Florence’s Stuffed Clams

clams plated

With Christmas Eve just around the corner, I start counting my fishes. I count my blessings as well, but Christmas Eve is all about fish….seven different types of fish, to be exact. So I begin planning our menu for this feast of feasts…the mother of all feasts.   Most Italian families consider Christmas Eve to be the holiday, and Christmas just naturally follows.   Weeks of preparation goes into this celebration, especially the preparation of the food, Our tradition is that we must have seven fishes on the menu for Christmas Eve. How this tradition got started is not exactly known. Is it to represent the 7 sacraments? Does it represent the 7 hills of Rome? Or perhaps it because the number 7 is repeated over 700 times in the Bible.   Whatever the reason, this tradition began in southern Italy, and is still carried on today in most Italian families. Mine is one.

We have our family favorites that we stick to each year, but we always add something new just to keep the interest level up. Many years ago, I added “stuffed clams” to the antipasto portion of this meal.   They are “Florence’s Stuffed Clams,” to give credit to where credit is due. Florence is my son-in-law’s mother. She is the mother of nine, and grandmother to nearly 20 children. I was super impressed when she served this elegant looking appetizer to us at a family dinner party.  I remember thinking to myself, that if she has time to make these beautiful and delicious stuffed clams, then I most certainly can give them a try. I must say, I was intimidated, but she assured me that they were very easy.   I was indeed amazed at how easy they were to make.

You do need to ask you fish store for empty clam shells.  They usually have plenty, but if your fish monger is not as friendly as mine, you can buy clams, and just boil them until they open.  Clean out the clams from the shells, and you can actually use these fresh clams in the recipe as well.  After your guests feast on these delectable little morsels, all you have to do is wash out the shells, and put them away in a plastic bag or Tupperware until the next time.

My family loves them, and it’s a simple, scrumptious way to count clams towards one of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve.   Now all you have to do is come up with six more fish dishes.  Have fun!!

RECIPE: makes 2 dozen small or medium stuffed clams

4 cans (6.5 ounces) chopped or minced clams

1 cup clam juice or water

2 TBSP olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves minced

1/2 cup celery, chopped

1 1/2 ( plus or minus) cups breadcrumbs ( seasoned or not)

1 TBSP chopped parsley   ( or more if desired)

2 tsp. oregano

salt and pepper to taste

cream sauce:  1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup cold water, mixed)

1.  Saute garlic, onions and celery in olive oil until soft.

2.  Add clams, liquid and seasonings and parsley.  Simmer 20 minutes.

3.  Add crumbs and mix well.

4.  Add the flour and water mixture.  Simmer on very low heat for a few minutes, until well combined and thickened.

5.  Fill clam shells and place on a cookie sheet.  Spray with olive oil spray.

5.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned on top.

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English Trifle

trifle finished

Happy December! The Christmases just keep coming faster and faster every year.…or at least that’s how it feels to me.   I feel like I just put away all the Christmas ornaments! But here we are again. It really is such a wonderful time of year.   I love the hustle and bustle and all the festivities associated with the Holidays. I don’t have to tell you that I especially love the baking and cooking for family and friends. You know me now, and how much I love to feed and entertain my loved ones. I love spending time browsing through all my recipes and cookbooks, trying to come up with the next best dish that will become the new “Holiday favorite.” However, I always seem to be drawn to recipes from times past.

I recently was making a dessert for a pre- Thanksgiving party that a friend was giving.   After much perusing through my stacks of recipes, I came upon a recipe for English Trifle that was given to me many, many years ago by a friend. It’s one of those desserts that you taste once, and then know you absolutely must have the recipe.   I remember making it for my very Italian family one Christmas, and it was the hit of the dinner.   I’m not sure why I only make this at Christmas time, but I think that the red strawberries against the white whipped cream makes it look very festive and seasonal. I hadn’t made it in years, but the taste was just as divine as I remembered. It’s also very easy, yet looks so elegant. If you’re looking for a beautiful and delicious dessert this holiday season, I highly recommend this one.  But let me just say that it doesn’t have to be Christmas nor do you need to be English to enjoy this classic trifle recipe.

