Making Amazing Pizza at Home

Today I am publishing the first in a series of pizza making posts.  Let me start by saying… I LOVE pizza!  This surprises me since I owned a pizzeria for 24 years and ate pizza several times a week.  I have probably eaten thousands of pies.  Yet I never grew tired of it.   It is one of the perfect foods.

And here is an interesting fact for you, when we closed Frankie’s (due to redevelopment), my pizza consumption dropped by about three-quarters, and my cholesterol went up.  Go figure.  Go eat pizza!

Until now I had  avoided posting pizza recipes because it really needs to be taught properly.  But for me now the time is right.

Pizza Classes offered: 

A side note here.  For those of you who are hands-on learners, I offer pizza classes in your homes.  So if you live in or near the Redmond, Washington area (near Seattle), gather some friends or family and schedule me to come and teach you in person.  It makes for a great party!  Information can be found on my website at… http://www.frankiesitaliancooking.com.

If you saw my last blog post you know that I just completed an outdoor kitchen with a new wood-burning pizza oven.  With this to cook in I am having more fun that ever.  But just so you’ll know, there are multiple ways to make (and bake) a great pizza, so let’s get started.

In this series of posts we will take an in-depth look at…

  • The history of pizza
  • Various styles of pizza
  • How to make pizza dough and sauce (including some variations on the dough)
  • Different methods of baking pizza
  • Pizza ingredients… which will include my favorite products for making quality pizza, especially cheeses and tomato products (because I believe these make or break a pizza).

 A Brief History of Pizza:

First let’s start with a little history of pizza, which can be controversial.  The history of pizza begins in antiquity, when various ancient cultures produced basic flatbreads with toppings.  It’s been discovered that on the isle of Sardinia they were making it with leavened dough over 7,000 years ago.  The ancient Greeks made a flat bread called Plakous, which was flavored with toppings like herbs, onion, and garlic.

The forerunner of modern pizza was probably the focaccia, a flat bread known to the Romans as panis focacius to which toppings were then added.  Focaccia is still hugely popular in parts of Italy.  Most historians credit the Neapolitans though, the people of Napoli, as being the creators of modern day pizza, when tomato was added to the focaccia in the late 18th century.

There is a well known story about how the Pizza Margherita came to be.  According to tradition, in 1889, Queen Margherita of Savoy, and her husband, King Umberto I, were on a royal tour of Italy.  This was only 29 years after the unification of the country.  Throughout these travels, the queen often observed peasants eating large, flat bread with colorful toppings.  Being curious she ordered her guards to bring her one of these so called ‘pizza breads’.  Apparently she fell in love with it, causing some consternation in her Court (it was unseemly for a queen to dine on peasant food!). But the queen’s love was not to be diminished.

Apparently word reached Naples, where they were to visit.  To honor their visit, Chef Raffaele Esposito and his wife, owners of Pizzeria Brandi, created  a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil).  They named it for the Queen “Pizza Margherita”.  Some also say that he was the first to add cheese to pizza.

This “cheesy” part of the legend is disputed however.  Descriptions of such a pizza recipe can be traced back to at least 1866 in Francesco DeBouchard’s book “Customs and Traditions of Naples”.  There he describes the most popular pizza toppings of the time which included one with cheese and basil, often topped with slices of mozzarella.

Whatever the real origins of this pizza recipe are, one thing we know for certain is that Raffaele Esposito’s version for Queen Margherita was the one that made it popular. Since then it has grown into one of the most recognizable symbols of Italian food culture in the world.  And in my humble opinion, whoever thought of the idea of adding cheese, is due great honor for one of the most brilliant ideas in culinary history.

Going backward and then forward,  we know the word pizza was first documented in AD 997 in Gaeta and successively in different parts of Central and Southern Italy. Pizza was mainly eaten in the country of Italy and by emigrants from there. This changed after World War II, when Allied troops stationed in Italy came to enjoy pizza along with other Italian foods.

