Menu: Il Pranzo

Il Pranzo

Il Pranzo

This is the menu for a recent lunch I prepared for about a dozen work colleagues, evenly divided between Bay Area and NYC residents.

I wanted this meal to feature the best of slow food in the Bay Area for our NY guests, so I served Fra’Mani salami made in Oakland and used only organic farmer’s market produce. Italian prune plums had just arrived in the farmer’s market near my office and the strawberries were just about done for the summer season so I had to use them both.

I rounded all of that out with the best of imported Italian products that I could find in Gianni’s North Beach and at A.G. Ferrari near my office too. I wanted to include a Jewish dish and chose the stuffed artichokes in the style of the Roman Jewish ghetto. Besides my mother’s lasagna, the lasagna al forno con balsamella is the one that my family and friends most often ask me to make for them so I had to include it in this menu.

Check out the wines. They either mirror or contrast the major flavors in each course. Let me know if you want me to show you how to make these dishes or want me to post some of the recipes.

Antipasti

  • Carciofi alla Romano. Artichokes with a breadcrumb, minced mint, parsley, garlic, and anchovy stuffing poached in EVO and water. (The star of the course. All the rest of the stuff could be eaten after the last bite of the artichoke went into your mouth.)
  • Prosciutto di Parma
  • Fra’ Mani Toscano Salami (locally produced)
  • Boschetto al Tartufo. Cow and sheep milk semi-soft cheese with white truffle from Toscano.
  • Robiola Bosino. Cow and sheep milk soft cheese from Piemonte.
  • Cipolline en agrodolce. Flat caramelized Italian onions in a balsamic and chestnut honey sauce.
  • Olive Calabrese. Olives, roasted red peppers, garlic cloves, Calabrese chili in an EVO marinade.
  • Focaccia. Homemade, topped with EVO, sea salt, dried Sicilian oregano. A Neapolitan favorite.
  • Vino: Alice Ose vino spumante. A sparkling rose from the Prosecco region of the Veneto that pairs well with this broad array of fairly bold flavors.

Primi

  • Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.
  • Insalata mista. Baby field greens, edible flowers dressed with “La Mola” extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamico and fiore di sale (the very top crust of sea salt beds).
  • Vino: Badio e Colibuono Chianti Classico 2006. Had to go with a Tuscan to stand up to the lasagna and this is a great bottle. Not as good as the 05, but a very close runner-up.

Dolce

  • Crostata di prugne con crema. Free form tart with fresh Italian prune plums with a dollop of whipped cream on the side of each slice.
  • Liquore di fragole. A homemade strawberry liqueur. Had to make this with the last of the summer’s small, dark red strawberries. In Italy, this liqueur will keep the strawberries in your heart until the first harvest next spring.

Sparkling and still Italian mineral waters.

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita

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Simple, quality ingredients are the starting-point for a great Neapolitan-style pizza.

Place a pizza stone on the bottom oven shelf. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can bake the pizza on a floured cookie sheet.

Pre-heat the oven to your highest temperature. Mine goes to 550 degrees. The oven should be at temperature for 30 minutes before baking the pizza.

Ingredients

Dough

  • 4 cups flour (I use unbleached All Purpose (”AP”) flour or “00” flour, more finely milled and used for pizza dough in Italy. Bread flour works too.)
  • 1 cup water, at about 100 degrees
  • 2½ teaspoons active yeast (one packet)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup water

Topping

  • 4-6 San Marzano canned tomatoes imported from Campania, without as much of their juice as possible, cut into ½ inch strips, (il filetto di pomadoro). Be sure to remove any skin and stems, and the seeds, if you want.
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into ½ inch slices, and dried on paper towel
  • 6 large fresh basil leaves
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Cooking Directions

Wet Ingredients

In a large measuring cup or bowl, put 1 cup of water at about 100 degrees and no more than 110 degrees (too hot and you’ll kill the yeast). I use water a bit warmer than my body temperature. Stir in the yeast and mix well. Add ½ cup of the flour. Mix well. Cover tightly and put in a warm place for 30 minutes. The mixture should double in volume or about 2 cups. This is the first “proof” of the yeast. If the mixture (called a sponge) doesn’t increase in volume the yeast is probably dead and therefore not “active.” If the yeast mixture doesn’t rise properly throw it out and start again. Better to find out now than later.  That’s why it’s called the first “proof” that the yeast is active. Yeah, right.

