Category Archives: Italian

cookbook holiday home Italian pizza summer

Hi. Hi.

Yesterday, I ignored my phone, email, and all forms of social media for several hours. It felt good and liberating. I also ignored this blog for about a month. You already know that, I suppose. But I wondered if you might be beginning to worry? If so, please accept my apologies. I assure you they are heartfelt. I can’t really begin to explain all the reasons for the break. It just sort of happened. Summer is so seductive with its sunshine and buzzing public spaces. I found myself out and about a lot with the wee one. There were barbecues and little parties. There were play dates and more play dates. Trips to the park. Trips to the San Juans. More play dates. And some reinvention. I’ll explain more about that last bit later this month.

For now, we are home and cooking lots again. I made you this pizza to make up for the time lost. I think it’s worth it. It is the perfect summer pizza. It’s bright, fresh, and tangy with cilantro, zucchini, lime, and fresh cilantro. I love this crust more than any other home pizza crust. I really want you to try it, but I’m concerned you might fret when you glance at the recipe. It looks time-consuming, I know. It’s not really that much of a time commitment. There is a bit of shuffling you’ll have to do with the pizzas in the oven. Oof! Take a moment and breathe deeply. It isn’t as bad as it looks. Use a timer. Be nearby. It will be worth every moment spent when you bite down on the most perfect home-baked pizza crust you’ve ever had.

This pizza is truly something to behold and we find ourselves eating it often. A good deal of the reason for this is related to a small redheaded child who routinely spins about this house with boundless energy. This child, the one with the adventurous palate about which I used to brag so often, is on a strike of sorts. Her whims and desires change with the wind. Thank goodness for pizza. Pizza is always a favorite. And, thank goodness for long summer nights, highchairs on the patio, and lovely readers who indulge my short or long sanity blogging breaks.

Happy August, dear friends.


Corn Zucchini Pizza with Lime & Cilantro

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 recipe for yeasted pizza dough (see below)

Coarse yellow cornmeal for dusting

¾ cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 ear of corn)

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1 small yellow or red onion, thinly sliced

3 small zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds

6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 and ½ cups)

½ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

2 limes, quartered

Arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the garlic and olive oil. Set aside.

To shape the pizzas, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide it into 3 pieces. Gently form each piece into a loose round and cover with a floured kitchen towel. Let rest for 20 minutes.

Pour a small amount of the remaining olive oil over the inverted baking sheets. Scatter cornmeal over the top of the oil. Shape each round into a 10 inch disk and place it on the sheet.

In a small bowl, toss the corn kernels with the black pepper.  Line up the 3 pizzas for assembly.  Scatter half of the Mozzarella over the pizzas, leaving a ½ inch rim.  Place the onion over the cheese and spread the zucchini over the onion.  Scatter the remaining mozzarella over the onion and zucchini.  Sprinkle with feta and corn.

Place a baking sheet with a pizza on the lower rack and bake for 8 minutes. Rotate the pizza to the upper rack, place the second pizza in the oven on the lower rack, and continue baking for 8 minutes. Then, finish baking the first pizza by sliding it off the pan directly onto the lower oven rack. Rotate the second pizza to the upper rack. Bake the pizza on the lower rack for 5 minutes to crisp the bottom until well browned. Finish baking the second and third pizzas in the same manner. Immediately after removing each pizza from the oven, brush the garlic oil onto the rim. Garnish with cilantro. Sprinkle lime juice over the top.

Yeasted Pizza Dough (Makes three 10 inch pizzas)

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1 and 1/2 cup warm water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 and 1/2 to 4 cups bread flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm water until dissolved. Let stand for 5 minutes.

If using stand mixer, add all the olive oil, salt and 2 cups of the flour to the bowl. Using the paddle attachment on low speed, mix for 5 minutes to form a wet dough. Add 1 and 1/2 cups more flour, and mix on medium speed for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour by the tablespoonful as needed to form a soft dough with a nice sheen; it should be a little sticky, but not too wet.

If making by hand, add the olive oil, salt and 2 cups of flour to the bowl. Using a wooden spoon, mix for at least 5 minutes to form a wet dough. Pour 1 and 1/2 cups flour onto a work surface, place the dough on top of it, and knead it for about 8 minutes to form a soft dough with a nice sheen; it should be sticky but not too wet. If the dough sticks to the work surface, rub a little olive oil on it. if the dough is impossibly sticky, add the remaining 1/2 cup flour by the tablespoon as needed.

