Posts Tagged ‘cheese’

I came up with this crunchy appetizer a few years ago, when I needed a tasty bite for one of our summer parties. I wanted something fresh that highlighted the veggies of the season, so when I spotted these baby bell peppers in the supermarket, I got the idea. I get requests for the recipe every year. 

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Baby bell peppers
6 ears fresh corn, removed from the cob…or organic frozen corn
1/2 Vidalia onion, peeled, quartered, grilled, chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)
6 oz. feta cheese or Queso Fresco, crumbled
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of white pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

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Cut the corn kernels from the ears, and sauté them very briefly in a little olive oil. Place them in a bowl and let them cool.

Peel and quarter the Vidalia onion, and throw it on a hot grill with a little olive oil to get some nice grill marks on it, leaving the onion still crispy, not soft. If you’re cooking indoors, throw the quartered onion in a hot pan with a little olive oil, and cook it until you get some brown marks on it. Remove it, let cool, then place it in a food processor and pulse it until the onion is chopped into small bits, just smaller than the corn kernels. Add the onions to the corn.

In a separate small bowl, combine the mayonnaise and the Frank’s Red Hot. Pour in the crumbled cheese and mix well. Pour this into the corn and onion bowl and mix well.

Add the lime juice, white pepper and parsley to the bowl and mix well again.

Cut the baby bell peppers in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds and membrane. Stuff the peppers with the corn mixture and garnish with cilantro or parsley.

If you’re preparing this ahead of time, refrigerate the stuffed peppers until you’re ready to eat, but allow some time for them to warm up to a cool, not cold, temperature.

It’s National 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 it 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…and don’t even talk to me about using cauliflower!

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

More cheese = better pizza, right?

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 at room temp 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.

Simple and delicious.

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 how I roll.

The toppings…

Most of the time, I go plain cheese. But when I do decide to add toppings, one of my favorites 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.

Thick pan pizza, which is easy to create at home if you’ve got a cast iron skillet, is a completely different animal, and the subject of another blog.

 

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 was Pizzarte on West 55th St. in Manhattan. However, recently, much to my dismay, they took it off the menu. (But I’ve heard that you can still special order it.)

 

The original location of Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana in New Haven, CT, is the home of the clam pizza, 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…and Fellini Pizzeria, on the east side of Providence, RI and in Cranston, RI, home of a wonderful New York-style thin crust pie.

Al Forno in Providence, RI, is a legendary Italian restaurant that was established in 1980 and has graced the pages of many a food magazine ever since. Chefs Johanne Killeen and George Germon made it a culinary destination, creating dishes that many have copied, but never equaled. 

One of those creations was the grilled pizza. These days, you can find grilled pizzas just about anywhere in the country, but it was Al Forno that started it all.

Sadly, George Germon passed away in 2015, but the restaurant continues, despite only being open for takeout these days, due to the pandemic. And although the menu offers a wide variety of dishes for takeout, the one my daughter and I crave–that isn’t on the menu–is their 5-cheese pasta dish. It’s not baked ziti. It’s not lasagna. It’s something way beyond.

 

 

Taking the recipe from one of Johanne and George’s cookbooks, my daughter and I decided that we would re-create this magical dish at home as best we could.

One element obviously missing in our home is a wood-fired oven, something Al Forno uses with every dish. (I’ll be able to tackle that end of the recipe in a few months, when my Ooni wood-burning pizza oven arrives.)

And looking at their list of 5 cheeses (mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, fontina, ricotta and gorgonzola), I found that gorgonzola was a bit of a surprise. Having had the 5-cheese pasta dish at least 4 times at Al Forno, I never detected even a hint of blue cheese. In fact, if I would have, I don’t think I would’ve ordered it again. So we chose to remove the gorgonzola and add another favorite, sharp provolone, instead. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

Other than that, we stayed true to the recipe, using shell pasta because that’s what we always got at the restaurant.

