I drew inspiration for this pizza from the well of memories I have of the summer I spent in Tuscany, chatting with the local farmers and artisan bakers. Oh, how I miss the sun dappled hazelnut trees that surrounded our villa!…
Well, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch.
I saw a sprig of rosemary on my kitchen counter today, left over from last night’s meal, and my thoughts led me to pizza. I wanted to make a pizza with some fresh ingredients. So, here we go…
Ingredients for the sauce:
3 medium sized tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 Tbs white sugar
1 tsp olive oil
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp white vinegar
Add chopped tomatoes to a sauce pan and simmer at low heat. Add all of the other ingredients and stir.
Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, at first and then increasing the frequency, as the sauce cooks down.
Ingredients for the spices:
2 cloves fresh garlic
1 Tbs dried basil
1 Tbs dried onion flakes
1 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp red chili flakes
½ tsp dried oregano leaves
¼ cup olive oil
Add all ingredients, except olive oil, to a mortar and pestle. Pound and grind the ingredients until everything forms a thick paste.
In a microwave safe bowl, heat the olive oil in a microwave oven for about 30 seconds. Remove the olive oil and the mashed seasonings. Allow the mixture to sit for an hour before using.
Prepare the pizza dough. I use a simple recipe which only takes about one hour to rise. It’s warm enough now that I can cover the dough and let it rise in the cab of my pickup truck.
Roll out the dough and form the pies. I prebake my crust is a conventional oven, since I don’t have a Tuscan wood-burning brick oven.
Combine the spices with the sauce.
Spread the sauce on the pizza crust.
Add sliced onions and mushrooms.
Top with grated Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 400° for 10 minutes.
Top with arugula, or “scratchy endive”, as my dad likes to call it. Serve on the balcony, overlooking the lush rolling hills.
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.
Pizza Fiorentina (Pizza Florentine)
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
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.
6 oz cured Italian meats (pepperoni salami, hot capocollo and hot calabrese)
1 cup marinara
2 cups mozzarella
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
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.
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
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.
I love the smell of smoke drifting through the neighborhood. I especially like it when it emanates from my own backyard! There is something about the change from summer to fall that makes me want to cook fowl outdoors. Chicken, turkey, whatever. This recipe combines bright citrus tones, savory spices and a gentle, smoky flavor.
2 Cornish game hens
Marinade for the hens (see below)
3 cups olive oil
3 full heads of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup orange juice
¼ cup rosemary, chopped
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup coarse black pepper
2 star anise pods
1 Thai cinnamon stick
Zest the citrus fruit
Add the juice and zest from the fruit to a bowl. Add the orange juice and oil to the bowl.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind the rosemary, salt, black
pepper, anise and cinnamon.
Add the ground seasonings to the bowl, along with the juice
Keep the rinds and pulp from the fruit to use as an aromatic. In a large pot of water, add rinds and pulp. Set heat to very low and add other aromatics, such as cinnamon sticks, star anise, sage, all spice berries…really, anything that strikes your fancy.
Cut the hens in half, (remove back bones and split the bird
in half with a large kitchen knife).
Marinate the chicken for 12 hours, or overnight. Turn the chicken occasionally, to allow the
marinade to soak in.
I used oak for the smoking process. Oak lends a nice smoky flavor without imparting
a heavy flavor. I didn’t bother
measuring or monitoring the temperature of the coals or the smoker, or the
birds. I knew that I had used plenty of
coals and that the birds would cook evenly, since they were split. Smoking meat this way is not advised but, I happened to be in a very confident mood
that day and I turned everything over to fate.
Directions for smoking the birds:
Start a batch of charcoal for a smoker. Hot charcoals maintain even and steady heat
for the smoker and they ignite the wood, used for the smoke. Once the coals are hot (gray), add some pieces
of oak. Let the oak char for about 20
minutes. Add some more oak and char for
another 15 minutes. Once the wood has
turned into nice coals and the smoke has thinned a little, prepare the grill
On a clean grill, add the hens, cut side down, with leg portions pointed toward the center of the grill. Smoke the birds for 1 ½ hours. I finished cooking in a 300° oven for 15 minutes, just to make sure that they were cooked all the way through.
