Strawberries in Moscato wine… easiest dessert ever, and so delicious!

Talk about a simple, yet delicious dessert! I’ll give this one the prize.

BEST WITH FRESH SEASONAL BERRIES!  Strawberry season is upon us.  You can get very good berries in the stores… even better in the farmer’s markets… and even better if you grow them yourself or go to a u-pick farm and pick them yourself!  Strawberries bought outside of season lack the sweet, juicy flavors of high-season berries.  But also be aware that there are types of strawberries which ripen later in the summer.  These can often be found in your local farmer’s market.

 

 

Strawberries at Redmond Saturday Market

I RECOMMEND ORGANIC BERRIES:  I like to know that my strawberries are either organic or that they are grown without pesticides.  The reason is little critters love strawberries too so pesticides are often sprayed directly on the berries, and do not wash off easily.  This is why they are listed #1 in the Dirty Dozen list… fruits and vegetables which should not be eaten unless they are organically grown.

Strawberries ripening in Frankie’s garden

MOSCATO D’ASTI is a sweet, sparkling, low-alcohol wine from the area of Asti in Piedmont. It is made from the Moscato (Muscat) grape and is wonderful for an apéritif or a “not too sweet” dessert wine. Pour it over some fresh sliced strawberries and top with whipped cream and anybody will be impressed!

 

A COUPLE OF TIPS: 

  • If you like your whipped cream even a little richer and firmer, try adding some mascarpone cheese to it (that’s what I did here). It makes a good thing taste even better.
  • I left the traditional vanilla out of my whipped cream so as not to compete with the Moscato flavors.

Below is the recipe.  If you’d prefer the recipe in a PDF click here… Strawberries in Moscato Recipe

Buon appetito!  May God bless your table with good health and his abundant love!

Frankie

 

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Making homemade Italian Sausage… it’s fun, and easier than you think!

Making your own sausage is a fun and rewarding adventure!  And it’s easier than you think.

At Frankie’s we made our own bulk sausage from pre-ground pork.  That is super easy!  But I had never ground my own meat or made links.  It only took a little practice until I felt somewhat competent.  I trust you will too.

 

 

 

There are various ways you can make sausage.  Each one creates more work than the previous but gives you greater control over quality and flavor.  And if you are like me… creates more fun.

Do you want to double the fun?  Think about doing this with a friend or family member.

 

 

SAUSAGE MAKING METHODS:

  • Simple Bulk Sausage the simplest way to make sausage is to buy a good quality ground pork (or ground chicken) and mix in your own spices to create a bulk sausage (bulk meaning not in a casing). This is super easy and gives you control over the flavor profile and heat level.
  • Fresh Ground Bulk Sausage this process adds the step of grinding your own meat and mixing in the spices. Fresh ground meat is hard to beat.  And it gives you total control over fat levels.

 

  • Link Sausage ( in casing) includes the step of stuffing the sausage in casings. This is the most complex step but with a little practice becomes quite fun.

EQUIPMENT NEEDED:

  • To make Simple Bulk Sausage… you do not need any special equipment at all.  You can mix it completely by hand or in a stand mixer.
  • To make Fresh Ground Bulk Sausage you will need a meat grinder, or a meat grinding attachment for a stand mixer. I have one for my Kitchenaid mixer.   The Kitchenaid grinder attachment runs from about $40 to $80 or more depending on if you buy the plastic or stainless steel  version and where you buy it.   I have the plastic one and it works fine.  You can buy a well rated manual crank meat grinder for under $40.  If you plan to grind a lot of meat (think ground sirloin burgers too!), you can invest in an electric grinder.  Inexpensive (but not well rated) models are available for under $60 or you can spend up to several hundred dollars.
  • To make Link Sausage… you need a piece of equipment called a Sausage Stuffer, or a Sausage Stuffer attachment such as the one shown which is for my Kitchenaid. Sausage stuffers can range in price from under $50 to well over $100.  The mixer attachment is only about $10 but honestly I found it to be a pain in the rear to use… it was hard to feed the meat.   A friend gave me a Cabela’s Sausage Stuffer which appears to be identical to one made by Weston (I’m pretty sure they make it for Cabela’s).  It is much easier to push the sausage through.

HOW MUCH FAT IN THE MEAT?

Whether you are grinding your own meat or buying it already ground, you need to think about how fatty you want it.  Fat equals flavor, moistness, and tenderness in the meat, but we all know you can have too much of a good thing.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want mine super-greasy and I like to eat reasonably healthy, so…

I’ve heard people saying to use 50/50 lean to fat.  REALLY?!  I’d like to live a few more years.   Totally unnecessary!  Other people try to take the fat total as low as 10%.  I think that is too low myself.  Most sausage makers recommend 30% fat, but you can easily go down to around 20% in my opinion and have a pretty moist and flavorful sausage.