RECIPE:   this easily serves 10

1 package yellow cake mix (angel food or sponge may be used)

1 package (16 oz.) frozen strawberry halves, thawed

1 package vanilla pudding (2 cups)

1 cup chilled whipping cream

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds

1/4 cup (approximately) sweet sherry

8 whole strawberries ( for decoration)

1.  Bake the cake in 2 9 inch round pans as directed , using only one cake and freeze the other for another time.

2.  Cut the cake in 8 equal pieces and arrange in a round glass bowl.

3.  Sprinkle half the sherry over the cake.

4. Pour half the thawed strawberries over the cake.

5.  Pour half the pudding over the strawberries.

6.  Repeat cake, sherry, strawberries and pudding.  Chill for 8 hours.

7.  Beat the cream and sugar until stiff.  Spread over trifle.  Sprinkle with almonds.  Garnish with the whole berries.

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Tortellini en Brodo

tortellini closeup *

I love Thanksgiving Dinner! Who doesn’t? Well, I guess vegetarians and vegans might not, but then again, just think about all the wonderful vegetables and sides that even they can eat.   I think it’s one meal that has something for everyone, and too much for those like me. I enjoy everything on the table. I especially love how everyone has their favorite dish.   Heaven forbid you don’t prepare everyone’s favorite.   There’s just one problem with this. If every Thanksgiving you have to make the same favorites, how will you ever get to prepare something new, which could turn out to be the new, next “favorite.”

In my family, every so many years, someone throws a new dish into the mix.   Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. I introduced our family to mashed turnips many years ago, and to this day, they all still hate turnips, but I love them, and bring them to every Thanksgiving table to which I’m invited. Several years ago my sister introduced Brussels sprouts and a stuffing made with panetone, and now a year doesn’t go by without them.   Many years ago, when several of us decided that we just couldn’t face Lasagna before turkey and the trimmings anymore, there was a slight revolt. “No pasta? It’s a Holiday!” was the lament. So my mother came up with the brilliant idea to make some chicken broth, and put some tortellini in it. This would satisfy the crazed pasta lovers and the rest of us could enjoy something light at the beginning of the meal. I really enjoy 3 or 4 tortellini in some delicious, hot chicken broth. Of course the crazed pasta lovers have just a little broth and maybe a dozen tortellini or so.   They just have to have their pasta fix!

This dish can be even easier than you can imagine if you buy your chicken broth already made. But making broth is pretty easy. You just throw a chicken in a big pot of water with some onions, carrots, celery, salt and pepper, and simmer it for an hour. Strain the broth and save the chicken for another time. You can make this days ahead.  It’s up to you how easy you want to make this.  If I’m cooking this enormous meal, I always buy the broth. Who needs more to do!

RECIPE:  serves 8 to 12 people (depending upon how “pasta crazed” your guests are)

3 quarts of chicken broth, store bought or homemade

2 lbs cheese torlellini

grated Italian cheese for serving

1. Bring broth to a boil and then simmer till desired heat.

2.  Cook tortellini in a separate pot of boiling salted water.

3.  Combine.

4.  Serve hot with passed grated cheese.

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Mom’s Thanksgiving Candied Yams

yams cooked closeup*

My mother’s candied yams were the highlight of Thanksgiving for me each year.   I think this was true for most of our family, except my grandparents, who didn’t quite understand this dish. To them something this sweet and gooey was supposed to be dessert, not a side dish. While my grandparents were alive ( they both lived to be 103 years old), our Thanksgiving dinner was enough to put a person in the hospital from over-eating. Honestly, some years I really felt like I needed to go to the emergency room after this feast. We began at the table with my grandfather’s homemade mozzarella, still warm and right from the water in which it was made.   The next course was either Little Nonni’s baked spaghetti ( you can find that recipe in the blog archives) or her lasagna.   I’m not lying! Then out came the turkey and all the fixings.   Seriously? Any mere mortal would be full at this point. It was hard to imagine digging in to all this after all that. Nothing really excited me about turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, but I ate it, especially out of duty to my mother. This was her contribution to the meal and she worked very hard. I felt an obligation to her and the pilgrims. It seemed ridiculous to be eating spaghetti on Thanksgiving. It almost felt un-American. So we all managed to stuff ourselves even more.   Then one year out of the kitchen came these candied yams.   We all were so responsive to this new addition, that they became an important part of the Thanksgiving meal every year going forward, and they got better every year. She always brought them with her if the holiday wasn’t in her house.   We just had to have these yams.