It is my belief that pizza has not only a glorious past, but a glorious future, and will remain a popular food for as long as mankind dwells upon the earth.  And I hope there will be pizza in heaven!  I have a feeling there will be.

Easy Ways to Make Really Good Pizza:

Very soon I will be posting more information, including my pizza dough recipe.  Meanwhile there are a couple of easy ways that you can make a very good pizza without making your own dough.

  1. One is to buy pizza or bread dough from a grocery store. We recently wanted to make foccacia and did not have time to make the dough so we purchased bread dough from Trader Joe’s and it was excellent.
  2. Second is to buy pizza dough from a good local pizzeria that makes their dough from scratch. Most will sell it to you.  The advantage of dough from a pizzeria is that it is usually made from flour specially formulated for pizza, providing optimum elasticity and pliability, which makes it easier to stretch and it does not tear as easily.

But the key to either of these is how you bake them.  I strongly recommend a pizza stone (or pizza steel… see more below).

About Pizza Stones:  Unless you use a pizza stone, you will not be able to get the quality results you find in a great pizzeria.  A pizza stone, if heated properly, will seal the bottom of the pizza crust quickly, providing superior rise, texture and crispness.

Pizza stones have become very affordable and can be purchased at any good kitchen store or online.  Sometimes you can find them packaged with a wooden pizza peel (which is the only type of pizza peel you need).

Pizza stones are also great for baking rustic breads as well.  And one other good use… if you ever do take-out pizza, and want it to be as fresh and hot as it is at the pizzeria, ask them to “half-bake” your pizza and leave it uncut.  Bring it home and finish it on your stone.  Your family will fall down and worship you!

Pizza Steels:  An even better, though more expensive option, is a Pizza Steel.  They are just what their name implies, a heavy plate make of steel.  They’ll run you about $70 to $100 (I bought mine on Amazon).  These are relatively new and less well known but will give you an even better crust than a stone, especially if you want to make multiple pizzas in a session, as they retain and reflect heat better.

How to use Pizza Stones (or Steels):  The key to using your pizza stone (or steel) is to get it really hot!  I recommend a minimum of 45 minutes at 500º F (or even 525 if your oven will go that high).  One note though—if you plan to put a lot of toppings on your pizza, reduce the temperature to about 485 F, or the bottom of the pizza will get overcooked by the time the toppings and cheese are properly cooked.

Making Homemade Pizza Sauce:

I feel like I need to include at least one recipe in this post so I am going to include my recipe for pizza sauce.  My dough recipe will be in my next post.

Use this recipe as a guide and adjust things like garlic, salt and herbs to your liking.  I don’t even use a recipe anymore because I’ve been making it for so long.

Tomato Notes:  You can really make pizza sauce from almost any kind of tomatoes.  Crushed Tomatoes work well, or Tomato Sauce (especially if you add a little Tomato Paste to either), but my tomato product of choice for pizza sauce is Tomato Puree.  I like it for it’s consistency.

Using my power burner

The only problem is some stores do not carry many (if any) brands or sizes of tomato puree.  You also may not be able to find the size can listed in the recipe.  If not, just adjust the recipe accordingly.

 

 

 

My Favorite Brands:  Look for these brands which I think are the best…

  • Cento (from Italy)… a little more expensive but worth it
  • Muir Glen Organic
  • San Marzano brand (these are not true San Marzano tomatoes from Italy… they are grown in California)
  • If you cannot find any of these, Hunt’s will work fine

Have fun making pizza!  I’ll do another post soon.

The Pizza sauce recipe is below or you may download as a Pizza Sauce Recipe PDF

 

 

 

 

 

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Finally! A successful Gelato recipe… Pistachio!

I love gelato!  At least I adore the gelato I have in Italy.  I have a strict personal policy… when in Italy, I must eat gelato every day!  And if I miss a day, I must have it twice the next day.  Now that is a rule I can live by.