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes in heavy puree (San Marzano’s, if you can get ’em)
4 oz. thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
1.5 oz. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1.5 oz. coarsely shredded Fontina cheese
1.5 oz. grated Provolone cheese
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
6 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 lb. conchiglie (medium shell) pasta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced thinly
Shavings of raw scallion for garnish (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 500°, or as close to it as your oven will get.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the pasta and the butter. Stir well to combine.

 

 

Drop the pasta in the boiling water and parboil it for about 4 minutes. Drain it in a colander and add it to the ingredients in the mixing bowl. Combine it well.

 

 

Divide the pasta mixture into small ceramic dishes, or just use one large baking dish. You want it to sit in a relatively shallow 1-inch layer.

 

 

Dot the top of the dish with the butter, and bake it until it’s bubbly and brown, about 7 to 10 minutes at 500…a little longer at lower temperatures.

 

Funny how help arrives when it’s all about pasta and cheese!

 

It’s the creamiest, cheesiest pasta dish you’ll ever have…and everyone will fight over those little charred pasta shells!

 

Optional: When I ordered this dish at Al Forno, they would top it with thin shavings of raw scallion on top. I loved that touch and do that at home as well.

 

Butter and cheese. Can anything be better?

It’s great when asparagus is in season, but we served it up yesterday with Thanksgiving dinner as well.

This is a great side dish with any main course like a big slab of meat, and has special meaning to me because my cousin first introduced me to asparagus with this recipe when I was just a kid. She passed away many years ago, but I think of her every time I make this simple but delicious dish.

You can use almost any grated “parmesan” cheese, but nothing beats real Parmigiano Reggiano that you freshly grate yourself.

 

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1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

 

 

The easy way to trim an asparagus spear is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. I toss the bottoms into my compost pile.

I heat the butter and oil together in a pan and then add the asparagus spears, cooking over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. (You don’t want them mushy.)

While the asparagus is still in the pan, I sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. I season with sea salt (I prefer Fleur de Sel) and freshly cracked black pepper.

 

 

 

Butter and cheese. Can anything be better?

Little by little, asparagus season is winding down. I’ve had a month of gorging (and sharing with friends.) It’s time to let some of the stalks grow tall, and open up into the beautiful bushy asparagus ferns that will decorate the garden all summer. It’s important to leave these ferns alone, because they’re storing up energy for the next season. I let them turn brown and fall over when colder weather arrives, only removing them the following spring before the new season starts. That assures that my asparagus roots are re-charged for another amazing season. Asparagus is such a low-maintenance crop; it’s definitely one of this veggies every lazy gardener should grow.

I still have bags of asparagus in my fridge, and I enjoy it in a variety of ways: I love it raw, chopped into salads, pickled, oven-roasted, and in pasta dishes.

This is a great side dish with any main course like a big slab of meat, and has special meaning to me because my cousin first introduced me to asparagus with this recipe when I was just a kid. She passed away many years ago, but I think of her every time I make this simple but delicious dish.

You can use almost any grated “parmesan” cheese, but nothing beats real Parmigiano Reggiano that you freshly grate yourself.

 

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1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

 

 

The easy way to trim an asparagus spear is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. I toss the bottoms into my compost pile.

I heat the butter and oil together in a pan and then add the asparagus spears, cooking over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. (You don’t want them mushy.)

While the asparagus is still in the pan, I sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. I season with sea salt (I prefer Flour de Sel) and freshly cracked black pepper.

That’s it! With fresh garden asparagus, it’s all you need! I ate this batch right out of the pan!

 

 

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 it 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…and don’t even talk to me about using cauliflower!

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

 

More cheese = better pizza, right?

 

 

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 at room temp 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.

 

Simple and delicious.

 

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 how I roll.

 

The toppings…

Most of the time, I go plain cheese. But when I do decide to add toppings, one of my favorites 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.

 

Thick pan pizza, which is easy to create at home if you’ve got a cast iron skillet, is a completely different animal, and the subject of another blog.

 

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 was Pizzarte on West 55th St. in Manhattan. However, recently, much to my dismay, they took it off the menu. (But I’ve heard that you can still special order it.)

