Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'll meet you antime you want, in our Italian Restaurant.

One of my favorite things about summer is the taste of ripe, sweet tomatoes. Even better is when the taste is paired with buffalo mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves. I've always been intrigued at how and why these three ingredients compliment one another so well. It's like they were made to be eaten together, and during this time of year, when tomatoes and basil are in season and at the peak of their flavor, there's no reason why they shouldn't be put on everything and anything.

These three lovely ingredients happen to be very Italiano, so it made sense that I would be craving Italian-syle dishes to incorporate them into. The first one was a summer caprese salad. Even in their most simplest state, these three amigos work their magic, accented with dried oregeno, olive oil and sea salt. Since a caprese salad is made to showcase the flavor of the tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, it is important that every ingredient in the salad be high quality. This means using tomatoes and basil that are as fresh, ripe and local as possible, as well as real buffalo mozzarella cheese- not the stuff Pizza Hut uses. When John and I tasted our creation, we were pleasantly surprised at how much the oregano blended with all the other ingredients and helped bring out the flavors of the dish. I had made this salad many times before, but never with the oregano. Now I see how important it is in this dish. I am forever grateful of you, robust and green Italian herb!

The second meal we made from the aforementioned ingredients was- and I bet you saw this coming- pizza.  I made the dough from scratch, which, for me, is such a comforting and rewarding thing to do in the kitchen. I love the smell of the dough as it slowly rises, and being that hands-on with a recipe makes me appreciate when I eat it even more. What's really great is that you can always make double the recipe and save your leftover dough in the freezer; wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, it will last for up to a month. So next time you find yourself dreaming of pizza, you'll have dough willing and ready to help make it a reality, and in no time at all.

My recipe for pizza dough yields enough for one large pizza or two smaller-sized pizzas; we opted for the two smaller-sized so we could try different combinations of pizza toppings. The first one we tried was a Margherita-style pizza, simple but classic and flavorful. John loves all things sausage, so we knew we had to incorporate it into our second pizza- and we did, pairing it with carmalized onions (heaven) and fragrant sage leaves (from our garden) to take it up a notch. Anyway what's nice about this recipe is that you can choose any combination you like, with whatever herbs you prefer, and most likely it will taste good because come on folks, lets face it- it's pizza!

On another note, I'm sure after taking a peek at my pizza dough/pizza baking instructions, you might feel overwhelmed and slightly intimidated at how detailed and lengthy my directions are. But you know what? The recipes for pizza dough that I have tried over the years always had a few, vague instructions that would never lay out the process step-by-step, and never produced the kind of pizza crust I could be proud about. I had to figure out a lot of things on my own, through trial and error, and at times it was pretty darn frustrating. And, I am still learning! With that said, I sincerely hope that my directions don't scare you, but help you, make a wonderful and tasty pizza creation. Have fun!

Summer Caprese Salad

(Adapted from recipe in 'My Italian Garden' cookbook, by Viana La Place)
This salad serves 2, but can be doubled and tripled depending on how many you are serving!


  • 2 large fresh buffalo mozzarella balls
  • 3 medium vine-ripened variety tomatoes
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 3-4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • handful of fresh basil leaves, jullienned
  • sea salt, to taste

  1. Slice the mozzarella balls into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Drain on kitchen towels if very moist.
  2. Slice vine tomatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds, and cut the cherry tomatoes in half.
  3. Arrange the vine tomatoes and mozzarella in a slightly overlapping pattern on serving dish.
  4. Season with salt and 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
  5. Sprinkle the halved cherry tomatoes on top, and drizzle with additional olive oil and sea salt, to taste. Sprinkle with oregano.
  6. Scatter basil over top, and serve immediately!

Homemade Pizza:

Pizza Dough Ingredients:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (one packet) dry active yeast
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (may use a little more or less)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, optional
  • yellow cornmeal, for sprinkling the pizza stone/cookie sheet, optional
The chopped fresh herbs are an optional addition to this recipe, but I highly recommend it. Just a little can add so much more depth of flavor to your dough! We used a combination of oregano and rosemary this time around, and although I thought it was a good pairing, I think next time I will add more rosemary than oregano. But that is just my preference, and it's partially because the taste of pizza crust studded with rosemary reminds me of focaccia bread, which happens to be one of my favorite things. Anyway, experiment with your own combinations and see what works for you!

