Fresh Pizza

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

Directions:

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

Directions:

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.

Power Outage Pizza

Yes, it’s another pizza post.  I swear I’m not making pizza every day…really!  The last post, Shrimp Pizza, was actually from last May.  I just now got around to posting it.

This post is from Sunday, August 9.  I had no intention of submitting a post because there was nothing novel about my approach to the pizzas – – until the power went out.

I have been dubbed an “essential worker” during this pandemic and I’m not entirely convinced that my work is essential but apparently, others do.  Many of my fellow employees have either contracted the virus or have been exposed to people who have tested positive which has resulted in several employees being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.  On top of that hardship, we recently replaced our old operating system with a new one and we’ve spent the last several weeks learning how to operate the new system.  Needless to say, It’s been a stressful time. 

I’ve been working long hours and six day work weeks for the last few months and I don’t foresee that changing in the foreseeable future.

I say all of this to illustrate how important Sundays have become.  Some of my Sundays are spent decompressing, as I try to forget about all of the craziness and other Sundays are filled with lots of domestic chores that I have ignored because of previous decompression Sundays.  This last Sunday was a mixture of work and relaxation.  Yard work filled the first part of the day, before the temperature crested 95° and became too hot to work outdoors, and that was followed by making pizza dough, followed by a short nap, while the dough was rising. 

There was a beautiful balance to the day, until the power went off.  An electrical power transformer in our neighborhood failed and several houses lost power for about six hours.  Of course, I didn’t know how long the power would be out so I decided to finish the pizza-making process on the outdoor grill.  I prepared the grill while there was still some sunlight.  I prepped the ingredients for the pizza and made my tools handy, a la mise en place. 

By the time the coals were hot, I had about 30 minutes of sunlight remaining.  I rolled out the dough and took them to the grill to bake. 

Back in the house, the last shafts of sunlight faded and candles were lit.  Baked pizzas were carried inside, one by one, to be sliced on a dimly lit cutting board.  And, just as we all settled down to eat, the power came back on. 

We turned the lights off and ate by candlelight.

Now that’s a great Sunday! 

Bon appétit!

Ingredients:

5 cups flour

2 cups water

1 Tbs olive oil

¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives

¼ cup pitted black olives

¼ cup julienne sliced onions

2 oz sliced capocollo

2 oz sliced hot calabrese

2 oz can of anchovies, packed in oil

12 oz mozzarella, horridly crumbled by hand

6 slices of sun dried tomatoes, probably less than 1 oz

¾ cup marinara (I used a thin, homemade marinara sauce)

I made three pizzas.  Each pizza started with a base of marinara and Mozzarella.

Pizza Uno:  Anchovy, onion and olives

Pizza Due:  capocollo, onion, olives and sun dried tomatoes

Pizza Tre:  hot calabrese

Directions:

Prepare the pizza dough, using the flour, water an olive oil.  If you want to see one of my pizza dough recipes, check it out here.

Let the dough rest and rise for at least one hour.

Sprinkle an ample amount of cornmeal on three baking sheets.

Separate the dough into three equally sized balls.  Roll them out with a rolling pin and transfer them to the baking sheets.

Bake one pizza at a time by sliding the pizza dough onto the hot grill.  Add tomato sauce (marinara) and add cheese and toppings of your choice.

Close the cover of the grill and bake for about 10 minutes.  Lift the cover of the grill and inspect the quality of the pizza by carefully prying up a portion of the pizza and checking the crispness of the bottom.  You’ll know when the pizza is done.  Pull it off and place the next pizza dough on the grill.  Repeat until all of the pizzas are done.

I used a very thin homemade marinara, made with just a hint of anchovy… Shhh!…don’t tell anyone!

As I mentioned above, in the Ingredients section, I crumbled the mozzarella, rather than grating or slicing it.  The sun was setting and I needed to get the pizzas on the grill, pronto!  But, there’s more to it than that.  Random chunks of mozzarella are perfect for grilled pizza.  The pizza has a marvelous haphazard, spontaneous look, texture and taste.  I suppose I could say that it is “rustic”.  Yeah, that’s it.

Don’t forget to thank the service crew members that come out to replace your transformer in the unrelenting August heat.  Sure, they are getting paid for their work, but take a moment to realize that while you are sweating over a hot grill, they are sweating twice as much.  And don’t forget, they are the real essential workers!