I’ve always desired to have great gelato here at home, but until now I’d never had any as good as what I have had in Italy.  I’ve wondered if it is the magic of the place that makes it so good?  This may be partly true.  But I’ve also become convinced that nobody in my part of the world makes it as good.  This was true across the board… whether I purchased in a gelato shop, a grocery store, or an attempt to make it at home.  I’ve tried making gelato a few times and it never came out like the wonderful stuff I’ve had in Italy… until now! YES!

I took this recipe from a couple of different sources.  The custard base was adapted from the Best Recipe Italian Classics cookbook published by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  These people always test their recipes thoroughly.  The pistachio cream recipe I got elsewhere, and when I put the two together, well it was like magic happened.

This base has be cooked ahead of time and thoroughly chilled before churning.  It takes a little time but is well worth the effort. There was a lot of science and testing behind the procedures and temperatures for cooking the custard.  I cannot explain all of those here but please follow them as carefully as you can.

A gelato maker would be ideal for churning this, but I used my Cuisinart ice cream maker and was very satisfied with the results. What is the difference you ask?  Well a gelato maker only mixes in about half as much air as an ice cream maker, giving a denser consistency.  I don’t yet have a gelato maker.  I hope to one of these days, but they cost over $200 so its hard to justify unless I know I’m going to use it frequently.

Gelato is often viewed as a healthy alternative to ice cream due to it’s lower calorie content. This is because gelato is generally made with whole milk, or even 2% milk rather than cream. The lower butterfat is one reason it has more flavor, partly because the flavors are not coated over by fat.

Gelato also has a greater density and therefore you can eat less quantity and still be satisfied. So for those who are watching their waistlines, take heart, gelato may soon become your new midnight snack!

The other thing about gelato is the intensity of it’s flavors.  This recipe calls for making your own Pistachio Cream.  You can buy Pistachio Cream in some specialty grocery stores but this was easy to make.  It would not have been easy if I’d have had to shell all of the pistachios, but luckily I found raw, unsalted, shelled pistachios at my local Trader Joe’s.  With those in hand, it was easy.  I made mine in my blender, but I think it would be easier in a food processor.  I’ll find out next time.  Either way, get the cream as smooth as you can.  Then if you like you can add a few pistachios on top of the gelato when serving.

A few additional tips:

I highly recommend that you use an Instant Read Thermometer to keep track of
the temperature during the custard making.

Also, gelato is typically served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream. It is best served either right from the ice cream/gelato maker, or frozen for up to a few hours prior to serving. If you freeze it overnight, I suggest pulling it out a little while before serving.

Hope you enjoy!  Buon appetito!                 Pistachio Gelato recipe

 

A great time for Tuscan Clam Sauce

Ciao friends!

If you are like me you sometimes think of summer as seafood season. But clams are best in the winter.  This recipe was published in my cookbook, Frankie at Home in the Kitchen, still available online as an eBook.

I really love traditional clam sauce, but this Tuscan variation with the addition of some crushed tomatoes is really amazing.  This recipe is best with fresh clams, but for a simple, and still delicious weeknight dinner, you can make it with canned clams.  You could make this with spaghetti or another long pasta if you prefer but I really like the linguine.  It holds the sauce better and has more body to it.

Nobody likes eating sand with their clams so be sure to read my Frankie’s Tips on how to purge the sand from fresh clams.  

One other Frankie’s Tip… this one for Food Safety.  Be sure to discard any clams which do not open up when you cook them!  This means those clams were not alive to begin with and may be contaminated with bacteria or toxins.

Buon appetito!  Frankie

Recipe for Linguine with Tuscan Clam Sauce

 

 

 

Frankie’s Chicken Marsala… perfect for a special dinner

This recipe is is my cook book, but for those who do not have a copy I wanted to post it here. This would be a great recipe for Christmas Eve or New Year’s or any time you want to impress your friends or family. And it really is fairly easy to prepare. No special skills needed!

