Archive for the ‘cheese’ Category

Hosting a “boys’ weekend” at Saule, our rental home in Little Compton, Rhode Island  (Go to http://www.sauleri.com. We’re listing #4711871 Homeaway.com), I made this as a side dish to the piles of meats we devoured.

This is a salad you want to make now, while corn and tomatoes are still in season, but I’ve found that frozen organic corn and greenhouse tomatoes work pretty darn well.

 

 

 

2 lbs. fresh or frozen organic corn
1 container grape tomatoes, chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
6 oz. mild crumbled cheese, like cotija or feta
1 package (5 oz.) organic baby arugula
1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon capers, drained
2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 

If you’re using fresh corn, remove it from the ears, then pan saute it  in a little olive oil, but leave it nice and crisp. If you can roast the ears of corn over some coals, even better. If you’re using frozen corn, pan saute in a little olive oil. Set the corn aside to cool.

Mix the corn with all the other ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Right before serving, taste and season it again, mixing well. I think it’s best a little cooler than room temperature.

It’s National Cheese Pizza Day! If you want to know the measure of a truly great pizza, you gotta go bares bones and order a simple cheese pizza. It’s tough to hide behind a classic combination of dough, sauce and cheese. It either rocks or sucks.

There are few foods that people take as personally as pizza. Tell someone your pizza place is better than their pizza place, and chances are you’ll start a fight. Well, my pizza place is better than your pizza place, because I make it at home. Besides, I can run faster than you.

I’m not going to say that much of the pizza that I’ve tried here in Rhode Island is mediocre, but I will say that I was born in Brooklyn and grew up working in many New York pizza places in my youth. So yes, I do have a very strong opinion on what I think makes a good or bad pizza. And, alas, I’ve tried, but a good gluten-free pizza is not yet within reach. The frozen ones you get in stores are passable, but making one at home has been nothing short of a disaster.

My homemade pizza is all about the basics. The better quality my original ingredients are, the better my pizza will be:

 

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores,  or online. Ratios for this recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

4–5 cups 00 flour
1 cup tepid water
1 tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza yeast
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

I mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the water as it mixes. After the ingredients are well mixed, and the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, I remove it to a floured board, where I knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, shaping it into a ball. I rub a little olive oil over the ball of dough, place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 2 hours, punching it down after that, and letting it rise another 2 hours again.

The sauce…

I’ve written an earlier blog about real and fake cans of San Marzano tomatoes. I feel that San Marzanos make the best sauce, but not all cans of San Marzanos are created equal. The only way you can be guaranteed you have a real can of these beauties, grown in volcanic Italian soil in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, is by the D.O.P. designation on the can. (D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,” and signifies that it’s the real deal.) Anything else that says San Marzano may not be.

San Marzanos are so amazing, that all I do is puree them in a food processor, pour the sauce into a pan, and let it reduce until it has thickened. No spices or additions of any kind.

The cheese…

I don’t need to go super-fancy with mozzarella di bufala (cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo) …but I don’t use the mass-produced supermarket stuff, either. Fresh mozzarella, found in most supermarkets, is the way to go.

The toppings…

Since we’re talking National Cheese Pizza Day, it’s a no topping day.

But my signature pizza that wows my dinner guests is my marinated beef tenderloin and fried chive blossom pizza. I marinate and grill a piece of beef tenderloin, slicing it thin. And in the springtime, when my chive plants are budding like crazy, I snip the blossoms before they open and place them in Ziploc freezer bags to use all year-long. When it’s time, I grab a handful of the blossoms and fry them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and sprinkle them over the top of the beef tenderloin pizza. A touch of Fleur de Sel on top seals the deal.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

The oven…

Many professional pizza ovens reach a temperature of 1000 degrees. My home oven only reaches 500, but it does the trick. I do use a pizza stone, and place it on the center rack of the oven, and let it heat up thoroughly (about an hour) before sliding a pizza onto it for cooking.