Sadly the year came when she no longer cooked, and we had to figure out how she made them. She had never written the recipe down on paper. She knew it by heart. My daughter decided to tackle this dilemma one year, and she did so rather successfully. We tweak it every year in an effort to get it even closer to hers, and I think we are just about there…although not exactly.

We no longer stuff ourselves on lasagna or baked spaghetti. Once my grandparents could no longer come to Thanksgiving dinner, we sadly (but good for the digestion and waistline) replaced it with Tortellini en brodo.   The candied yams are still the highlight of this feast for me!

RECIPE:   makes 2  9 x 13 pans of yams

4 extra large yams  (I just learned from “Produce Pete on Channel 4 that yams are sweeter than sweet potatoes)

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 1/2  stick salted butter

2 9 x 13 inch pyrex or pans

1.  Scrub the yams, but do not peel.  Place potatoes in a large enough pot to cover them with water.

2.  Heat to boiling and reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer for abut 5 to ten minutes.  They should still be firm.

3.  Drain and let cool.  Once they are cool enough to touch, peel them.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

4.  Slice in half width-wise, and then into about 2 inch slices.

5.  Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan, and stir in the brown sugar.  Whisk until combined to make a syrup.  You can adjust the sugar or butter if needed.

6.  Line up the yams in the pans.  Drizzle the syrup over them.  Cover the pans with foil and put into a preheated 350 degree oven.

7.  Cook for 30 to 45 minutes, basting often.  The more you baste, the more syrup that will seep into the yams.

8.  Once the yams seem soft (not too soft)  and gooey (gooey is good), turn off oven; uncover and leave for another 5 minutes.

9.  Give the yams one good last baste before serving.

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Veal Roast (An Evolution)

veal roast platter 1*

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, roasts were a common dinner selection for most moms.   They certainly were easy. All you had to do was throw them in the oven and not think about them for a few hours.   Well, at least that’s how my mom cooked a roast. Oh yes, she’d throw some wine in the pan, and maybe an onion or a cut up carrot, but that roast never saw the light of day until it was cooked…..and cooked….and cooked.   This isn’t Sunday gravy, mom! It doesn’t get better the longer you cook it! I never saw a meat thermometer in her kitchen until well into the 80s. Oh yes, I bought it for her. I am just about positive that she never used it.

I can still see that slice of eye round, dark grey as the night, staring right back at me from my dinner plate, defying me to try to cut it.  At least when I ate dinner at my friends’ houses, they put something called “gravy” on it. This brown gravy sure was nothing like our gravy, but it certainly helped give this dry meat some flavor. As I’m writing this, I’m starting to wonder if the meat thermometer was even invented in the 1950s. Let me Google it and get right back to you…..