But how do you know how much fat is in the meat?  If you buy ground meat, it should list it.  But if you are grinding your own meat it’s not easy to figure out.  If you use a pork butt or shoulder, as I did, it will probably be in the 25-30 range.  You can always trim off some of the fat if you want.  I did take some of the thick fat off of mine so was probably in the 20% fat range and was very happy with the results.

If you want to get more exacting… well you’ll need to go do your research.  My goal is to keep this process simple.

WHAT KIND OF MEAT TO USE?

If making pork sausage I suggest using a pork shoulder or butt. There is not a lot of difference in the cuts and they will be similar in fat content.  If it seems particularly fatty, feel free to trim off some excess.

If you want to go the chicken route you probably know that dark meat is fattier than white.  I would use about a 60/40, or 70/30 blend of dark to white meat.  Either way you need to incorporate the fat but not the skin.  So if you get chicken which is skinless and trimmed, you may find it difficult to get enough fat.

Alright.  Let’s make some sausage!

HOW TO MAKE SAUSAGE:

NOTE:  If buying pre-ground meat skip to Step 2

Step 1:  GRINDING SAUSAGE.

  1. You want to cut your meat into approximately 1 inch cubes (or some people like to cut it into strips). If you have a larger grinder, adjust the size accordingly. You will find the meat to be easiest to cut if it is super cold, or even partially frozen.  A really sharp knife will also make the job easier.
  2. Grinding meat which is very cold works best. I put mine on an aluminum sheet and placed it in the freezer for about 20-30 minutes before grinding.
  3. Set up your grinder according to manufacturer recommendations. If it has two to three grinding plates, the small one is usually for cheese and breadcrumbs.  Most manufacturers will have youtube videos which can be really helpful to watch if this is your first time grinding meat.
  4. Grind your meat and set aside.

Step 2:  MIXING YOUR SAUSAGE INGREDIENTS.

NOTE:  The recipe below is for 5 pounds of meat.  If you are going to this trouble then you may as well make extra and freeze it.  It will last for months.  If you want to make more or less, you’ll need to adjust the quantities accordingly.

Mix according to the attached recipe.  A stand mixer work best.

But you can mix by hand.  Mix it just long enough to blend well.  DO NOT over-mix!  You don’t want to turn it into a paste.  It will be helpful if you spread the herbs and other ingredients around before mixing (as opposed to dumping all the salt in one spot for instance).

Step 3:  PUTTING SAUSAGE IN CASINGS.

Remember this is an optional step.

You can use your sausage in bulk form for meat sauce or pizza.  But if you want to make it into links you’ll need a Sausage Stuffer as discussed earlier.  You’ll also need Sausage Casings.

Because this is a little more intimidating than making bulk sausage I’ve referred you to a few short videos.  Take a look at those and you will see just how easy it is.

REGARDING SAUSAGE CASINGS:

You can probably purchase casings from your local butcher if you have one who makes sausages.  But probably the easiest way to get casings is to shop online.  There are various types of casing available, including natural hog casing or collagen casings.  I used natural hog casings for mine which I purchased in a home pack size from Amazon.  Here is the link to the casings I bought…

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EZTIGNA/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Rather than me spending a lot of time explaining the pros and cons of each and casing type and how to use them I suggest you watch the following short videos from Meatgistics University which explains it really well.

Te first video is on “Choosing the Right Casing”…                            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AAD8Lx76b0

The second video gives additional info regarding casings for Brats & Italian Sausages. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wE2spjzTrxQ

 

OKAY, LETS GET STUFFING:

NOTE:  Here is another video I suggest you watch.  It is on stuffing the sausage.  It starts out talking about bratwurst but the same principles apply to your Italian Sausage…  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFXPNG0U82o

  1. Once you have your casings you will prepare them per instructions on package (or video). Each casing type is different so I won’t get into the details here.  Natural hog casings like I used must be soaked and rinsed prior to use.
  2. Then you load the casings on the Sausage Stuffer attachment which is basically a hollow nozzle on your Sausage Stuffer which will feed the sausage into your casing. Then you tie off the end of the casing.
  3. Next you feed the sausage into the stuffer which feeds it into the casing. Feed it into a long rope and then twist off the individual sausages.  All of this is shown in the video.

That’s all there is to it.  Now all that’s left is to cook it up and enjoy it in pasta or on a pizza.  Or grill up some links with peppers and onions!

Just think how impressed your friends will be when you grill up some sausages for them and tell them you made them yourself!  I hope some of you will give this a try.  If you do so I’d love to get your feedback on how you did and if my information was helpful.

Below is the recipe for making Homemade Italian Sausage.  If you’d prefer the recipe in a PDF click here… Homemade Italian Sausage

Click to enlarge

Ciao and buon appetito.  May God richly bless your table with joy, love, laughter, and great food!

