Porcini Mushroom Pizza

yum!

epiphany pizza

I’ve been experimenting with pizza dough for a few years now, but only recently did I hit on what I consider a sure-thing recipe. Or method, I should say. Turns out you really must make your dough the night before, or at least 6 to 8 hours prior to rolling it out. That, and let it rise in the fridge! In honor of this epiphanic moment, I decided to top my finally perfect pizza dough with something worthy. Porcini mushrooms are common enough around here come September, but this year in particular their abundance and size are breaking records and turning heads (other species as well) after an atypically rainy summer. So I picked up a few lovelies at the town market and made this, if I may say so, masterpiece of a pie.

Ingredients

for the pizza dough (makes enough for four 10-inch pizzas)
3 & 1/2 to 4 cups flour
1 teaspoon active dry yeast (not fast rising)
1 & 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt

for the topping (2 pizzas)
4 or 5 large porcini mushrooms
1 handful fresh parsley
olive oil
salt
1 cup circa grated fresh mozzarella
3 or 4 Tablespoons grated parmigiano (optional)
2 teaspoons minced fresh red chili pepper (optional)

Instructions

Make the pizza dough the night before. You will have enough dough to make two 10-inch pizzas per this recipe (or four pizzas if you increase the toppings amounts above accordingly).

Sprinkle the yeast over 1/2 cup of the warm water in a bowl. Wait a minute then stir briskly with a fork and stir in 1/2 cup of the flour until combined. Set aside at room temp for 30 minutes to let the mixture double in size.

Combine the yeast mixture, 3 cups of flour, and 1 cup of warm water in the mixer and mix on low with the dough hook until a dough forms and the mixer starts to struggle. Add the salt and mix a minute more. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until very smooth and elastic. Form a ball and place in a flour-dusted large bowl. Leave in the fridge overnight.

Remove the dough from the fridge and let rest at room temp an hour before you plan to cook the pizza. ‘Punch’ it down and cut the dough into four equal pieces. Put two back in the fridge if you don’t intend to make four pizzas at this time. Roll the pieces into balls and set them aside to rest again. In the meantime, prepare the porcini for topping.

Clean the porcini if needed by gently brushing or wiping with a paper towel. Dampen the towel if needed but only slightly. Slice the caps and stems into thickish pieces (no more than 4 slices per cap) and cook them in about 2 tablepoons olive oil for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side. Turn the pieces carefully rather than stirring them all together. After turning them, add 3/4 of the chopped parsely and lightly salt and gently combine. As they brown a small amount of juice will form. Turn off the heat and leave the mixture in the pan.

Preheat the oven to 260° C / 500° F (probably as high as your oven will go). Prep the cheeses and set aside.

Flour a work surface and make your pizza rounds. You can use the hand method or a rolling pin. The hand method which involves flattening out the ball into a thick disk and, while rotating the disk continuing to flatten the dough using your fingertips, working from the center outwards. Pick up the disk and let gravity help by hanging it from the edge and turning (or try tossing it in the air if you’re brave!). Then place on your pizza stone or baking sheet and shape as needed. This method results in a more rustic-looking pizza. Or use a rolling pin if you prefer, arguably simpler, which results in a uniform look and consistency.

Cover your two pizzas with the grated mozzarella, then divide and arrange the porcini on each. A lot of flavor will be in the oil/juice in the pan, so drizzle that on top, too. Dust with finely grated parmesan cheese, and for a kick and some color, a teaspoon or so of minced fresh red chili (optional).

Bake for about 6 to 8 minutes, keeping an eye on them. The pizzas are ready when the edges are brownish or even slighly blackened in places, the bottom is golden and the cheese is bubbly. Garnish with the remaining parsley (optional).

Historical Menus of the Italian Royal Navy

a Royal Navy menu from 1894

a Royal Navy menu from 1894

The Ligurian town of Imperia will host an exhibit next week called I Menu Storici della Regia Marina, or Historical Menus of the Italian Royal Navy, as part of the Vele d’Epoca di Imperia, a biannual vintage sailboat and classic yacht regatta event held since 1986.

The exhibit materials are comprised of about 30 menus used by Italy’s Royal Navy, known until 1946 as the Regia Marina, and cover a period starting in the late 1800s through the Second World War. The menus, reconstructed on high-definition panels for the show, are artistically noteworthy in themselves, yet moreover speak to an astonishingly haute cuisine—even more remarkable considering the diverse range of situations that formed the backdrop of these sumptuous meals, from military conflict to elite social occasions (not to mention the labor and organization required to adequately outfit ship kitchens and dining halls for meals of this type).