Form the dough into a ball and place in a large well oiled bowl. Turn the dough over to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. Or, put the dough in the fridge and let rise overnight. The next day let it stand at room temperature for 2 hours before proceeding with recipe.

Adapted from The Cheese Board Cookbook

breads Breakfast easy Italian

Rosemary Focaccia Bread | The Small Pleasures

easy focaccia bread recipe

I even remembered the snacks. It was a miracle because I don’t always remember the snacks. Sometimes, I forget the snacks, but remember to pack an extra pair of baby socks. Sometimes, I forget the socks, but I manage to refill the wipe container. On those days, I’m certain to forget the diapers. That’s just how it is on most days. Yesterday, however, I was jolted out of a sleepy haze when the electricians arrived at 7:30 in the morning. I was in my pajamas. We all were. There is nothing quite like two strangers wondering around your home with big ladders and bright-eyed-ready-to-work faces when you are still seeing blurry and garbed in pink fuzzy pajamas. It’s humbling and more than a little embarrassing.

But I got it together despite the circumstances. Bits of ceiling rained down all around me as I snipped grapes into itty bitty pieces. I made a sandwich. I packed diapers, wipes, extra clothes, socks, and the aforementioned snacks. I was feeling accomplished. Nothing was going to stop me. We managed to get out the house in record time and even to wash our redheads. I stopped for gas. There were no tears. I drove to Greenlake while the little red fox napped peacefully. My friend arrived on time as well and pulled into the spot next to me. What are the chances of two miraculous parking spots on a busy day at the lake? Very slim, I am sure.

It was all rainbows as my friend parked her car and I pulled Maeve from her carseat. Yes, it was quite perfect until a split second later when I spun around and shut the car door.

I froze. I knew immediately.

I locked EVERYTHING in the car. Snacks too! Everything, but the baby. I guess I have to be thankful for that.

easy focaccia bread recipe

It was a tough morning and I’ll admit I nearly cried when the auto rescue service was an hour late and my wee one was screaming for food. What a morning. It does make you thankful for the little things. Little things like moments of peace, baby smiles, and long naps. And, really, the whole thing got me thinking about parenthood. It’s pretty great nearly all of the time. If you are thinking about becoming a parent, I encourage you to do so. The good parts far outweigh the bad.  That being said, things are going to change. Drastically. Yes, I know you know that. But it’s a hard thing to wrap your brain around without a solid basis for comparison.

One thing I never considered before Maeve arrived was my concept of luxury. I’m not talking about trips to the spa. There’s more to it than that. I’m in my thirties and my sense of what’s special and how I like to spend my money and downtime was well-developed at the time Maeve arrived.  Most of those little luxiourous pleasures are gone and redeveloped. Am I a bit wistful? Sometimes. I have a new concept of luxury, however.

easy focaccia bread recipe

These days, it’s bliss when I’m able to walk through my house barefooted without stepping on bits of chewed up food and miscellaneous toys. It’s wonderful to take a shower for more than 5 minutes and actually condition my hair. Putting on earrings makes me feel like a superstar. And the bathroom? Well, it’s perfectly brilliant when I’m able to close the bathroom door without protest and do whatever it is I might need to do.

The greatest luxury, however, is the ability to bake or cook something that’s more than just boiled noodles or stir-fried vegetables. Those moments are note-worthy and often make it onto this blog. It doesn’t happen everyday, which is why I’m so happy to find baking recipes that are easy and require only inactive time. I can wait for things to rise. I have nothing but time to wait for things to rise because I’m certain to be whisked off into another room to read countless books or to crawl around on my hands and knees pretending to be a wild elephant.

easy focaccia bread recipe

I’m excited to share this recipe for focaccia with you. There are other easy homemade breads out there, but this one was on the super easy side of things. That’s because I barely used my hands or brain for any of this. I used the dough hook on the mixer instead of my bare hands. I bet you have one of those. If you do have one and some basic ingredients, you can whip up this miracle bread. I made it twice in quick succession so I’m quite confident a more organized person can make enough focaccia for an army in no time.

And you should. This bread is wonderful. It’s aromatic. The rosemary scent will fill your house. The buttery flavor will compliment nearly any sandwich. Or, eat it on its own. That’s what we did. We stood over the rack of barely cool bread and inhaled big hunks of it one bright afternoon. Maeve too. She loved it and that’s a huge selling point around this place.

I do caution you to watch your bread. Focaccia cooks quickly. That’s good and bad. Start checking in at 20 minutes. My first batch was a touch more golden than I’d like, which dried out the bread a bit. It was still edible, but focaccia is best when it’s softer and more moist. Take it out of the oven when it’s just golden all over and you’ll see what I mean. It will be perfection and you won’t be able to resist pulling off big pieces before it’s cool.