Frankie

Pizza Blog #4… finding the best mozzarella for your pizza

This will be my 4th post in my pizza series.  If you have missed my prior posts, I hope you will check them out.  Here is what you will find…

Pizza Blog #1: 

https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2018/11/29/making-amazing-pizza-at-home/

  • A brief history of pizza
  • My Pizza Sauces recipe
  • Recommendations on my favorite brands of tomato products

Pizza Blog #2: 

https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2018/12/17/pizza-blog-2-making-amazing-pizza-at-home/

  • Italian pizza styles
  • Different kinds flours you can use
  • Dough proofing and yeast
  • Ways to mix your dough
  • My Pizza Dough recipe

 

Pizza Blog #3: 

https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2019/02/08/pizza-blog-3-making-incredible-pizza-at-home/

  • American styles of pizza
  • My Basil Pesto recipe
  • Recipes for three of my favorite pesto pizzas

In this 4th Post we will cover the following…

  • Mozzarella Cheese information and recommendations
  • Other excellent pizza cheeses
  • Provide a few more of my favorite pizza combination recipes

Mozzarella Cheese Styles and Information:

You all know that a great crust, properly baked, and an excellent sauce are key to great pizza. The third key in my opinion is high quality cheese.  And mozzarella is king when it comes to pizza.  The melting characteristics and flavor work perfectly.

There are multiple types of mozzarella. The two most common here in the states are…

  • Fresh Mozzarella which has a shorter aging and is considered a High Moisture Mozzarella. Fresh Mozzarella comes in a cow’s milk version which is made worldwide, or a Mozzarella di Bufala, a very rich and creamy version made from the milk of water buffalo in the region of Campania.  The latter is harder to find and more expensive but if you have never tried it you should.  I have found it at Costco as well as at many specialty cheese counters.
  • Standard Shredding (or pre-shredded) Mozzarella, which is usually labeled Low Moisture Mozzarella. This is a cow’s milk mozzarella and comes in Whole Milk (my preference) or Part-Skim versions.

I love both styles of cheese but have a slight preference for, and primarily rely upon, standard shredding mozzarellas, unless I am making Pizza Margherita, in which case I like to use fresh mozzarella.

In the states, I believe that the best mozzarellas come from Wisconsin.  This is based on my personal blind tasting of multiple cheeses over my decades in the pizza business.  Wisconsin cheeses are the most consistent in flavor and moisture content.  That said, there are excellent cheeses from other regions.

For my catering and classes I still buy the cheese I used at Frankie’s, a Wisconsin mozzarella made by a company called Vantaggio.  Because I buy smaller quantities I generally meet my supplier at one of his accounts and we swap from his black SUV to mine.  It feels like I am doing a drug deal! But whatever it takes to get the best cheese on the market.  Unfortunately this cheese is not available to the public.

My mission… a quest to find the best mozzarella available to youthe everyday pizza aficionado who wants that same amazing quality but is consigned to buy their cheese from a grocery store.

So I tested multiple brands of mozzarella available in grocery stores in the area where I live in Redmond, Washington, which is across the lake from Seattle.

My Mozzarella Recommendations:

First, a couple of disclaimers…

The cheeses I tested were all low moisture, shredding style cheeses.  Someday I will do a test of fresh mozzarellas.

I did not purchase every cheese out there.  I stayed away from the low-price cheeses, or one’s which I felt would be inferior.  And I probably missed a couple of good brands because I did not go to every single store in the area.  Nonetheless, here is what I tested and my results.

I tested five brands of mozzarella.  I have rated them on a 10 point scale (using my Vantaggio as the Gold Standard… a perfect 10).  Overall I was pleasantly surprised at the results.

Here are my findings from worst to best:

#5:  Galbani Whole Milk Mozzarella… I had high hopes for this cheese which says on the label “Italy’s Favorite Cheese Brand” (though it also says “Product of USA”).  It was good but not great.  I found it to be a bit lacking in flavor and richness.

 

Score:  7.5    Price:  $5.79 per pound at Fred Meyer though often on sale.

#4:  Trader Joe’s Whole Milk Mozzarella…  I love Trader Joe’s and most of their products.  This cheese is better than the Galbani but did not quite stack up to the other brands.  The flavor was very good but it lacked a little in creaminess.

Score:  8.0    Price:  $4.99 per pound at Trader Joe’s

#3:  Tillamook Part-Skim Mozzarella…  the only version I found from Tillamook was a pre-shredded part-skim.  I am a Tillamook fan and found this to be an excellent cheese for the price.  It was rich and creamy with excellent flavor.  It’s only draw back was it got slightly rubbery as it cooled, probably as a result of the lower fat content.

Score:  9.0    Price:  $4.99 per pound at Freddie’s

#2:  Boar’s Head Whole Milk Mozzarella… I have a friend who operates a Boar’s Head distributorship so I really wanted this to win and it almost did.  This is a rich and creamy mozz with excellent flavor.  It was slightly oilier after cooking but otherwise a superb cheese.

