Archive for the ‘restaurants’ Category

Since we’re quarantining, it’s time to dig out those bottles of booze that might be lurking somewhere in the back of the old liquor cabinet. Inspired by my travels, I’d like to share some of the cocktails I’m rediscovering these days, as I lock myself in my basement bar!

A few years ago, I sampled a negroni-inspired cocktail in Cleveland, Ohio, dining at chef Jonathon Sawyer’s The Greenhouse Tavern. Crazy creative food, and this mind-blowing drink that inspired me to buy a small oak barrel and start cask-aging everything I could get my hands on at home. Alas, the OYO Stone Fruit Vodka, a key part of this cocktail, is not available here in Rhode Island. And my online source will no longer ship it! But I still have a little bit remaining in my stash…

 

 

OYO STONE FRUIT “NEGROSKI”

1 oz. OYO Stone Fruit Vodka
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

 

If you’re doing it The Greenhouse Tavern way, combine large quantities of these ingredients in the right proportions and pour them into an oak cask, then let it age! Experience tells you that newer and smaller casks will mellow flavors faster than larger, older ones. But it’s all about experimentation. Having a taste every once in a while is must, because you don’t want to over-age it, either.

If you don’t have an oak cask lying around at home, it’s still delicious without it…

Combine all the ingredients in a rocks glass with ice. Stir gently, adding a splash of soda, and garnish with an orange peel.

 

OYO Stone Fruit Vodka gets its wonderful flavors from stone fruits: cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds. Terrific on its own, but amazing in this recipe.

Campari is a world-famous aperitif and bitters, and a must in any decent home bar.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is a sweet vermouth, made in Italy from the Moscato grape.

 

 

Being quarantined can get you down…or get you to go creative. I’ve decided to recreate some of the cocktails I’ve had at my favorite restaurants, using ingredients that I probably already have at home. When I did go out to the supermarket last time, I grabbed a couple of pineapples along with the rest of my groceries. I already had the bottle of Stoli Vanil in my EBSF (Emergency Booze Storage Facility).

 

 

Every major city in the United states has a Capital Grille, and it’s a great place to grab a solid dinner if you’re traveling. And right now, during quarantine, many locations are offering steaks and dinners to go. (Check with your local Capital Grille.) Although the Capital Grille in my town of Providence, RI, has moved from its original location, we can still boast that we had the very first one in the USA.

They don’t do crazy-trendy drinks at the Capital Grille. They keep a very well-stocked bar with high-end booze and they make solid cocktails. But there is one signature drink you can find there, and that’s the Stoli Doli. A Stoli Doli is simply Stoli vodka that has been infused with fresh pineapple. If you sit at the bar at the Capital Grille, you won’t be able to miss the very large jar of freshly-cut pineapple pieces swimming in vodka. They literally pour it “from the tap,” and serve it straight up, like a martini, or on the rocks. It’s delicious, and I’ve certainly had my share of them.

I decided to make my own at home one day, to serve to my friends at an upcoming party. But to my disappointment, I didn’t have any Stoli vodka in the house. (An embarrassment to most Lithuanians.) But…I found a bottle of Stoli Vanil, the vanilla-flavored vodka, and it was a real game-changer! I used that instead of regular Stoli and I came up with a sweeter, smoother drink that is now legendary among my friends. I call it…

 

VELVET ELVIS

2 ripe, sweet pineapples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1.75ml Stoli Vanil

Find a gallon-sized glass jar with a lid. Peel, core and slice the pineapples and drop the pieces in the jar. Pour the vodka in, mix well, and seal the jar. Keep it at room temperature for 7–10 days, giving it a gentle shake every day.

After 7–10 days (don’t worry…a little longer won’t hurt anything), strain it, squeezing the pineapple pieces to get every bit of liquid out. Discard the pineapple pieces. (As much as you might think they would be fun to munch, they’ve given up all their flavor to the cocktail, and taste terrible!)

Keep the Velvet Elvis refrigerated. Serve with rocks (or 1 big rock!), or shaken and poured into a martini glass.

 

As a martini, or on the rocks!

 

 

 

Did you have to go to work? Quarantined at home? either way, TGIF! Let’s make some drinks!

I’ve decided to look back at some of the more interesting cocktails I’ve had in my travels, and chances are, I still have most of the ingredients somewhere in the back of my bar to make them once again.

