Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pizza Party In Portland

It has been awhile since I posted about Pizza... So I figured it was high time that I revisit the subject again. Especially since I was making pizza with my niece.

Ok, I did make pizza several months ago at my other brother's place, but I had forgotten my camera. Thus there were no pictures of the happy little sauce smeared, pizza smeared faces...

I was determined not to make the same mistake twice.... So I loaded up all my goodies and a very large portion of Pizza Dough, along with my camera, and toddled myself on over to my niece's house where we had a pizza night.... :)

It was pretty much the basic pizza fair, nothing outrageous like Eggs Benedict Pizza, Squash Blossom and Leek, Fig and Rossini or Lox & Caviar. Just good old Meat & Vegetable pizza. Which is the best kind when you are consuming Cinder Cone from Dechutes brewery. ;)

According to my brother, the empty bottle makes a pretty good rolling pin too....

Pizza Dough
Sliced Bell Peppers - Green, Red & Yellow
Cured Meats - Salame, Pepperoni & Canadian Bacon
Sliced Roma Tomatoes
Basil Leaves
Mushrooms, sliced
Black Olives, Sliced
Shredded Cheese Mix - Provolone, Mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, Parmegiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano
Shredded Parmegiano-Reggiano
Pizza Sauce (Tomato paste, a little water, Oregano, Thyme, Minced Garlic & Rosemary with a drizzle of olive oil)
1 Very excited Niece
1 Very Hungry Nephew

So here, in order of baking, are the pizza creations. Both before and after.....


& Maryann.... Ladies first, after all ;)

The missing piece is in my 19 month old nephew's mouth.... LOL
He couldn't seem to get enough of it either.


Me... Cause the pizzaiolo eats last... LOL

Awesome Times! And one VERY happy niece....


Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Soup That Eats Like a Salad - Squash Soup with Celery & Bok Choy

I was a little leery about this soup. After all, the only pumpkin/squash soups I have had in the past were pureed with a ton of cream added. Quite tasty, but also a little heavy on the calories. This recipe comes from the Feng Shui Food cookbook I recently found when perusing the volumes at the GoodWill (I find some pretty darned nifty cookbooks in there).

I have modified it slightly, for personal taste. The original recipe called for 2 tomatoes, diced to 1 cm, to be added at the end along with the Basil, Bok Choy and the Celery leaves. Since I cannot eat uncooked tomatoes I added them after I had fished out my bowl and taken my photos.

I shared this soup with my parents, and my mother stated that she felt the tomatoes overpowered everything else in the pot. So I have left them out of this blogged version completely. Feel free to add them in if you like. Oh, and I also chose spring onions (scallions) instead of a white onion or a shallot.... This was a personal preference because I was going to a "crisper" onion flavor.

Squash Soup with Celery and Bok Choy

1 TB Olive oil
1 bunch Scallions, Sliced - White and light green parts
3 Cloves garlic, Minced
2 stalks celery, diced (save the leaves)
1 small Fennel Bulb, diced
1 Liter Cold Water (this is about 4 1/2 cups)
300 g (10.5 oz) Butternut Squash, Diced in 2 cm cubes
1 TB Double Concentrated Tomato Paste (or Sun-Dried Tomato Paste)
Kosher Salt
White Pepper
1-2 Baby Bok Choy, Chopped
Small bunch of Basil, chiffonade
1 tsp Black Truffle oil

Chop the Celery and save the leaves, your gonna need then for finished the soup.

Heat the oil over medium flame in a stock pot then add Spring onion, Garlic, Celery and Fennel, sweating for about 3 - 4 minutes to release their vegetable goodness into the pot (DO NOT saute, this seals the flavors in)

Add the water and the diced Butternut Squash.

Bring to a boil, then add tomato paste and reduce heat and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, until the Squash is tender.

Chop the Bok Choy.

Pick the leaves from the celery, removing the actual top stems.

Chiffonade the Basil, reserving a couple of bud tops for garnishing.

After 15-20 minutes, season with Kosher Salt and White pepper, then remove from the heat and stir in the Bok Choy, Basil and the Celery Leaves.

Drizzle with 1 tsp Black Truffle oil and enjoy a steaming bowl garnished with basil tops and a couple extra celery leaves.

This was an absolutely delicious soup! Light on calories with a delightfully "fresh" flavor. I cannot wait to make it again! Neither can my mother.... ;)


Monday, January 25, 2010

Gettin Sauced; Part 2 - Good Ole Spaghettini and Meatballs

After spending a good 7-8 hours making sauce, I like to end the evening with a fairly quick fix for dinner. This involves the now finished sauce and some Italian Sausage meatballs. As seen in the teaser pic on the Tomato sauce post... ;)

Yep, a total cheat recipe as far as the meatballs go. I learned this little trick from Jamie Oliver when he was on Late Night with David Letterman. While David was drinking the Heavy Cream, Jamie was squeezing the sausage out of the casings to make perfect little meatballs. Pretty awesome! Then David started drinking the Olive oil too and I had to change the channel...