The menu pictured here is for a ‘lunch with concert’ served on June 3, 1894 on board the battleship Francesco Morosini. The multi-course meal includes seafood crostini and soup, quail with truffles, steak alla Fiorentina, roasted chicken with watercress, artichokes and peas, and lobster salad, followed by a four-course dessert and the de rigueur finish to any Italian dining experience, fruit and coffee. Note the wines on the left of the course lists and the accompanying musical program details on the right. Beneath the menu, the exhibit panel lists the ship’s technical characteristics as well as (my favorite part) the recipe for one of the menu’s dishes, gelato alla Napolitana.

Taking place alongside the exhibit is another show called Il Rancio di Bordo (On-Board Rations), during which Rear Admiral Alessandro Pini will illustrate how sailors have faced the question of eating at sea over the centuries; while throughout the adjacent town Oneglia, various restaurants will recreate some of the dishes listed on the historical menus for the occasion.

I Menu Storici della Regia Marina e il Rancio di Bordo
September 10 to 14, 2014
Exhibit Location: Biblioteca L. Lagorio, Imperia (Oneglia)
Organized by A.N.M.I. (National Association of Italian Sailors)
www.marinaiditalia.com

Fresh Fig & Blue Cheese Crostini

sweet figs & savory blue

sweet figs & savory blue

Today I was reading about pairing herbs and fruits, which turned into the inspiration for today’s lunch.

Let the cheese warm to room temp. If it’s a very hard and crumbly blue, cream it together with some mascarpone or crème fraîche until it’s spreadable but still a bit chunky. Slice the figs delicately. Grill the bread, spread the blue cheese mixture over each and top with the fruit and fresh thyme.

Pasta alla Norma

'It's a Norma!'

‘It’s a Norma!’

Pasta alla Norma, or pasta in the style of Norma (more or less), is a classic Italian pasta dish with a quirky backstory. According to a widely-known anecdote, around 1920 the Catanese playwright and poet Nino Martoglio was lunching in the company of some theater friends. Upon being served a plate of pasta in a sauce of fried eggplant, tomato, basil, and ricotta salata, Martoglio is said to have exclaimed È una Norma! (‘It’s a Norma!’), a reference to Vincenzo Bellini’s celebrated opera and intended (curiously) as a compliment to the cook. Thanks to the roomful of writers and actors present, the expression immediately entered into the local word-stock of Catania’s historic town center.

Two things matter in making alla Norma: ingredients and method. Start with super fresh eggplant, tomato, basil. Regarding method, the eggplant is fried, separately from the tomato sauce, but you can work with one pan only. Spaghetti is the pasta traditionally associated with alla Norma, but use any shape you like.

Ingredients for 2

(can be easily doubled)

160-170 grams (6 ounces circa) spaghetti
1 long eggplant
300 grams (a little over 1/2 pound) tomatoes
1 handful (1/3 cup circa) grated ricotta salata
1-2 garlic cloves
3-4 fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnishing
olive oil
salt

Instructions

Score and boil the tomatoes for 5 minutes (use a large pot and you can cook the spaghetti in the same water; remember to salt the water). Remove the tomatoes from the water, let cool, peel and deseed. Set the pulp aside (you should have about a cup). Peel the garlic and roughly chop the basil. Slice half of the eggplant into thin rounds and cube the rest. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in a large pan and fry the rounds on both sides until brown and slight crunchy on the edges. Transfer to paper towels and lightly salt. Re-oil the pan and cook the cubed eggplant until brown and soft. Transfer to a bowl temporarily. In the same pan, add another bit of oil, heat, and add the peeled garlic cloves. Swirl to flavor the oil. Add the tomato pulp and cook for a few minutes until the pulp liquifies a bit. Now add the cooked cubed eggplant, stir, and cook for another few minutes. Turn off the heat and add the chopped basil and half the grated cheese and combine well. Test the saltiness. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti al dente and when ready add to the pan of sauce and combine.

Serve the pasta on plates lined with the fried eggplant rounds. Dust with the remaining cheese and garnish with a basil leaf or two.

culture bite

Composer Vincenzo Bellini’s image appears on the 5,000 lire banknote. The mushroom Suillus bellinii is named after him.

Cherry Tomato & Zucchini Flower Tart

Hello. I'm your new favorite tart

Hello. I’m your new favorite tart.

