan or toaster. Spread 1 tablespoon of Gorgonzola on each. Top with 1/4 of the Brussels sprouts.

Fry the eggs at the last minute to your liking, my suggestion is with the whites set and the yolks still quite soft. (Season with salt and pepper while cooking.)

Top the salad with the eggs and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Notes:

• The sherry vinegar can be substituted with white balsamic. For those wary of blue cheeses, Gorgonzola is on the milder side of the spectrum. If you would like an even more subtle blue cheese, I would recommend Cambozola, a cross between a Camembert and Gorgozonla - it also sometimes known as Blue Brie.

• If you prefer your Brussels sprouts softer, add a tablespoon or two of water (or chicken stock) to the pan with the vinegar to give them a quick steam. Keep stirring the vegetables until the additional liquid has evaporated.

As a child of the 1980s, I have a deep affection for that era of roller skate - the ones with four wheels and the bright red, eraser-like stopper attached to the toe. I spent many an hour touring the neighbourhood in my skates, confident as can be.

Flash forward 20 years later and you can imagine my trepidation when my dear Sean strapped brand new rollerblades on me and assumed I would be steady on my feet. Facing the downhill slope of a rather steep hill, little did he expect the athletic debacle that would follow.

To make a long story short, I ricocheted off of a fence once or twice on my way down. Since then if faced with the slightest of declines, I am happy to veer off the road, sit myself down in the grass and watch the world roll by.

In this case I am all too happy to indulge my cowardice.

But one arena in which I have rarely shown fear has been the kitchen. Whether it was youthful exuberance or sheer naive ego, I would be hard pressed to remember a recipe that I have shied away from due to lack of experience. I will either place my confidence in quality of the recipe or in my own common sense, and then pray for the best.

That is not to say that errors have not been made; I could tell stories of some spectacular culinary failures that culminated in me laughing and crying all at once, as I reached for the phone to order takeout. But for whatever reason, these catastrophes have never fazed me. A simple shrug of the shoulder later, a wipe down of the counters and I am usually ready to tackle my next attempt.

It was with this touch of hubris that I made my first soufflé. Not smart enough to heed the many horror stories of fallen hopes, I happily whipped, folded and baked my way to airy perfection. Maybe it was assuredness that was the secret of my success. Maybe it was my assumption that all will be well was what made it so. Since that triumph, I have never looked back; both savoury and sweet offerings have graced our table. I have fallen in love with soufflés, with their luscious eggy density and slightly tender belly.

This corn and cheddar version has been a favourite since first taste. With a subtle background heat playing off of the sweetness of fresh corn, it is a wonderful balance of flavours for a light summer supper. The procedure is surprisingly simple and forgiving; stir the roux patiently, do not overwhip your egg whites, fold the batter gently. Bake until set without peeking in the oven, and your bravery will be rewarded with awe at the table. Who needs a greater ego-boost than that?

Sweet corn and white cheddar soufflé, with herbs and chili

Ingredients
Kernels from 2 ears of fresh corn
1 medium onion or 2 large shallots, cut into small dice
1 small red chili, finely minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the ramekins
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, separated
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup grated aged white cheddar
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (coriander)

Preheat oven 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease four 3/4 cup capacity ramekins with butter, then coat with Parmesan.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of the butter. Add the corn, onion and chili and cook, stirring, until the corn is tender and the onion is translucent. Remove the vegetables to a small bowl and set aside to cool.

In the same pan over medium low heat, melt the remaining butter. Whisk in the flour, cayenne and nutmeg, then cook this mixture for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to combine. Continue to cook, for about 3 minutes, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Turn off the heat, whisk in egg yolks, cheddar, remaining Parmesan and herbs. Stir in the corn and vegetable mixture. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff (but not dry) peaks. Using a spatula, fold one third of the egg whites into the soufflé base. Continue to fold each third in, only until just combined.

Divide the soufflé batter among the four prepared ramekins. Sprinkle with additional finely grated cheddar or Parmesan, if desired.

Gently place ramekins into a roasting pan or large casserole dish. Fill the pan with water from a recently-boiled kettle, until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, until crowned and golden.

Serve immediately, makes 4.

Notes:

• For a more impressive crown to your soufflé, rather than one that will just coyly peek over the edge of the dish as seen here, use a slightly smaller ramekin.
• When folding in the egg whites, I usually let a few streaks of white to remain for my first two additions as I know those will dissipate with the last addition. This allowance will prevent you from overworking the batter and deflating the volume.

I have come to embrace the fact that I'm a creature of habit. As such, I revel in my Pavlovian-impulse to make a beeline for a patio once the warm weather hits. In my mind, there is little better than some nibbles and sips under the sun during those muggy months of summertime. Conversation flows as evenings give way to starry nights that stretch on endlessly.

The only drawback to this tendency is that I only associate the al fresco lifestyle with restaurant dining. Save for a few backyard barbecues and poolside afternoons, I rarely eat outside at home - or at least, until recently.

It was most likely that coffee one morning, enjoyed on the back patio, that made me realize how much a simple change in environment altered the feel of the meal. All of a sudden, my morning cup seemed more of a treat than a ritual. It was as if I was on holiday, as my pace turned leisurely and I began to take notice of the trees above me and the birds all around.