 

My favorite pizza?

I haven’t been to every pizzeria on this here planet, but I’ve been to a few, and for my money, the best pizza I’ve ever had is something called pizza montanara. They take the pizza dough, stretch it out, then fry it in olive oil for a minute so that it puffs up like a beautiful pillow, then they add the sauce and mozzarella di bufala on top and place it in a wood burning oven to cook. Garnished with a basil leaf, it is absolute pizza perfection, and my favorite place to get it is at Pizzarte on West 55th St. in Manhattan.

The original location of Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana in New Haven, CT, is a very different and very delicious pie. And locally, in my neighborhood of Southern New England, I’ve had excellent pizza at Al Forno in Providence, RI, the restaurant that started the grilled pizza craze…Fellini Pizzeria, on the east side of Providence, RI and in Cranston, RI, home of a wonderful New York-style thin crust pie…and Brick, with 3 locations: Fairhaven, MA, N. Dartmouth, MA and New Bedford, MA.

The asparagus bed is winding down for the season in the home garden right now. Like tomatoes, asparagus is at its very best at the peak of the season, and I don’t really want to eat it in the off-season, when it comes from South America, all dried up and tasting like twigs. So now is my last opportunity to gorge!
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want variety! It’s great straight out of the garden, or served raw in a salad. It’s delicious pickled, or simply tossed in olive and baked in the oven. But here’s a recipe that’s one of my family’s favorites…
4 mild Italian sausages, sliced into pieces 1/2″ thick
1 lb. penne pasta
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh trumpet mushrooms (white button mushrooms work, too)
2 cups fresh asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, passed through a garlic press
1 cup homemade chicken broth
6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Have the pasta water boiling, and add the pasta, cooking until just a bit more undercooked than al dente.
Heat a large pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Saute the sausage pieces until browned and cooked through, but not over cooked. Remove the sausages from the pan and place them in a separate bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left behind in the pan.
Place the pan back on stove and saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, and saute for 10 seconds. Add the sage, and saute for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the chopped mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, then add the chicken broth, and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Pour the contents of the pan into the bowl with the sausages.
Return the pan to the stove, add a little more olive oil, and on medium heat, saute the asparagus pieces. Cook them until they are al dente, not too soft. Once the asparagus has reached this stage, return all the contents of the sausage/mushroom bowl to the pan to heat through. Drain the pasta, and add it to the pan as well, combining all the ingredients. If it looks too dry, add a little pasta water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Make sure you serve this hot, with grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, and drizzle lightly over the top with extra virgin olive oil.

 

Not a very complex idea. I just put the stuff that’s usually on the outside, on the inside of my burgers. Why? Why not?

If I’m making bacon cheeseburgers to bring to a barbecue, even if it’s on my back deck, instead of bringing a package of bacon and a package of cheese and a stack of burgers, I’ve got all the ingredients conveniently in the patties. And as the burgers cook, the fat from the bacon and the gooey cheese melt and combine with the burger meat to make a really tasty and moist burger.

I make 2 lbs. of burgers at a time, using grass-fed beef.

image

2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4″ cubes
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked crisp, cooled and crumbled
garlic salt
avocado oil or pork fat

 

In a bowl, combine the beef, the cheese and the bacon, mixing well so that all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

Form the beef into 1/4 lb. patties. Refrigerate them until you’re ready to cook to firm them up.

Heat a cast iron skillet and add a drop of oil or pork fat. Place the burgers in the hot skillet to sear and sprinkle with the garlic salt. When browned, flip the burgers and place the skillet in a 350-degree oven to finish cooking.

image

 

Chicken Rollatini was one of the first dishes I learned how to make back in my teenage days on Long Island, working at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) It was a simple dish: a chicken breast rolled up with prosciutto and mozzarella, and baked in a mushroom cream sauce. My version these days substitutes ham for the prosciutto, provolone for the mozzarella, and an Alfredo sauce for the mushroom cream sauce.