Anyway, the point of this post is not so much about David Letterman's oddities, cause I could be here all night typing... ;) But that I have adopted his method as a quick way to make meatballs. Whether as an addition to my favorite pasta dish, which is Linguine alla Carbonara, or a simple dish such as this one. It is pure genius and I love it.

I used "Sweet" Sausage this time, but you can just as easily use the Hot Italian Sausage if you are not a fan of Fennel.

Spaghettini and Sweet Meatballs

1 lb Sweet Italian Sausage
2 TB Olive Oil (don't drink it please)
1 cup Sangiovese (You can try a Barbera or Nebbiolo too)
2 1/2 -3 cups Slow Cooked Tomato Sauce (depending on how you divided it up)
12 oz Spaghettini or Spaghetti
Basil to taste; either Chopped or more properly, Chiffonade
Parmegiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano for serving.

If your sauce has already been frozen, you will need to thaw it out in some warm water. Bring it as close to room temperature as your can.

Grab a bottle of 2007 Sangiovese, this particular one is a Brunello clone that I picked up from Witch Creek Winery in Julian CA, before I moved back to Oregon... A delicious wine, I just wish I had another bottle...

Begin by pinching the sausage to move the filling out one side...

to form a mini meatball.

You should get about 5 mini meatballs per sausage.

Once you have finished, begin heating the olive oil in a large skillet (I used an electric skillet this time)

Sear the meatballs until browned on all sides, meanwhile begin heating a large pot of water for the Pasta.

Remove the meatballs from the skillet and set aside.

Deglaze the pan with the Sangiovese, scraping any fond that has accumulated on the bottom of the pan, and reduce the wine to about 1/2 cup.

Add the Tomato Sauce and stir to combine.

When the sauce is homogeneous, add the meatballs back in and reduce the heat to a slow simmer.

Drop the pasta into the boiling water, don't forget to salt the water before adding the pasta.

Continue simmering the meatballs until the pasta is al dente, which for Spaghettini is only about 6-7 minutes, then add the spaghettini to the skillet....

and toss the sauce, spaghettini and meatballs to coat everything nicely. (I see people out there cringing, but I always toss my sauce with my pasta, I don't serve it separately; You can serve it separately if you like) LOL

Serve with Chopped basil and Grated Parmegiano-Reggiano.

Super quick, Super easy and Super delicious...


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Time to Get Sauced - Slow Cooked Tomato Sauce

I promised, several months ago, back on the Okee Dokee Gnocchi post that I would post about this when I was cleaning out my freezer before I moved back to Portland Oregon. Then Thanksgiving happened, and Volcano cakes for Birthdays, and Christmas, then New Years and then another Birthday as well as my own, and there was the birthday party for my nephews happening yesterday. Whew!!! I haven't been this busy in ages!

So, though it has taken me a lot longer than I originally anticipated, true to my word, this is how I make my Basic Tomato Sauce. I am not gonna lie to ya, it takes pretty much the whole day to make. Mainly because after it cooks for 6 hours you have to get it cooled off as quick as possible, though an ice bath helps, and then get it into freezer bags for storage. Oh yes, it makes a lot. I figure that if I am gonna spend all day cookin sauce I might as well make a ton of it, cause it takes about the same amount of time. Then I have sauce ready at all times. Just say "NO" to jarred sauce!

I found this recipe ages ago on the internet at "" but the last time I checked the site was no longer up and running. I have made a few changes over the years, but the basic recipe is still the same. One thing I do need to point out is that I use canned tomatoes. The reason is simple, unless you grew them yourself, are buying them from a local farm or receiving them from your next door neighbor chances are that those bright rosy red tomatoes in the grocery store aren't even ripe!?!?! Yep, most tomatoes have been gassed with ethylene which causes them to "ripen" (read: turn red) while they are still green. Canned tomatoes are picked from the vine and canned when they are truly ripe. So I use them to achieve a full tomato flavor.

About the tomatoes, cause this is going to determine how good your sauce is. In Italy they grow this wonderful tomato called the San Marzano, on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. This is the quintessential Italian paste tomato.

We in America have tried to duplicate or model other tomatoes after it, this is how the "Roma" came into being. While the Roma tomato is quite delicious, it's flavor is inferior, being a little on the acidic side. If I had more disposable income, I would probably buy ALL San Marzanos to make my sauce, but alas, purchasing imported Italian tomatoes can be a little cost prohibitive. SO, I mix half San Marzanos with half Romas. I have noticed some recipes using sugar in the sauce to balance the acidity out. I feel better using the chopped carrot to do this, but it's a personally preference.

Oh, and the celery allows me to reduce the amount of salt I add. Both of these add backbone to the sauce as well... So it's ALL kinds of good.