I bid you amazing weeks. Keep your ovens on and your keys close, my friends. I’ll see you soon!

easy focaccia bread recipe

Rosemary Focaccia Bread

1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Stir together 1 2/3 cups lukewarm (105 to 115°F) water and yeast in bowl of mixer and let stand until creamy, about 5 minutes. Add 5 cups flour, 1/4 cup oil, and 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt and beat with paddle attachment at medium speed until a dough forms. Replace paddle with dough hook and knead dough at high speed until soft, smooth, and sticky, 3 to 4 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead in 1 to 2 tablespoons more flour. Knead dough 1 minute (it will still be slightly sticky), then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and turn dough to coat with oil. Let rise, covered with plastic wrap, at warm room temperature, until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Press dough evenly into a generously oiled 15- by 10- by 1-inch baking pan. Let dough rise, covered completely with a kitchen towel, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Stir together rosemary and remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Make shallow indentations all over dough with your fingertips, then brush with rosemary oil, letting it pool in indentations. Sprinkle sea salt evenly over focaccia and bake in middle of oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Immediately invert a rack over pan and flip focaccia onto rack, then turn right side up. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Source: Gourmet

basil easy Italian pizza

Caramelized Fennel Pizza | Good Ideas

caramelized fennel pizza with salami

Some things seem like a good idea at the time, but later turn out to be bad or poorly timed ideas. Take white towels, for example. You admire them in Dwell magazine and scurry off to the store where you purchase a set of four. They are so fluffy and perfect they nearly gleam.  You hang them carefully in your bathroom taking care to make perfect folds. The room is instantly transformed and so are you.  You leave the room and glance back over your shoulder. Gorgeous. You pat yourself on the back. You are sophisticated and chic.

Two weeks later, it’s a different story. The beautiful white towels are nearly gray. Your resolve to avoid using your towels as a quick method to remove your eye makeup lasted only a few days. Those towels are headed to the rag bin. You curse. It seemed like a good idea but, clearly, it wasn’t.

I could go on here for a bit. Accent walls. Precious house plants. White tiled surfaces.

Sound familiar?

It’s possible I hit a nerve, but there is good news. Some ideas are pretty darn great at the inception and remain so to execution. A dinner of pizza is one of those wonderful ideas. Do we ever tire of a home-baked pizza? Around here, we do not.  It’s definitely in our regular rotation and there is good reason for this. After bad idea followed by bad idea in the form of complicated evening meals, I learned a thing or two. My daughter literally clings to my pant legs in the evenings, which makes ingredient-laden, multi-course meals quite a challenge. Pizza dough, however, is something I can throw together in the morning while she naps and have it rise quietly until I am ready to use it.

caramelized fennel pizza

It’s easy to put together and the ingredients for any decent pizza are so simple it’s nearly criminal to order pizza for delivery. The other great thing about pizza is its utility in using up leftovers. You can throw nearly anything on there and it will taste good. That half of an onion that is just about to turn in the crisper? Throw it on there. The selection of tiny cheese hunks? Use them all.  To quote one of my absolute favorite youtube videos, “Put it on the pizza.”

caramelized fennel pizza

For our Sunday meal, I did just this and, by happenstance, discovered the perfect combination of ingredients. It was simple, but the flavors were savory and delicious. Salty salami and earthy fennel marry perfectly on a thin and crispy crust to make an ideal bite. Top it off with slivers of fresh basil and you have a bright hint of summer in every mouthful.

I’m actually salivating thinking of it now. Is it too much to eat this everyday? Would that be a bad idea? I’m not positive of the answer, but I am quite sure I will be finding out shortly.

caramelized fennel pizza

Caramelized Fennel Pizza 

1/2 batch of pizza dough

1 tblsp. semolina flour

1 medium fennel bulb, sliced thinly

1 and 1/2 tblsp. olive oil

1 cup tomato puree

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly

3 ounces sliced salami

kosher salt, to taste

1 tablespoon fresh basil, slivered

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper by cutting the paper to fit in the sheet with 1/2 inch of overhang. Douse 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil on the parchment paper and spread evenly. Sprinkle with the semolina flour.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the fennel and cook over medium heat until it is very tender, about 15 minutes.