Ingredients

for the pastry:
1 & 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup very cold butter
ice water

for the topping:
1 large or 2 small zucchini
2-3 zucchini flowers
1 handful cherry tomatoes (about 7-8)
1 egg
3 heaping Tbls fresh ricotta
1 Tbls fresh thyme leaves
2-3 Tbls grated parmigiano or pecorino romano
salt & pepper

Instructions

Make the pastry crust first. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Chunk in the butter with a knife or try my own favorite method: put the butter in the freezer for about 5 minutes then grate it into the flour using the large holes of a cheese grater. Crumble the butter into the flour with your fingers until you have a uniform crumbly mixture. Add a few spoonfuls of the ice water and continue combining with your fingers. Keep adding water and blending until a dough forms. Transfer to a flour-covered work surface and knead lightly and quickly. Form a ball and close it in plastic wrap and put in the fridge.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters. Slice the zucchini into very thin strips (I used the slicer of the cheese grater). Gently clean the flowers and cut them in half length-wise. Whisk the ricotta and egg together with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Heat the oven to 180° C / 350° F.  Roll out the pastry to about 1/8 inch thickness and cover the bottom of a 10″ or 12″ pie dish or cake pan with a spring form release. I used the latter, after having lined the bottom and trimmed the excess pastry from the edge. Spread the ricotta and egg mixture evenly across the crust, then arrange the tomato and zucchini slices and flowers as you prefer, gently pressing the ingredients into the soft mixure. Dust with another bit of salt and pepper and sprinkle with the fresh thyme and grated cheese. Bake for 20 minutes. The flowers and thyme will crisp and turn brown, so you could add those ingredients to the tart half-way through the cooking time to maintain their color (they will be softer, too). Let cool slightly before releasing the spring form and serving.

Zucchini Butter Crostini with Flowers

better than butter. almost.

crunchy, savory, buttery, cheesy crostini

I came across this recipe for zucchini butter today courtesy of Jennie Cook’s column ‘Weeknights with Jenny’ at Food52, a class act food and recipe resource you should definitely know if you don’t already. I modified Cook’s recipe only slightly (and halved it), then served it on grilled bread with a sprinkle of grated parmigiano and zucchini flowers. Viva l’estate!

Ingredients for 4 crostini

4 slices of Tuscan or other firm bread
3 or 4 medium-large zucchini (about 1 pound)
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 zucchini flowers
salt & pepper

Instructions

Grate the zucchini using the large holes of the grater and place in a colander. Dust with salt and toss to cover all the zucchini and let rest over a bowl for 15 minutes, squeezing periodically with your hands to express the liquid. After 15 minutes wring out the final bit of liquid with a clean towel or paper towels.

Mince the garlic. Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the zucchini and combine well. Cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the veg becomes very soft and like ‘a nice vegetable jam’ (you are basically carmelizing the zucchini). Turn off the heat, correct for salt, grind in some black pepper, stir and let rest.

Grill the bread on a regular grill or in grill pan. Spread a scoop of the zucchini butter on each slice, and top with a fresh zucchini flower and a sprinkle of the cheese. Then transfer the crostini to a very hot oven on the grill setting for a few minutes to melt the cheese and crisp the flowers.

Pasta alla Caprese with Mozzarella di Bufala

caprese

…just a caprese salad with added pasta…

Ingredients for 4 servings

350 grams of pasta (such as penne, fusilli, or bowties)
4 or 5 medium-large round tomatoes
1 or 2 garlic cloves
1 small fresh red chili pepper
1 large buffalo mozzarella (about 300 grams/10-11 ounces)
fresh basil
dried oregano
salt
olive oil

Instructions

Make the salad while the pasta water boils. Chop the tomato into cubes and place the pieces in a colander (one with fairly large holes, not the fine mesh type). Dust the tomato pieces generously with salt, gently toss to get all the pieces covered, and let rest for 15 minutes (on a plate or over the sink, since liquid will be draining out from the tomato). Meanwhile, mince the garlic and chili pepper and cut the mozzarella into chunks roughly the size of the tomato cubes. Roughly chop 4 or 5 basil leaves.

Shake the tomatoes over the sink (while still in the colander) so that all the liquid expressed from the salting and most of the seeds drain through. Place the tomato, mozzarella, garlic, pepper, and basil in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and stir well. Cook the pasta al dente and when drained and slightly cooled add to the bowl of salad. Toss well and serve with a sprinkling of dried oregano and (optional) grated Parmesan cheese. Can also be served chilled, like a pasta salad.