Score:  9.5    Price:  $5.99 per pound at Freddie’s

Drum roll please…

#1:  Rumiano Whole Milk Mozzarella…  I had never heard of this cheese which I found at Whole Foods.  It is expensive at $6.99 per pound.  So the Boar’s Head or Tillamook both represent better values in my view.  Nonetheless, if you don’t mind spending the bucks this cheese had the best overall combination of flavor, texture and mouthfeel.  It was creamy, buttery, and had a great flavor though with a slight herbal flavor.

Score:  9.6    Price:  $6.99 per pound at Whole Foods

Other excellent pizza cheeses:

When it comes to cheese on pizza, the sky is the limit.  Do all the experimenting you want.  If it sounds good to you it probably will be.  Listed below are some of my other favorite pizza cheeses.  It is by no means a comprehensive list.

Provolone:  Provolone comes in a an Italian (aged) version, or a Deli version, usually found in a round log at your deli counter.  The latter is slightly softer and more subtle.  Both are excellent for pizza.  Many pizzerias use a blend of mozzarella with some provolone added. It is one of the cheeses used on this Pizza Calabrese (recipe below).

Fontina:  Fontina comes in an Italian version or a Danish version which is the most common.  The Danish version has the red wax on it and works great for pizza.  The Italian version is even better but hard to find and very expensive.  It is one of the cheeses used on our Gourmet Vegetarian Pizza (recipe below).

 

Smoked Mozzarella (and other smoked cheeses):  I like smoked cheeses in certain applications but in moderation.  If used straight I find it overwhelms the pizza.  At Frankie’s we had a Wild Mushroom Pizza on our Autumn menu to which we added a blend of half smoked and half regular mozzarella.  Smoked Provolone or Smoked Gouda can also be excellent.  We added smoked gouda to our BBQ Chicken Pizza.

 

Asiago:  The salty, nutty, tangy flavor of this cheese is especially great with vegetable pizzas. Look for the fresher version (rather than the harder dry-aged version), which melts super well.

Parmesan:  If you are going to use parmesan I recommend using the King of Cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano.  It is more expensive but a little goes a long way.  The flavor is superior and these days it is easy to find.  I buy it at Costco.  Because aged parmesan is a drier cheese it is not a good melting cheese.  I recommend mixing a little in with mozzarella.

Pecorino:  There are various Pecorino cheeses which are made from sheep’s milk and come in younger, softer versions which are milder, or harder, aged versions.  The most common is Pecorino Romano.  It is very salty so if using it, balance it with a mellower melting cheese.

Goat Cheese:  Goat cheese is very strong.  I don’t care for it solo on a pizza.  But when used as an addition to some mozzarella it creates magic.  One of my favorite pizzas is our Frankie’s Pesto & Goat Cheese Pizza (shown).  The recipe can be found in my Pizza Blog #3 https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2019/02/08/pizza-blog-3-making-incredible-pizza-at-home/

 

 

Ricotta:  Creamy ricotta is very common on calzones (and in lasagna) but can also be excellent on pizza.  If you use it I suggest small spoonfuls atop whatever other cheese you are using such as this Pizza Florentine (recipe below)..

 

Gorgonzola:  Like Goat cheese or Ricotta, I do not recommend this cheese solo.  It should be used in moderation.  Check out my recipe for the Chicken Gorgonzola Pizza also found in my Pizza Blog #3 https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2019/02/08/pizza-blog-3-making-incredible-pizza-at-home/

Manchego:  Manchego, a Spanish cheese, can be delicious on pizza.  At Frankie’s we had a pizza on our Garlic Festival Menu called The Garlic Spaniard.  It was topped with a creamy tomato sauce with a touch of  hot sauce; mozzarella and manchego cheeses, hard Spanish chorizo sausage, Italian sausage, roasted garlic and red onions.

SUMMARY & RECIPES:

So that’s it for cheese suggestions.  Below are a few of my favorite pizza recipes, most of which use combinations of these cheeses.

Buon appetito.  May God richly bless your table with love, laughter, and great food!

Following are recipes for six of the pizzas we served at Frankie’s (2 per page).  If you would prefer the recipes in PDF format, click the links below.

PDF Frankie’s Special & Gourmet Vegetarian

PDF Pizza Florentine & Pizza Calabrese

PDF Passion Pizza of Verona & Wild Mushroom-Sausage Pizza

Frankie’s Special & Gourmet Vegetarian

Pizza Florentine & Pizza Calabrese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passion Pizza of Verona & Wild Mushroom-Sausage Pizza

 

 

 

 

 

Crema al Limone Gelato from Cinque Terre

I had to eat some before I took the photo… yum!

I have a rule when I go to Italy.  I eat gelato every day!  And if I miss a day I should have it twice the next.