Dry Ingredients

  1. Put the remaining 3½ cups of flour and the salt in a large bowl. Mix to distribute the salt. Add the risen yeast mixture and the remaining ¼ cup water. (I use this last ¼ cup to wash out the container used for the first proof so that all the remaining yeast is “sloshed” out and into the bowl.) Mix dry and wet ingredients well with a fork or wooden spoon. When little dry flour remains, use your hands to finish mixing the ingredients into an integrated ball of dough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and incorporate the scrapings into the dough. The dough should be a bit sticky to the touch. If it’s too dry, add a few drops of water at a time until it’s just a bit sticky. If it’s too wet, give it a light dusting of flour until it’s just a bit sticky.
  2. Place the dough on a floured flat work surface. Knead the dough with the heel of your hands. It will feel rough, granular or gritty when you start. When it feels totally silky-smooth you’ve kneaded it enough. To get from gritty to silky-smooth could take as much as 10 minutes, but I usually hit that texture in about 5 minutes. Form the dough into a compact ball.
  3. Put the ball back in the bowl you used to mix the wet and dry ingredients. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and cover with a kitchen towel. Put in a warm place. (This is the second proof.) When the dough doubles in size take it out of the bowl, reforming a ball and place on a floured board.

Making the Pizza

  1. Cut the dough ball into 4 equal pieces. (Each of these 4 dough balls will make 1 pizza, 10 to 12 inches in diameter (or one calzone). For a larger or thicker pizza, use two dough balls.)
  2. Use one dough ball for the Pizza Margherita. Put the other 3 dough balls to the side and cover with plastic wrap to keep a crust from forming. If you do not use all of the dough now you can put unused dough balls into tightly closed plastic bags for future use. The dough will last at least 5 days in the refrigerator. You can freeze the dough balls. Be sure to bring the dough to room temperature before forming pizzas from previously frozen dough.
  3. To form the pizza, push down on the dough ball with the tips of your fingers to begin shaping a round disc. When you reach a diameter of about 6 inches, pick up the dough, and holding it at the rim, begin stretching the dough using its own weight to help increase the diameter of the dough. Keep moving your fingers around the rim of the dough. Then, place the dough on your fist and gently pull it from the edge to stretch it more. When you reach a 10 to 12 inch diameter and the dough is about a uniform ¼ inch thick, you’re done. (For a thinner crust going towards a “cracker” crust keep stretching the dough until it is very thin and almost translucent.)
  4. Put the dough on a well-floured pizza peel (also called a pizza paddle). If there are any holes in the dough patch them. Make sure the dough moves freely on the pizza peel.
  5. Spread enough of the EVOO to lightly cover the entire surface of the dough. Scatter the tomato strips evenly over the dough, then the basil leaves, then the mozzarella slices.
  6. Place the pizza on the pizza stone by holding the pizza peel at a 20-degree angle and slipping the pizza onto the middle of the stone. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the mozzarella takes on a tan hue and the rim of the crust is slightly browned. Take it out of the oven using the peel. When tapped with your finger, the dough should sound hollow. The bottom of the pizza should have some dark brown/black spots for texture and taste.

Sprinkle the salt evenly over the pizza. Let the pizza cool a bit and then slice into six slices.

Serve immediately.

San Marzano Sauce

San Marzano Sauce

A simple, light tomato sauce, made from the last of the fresh San Marzano tomatoes and fresh basil, served over choke the priest pasta.

This was our very first episode – a test if you will. You’ll forgive some of the rough production edges. I think it’s still very solid cooking instruction. And a delicious recipe!