Since then, we've been having our meals outdoors at every chance. Not just those meals prepared outside, but even those made in the kitchen are piled up onto a trays and taken to the patio, the deck or even to the porch step. Somehow, these meals feel an event; inherently festive as we all come together under a canopy of leaves.

Fitting for our verdant surroundings, this salad is full of vibrant colours and tastes. The red onion loses much of its harsh edge in a quick pickle of fragrant puckery vinegar, while jammy sundried tomatoes add another acidic but sweet note. They tumble together with meaty chickpeas and salty feta in a garlic vinaigrette, blanketed by a green shower of herbs. Twangy, sweet, creamy and satisfying, this is the sort of salad that is meant to be put in the middle of the table, allowing everyone to dive in.

Chickpea salad with sundried tomatoes, feta and a fistful of herbs
My own recipe. The fistful of herbs is literal; I head outside to our herb boxes and pick whatever needs pruning or strikes my fancy. Once I have a fistful, I know I have enough. One caveat, I have small hands.

Ingredients
1/4 large red onion, sliced wafer thin
2 tablespoons (30 ml) red wine vinegar
Salt
6 tablespoons (90 ml) olive oil
A good pinch, about 1/8 teaspoon, red chili flakes (optional)
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced wafer thin
8 sundried tomatoes, julienned
2 cups (500 ml) chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 teaspoon (15 ml) English mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
Approximately 1/2 cup (125 ml) of mixed herbs; examples include parsely, lemon thyme, coriander/cilantro, basil, oregano and mint
5 ounces (150 g) goats milk feta cheese

In a small bowl, douse the red onion with the vinegar. Sprinkle over a good pinch of salt, then use your fingers to squish the mixture a bit - this will work the salt into the onions and expedite the breaking down of their acrid bite. Set aside.

In medium saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil, garlic and red chili flakes. If there is any sizzle at all, turn the heat to low. Once the oil is fragrant and the garlic turns translucent, turn off the heat. Add the sundried tomatoes and chickpeas at this point, allowing them to steep as the oil comes to room temperature. This step of bathing the chickpeas in the warm oil is wholly optional, but I feel it imparts more flavour into the beans.

Once the oil has cooled, remove the tomatoes and chickpeas from the saucepan and put them into a large bowl (keep the oil, set it aside). Do the same with the onions, adding them to the salad but reserving the vinegar.

In that vinegar bowl, whisk in the mustard, salt and pepper. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the steeped olive oil. Once the vinaigrette is emulsified and thick, coarsely chop the herbs and add to the bowl. Pour this dressing over the chickpeas and tomatoes. Toss to combine.

Crumble over the feta, then fold gently to distribute. Check for seasoning. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours for the flavours to combine. Can be served cold or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6.

Notes:

• Canned chickpeas are a convenient pantry staple, but dried beans (soaked, then cooked) will result in a better texture and are my preference.
• To make this a heartier meal, add chunks of grilled steak or chicken when combining the chickpeas and onions.
• Toss through some handfuls of arugula or other greens, then pile the salad onto slices of grilled bread for an appetizer.
• I have been toying with the idea of buzzing this salad in the food processor (with additional olive oil or maybe yogurt as needed) to make a spread. I'll report back on that - but if anyone tries it first, let me know.

While it is lovely when expectations are met, the greatest performances are sometimes those that are stumbled upon and steal the show entirely.

To more succinct in this particular case, stumbled upon means came home in our grocery bag.

I had intended to make something to satiate a craving for smoked salmon. I had decided upon a sandwich. I had thought I would thinly slice some red onion, sprinkle over some capers and be done with it.

But then the tomatoes arrived; Sean had gone to the store for provisions, and came back with some of the most gorgeous little beauties from the market. Golden yellow, sunset orange and robustly red, the pint of mixed varietals demanded the spotlight.

Their delicate scent courted centre-stage status; a paltry sandwich seemed too gauche for their charms. And so, the smoked salmon was relegated to the chorus line, providing the backdrop to a tomato salad-crowned tartine.

Like any good production, this light lunch offers a play of dramatic contrasts. Heavily silken folds of salmon are undercut with the twang of fresh chèvre and astringent lemon. Juicy tomatoes rendezvous with their long-time companion sweet basil, and take a tumble with saline capers and spiky, fiery red onion.

While I refrained from a standing ovation, an encore is surely deserved.

Smoked salmon and tomato salad tartine
Please forgive my lack of truly specific quantities; you can treat the list as if each item includes the modifier "or thereabouts". This is one of those dishes for which personal taste is paramount. Choose the proportions that work with your taste to best balance the salty, sour and sweet elements.

Ingredients

For the tomato salad
1 1/2 cups small tomatoes (cherry, grape, strawberry), cut into halves or quarters
1/3 cup small diced red onion
2-3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
Basil, cut into chiffonade
Fresh parsley, minced
Lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sandwich
4 tablespoons cream cheese
4 tablespoons chèvre (unaged, fresh)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 slices country bread, or 2 slices halved if large
4-8 slices smoked salmon, depending on the size
Lemon juice, freshly squeezed

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the tomato salad. Toss gently and season with salt (judiciously) and pepper.