I’ve had gelato all over Italy. But the best I ever had was discovered on the waterfront in the town of Monterosso al Mare in Cinque Terre in a shop called “Slurp… Gelato Artigianale”.  It was here and only here I found a flavor known as Crema al Limone made with the fresh local lemons and fresh cream. Other lemon gelatos I saw throughout Italy were not creamy but more like a sorbetto. This creamy version was so amazing I knew I had to learn how to make it and I nailed it on my first try!

 

 

The owner of the shop was super friendly.  I forgot to find out his name.  When I took his picture his friend had to get in it.

Owner of Slurp and his friend

The key to this gelato is the double whammy of freshly squeezed lemon juice (don’t use the bottled stuff!), and fresh lemon zest.  Feel free to sub some limoncello for some of the lemon juice for a different twist.

My beautiful wife and granddaughter

Gelato is not any more difficult than ice cream to make. First you make a custard with the dairy and egg yolks.  Then, once cooled you freeze it just like ice cream.  Ice cream makers mix in a little more air than is ideal for gelato.  If you want to make gelato all of the time you can buy a gelato maker but I find the results satisfactory with my ice cream maker.

I served this gelato at a dinner with some chef friends recently and everyone raved about it.  We had just finished a six course dinner so we were pretty full but this lemon gelato topped us off perfectly.

Train station in Monterosso

If you’ve never been to Cinque Terre this will give you one more reason to go.  But even if you can’t make the trip, this amazing gelato will transport you there.

Scroll down for the recipe or if you would like it in PDF format click here… Crema al Limone Recipe PDF

Buon appetito!

My version of Crema al Limone

The view from the tables across from Slurp

My Winter & Spring Insalata Caprese… variations on a theme

Winter Insalata Caprese

Variations on a Theme:   On my catering menu I have seasonal variations of the classic Insalata Caprese… one is on my Winter Menu, so naturally I call it my Winter Insalata Caprese.  Then for this upcoming season I have… yeah you guessed it… a Spring Insalata Caprese.  So original, huh?  While the names might not be so original I feel that I have put my own creative twists on this Italian classic.  But why mess with perfection?

Traditional Insalata Caprese

A Simple Answer… a traditional Insalata Caprese is only good with fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes bursting with flavor.  And you don’t find those here in Seattle unless it’s mid-to-late-summer and you either grow them yourself or buy them at your local farm stand or farmer’s market.  I’ll come back to the tomatoes later.

At Frankie’s we did a couple of variations on the Insalata Caprese over the years, including this stacked version.  But we only offered it on our summer menu for the reasons listed.

Frankie’s Insalata Caprese – served in summertime

 

Other Key Ingredients:  Two other key ingredients on an Insalata Caprese are fresh mozzarella (the young, creamy version of mozzarella), and fresh basil.   We’re fortunate to live in an age when these items are readily available.  Almost every store carries fresh mozzarella, though as you might expect, some brands are better than others.  You can also get fresh basil almost year round around here.  I like to buy the live plants (which are grown in greenhouses).  The best plants I’ve found are at Trader Joe’s.  They have them nearly year-round now.

Another version of Frankie’s Insalata Caprese

 

Let’s Talk Cheese!  There are just minor variations between my Winter and Spring version of this salad.  On my Winter version I use burrata cheese which is a fresh mozzarella with a creamy filling.  It’s delicious!  For my Spring version I switch to authentic mozzarella di bufala (buffalo milk mozzarella).

We are not talking the American bison here.  This mozzarella is made from the milk of Italian water buffalo,  traditionally manufactured in Campania.  The authentic stuff has a DOP designation which translates Protected Designation of Origin.  This ensures it is made with the right ingredients, from the designated area, using the same recipe.

You can of course switch up either of these cheeses, or use a more moderately priced fresh mozzarella made from cow’s milk.  But if you want to take it to another level, I suggest one of these.  I find the burrata at Trader Joe’s and the mozzarella di bufala at Costco.

Grilling Tomatoes

Optimizing Flavor of Off-Season Tomatoes:  Another difference with my variations is that I do not slice and layer these cheeses as you would in a traditional Insalata Caprese.  I leave the mozzarella balls whole and then top them with roasted tomatoes… actually to be more accurate I grill my tomatoes on my outdoor grill.  Why?  Because the best tomatoes this time of year are little ones… cherry tomatoes or something similar.  And the grilling, which I do with some extra virgin olive oil, really brings out the flavor!

My favorite tomatoes for grilling

My favorite tomatoes for this are from Trader Joe’s.  They are called “Heavenly Villagio Marzano Tomatoes” and are described as a Mini San Marzano Plum Tomato.  They are grown in greenhouses by Village Farms, and are really, really good, especially when roasted or grilled!

How I Grill the Tomatoes:  Easy… take some heavy duty foil, fold it two or three times to make it thicker, and fold up the edges to form a shallow vessel.  Drizzle olive oil on the foil, add the tomatoes and toss to coat with oil.  Then I grill them over medium to medium-high heat until they are softened, and some are a little blackened and start to burst.  Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.  If you don’t want to grill them you could accomplish the same thing in the oven using high heat (say about 425 F), or a broiler with the pan down a couple of levels from the top.