Sorry about that. So it appears that all meat was served cooked to death ( for health reasons) until the early 1930s, when the thermometer was introduced, as well as serving meat rare.   I guess we were a little behind the times. There was one saving grace, however. We very rarely had roasts for dinner. Until the veal roast made it’s way into her repertoire. When she made this on Sundays or a holiday (EVERY Holiday) for our large extended family, it was always delicious. But when she made a smaller veal roast for us during the week, it was awful. As you will see from her very tattered and over-used original recipe, she would cook a 6 pound veal roast for 2 ½ hrs. Perfect! However, when she cooked a 3 pound veal roast, she also cooked it for 2 ½ hours! Herein lied the problem. All roasts, no matter what size, were cooked for over 2 hours!   How do I know this to be true? Well if you look at my typewritten recipe card (this is what young brides did in the early 1970s) for veal roast, which I copied verbatim from my mother, there is no roast size.   We just cook that roast for 2 ½ hours, no matter what the size!  And I did for many years, always with disastrous results. Until one Sunday in 1981, I came across a recipe for a veal roast in The New York Times Magazine. (Just to be clear and unpretentious, I had a four year old daughter and a one year old son at this time so I really only scoured The Times for recipes. As I’ve said before, I’m a recipe junky.) And this recipe by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey (two masters) was a winner. When the air gets nippy in the Fall, and I start to gear up with winter recipes (many roasts among them…..not from my mother), I always pull this one out to the delight of all.  I add a little more tomatoes than their recipe calls for so that I have a rich, delicious sauce to put over egg noodles or fettuccine.   This makes for a wonderful side dish. Mr. Claiborne and Mr. Franey may have given this recipe a fancy French name ( which I can’t even make out anymore due to the age and overuse of this recipe), but honestly, when you bite into this succulent meat with the noodles (or fettuccine) dripping in this lovely, reddish sauce, you will think of Bolognese sauce (you can find that recipe in the archives as well).   Now that’s what I call a roast with gravy.

RECIPE:   four to six servings

1 two-and-one-half pound tied veal roast

Salt ( I use Kosher) and freshly ground pepper

2 TBSP butter (add more if needed during browning)

¾ to 1 cup finely cubed carrots

¾ cup finely diced onion

1 whole garlic clove, peeled ( I mince it)

2 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary or 2 tsp. dry

½ cup of dry white wine.

1 cup ( I use almost 2 cups) diced canned Italian plum tomatoes ( or squished).

2 sprigs fresh parsley, optional

  1. Sprinkle the veal with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Heat the butter in a heavy casserole in which the veal fits snugly, but without crowding. Add the veal and brown it on all sides over moderate heat, about 10 or 15 minutes, turning often.
  3. Add the carrots, onion, garlic and rosemary. Stir the vegetables around in the bottom. Add the wine, tomatoes and parsley. Cover and let cook over low heat about one and one-quarter hours. Turn the meat.
  4. Uncover and cook about another 15 minutes.

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Orecchiete with Broccoli rabe and Sausage

orecchiette bowl***

Even though this dish is traditionally from the Puglia region of Italy, and this is the region where my father’s family originated, I have no memories of anyone on this side of the family ever making this dish.  Even the pasta shape, orecchiette, is a home-made pasta typical of this region.  I’m sure you already know that orecchiette means small ear, which if you dig deep into your imagination, you might see a resemblance.  So this traditional Pugliese dish never entered my life until it began appearing on menus in Italian restaurants.  It quickly became a favorite of mine.  However, I never made it myself at home.  I think the reason for this is that my husband is not a fan of orecchiette, so instead we often make broccoli rabe with spaghetti and no sausage (I’m not a big fan of sausage).  By the way, you can find that recipe in this blog under the pasta category.

One day when I was watching Lydia Bastianich’s cooking show on TV, she was making this traditional Pugliese dish, and I decided to copy down the recipe.  Maybe one night I would give it a try? The recipe stayed untouched for at least 2 years.  Then, to my surprise, my husband decided to make his version of this dish….even using orecchiette.  I watched him carefully, comparing what he was doing to Lydia’s recipe.  Why didn’t I just give him the recipe I had written down?  If you knew him, you wouldn’t have to ask that question.  He NEVER uses a recipe.  NEVER!  And his culinary creations are always amazing, so I was confident that I would be absolutely delighted with his version of this dish, but I still was curious to see if he and Lydia were on the same page, so to speak.  It was indeed very similar to hers, and of course, scrumptious.    I don’t know how he does it!

I’m going to share his recipe with you, but I’ll let you know what Lydia did differently.  You can try both ways, and decide for yourself which recipe you like better.  It’s a “win/win” situation.

