Pizza Fiorentina (Spinach Pizza)

A near perfect combination of rain balanced with ample sunshine have provided me with lots of garden-fresh spinach and basil. 

The tomatoes are on their way and I can’t wait!

Fresh spinach is such a joy!  As a child, I never liked spinach but that’s because spinach came in a can, back then.  Canned spinach is a sad, soggy misrepresentation of what spinach is meant to be.  Fresh spinach isn’t bitter, like the canned version and it’s crammed with vitamins and minerals. 

I have been feasting on spinach salads for over a week now and the garden is outpacing my consumption.  Must eat more spinach!

So, with that in mind, I find myself including it in more and more dishes.

Today’s culinary excursion took me to Italy, Florence, to be precise.  ‘Florentine’ is an adjective that is used to describe many things.  To fight Florentine style is to use a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other, but I’m not a fighter.  My passion is food and preparing food, Florentine style, often refers to the use of spinach in the dish. 

Pizza Fiorentina speciale!  Mama mia!

I’m making three pizzas today.  Two showcase spinach and one is an Italian meat extravaganza.  The spinach pizzas are made with garlic infused olive oil, rather than a traditional marinara sauce. 

I recommend using fresh spinach for the pizzas.  Frozen spinach can be used by it must be squeezed to remove as much moisture as possible…and for pity’s sake, don’t use canned spinach!  Use homemade pizza dough, or store-bought pizza crust. 

Homemade pizza dough

Pizza Fiorentina (Pizza Florentine)

Ingredients:

2 Tbs olive oil

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup fresh spinach, rough chopped

½ cup ricotta cheese

¼ cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1 Tbs dried oregano

1 tsp red chile flakes (optional)

1 ½ cups grated mozzarella cheese

Fresh basil, to taste

Directions:

Heat the olive oil and garlic in a pan over low heat.  Simmer and stir for a few minutes until the garlic softens. 

Strain the garlic and reserve the olive oil.

Chop and mash the garlic.  Return the garlic to the olive oil and set aside.

Combine ricotta and Parmesan cheese, spinach, oregano and red chile flakes.  Mix to combine.

Prepare the pizza dough.

Spread the olive oil and garlic on the pizza dough and bake in a 425° oven for 10 minutes.

Remove the pizza crust and add the cheese mixture, spreading the mixture evenly across the pizza crust.  Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. 

Remove the pizza from the oven.  Top with fresh basil.  Slice the pizza and serve hot.

Pizza con Varietà Di Salumi (Pizza with a variety of cured meats)

This pizza features thinly sliced pepperoni salami, hot capocollo and hot calabrese. 

Ingredients:

6 oz cured Italian meats (pepperoni salami, hot capocollo and hot calabrese)

1 cup marinara

2 cups mozzarella

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Prebake the pizza crust, if making from scratch. 

Add marina, followed by the meats and then the cheese.

Bake at 425° for 15 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown.

Remove the pizza, slice and serve hot.

Pizza Spinaci all’Aglio (Pizza with Spinach and Garlic)

In its purest form, this pizza is nothing but olive oil, garlic, spinach and cheese but, I added a few other items to add sweetness and flavor.

Ingredients:

3 Tbs olive oil

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 fresh tomato, sliced thin and marinated in olive oil and oregano for 30 minutes

1 cup fire roasted yellow bell pepper, chopped

¼ cup fresh onion, thinly sliced

2 cups fresh spinach, rough chopped

1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese

½ cups Parmesan cheese

Fresh basil, to taste

Directions:

Simmer the garlic in olive oil over low heat until the garlic softens.  Strain the garlic, chop and mash and add back to the olive oil.

Roast the bell pepper over an open flame or over hot coals. I laid the pepper on top of the gas burner and set the heat to the lowest setting. I rotated the pepper every few minutes until the whole pepper was charred.

Store the pepper in a paper or plastic bag for a few minutes to steam.

Remove the pepper and wipe away the charred skin, under cool running water. Dice the pepper and reserve.

Spread the olive oil mixture onto the raw pizza crust.  Allow the oil to soak into the dough for about one minute and then blot with a paper towel, to remove excess oil.

Add tomatoes, bell peppers and onion.

Bake at 425° for 10 minutes.  Remove pizza crust and add the spinach.  Top with mozzarella and Parmesan.

Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown.

Remove the pizza from the oven, top with fresh basil.  Serve immediately.

Mongolian Beef

This is probably the easiest Chinese stir-fry dish to make and it might be my favorite, if I had to pick a favorite.  There’s something about the simple marriage of tender sliced beef and green onions that excites me.  Soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and garlic is the only extra flavor you need to make this a spectacular dish. 

I like to top the dish with chili garlic paste (Sambal Oelek) and cilantro.  Just a little dab of chili garlic paste brightens the flavor and, if you are anything like me, you might even add a big dollop of Sambal Oelek. 