I tried many different recipes before developing this one. I took the best from each and developed my own recipe which I think tops them all.

Marsala is a fortified wine from the Island of Sicily.  It comes in a “sweet” or “dry” version. The recipe calls for Sweet Marsala but I’ve used Dry and liked it just as well. It is just slightly less sweet.

Hope you enjoy!  Buon appetito e buon Natale!

Chicken Marsala Recipe

Panforte… better than fruitcake!

Panforte.  A wonderful Christmas recipe!

I grew up eating fruitcake.  And I actually like the stuff.  Not sure what that says about me… but yes, I’ve been accused of being one. My Mom would make fruitcakes and place them in the refrigerator, and cover them with a Brandy soaked cloth.  When I was young that was a bit strong for me but as I grew up I came to like it more and more.

Well the people of the ancient city of Siena in Tuscany have a dessert called Panforte. Though sometimes called an Italian fruitcake, it shares little resemblance to the version of fruit cake so many of you despise. I first made it when doing my cookbook and it was sooo good that of course it made the cut.

Panforte is a traditional dessert–really more of a gooey confectionary–originating from the ancient city of Siena many centuries ago, but now popular all over Italy. Panforte’s main ingredients are honey, sugar, almonds, hazelnuts, candied citrus peel. Some versions have dried (not candied) fruits. It also has many of the spices you would find in a traditional spice cake. I’ve made this for the holidays. Its so rich that its hard to eat a lot at once, but I couldn’t keep from snacking on it several times per day.

A fun option is to make a number of mini Panforte to give away as gifts. To do so, double the recipe and cook in a 9×13 baking pan. Then using an oiled circular cutter, cut into mini Panforte.  Wrap each in wax paper and tie with colored string. You then have all the yummy leftover scraps to eat yourself.

Buon appetito!  And an early Buon Natale!

Panforte Recipe

Grilled Tuscan Pork

The first time I made this I almost cried because it was so good.  I had made it for some guests who raved about it.  As you know, that makes it all the more rewarding.

I have cooked this on my Big Green Egg with a light addition of smoke from apple or cherry wood.  It is amazing.  But I also made it on

someone’s gas grill recently.  I brought along my little smoker box with wood chips and set it on top of the burners.  The resul

 

ts were nearly as good.  Even if you were to oven roast it, or grill it with no wood smoke it would be delightful.


To make this you cut into the roast and lay it out, fill it with wonderful things, then roll it back up and tie it.

I am basically a klutz and no pro at cutting meat or rolling and tying it up, so if I can figure it out I am confident you can as well. One of the keys to this is not to overcook it.

Recommended cooking temperatures for pork are lower than they used to be.  I cooked mine to 145 F and it was perfect… moist, tender, and full of flavor.

You can serve this a variety of ways. I have typically served it on a bed of white beans but you can serve it with potatoes, polenta, greens, roasted squash… the options go on-and-on.

Buon appetito!

Grilled Tuscan Pork Recipe

Beef Braciole … why did it take me so long?!

Braciole is a beef roll up which hails from southern Italy. I saw a recipe which claimed to be a hundred year old family recipe, so it’s been around a long time.  For some crazy reason though, which I cannot for the life of me understand, I waited years before trying it.  Then I wondered what the heck took me so long!  It is not only delicious, but it’s really not that complicated or time consuming.  If you’d like you could serve it with pasta or over some polenta.

I’m not sure I’d classify this as a fancy dinner or rustic peasant food?  Either way I think it will impress your family or friends.

The steps are easy.  You (or your butcher) cut the steak thin, pound it out thinner, and then layer it with cheese, breadcrumbs, herbs and prosciutto… roll it up, tie it and cook it in some good tomato sauce and you’re ready to eat with a grateful heart.

Buon Appetito!  Frankie

Braciole Recipe