A few years back when we were in Sicily, Jim insisted we visit a small hill town outside of Palermo called Montelepre, the home of Salvatore Giuliano, the Robin Hood of Sicily and the main character in Mario Puzo's book The Sicilian. (I didn't realize just how famous he was until I later mentioned him to my mom's old neighbor from Sicily who knew the legendary story of the small town boy who stood up to power and helped the poor.)
Shortly after arriving in Montelepre, we found ourselves in the large lobby of what looked like a castle. Inquiring after the local legend, we saw the woman to whom we were speaking disappear through a large arch way and be replaced by a short middle-aged man who introduced himself as Salvatore Giuliano's nephew. Before long, we were off walking down steep steps into the next street and standing before a typical Sicilian town house with floors and floors stacked up on one another. This was the Giuliano home where Salvatore was born and raised and stayed when he dared come down from his hiding places in the nearby hills when he was able to get past the carabinieri, the federal police force of Italy and the same corrupt lot that had originally tried to arrest him for trying to take a wheel of cheese (some say it was a few pounds of pasta) to feed his family. (Illegal food was often confiscated in post-war Sicily by the carabinieri and then sold on the black market.)
After conducting us on a tour of the home, the man took us back to the castle-looking building which turned out to be a restaurant. Looking in the dining room, I saw an elderly woman sitting at a table near the kitchen taking pieces of dough, placing each on a dowel, and then rolling it back and forth so it ended up as a strand of pasta with a hole in it like a drinking straw.
That's all it took for us to decide to have our lunch there. I consisted of a large plate of pasta with a fantastic sausage sauce. I was lucky enough to find a good version of it in a Sicilian cookbook when we returned home.
Sicilian Sausage Sauce
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-60z can tomato paste
1 pound Italian sausage (hot or mild)crumbled
1 cup minced onion
1 cup minced celery
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or 1 dried Calabrian chili pepper chopped (optional)
Heat oil in sauce medium sauce pan and saute tomato paste for a few minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and stir to mix.
Add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to just cover.
Simmer, breaking up any large pieces of the sausage and adding water as needed, for an hour.
Serve over pasta of choice.
This is also very good in a risotto or a pasta al forno.
Last week I gave the recipe for Roman pizza shop style pizza. In addition to that, the Romans also enjoy the more traditional pizzas that are made in the wood-fired ovens. And it was that style of pizza that I missed the most when we got back to California. It was this craving and probably a slight case of OCD that was the mother of invention. I think the heat of summer may have had something to do with the idea as well as it concerns using a Weber grill.
I thought I could get that wood flavor if I used a grill and wood charcoal as opposed to the usual brand which is filled with chemicals. The results were great! I simply put charcoal around the circumference of the kettle, lit them and when they were starting to ash over put the pizza stone in the center of the grill rack and put the lid on opening the top and bottom vents enough to keep the coals going. Kept the cover on long enough to the the stone very hot and proceeded as if I were using the oven.
Here's the recipe for the dough and one for a pizza Margherita. ( If using instant yeast, the dissolving and proofing may be skipped and the yeast just added to the water and used without waiting the 10 minutes.)
This is enough dough for three pizzas.
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast
1 cup tepid water
3 1/4 cups flour (use 00 flour if available)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of tepid water. Let set for 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of flour and stir. While stirring, add olive oil, salt, another 1/4 cup of water and another cup of flour. Add another 1/4 cup flour and stir in and then add another cup of flour. Put just enough water in the last time to make the dough manageable. If too wet, add just enough flour.
Knead the daylights out of it for 10 minutes, slamming it down, stretching it out and getting rough with it until it's soft and pliable. Film a large bowl with some olive oil and turn the dough to coat and cover with plastic wrap and let set for 3 hours.
Divide dough into 3 equal pieces.
Roll one of the pieces of dough out into a circle and place on a baking peel that has been sprinkled with corn meal or semolina flour. Stretch the dough out in all directions to make it thinner.
1 1/2 pound of fresh ripe but firm roma tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound mozzarella
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bunch of fresh basil
With a swivel peeler, peel tomatoes then quarter lengthwise and remove seeds and gelatinous matter. Slice into strips and place on paper towels to drain.
Scatter 1/3 of tomatoes over pizza followed by a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.
Slide onto pizza stone and immediately replace lid of grill. Bake for 10-15 minutes , sprinkle with 1/3 of mozzarella and some Parmesan and replace the lid and bake for another 5 minutes.
Remove with two spatulas and sprinkle with chopped or torn basil.
Repeat with remaining dough.