RECIPE:  serves 4

1 pound of orecchiette

2 small bunches of broccoli-rabe

1 pound Italian sweet sausage

1/4 tsp. hot red pepper (more or less to taste)

1/3 cup olive oil

3 garlic cloves, sliced

salt and pepper to taste

Grated Italian cheese…Romano or Parmesan.

1.  Wash and roughly cut the broccoli rabe.

2.  Brown the sausage in a fry pan with a tablespoon or two of water.  Then remove from the pan and slice. (Lydia skips this step).

3.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Drop in the broccoli rabe and cook for 3-5  minutes.  It should still be firm.  Remove from water and drain.  (Lydia skips this step).

4.  Heat the oil  and garlic in a large fry pan.  Add the red pepper.  (Here Lydia adds the sausage, removed from it’s casing and crumbled.  Cook until it is cooked through.)

5.  When the garlic is golden brown, Add the broccoli rabe (Lydia adds it here, not par-boiled) ) and sliced sausage. Stir well to combine.

6. Add salt to taste.  (Lydia added some pasta water and covered the pan for a few minutes to cook the broccoli rabe).

7.  Meanwhile cook the orecchiette in the boiling water.  Cook until al dente and drain, reserving some pasta water.

8.  Add the orecchiette and some pasta water to the pan with the broccoli-rabe.  Cook over low flame for a minute or two to mix well.

9.  Add grated Italian cheese and serve.

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Bucatini with Amatriciana Tomato Sauce

bucatini dish***

It’s Fall and cherry tomatoes have lost their appeal, but Sunday comes every week and we Italians need a red sauce.  For most of my childhood, this meant meat sauce with meatballs and all sorts of “gravy meat,” such as beef and pork ribs, sausage and braciole.   (You’ll find my recipe for Sunday gravy under the post “Little Nonni’s Baked Spaghetti”).  While I’m not complaining (I looked forward to those meatballs every week), it was a bit boring.  This course was then followed by more meat (usually a roast, such as veal, lamb or pork cooked to death for at least twice the amount of time needed…no meat thermometers in our house!)  So when Bucatini all’ Amatriciana made it into my mom’s repertoire in the 1970s, I was quite happy.  It still has that hearty, meaty flavor of meat sauce, but is so much easier and quicker to make.  It was certainly much less intimidating for a new cook, such as myself, so I would watch her make it.  She didn’t have a name for it then, nor the correct ingredients as there was no pancetta to be had at that time, let alone Guanciale (pork cheeks/jowls), which is what most restaurants use now for this sauce and can be found in some specialty markets.  She used bacon ( which by the way, I still use sometimes), and “margarine,” of all things.   Over the years, I have made a few changes to her recipe ( got rid of the margarine, for one thing), and conferred with several different cookbooks to come up with a rich, earthy sauce that is delicious on any macaroni shape, but I usually stick with bucatini, as the people of Amatrice intended.  Yes, this pasta sauce is named for the town in Italy where it originated.  This small town is just outside Rome, so it can be found on most menus in Rome, as the Romans have tried to claim this for their own.  Don’t be fooled.

There are many versions of this recipe.   Even my version has many versions.  Sometimes I use some butter, sometimes not.  Sometimes I add prosciutto as well as pancetta.  Sometimes I use only bacon.  Most times I add wine (white or red) as it gives me an excuse to have a glass myself, but wine isn’t necessary.  Crushed red pepper adds a nice kick, but I don’t usually add it.  And certainly, you don’t have to use bucatini.  Spaghetti will do just fine….or any pasta shape, for that matter.  I’m going to give you my favorite version of this recipe, and then enjoy playing around with it yourself.  Who knows, you may come up with the next best version.  Just don’t let those Romans know, as will try to claim it for their own.  They still can’t get over that their Empire once fell!