Let the hens rest for a few minutes before separating into breasts, legs and wings.
Serve with pasta with fresh tomato sauce, garden salad and warm Jalapeño Cheddar Cheese Bread with pads of butter.
Pasta with Fresh
Summer is gone but I still enjoy the taste of fresh tomatoes from the garden. That’s because I filled a 2 gallon storage bag with ripe tomatoes. I didn’t wash the tomatoes before freezing them. Whenever I want a tomato, I open the bag, pull one out, let it thaw at room temperature for about 15 minutes and then I rinse it under tap water. The skin peels off right away and I’m left with a wonderful, fresh tomato. For this recipe, I used two tomatoes.
2 *fresh* tomatoes
1 lb penne rigate
1 anchovy (packed in oil)
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tsp olive oil
2 Tbs butter
½ tsp dried oregano leaves
½ tsp dried basil leaves
½ cup feta cheese
Boil water in a large pot.
Add the penne rigate and cook to al dente. Drain the water but do not rinse. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
While the pasta cooks…
Chop tomatoes into ½” pieces. Set aside.
Crush anchovy and garlic together in a mortar and
pestle. Set aside.
In a large skillet, set to medium/low heat, add olive oil. Add half of the tomatoes, garlic and anchovy. Cook down to a sauce (about 10 minutes).
Add a cup of pasta water and cook down for another 5
Add the spices and butter. Simmer for a few minutes and simmer for a few more minutes.
Add the cooked pasta and stir to coat the pasta.
Turn out to a serving bowl and top with feta cheese.
Jalapeño and Cheddar Cheese Bread
My wife makes this bread and it doesn’t sit on the table very long! Next time she makes it, I’ll pay better attention and share the recipe along with directions. It’s always the highlight to any meal it accompanies!
This dish is a bit like Shrimp Scampi but, not so bold and intense in flavor. The creaminess, provided by the half-and-half, along with the pasta turns a wild Shrimp Scampi into something gentle and soothing.
4 Tbs unsalted butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp red chili flakes
4 garlic cloves
1 lb large, raw shrimp, deveined and peeled
2 green onions
¼ cup fresh basil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
½ cup half-and-half
12 oz dry pasta (I used Farfalle – butterfly pasta)
Ingredients for the
1 Tbs softened butter
1 Tbs flour
Ingredients for the garnish:
½ cup diced tomatoes
2 root ends of green onions
1 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp vinegar
½ tsp oregano
¼ tsp garlic powder
You should prepare all
of the ingredients in advance. Shrimp
cooks very quickly and you want to have all of the other ingredients ready when
you need them.
Boil the pasta to al dente.
Normally I would use lots of water but this time, I wanted the noodles
to keep some of their starchiness so that the sauce would cling to it better.
While the pasta cooks…
Pulverize coarse salt and red chili flakes in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
Chop the garlic and slice the green onions. Reserve the root portions of the green
onions. Set aside.
Prepare the sauce thickener by blending the flour with the
softened butter. I like to use a fork
for blending. Set aside until needed.
Prepare the garnish by dicing the tomato and roots of the
Drain the pasta but do not rinse. Set aside.
Strain the garnish to remove the olive oil and vinegar. Set the garnish aside.
Rinse the shrimp under cold water and remove the
In a large skillet, add 4 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Simmer at low heat.
Add the garlic and crushed salt and red chili flakes. Simmer at low
heat for about two minutes. This will allow the garlic to mellow a
Add the shrimp to the pan.
Turn the heat to low/medium.
Stir the shrimp until they turn from translucent to slightly
Add the green onion, basil and lemon juice to the pan and stir for about a half minute.
Add the sauce thickener and mix with the buttery sauce. It should thicken within a minute or so. Add the half-and-half and stir.
Add the Parmesan cheese.
