Posts Tagged ‘ITALIAN’

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!

LASAGNA, MY WAY

Posted: March 17, 2017 in Food, Italian, pasta, Recipes
Tags: , , , ,

As a teenager growing up on Long Island, I worked long hours at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in Plainview. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) Though the pay sucked, I made some important friendships that have lasted to this day. I also learned many Italian cooking basics: how to open clams for red and white clam sauce, the secrets of great pizza dough, the art of a perfect espresso, and how to make massive quantities of baked ziti.

Although the basic ingredients of baked ziti are the same as lasagna, baked ziti is wetter, using more cheese and sauce. So when I started making lasagna, I followed this same path.

It was only recently that I decided to take the more classic Italian approach and make a “drier” lasagna. Once I did, I realized I had done it wrong all this time!

My lasagna consists of 2 sauces and 4 cheeses, using pasta that is boiled much firmer than al dente. I really don’t like the flavor or texture of no-boil pasta sheets, so I never use them.

This lasagna can be gluten-free (and just as delicious) when you use the alternatives listed in the recipe.
lasagna

 

Meat Sauce…
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 lb. grass-fed ground beef
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

 

Heat a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onions until translucent. I finely chop the carrots by peeling them and then chopping up the peeled pieces, so that they almost melt into the sauce. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beef and cook until it browns. Add the parsley, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and mix well.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a blender and blend until smooth. Add this to the pan and mix well.

Cook the meat sauce for about 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside.

 

Bechamel sauce…
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup flour to make it gluten-free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups 2% milk

 

Bechamel is a basic white sauce. It adds a wonderful creaminess to lasagna.

Melt the butter in a saucepan under medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until you’ve combined the butter and flour and have a light roux.

Add the milk, and keep whisking, making sure you don’t get any lumps in the sauce. Season with the salt and pepper.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Once it does, remove it from the heat and set it aside.

 

12 oz. lasagna pasta sheets (I use Garofalo GF pasta to keep things gluten-free)
4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 oz.)
ricotta cheese (about 4 oz.)
mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced (about 4 oz.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the lasagna sheets in a pot of salty boiling water until very firm…firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process. The pasta will want to stick to itself, so work quickly.

Lay a thin layer of the meat sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan, which will keep the lasagna from sticking. Then start your layers: a layer of pasta, a thin layer of the Béchamel sauce, the 4 slices of Provolone, a layer of pasta, a layer of the meat sauce, small teaspoon-sized dollops of the ricotta, another layer of pasta (press down occasionally to remove air bubbles), another thin layer of Béchamel, the Parmigiano Reggiano, more pasta, more meat sauce, etc….

Make it as thick as you like. I like to cover the final layer of pasta with the meat sauce and then finish the dish with the mozzarella, sprinkling a touch of oregano on top.

Place the lasagna pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Shut the oven off, but leave the pan in for another 10 minutes, then serve.

Basic lasagna on the left, gluten-free on the right. I couldn't find GF lasagna sheets, so I used bundles of spaghetti! It worked really well!

Basic lasagna on the left, gluten-free on the right. I couldn’t find GF lasagna sheets, so I used bundles of spaghetti! It worked really well!

 

 

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!

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.

fullsizerender-5

 

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!

I always thought that spaghetti squash was a sort of “gimmick” vegetable. But once I roasted it, I realized just how delicious it could be. And I hit the “squash lottery” the other day, when my friend, Karen, stopped by with a bunch of beautiful spaghetti squash straight from her and her husband, Bill’s, garden. It was time to cook!

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Cooking them is easy. I wash them, cut them in half, and remove the seeds and membrane stuff with a spoon. I flip them onto their backs, skin side down, and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on them. A little sea salt and pepper, and then I flip them back down, skin side up, on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Into a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30–40 minutes. When they’re soft to the touch, I remove the sheet pan from the oven, flip them back over again, and let them cool to room temperature. Then I simply scrape out the flesh with a fork, and it comes out in strands, like spaghetti.

image

While the squash roasts in the oven, I make the meatballs…

 

1 lb. ground grass-fed beef
1 lb. pastured ground veal (substitute ground beef if you can’t get this)
1 cup breadcrumbs (I use gluten-free)
2 eggs, cracked and scrambled
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and form into meatballs. Place them in a hot pan with 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Cook until the meatballs are browned on all sides.

 

 

 

And you need homemade sauce…

2 cans (28 oz.) of tomatoes, pureed
olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

In a large pot, saute the onions in a little olive oil until translucent. Add the pureed tomatoes and cook at medium heat until the foam disappears.

Add all the herbs and spices and mix well. Continue cooking on medium heat, lowering to a simmer if the sauce seems to be boiling too hard.

Add the meatballs to the sauce when the meatballs have been browned on all sides. Pour the entire contents of the meatball pan, including the olive oil and fat, into the tomato sauce pot.