Coppa is a wonderful small enoteca in Boston’s South End, featuring small plates by award-winning chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette. (They’re also the 2 creative forces behind Toro in Boston and NYC.)

The food was incredible, and this drink, called “Hey, Neon,” was inspired. The glass was rimmed with dehydrated and finely chopped kalamata olives. I tried to recreate that at home, and couldn’t get the texture or the size right. And I could never get it to stick to the glass, either! Ultimately, I simply skewered a few kalamatas and placed them on the glass!

 

The original “Hey Neon” at Coppa.

 

 

“HEY NEON”

1 1/2 oz. Aalborg aquavit
3/4 oz. Punt e Mes
1/2 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse

Add ice to a cocktail shaker and then add the ingredients. Stir well, until very cold. Strain into a martini glass. Add the skewer of kalamata olives.

 

Aalborg is a brand of aquavit (or akvavit), a clear alcohol similar to vodka but usually infused with other flavors, mainly caraway or dill, popular in Scandinavia.

Punt e Mes is a sweet vermouth, the so-called “little brother” of the granddaddy of all sweet vermouths: Carpano Antica Formula.

Cynar is an Italian bitter and digestif made from herbs, plants and artichokes. Strong in flavor, but delicious!

Chartruese is a French liqueur made by Carthusian monks since 1737, using a recipe that dates back to 1605. It contains 130 herbs and plants. It’s also one of the few liqueurs that ages in the bottle, changing over time. Green Chartreuse is 110 proof, and naturally colored from the maceration of its ingredients. Yellow Chartreuse, at 80 proof, is a milder and sweeter version.

 

My version of the “Hey Neon.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve all got bottles of booze in our bar that probably haven’t been used in a while. Well, for me, quarantine time is the time to break them out and create! Let me share some of my favorite recipes with you…

When I go out to dinner (hoping I’ll be able to do that again soon), I’m always on the lookout for a great cocktail. These days, a great restaurant very often requires a great mixologist at the bar…not someone who can simply whip up a Cosmo, but someone who puts as much creativity in their drinks as the chef does in their dishes.

The classic negroni is made with gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I love negronis, and this cocktail is inspired by them. It comes from chef Tony Maws’ restaurant Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s been a decade since we dined there but the drink remains a favorite of mine. When our server communicated to the bartender that I was willing to be his guinea pig for creative cocktails, I was served this one–so new at the time, they didn’t have a name for it. I took a sip and exclaimed: “Holy S*#t!” and the server laughed and said: “That’s as good a name as any!”

 

 

“HOLY S*#T!” COCKTAIL

1 1/2 oz. Bols Genever
1 oz. Gran Classico
1/2 oz. Punt e Mes

Add some ice to a cocktail shaker, and add the ingredients. Stir well. Strain into a rocks glass with one large ice cube.

 

Bols Genever is a Dutch spirit, the ancestor of gin, created from lightly distilled Dutch grains and a complex botanical mix. It’s made according to the original 1820 Lucas Bols recipe which stood at the basis of the cocktail revolution in 19th century America.

Gran Classico is an alcoholic aperitif/digestif created following a recipe dating from the 1860s. It’s made by soaking a mixture of 25 aromatic herbs and roots in an alcohol/water solution to extract their flavors and aromas. The maceration creates a natural golden-amber color, although many other producers, like Campari and Cynar, dye their product red.

Punt e Mes is a pleasantly bitter, slightly sweet red vermouth, the “baby brother” of Carpano Formula Antica. The formula was developed in 1870 in Antonino Carpano’s bar in Piedmont, and the distinctive 15-herb recipe is still a family secret.

 

 

My buddy, Lee, and I had a discussion the other day about fresh versus frozen beef served at fast food restaurants.  What’s the big deal about fresh beef? Does it really make a difference?
Doing a little research, I found that the answer to that question is: yes and no.
Wendy’s claims their beef has always been fresh, since they first opened in 1969. Never one single frozen patty. Because the meat is fresh, it comes from local farms in North America and is delivered in refrigerated trucks to your local Wendy’s restaurant. They claim the flavor of fresh is better than the flavor of frozen.
They also go on to say that because their beef is fresh, it doesn’t come from “cheaper, far away places,” like Australia.
My experience with both Australian and New Zealand beef, shipped frozen, is that it is of very high quality. Where most American beef is fed corn, grains, antibiotics, and who knows what….beef from New Zealand and Australia is grass-fed.
Wendy’s claim that their beef was never frozen is really more of a marketing ploy to try to appeal to people who want to think they’re eating healthier food. The fact of the matter is, a properly frozen greasy burger is just as bad for you as a fresh one.
Giving in to Wendy’s ad campaign (and their taunting on Twitter),  McDonald’s brought in the fresh meat Quarter Pounder. (The rest of their burgers are still frozen.) Again, this really has nothing to do with good health. It’s strictly good marketing.
Personally, if my meat is going to be sitting around for more than 24 hours, I would rather keep it in a freezer, not a fridge, to reduce the possibility of contamination.