Turn the heat off and add the pasta. Stir a few times and remove to a serving
There are some meals that I can cook in my sleep, with one
hand tied behind my back. Spaghetti is
one of those meals. Long ago, when I
when I was just establishing myself as a home cook, I had a very limited
repertoire. It wasn’t because I lacked a
willingness to experiment and it wasn’t due to a lack of creativity, training
or knowledge that curtailed my culinary endeavors to a mere handful of
Being a parent of very young children changes a person in
many ways and one of those inevitable changes is a parents’ diet. I don’t regret anything about having
children. One of the greatest things
about having children is watching them grow up to become living, breathing,
free-thinking adults. I wouldn’t trade
the experience of raising children for anything.
Young children don’t have refined, educated palettes. Surprise! For a long time, my wife and I didn’t even think
about making something like Steak with Roquefort
Cheese Sauce, Bratwurst with Sauerkraut
or Tandoori Chicken. Heck, we were lucky if we could sneak a
vegetable past our kids every now and then without them noticing.
We realized pretty quickly that our meals repeated week
after week. Four or five basic recipes
stayed in constant rotation. It got to a
point where I assigned a number to the meals.
Monday nights were spaghetti
and Friday nights were homemade pizza
so, Spaghetti became Dinner #1 and Pizza became Dinner #5. Dinners 2,3 and 4 varied over the years and
they entered and exited the rotation as young taste buds changed. They included simple meals like, chicken
nuggets and tater tots, tacos with salad and fish sticks, with macaroni and
cheese. Our weekends were “anything goes”
days. It might be barbacoa tacos, pan
fried chicken or a pasta casserole. We
made sure to include fresh fruit as often as possible, especially because the
only vegetable our kids would willingly eat was raw carrot sticks.
Eh, they survived.
And, so did we. I look back on
those days fondly.
Fast forward nearly twenty years and Dinner #1 is still one
of my favorite go-to meals. I have made
spaghetti over 1,000 times in my lifetime.
That’s not a guess…that’s real math at work!
Now that my children are grown, I have more free time which means I can add flair to simple recipes, like spaghetti and meatballs. For this version, I used homemade tomato sauce. I also employed some extra tricks to make this meal a little more special. Plain tomato sauce tends to be acidic. I could have added a few tablespoons of sugar or honey to balance the sauce but I used Marsala wine, roasted garlic and fire roasted bell pepper, which provided all of the necessary sweetness and it gave the sauce an additional depth of flavor.
This recipe will feed about 6 people.
24 oz tomato sauce (store-bought sauce is perfectly fine)
1 whole garlic bulb
¼ cup fresh basil
½ red bell pepper
¼ cup Marsala wine
1 lb. ground beef (80/20)
½ cup bread crumbs
1 Tbs dried oregano
2 tsp dried rosemary (ground)
¼ cup grated, dry Parmesan cheese
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
½ cup grated, fresh Parmesan cheese
For the spaghetti
4 quarts water
12 oz dry spaghetti noodles
1 Tbs kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs olive oil
If you are using store-bought tomato sauce, feel free to skip
to the section on Preparing the
Heat an oven to 300°.
Prepare the herbs, onion,
garlic and bell pepper.
Roughly chop the basil and set aside.
Chop the onion into ¼” pieces and set aside.
Separate the garlic bulb in half. One half of the garlic will be roasted in the
oven and the other half will be minced, fresh.
Wrap one half of the garlic bulb in aluminum foil and place
on the rack, in the oven.
Rest the half bell pepper on a stove burner and char the pepper over low heat. Rotate the pepper for several minutes to all the pepper to char on all sides.
Wrap the pepper in foil and put it on the oven rack, with the garlic.
Allow the garlic and red pepper to bake in the foil for about 20 minutes. Remove the garlic and pepper.
Unwrap the red pepper and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Rinse under water to remove the charred
Slice the top and stem of the pepper and discard. Lay the remaining red pepper on a clean
surface and dice into ¼” pieces. Set
Remove the roasted garlic from the foil and squeeze the soft
garlic from the papery husks. Mash the
garlic into a paste with the broad side of a kitchen knife and set aside.
Mince the cloves of the other half of the garlic bulb and
In a large mixing bowl add the ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, dry Parmesan cheese, oregano, rosemary, salt and pepper.
Mix until all of the ingredients have combined.
