Archive for the ‘fleur de sel’ Category

Fast food is a relative term.
What we Americans think of as fast food is not what, say, the Italians think of as fast food. We think of drive-thru burger joints serving greasy, salty and fatty food. Swallow a burger, pop a Crestor. The Italians think fast food is something that simply doesn’t take all day to cook! If you can use the freshest of ingredients, and serve it in the time it takes to sip a half a bottle of wine while chatting with a friend, it’s fast food Italian-style.
Years ago, when my wife and I were visiting the island of Capri in Italy, one of the dishes we enjoyed was an incredibly simple pasta and tomato dish called spaghetti sciue-sciue (pronounced “shwee-shwee.”) We were told that sciue-sciue was loosely translated as “quick-quick,” although a check on the web said that it also translates to “improvisation” in Italian. And though quick it was (that is, by Italian standards), it was one of the most memorable dishes we had on our trip. It could be because of our surroundings: the famous Faraglioni rocks all around us at a small seaside restaurant called Da Luigi ai Faraglioni. We took the small shuttle boat from Marina Piccola, which made its way through those stacks jutting out of the Bay of Naples, and landed at this historic restaurant, built in 1936. People come here not only to dine, but to spend the day sunbathing and swimming. (Check out the amazing photos here. http://www.capri.com/en/c/da-luigi-ai-faraglioni)
So the reason Da Luigi’s sciue-sciue was so amazing certainly was, in part, the location…but it was also very much due to the use of the freshest and best possible ingredients…and they didn’t mess around with them too much.
The best time to make this dish is when tomatoes are at their absolute best in your area. But if you can get your hands on some beautiful cherry tomatoes off-season (they seem to be tastier than larger tomatoes in the winter months), it’s worth having a go at it as well.

 

 1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 hot Italian dried peppers, finely chopped
¼ cup white wine
8 to 10 chopped plum or cherry tomatoes (as ripe as possible)
12 to 15 torn fresh basil leaves
½ stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter
1 ball of fresh mozzarella (about 12 oz.)
1 lb. of spaghetti, or better yet, bucatini (Using GF pasta will keep this whole dish gluten-free)
Sea salt
Fleur de Sel (optional)
Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil and toss the pasta in.
Almost burn—as in “heavily caramelize”—the tomato paste in a large pan with the olive oil, salt, and the dried peppers. Add the white wine to de-glaze, and simmer until reduced by half.
Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer on medium heat until they start to break apart. Hand tear the mozzarella ball into shreds and add to the sauce, stirring gently. Add the basil.
Add the butter, gently stirring until it melts.
When the pasta is slightly firmer than al dente, drain it and add it to the pan with the sauce.
Serve immediately, finishing with a little Fleur de Sel.

 

Finito!

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!

This is what I’m serving my guests at Christmas dinner. It’s a rich and delicious surf-and-turf, using wild Texas boar and locally caught Rhode Island scallops, that beats steak and lobster hands-down! Wild boar isn’t an ingredient you can find everywhere, but pork belly is, and it works just fine.

 

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For the pork belly…
3 lbs. fresh pork belly (I used wild boar belly)
salt and pepper
1–2 tablespoons leaf lard or olive oil
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 fennel bulb, quartered
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 cups beef stock
1 cup hard cider or apple juice

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Season the belly with salt and pepper. On medium-high heat, melt the leaf lard, then sear the meat on all sides in an oven-proof pot big enough to hold it in one layer. Add the carrot, celery, onion, fennel, thyme and peppercorns and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until caramelized.

Add the beef stock and the cider. Cover the pot with a lid or seal with aluminum foil, and braise the belly in the oven for 3 hours, until tender.

Remove the pot from the oven, carefully remove the pork belly, and put it on a plate. Cover it with foil. If you’re cooking earlier in the day, you can place the belly in the fridge at this point.

Strain the leftover braising liquid from the pot and discard the vegetables and thyme. Skim off the excess fat. If starting this dish earlier in the day, you can put this liquid in the fridge and the fat will harden, making it easier to remove.

FullSizeRender (8)

For the glaze…
braising liquid, strained
1 tablespoon espresso
1 tablespoon honey

In a small saucepan, reduce the brazing liquid by half, then add the espresso and honey. Cook a few more minutes until the sauce thickens. When it coats the back of a spoon, it’s ready. Set aside.

For the scallops…
Fresh scallops
salt and pepper

When you’re ready to serve, heat a pan on high heat with a little more leaf lard. Cut the belly into equal pieces and sear on all sides for about a minute. Place the scallops in the same pan, season with salt and pepper, and sear them on both sides, being careful not to overcook them.

To serve, place the belly on a plate. Top with a scallop or two. Drizzle glaze over the top. Season with Fleur de Sel or sea salt and serve immediately.