I like the taste of the Quarter Pounder Deluxe, though it isn’t a very big burger for the $7+ I paid for it.

The only negative of frozen beef can be the texture if it is not frozen properly. If you don’t place the meat in a freezer that’s cold enough, the beef doesn’t freeze quickly, and can form larger ice crystals that will change the texture of the flesh when the meat thaws.
If you’re not sure whether the quality of frozen beef is any good, simply ask your friendly neighborhood farmer…or hunter. My in-laws hunt deer and bear, and they process the entire animal, freezing the various cuts and putting them in a deep-freeze to enjoy later. I can tell you that when I’m allowed to share in the bounty, the frozen meat is absolutely delicious.
So my research tells me that fresh or frozen doesn’t matter. Go with quality, go with price…or go with what you think tastes better.
Whether you should go with meat or not…is another topic altogether. Plant-based burgers are all the rage, now that Burger King has introduced the Impossible Whopper.
But from a health standpoint, is it any better? Not really. Check the nutrition information below and you’ll see that most fast-food burgers are pretty similar when it comes to fat and calories. Even the plant-based ones aren’t healthier.

It tastes like a real burger…an overcooked, very dry real burger.

It all boils down to what your feelings are about eating meat. If factory farming makes you cringe (and it should), go with a plant-based burger. But remember this: If you’re going vegan because you don’t want to kill animals, many creatures, from ground birds to moles and voles, to rabbits to foxes, are killed by vegetable harvesting machinery. Unless you’re growing your own, or getting your veggies from a local farm that doesn’t use machinery, you’re substituting the life of one animal for another.

Burger King’s “real” Whopper.

As for fast-food flavor…my vote goes to McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Deluxe (not the plain one.) The beef patty is juicier because it’s thicker, so it doesn’t dry out like either Whopper. And it’s cooked to order. Both Whoppers are frozen patties that have liquid smoke added to simulate a grilled flavor, and have fake grill marks painted on them before cooking. The Dave’s Single from Wendy’s, the original fresh beef burger, is good, but small, like the Quarter Pounder, and greasier.

Dave’s Single from Wendy’s.

IMPOSSIBLE WHOPPER: (from Burger King‘s website)
Calories (Kcal): 630
Fat (g): 34
Cholesterol (mg): 10
Sodium (mg): 1080
Carbohydrates (g): 58
Fiber (g): 4
Sugar (g): 12
Protein (g): 25

Impossible Whopper: mayo, tomatoes and pickles keep it from being a dry brick.

REGULAR WHOPPER: (from Burger King‘s website)
Calories (Kcal): 660
Fat (g): 40
Saturated Fat (g): 12
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 90
Sodium (mg): 980
Carbohydrates (g): 49
Fiber (g): 2
Sugar (g): 11
Protein (g): 28

The Whopper.

QUARTER POUNDER WITH CHEESE DELUXE: (from McDonald’s website)
Calories (Kcal): 650
Fat (g): 39
Saturated Fat (g): 15
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 110
Sodium (mg): 1180
Carbohydrates (g): 44
Fiber (g): 3
Sugar (g): 11
Protein (g): 32

Quarter Pounder with Cheese Deluxe.

 

DAVE’S SINGLE: (from Wendy’s website)
Calories: 570
Fat (g): 34
Sat Fat (g): 13
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 100
Sodium (mg): 1080
Carbohydrates (g): 38
Sugar (g): 8
Fiber (g): 2
Protein (g): 29

Dave’s Single was good, but quite greasy.

 

 

After tasting all these burgers, my choice is to go back to a humanely-raised grass-fed burger, but for that, I have to go to my own kitchen. I can’t get it through the window of my car.