Shrimp Pizza (Extraordinaire)

When I think about making pizza I first consider the taste that I want.  Do I want something spicy, like pepperoni, or perhaps something more subdued, like ground beef?  Do I want a thick, rich, tomato sauce, or a thin whisper of tomato sauce?  Do I want bold herbs and spices?

After I decide on the taste, I start to think about the flavor.  Taste and flavor are not synonymous, even though we sometimes use taste and flavor interchangeably when describing food.  Flavor includes taste, texture and aroma, among other sensory experiences, like sight and sound.  Taste is like listening to a musical instrument and flavor is like listening to an orchestra.

I have made pizzas with shrimp before but none of them had the flavor I wanted, until now.  Charring yellow bell peppers provided a slightly sweet taste that green peppers can’t provide.  The garlic and onion, along with butter and oil made a fantastic sauce.  The overall flavor of the pizza was reminiscent of shrimp scampi, complete with a spritz of lemon juice.  Subtle use of herbs and spices rounded out the flavor nicely.  And of course, Parmesan cheese and mozzarella was the perfect choice to go with shrimp and the vegetables. 

This was a pizza symphony!

Ingredients:

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp red chili flakes

½ tsp salt

1 cup raw medium sized shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 Tbs butter

3 Tbs olive oil

5 cloves garlic, mashed

1 orange bell pepper

1 white onion

1 medium sized tomato, chopped

Juice of ¼ lemon

¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 oz sliced mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Crush the oregano, chile flakes and salt in mortis and pestle.  Set aside.

Butterfly the shrimp and flatten them with the broad side of a chef’s knife.  Set aside.

Add butter and oil to a skillet.  Set the burner to very low heat.

Mash the garlic cloves and add them to the skillet.  Simmer at very low heat for 3 to 4 minutes.  The garlic should be soft, but not browned.  Remove the garlic to a cutting board.  Mash the garlic into a paste. Set the garlic aside.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the shrimp to skillet and simmer, while stirring.  Cook the shrimp until they just begin to turn pink.  Remove the shrimp from the skillet and keep warm.

Pour the hot butter and oil from the pan into a small bowl and set aside.  Return the skillet to the stove and set the heat to high.

Add the bell pepper and onion to the skillet and sauté at high heat until they begin to char. 

Add the chopped tomato and stir briefly.  Remove everything from the skillet and set aside.

Prebake the pizza dough in a 400° oven for about 5 minutes.  Remove the pizza and place on a heat proof surface.

Pour the butter/oil mixture on prebaked pizza dough.  Use a brush to thoroughly coat the dough.

Blot excess oil from the pizza with a paper towel.

Sprinkle ½ cup of the grated Parmesan cheese onto the dough.

Add charred bell peppers and onion.  Add the garlic paste.

Top with the shrimp.

Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pizza.

Add ¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese. 

Layer with slices of mozzarella.

Scatter the crushed oregano, chile flake and salt across the top of the pizza.

Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400°, or until the cheese bubbles and begins to brown.

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.

Pizza Salad

On my never-ending quest to reinvent leftover food I was recently faced with a dilemma.

To be honest, the root of the problem can be traced back to me.  I made two large pizzas for three people.  What was I thinking?!  All of the leftover pizza was portioned in sets of three slices, wrapped in foil, and placed in the refrigerator.  And, there it sat, practically untouched, for three days. 

It wasn’t bad pizza…at least I didn’t think it was bad.  The problem was, there was too much of it and I shouldn’t have expected people to eat leftover pizza for days on end.  If I was still in college, then yes, leftover pizza might be all you get.  Be happy to have something to eat.  Live with it. 

So, I either had to eat all of the leftover pizza or figure out a way to reinvent it.

Pizza Salad

(serves 3)

Ingredients:

3 slices of leftover pizza (with various toppings)

Iceberg lettuce (one third of a head of lettuce, rough chopped)

1/3  cup Kalamata olives

¼ cup Dried Parmesan cheese

Vinegar and Oil dressing, to taste (I used store bought Italian dressing)

Directions:

Slice the pizza toppings away from the crust with a knife.  Allow the pizza topping to warm to room temperature.

Cut the thick crusty edge from the pizza and toast briefly in an oven.

Fill serving bowls with cold chopped iceberg lettuce.

Drizzle salad dressing on salad.

Rough chop the toppings and scatter them across the salads.

Add chopped Kalamata olives and top with parmesan cheese. 