Take your pizza dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface until thin (1/4 inch) and nearly the size of the baking sheet.  Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet with parchment paper. Top the dough with the tomato puree by spooning the puree and spreading it evenly over the surface. Next, spread the cheese evenly over the surface.  Then, add the caramelized fennel and spread it evenly as well. Top with the salami taking care to distribute the slices equally over the top of the pizza.  Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt over the top.

Place the pizza in the middle of the oven. Cook until the edges are golden, about 10 minutes.  When the pizza is just about ready, turn on the broiler to high and cook for  just under 1 minute to brown the top of the pizza.

Remove the pizza from the oven and using the parchment paper, transfer it to a safe cutting surface. Top with slivered basil. Cut and serve hot.

basil easy Italian meat pasta quickies vegetables

Fresh Herb Meat Marinara | The Staples

It seems like yesterday I packed up an impressive collection of shoes, more than a couple fake Chanel jackets and several gingerly rolled posters of Pre-Raphaelite redheads. I was headed to college and I didn’t intend on returning home to California at any point during this lifetime.  At the time, it didn’t matter whether I liked it here in Seattle or not. It was a city on the west coast and it wasn’t home. A two state buffer zone sounded perfect. I was so thrilled to start my new life I nearly raced off the stage during high school graduation. The only thing that stopped me was a terrible blistered sunburn dotting the back of my legs and four inch platform heels. Both things severely hampered my ability to walk, let alone run anywhere.

All this is really ancient history. However, the feelings of newness and wonder came flooding back to me last weekend as I chatted with my niece. She’s a freshman in college now. It’s truly hard to believe and quite interesting to behold. She’s still youthful, but just beginning to dip her toes into the adult world. Her excitement about her classes, her boyfriend, and her brand new apartment are simply contagious. She talks breathlessly about these subjects for hours on end with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm only a teenager can muster.

I love hearing about it all, but it’s especially fun to hear her talk about cooking for the first time. All signs suggest she is a budding foodie. She’s making curries. She’s cooking scrambled eggs with farm fresh eggs. She’s perfecting her cupcake recipe. And mishaps that would certainly test the patience of any wearied adult do not phase her in the least.  She tells me the quiche she made with the graham cracker crust wasn’t half bad. The brownies that failed to set? Of course, they were still edible.

I beam when I hear her discuss these things. My transition into cooking was a bit slower. In the dorms, no longer restricted to my mother’s bulk purchased puffed rice cereal, I feasted on vats of sugared cereals. There was an omelet bar, pizza whenever I wished, and baked goods everywhere. It was heaven until it wasn’t. I gained weight. I felt sluggish. That’s when I realized it was closer to hell.

Once I had my own apartment, I was thrilled to begin cooking. However, I didn’t really know where to begin. I burned a lot things. I undercooked others. I bought processed foods and, for a time, lived on a near exclusive diet of marshmallows and diet coke. I’m not proud of this. If I had to do it again, I might work on the staples. You’ve really got to have a few foolproof recipes in your repertoire.  These are the recipes you can whip up from your pantry or a quick trip to the market.

It never occurred to me to write about my basic meat marinara sauce until my conversation with my niece. Everyone needs a starting point and this meat marinara is an adaptable recipe. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. What you need is a basic recipe. Once you have it under your belt, you can explore and get creative. You can adjust the seasoning. You can use different herbs at different times of the year. And, when summer bestows upon you a bounty of garden tomatoes, you can toss them into the mix or even roast them.

easy recipe for spaghetti marinara sauce

I make this recipe for meat marinara often. It’s great when I have little time or energy to do much more. It’s perfect for a budding foodie or a busy mom who wants nothing more than to avoid the jar of tomato sauce at the market.

Enjoy your weekend.

Meat Marinara Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 shallots, chopped (about 2/3 cup)

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 tablespoons fresh herbs, finely chopped (marjoram, rosemary, basil, and oregano)

2 cloves garlic

1 pound lean ground beef

1 teaspoon each (kosher salt, garlic salt, freshly cracked pepper)

1 28 ounce can of diced organic tomatoes*

Pour the olive oil into a large frying pan and heat on medium for about 2 minutes. Add the shallots and red pepper flakes.  Cook until the shallots are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the herbs. Cook for another 2 minutes.  Add the meat and break it up into the pan adding the the salt and pepper to it as you break it apart.

Cook the meat over medium heat until browned, turning often. This should take about 7-10 minutes.  Add the diced tomatoes and their juices to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Adjust seasoning to your liking.

Makes 4 healthy portions (perfect for a pound of pasta).

Serve immediately.

* Muir Glen makes a wonderful canned tomato.

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