 

PAN PIZZA, TWO WAYS

Posted: February 9, 2020 in Food, pizza, Recipes, restaurants
Tags: , , ,

Well, I posted my blog about pizza last week, not realizing today is National Pizza Day! So let’s talk pan pizza this time…

 

I got my first restaurant job when I was 17, working at Pizza City East, just down the street from my childhood home in Plainview, NY. It wasn’t a great job, but I learned an awful lot about food preparation. It’s where I opened and tasted my first clam on the half shell. It’s where I had my first sip of espresso and cappuccino. And it’s where I learned a lot about how to make really good pizza. My buddy, Mel, and I worked the counter. Mel made the pies and I did the rest: sandwiches, espressos, clams, and eventually even cooked in the kitchen. We were 2 hard-working slobs in high school, but we bonded in a way that kept us friends to this very day, over 40 years later.

So you could say pizza was in my blood. For me, the true test of a great pie is a simple slice with only sauce and cheese. It’s not easy to get that right, despite how easy it may look.

And for me, there was no other pizza than New York style Neapolitan pizza, the classic round pie with thin crust. I have no doubt that it would be my choice for the classic question: “If you were stuck on a desert island, and you could only have 1 food, what would it be?”

But then I discovered Sicilian pizza: it was thicker, square, and was baked on a large sheet pan. The crust was crisp on the bottom, and light and airy inside. I thought: OK, I have room for 2 favorite pizzas. And then, believe it or not, I went to Uno’s…(Pizzeria Uno back in the day)…and I had my first pan pizza. It was thick like Sicilian, but somehow different, and heavier on the sauce. But absolutely delicious. I finally settled on 3 favorite pizzas.

Despite having 3 favorite styles of pizza, I always cooked a Neapolitan pie when I made pizza at home. Perhaps it was a bit easier, or perhaps I just never felt I really made the perfect pizza, and I needed to keep trying. In either case, it meant that after 40 years of making my own pizza, I finally made a pan pizza for the first time just last year. And it was good…really good.

 

The dough is stretched out and ready to accept whatever tasty toppings you like!

 

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores, or online. Using ready-made store-bought dough saves a lot of work, and it’s great, too. Ratios for my dough 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 warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza yeast or regular dry 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. I roll it back into a ball, cover it, and let it rise another 2 hours again.

Let’s talk pans. For me, nothing beats a real heavy duty cast iron pan for this recipe…and I’ve got a large one. I brush olive oil generously all over the inside of the pan–even on the sides–and then place the dough in the center. Slowly, using my fingertips, I spread and flatten the dough out from the center evenly all the way around. I keep spreading and stretching until the dough just starts to come up the sides of the pan. I cover the pan with a clean towel, and turn the oven on to 450 degrees to pre-heat.

Leaving the pan on the stove top while the oven pre-heats will help the dough rise again. Meanwhile, I get my ingredients ready for my pizza.

 

Crumbled sausage on top of the pizza.

 

White pizza…

 

3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
mozzarella
Parmigiano Reggiano
Provolone cheese
dried oregano
crumbled Italian sweet sausage

 

The first time I made a pan pizza, my daughter requested a white pizza. I minced a bunch of garlic and lightly sautéed it in olive oil, being sure not to burn it. I set that aside.

I grated mozzarella cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano, setting them aside. I also use sliced provolone.

And this time, my daughter asked for sausage on the pizza, so I got a few mild Italian sausages, cut open the casings, and crumbled the meat in a bowl, setting it aside.

The oven should be pre-heated in about a half-hour, so it was time to make the pizza. I removed the towel covering the pizza dough, and stretched it out a bit more. Using a spoon, I spread the garlic and oil mixture evenly on the dough. I layed down 5 or 6 slices of provolone. I then sprinkled the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, followed by the mozzarella. I crumbled the sausage meat over half the pie (I like my side plain), and then I finally gave the pizza a sprinkling of oregano.

The pizza went into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. I kept an eye on it to make sure it didn’t burn.

 

My first pan pizza: half sausage white pizza.

 

My second pan pizza was a classic tomato sauce recipe…

I use canned crushed tomatoes for my tomato sauce pizza.

 

Tomato sauce pizza

1 cup crushed organic tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
mozzarella
peperoni, sliced thin
dried oregano

 

I like my tomato sauce to be a little chunky for my pan pizza, so I bought a can of crushed organic tomatoes. I placed about a cup of the crushed tomatoes in a bowl and added a teaspoon of sugar, mixing it well. This cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, and makes the pizza even better! I spooned out the tomatoes onto the the pizza dough. I sprinkled the mozzarella over the sauce. I layed slices of pepperoni on half the pizza (like I said, I like my side plain!), and I gave it a sprinkling of oregano.

