Thursday, May 21, 2015

Passion for Pizza

Not long ago, I received a book to review - "Passion for Pizza." Bloggers frequently receive these types of offers, and I turn down most of them. But when the subject is pizza, it's hard to resist. I mean, who doesn't love pizza? The book more than lived up to my expectations. It's divided into two sections - Italy and the USA, with various chapters on pizzerias in those two countries, and recipes at the end (including one at the bottom of this post.) It covers different types of pizzas, from crispy -crusted Roman style, to deep-dish Chicago style and many others, including my favorite, Neapolitan style. 
I've visited a few of the places mentioned in the book, both here and in Italy, but it's clear that I've got a long road ahead of me if I'm going to make a real dent in the list. With this book as my guide, hopefully I'll get to some of the others in the future.
There are so many great pizza places around the world that it's hard, if not impossible, to include all of them. For instance, a real standout that's not included is La Renella in Rome. They make outstanding bread as well as many varieties of pizza, and like most Roman pizzerias, you order by indicating to the person behind the counter how much of a slice you want them to cut.

Among the places listed in the book is another spot where I've eaten great Roman-style pizza, -  Gabriele Bonci's tribute to pizza, Pizzarium (which recently expanded from its little hole in the wall).
Thankfully, there's a chapter on Naples, the city where pizza Margherita was created more than 100 years ago for Queen Margherita of Savoy and where I've been lucky enough to indulge in pizza on a couple of trips to that great city, including one a few weeks ago.
The ownership of Brandi has changed over the years, but it's still turning out fabulous pizzas from these wood-fired ovens.
Including the famous pizza Margherita, made with simple but high quality ingredients - tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil. It's hard not to dig right in, but if you wait a minute or two, the center won't be as runny as it cools down a bit. 
Despite the criticism New York City Mayor DeBlasio received from Americans when he ate pizza in Naples with a knife and fork, go ahead and follow his example. It's the way Italians do it and Neapolitan pizza can be very floppy and difficult to handle when it's hot from the oven. 
Pizza Margherita is only one of the many types of pizza on Brandi's menu. Another winner I had to try was this one with prosciutto, arugula, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. I'm still dreaming about them both.
 Fortunately, I have some great Neapolitan pizza places not far from where I live in New Jersey, including Nomad Pizza in Hopewell (soon to open another place in Princeton by the end of the year!); Porta in Asbury Park, N.J., and Brigantessa in Philadelphia.
If you want to try your hand at making pizza at home though, "Passion for Pizza" has a plethora of recipes from many of the pizzerias listed in the book.
 It's nearly impossible to get the same kind of dark mottled crust from a typical home kitchen, since the temperatures can't reach the heights of a professional pizza oven. 
But it's still fun to try, and the results, if not the same as your favorite pizzeria, can be delicious anyway.
I recently tried three different pizza recipes from the book, using two different doughs -- the "Neapolitan dough" recipe and the "our favorite dough" recipe. We scarfed down the pizza Margherita:
And we loved the pistacchio e salsiccia pizza recipe from Kesté's in New York (although it could have used a bit of olive oil on top):
 And although mine didn't look as wonderful as this photo from the book, we all loved the pizza with brussels sprouts, mozzarella and ricotta cheese, inspired by Motorino Pizza in New York City. The recipe is below.

 Pizza with Brussels Sprouts
From "Passion for Pizza"
printable recipe here

1 t. sea salt
2 ounces Brussels sprouts
pizza dough (use your favorite or get the recipe from the book for "our favorite dough")
2 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded
1 ounce fresh ricotta
1 ounce Pecorino Romano, crumbled
1 ounce smoked pancetta, thinly sliced (alternatives:bacon or unsmoked pancetta)
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling


  1. Place a baking stone in the oven, and preheat to 500 degrees F. or higher for one hour.
  2. Bring 1 quart water with sea salt to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan.
  3. While the water is heating, rinse the Brussels sprouts in cold water, and remove any wilted leaves. Place the Brussels sprouts in the boiling water, and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Remove the Brussels sprouts with a slotted spoon, and place them in a bowl of ice water for a few minutes to cool.  Pour off the water.
  5. Stretch the pizza dough to a diameter of 12 inches.
  6. Distribute the mozzarella, ricotta and Pecorino Romano over the pizza.  Distribute the pancetta and garlic over the pizza.
  7. Peel the leaves from the Brussels sprouts, and place them on the pizza.
  8. Bake the pizza on the baking stone until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling.
  9. Remove the pizza from the oven, and place it on a plate. Top with coarsely ground black pepper and a bit of olive oil, and serve

