My trip to Italy is fast approaching. I wanted to do a couple of posts before I leave and the dishes had to be simple.
Meat-eaters love meatballs. These are from Naples and may be a bit different than what you’re used to eating here in the States. My Mom made them this way once in a while.
Usually for meatballs I use a combination of beef, pork and veal ground together but this time I’m only using beef. The addition of raisins and toasted pine nuts adds flavor dimension and texture to the meatballs.
The spicy meatballs are fork-tender. The sweetness of the raisins in tempered by the basil tomato sauce. The soft crunch of the toasted pine nuts is a welcome surprise. Simply delicious.
You can serve the meatballs with a vegetable or salad and with or without tomato sauce. I like them both ways. Don’t get too fancy though, the meatballs should be the star of your light lunch or dinner.
Use the tomato sauce to dress pasta or save it to use another time.
Keep an eye out for my 2 new video episodes that we shot in North Beach before I headed to Italy. I’ll spend 2 days shooting video in Rome. Hopefully, we’ll get a couple of new episodes of my shopping and cooking from my apartment kitchen in the heart of Roma.
Naples as you may have realized by now is one of my favorite cities in all of Italia.
My Italian roots are in Campania and Napoli is the region’s capital. I’ve felt as if I belonged there since I first visited. I love the food, culture and vivacious spirit of the people.
I was with my sister as we strolled the markets in the Spanish Quarter our first day together in Napoli. All of a sudden she looked at me kinda startled. “They all look like us!”, she exclaimed. Maybe an overstatement, but it was a recognition that we had a DNA connection to this chaotic, wonderful city and its people. I think this is why I’ve been so passionate about saving the North Beach Song of Pulcinella mural that reflects the Bella Napoli that I love.
Here’s a Napoli post from Italian Notebook— great pix of the city, the Bay of Naples, the active volcano Vesuvio, all from the cliffs of Vomero high above the city. Take a look at Spaccanapoli, a broad avenue from the Greco era when the city was known as Neapolis. Spaccanapoli literally means “Naples Splitter”.
There’s a cool funicular that runs from the city center and climbs all the way up to Vomero and the St. Elmo Castle.
It’s incredible to me that more than 3 million people live in the shadow of Vesuvio. It has erupted more than 3 dozen times since it buried Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. Neapolitans are a tough people always living it seems just on this side of disaster.
But they have their patron San Gennaro, martyred in the 4th century, to protect them. His dried blood is kept in a vial and brought to the Duomo on his feast day, September 19. Thousands of people crowd the Duomo with even more outside. They pray, they chant and they wait for the Cardinal to wave a white handkerchief up at the altar, a sign that the dried blood has liquified. I saw the miracle for myself when I was last there.
The tradition holds that if the blood doesn’t liquify great tragedy will strike. That happened twice in the recent past. Vesuvio erupted in 1944 and in 1980 a massive earthquake hit Campania killing 2,000. San Gennaro’s blood didn’t liquify in both those years.
I got slammed by a cousin in Sicily who complained that they never put fruit on pizza. I told him that this was a San Francisco thing. This is a white pizza, no tomato topping. In Rome, they make a long pizza bianca with just EVOO, sea salt and rosemary. In Campania they make a white pizza with EVOO, sea salt and oregano. These white pizzas are great on their own but also as an accompaniment to an antipasto or a salad. This one is a symphony, the sweet pear, the saltiness of the prosciutto, the tanginess of the gorgonzola and the harmonizing influence of the fresh mozzarella.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
Sprinkle the EVOO evenly over the surface of the dough. Scatter the pears evenly over the dough, then the gorgonzola, then the mozzarella slices, and then the pieces of sliced prosciutto. Grind black pepper to taste.
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, the prosciutto is slightly crisp, 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.
Let the pizza cool a bit and then slice into six slices.