Fresh San Marzano Tomato Sugo (Sauce)
With Strozzapreti (Choke the Priest) Pasta

You will only make this pasta when the San Marzano tomatoes are in the farmer’s market in late summer and fall. In other seasons use canned San Marzano tomatoes from Campania.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds fresh San Marzano tomatoes or a 28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes from Campania, Italy
  • 1 sprig fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt for the sugo
  • 6 quarts of water
  • 2 tablespoons of sea salt for the pasta water
  • 1 pound or 500 grams of strozzapreti durum wheat pasta extruded through a bronze die.  (Of course you can use other cuts of pasta.)
  • 1 tablespoon of a good finishing EVOO to dress the finished pasta
  • 8 fresh basil leaves cut into a chiffonade
  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano

Cooking Directions

  1. Put the water for the pasta and the 2 tablespoons of sea salt in a big pot over a high flame until it begins to boil.
  2. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in another large pot big enough to hold all the tomatoes. (You can use the boiling pasta pot for this step and then again to cook the pasta if you don’t want to use 2 pots.)
  3. Wash the San Marzano tomatoes and take the stems off.
  4. When the water in the second pot is boiling, put the tomatoes in the boiling water for 15-30 seconds, until the skin puckers or bursts.
  5. Take the tomatoes out of the water and let them cool on a large plate. When they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin.
  6. Cut the tomatoes in half and then into about ½ strips. Remove any skin, stem from the inside, and seeds if you want. Coarsely chop the tomatoes. (This is a variation from the video to help you get the sugo to the right texture more easily. You can just cook the filleto di pomodoro, the strips, just like I did in the video, if you want. Just make sure the tomatoes disintegrate into a sauce, with some pieces of tomato remaining. This method may take longer and require more attention to help break the tomato into chunks as it cooks.)
  7. Put the EVOO and garlic in a cold pan over a high flame. Saute the garlic in the oil to release its flavor. Don’t let the garlic brown. With the oil sizzling, put in all the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the basil sprigs and stir them into the sauce. They will wilt and release their flavor into the sauce. Cook over medium-high heat until the tomatoes have broken down and a chunky sauce has developed. Most of the tomato water should have evaporated. This should take about 15 minutes, max. Stir frequently. When the sugo is done cooking remove the basil and garlic.
  8. When the pasta water comes to a boil put the pasta in the boiling salted water. Stir the pasta to make sure it doesn’t stick. Cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.
  9. Roll up the basil leaves and cut into a chiffonade, ¼ inch bands or strips.
  10. Pull the pasta out of the water with a spider or big slotted spoon and put it in the sugo. Finish cooking the pasta in the sugo. It will absorb some of the tomato liquid. Shut off the flame, drizzle the equivalent of 1 tablespoon of the finishing EVOO over the pasta, scatter the basil and sprinkle the Percorino and mix well into the pasta.

Serve immediately.

Choke the Priest!

Choke the Priest!

Choke the Priest! No, it’s not a euphemism for self-abuse, ya pervert. It’s the translation of the name of a type of pasta called strozzapreti, which has disputed origins, all versions of which are fascinating:

One is that gluttonous priests were so enthralled by the savory pasta that they ate too quickly and choked themselves, sometimes to death. Another explanation involves the “azdora” (“housewife” in the Romagna’s dialect), who “chokes” the dough strips to make the strozzapreti: “… in that particular moment you would presume that the azdora would express such a rage (perhaps triggered by the misery and difficulties of her life) to be able to strangle a priest!” Another legend goes that wives would customarily make the pasta for churchmen as partial payment for land rents (In Romagna, the Catholic Church had extensive land properties rented to farmers), and their husbands would be angered enough by the venal priests eating their wives’ food to wish the priests would choke as they stuffed their mouth with it. The name surely reflects the diffuse anticlericalism of the people of Romagna and Tuscany.

The story from my mother’s village is a fourth variation (and, naturally, my favorite): the parish priest had a habit of showing up on Sundays after mass to the home of the town’s best cook. One, two, three Sundays in a row. On the fourth, the wife would serve the not-so-subtly-named “choke the priest” pasta to send the message that he’d outstayed his welcome.