Kristy Wenz is a writer, entrepreneur, wine lover, experimental home cook and avid traveler. She blogs regularly at Eat Play Love, where she and her family explore cuisines and cultures around the globe.
Take It Outside
Happy June! For many of us, outdoor dining season has officially kicked off. The patio furniture is out, the grills are cleaned, and we’re set to enjoy all of summer’s enchantments. It’s a festive and social season full of local concerts, fairs, markets, backyard barbecues, road trips and weekend getaways. So this month at World Platter we’re going to focus on fresh, simple fare that can be prepared quickly at home or on the road, served to two or 10, is easy to enjoy outdoors and will pair perfectly with a wine from Virginia’s ever-expanding vineyards.
Wines were first produced in Virginia in the 17th century by early settlers; however, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the industry really took off. In the past 20 years, Virginia has seen tremendous growth in the wine industry, making it fifth in the nation for acreage and production. Producing wines primarily from Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Vidal Blanc and Viognier grapes, the region is booming with wine tourism and gaining a reputation for impressive wines. But grapes aren’t the only fruit to have European roots and Colonial history. Some sources say North American apple cultivation began in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia.
From European Roots to American Culture
Early settlers came to America unsure of what the land would offer by way of food for their families, so many came with seeds, cuttings or small plants from European stock. Apples in particular took well to North American soil and growing conditions, and by the end of the 17th century, some Virginia plantations had up to 10,000 apple trees. The cultivation of apples became big business and new varieties quickly emerged. In fact, according to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, by the 19th century the number of distinct apple varieties was near 14,000! While that number has significantly declined today, Virginia still ranks in the top 10 apple producing states with more than 100 commercial growers producing over five million bushels of apples per year. In fact, the spring/summer season kicks off in Virginia with the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, now in its 89th year, which attracts over a quarter million people every year.
Despite its European roots, when it comes to culture, few things are more closely associated with Americana than the apple. Their popularity grew right alongside our nation, spreading from Virginia and the Northeast all the way to the West Coast. Thanks Johnny Appleseed! Stop at any state fair this summer, and you’re sure to see dozens of apple pies and caramel apples. But while few things may be as American as apple pie, we’re going the savory route with this recipe, which, trust me, is much easier to pair with a variety of wines. So let’s get to it…
Simple Flatbread Prep
First you’ll need a pizza crust. Feel free to make your own, but since it’s out of season, we’re going quick and simple at the World Platter with store-bought, prepared dough. Brush the rolled out dough with olive oil and sprinkle it with French herbs. I like to pre-bake my pizza crust when topping it with cooked ingredients, as we’ll do here. It prevents the toppings from burning, while ensuring the crust bakes through. It also keeps the dough from getting soggy, making for that crisp, perfect flatbread texture.
As for our savory apple topping, we’re going to start with bacon because everything is better with bacon – apples in particular! The bacon is chopped and cooked in a skillet for five to eight minutes. Next we’ll add some sliced leeks for a simple, but more gourmet flare, that also pairs beautifully with apples. After about five more minutes, toss in apple slices and salt, then cover for a final two to three minutes. The apples should be soft, but also slightly crisp. When the apples are ready, spread the contents of the skillet over the pre-baked crust, top with some shredded white cheddar cheese (goat cheese would also pair well) and bake for a final five to eight minutes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can always grill the pizza, but I find the oven easier and it only bakes for 10-15 minutes.
A Perfect Summer Companion
When the cheese is melted and the crust a nice golden brown, remove the flatbread from the oven, slice and top with a handful of fresh arugula, which will lend a nice hint of pepper to the dish. The flatbread can be served hot or warm, but room temperature is also suitable. In other words, it’s a laid back and flexible recipe made for an easy summer afternoon. The crispy crust, salty bacon, subtle sweetness from the marriage of leek and apple, soft warmth of the cheddar, and peppery, slightly bitter bites of arugula will thrill your senses. It’s perfect as a light meal, snack or even appetizer. It will leave you satisfied, but not stuffed. And best of all, with such simple ingredients and preparation, it can easily be prepared at home, at the lake house, a cabin in the mountains or even prepared ahead to pack for the beach. As for the wine, the choice is yours! It’s hard to go wrong here – Chardonnay? Sure! A fruity, chilled summer rosé? Absolutely! You can even match a semi-dry red or Pinot Noir. As I said….laid back, just like we all should be this time of year. So here’s to long days, lazy afternoons, the sun on our skin and a splash of Virginia wine in our glasses. Cheers!
Apple, Bacon & Leek Flatbread
1 ready-made, uncooked pizza dough
1 T olive oil
1 t dried French herbs mix (or a blend of thyme, savory, rosemary and tarragon)
2-3 rashers of chopped bacon
1/2 of 1 leek – whites and light green, sliced in 1/4” slices
1 apple – sliced thin
1/2 t salt
1/4 c white cheddar, shredded
1 handful of arugula
Preheat the oven to 425F (or temperature indicated on the pizza dough package).
Roll the pizza crust into desired shape. Brush the olive oil over the crust and sprinkle with the French herbs. Bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until dough just turns golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the bacon over a medium-high heat for 5-8 minutes. Next add the leeks directly into the skillet with the bacon. Sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the apple slices and salt. Cover for 2-3 minutes. Remove lid and test apple – you’ll want them soft, but still slightly crisp.
When the apples are ready, remove the skillet from the heat and top pizza crust with contents from the skillet. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and bake for 5-8 minutes. Cheese should be melted and the crust golden brown.
Remove pizza from oven, slice and top with arugula before serving.