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Pistachio Gelato


This pistachio gelato has its genesis in Rome, at Nonna Vincenza's, a beautiful bakery and shop that features decadent Sicilian pastries and other sweet treats. 
My favorite are the mini cassata cakes filled with a ricotta mixture and covered in a pistachio and almond paste. 
The shop sells cookies, liqueurs and almond and pistachio pastes too, and two years ago I bought a jar of their pistachio paste. Having only carry-on luggage, though, I was thwarted at check-in, because I had forgotten you can't bring in liquids or gels over a certain weight. It got confiscated, despite my pleas. So last year when I went to Rome, I checked my luggage upon departure for the U.S., just so I could pack a jar of this dreamy paste, made from the best pistachios in the world -- those of Bronte, Sicily. 
 Having come back two weeks ago from another visit to the eternal city, and eaten a fair share of pastries at Nonna Vincenza's, I decided to finally make gelato using the jar that's been sitting in my cupboard for nearly a year. What a revelation! Now I'm kicking myself that I didn't bring in any of this wonderful product from this most recent trip. 
There are other sources of pistachio paste or cream that you can find on the internet, but I can't vouch for any of them since I haven't tried them. If you decide to buy some, please let me know the results.
Even if you leave out the pistachio paste, this recipe makes a delicious vanilla gelato - and would be a great base for other flavorings too. 
I added the pistachio paste at the very end, but you could add anything, including almond paste, crushed strawberries or coconut cream.
 Don't confuse this with that neon green pistachio ice cream you see at commercial ice cream shops. This is not even related in the least to that product. If you've never liked pistachio ice cream, it's understandable if those are all you've tried. Give this a go, topped with a few chopped pistachios, and you'll easily become a convert to the real thing. And if you're in Rome (or Catania, Sicily and now Bologna), don't miss a chance to go to Nonna Vincenza's. Find out more about them here.

Pistachio Gelato
printable recipe here

2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean 
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 T. vodka
1 cup pistachio cream (I used Nonna Vincenza's, but you can't find it in the U.S., so substitute another brand that you might find here or here.)

Split the vanilla bean in half and add to the milk. Simmer just below the boiling point, then set it aside to infuse for about 15 minutes. Remove the bean. A little "skin" may have formed while it was cooling, so just lift it off and discard. Beat the egg yolks until creamy, then pour a couple of tablespoons of the hot milk into the eggs to slowly raise the temperature so that you don't end up with scrambled eggs. Keep adding the milk a little at a time, then stir in the sugar and place the mixture in a double boiler. Cook over a very low heat, stirring all the while, until the mixture heavily coats the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to cook it too long or to let it boil, or you'll end up a with curdled mess.
Remove the mixture from the heat, place the mixture into the refrigerator to cool for a few hours (or overnight), stir in the cream, the vodka and process in an ice cream maker. While it's churning, add the pistachio cream.Place it in the freezer to harden a bit more.
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Friday, May 8, 2015

In Memoriam



Today is my sister Angela's birthday. Only she's not here to celebrate. 
With a heavy heart, I write that she left this world after much suffering due to an illness that ravaged her body and gave her no quarter. She fought courageously, but lost the battle two days ago. She leaves behind a devoted son and daughter and three loving grandsons, as well as a brother, two sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews and a 93 year-old dad.
 I want to remember the carefree days when we were young, she only 17 months older than I, as we played together inseparably.
 I want to remember how our doting mother clothed us in identical fancy dresses whenever we would go into town for a strawberry sundae at Howard Johnson's - a real treat for a family that rarely ate in restaurants.