Make sure all the meatballs are covered with the sauce. Place a lid on the pot, and simmer for at least an hour, until the meatballs are cooked all the way through.

image

 

Scrape the spaghetti squash with a spoon and place a mound of it in the center of the serving dish. Top it with the meatballs and sauce. Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top, or do what I did this time, and cut a slab of mozzarella di bufala into small cubes and toss on top. A little sprinkle of oregano and olive oil for good measure on top.

 

My first foray into serious cooking started when I bought “The Classic Italian Cookbook,” written by the legendary Marcella Hazan.

Like many great recipes, Fettuccine Alfredo is not complicated…but few restaurants that offer it get it right. Most of the Alfredo sauces I’ve had were watery, floury, and salty and had nothing in common with the real deal.
To this day, if I want a great Alfredo, I make it like Marcella.

alfredo2

 

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. Fettuccine, fresh or dried
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
A very tiny grating of nutmeg

Put 2/3 cup 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. Turn off the heat.

Drop the fettuccine in a big pot of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. Cook the fettuccine firmer than usual, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately and thoroughly when it’s done and transfer to the pan containing the butter and cream.

Turn the heat under the pan on low, and toss the fettuccine, coating them with the sauce. Add the rest of the cream, all the grated cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper and the nutmeg. Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the fettuccine are well coated. Taste and correct for salt.

Serve immediately!

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!

MANLY MEAT SAUCE

Posted: January 29, 2016 in bacon, beef, Food, Italian, pasta, Recipes
Tags: , , , , ,

Although my daughter goes crazy for my Ragu Bolognese (http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-Pc), pasta with meat sauce is one of the easiest things to make, with ingredients you probably have in your home. This sauce is really rich with flavor, and once you put all the ingredients together, it requires nothing more from you than an occasional stir every now and then.

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1/4 cup olive oil
3 strips bacon, finely chopped, raw or pre-cooked
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 lbs. ground beef (I use grass-fed beef)
2 cans (28 oz. each) whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon anise seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 bay leaves
1 small can (6 oz.)  tomato paste

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In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the bacon. Once the bacon is sizzling, add the onions and cook until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic salt and mix. Add the ground beef and cook until it has browned.

Pour the 2 cans of whole tomatoes into a food processor and blend until chunky…or go the old-fashioned route and simply squeeze the tomatoes with your hands, breaking them up. Pour the contents of both cans into the pot and stir well. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the orange tomato foam disappears.

Add the oregano, basil and parsley and stir. Add the salt and pepper and stir. Add the anise seed and fennel seed and stir. Throw in the 2 bay leaves and stir. (I think you get the idea, there’s a lot of stirring going on!)

When the sauce starts to boil, add the tomato paste and stir well. Let it come up to a boil again–the paste thickens best at high heat–then turn the heat down to a simmer and cover the pot.

Let the sauce simmer for several hours. Whenever you walk by, give the sauce a good stir.

Serve over pasta, with some grated Parmiggiano Reggiano.

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Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved bacon and pork chops all my life, it’s only recently that I’ve started to appreciate other cuts of pork and how to prepare them. That includes guanciale (pronounced gwan-chee-ah-lay), meat that comes from the cheek (or jowls) of the pig and is cured but not smoked. The process is similar to making pancetta, only pancetta comes from the belly of the beast.
It all started when I wanted to make an authentic spaghetti carbonara, which uses guanciale, not bacon or pancetta as many recipes state. But finding raw pork jowls wasn’t easy at first. Many websites offered smoked jowls. But raw jowls were almost impossible to find, and I just about gave up until I visited my friends Sal and chef Aaron at the Back Eddy restaurant in Westport, Massachusetts. I told them of my dilemma and they said: “Pork jowls? Oh, we can order them for you!” I was psyched!
About a week later, I picked up my jowls, individually wrapped in hermetically sealed ¼ pound packages, and my curing began. The process is simple: salt, pepper, some fresh thyme. Rub it all over the meat, wrap it tightly, and place it in the fridge to cure for a week or two.
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Finding room in my spare fridge to cure the meat was easy…everything fit snugly in a Ziploc bag. But after curing, and once I rinsed the excess salt off the jowl pieces, I had to dry them (all 24 of them since I bought 6 pounds.) So I rigged up a special hanging system that used bungy cords and vinyl cable ties. And three weeks later, I was frying up my guanciale in a saute pan and adding it to vegetables, potatoes, and pizza. I even gave guanciale gifts to my foodie friends.
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Since that first curing effort, many things had changed. I have several excellent sources for pork jowls, and I buy large 3-pound jowls (big pig!) at one time. And I’ve found 1001 uses for guanciale: pizza, ragu Bolognese, adding flavor to broccoli or brussels sprouts, and more. And, oh yes…I finally made the carbonara recipe with it as well. Here’s my recipe for ragu Bolognese using guanciale: http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-Pc
Always good to have a helper.

Always good to have a helper.