Another twist… Pesto: The next twist on my recipes is to top these salads with pesto instead of layering fresh basil leaves (there are no layers anyway).  I love the look and flavor of doing it this way.  On my Winter version I use an Arugula Pesto since arugula is a more seasonal winter ingredient, but you could use Basil Pesto if you prefer (homemade or store bought).  If making your own pesto, the Arugula Pesto recipe is very similar to my Basil Pesto recipe, and both are easy to make.  I prefer to make my own (make extra and freeze it!), because store bought brands almost always use inferior oils and cheeses.  But if you want to buy Basil Pesto I think the one from Costco is the best I have found.

Balsamic Glaze

Two More Flavor Enhancement Options:  To bring this to another level… first I like to add an artful drizzle of balsamic glaze.  You can make your own easy enough but this one I suggest buying.  One that I like is Nonna Pia’s which I got at Costco but I’m sure there are other good brands.

Secondly, top it all with a good coarse or flaky sea salt such as fleur-de-sel, maldon, or a flaky pink Himalayan salt.

Putting It All Together:  Okay, let’s put this all together now.  One important thing… when removing your fresh mozz or burrata from its brine, gently dry it with paper towels before using.

Slicing baguette

I like to use a narrow rectangular tray, platter, or cutting board for presenting this.  I place three or four balls of the mozzarella in a row… top with the roasted tomatoes… drizzle with pesto… and maybe with the balsamic glaze if you desire.

Wait… We’re Missing the Crostini!  Okay, last thing… serve this with toasted crostini.  I use baguettes because I like the size.  I slice the loaf at an angle, place the slices on a metal tray, and brush them lightly with extra virgin olive oil.  Then I toast them over medium heat on my barbecue

Grilled tomatoes and crostini

grill, flipping with tongs when ready, until toasty on both sides.  I do this ahead of time, when I grill my tomatoes, and then re-warm briefly in an oven before serving.  Place in a bread basket next to the Insalata Caprese.

All in all this may seem like a lot of steps but it’s really very easy and most of it can be done in advance.  Then it only takes a few minutes to assemble and serve.  Trust me, your guests will be impressed!

Time to eat.  Mangia, mangia!  Buon appetito!

Here is my Winter & Spring Insalata Caprese recipe as well as the recipe for Arugula Pesto.  You can find the recipe for my Basil Pesto on my most recent post (just keep scrolling down).

Below are the recipes for the Winter-Spring Insalata Caprese and Arugula Pesto.

If you’d prefer the Caprese recipe in PDF click here… Winter & Spring Insalata Caprese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d prefer the Arugula Pesto recipe in PDF click here… Fresh Arugula Pesto Recipe

 

Pizza Blog #3… Making incredible pizza at home

This is the third post in my pizza series.  If you missed my previous posts, please check them out.  I gave a brief history of pizza, discussed Italian pizza styles, talked about baking techniques, posted my pizza sauce and dough recipes, and gave my recommendations for tomato products.

Frankie’s Pizza Class

 

Before moving on I wanted to remind you that, for those of you who live in the Seattle-Eastside area, I teach hands-on pizza classes in your home for groups of six and up.  For details on that and/or for catering of pizzas or other Italian offerings, check out my website at http://www.frankiesitaliancooking.com

In today’s post I will talk about…

  • American styles of pizza
  • Post my Basil Pesto recipe
  • Provide recipes for some of my favorite pesto pizzas

American Pizza Styles… A Regional Outlook:

When you discuss styles of pizza you really only hit upon the primary styles.  In reality there are probably thousands of variations.  While the large chains strive for consistency (why be consistently lousy I ask myself?), I would say that no two independent pizzerias are exactly alike.  The variations are endless and can be significant or subtle.  There are so many variables… types of ovens, baking temperatures, the type of flour used, dough recipes and proofing, sauce recipes, types and quantity of cheeses, and how toppings are dealt with.  New Yorkers will even tell you that their water makes their pizza different than all others, including neighboring Jersey.  Let’s start there…

New York Style:  

They say the main difference between New York and New Jersey pizza is the water.  The water in New York makes their crust pliable, so when you fold a slice lengthwise to eat it (a typical New York method), it does not crack.  New Jersey pizza on the other hand has a crisper bottom which will crack when folded.  Otherwise these two pizzas are pretty similar. 

New York pizza is a style originally developed by immigrants from Naples.  It is generously sized, with a thin, pliable crust.  It’s almost always hand-tossed, moderately topped with a southern Italian-style tomato sauce, and liberally covered with cheese.   It shares some qualities with its Neapolitan cousin but is typically a much larger pie.  The reason slices are usually eaten folded in half is its size and flexibility make it otherwise difficult to eat by hand.