This is the sort of dish that I can taste, just by imagining it.  Rich, beefy lusciousness that is so satisfying!

Ingredients:

3 Tbs cooking oil

1 1/2 Tbs ginger, minced

4 or 5 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 lb flank steak, or any other lean cut of beef

1/3 cup cornstarch

2 green onions , sliced

Chili garlic paste, as much as you like 🙂

¼ cup cilantro

Directions:

Slice the beef into thin pieces, no more than a quarter inch thick, and toss with cornstarch.  Set aside.

I’ve made hundreds of stir-fry beef dishes and I’ve made them many different ways.  If I just tossed the beef strips in the wok without powdering them in starch first, the beef juices would cook out and sit at the bottom of the wok.  The meat would steam in the juices, instead of frying, which would cause the beef to become tough and I would eventually have to add cornstarch or flour to the meat juices to thicken the sauce.  Dusting the beef prior to stir-frying helps tenderize the beef as it cooks and the juice that runs out is absorbed by the cornstarch, which means that the meat, itself acts as a thickener for the sauce that is added later.  Trust me on this. 

Slice and chop the ginger and chop the garlic.   Set aside.

Cut the roots off of the green onions and cut the onions into 2” pieces.  Separate the white parts from the green stems.  The white pieces will be used at the beginning of the stir-fry and the green parts will be added near the end of the stir-fry.

Heat oil in a wok at low-medium heat. Add the chopped ginger and garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the white parts of the green onion and stir for two minutes. 

Remove the onion, ginger and garlic and reserve.

One at a time, add soy sauce, water and brown sugar to the wok and boil for about 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Remove the sauce to a bowl and set aside.

Place a tablespoon of oil in the wok and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the beef and stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Cook to medium rare.  Over-cooking the beef will make the meat tough and dry. 

Return the sauce to the wok and turn the heat to high.  Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, just to coat the meat.  Add both parts of the green onions, ginger and garlic and stir-fry for another minute.

Add some steamed jasmine rice to individual serving bowls.

Add the beef and onions to the bowls. 

Top with cilantro and Sambal Oelek. 

This is as good as it gets!

Crunchy Fried Shrimp

As you might recall from my previous post, I purchased 3 pounds of fresh shrimp a few days ago.  I used half of the shrimp in the Camarones ala Diabla but, what did I do with the other half?

Well, to be honest, the Camarones ala Diabla was intended solely for me.  I made it fiery hot, just as I like, and it was only fair that I made a second entrée for everyone else. 

The tangy sauce complemented the crispy shrimp perfectly.

Crunchy Shrimp Tacos

Who can resist fried shrimp?  Even people who don’t love shrimp will sample a little, when it’s fried.

Ingredients for the garden filling:

2 Roma tomatoes, diced

3 green onions, diced,

1 large carrot, matchstick cut

1 large jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and diced

½ cup fresh spinach, chopped

¼ cup bell pepper, diced

Ingredients for the sauce:

½ cup mayonnaise

3 Tbs spicy ketchup (chili sauce)

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp cumin powder

Ingredients for the fried shrimp:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup milk

3/4 cup flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1 large egg

1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

Two dashes of Maggi seasoning sauce (less than ¼ tsp)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup Panko breadcrumbs

1 lime, quartered

1.5  pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

8 flour tortillas (homemade this time)

Directions:

Prepare the garden filling by chopping, dicing and slicing all of the ingredients.  Toss in a bowl and squirt a little lime juice over the top and mix briefly.  Set aside.

Prepare the sauce by mixing all of the ingredients in a bowl.  Store in the refrigerator until needed.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, flour, cornstarch, egg, Sriracha, Maggi sauce and salt and pepper, to taste.  This will be the batter for the shrimp.

Add some Panko breadcrumbs to a separate bowl.

Working one at a time, dip the shrimp into the batter, then dredge in Panko breadcrumbs, pressing to coat.

Add the shrimp to the skillet, one at a time and cook until golden and crispy. This only takes 2 or 3 minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Assemble the tacos by smearing some sauce on a tortilla, adding a small handful of garden filling and topping with several shrimp and a few squirts of lime.

Serve with rice and beans.

Camarones ala Diabla

Camarones ala Diabla is served at many Mexican restaurants.  The name of the dish translates to Shrimp of the Devil.  The evocative name of the dish might entice you try it or it might make you afraid of the spicy heat that it promises to bring.  I have had Camarones ala Diabla at many restaurants and I have yet to find one that truly brings the heat I want. 

My tolerance for spicy food is higher than most people tolerate and I understand that restaurants cater to the general public so, when I order Camarones ala Diabla I usually tell the waiter, “muy picante, por favor”, or “mas picante”.  Sadly, that usually results in more sauce, rather than a spicier sauce. 