Always good to have a lovely food stylist around to make it look pretty.

Always good to have a lovely food stylist around to make it look pretty.

 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Fettuccine Alfredo are my two favorite pasta dishes. Little did I realize that if I took the best of each one, I’d have something that would just blow me (and my family) away. The addition of chicken and peas made for a more balanced plate. This will now be my go-to dish when guests arrive, since many parts can be prepared ahead of time. And you’d never know that this dish is completely gluten-free!

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Start with the chicken…

The breading for the chicken uses gluten-free bread that I’ve toasted, crumbled and put into a food processor to make breadcrumbs. You get a lot more flavor this way than using store-bought GF breadcrumbs from a can. I add gluten-free flour to it to lighten it up. Cup4Cup is by far the best GF flour I’ve tried.

1/2 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
1 egg, scrambled
4 oz. sliced gluten-free bread, toasted (I use Udi’s frozen bread)
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
3 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
olive oil, for frying

Scramble the egg in a bowl. Cut the chicken into pieces, and add them to the egg, making sure they get evenly coated. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, flour, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Fill a pan with about an inch of olive oil. Heat to medium-high, for frying.

In batches not to overcrowd the pan, take the chicken pieces out of the egg and toss them in the bread crumb mixture, shaking off the excess. Place them carefully in the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden. Since they’re small pieces, they should cook all the way through easily. Drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Do this with all the chicken and set aside. Try not to eat it all before you make the rest of the dish! (This chicken can also be eaten as is–these are my daughter’s favorite nuggets–or used with tomato sauce and cheese to make a delicious chicken parmigiana.)

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The carbonara factor…

Many recipes for Spaghetti alla Carbonara use pancetta or bacon. But the original recipe calls for guanciale: cured (but not smoked) pig jowls, or cheeks. It’s easy enough to find in a good Italian food store, but I cure my own. I buy raw heritage Berkshire pork jowls from a farm that raises the pigs humanely, and cure the jowls for about 3 weeks in a combination of salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Then I rinse them, pat them dry, and cut them into portion-sized pieces, which I wrap individually and freeze until I need them. It’s a lot of work, but to me, totally worth it.

3 oz. guanciale

If the guanciale is frozen, let it thaw just a little, then cut it into the smallest cubes you can manage. Place it in a pan and cook them until they’ve browned and crisped beautifully. Keep an eye on the pan, as guanciale can burn easily. Use the fried meat bits for this recipe and save the fat for flavoring a future dish! Set aside.

The Alfredo sauce…

Despite what you get in crappy restaurants like Olive Garden, Alfredo sauce should not be runny or soupy. It should cling to the pasta and be rich in flavor. I use Garofalo gluten-free pasta exclusively, because it tastes just like real pasta. Believe me, I’ve tried every GF pasta out there. I buy mass quantities at Amazon.

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. pasta, fresh or dried (I used linguine this time because that’s what I had in my pantry)
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
freshly ground black pepper
a very tiny grating of fresh nutmeg (optional for this dish–I leave it out–but used when I make Alfredo)

 

Put 2/3 of the cream and all the butter in a large saucepan that will later accommodate all the pasta. Simmer over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened a bit. Turn off the heat.

Drop the pasta in a bowl of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. Gluten-free pasta, which is what I use, takes a little longer. Either way, you want to cook the pasta even firmer than al dente, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately when it reaches that firm stage, and transfer it to the pan with the butter and cream, tossing the pasta gently for a few seconds to coat.

Turn the heat under the saucepan on low, tossing the pasta, coating it with the sauce. Add the rest of the cream, all the Parmigiano Reggiano, a bit of pepper (no salt because the guanciale will add more saltiness later), and the nutmeg (if you’re using it.) Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is well-coated.

 

At this point, you don’t want the pasta to get to dry, so you add…

1 cup of frozen peas

…tossing gently to warm them through. Also add the cooked guanciale at this time.

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Plate the pasta in a bowl or dish and serve the chicken alongside.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

At a recent summer garden dinner for 12 of our friends, I wanted to serve my corn and tomato salsa that I featured here a few weeks ago.

We “smuggled” a few treats from a recent visit to Santorini Greece: capers, caper leaves and sun-dried tomatoes. Adding them to fresh corn and tomatoes gave it that salty bite that. I usually use feta cheese in this recipe, but we served a cheese plate as an appetizer, so I left the feta out. Turns out we like it even better this way…

1 dozen fresh ears of corn, lightly sautéed in olive oil
2 dozen (or more) tiny tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon caper leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (in addition to what you saute the corn with)

Slice the kernels of corn off the ears with a sharp knife. Saute them in a little olive oil, just to remove the raw taste. Don’t over cook them!

Combine the corn with all the other ingredients and place in a bowl in the fridge.