 

4 chicken breasts cut lengthwise to make 8 thin breasts, about 2 pounds
8 slices sliced ham
8 slices of provolone cheese
Remove the chicken tender portion of the chicken breasts and set those aside for another day.
I don’t like to pound out my chicken breasts. I like the texture of “real meat.” So I take a large breast, and slice it lengthwise to make 2 thinner breasts. I lay the breast down on the cutting board, add a slice of “real” ham (not the deli-sliced stuff, but a ham that I sliced myself), then a slice of provolone, and carefully roll it up, securing it with toothpicks. Sometimes it’s easier to roll the ham and cheese first, then wrap the chicken around it. Place the rollatinis on a baking sheet. Set aside, preferably in the fridge, until ready to cook.

Rolled and ready!

1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
Combine these ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
2 carrots
2 parsnips
2 celery stalks
1/2 medium onion
Olive oil
Peel and chop the parsnips and carrots into quarters. Peel and chop the onion in half. Chop the celery into quarters as well. Place all the vegetables on a sheet pan and drizzle olive oil over the top, tossing them in the oil. Roast the vegetables in a 400° oven until caramelized, and the  carrots and parsnips are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the sheet pan from the oven and let the vegetables cool. Once the veggies have cooled, chop them finely with a knife or food processor. Set aside.
3 cups your favorite rice, cooked
Cook the rice according to package directions. Once the rice is cooked, mix with the chopped carrots, parsnips, celery and onion. Set aside.
1 cup cream or half-and-half
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
salt and pepper
For the Alfredo sauce, heat a saucepan over medium heat, melting the butter and then adding the cream or half-and-half. Once it’s warmed through, add the cheese and whisk until it has melted and the sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Set it aside, to re-warm later.
Take the pan of rollatinis out of the fridge to warm to room temperature, and reduce the heat of the oven to 350°.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the top of the rollatinis and rub it in. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top and bake them for 30-45 minutes, until the chicken has cooked through.
To serve, remove the chicken rollatinis from the pan and plate on a bed of arugula (optional) with the rice on the side. Serve with the Alfredo sauce.

REUBEN SEUP

Posted: February 5, 2018 in bacon, cheese, Food, Recipes, sauerkraut
Tags: , , , ,

Why have soup and a sandwich when your soup can be your sandwich? I had all the ingredients to make a Reuben sandwich. But I wanted soup. So I made Reuben Seup…I mean Soup!

Think French onion soup, but using Reuben ingredients…

 

Rye bread slices
Sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
Chicken stock
Pastrami, sliced thinly
Swiss cheese, sliced thinly

 

I like to take the sauerkraut, rinse it under cold water, then toss it in a pot that already has some finely chopped bacon and onions cooking in it. Once the ingredients have cooked down, set it aside. (If you prefer not to use bacon and onions, that’s fine, too.)

Find a source for great pastrami, like a good deli in your neighborhood. I make a stop at the Forest Pork Store in Huntington, NY, every time I visit my Mom, and they have incredible pastrami you only dream about.

Heat the chicken stock in a pot. Take the thinly sliced pastrami and chop it up into bite-sized pieces. Place the pastrami in the chicken stock to warm through. Keep the stock warm on low heat.

Now you’re ready to assemble…

rye

Take an oven-proof soup bowl. Line the bottom with some rye bread.

 

kraut

On top of that, place a nice helping of the sauerkraut.

 

stock

Pour the warm chicken stock with the pastrami over the sauerkraut.

 

swiss

Layer slices of Swiss cheese over the top of the bowl. Place it under the broiler until melted.

 

melty

Eat!

 

eat

It satisfied my soup and sandwich craving!

 

This will be the most amazing fish sandwich you’ll ever make.

There. I said it.