 

Don’t skimp on the pepperoni!

 

The final product!

 

Delicious! Crispy crust on the outside, soft on the inside.

 

 

I’ve had a lot of pizza in my life. But truly great pizza? I can probably count that on one hand: Sicilian at Ben’s in the Village in NYC…Pizza Montanara at Pizzarte on W 55th in NYC…a coal-fired oven-baked clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, CT…Sicilian at La Piazza in my hometown of Plainview, NY…and now…my house!

My dog, Fellow, stood by me in the kitchen while I made this dish. I decided to name it after him. It makes a great Thanksgiving appetizer.

Since the first time I created this dish, I’ve made some improvements. First, a little history…

The original Oysters Rockefeller recipe is a closely guarded secret, created in 1899 at the famous New Orleans restaurant Antoine’s. Jules Alciatore, the son of founder Antoine Alciatore, developed the dish when they had a shortage of escargot, substituting locally available oysters. Antoine’s is still the only place in the world where you can be served the original Oysters Rockefeller recipe.

Search on line for Oysters Rockefeller, and you’ll find hundreds of recipes that claim to be the real thing. Most of them use spinach in the dish. The folks at Antoine’s claim there wasn’t any spinach in the original recipe.

My version, my Oysters Rock-a-Fellow, is a cheesier, gooier version than the original, but I think it’s one you will enjoy. I use larger, meatier oysters like Wellfleets from Cape Cod or local Rhode Island oysters, but use what you like. And, as I show you below, you can make the cheese portion of this dish the day before, saving yourself a lot of work.

 

24 oysters, washed to remove grit
2 cans beer (any extra beer you have is fine)
5 black peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
2 garlic cloves

Scrub the oysters under cold water to get them clean.

In a large pot, pour in the beer, peppercorns, salt, and garlic cloves, along with enough cold water to fill the pot about halfway. Turn the heat on high and bring the pot to a boil. This liquid will add flavor to the oysters and will further clean the outside of the shells.

The moment you reach a boil, turn the heat to medium and drop in 6 oysters, letting them bathe in the liquid for only 30 seconds. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl to cool. If the oysters open, they’ve been in there too long! You want them to stay closed. Do the same with the rest of the oysters, 6 at a time. Once all the oysters have had their 30 seconds, move the oyster bowl to a cutting board. Discard the liquid in the pot.

Pour Kosher salt onto a sheet pan lined with foil. Once the oysters have cooled enough for you to handle, carefully remove the top shell off each one, and lay them on the bed of salt in the sheet pan, trying not to spill any of the precious oyster liquor inside.

 

Salt holds the oysters in place.

 

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

 

 

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup low-fat milk
salt and pepper
3 cups (tightly packed) fresh arugula, finely chopped, about a 5 oz. container
6 oz. mild cheddar cheese (the white one), grated
6 oz. mozzarella, grated
Fine bread crumbs (Using GF breadcrumbs will keep this dish gluten-free)

 

In a sauce pan, melt the butter and then add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent.

Add the milk, season with salt and pepper, and then add the arugula a little at a time, letting it wilt before adding more. Use all the arugula.

Once all the arugula is in the saucepan, sprinkle the cheese in a bit at a time, letting it melt, until you’ve used all the cheese: the cheddar and then the mozzarella.

Pour the gooey cheese mix into a lasagna pan, smooth it out with a spatula, and place it in the fridge to cool.

 

 

You can actually do this all the day before, because the cheese mix hardens and becomes easy to cut into cubes with a sharp knife.

 

 

Then simply place a cube of the cheese mix on each oyster…

 

 

…sprinkle a little bread crumb on top…

 

 

…and bake in the 425-degree oven for about 8–10 minutes until it’s golden and bubbly.

 

 

 

Whoever said that cheese and seafood don’t go together, never tried this!

 

I buy Udi’s gluten free frozen bread for my breadcrumbs. I take the loaf, toast the slices, then put them through the food processor. The taste is far better than buying pre-made GF breadcrumbs. Use regular breadcrumbs if you don’t need to worry about gluten.

If you’re really strict about gluten, you can use GF beer in the pot of water or simply eliminate the beer altogether.