The original location of Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana in New Haven, CT, is the home of the clam pizza, 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…and Fellini Pizzeria, on the east side of Providence, RI and in Cranston, RI, home of a wonderful New York-style thin crust pie.

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 at home!

You can make these days ahead of time and then freeze them, re-heating them whenever you have guests. These are way better than your average snacks when that football game is on!

 

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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. (The best tasting GF breadcrumbs are the ones you make yourself. Buy a loaf of sliced gluten-free bread, like Udi’s, and toast it in your toaster oven. Crumble the slices into a food processor, processing them until the breadcrumbs are the size you like.)

 

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2 lbs. raw 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

 

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

Melt the butter in the same pot the potatoes were in, then add the onions and sauté them until they’re 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: all-purpose 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 scrambled 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 them on paper towels, and quickly season lightly with salt while hot.

 

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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 freezer bags and store them in the freezer. When it’s time to cook them, let them thaw for about 15 minutes, then place them in a pre-heated 325 degree oven and cook for 15 minutes.

 

I came up with this crunchy appetizer a few years ago, when I needed a tasty bite for one of our summer parties. I wanted something fresh that highlighted the veggies of the season, so when I spotted these baby bell peppers in the supermarket, I got the idea. I get requests for the recipe every year. (I  grow my own baby bell peppers, but when we’re talking about feeding a large party, it’s time to go to the supermarket! )

 

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Baby bell peppers
6 ears fresh corn, removed from the cob…or organic frozen corn
1/2 Vidalia onion, peeled, quartered, grilled, chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)
6 oz. feta cheese or Queso Fresco, crumbled
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of white pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

 

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Cut the corn kernels from the ears, and sauté them very briefly in a little olive oil. Place them in a bowl and let them cool.

Peel and quarter the Vidalia onion, and throw it on a hot grill with a little olive oil to get some nice grill marks on it, leaving the onion still crispy, not soft. If you’re cooking indoors, throw the quartered onion in a hot pan with a little olive oil, and cook it until you get some brown marks on it. Remove it, let cool, then place it in a food processor and pulse it until the onion is chopped into small bits, just smaller than the corn kernels. Add the onions to the corn.

In a separate small bowl, combine the mayonnaise and the Frank’s Red Hot. Pour in the crumbled cheese and mix well. Pour this into the corn and onion bowl and mix well.

Add the lime juice, white pepper and parsley to the bowl and mix well again.

Cut the baby bell peppers in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds and membrane. Stuff the peppers with the corn mixture and garnish with cilantro or parsley.

 

If you’re preparing this ahead of time, refrigerate the stuffed peppers until you’re ready to eat, but allow some time for them to warm up to a cool, not cold, 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.

This is a great side dish for any special occasion. And you can substitute to suit your needs. Goat cheese not your speed? Try Gruyère or smoked gouda. Need it to be gluten-free? Use GF breadcrumbs. Don’t like mushrooms? Okay…I can’t help you there…

 

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1 package large white mushrooms
olive oil
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, through a press
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
fresh goat cheese
bread crumbs
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

 

 

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse the mushrooms in cold water to clean them. Remove the stems of the mushrooms and set them aside. Rub the mushroom caps with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet, open side-down, in a 400-degree oven for a few minutes.

In a pan, sauté the shallot and garlic in a little olive oil. Chop the mushroom stems finely and add them to the pan. Add the thyme and pepper flakes.

Reduce the oven temp to 350 degrees after removing the mushroom caps. Flip the mushroom caps over so that they look like little bowls. Break off a small piece of goat cheese and place it in each mushroom. Top each with the sautéed shallot mixture. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and sprinkle parsley over that.

Return the baking sheet to the oven, cooking the mushrooms until they are lightly golden in color, and the cheese has melted.

 

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Mushroom myth: Soaking mushrooms in cold water makes them mushy. Not true! Alton Brown, on an old episode of “Good Eats” on the Food Network, showed that mushrooms do not soak up any water when left to soak for even 30 minutes. So use your mushroom brush…use your kitchen towel…whatever you like. But I prefer to get them clean simply with cold water.