 

 

There’s no other way to describe this sandwich, something that shouldn’t work in some ways (cheese with fish?) and yet is absolutely perfectly crunchy and delicious. It starts with the cole slaw, ideally made a day in advance…

1 medium cabbage, sliced thinly
2 medium carrots, peeled, and finely chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Kosher dill pickle juice
1 teaspoon celery seed (not salt)

You can use a machine, but I like to finely slice my cabbage with a kitchen knife, cutting as thin as possible. Place the chopped cabbage in a large bowl.

For the carrots, peel them to remove the outer skin, and throw that away. Continue to peel the carrots into paper-thin slivers until there’s no carrots left. Finely chop those slivers and add them to the cabbage.

Add the mayonnaise, pickle juice, and celery seed, mixing thoroughly. Keep it in the fridge, covered with plastic, until ready to use.  The next day, before using, taste it and decide whether you want more mayo or pickle juice. Mix it well before using.

 

 

Like a classic pulled pork sandwich, the slaw will go inside! But it needs a sauce to tie it all together. Make this a day ahead as well.

1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dill pickle relish
1/4 teaspoon Tony Cacherre’s Original Creole Seasoning (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt (skip if using Creole seasoning)
1/8 teaspoon pepper (skip if using Creole seasoning)

Tony Cacherre’s Original Creole Seasoning is a personal favorite, and it works well in this sandwich. You can find it in many stores, and online. But if you don’t have it handy, salt and pepper do the job.

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mixing well. Keep it in the fridge, covered, until ready to use.

 

 

Cod or other white fish, preferably fresh, cut into sandwich-sized pieces (about 4″ square)
1 cup all-purpose flour (or Cup4Cup gluten-free flour, see below)
1 teaspoon celery seed (not salt)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
2 eggs
1 cup corn flakes, crumbled (or Corn Chex for gluten-free, see below)
avocado oil or other oil for frying

My brother-in-law treated us to a huge stash of grouper that he caught on a recent fishing trip. I used that instead of cod the last time I made this sandwich, and the results were fantastic. I suggest you use whatever white fish is your favorite.

 

Cut the fish into pieces that will fit the bread you’re using, and make sure they’re the same thickness. Don’t make them thicker than 1/2″ or they’ll stay raw in the middle when you fry them. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the flour, celery seed, salt and pepper and cayenne (if you’re using it). Mix well.

In another bowl, crack the eggs and scramble them.

Put the corn flakes in a plastic bag, squeezing the air out of it. Crush them into oatmeal-sized pieces, then pour them into a third bowl.

Heat a heavy pan with a couple of inches of oil. One by one, take the fish pieces and dredge them in the flour mixture, then into the egg, and then into the corn flakes, pressing into the corn flakes to make sure they stick to the fish.

When the oil in the pan is hot enough, fry the fish pieces on both sides, until cooked through and golden brown. Place them on paper towels to drain.

 

 

Pepperidge Farm Marble Swirl Rye Bread (or gluten-free bread)
Swiss cheese, sliced
Melted butter

Pre-heat an oven to 350 degrees.

To assemble the sandwiches, take a slice of the rye bread and spread some of the sauce on it. Place a piece of the fried cod on top, then cover it with some of the cole slaw. Place a few thin slices of Swiss cheese on top of the cole slaw. Take another slice of rye, slather it with the sauce, and place it on top of the slaw, sauce-side down.

Brush the top of the sandwich with the melted butter, and place the sandwich on a sheet pan. Do the same with the rest of the sandwiches.

Place them in the oven and bake them until the cheese melts. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve.

The gluten-free sandwich in the forefront.

 

What I changed to make this sandwich gluten-free…

My go-to all-purpose gluten-free flour is Cup4Cup. It works really well in any dish that requires all-purpose flour.

Not all corn flakes are gluten-free, and the ones that are can be hard to find. I found that Corn Chex cereal is a good substitute. It’s gluten-free, and has a nice crunch.

The Pepperidge Farm Marble Swirl Rye Bread is the ideal bread to use for this sandwich. But I made a pretty darn tasty gluten-free version for my wife using this Schar bread, found in many supermarkets.