This style of pizza dominates the NE states, and you’ll find pizzerias all over the country trying to imitate it.  At Frankie’s our pizzas were similar to this but our crust was a little thicker.  I was always honored when a New Yorker gave us high marks because they always thought there was no match for it.  I once had a New Yorker tell me ours was even better and I almost fell over.

New Haven Style:

Since we started on the east coast we’ll hit a lesser known pizza, at least to those of us out west.  Based in New Haven, Connecticut, this brick oven cooked pizza (or “apizza,” as New Haven-style restaurants call it) has its roots in Neapolitan-style pizza but is a delicacy all on its own.  New Haven uses a long cold fermentation process for the dough, and the oven gets the pizza nice and charred.  A “tomato pie” skips the cheese, and most New Haven pizzerias will treat mozzarella as a topping on its own.  Another variation is their white clam pizza, with clams, garlic, and cheese.

Detroit Style:  

Working our way west we next come to Detroit.  Some compare Detroit style pizza to deep-dish Chicago  style, but it’s really very different.  Detroit pizza is made in a square or rectangle pan.  The square shape is said to be the result of an early tradition of using metal trays originally meant to hold small parts in factories.

The dough is light and airy, similar to Sicilian dough methods, and the middle of the crust is nearly as thick as the edges.  When cooked, it’s crispy on the bottom and edges but light and soft on the inside.

Like Chicago pizza, the toppings and cheese (traditionally Wisconsin brick cheese, not mozzarella) go on before the sauce, protecting the dough from getting soggy.  That’s why this pizza is sometimes called “Detroit Red Top”!

Chicago Deep Dish Style:

Not all Chicago pizza is deep dish.  There is a thin style as well, but the deep dish version is so iconic that it is the version we will talk about.

Developed In the 1940s, the deep-dish version, has a deep crust that lines a large round metal pan.  Every Chicago pizza place from Pizzeria Uno to Giordano’s has its own deep-dish crust recipe, but generally, it’s made from either wheat or semolina flour to give it a yellowish color when baked (and Lou Malnati’s has its famous butter crust).

Though the pizza is quite thick, the crust itself is thin to medium thickness, and the pizza has a very thick layer of toppings.  It requires a long baking time, so the toppings are usually assembled “upside down” with cheese, vegetables, and meats placed on top of the crust, and an uncooked tomato sauce on the top layer, to help the vegetables and meats cook all the way through in the oven, and prevent the cheese from burning.

St. Louis Style:

Moving farther west we find the St. Louis style pizza, originated in the 1960s by Ed and Margie Imo of Imo’s Pizzeria.  It has a thin, cracker-like crust, made without yeast, and is topped with Provel cheese, rather than mozzarella.  Provel is a white processed cheese, made by combining cheddar, mozzarella, and provolone cheeses, and used primarily in the St. Louis area.  Even though this pizza is round, St. Louis-style pies are always cut into small squares.

California Style:

California style pizza is less about hand-tossed dough, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and cured Italian meats… and more about the toppings.  This pizza embraces the cuisine of the west coast.  Experimentation has few limits… think quail eggs, goat cheese, duck sausage or lobster, or smoked salmon with crème fraiche and capers.

Two pizzas that really caught on were the Barbeque Chicken Pizza, and Thai-inspired Chicken Pizza with peanut sauce, bean sprouts, and shaved carrots.  The focus is always on fresh, quality ingredients and a unique pizza eating experience.

California pizza generally uses a dough similar to the Neapolitan, and pizzas are rarely bigger than twelve inches.  This style of pizza is generally credited to Chef Ed LaDou who developed a pizza with ricotta, red peppers, mustard, and pate, that Chef Wolfgang Puck fell in love with in the early 1980s.  Puck hired LaDou to work at the newly opened Spago in 1982.  In 1985, Chef LaDou created the first pizza menu for California Pizza Kitchen.

Back to Frankie’s:

Now that we understand the roots of pizza, through its history and varying styles, let’s get back to the “how-to’s” of making a great pizza.

In my previous posts I provided you with recipes for our Frankie’s pizza dough and sauce, and talked about the best baking procedures.

In this post I’m going to share my other favorite sauce… fresh Basil Pesto… and the secret of making three of my favorite pizzas from our Frankie’s menu… all of which feature this pesto.

But before I give you the recipe let me share a few secrets I’ve learned about making the best pesto you’ve ever had!

 

 

 

Basil Pesto originates from the Genova area in the region of Liguria, a coastal area in northwest Italy (think Cinque Terre and north).  I’ve had pesto here and it is super fresh, vibrant and flavorful.  Why so good?   I’d say the most important are basil, olive oil and cheese.

 

Fresh Basil:  A lot of the basil here is grown in raised beds, often in greenhouses, with the plants very close together.  It is harvested very young while the leaves are at their most tender and flavorful.  You’re not going to find basil like that here, but you want it to be as fresh as possible.