The way I see it, if you’re going to evoke the “devil” in the name of a dish you sell, you should be prepared to deliver the devilish fires of hell.  Don’t hold back!  I want something that sizzles and stings!  ¡Yo quiero picante!

When you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself!

My favorite local seafood vendor, Porter Seafood, rolled into town this weekend and I stopped by to pick up 3 pounds of fresh gulf shrimp.  $8.00 per pound might seem a little pricey, but it’s worth it.  Whole jumbo shrimp, fresh from the gulf, is a real treat.  I nearly cried for joy when I opened the bag and saw these big beauties!

Camarones ala Diabla is not very difficult to make.  All you need are fresh, jumbo shrimp and a wickedly spicy chile sauce. 

My recipe includes more chile de arbol than what most recipes call for and a few whole, crispy, fried jumbo shrimp, to top the dish.  Yes, the whole shrimp are meant to be eaten!  Whole, fried shrimp is a delicacy and it’s something that most Americans shy away from.  I won’t go into the experience of eating them whole except to say that they offer rich flavor, a wide range of textures and they look absolutely awesome!  If you’re even a little curious about trying whole, fried shrimp you should do it.  If the thought of eating a whole shrimp turns you off, don’t do it, but understand that you are missing a sensation that is worth overcoming the initial visual shock. 

Ingredients:

8 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed

8 dried chile de arbol chiles, stems removed (for a milder version, use 3 chile de arbol)

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped

1 tsp coarse salt

2 Tbs sesame seeds, or dried, crushed pumpkin seeds, (optional)

2 dried allspice berries, crushed (optional)

3 Tbs olive oil

1.5 pounds large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Reserve 3 whole, raw jumbo shrimp (do not remove heads, tails or shells)

½ cup milk

½ cup flour

1 egg

2 cups cooking oil

Sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds (semillas de sésamo o semillas de calabaza) add an earthy element to the sauce and the allspice berries (bayas de pimienta) add exotic flavor.  The recipe is fine without these but so much better when they are added.

Directions:

Left: Guajillo chiles: *** Right: Chile de arbol

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles.  Chile de arbol are small and it’s not easy to remove the seeds.  Don’t spend too much time trying.  The seeds will be removed when the sauce is strained.

Steam the chiles in a covered pan or pot, filled with water.  Boil the water, add the chiles, turn off the heat, cover and wait 30 minutes. 

While the chiles steam, prepare the vegetables for the sauce.

Chop the tomatoes, garlic and onion.  Add these to a blender. Add the salt, sesame seeds and crushed allspice to the blender.

After the chiles have steamed, carefully remove them from the water and place them in the blender.

Blend at high speed until pureed.

Strain the sauce and discard the pulp.  This should leave about two cups of smooth sauce.  Reserve until needed.

Rinse the 3 whole shrimp under clear, cool water.  Set aside to air-dry on a plate.

Mix the milk, flour and egg in a bowl.  This will be used to dredge the whole shrimp.  Set aside for now.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Add the peeled, raw shrimp.  Sautee for a few minutes, until the shrimp turn pink.  Do not cook for more than a few minutes, to avoid over cooking. 

Remove the shrimp and set aside.

Add the sauce to the pan.  Once the sauce is bubbling hot, return the shrimp to the pan and stir for a minute.  Remove to a serving platter and keep warm.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 2 cups of cooking oil. 

Once the oil is hot (350°), dredge the whole shrimp, one at a time, in the milk, flour and egg batter.  Carefully lay the shrimp into the hot oil, one at a time.  Fry the shrimp for one minute and then turn them over to fry on the other side for two minutes.  Turn once more and fry for another minute. 

Sorry, no pictures of this. I was having too much fun!

Carefully remove the shrimp and lay them across the top of the Camarones ala Diabla. 

Serve with the usual Mexican fare…tortillas, lime wedges, rice and beans…

Aye, caramba!  ¡Necesito una cerveza fría!

Don’t forget the cold beer!

Aloo Fry

This is a fun and easy way to add variety to a meal and a good way to spice up ho-hum potatoes.  You don’t have to serve this with a curry dish but it certainly goes well with one.  This could be served with baked chicken and vegetables or anything else you desire.

I had just finished making a vegetable stock from vegetable scraps and I boiled the potatoes in the stock, instead of boiling them in water.  Regular water would have worked just fine, but the broth seemed right for the dish.

Ingredients:

3 large red potatoes, washed, peeled and diced into ½ inch cubes

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, mashed and minced

1 tsp fresh ginger, minced

Salt, to taste

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp Garam Masala

1 tsp cumin

1 Tbs lemon juice

1 dry chile de arbol

2 Tbs cooking oil

Cilantro, for garnish

Directions:

Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are nearly cooked.  Strain potatoes and rinse under cold water.  Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok and add the chile de arbol.