 

 

 

 

 

Cooler fall weather always gets us craving for comfort foods, and this is one we discovered on a trip to Spain in 2014. Croquettes are the Spanish equivalent of chicken nuggets: they’re found on every kids’ menu…and my daughter ordered them just about everywhere we went! So it’s no surprise that I “got the order” to make a batch of croquettes this weekend!

image

I found a great recipe for croquettes in Saveur magazine, and decided to try it out. I was a bit clumsy at making them at first–they do need a bit of finesse–but by the end of the batch, I got the hang of it. And to make them gluten-free, I simply substituted GF flour and breadcrumbs for the all-purpose flour and Panko.

image

 

2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
6 oz. ham, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour like Cup4Cup)
2 eggs
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs (or gluten-free breadcrumbs)
avocado oil for frying

 

image

Peel the potatoes, cut them into 1″ cubes and boil them in salted water until tender. Drain and set them aside.

Melt the butter in the same pot the potatoes were in, then add the onions and saute until translucent. Put the potatoes back in the pot and add 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher until smooth. Add more cream, if needed, but be careful not to make it mushy.

Add the cheese and mix until it has melted in. Add the ham and mix again. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the contents of the pot into a metal bowl and place it in the freezer to cool, stirring every 10 minutes until the mashed potato mix is cold, but not frozen.

Line up three bowls: flour (or GF flour) in the first bowl, eggs (scrambled) in the second bowl, Panko (or GF breadcrumbs) in the third.

Remove the mashed potato mix from the freezer, and with floured hands, grab enough to gently roll a small meatball in your hands. (I’ve found that starting with a round shape makes it easier to work with.)

Roll the ball in the flour, then the egg, then drop in the Panko and roll again. With the ball in your hand, gently squeeze into a tubular shape, and then place it on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Continue with the rest of the potato mixture. (You may need to add another egg or two if you run out.)

Once you’ve rolled all the croquettes, place the sheet pan in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

Heat a pan with 2″ of oil to 350 degrees. Remove the croquettes from the freezer, and working in small batches, fry them until golden brown. Place on paper towels, and quickly season lightly with salt while hot, if desired.

image

 

The croquettes freeze really well, so this batch goes a long way. Once they’ve been fried, let them cool completely to room temp. Place them in Ziploc freezer bags and store in the freezer. When it’s time to cook them, let them thaw for about 15 minutes, then place in a pre-heated 325 degree oven for another 15 minutes.

 

It’s National Pizza Day and National Bagel Day. But since I don’t have a pizza bagel recipe–yet–I’ll stick with pizza.

There are few foods that people take as personally as pizza. Tell someone your pizza place is better than their pizza place, and chances are you’ll start a fight. Well, my pizza place is better than your pizza place, because I make it at home. Besides, I can run faster than you.

I’m not going to say that much of the pizza that I’ve tried here in Rhode Island is mediocre, but I will say that I was born in Brooklyn and grew up working in many New York pizza places in my youth. So yes, I do have a very strong opinion on what I think makes a good or bad pizza. And, alas, I’ve tried, but a good gluten-free pizza is not yet within reach. The frozen ones you get in stores are passable, but making one at home has been nothing short of a disaster.

My homemade pizza is all about the basics. The better quality my original ingredients are, the better my pizza will be:

 

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores,  or online. Ratios for this recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

4–5 cups 00 flour
1 cup tepid water
1 Tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza yeast
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

I mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the water as it mixes. After the ingredients are well mixed, and the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, I remove it to a floured board, where I knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, shaping it into a ball. I rub a little olive oil over the ball of dough, place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 2 hours, punching it down after that, and letting it rise another 2 hours again.

