An antipasti platter is your culinary canvas. Lay out a couple of your favorite Italian cheeses and salumi (cured meats) that pair well together. Add some veggies for color. Olives maybe? And what about some taralli scattered all around?
A feast for the eyes but more importantly an icebreaker for those around your table. A little prosecco doesn’t hurt to get the conversations flowing. Let their eyes feast on your canvas for a short while.
It’s a set-up. The antipasti course is an important beginning to a leisurely 4-course Italian meal. Wake up the taste buds with a little something. A variety of tastes preview what’s to follow.
The one I made is a classic from my days in Jersey. Some variation of that platter started every holiday meal.
No time? Get everything you need at an Italian deli or well-stocked market. Then you just have to paint your canvas.
But if you want to add something homemade, make my quick olives marinated with orange, oregano and chili flakes. My roasted peppers are always a favorite. Invest a little more time and make my homemade giardiniera, still crunchy pickled vegetables.
Warning! Don’t fill up on the antipasti. You got a soup, pasta or risotto coming followed by the main course and dessert. Depending on who’s at my table sometimes I make individual plates for everybody so nobody eats too much right away.
A Thanksgiving dinner that you can cook in under 2 hours. You won't believe the complex flavor of the moist tender breast and the mellow spinach and salty prosciutto stuffing.
1 4 Pound turkey breast, deboned and butterflied
2 pounds fresh spinach
½ onion, finely diced
½ cup grated parmigiano
6 slices prosciutto
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 sprigs fresh flat Italian parsley
3 lemon slices
4 leaves fresh sage
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water or broth
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Over medium heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a wide pot.
When the oil is hot saute the onions until they are translucent and tender.
Add about an inch of water to the bottom of the pot and raise the heat to medium-high.
Add as much of the spinach as you can to the pot and turn it to mix it with the onions and to help it all wilt. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
Add more spinach until all of it is wilted.
Put the spinach in a bowl and mix in the grated parmigiano and set the spinach aside to cool.
Butterfly the breast and lay flat open, pounding with a meat mallet to create even thickness throughout. (Save time. Ask your butcher to butterfly the breast for you.)
Spread the spinach mixture across the breast, leaving a 1½ inch border all around.
Put the prosciutto slices in a single layer over the spinach.
Beginning at one end, firmly roll up the turkey breast and use 4 equally spaced kitchen lengths of kitchen twine to secure the roast well.
In a casserole lay out the parsley, sage and lemon slices to form a bed for the roast.
Rub a tablespoon of olive oil well all over.
Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground black pepper evenly over the roast.
Pour in the white wine, water (or broth) into the bottom of the casserole. Sprinkle olive oil over the liquid.
Roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the turkey breast reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. The temperature will rise to 160 degrees as it rests. (I'm using an off-the-grid organic turkey but if your roasting a supermarket turkey you may want to leave it in the oven longer, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.)
Baste the roast with the pan juices several times during roasting. (Add more wine and water to maintain about an inch of liquid in the casserole.
Remove the breast roll from the pan and loosely cover with foil.
Pour the pan juices through a strainer into a pan. Skim off excess oil.
Keep the pan gravy over very low heat to keep it warm.
After the roast has rested for about 20 minutes, slice it thinly and arrange the spirals on a serving platter.
Pour the pan gravy over the slices. (If you have more gravy, serve it at the table.)
I didn’t want anything heavy for lunch. I had a hankering for shrimp but didn’t want to spend a lot of time cooking some up.
Here’s a simple dish that will be on your table in 15 minutes after you peel and clean the prawns.
Flavor extra virgin olive oil with garlic and fresh sage in a baking dish. Lay in the prawns wrapped in prosciutto. Drizzle them with EVOO and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Bake the prawns in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Plate them up, drizzle the oil from the baking pan all over and eat. How simple is that?
A whiff of sage and garlic precedes each bite. The salty, crispy prosciutto enhances the sweetness of the tender, moist prawns with just a hint of heat from the black pepper. A simple, yet complexly flavored dish.
I served these prawns with steamed rice on the side to soak up the sauce and a baby field greens salad simply dressed with EVOO, homemade red wine vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. A perfect Sunday afternoon lunch.
Viola Buitoni was holding a cooking class in the kitchen at the Italian Consulate on top of Pacific Heights last week, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and I was invited. Le delize di primavera (springtime delights) were on the menu. Viola is a wonderful cook and teacher. I learned some great recipes and kitchen tips as we celebrated spring vegetables with simple and quick preparations.
We set out some fava beans, thinly sliced pancetta and a young Tuscan pecorino cheese so we could nibble as we began our work.
As we munched, I put the sliced rustic Acme bread in the oven to toast and made a fava puree. We prepared two more spreads in about 10 minutes – sheep ricotta flavored with orange zest, nutmeg, fresh majoram and drizzled with EVOO and a lardo spread.
Our tummies satisfied for now we made pasta with fave, green garlic and guanciale. A torta with ricotta, baby chard and prosciutto was put in the oven. Peas sauteed with spring onion and prosciutto and a frittata with fava and borage leaves were cooked on top of the stove as the torta baked. For dessert I made a cooked crema topped with cherries cooked in their own liquid.
Here’s my adaptation of Viola’s pasta recipe for you to enjoy. It serves 4-6 people. The sauce can me made in less time than it takes to cook the pasta. Buon appetito!
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.