Serve the salad cold with warm breadsticks (formerly known as pizza crust).

Hawaiian Pizza

I never order ham and pineapple pizza, when I go out for pizza, or when I order pizza for delivery.  It seems like such a silly thing.  I prefer a more classic pizza, I suppose.  But, when life gives you ham and pineapple, it’s time to make Hawaiian pizza.

This recipe uses the same pizza dough recipe that I have posted before.

The only thing new here is the topping.  Simply add sliced ham and diced pineapple and bake. 

Topping Ingredients:

1/3 cup marinara

6 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 cup sliced ham

10 pepperoni slices

3/4 cup diced fresh pineapple

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper (red, orange and yellow)

Directions:

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown.

And for the naysayers, offer them a pepperoni pizza.

Happy New Year!

Quick Pizza

I came down with a cold the other day and I promptly crawled into bed.  That’s my preferred remedy for nearly all illnesses.  I dreamed about making a pizza.  When I awoke, some hours later, I made that pizza.  I recently picked up some garlic naan at my local Indian market and I knew it would be perfect for the occasion.  Naan is an Asian flatbread, similar to pita, in case you are not familiar with it. 

Naan is typically oval shaped, about  6” x 8”, which makes a perfect individual serving.

Prep time: 5 minutes.  Bake time: 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 naan flatbread

2 oz tomato paste

1 oz mozzarella cheese, sliced

8 to 10 pepperoni slices

A dash of garlic salt

A dash of red pepper flakes

Directions:

Smear the tomato paste on the naan.  Add the sliced cheese and pepperoni.

Bake in a 375° oven for 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts and begins to brown.

Remove from the oven and scatter a little garlic salt and red chili flakes on top.

I used some leftover Chihuahua cheese, instead of Mozzarella.

Dinner #5: Pizza

If you have seen some of my previous posts you might remember Dinner #1: Spaghetti.  For many years I relentlessly cranked out the same dishes (with some subtle variations) week after week.  Getting kids to eat healthy food was a real trick. 

Pizza was always Dinner #5.  Friday, the last day of the work week, was a day when I knew I could really relax and spend some time in the kitchen. 

I still come home Friday evenings and think, “how about pizza?”  

This time, I made three pizzas. Hamburger with mushroom and onion, Pepperoni and Italian cold cuts with spinach, mushroom, and tomato.

A quick rundown of some of the ingredients and then straight to the pizza…

Ingredients

Capocollo and Calabrese.   These Italian cold cuts are perfect for pizza and many grocery stores sell them packaged together, in 6 to 12 ounce portions.  They are a little pricey by weight but I don’t spend more than $5.00 and they can make two large pizzas!

Pepperoni.  Oh, no!  I accidentally picked up turkey pepperoni at the store.  I don’t like turkey pepperoni but, I put a char on it and pretended I was eating the real deal.

Mozzarella.  I bought “fresh mozzarella” at the store on an impulse.  It’s a step up from the brick of mozzarella but I’m not so sure that it’s worth the cost.  Real, fresh mozzarella is a treasure.  I want to make my own! Freshly grated Parmesan is always a good thing!

If you want to see how I make pizza dough, check it out here

Portions are arbitrary when it comes to pizza.  Put whatever you want on your pizza and use as much as you want, but use some common sense.  My cautionary advice is, if you think you’re putting on too much cheese, you are.  If you think your pizza toppings are excessive, they are.  Simplicity is key to really good pizza. 

Masala – Marsala

This week’s confession is truly astounding, even for someone like me, who has committed so many kitchen atrocities over time that I am sure I will end up in Kitchen Hell, when it’s all said and done.

All kidding aside, this was truly a remarkable faux pas.  I’m the sort of person that likes to be the smartest kid in the class and, if it’s obvious that I am not the smartest, I like to the one that says the most clever things.  Earlier this week I confused Masala with Marsala. 

For those of you who might be scratching your heads, wondering what the difference is between the two, I’ll tell you.  The difference is “R”.  (See what I mean about trying to make up for a lack of intellect by attempting to be clever?)

Masala is a mixture of many spices.  It’s a term used by people from India and Pakistan, among other places.  It is not just one particular spice mix.  The mix can contain any number of spices.  Masala is the flavor foundation for many dishes.

Marsala is a sweet, fortified Italian dessert wine, often used for cooking. 