The sauce…

I’ve written an earlier blog about real and fake cans of San Marzano tomatoes. I feel that San Marzanos make the best sauce, but not all cans of San Marzanos are created equal. The only way you can be guaranteed you have a real can of these beauties, grown in volcanic Italian soil in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius, is by the D.O.P. designation on the can. (D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,” and signifies that it’s the real deal.) Anything else that says San Marzano may not be.

San Marzanos are so amazing, that all I do is puree them in a food processor, pour the sauce into a pan, and let it reduce until it has thickened. No spices or additions of any kind.

The cheese…

I don’t need to go super-fancy with mozzarella di bufala (cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo) …but I don’t use the mass-produced supermarket stuff, either. Whole Foods has fresh mozarella from Maplebrook Farms in Vermont, and it is excellent.

The toppings…

A matter of choice. I wrote a while ago about how I make my own guanciale, a cured meat that comes from pork cheeks. Chopped and fried, that is one of my daughter’s favorite pizza toppings.

But my signature pizza that wows my dinner guests is my marinated beef tenderloin and fried chive blossom pizza. I marinate and grill a piece of beef tenderloin, slicing it thin. And in the springtime, when my chive plants are budding like crazy, I snip the blossoms before they open and place them in Ziploc freezer bags to use all year-long. When it’s time, I grab a handful of the blossoms and fry them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and sprinkle them over the top of the beef tenderloin pizza. A touch of Fleur de Sel on top seals the deal.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

The oven…

Many professional pizza ovens reach a temperature of 1000 degrees. My home oven only reaches 500, but it does the trick. I do use a pizza stone, and place it on the center rack of the oven, and let it heat up thoroughly before sliding a pizza onto it for cooking.

Recently, I’ve also started cooking pizzas on my barbecue grill (using a special stone for the grill) to add a smoky component. The grill gets hotter than my home oven, which is great, but it’s obviously a more work to set-up and clean.

 

My favorite pizza?

There are only a few pizzerias that I know of—all in NYC–that make pizza montanara, and for my money, it’s the best I’ve ever had. It’s a small, rustic pizza margherita using mozzarella di bufala and simple tomato sauce, garnished with a basil leaf. What makes it magical is the fact that after they stretch the dough–but before they put the toppings on it–they fry the dough in deep fryer with olive oil for just a minute. It puffs up like a pillow. Then they put the toppings on and quickly bake it in a very hot oven. The result is a non-greasy, absolutely heavenly pizza cloud…the most delicious I’ve ever had. If you’re in New York, go to Pizzarte on W. 55th. Great montanara and other Italian dishes.

I’ve actually had some great success recreating this pizza at home, frying the dough in a very large skillet of olive oil. The challenge is removing this giant piece of dough out of the skillet and into a pizza pan without dripping olive oil all over my stove and setting my house on fire! So far, so good!

There are few foods that people take as personally as pizza. Tell someone your pizza place is better than their pizza place, and chances are you’ll start a fight. Well, my pizza place is better than your pizza place, because I make it at home. Besides, I can run faster than you.

I’m not going to say that much of the pizza that I’ve tried here in Rhode Island is mediocre, but I will say that I was born in Brooklyn and grew up working in many New York pizza places in my youth. So, yes, I do have a very strong opinion on what I think makes a good or bad pizza.

My homemade pizza is all about the basics. The better quality my original ingredients are, the better my pizza will be.

 fullsizerender-3-copy-2

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores,  or at Amazon. It makes a crustier and more flavorful dough. Ratios for this recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

3 cups 00 flour
1 cup tepid water
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon dry yeast
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

Combine the flour, salt and yeast dry in the bowl of a stand mixer. Fill a Pyrex container to the 1-cup mark with cold, clean water and then nuke it on high in the microwave for 20 seconds. Turn the mixer on, and slowly add the water to the dry ingredients as it mixes. You might need to add a little more water, but you want the dough to pull from the side of the bowl cleanly. If it’s mushy, just add a little flour to the mix. After the ingredients are well mixed, remove it to a floured board, and knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball. Squirt a little olive oil into a stainless steel or glass bowl, and drop the dough ball into it, coating it with the oil on all sides. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place for at least 3 hours. When the dough gets light and puffy, punch it down, re-roll it into a ball, and drop it back into the bowl and cover with plastic to let it rise at least another 2 hours.