Ingredients for Pizza Toppings:

The Classic Margherita
  • 2 vine-ripened medium/large tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 to 2 buffalo mozzarella balls, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • few basil leaves, jullienned
  • dried oregano, for sprinkling
  • red chili pepper flakes, for sprinkling
  • sea salt, to taste
  • ground black pepper, to taste

Spruced-up Sausage Medley

  • 1 Andouille sausage link, already cooked, and sliced into thin rounds
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce (homemade is so much better, but store-bought will work just fine if you don't have already made homemade sauce available)
  • 1-2 buffalo mozzarella balls, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • Caramelized Onions, recipe follows
  • 5-10 sage leaves, roughly chopped or left whole
  • sea salt, to taste
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • few basil leaves, jullienned

Directions for Carmelized Onions:

  1. Thinly slice one medium or large yellow onion.
  2. Heat a combination of a tablespoon of butter and a bit of olive oil over medium heat, and stir in onions. Season with salt.
  3. Slowly cook over medium heat, covered, and stirring often, for about 30-40 mins.
  4. At the end of cooking, add a splash of vinegar, stirring to deglaze the pan.
  5. Try not to eat them before you make your pizza.

Directions for Pizza Dough:

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, add yeast, sugar and water and stir with fork a few times. Let sit for 5 minutes or until mixture is foamy.
  2. Add olive oil, flour, herbs and salt. Mix with the dough hook, adding more flour if necessary, until the dough comes together and starts to make its way up the dough hook. It should be smooth but still slightly sticky.
  3. Remove the dough from the mixer and on a floured surface, form into a smooth ball.
  4. Lightly coat the inside of a large bowl with a very thin film of olive oil and wipe away any access. Place dough in bowl and turn over once to moisten the outside of dough with oil (this prevents the dough from drying out as it rises).
  5. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in warm, draft-free place for about 1-1 and 1/2 hours, or until dough doubles in size (if you would like to make your dough a day ahead, it can be left to rise more slowly in the refrigerator for up to 6-8 hours).
Directions for making pizza:
  1. When dough is ready, sprinkle a work surface with light amount of flour. Divide dough ball in half. Roll each piece into smooth ball, and make sure to knead out any air pockets.
  2. Place balls on floured surface, sprinkle them with a little more flour, and cover with a kitchen towel and let rest, until they puff slightly, about 20 minutes.
  3. Dust a cookie sheet with corn meal OR dust a pizza stone with cornmeal (the thing with the pizza stone, is that it works best when left in the oven while it's preheating. So if you do choose this route, make sure you have a wooden peel to help slide the pizza onto the hot pizza stone in the oven. I know this seems more complicated than the cookie sheet method, but I think it's more rewarding for your taste buds. It's up to you though.
  4. Preheat the oven to maximum, which is usually 500 degrees (most commercial pizza-ovens are 700 degrees, so as hot as you can get yours is ideal).
  5. Shape the pizzas, one at a time, on a lightly floured surface.
  6. If using the pizza stone, use your fingers to spread the dough into a flat and even circle . We like a thinner crust (Neopolitan style), so I make sure the dough is no thicker than 1/8-inch thick (and a tad bit thicker on the outside for a crust). Place dough on wooden peel. Sprinkle all over with olive oil. Top with combinations of your preference. No matter what, we usually go in the order of tomato sauce, cheese, meat and/or veggies, herbs (minus the basil). OR cheese, tomato slices, herbs, etc. Using wooden peel, slide pizza onto pizza stone in oven.
  7. If using the cookie sheet, place dough on cookie sheet and use your fingers to spread the dough into a flat and even rectangle. This method will give you a thicker style pizza. Sprinkle all over with olive oil. Top with combinations of your preference.
  8. Either way, for both methods, you should bake your pizza until it looks nice and golden, about 6-12 minutes, depending on thickness of pizza. Remove from oven. Top with basil before serving. Serve the pizza immediately or at room temperature.
A few tips: No matter how hard the temptation might be to check out your pizzas while they are baking (and believe me it happens to the best of us) try not to open the oven during the pizza baking process. It instantly cools the temperature in the oven, and remember- you want your oven to be at maximum heat so you produce the best pizza possible! Also, a note on the caramelized onions: this is the kind of topping (since it is already cooked) that I would recommend adding to your pizza about halfway through baking it, so that you don't over-cook the onions and make your pizza all soggy.

Buon Appetito!!

-Song lyrics in title by Billy Joel.

1 comment:

  1. bottle of red bottle of white invite me over for pizza anytime you like ...... ..whats better then thin crusted pizza ....i can eat it everyday and the caprese salad.....that to i could eat every day.....and your right nows the time to eat it,,,,by the way i just made your herb roasted chicken and the browning of the butter with the herbs really made a tasted really good... thank you for these perfectly detailed receipes...please dont edit them from your blog without letting us know