 

I recently had a chance to sample some very tasty bourbons at Fluke Newport, one of my favorite restaurants here in Rhode Island. Not being a big football fan, there was no better way for me to spend a Sunday afternoon…sipping wonderful bourbon, cleansing my palate with a selection of delicious appetizers prepared by my friend, Chef Eddie Montalvo, and enjoying the company of dozens of other like-minded people.

 

 

I have a long history with Geremie and Jeff Callaghan, the owners of Fluke Newport. It was about 12 years ago when my wife and I accidentally found the restaurant one winter night, and Jeff, behind the bar, was more than happy to share his knowledge of rums. We sipped and sampled all night, and I knew we had found a restaurant we’d be coming back to for years.

 

The bar at Fluke Newport.

 

Over time, the demand for rum changed to bourbon, and Fluke Newport now serves about 45 different bourbon brands on any given day.

 

A personal favorite from the day’s tasting.

 

Our bourbon tasting focused on a total of seven bourbons, all from the Buffalo Trace distillery. Six were paired with appetizers and the seventh, one of my favorites, Blanton’s, was served as “dessert.”

 

Blanton’s on display.

 

Jeff and Geremie talked about having another bourbon tasting around the holidays. Can I make my reservation now?

 

We also got some cool Buffalo Trace swag!

 

 

 

 

I got my first restaurant job when I was 17, working at Pizza City East, just down the street from my childhood home in Plainview, NY. It wasn’t a great job, but I learned an awful lot about food preparation. It’s where I opened and tasted my first clam on the half shell. It’s where I had my first sip of espresso and cappuccino. And it’s where I learned a lot about how to make really good pizza. My buddy, Mel, and I worked the counter. Mel made the pies and I did the rest: sandwiches, espressos, clams, and eventually even cooked in the kitchen. We were 2 hard-working slobs in high school, but we bonded in a way that kept us friends to this very day, over 40 years later.

So you could say pizza was in my blood. For me, the true test of a great pie is a simple slice with only sauce and cheese. It’s not easy to get that right, despite how easy it may look.

And for me, there was no other pizza than New York style Neapolitan pizza, the classic round pie with thin crust. I have no doubt that it would be my choice for the classic question: “If you were stuck on a desert island, and you could only have 1 food, what would it be?”

But then I discovered Sicilian pizza: it was thicker, square, and was baked on a large sheet pan. The crust was crisp on the bottom, and light and airy inside. I thought: OK, I have room for 2 favorite pizzas. And then, believe it or not, I went to Uno’s…(Pizzeria Uno back in the day)…and I had my first pan pizza. It was thick like Sicilian, but somehow different, and heavier on the sauce. But absolutely delicious. I finally settled on 3 favorite pizzas.

Despite having 3 favorite styles of pizza, I always cooked a Neapolitan pie when I made pizza at home. Perhaps it was a bit easier, or perhaps I just never felt I really made the perfect pizza, and I needed to keep trying. In either case, it meant that after 40 years of making my own pizza, I finally made a pan pizza for the first time just last week. And it was good…really good.

 

The dough is stretched out and ready to accept whatever tasty toppings you like!

 

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores, or online. Using ready-made store-bought dough saves a lot of work, and it’s great, too. Ratios for my dough 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 or regular dry 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. I roll it back into a ball, cover it, and let it rise another 2 hours again.

Let’s talk pans. For me, nothing beats a real heavy duty cast iron pan for this recipe…and I’ve got a large one. I brush olive oil generously all over the inside of the pan–even on the sides–and then place the dough in the center. Slowly, using my fingertips, I spread and flatten the dough out from the center evenly all the way around. I keep spreading and stretching until the dough just starts to come up the sides of the pan. I cover the pan with a clean towel, and turn the oven on to 450 degrees.

Leaving the pan on the stove top while the oven pre-heats will help the dough rise again. Meanwhile, I get my ingredients ready for my pizza.

 

Crumbled sausage on top of the pizza.

 

White pizza…

 

3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
mozzarella
Parmigiano Reggiano
Provolone cheese
dried oregano
crumbled Italian sweet sausage

 

The first time I made a pan pizza, my daughter requested a white pizza. I minced a bunch of garlic and lightly sautéed it in olive oil, being sure not to burn it. I set that aside.

I grated mozzarella cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano, setting them aside. I also use sliced provolone.

And this time, my daughter asked for sausage on the pizza, so I got a few mild Italian sausages, cut open the casings, and crumbled the meat in a bowl, setting it aside.