Remember, if you and buying San Marzano tomatoes to read your labels carefully. There are fakes out there who cleverly "name" their product "San Marzano". These tend to be Roma tomatoes or some other form of a plum tomato. San Marzanos are not grown commercially here in the United States, or if they are, they aren't available on the West Coast. Read the label carefully and look for the "D.O.P".

If it's missing, then it's probably faked. The Romas will more than likely be marketed as either "Roma" or "Italian Plum Tomatoes" so it wont require as much label reading.

If you decide to use ALL Roma tomatoes for this sauce, double the carrot and double the celery and it will help to compensate for the lack of San Marzanos. Not completely, mind you, cause their flavor is hard to duplicate, but it will help.

Another ingredient that I love to use is the Cipollini onions and a shallot.

Cipolline onions are flattened and usually fairly small, about 1-2 inches across. They are also a little hard to get cut up, as well as difficult to find, but they are delicious.

The funny part is that Cipollini are not even onions, they are the bulb of the grape hyacinth. But whether they are onions or not they still lend a sweet, almost caramel flavor to the sauce.

This sauce is designed as a base for other sauces. You can add other ingredients to it and create Vodka Sauce, Arrabbiata Sauce, Mock Balognese, or simple cook up some meatballs, reduce some Sangiovese and add it to the warmed sauce, then toss it all together with fresh basil. (Which is what I am doing tonight)

Because of this, I use a stick blender to smooth it out, but if you are a chunky sauce lover, you can simply mash it at the beginning with the potato masher and leave it at that.

OK, now that I have finished my brain dump (I think I covered everything) and everyone is thoroughly bored, let's begin.

Slow Cooked Tomato Sauce

10 TB extra virgin olive oil (I use a Sicilian oil from Trader Joe's)
1 Large Carrot, chopped fine or *grated* (Use 2 if you are using 8 cans or Roma tomatoes)
1 Celery Rib, chopped fine (Use 2 ribs if using 8 cans of Romas) Chervil is better, if you can find it.
1 White Onion, chopped
2 Red Cipolline "Onion", minced
2 Yellow Cipollini "Onion", minced
1 Shallot, minced
8 large cloves garlic- finely chopped
2 -3 inches of anchovy paste or, 1-2 anchovies, smashed (use 4-6 inches or 2-4 anchovies if using 8 cans or Romas)
1 TB Fresh Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley, minced
1 TB Dried Oregano
2 1/2 tsp whole Fennel seed (crushed in a mortar & pestle)
1 TB Dried Marjoram
1 1/2 tsp Dried Summer Savory
2 tsp Dried Thyme
1 tsp Dried Rosemary
1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flake
4 (28 oz) cans peeled San Marzano Tomatoes
4 (28 oz) cans peeled "Plum" Tomatoes (usually labeled as "Italian" or Roma) Make sure they are Basil free or they may end up bitter.
1/2 tsp Fine Grind Black Pepper
1 TB Basil, chopped (For Later)
Salt to taste (usually 1/2 - 1 tsp.)

Add Olive oil to a LARGE Stock pot over medium heat. (I use a 22 quart pot so it doesn't "spit" all over the counter)
Add White Onion, Carrot, Celery and sweat until clear. (This is a Soffritto; the Italian word for a French Mirepoix)

Add Cipollini onions and sweat a little longer, about 2 minutes

The add the Shallot & Garlic, sweat until fragrant, do not let the garlic brown.

Remove from heat and add Anchovy Paste and All herbs EXCEPT the Basil, while oil is warm. This releases the fat solubles out of the herbs.

Don't forget you have to crush the fennel lightly with a mortar and pestle before adding....

Stir until fragrant.

Open your cans of tomatoes;

dump them unceremoniously into your stock pot;

grab your potato masher and go to town.
Return stock pot to Low heat, or use a diffuser on medium heat. Your sauce will scorch VERY easily at this point, and that would be a VERY bad thing.
Bring to a simmer uncovered, the water absolutely has to be able to evaporate and condense your sauce.
Simmer for 5 to 6 hours stirring occasionally (Not constantly, but you should not leave the house for any length of time)

I like to smooth out my base sauce, since I can always add fresh or diced tomatoes later.
Consequently at about the 5 hour mark I attack the sauce with a stick blender to make it smoother;

This is when I add the basil, because basil does not respond well to long cooking times becoming bitter if over-cooked.

When sauce is sufficiently thick and concentrated (this happens after it has been reduced by about 1/3), begin salting, don’t be afraid if is seems a little over salted, you will be putting this on pasta, which will absorb any excess salt.

Remove from heat and let cool to room temp in an ice bath.

Scoop into Zip loc bags

and freeze, lying flat on a baking sheet, until they are solid and can stack on their own.
I usually get about ten 2 1/2 cup servings, which is perfect for 12 oz of pasta. (unless you are adding a bunch of stuff to it at which point 16 oz of pasta may be better)

Basically meaning I reduced the original amount of tomatoes, plus all the other stuff which is about 9 quart... to about 6 quarts. So about a 1/3 reduction to thicken the sauce properly.