RECIPE:  for 1 of pasta

2 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 ounces  sliced pancetta, bacon or guaciale, cut into small pieces (about an inch)

2 ounces prosciutto,  cut into small strips, about an inch wide

1/3 cup red wine (white is also fine)

1 28 ounce can of Italian peeled plum tomatoes with juices, crushed by hand

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

3 TBSP freshly grated Roman cheese

3 TBSP  freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1 pound bucatini, spaghetti or pasta shape of choice

1.  Put the oil, butter and onion in a saucepan and turn on heat to medium.  Saute onion until pale gold (about 8 minutes), then add pancetta and prosciutto (if using).  Cook for several minutes, only stirring once or twice.

2.  Add the red pepper and saute for a minute.

3. Add the wine.  Turn up the heat and allow the wine to evaporate a bit.

4.  Add the tomatoes and salt, and cook uncovered, gently simmering for about 25 minutes.  Taste and correct for  salt and red pepper.

5.  Meanwhile cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.  Drain.

6.  Toss pasta (either in the pan with the sauce or in a serving bowl) with the sauce.  Then add both cheeses and toss thoroughly again.

5.  Can pass additional grated cheese.

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Morning Glory Muffins

Gllory baked closeup**

If you were an avid reader of Gourmet Magazine in 1981, as I was, you undoubtably made these Morning Glory Muffins.  Or, if you were like me, you made these muffins over and over again for many years…perhaps for a decade or more.  These muffins had a cult following. Everyone I knew made them, and if they didn’t, all it took was for them to sample one, and they were off and running.  You couldn’t go to brunch or afternoon tea without seeing these muffins on the table. We were having a love affair with these muffins in the 80s. I suppose we over did it, because they seemed to disappear after that.   Oh sure, I thought about them now and then, but I was afraid to start making them again. I actually couldn’t find the recipe in my files and considered this a sign from above.   If I started, would I be able to stop?  Would it be another decade of Morning Glory Muffin mania?  My older metabolism just couldn’t take it!  I refrained until one day, I came upon the recipe inadvertently on the internet, and I knew I was soon to be hooked all over again.  I tried hard to resist.  I thought about them night and day.  I just had to make them again one more time!  I wanted to share them with you all (a likely excuse).  I remained strong for several months.

Then the perfect reason for making these muffins presented itself.  My 10 year old granddaughter was coming for a visit and she loves to cook and bake as much as I do.  I could introduce her to this wonderful recipe, and then, after I’ve had one or two (or three), I can send the rest home to her family.  I can see a renaissance happening for these muffins as a new generation delights in these moist, dense with flavor little cakes, full of nature’s bounty.  I’m not one to pass up a golden opportunity, so she and I shared a delightful morning in my kitchen preparing these muffins for their comeback.  We worked diligently shredding and chopping and stirring until we produced the flavor that I remember so well.  Can it possibly be close to thirty years since I made these muffins???  It feels (and tastes) like yesterday.

I have to thank Chef Pam McKinstry who created these muffins in 1978 for her very popular restaurant on Nantucket Island.  It was then published in Gourmet Magazine in 1981.  The rest is history.  I’d love to know if you remember these muffins and if you ever made them for your friends and family.

RECIPE:  makes 18 muffins

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 1/4 cups flour

1 TBSP. ground cinnamon

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

3/4 cup golden raisons

1 large apple, peeled and grated ( I like Granny Smith)

1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

2 cups grated carrots

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts

3 large eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp. vanilla

1.  Position rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

2.  Sift and whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt into a large bowl.  Add the coconut, raisons, apple, pineapple, carrots and nuts and stir well to combine.

3.  In a separate bowl (or bowl of a standing electric mixer), whisk the eggs with the oil and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredient to this and blend well.

4.  Spoon the batter into muffin tins lined with muffin cups, filling each to the brim.

5.  Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Cool muffins in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.