I'd like to forget the memories of seeing her in pain in the hospital, and want to hold with me instead, carefree summer days of playing at the shore.
I want to remember her dressed in her finest garb, as she was crowned "queen of the maypole" in elementary school and we danced around a ribboned pole, anchored by my brother Frank, who also left this world four years ago.
I'd like to think that she's with all the loved ones who have gone before me, in a state of eternal bliss. The long struggle is over. 
We all love you, and will miss you, Angela. 
May you rest in peace.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

More Reasons To Fall In Love With Rome

Roman doorway
No other city in the world tugs at me the way Rome does. Yes, New York is electric, Paris is romantic, and London is hopping. But Rome....well, Rome for me is in another whole category. It may not have the wide boulevards of Buenos Aires, the orderliness of Singapore or the canals of Amsterdam, but none of that matters.
Porta Settimiana
Yes, it's got graffiti-splattered walls, high rents and a Byzantine bureaucracy if you're trying to get any official work done. 
graffiti in Rome
 But walk anywhere in the central part of Rome and you're assaulted by sights, sounds and flavors that I wouldn't trade for anywhere else in the world.
arco degli'acetari
Walk by an open air market on a Spring morning and find three different kinds of artichokes, flavorful strawberries the size of a baby's nail, or a cappuccino to swoon over. 
Roman artichokes
While you're on your jaunt, you might easily step outside your 18th apartment building and walk by some ancient Roman columns from the first century B.C., into a piazza decorated with a 16th century baroque fountain, before stopping to say a prayer in a 15th century Renaissance church. You're practically tripping over layers of history throughout the city. They all have a unique beauty that could easily jade local residents, but that never fails to make me wish I were once again living in Rome. 
statue inside entryway to apartment building on Via Arenula
Although I'm not a resident now, I consider myself extremely lucky to travel to Rome occasionally, including last week. In the past, I've posted some of my favorite things to do and eat in the Eternal City that you can click on here. 
Ponte Sisto and St. Peter's
You won't find places like the Vatican, the Colosseum or the Forum on the post --  they're too obviously at the top of most visitors' list, as well they should be, for me to write about. Don't miss them. But aside from my "Twenty Reasons To Fall In Love With Rome," I'm giving you now a few other suggestions of places to eat that are a little lower on the radar to first time visitors.
Rome reflections
Aside from the tangible, physical, evidence of Rome's beauty, it's also the Roman people who draw me in as well. Like the vegetable seller who always remembers your name, and throws in a couple of stalks of celery and a few sprigs of parsley for free. Or the goldsmith who demonstrates how he hammers the 21-carat gold chain he's making, then shows you pictures of his adorable grandchildren. Or the chef who allows you into his kitchen, then showers you with sample after sample of extra dishes you didn't even order. 
tagliolini with truffles at Le Mani in Pasta
So here are just a few more of my favorite places to stop for a bite to eat or drink in Rome. Buon Appetito.

La Prosciutteria
Oozing with atmosphere, it's great place to grab a panino or a board of salumi and cheese. Located in Trastevere on via della Scala, it's been in Florence for a while, but is fairly new to Rome. The porchetta sandwich I ate at La Prosciutteria beat any I'd ever eaten in the past, hands down, including in Ariccia, a town outside Rome known for its porchetta. I considered it my duty to return to La Prosciutteria the night before departing Rome to buy one for the plane ride home. It was late at night and they had run out of my favorite round foccaccia bread. "Oh Dio," I said. "Isn't there even one more foccaccia hidden somewhere?" I asked. The salesgirl pointed to an already prepared prosciutto crudo sandwich and said "That's the last one." After I mustered up the nerve to ask her if she could take out the prosciutto and replace it with porchetta, she winked at me and complied. Let it be noted that the tray of "food" offered by United Airlines was left untouched as I inhaled my porchetta sandwich instead. Via della Panetteria, 34A.

porchetta panino

at La Prosciutteria


Panella  
I have Beatrice Ughi of Gustiamo.com to thank for learning about this place. Her friend Antonio suggested it to her years ago and she finally met him there last week, and invited me to come along too, since she was in Rome at the same time I was. Panella has been in business for nearly 100 years and it's not only a fabulous resource for breads, pastries and specialty foods, but a great place for "happy hour" with its prolific buffet dishes, ranging from chickpea farinata to fried zucchini flowers. It's in the Esquiline neighborhood, not too far from the church of San Giovanni in Laterano. Via Merulana, 54.