Form into 1” balls and leave the meatballs in the mixing
In a large skillet, set the heat on the stove to low and add
a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the
onions and sauté until slightly softened.
Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
Add the meatballs and cover the pan.
Simmer the meatballs for about 5 minutes at low heat and
then turn them over. Cover the pan and cook
for another few minutes. Keep turning
the meatballs every few minutes until they become firm.
Strain the meatballs to remove the grease. Return the meatballs to the pan.
Add the tomato sauce to the meatballs. Stir the meatballs in the sauce and add the Marsala,
roasted garlic, roasted bell pepper, fresh garlic, chopped basil, oregano,
rosemary, salt and black pepper. Stir
briefly to incorporate.
Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
While the sauce is finishing, prepare spaghetti noodles in a
large stock pot. Add the water to the
pot and bring to a boil. Add a tablespoon
of salt, a bay leaf and 1 tablespoon of oil. Add spaghetti noodles and cook until the
noodles are al dente.
Serve with fresh Parmesan cheese, garlic bread and salad.
My garden is at its zenith.
This summer has provided a rare, but welcomed, balance of sunshine,
heat and rain. I haven’t watered the garden in over two
months and I haven’t used any pesticides or fertilizer. Nature has been kind to me, this season!
This week’s harvest provided four gallons of tomatoes and
lots of different varieties of peppers.
That means it’s time to make salsa!
This recipe will make 4 quarts of salsa and, now that I have made it, I
wish I would have doubled or tripled the batch.
This is not a quick process…be prepared to spend a more than a couple of
hours prepping the vegetables and cooking sauces. The end result is definitely worth the
work. I plan on giving one or two quarts
away to friends and keeping the others for my family. I don’t know why I even bother canning the
stuff, since my family and I can gobble down a quart in a day or two. But, I will try to hide a quart and bring it
out as a surprise, long after summer has gone.
Aside from the optional habanero and tabasco chiles, I
consider this to be a basic salsa. The
proportions listed in the recipe should produce a “medium” heat salsa. If you want to tweak this recipe, I suggest
roasting or smoking one or more of the items.
For example, you could put the jalapeños on the grill and smoke with
some mesquite wood, or you could char the onion and tomato over hot coals, or
wrap the head of garlic in aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes. Any of these things will add a new, distinct
profile to your salsa.
I stared at the habaneros and tabascos for a long time and
finally decided to pass on them. I would
love to include them but I believe the end result would have been too spicy for
some folks. I will dice them and sauté
them in a little tomato sauce and add it to my private reserve!
For this recipe, I made the tomato sauce from fresh
tomatoes. If you don’t have access to
fresh tomatoes, canned tomato sauce will work just fine.
Heat the tomato sauce in a large uncovered pot on the stove.
If you are using the vegetable stock,
add it now. Simmer at low heat while
vegetables are prepared.
Chop vegetables into small pieces. Tomatoes should be about ½” pieces and the
onions and chiles should be cut into ¼” pieces.
Strain the juice from the tomatoes and set aside.
Add all ingredients to the sauce. Cook uncovered for one hour. Turn the heat off and add the lime juice and
stir to incorporate.
I have to confess, I did
not cook the salsa long enough and I forgot to add the lime juice when I made
this. Within a day after canning, juice
started creeping out of the jars. When I
unscrewed the ring the lid popped off, from the pressure inside. I dumped the salsa back into a pot and cooked
it at a low boil for 30 minutes and then added the lime juice. I have canned it again and I hope that does
the trick. If not, I will come clean and
relay the sordid details!
Sanitize canning jars.
I use a bleach and water solution.
The bleach to water ratio should
be 2 teaspoons of bleach to 1 gallon of water.
Lay empty canning jars, lids and rings in the kitchen sink,
after plugging the drain. Fill the sink
with 3 gallons of boiling water. Add 6
teaspoons of liquid bleach. Remove the
jars after two minutes and allow them to air dry.
Fill the jars with salsa and leave about ½” air space at the top. Cover the jar with the lid and secure by gently tightening the ring with your fingertips.
Immerse the jars in boiling water and pull them out after 15 minutes and allow them to cool on a cooling rack.