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Summer Pizza on the Grill

pizza margarita grill 2***

Perhaps I did you a favor by not posting pizza on the grill at the beginning of summer.  If I had, you’d probably be about 5 pounds heavier right now because you wouldn’t have (couldn’t have) stopped making pizzas on the grill as a weekly activity.  Besides being an enormous amount of fun and absolutely delicious, it also is easy and let’s you really get in touch with your creative side.  I didn’t even know I had one (a creative side, that is), but once I get that ball of dough in my hands, and the grill is piping hot, my imagination goes wild with all the different delicious toppings that can adorn the pizza.  The possibilities are endless.  The rolled out dough is like a canvas just waiting for you to construct a culinary piece of art, able to delight many of the senses…..eyes, nose, tastebuds.

Now for the essentials needed to create this piece of art.  One of my all time best purchases has been the pizza stone for the grill that can be purchased at William Sonoma (online or in the store).  It sits inside the grill, and makes for a perfect surface on which to cook pizza.  It’s not permanent, but you might just want it to be.  Another piece of equipment that makes this process easy is a wooden pizza paddle.  You must cover the paddle with cornmeal before placing the rolled out dough on it.  Then you “dress” the dough with your favorite ingredients, while still on the paddle.  The cornmeal allows the pizza to gently glide off the paddle and onto the hot stone.  Of course, the freshest of ingredients is of utmost importance.  Always use the best quality and freshest ingredients you can find.  I never make my own dough because within 2 miles of my house there are at least 5 places that carry spectacular dough.  No need to waste energy on making it. Exhaustion inhibits the creative juices…..or at least that’s just my excuse for buying the dough.

I am in love with the cookbook “La Pizza…The True Story from Naples” by Nikko Amandonico.  It is the bible for pizza lovers.  Whether you want it for the many recipes for different pizzas, or the magnificent photography that will make your mouth water, you will definitely want it for the history of pizza.  It contains everything you ever wanted to know about pizza, but were afraid to ask.  If you are a true pizza lover, this book is a must!

So get the canvases ready.  You are about to become the Michelangelo of Pizza art.

RECIPE:  for dough preparation

For each pizza, use approximately one pound of dough.  After you’ve made a few pizzas, you’ll know if want thicker crust (use more dough) or thinner crust (use less dough).

1.  Place dough in a bowl to rise.  I do as my mother did, and put a little bit of flour in the bottom of the bowl, then a drizzle of oil on the top of the dough.  Then I cover it tightly with plastic wrap.  My grandmother and mother always put a wool sweater or shawl (clean of course) over all the bowls of dough to help it rise.  This is totally not necessary, but it is part of my routine..just for tradition’s sake.

2.  Once the dough has risen, place it on a well-floured work surface.  Knead it a bit, and then gently manipulate it with your hands, into a circle.  Then place it back down on the floured surface and roll to desired thickness.

3.  Gently place the rolled out dough on the well-cornmealed wooden pizza paddle.

4.  Top it with ingredients of your choice (I’ll give you some suggestions below), and always finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

5.  Make sure your grill has reached 500 degrees and has been preheated for at least 15 minutes.  This is essential.  Please read the instruction for your stone as this will be most helpful.

6.  Gently shimmy your pizza off the paddle and onto the stone.  Close the lid.

7.  Try not to peek for about 4 minutes.   After that,it is fine to quickly look to make sure the pizza is cooking to your liking.

RECIPE: my two favorite toppings (always let ingredients drain a bit to get out the water and prevent soggy pizza)


Fresh tomatoes of you choice, sliced or if using cherry tomatoes, cut in half

Mozzarella (the best you can buy), sliced

6 or 7 basil leaves per pie


drizzle of olive oil

Alla Melanzana

eggplant, cubed

cherry tomatoes, halved


garlic, chopped



mozzarella, sliced

1.  Fry the eggplant in a non-stick fry pan with very little oil until they are crisp on all sides.  Add the well drained tomatoes, capers, oregano and garlic to the fry pan.  Mix together.

2.  Spread the mixture on the prepped dough on the paddles.  Season with salt.  Add the mozzarella slices.  Drizzle with oil

**NOTE:  Always leave an edge of about an inch around that does not have topping.  

**NOTE:  These are just two of the endless ways you can prepare pizza.  Use the ingredients that you love, and you will not be disappointed. 