The oven should be pre-heated in about a half-hour, so it was time to make the pizza. I removed the towel covering the pizza, and stretched the dough out a bit more. Using a spoon, I spread the garlic and oil mixture evenly on the dough. I layed down 5 or 6 slices of provolone. I then sprinkled the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, followed by the mozzarella. I crumbled the sausage meat over half the pie (I like my side plain), and then I finally gave the pizza a sprinkling of oregano.

The pizza went into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. I kept an eye on it to make sure it didn’t burn.

My first pan pizza: half sausage white pizza.

 

My second pan pizza was a classic tomato sauce recipe…

I use canned crushed tomatoes for my tomato sauce pizza.

 

Tomato sauce pizza

1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
mozzarella
peperoni, sliced thin
dried oregano

 

I like my tomato sauce to be a little chunky for my pan pizza, so I bought a can of crushed tomatoes. I placed about a cup of the crushed tomatoes in a bowl and added a teaspoon of sugar, mixing it well. This cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, and makes the pizza even better! I spooned out the tomatoes onto the the pizza dough. I sprinkled the mozzarella over the sauce. I layed slices of pepperoni on half the pizza (like I said, I like my side plain!), and I gave it a sprinkling of oregano.

 

Don’t skimp on the peperoni!

 

The final product!

 

Delicious! Crispy crust on the outside, soft on the inside.

 

 

I’ve had a lot of pizza in my life. But truly great pizza? I can probably count that one 1 hand: Sicilian at Ben’s in the Village…Pizza Montanara at Pizzarte on W 55th…a coal-fired oven-baked clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, CT…Sicilian at La Piazza in my hometown of Plainview, NY…and now…my house!

 

Growing up in New York, we just called them chili dogs. But when I moved to New England, they called them Coney Island dogs. Here in Rhode Island, they’re hot weiners. In fact, the Olneyville NY System restaurant has made it to “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri, “Bizarre Foods” with Andrew Zimmern, and even won the 2014 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award.

A weiner. All that. Because it is all that.

Nothing beats going to the Olneyville NY System in lovely Olneyville, RI. But if you’re not fond of having your dogs lined all the way up the cook’s hairy arm…or if you’d rather just enjoy them at home…it’s really not that tough to do. You may not have the atmosphere that only a 70-year tradition can bring, but it’ll be pretty damn tasty nonetheless.

Of course, you can buy a packet of their special spices, but that’s cheating, isn’t it?

 

My chili sauce adds a few ingredients that you won’t find elsewhere. That’s OK. Yours should, too.

1 lb. ground beef (I use grass-fed beef, no leaner than 80/20)
2 strips bacon, finely chopped
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
8 hot dogs
8 hot dog buns
shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
chopped Vidalia onion (optional)
celery salt (optional)

I like to put the dog under the broiler to melt the cheese before I use the other toppings.

 

Leave the bacon grease left over from frying the bacon in the pan. Turn up the heat, add the ground beef and cook it all the way through, crumbling it up as much as you can. Add the chopped bacon to the pan and mix well.

In a large saucepan, pour in the can of tomatoes and chop them up with a spatula. Add the Worcestershire, onion flakes, garlic, mustard, black pepper, and chile powder. Mix well. Let it come to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the cooked beef and bacon to the sauce. Keep chopping and breaking down the tomatoes every time you stir the sauce. (A potato masher works well for this, too.)

Cover the pot and let it simmer for at least an hour, stirring often.

What kind of hot dogs you should use for this is a matter of personal preference. The folks at Olneyville use their own special brand of all-beef dog. I love the pork hot dogs I get when I go home to Long Island and stop by the Forest Pork Store in Huntington, NY. It’s yet another amazing food store where my Mom would always go to buy cold cuts, especially liverwurst, and their delicious hot dogs and cocktail franks. They’ve been in that location for a long time, and it’s a must-stop when I go home to visit my Mom.

Ultimately, you should pick the hot dog you like! Being a native New Yorker, if I don’t have any of the Forest Pork Store dogs in my freezer, I go to the supermarket and buy the foot-long dogs from Nathan’s. Classic!

Boil or steam the dogs, place them on the buns (On your arm or not is up to you! Don’t blame me for any third-degree burns!) And pour some of the chile sauce on top. Sprinkle some of the cheddar cheese on top, and put the sandwich under the broiler to melt the cheese.

Then add the chopped Vidalias, and celery salt (optional, but I use ’em both!)