Just before serving, let it come back to cool, not cold, and check for seasoning. The capers and caper leaves are salty, so I’m careful not to over-salt.

Corn and tomatoes…they’re in season and you just can’t beat the combination! This is a very simple salsa that takes advantage of their natural sweetness.

salsa

 

1 dozen fresh ears of corn or lb. frozen organic corn
2 large ripe organic tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 small red onion, finely chopped
6 oz. mild crumbled cheese, like feta, cotija, or queso fresco
1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel or sea salt
pinch of black pepper
2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 

If you’re using fresh corn, remove the kernels from the ears by running a knife down the sides, slicing through the kernels. I stand my ear of corn up on the center hole of a bundt pan, letting the kernels fall into the bowl below. Pan sauté the corn for just a few minutes in a little olive oil, but leave it crisp! If you can roast the ears of corn over some coals, even better. Let it cool.

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

Nothing says summer here in New England like a lobster roll. But I don’t go to a clam shack to get one. The prices are ridiculous, the meat can be overcooked, and they often add ingredients I don’t want.

I start with fresh lobster. I get it from my lobster man buddy, Gary, just down the street at his dock in Tiverton, RI.

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary's lobster boat, the Edna Mae

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary’s lobster boat, the Edna Mae

The next step is to cook it right. I use sea salt in a large pot of boiling water. I make sure the water is at a rolling boil before the lobsters go in. And I cook them for no more than about 8 minutes.

Lobster catch LTL

After the lobsters have been removed from the pot and have cooled for a few minutes, I get to work: cracking the claws and tail and removing every bit of beautiful meat I can find. I even take the legs off and push a rolling pin over them to extract the meat inside. The tomalley (the green liver and pancreas) and roe (eggs) are delicacies not to be missed, but for the purpose of making lobster salad, I don’t use these parts. I save them for a separate treat. And I use the legs and cleaned empty shells to make lobster stock. Nothing goes to waste!

Lobster roll LTL

Everyone has their own opinion about lobster rolls: what goes in ‘em…and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t. I am no exception. For me, no veggies whatsoever: no chopped celery, no lettuce, no pickle. No paprika or Old Bay seasoning. A pinch of celery salt? Sure. Mayonnaise? Only Hellman’s. White pepper, not black, and just a touch. Salt? A pinch of Fleur de Sel. And the secret weapon to bring out all the flavors: the tiniest squeeze of fresh lemon juice…not enough to give it a lemon flavor…just to brighten the taste.

I prefer those long Martin’s potato rolls: straight out of the bag or lightly grilled with a little melted butter brushed on.

 

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 that 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 a previous 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 end 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!

The is a killer recipe that I’ve waited a long time to prepare. My hats off to chef Chuck Hughes for the inspiration. My hats off to my buddy, Dr. Chezwick, who sent me a gift of wild boar bellies. Locally caught Rhode Island scallops in season complete the dish.

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For the pork belly…
3 lbs. fresh pork belly (I used wild boar belly)
salt and pepper
1–2 tablespoons leaf lard or olive oil
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 fennel bulb, quartered
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 cups beef stock
1 cup hard cider or apple juice

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Season the belly with salt and pepper. On medium-high heat, melt the leaf lard, then sear the meat on all sides in an oven-proof pot big enough to hold it in one layer. Add the carrot, celery, onion, fennel, thyme and peppercorns and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until caramelized.

Add the beef stock and the cider. Cover the pot with a lid or seal with aluminum foil, and braise the belly in the oven for 3 hours, until tender.

Remove the pot from the oven, carefully remove the pork belly, and put it on a plate. Cover it with foil. If you’re cooking earlier in the day, you can place the belly in the fridge at this point.

Strain the leftover braising liquid from the pot and discard the vegetables and thyme. Skim off the excess fat. If starting this dish earlier in the day, you can put this liquid in the fridge and the fat will harden, making it easier to remove.

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For the glaze…
braising liquid, strained
1 tablespoon espresso
1 tablespoon honey

In a small saucepan, reduce the brazing liquid by half, then add the espresso and honey. Cook a few more minutes until the sauce thickens. When it coats the back of a spoon, it’s ready. Set aside.

For the scallops…
Fresh scallops
salt and pepper

When you’re ready to serve, heat a pan on high heat with a little more leaf lard. Cut the belly into equal pieces and sear on all sides for about a minute. Place the scallops in the same pan, season with salt and pepper, and sear them on both sides, being careful not to overcook them.

To serve, place the belly on a plate. Top with a scallop or two. Drizzle glaze over the top. Season with Fleur de Sel or sea salt and serve immediately.

Always good to have a lovely food stylist around to make it look pretty.

Always good to have a lovely food stylist around to make it look pretty.