buffet at Panella

Fish Market
This recent addition to Trastevere's dining scene is an informal place for seafood with a hip vibe, but it's not just 20-somethings who eat here. You'll feel comfortable no matter what your age and there's indoor and outdoor seating. You can pick out the fish you want from the counter for a simple preparation, choose a cone of fried calamari or shrimp, or one of the several more elaborately prepared dishes. Gaze at those painted arches inside too, and stop to wonder how many centuries they've been there. Vicolo della luce, 4/5
Inside "The Fish Market"
Da Enzo
Another casual and tiny Trastevere restaurant that seats only about 25 people. It's tucked away on a small vicolo on the east side of Viale Trastevere - away from the noisier, more trafficked part of the neighborhood. If it's artichoke season (and it is still is for a very short while), make sure to order them, either fried alla Giudia, or seasoned and in oil, alla Romana. Both were exceptional, as was their pasta alla gricia, made with guanciale. Via dei Vascellari, 29

artichokes alla Giudia and alla Romana at Da Enzo

Le Mani In Pasta
I almost hesitate to mention this place because it's my favorite restaurant in Rome and they're always lined up to get in - with good reason. The food is exquisite and the waiters are terrific, even while working at breakneck speed. They're known for their pastas, and rightly so, but the other dishes are fabulous too. I always order the mussels and clams sauté as a starter, the best anywhere. This time I also ordered the steak served with a green peppercorn sauce, a perfectly cooked piece of tender beef, resting in an unctious puddle of winey goodness. If broccoli romano is on the menu, it's the perfect accompaniment, and is perfectly prepared, with a hint of peperoncino. If you can, reserve the table near the window facing the kitchen. It's practically theater! Chef Ivano will keep you mesmerized with his deft skills, when you're not sighing over the unbeatable food delivered to your table. Watch the short video below and you'll see what I mean. Via Dei Genovese, 37




Nonna Vincenza
I can't resist a good cannolo when I find one and once I stumbled onto Nonna Vincenza a few years ago, I thought I had found the mother lode. There are a couple of locations in town, including one near the campo dei fiori. It's elegantly appointed, with beautiful armoires displaying pastries, cookies, and almond and pistachio pastes in jars for sale. As much as I love cannoli, I can't resist digging into Nonna Vincenza's mini cassata, covered in a layer of marzapan. You can have your purchases boxed to take home if you like, but they've also got a few tables and serve coffee if you want to sit and linger. Two locations in Rome - at Arco del Monte 98 (near campo dei fiori) and Piazza di Montecitorio, 116.


Le Levain 
Caffé Giselda
 Yes, the name Le Levain is French. Yes, they serve French croissants and that's why I love the place. The owner, Giuseppe Solfrizzi, is originally from Puglia and studied with celebrated chef Alain Ducasse. Italians eat cornetti with their breakfast, and while I like them, to me they don't hold a candle to the crunchy, buttery croissants that the French are famous for. Everything here is excellent, from the croissants with walnuts to the small domed pastry dipped in white icing, to the multi-grain bread. 
Stop in for a few croissants, then take them down the street and around the corner to Café Giselda, where you can order an espresso and sit down, assuaging any guilt you may have had about betraying your Italianness with a French croissant. 
My friend Kathryn, who's living in Rome and is the writing teacher for our writing retreat in September, "Italy, In Other Words," (still some spaces left, so join us in dreamy Varenna on Lake Como!) introduced me to both places on this trip, and I was grateful every morning when I dug into that croissant that's unparalleled in Rome, accompanied by my wake-up cappuccino from Caffé Giselda. 

pastries at Le Levain
Cafe Giselda itself, at the corner of Viale Trastevere and San Francesco a Ripa, will also impress you with its own pastries, cakes, and salumi. Unlike most caffés, you don't get charged extra for sitting at a table rather than standing at the bar. And the cappuccino goes down easy. 
 Le Levain - Via Luigi Santini, Giselda, 22 Viale Trastevere, 52

Caffé Giselda
Have enough ideas for your next trip to Rome? I hope I've enticed you to visit this beautiful corner of the world. I could go on and on about my love for the Eternal City, but as the saying goes, when it comes to discovering Rome's treasures, "Non basta una vita" - meaning "One life is not enough."
Temple of Hercules Victor



Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lemon Olive Oil Cake with Raspberries and Pistachios


 
I know olive oil cakes are ubiquitous these days, but here's another one to add to your repertoire, and it's a keeper.
My dad's wife Rose made this for me a while ago and I've been meaning to post it for a while.
She's a great baker, and my dad's a terrific cook, so every time I visit I can be assured of a wonderful meal, including a delicious dessert.
The red raspberries and green pistachios give this cake a particularly festive look.
You might want to remember this one for the Christmas holidays. But try it as fresh, local raspberries start appearing in the markets.
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Join us for a writing retreat in September in one of the most beautiful places on Earth - along the shores of Italy's Lake Como. Step outside your room and enjoy this gorgeous view and gardens. Click here for more information.





Lemon Cake with Raspberries and Pistachios
from Bon Appetit magazine


Ingredients
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  •  cups all-purpose flour
  •  teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs
  •  cups plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon plus ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries (about 4 oz.)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped unsalted, raw pistachios


PREPARATION

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9” diameter cake pan with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With mixer running, add vanilla and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, then gradually add oil, mixing just until combined. Fold in lemon zest and dry ingredients.
  • Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Scatter berries over cake, then pistachios and 2 Tbsp. sugar. Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45–55 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, bring remaining ¼ cup sugar and remaining ¼ cup lemon juice to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar; let lemon syrup cool.
  • Transfer hot cake (still in pan) to a wire rack and immediately brush with lemon syrup (use all of it). Let cake cool completely in pan.
  • DO AHEAD: Cake can be made 2 days ahead. Store wrapped tightly at room temperature
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Friday, April 17, 2015

Milena's Sweet Swiss Chard Tart



Regular readers of this blog know that I'm part of a group of women who meet once a week to chit-chat in Italian. The meeting takes place at a different home each week and while we converse in Italian about anything and everything - we also eat. And every one of the women is a good cook, so we look forward to our gatherings for several reasons.
 I'm not able to attend each week, but when the group meets at Milena's house, I'm really  loathe to miss it.
Milena, who hails from the region of Liguria, is one of the best cooks in the group, and not surprisingly, taught cooking classes for a while. Whenever the group meets at her house, she makes an array of different dishes to tempt us, some tried and true, and some new ones too.
This tart is one of the offerings (among many) that she served recently at her home. The recipe contains a bit of sugar, so you could serve it as dessert, but it's not overly sweet, so if you're yearning for a more traditional dessert, better stick to chocolate cake.
 In that case, it would be equally delicious served with a glass of wine as an appetizer too.
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Join us for a writing retreat in September in one of the most beautiful places on Earth - along the shores of Italy's Lake Como. Click here for more information.




Sweet Swiss Chard Tart

3 cups flour (minus three Tablespoons) or 300 grams flour 
1/2 cup butter or 125 grams butter
about two bunches of Swiss chard without the stems, or 500 grams Swiss chard
3/4 cup sugar or 150 grams sugar
1/3 cup pine nuts or 50 grams pine nuts
1/4 cup or 30 grams white raisins
2 eggs, separated
salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon, to taste

On a wooden board (or a bowl), make a well with the flour and add 3/4 of the butter (cut into small pieces), half the sugar, a pinch of salt and the egg yolks.
Incorporate all the ingredients until you have a soft and smooth dough. Cover it with a dishtowel and let it rest for two hours in a warm place.

Put the raisins in a bowl with some tepid water and let them soak in the water for at least 15 minutes.

Wash the Swiss chard, removing the stems, and place it in a covered pot with only the water that remains on the leaves. Let it cook on low heat until softened. Remove from the pot, squeeze out any remaining water, then give the swiss chard a rough chop. Add the remaining butter to a saucepan, put the Swiss chard back in, and stir, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Put the chopped Swiss chard in a bowl and mix with the remaining sugar, pine nuts, raisins (that have been drained), a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon.

Divide the dough in half and roll out each half to fit a 9" pie pan that has been buttered and floured. Place one piece of the dough into the pie pan, cover it with the Swiss chard mixture, then place the other piece of dough on the top, closing the borders with a pinch.

Beat a little of the egg white and brush over the top of the  tart. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden.
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