Your best bet is either grow your own (easy when the weather is warm), or to buy live, potted basil plants (or live basil with roots in water).  Then use the freshest and most tender leaves.

Olive Oil:  A good extra virgin olive oil will make all the difference.  Olive oil loses its fresh, fruity flavor as it ages or gets exposed to too much heat or light.  Look for oils which list the year of their harvest on the bottle.  Olives are harvested in the late autumn so most of the time you’ll be buying oil which is from the prior year.  If it does not list the harvest it, it is likely more than a year old.  A local olive oil shop will have some of the best oils, but I’ve also found high quality oils, of the most recent harvest at places like Costco and Trader Joe’s.

Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese:  The best cheese for pesto (and one of the best cheeses in the world, period!) is aged Parmigiano-Reggiano from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.  You will know it’s the real thing by looking for its stamped rind.  BUT, not all Parmigiano-Reggiano are aged for the same period of time.  The best quality-price ratio I’ve found is at Costco… not the pre-grated stuff in the jar, but the wedges.  Even there it is not cheap but it will last you a long time.  I bought another brand at a local grocery store recently and I could tell it was younger because it was softer and much less flavorful.

Other Ingredients:  The next major ingredient is pine nuts or some other type of nut.  Pine nuts are very expensive so you can substitute a different nut such as walnuts or even pecans.  The flavor will change slightly but its not really all that noticeable.

One non-traditional ingredient I add to my pesto is fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Its acidity brightens both the color and flavor, and it helps it keep its bright color.

Another optional ingredient, which I learned from Marcella Hazan (one of the most respected Italian cooks of all time), is softened butter.  It adds a little creaminess and richness to the pesto.

Here is my Basil Pesto sauce recipe followed by recipes for some of my favorite pesto pizzas which we served at Frankie’s…

If you’d prefer the recipe in a PDF click here… Basil Pesto Recipe PDF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here are my favorite Pesto Pizzas…

PDF Format… Vesuvius and Chicken Gorgonzola

Pesto & Goat Cheese and Quattro Formaggio

Homemade Limoncello… so easy… start a batch now for Spring!

I am taking a brief unplanned diversion from my pizza series (I’ll do my third pizza post next week).  I recently posted a couple of pictures on Facebook of me starting a batch of Limoncello.  I got so many people asking for the recipe that I thought I better post it to avoid a rebellion.  I also mentioned a couple of dessert (dolce!) recipes made from the Limoncello.  I will post those soon.

About Limoncello:

Limoncello is a lemon liqueur which is primarily produced in the southern coastal areas of Italy, such as the gulf of Naples and the Amalfi Coast.  It is made from fresh lemon peel, alcohol, water and sugar.  Traditionally it is served chilled (from the freezer) as an after dinner digestivo.

Limoncello is super easy to make; however it needs time to steep properly (weeks or even a month or two).  So start your batch soon so you can enjoy it when the weather warms up!

Recipes I’ve worked with vary widely in how long to steep the lemons in the alcohol, and then again after the simple syrup (of sugar and water) is added.  Essentially, the longer it steeps, the better it will be; yet you hit a point of diminishing return, where the differences are so subtle it is hard to even differentiate.  Here is a tip for you… if you want to speed up the process, you can always add more lemon peels than what the recipe calls for.  Just don’t go crazy or the lemon flavor might overwhelm.

What you will need:

In addition to the ingredients listed you will need a large glass jar, such as you would use to make sun tea. You will also need enough clear, sealable glass bottles to accommodate nearly 8 cups (about 1800 ml) of finished Limoncello. In my experience, World Market is a good place to find both the glass jar and the small bottles.  You will also need a veggie peeler (see note further down).

How to make it:

Unless you are using organic lemons, wash them with produce wash or soap to remove any residue of pesticides or wax.  Dry with a clean towel before proceeding.

The next step will be to remove the peel from the lemons in long strips using a vegetable peeler.  You want to avoid getting an excessive amount of the white pith, which will lend bitterness.  In the past I used an standard vegetable peeler and had a fair amount of the white pith, which I then tried to trim off with a pairing knife… a bit of a pain.  This time I used a Titan peeler (see photo left) and it was fabulous!  I was able to get clean strips of peel with almost no white pith!  So, I highly recommend buying one, though be careful, they are super sharp.  I cut my finger with it once so was a little intimidated.  But if you hold it properly and don’t peel toward your fingers, you’ll be fine.

 

After peeling the lemons, save what remains for another use (such as making fresh squeezed lemonade).

The next steps are to steep the lemon peels in alcohol and then later create a simple syrup which you combine with that, and then steep a bit longer.  I’ll refer you to the recipe for the rest of the information.  Be sure to read the Frankie’s Tips on page 2 of the recipe before proceeding.

Buon appetito!

Download PDF Recipe or Click on Recipe below