Cream of Tomato with Caprino & Herbs

aka crema di pomodoro

aka crema di pomodoro

Ingredients for 4 servings

(This recipe yields enough cream of tomato for 6 smallish ‘starter’ servings or 4 normal soup servings. It can be easily doubled.)

1 kilo of fresh tomatoes (a little less than 2 pounds)
125 mls heavy cream (about 1/2 cup)
2 or 3 garlic cloves
1 small fresh red chili pepper
fresh basil and chives
olive oil
salt & pepper
175 mls water (about 3/4 cup)
200 grams circa of caprino cheese (about 15-16 ounces)

Instructions

Take the caprino from the fridge and let warm to room temp.

Score and boil the tomatoes for 5-6 minutes. Drain, cool, peel, and chop the tomato into pieces. Mince the garlic and chili together. Heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan. Cook the garlic and chili for a few minutes then add the chopped tomato pulp and the water. Cook for another five minutes on low heat. Turn off the heat, tear in a few leaves of basil, and salt well. Transfer all of the tomato mixture to a food processor and blend until a uniform liquid forms (about 30 seconds). Add the cream slowly with the blender on low. Test the saltiness again.

Serve the cream of tomato slightly warm, room temp, or even chilled, with a spoonful of caprino on each serving. Dust with fresh ground pepper and garnish with a basil leaf and chives.

Fried Bavette with Bottarga & Tomato Sorbet

You will love me

I put the marvel in marvelous.

I’m not usually one to brag, but I’m afraid it would be altogether disingenuous of me to describe this dish as anything less than marvelous. You can use spaghetti, linguine, or bucatini in place of bavette pasta. Just be sure to drain the pasta as soon as it’s al dente. Make the tomato sorbet a couple hours prior. If you can’t get any bottarga, use grated cheese instead.

Ingredients for 4 people

350 grams of long pasta, such as bavette or spaghetti
125 grams (½ cup) tomato pulp (premade is fine)
grated bottarga (or grated parmesan or ricotta salata)
olive oil
fresh basil
tomato sorbet
salt & pepper

Instructions

Cook the pasta al dente (and not a second more!), drain, and return to the pot, adding a few tablespoons of olive oil, the tomato pulp, some chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper. Stir well so all the pasta is covered. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a non-stick or iron pan. With a ladle, scoop a serving of the cooked pasta and, using a fork or large kitchen pincers, twirl the pasta until you have a neat, round ‘basket’ or ‘nest’ shape. You can make 4 largish baskets or 6 to 8 smaller ones. Very carefully transfer the pasta ‘basket’ to the hot oil. Fry on one side for a couple minutes, until the bottom is brown and crunchy. Turn, only once, very carefully, to fry the top side. When the fried pasta is ready, transfer to the serving plate. Dust with grated bottarga (or cheese) and top with a small scoop of the tomato sorbet. Garnish with a basil leaf or two.

Tomato Sorbet

sorbetto al pomodoro

sorbetto al pomodoro

I tasted tomato sorbet for the first time quite recently, while participating in the Food Blogger Contest hosted by Chef Academy Italy in Terni in May. The morning of the event, we bloggers had been assigned to teams of students, each team under the supervision of a professional chef instructor of the Academy. I had the privilege that morning of working alongside Chef Maurizio Serva, who runs La Trota restaurant in Rivodutri in the province of Rieti in Lazio. Chef Serva stopped me at one point amid the controlled kitchen chaos to have me taste a tomato sorbet (a nearby student offering me a spoon quickly produced from his shirtsleeve pocket), to later be paired with a revamped version of this dish of mine during the competition tastings. Things were so busy that day I didn’t think to ask for the recipe, but today I decided to try to make it based on taste-memory.

This savory and tangy sorbet could be served in between courses, especially during a seafood or fish-based meal; or as an accompaniment to any spicy or crunchy vegetable dish, such as fried eggplant or zucchini.

Ingredients

500 grams tomatoes (about a pound)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
fresh basil
salt

Instructions

Score and boil the tomatoes for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and let cool. Peel and deseed the tomatoes and place the pulp in a bowl or tall container. Add the lemon juice, a few basil leaves, and a few pinches of salt. Either pulse with a wand mixer or use a blender. You want a well-blended, smoothie-like texture, not too liquidy. Taste the mixture to check for the right level of saltiness. Freeze for about 2 hours, checking and forking the sorbet occasionally. If you let the sorbet freeze completely, be sure to take it out of the freezer about an hour before you intend to serve it. You will need to reblend it after it partially thaws.