An innocent mistake, for sure.  And, if that was where my story ended, I could have laughed it off and gone on with my life with nobody being the wiser. 

Several months ago, while visiting my favorite Indian spice market, I struck up a conversation with the proprietor, as I usually do.  He is always willing to stop and talk with me and he has been a tremendous guide, while I attempt to unravel Indian cuisine.  On this occasion, I told him that I was considering making a masala pizza, at least that is what he probably heard.  I actually said Marsala, because I was thinking about making a chicken Marsala pizza.  That was the moment I ran off the rails. 

You see, I have made chicken Marsala before and I have made many dishes with masala, although I’ve never really thought about calling the spice mixture, masala.  I must have had a bizarre synaptic short-circuit which caused me to switch masala with Marsala.  The proprietor, being the gentleman that he is, just stared at me when I suggested the masala pizza.  He gave me a sort of quizzical, pitiful look.

Well, months later, here I am ready to make the pizza.  I wanted to try a test run with the chicken Marsala, before moving on to the pizza.  I went back to the Indian market to pick up some items for other dishes and when I saw the proprietor, I told him that I was really going to make the masala pizza, but I what I actually said was, “Marsala”.  I told him that I was deliberating on how to approach the pizza.  I didn’t want to use traditional Italian marinara and mozzarella because I didn’t think they would pair well with the Marsala sauce.  I asked him if he had a suggestion for a creamy sauce that I could make, instead of using Mozzarella.  After a moment, he suggested coconut milk and followed that with suggesting tapioca starch to thicken the coconut milk.

Coconut milk?  I’ve taken some interesting turns while creating new food but coconut milk didn’t seem like a very good idea for pizza but, I told him that I would give it a try.

As I left the store and headed to the wine store, to pick up some Marsala wine, it suddenly dawned on me that I had been utterly confused.  You see, the proprietor of the spice market speaks perfectly.  Despite the tell-tale Indian accent, his diction and vocabulary is precise and clear.  He speaks better English than most people I encounter, on any given day. 

“Masala”, was what he was saying, and he made sure to say masala each time after I said “Marsala” to him.  The nerve cells in my brain finally made the jump.  I had been enlightened!  I also suffered from incredible embarrassment. 

As I drove to the wine store I convinced myself that the only way to redeem myself was to perform an act of penance.  I would make two pizzas.  One would be inspired by masala and the other would be inspired by Marsala

One final interesting event rounded out the day and convinced me that fate is a very real thing.  I was checking out some other blogs and I came across this blog,  https://ishitasood.com/ .  It’s tagline reads, “The Biggest and Only Indian Blog on Italy”.  Ishita is the author and she has produced some very interesting posts.  One post in particular struck a chord with me… https://ishitasood.com/confessions-of-a-passionate-blogger/

In the blog she offers some words of encouragement, including the following: “It is okay to be vulnerable.”

And that was exactly what I needed to hear.  It is what I needed to remember.  I am an imperfect human and so is everybody else.

I will work on these recipes with an open heart and an open mind.

Make Your Own Pizza

Recently, I was expecting dinner guests and I didn’t have a plan for the meal.  This happens every now and then and, when it does, I usually resort to something I can practically do in my sleep.  Maybe tacos.  Maybe spaghetti.  No, let’s do pizza again. 

I know what my family likes on their pizzas so I normally just make them according to what I know to be their taste preferences.  If I’m making two pizzas, I might make one with half pepperoni and the other half pepperoni and Italian sausage.  The other pizza might be an “everything pizza”, meaning all of the veggies and assorted meats.  I might slip some anchovies in on the other half of the “everything pizza”, but I have to make sure to put up warning cones around that half of the pizza and announce, “this side has anchovy!” 

It never fails, someone always inadvertently gets a slice with some anchovy.  Life is unfair sometimes.

But, this time I didn’t know what all of the guests like on their pizza…or even if they liked pizza at all, for that matter.  So I thought, why not lay out all of the toppings and allow the guests to dress their own pizza.

I prepared the vegetables and meats and cheese and I even put out a container or marinara, so that they could add as much as they wanted.

It turned out that the dinner party fizzled out and it was just my wife and I.  We wound up making nearly identical pizzas…go figure.

I still think this is a pretty neat idea for a party.  It allows people to congregate in the kitchen, which seems to occur naturally, anyway.  And, it gives everyone the illusion of being able to control their own destiny.  I like that.