November 26, 2007

Pizza Margherita


Nothing is simpler than the pizza Margherita: tomatoes, basil and mozzarella are the ultimate ingredients in Italian cooking and they are all that you need to get the perfect Neapolitan royal taste. I'm sure you've heard this story about a thousand times: back in 1889 Raffaele Esposito was a well-known cook and owner of a pizzeria in Naples. He received an invitation from the King to impress his wife, who loved Neapolitan specialties and had already heard about this novelty called pizza. Esposito surprised the Reggia di Capodimonte and the Queen Margherita di Savoia herself with a simple yet delicious pizza depicting the colors of the Italian flag.

Ingredients
Pizza dough (for one 15" pizza use half of one of these recipes)
1 cup of drained canned diced tomatoes
6 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh basil leaves
Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Once you're done with the pizza dough and you've rolled it out, place it on the pizza pan and spread the tomatoes on top. Add some olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread the mozzarella over the tomatoes and cook the pizza until the crust turns golden brown (about 25 minutes in a 400°F preheated oven). Just before serving add the basil leaves (about 12 nice tiny leaves will do).

Some basics: First, if you're using fresh mozzarella (and really you must) you have to drain it for about 5 minutes after you slice it in order to get rid of the water used to preserve it. Never grate fresh mozzarella! Second, there are some ingredients you never want to put in the oven when topping a pizza. In this recipe you have to add the basil leaves when your pizza is ready: you want to add some freshness and that's why you don't want to cook the basil (actually, it will turn brown if you do). Another Italian secret is to always add a little bit of olive oil just before serving: the unheated olive oil just keeps its fruity flavor and gives your pizza a simple touch of perfection.
Posted by Daziano at 10:45 AM | 0 comments  
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November 25, 2007

The perfect pizza dough

Everybody loves pizza and a homemade gourmet pizza is SO easy to make. There are several recipes you can try, each one with slightly different results. The Neapolitan tradition for making pizza calls for fewer ingredients than the recipe I chose for this post, but it requires a little more mastering of some "dough skills". So, we'll try the classic one later. Now let's go to the ingredients.

Ingredients (2 15" pizzas)
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 pkg active dry yeast
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup warm water
3/4 cup warm milk
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

Warm the water in the microwave for about 40 seconds (you don't want it hot, just warm enough). Dissolve the sugar in the water and then add and dissolve the yeast. Wait 5 minutes and check if it's active (it should double its volume). While you're waiting put the flour in a bowl and make la fontana (the fountain: a kind of hole in the flour, where you'll mix the other ingredients). Then add the active yeast, the olive oil and the egg and begin to stir with a fork, gradually incorporating the flour. When everything is mixed together you'll notice that it's quite dry, so now add some warm milk and the salt. It's also time to begin to work the dough with your hands. Actually this is the part I love to do because it's so much fun. Think you're giving the dough a massage, use your fingers and press hard with your palms. After 5 to 7 minutes and when it's smooth and elastic your dough is ready to wait. Yes, because you have to let the yeast do its work. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest at least 45 minutes. When the dough has doubled its volume, make two dough balls. If you want only one pizza, you can leave one ball in the fridge up to 3 days (or you can even freeze it for months). Sprinkle a bit of flour over the ball you'll cook and press it down, making it look more like a pizza and less like a ball. I do that directly on the pizza pan with my fingers, from the inside out, sprinkling flour and rotating the pan with my other hand. You'll notice the dough is elastic and it tends to resist being extended after a while. Turn the dough and let it rest for a minute and then continue until you cover the pan with the dough. Preheat the oven as hot as possible and cook with your favorite topping. At 450°F it should take about 25 minutes to be nice and golden and then you'll know it's ready.

Posted by Daziano at 7:29 AM | 1 comments  
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November 20, 2007

The keep-it-simple panini


Sometimes you simply don't feel like trying new food and you only want to have ham and cheese. This is the perfect keep-it-simple panino for those occasions: prosciutto, mozzarella, some olive oil and cheese focaccia rolls are all you need. The result is the mouth-watering Italian version of the classic French croque-monsieur. I got some wonderful cheesy focaccini rolls at Trader Joe's and Italian fresh mozzarella cheese at Di Bruno Brothers. I put 3 slices of paper-thin prosciutto on each roll, then two not too thin slices of mozzarella, some olive oil and that's it. Well, I couldn't keep myself from adding some basil. I set my panini grill at medium temperature and I grilled the panini for about 5 minutes. The focaccini rolls have this cheesy layer on top, and when grilled they turn golden, crispy and even cheesier. So, for this Italian-French experience what you need is:

Ingredients

2 rolls of cheese focaccia bread sliced in half
4 ounces prosciutto
4 ounces mozzarella cheese
Some basil
Olive oil

When I visit Paris, I love to start my day with a café au lait and a croque monsieur sitting on a lively terrace. This simple panino reminds me of that, with a magic Italian touch.
Posted by Daziano at 7:30 AM | 0 comments  
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November 5, 2007

Prosciutto and figs panini


OK. This was my first experience with my new panini grill. I got two rolls of olive and cheese focaccia, some figs, Italian fontina cheese and baby arugula. I began with some slices of cheese on one half of each sliced focaccia bread, then prosciutto (about 3 paper-thin slices per roll), baby arugula just to add some green, some cheese again and finally two very very thin slices of fig. While I was doing that I plugged in the panini grill, I set it at medium temperature and then it just tells you when it's ready to cook. So, when the green light was on, I put the rolls on the grill and I closed it pressing the lid down on the panini. After about 5 minutes the cheese was melted and the panini were ready-to-eat.

The fontina cheese has a great nutty flavor with a yummy buttery texture, and when melted it's just heaven. It's sweeter than other cheeses, so it goes very well with the figs. Actually, it was a very good combination. The prosciutto added the saltiness and the baby arugula some great spicy taste. So, first experience and it was great!

Ingredients

2 rolls of focaccia bread sliced in half

4 ounces prosciutto
4 ounces fontina cheese
1 handful of baby arugula
1 fig thinly sliced

Enjoy!


Posted by Daziano at 7:24 AM | 2 comments  
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November 4, 2007

PANINI GRILL


I just got a DeLonghi Retro Panini Grill. It's super cheap, easy to use and clean, and it's sooo cute. I'll be posting some delicious recipes soon.



Posted by Daziano at 7:22 AM | 0 comments  
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November 1, 2007

Buttery grilled asparagus and prosciutto farfalle


Farfalle is bowtie-shaped pasta and because of its shape combining it with creamy sauces is a great idea. One of the simplest sauces in Italian cooking is melted butter and here I add to that sauce one of my favorites: grilled asparagus with prosciutto.

Ingredients

1 pound farfalle
1 bunch asparagus
5 slices prosciutto chopped
3/4 stick butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt, pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pot with boiling salted water. Stir occasionally. Combine the asparagus with the olive oil. Add salt and pepper and grill the asparagus for about 5 minutes. I used my panini grill to grill them. Once they're done, chop them and reserve. In a saucepan, melt the butter. When the pasta is ready, drain in a colander and mix it into the butter sauce stirring carefully. Add the asparagus, the prosciutto and the Parmesan cheese. You can add a bit of unheated olive oil just before serving.
Posted by Daziano at 7:32 AM | 0 comments  
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