Combine the cream cheese, chèvre and Dijon mustard. Beat until fully-blended and light. Season with pepper.

Lightly toast bread slices under a preheated broiler.

Spread cheese mixture over bread. Top with sliced smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon juice. Pile tomato salad over all and enjoy.

Makes 4 pieces.

While there are is a place for purity and tradition, there are some moments (and foods) that will forgive a bit of artistic licence. In every life there are times when one must stand up for personal preference, give into craving and possibly bend a culinary rule or two to satiate the appetite. And what food presents the perfect canvas for such a creative expression? You need not look further than the not-so-humble pizza.

When my dear Sean and I first started setting up house, I quickly came to realise that not only did we have to become experts in the tactful delivery of “your lamp does not go with my couch,” and the art of paint selection, but we also had to be adept in the United Nations level-negotiation of what would grace the dinner table. The decision of what to eat would take greater diplomacy than interior design discussions ever would.

You see, while my dear Sean and I have similar palates, we there is a disparity to our cravings. Where I salivate over something decadent and chocolate, he will pick the apple pie. I truly dream about unctuous scrambled eggs, whereas Sean will be looking forward to pancakes. Neither finds the other's choices distasteful; we do like the same things, but we do not always want them at the same time.

Enter the great leveller - the pizza. Especially when made yourself, a pizza allows for your personal stamp; thin crust or thick, red sauce or white or none at all, meats or vegetables. It is the opportunity to create the perfect taste combination to suit, well, your tastes, no matter how capricious they might be.

This combination of salty ribbons of jamón and creamy ricotta, topped with a verdant tangle of peppery rocket, brings some of my cravings together. The citrus-spiked vinaigrette echoes the aromatic lemon thyme and cuts the richness of the cheeses. While I have provided a recipe, it is only a framework for your own creativity - I mean, who am I to say what the perfect slice to be?

Jamón and ricotta pizza with rocket salad
My own interpretation from many points of inspiration. This recipe makes four thin crust pizzas. If you prefer a doughier crust, make the bases smaller than directed. You will need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Ingredients

For the dough
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar (I heap this a bit)
1 cup lukewarm water
2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal, for dusting

For the toppings and salad
240 g mozzarella, sliced thinly
240 g fresh ricotta cheese
8 slices of Jamón (serrano or ibérico) or Prosciutto di Parma
3 fresh lemon thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Four handfuls of baby rocket (arugula) leaves
Juice from 1/2 lemon, approximately 2 scant tablespoons
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar (or thereabouts)
7-8 tablespoons olive oil, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and water. Set aside in a warm spot for 5 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and you begin to smell a musty, yeasty aroma.

In another bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture and olive oil. Using your well-floured hands or a wooden spoon, slowly incorporate the flour into the wet ingredients until a dough is formed. Adjust the amount of flour until the dough comes together into a clean ball (see note).

Turn out the dough on a lightly-floured surface and knead for 5-8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. To best test this, poke your finger into the ball of dough - if it springs back, it is ready. Divide the dough into four equal portions and lightly shape into balls. Either on the floured work surface or on a floured baking tray, cover the balls with a clean, damp tea towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

On a floured surface, flatten a ball of the dough with your fingers, then roll it out into a 22 cm - 25 cm round (between 9”-10”). Dust a pizza peel or a piece of parchment paper with cornmeal then place the round on top. Repeat with remaining balls of dough.

Preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F). Place a pizza stone, unglazed tiles or an overturned sheet pan in the oven and allow to preheat for at least 30 minutes.

Brush pizza bases with olive oil, if desired. Top with mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. Roughly tear the jamón into long strips and lay them among the cheese. Sprinkle over the lemon thyme sprigs and season with pepper. For added flavour, finish with another drizzle of olive oil.

Bake on preheated stone or sheet pan for 8-10 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette by whisking all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly. In a separate, medium sized bowl, toss the rocket with the amount of dressing you see fit. Personally, I like the dressing to be a bit scant; only glossing the leaves rather than weighing them down. If you have remaining vinaigrette, place in jar and store in the fridge - it should keep for a good week or so.

After the pizza is out of the oven and cooled a minute or so, top with the salad and serve immediately.

Makes 4 pizzas.

Notes:
• The dough sometimes requires up to an addtional 1/4 cup of flour to come together.
• I have chosen to add a slug of olive oil to the dough as I prefer my crust to have a bit of tooth but still tenderness. Omit this if you prefer a drier, cracker-llike crust.
• The slower the dough rises, the more improved the taste. While keeping my little swaddled dough babies out of drafts I do not put them in a particularly warm place either.
• I do not salt the pizza, as the dough has been well-seasoned and the tang of the vinaigrette will season the toppings enough.
• Alternatively, if you prefer a softer jamón: reserve the slices and bake as written with just the cheeses and lemon thyme. Top the pizza with the jamón once it is baked, then with the salad as directed.
• For a particularly bright tasting vinaigrette, include some finely grated lemon zest and some finely minced shallot.

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