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pizza stone

Tomato Salad (Salads)


tomato salad:onion closeup


I have so many memories wrapped up in tomato salad, and they’re not all good.  Well, not bad really, but my first introduction to this dish was not favorable.  Actually, I hated it. When I was in my early teens, I spent several weeks, each August at the Jersey Shore with my aunt, uncle and cousins.  My aunt was a wonderful cook, but every night, my uncle insisted on cutting up those big, red, Jersey tomatoes and making a salad of the with red onions, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper.  Yuck!  I could hardly swallow them.  I liked my tomatoes cooked and over pasta!  My uncle insisted that this was a very healthy way to eat tomatoes, so he would insist that I eat at least 2 pieces of tomatoes every night.  It was torture, but if we wanted to go to the boardwalk after dinner, we had to eat the tomatoes.  So I did.  For these two weeks, every summer, I gagged on tomatoes at the dinner table, but made it to the boardwalk every night.  This wasn’t anything that my mom made, so I didn’t have to encounter another tomato salad until the following year.  

Years passed, and I never ate another tomato in this manner.  Sure, a slice of tomato on a sandwich was fine or in between two pieces of mozzarella, but not as a salad.  Then one day, I was served this exact same salad, and actually liked it.  Had tomatoes gotten tastier or had my tastebuds matured?  I’m not sure, but now I love this salad so much, and look forward to buying  Jersey tomatoes each summer at the farm stands.  I find I obsess over summer tomatoes, just as I do corn on the cob.  What would summer be without them?  Because of this obsession with tomatoes, I change the salad nightly.  Sometimes I make it with basil, oil and garlic.  Sometimes I add cucumbers and bread chunks.  But my favorite way is the way my Uncle Nino made it all those years ago.  I think of him when I dive back into the bowl for well over 2 pieces of tomatoes.  Isn’t there a saying, “tomatoes are wasted on the young?”  Sorry, I think that actually was “youth  is wasted on the young.”  Well, that too.  

I’m going to share the recipes for my 3 favorite ways to prepare tomato salad.  Hurry, before the summer tomatoes are gone and give it a try.  Let me know which way is your favorite.  I hope you don’t gag!  Just kidding!  

RECIPE:  tomatoes with red onion     serves 4

4 large Jersey tomatoes ( I sometimes mix in yellow tomatoes as well)

1 medium red Bermuda onion

1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2  tsp salt

1 TBSP oregano

ground pepper to taste

1 TBSP cold water

1.  Cut tomatoes into bite size chunks.

2.  Slice the onion, not too thin.

3.  Put in serving bowl. Sprinkle with salt, oregano and pepper

4.  Pour olive oil over tomatoes and add the water.  Mix well, adjusting seasonings.  Tomato taste varies, so you may need to add more seasoning.

5.  Sometimes I chill it in the fridge for half hour, but absolutely not necessary.  This is what my uncle did, so this is what I do.

RECIPE:  tomatoes with garlic and basil    serves 4

4 large Jersey tomatoes, cut into bite size chunks

4 to 5 garlic cloves, sliced

1/2 cup torn basil leaves

1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil

1  1/2 tsp salt

ground pepper

1.  Combine tomatoes and garlic in a serving bowl. 

2.  Add the salt, pepper and olive oil.  Mix well.

3.  Add the basil and toss well.  Adjust seasonings.

4.  Let sit for 30 minutes before serving.  Mix again before serving.

RECIPE:  Panzanella Salad      serves 4 to 6

2 to 3 Jersey tomatoes, cut into small chunks

1 cucumber, thinly sliced (optional, but I love to add this)

2 cups stale Italian or French bread, cut into bite-size chunks

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup good extra virgin  olive oil

1 1/2 tsp salt

ground pepper to taste

1.  Combine all the ingredients in a serving bowl large enough to hold everything.  Mix well.  

2.  Let stand for an hour or two, making sure the bread has absorbed all the liquid.

3.  You can also put this in the refrigerator to chill for half hour, if you like.


tomato salad:tomatoes

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