The sauce…

For me, San Marzano tomatoes make the best sauce, but not all cans of San Marzanos are created equal. The only way you can be guaranteed you have a real can of these beauties, grown in volcanic Italian soil in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, is by the D.O.P. designation on the can. (D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,” and signifies that it’s the real deal.) Anything else that says San Marzano may not be.

San Marzanos are so full of rich natural flavor, so all I do is puree them in a food processor, pour the sauce into a pan, and let it reduce until it has thickened. No spices or additions of any kind.

The cheese…

I don’t need to go super-fancy with mozzarella di bufala (cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo), but I don’t use the mass-produced supermarket stuff, either. Fresh mozzarella from local sources (like Maplebrook Farms in Vermont in our area) is a good way to go.

The toppings…

A matter of choice. I cure my own guanciale, a delicacy that comes from pork jowls, or cheeks. Chopped and fried, it’s one of my daughter’s favorite pizza toppings. But prosciutto, pancetta, bacon, or sausages are all great choices, too.

My signature pizza that wows my dinner guests is a marinated beef tenderloin and fried chive blossom pizza. I marinate and grill a piece of beef tenderloin, slicing it thin. And in the springtime, when my chive plants are budding like crazy, I snip the blossoms before they open and place them in Ziploc freezer bags to use all year. When it’s time, I grab a handful of the blossoms and fry them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and sprinkle them over the top of the beef tenderloin pizza. A touch of Fleur de Sel on top seals the deal.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

The oven…

Many professional pizza ovens reach a temperature of 1000 degrees. My home oven only reaches 500, but it does the trick. I use a pizza stone, and place it on the center rack of the oven. It’s really important to let it heat up thoroughly before sliding a pizza onto it for cooking, so I’ll let it heat for at least 30 minutes.

Because I don’t have a really hot oven, my pizza needs to be cooked in 2 stages. First, I sprinkle a little semolina flour on the pizza peel to keep things from sticking. I stretch my pizza dough out (tossing in the air is optional!) and lay it on the peel. I spoon out my tomato sauce and spread it evenly on the dough, leaving the outside edges clean to form a crust. I slide the pizza into the oven and let it cook for a few minutes.

After a few minutes, I pull the pizza out of the oven and add my toppings: more sauce (if desired), cheese, meats, veggies, etc, topping it all off with a sprinkling of dried oregano. Back into the oven it goes for stage 2, cooking until the cheese has melted and the crust is a crispy golden brown.

I also cook pizzas on my barbecue grill, using a special stone made specifically for open flames. (A regular pizza stone would crack on the grill.) the grill. The hardwood fire adds great flavor, but it’s a lot more work to set up and clean up after.

 

My favorite pizza away from home

There are only a few pizzerias that I know of—all in NYC–that make pizza montanara, and for my money, the best I’ve ever had is at PizzArte on West 55th Street. (www.pizzarteny.com) Pizza montanara is a small, rustic pizza margherita using smoked mozzarella di bufala and simple tomato sauce, garnished with a basil leaf. What makes it magical is that after they stretch the dough–but before they put the toppings on it–they fry the dough in olive oil for just a minute. It puffs up like a pillow. Then they put the toppings on it and quickly bake it in a very hot wood oven. The result is a non-greasy, absolutely heavenly pizza cloud…the most delicious I’ve ever had. (I always ask them to use non-smoked mozzarella. I think it tastes better.)

I’ve actually had some success recreating this pizza at home, frying the dough in a very large skillet of olive oil. The challenge is removing this giant piece of dough out of the skillet and into a pizza pan without dripping olive oil all over my stove and setting my house on fire! So far, so good!