Remove the chile de arbol after 30 seconds.  Add chopped onions and fry for 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat.

Add ginger and garlic and fry for 2 minutes until the onions are lightly browned.

Add the spices, along with salt to taste.

Add diced potatoes and stir for a minute or two.

Sprinkle some water over the potatoes and cover the wok and cook for 5-8 minutes.  Stir occasionally to prevent the potatoes from sticking to the wok.

Sprinkle a little more water if needed and cook for another 3-5 minutes until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked.

Turn off the heat and add lemon juice.  Add chopped cilantro and serve.

20 Minute Sandwich with a Tiny Coat Hanger

One evening, about a month and a half ago, when this whole Covid-19 pandemic thing was just beginning to bear down on us, I spoke with my son on the phone for about 20 minutes while he made a sandwich for his girlfriend, who was coming home from work.

He switched to speaker phone, after his girlfriend came home, so that he could finish making the sandwich.  We all joked and talked about how strange things had become and we finally got down to serious business.

You see, my son’s girlfriend manages a pizzeria and of course, I had to ask her what she likes on her pizza.  At first, she said that she didn’t really like pizza but I couldn’t accept the fact that someone in the pizza biz wouldn’t like pizza.  I finally got her to nail down some of the toppings she likes. 

Beef, but not too much Italian spice, cheese…lots of different kinds, including feta, thinly sliced onion and bell pepper.

I got feisty and mentioned anchovy and I could feel the anxiety coming through the phone line, yes I was speaking on a land line! 

Why is it that so many people say they don’t like anchovies yet they have never tried them? 

I told her that I would make a big pizza for her, just the way she likes it and I would put anchovies on half of it, just to give her an opportunity to try them.  I even told her that I would drop it off at her door, so that we wouldn’t run the risk spreading the virus. 

Did I do that?  No.  But, that doesn’t mean I won’t. 

So, with that, I present a photo of the sandwich that my son made. 

Here’s my guess at the ingredients:

Large, soft bread loaf, 6”cut

Deli turkey, sliced

Roma tomato, sliced

Iceberg lettuce, rough chopped

Onion, sliced

While we were going on about pizza and pizza toppings my son kept talking about a tiny coat hanger that he found on the ground earlier that day.  OK.  Good for you, I thought.  You found a tiny coat hanger. 

I should have realized that this was just one of the many infinitesimally small things that my son sees every day that the rest of us are oblivious to. 

I asked him to send me a picture…and he did.

All I could think after seeing this was, now some poor mouse can’t hang up his jacket!

Rustic French Baked Chicken

French peasant food is perfect for easing minds and bringing families together during troubled times.  This was simple to make, since everything baked in one dish, and the aroma coming from the kitchen wafted throughout the house, teasing and tempting us.

Ingredients:

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 Tbs Herbs de Provence

¼ cup vinegar and oil dressing (I cheated by using inexpensive, store-bought Italian dressing)

2 large red potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

3 or 4 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces

A few rosemary sprigs

One cube of chicken bouillon

Several splashes of olive oil, probably 2 Tbs, total

1 ½ cup broccoli florets with stems

1 white onion, sliced into wedges

1/3 whole lemon (juice only)

¼ cup water

½ loaf French bread

3 Tbs unsalted butter

2 tsp garlic salt

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, add the vinegar and oil dressing and add the Herbs de Provence.  Add the chicken and mix by hand.  Marinate the chicken for at least one hour in the refrigerator.

Peel and cut the vegetables.  Set aside.  Reserve the peels and scraps from the vegetables and use them in a vegetable stock, for use in another dish.

Set the oven to 400°.

Strip the rosemary leaves away from the stems.

Toss the potato and carrot pieces in olive oil and rosemary.  Set these aside.

Add the chicken bouillon cube to ¼ cup water.  Heat in the microwave for a minute to soften the bouillon.  Crush the bouillon with a small fork and mix with the warm water.  Set aside.

Pour a little olive oil into a large baking dish and add the chicken.  Top with the potatoes and carrots and drizzle the chicken bouillon broth over everything.

Bake the chicken, potatoes and carrots in the oven for about 45 minutes. 

Squirt lemon juice over the broccoli and onion and toss with a little olive oil. 

Carefully pull the baking dish from the oven and check to see if the potatoes and carrots are nearly baked all the way.  If the potatoes or carrots are still hard, and can’t be easily split with a fork, return to the oven and check them again in 10 minutes.

Pull the dish out again and add the broccoli and onion. 

Return the dish to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes.

Slice a loaf of French bread lengthwise and slather with melted butter and sprinkle it with the garlic salt.  Wrap in aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.