Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When in Rome...

Rome has two offerings for pizza. One is the old fashioned Italian pizza that goes into the mouth of a brick oven that has been heated with wood, that is round and made to order. It's brought to your table which in itself is a big difference from the other variety which you will find in a small shop which may (or may not) have a small counter with stools opposite the area where you point to the long oval-shaped pizzas and tell the counter help how many slices you want. These are then weighed and you are charged accordingly.
Many will tell you that you must go to Naples to get a real pizza but this hasn't stopped the Romans from enjoying their own version of that popular treat that has spread to the four corners. Yes, Romans love their pizza and I love their pizza, too.
In an earlier blog, I gave a recipe for Roman pizza that I have been using for the last several years. That recipe is still good but I think I've found a better one which I will offer here.
You may use either active dry yeast or instant yeast. If using instant (which I prefer) you may skip the the sponge process and add it straight to the flour, omitting the sugar as well, add the rest of the ingredients and proceed with the kneading.

Roman Pizza

3/4 cup warm (not hot) water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 1/4 cups flour

Combine water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Let set for 10 minutes until the mixture starts to foam.
In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Add yeast mixture and oil. Mix well and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead, adding more flour as needed, for 10 minutes giving it a good workout by punching it and slamming it down on the work surface during the kneading process until soft and pliable.
Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil and place ball of dough in it turning once to cover surface so a crust doesn't form. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.

To Make The Pizzas

Place a baking stone on a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 500f. After it has reached 500 degrees, let the stone heat for 1/2 hour before baking pizza. (There is no need to wait another 1/2 hour before baking the second pizza.)

Divide the dough in half and, using a rolling pin, roll one ball of dough into an oblong about 13x9 inches. Place on a bread peel (or a baking sheet) that has been dusted with corn meal or semolina flour.

Spread a thin topping of marinara sauce (I use my own homemade and sprinkle a little oregano on it as well) on the pizza and a sparse scattering of mozzarella cheese. (You want to go easy of the toppings lest you end up with a soggy crust. The end result should be crispy) Add some mushrooms, olives, or your choice of topping being careful not to end up with a heavy laden pie.
Slide the pizza onto the baking stone and bake for about 10 minutes or until the crust is brown.
Repeat with remaining dough.

I also gave a recipe on the show for a flatbread pizza that I love to make in the summer when the garden is bursting with fresh zucchini. This is a wonderful light and healthy version of the world's favorite pie that only needs a glass of wine and a salad to make the perfect lunch.

Zucchini and Olive Flatbread Pizza

Pizza dough from previous recipe
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for drizzling
1/2 pound fresh zucchini sliced into 1/8 inch rounds
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, divided
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated pecorino cheese
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

Preheat oven to 450f.
Roll out dough into an oblong and place on ungreased baking sheet.
Brush with 1 tablespoon olive oil. With the tines of a fork, pierce the dough all over.
Arrange sliced zucchini on top, drizzle with olive oil and bake until edges begin to brown, about 18-20 minutes.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with half the oregano, the cheeses and the olives and bake for another 5-7 minutes until cheese melts and bubbles. Remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining oregano and serve.

This next recipe, which comes from Sicily, is a little more involved than the two previous but is well worth the effort, I think. I reheats nicely in the oven and has an interesting combination of textures and tastes.
Sfinciuni is Sicily's stuffed version of pizza and can be filled with all combination of things.
But I will limit this recipe to the broccoli and ricotta stuffing. This would make a nice addition to a buffet or, on its own, a satisfying light supper.

Sfinciuni Dough

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups unbleached flour
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons whole milk

Dissolve year in a large bowl with 1/4 cup of water. Stir in 1 cup flour, the sugar, salt, olive oil and milk. After everything is well mix together, add the rest of the water and the remaining cup of flour and mix again until everything is well combined.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough making sure to punch it and slam it down on the surface several times during the process. Do this for 10 minutes. In the end, pat the dough into a round shape and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 3 hours or until doubled in volume.
While the dough is rising, prepare the stuffing.

Broccoli and Ricotta Stuffing

1 pound fresh broccoli
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons plain bread crumbs, lightly toasted
3/4 cups fresh ricotta
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil

Remove and pare away the tough outer skin of the broccoli stalks making sure to cut about a 1/2 inch off the bottom. Bring a pot of water to boil, add salt and then broccoli cooking about 7 minutes after water returns to a boil. Remove and chop into pieces no larger than an inch.
In a skillet, put 1/4 cup of olive oil and garlic and saute on medium until garlic is golden. Add broccoli and a sprinkling of salt and cook, turning everything over several times to cover well, for about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool completely.
At least a half hour before you are ready to bake your pizza, place a stone on a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400f.
Sprinkle a baker's peel with cornmeal.
Divide risen dough in half and wrap one in plastic. Roll the other out into a 10-inch circle and place of prepared peel.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs on circle of dough. Over this, spread the ricotta making sure to leave about 3/4 inch border around the circumference.
Using a slotted spoon, lift broccoli from pan letting any extra liquid drip off and spread over ricotta evenly. Sprinkle cheese over top followed by the remaining breadcrumbs and finally drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil over all.
Roll remaining dough into a circle large enough to cover the other and place on top crimping the edges well and bringing the bottom edge over the top one.
Brush the top with water and slide the Sfinciuni onto the stone. Bake for 25 minutes and remove. Let set for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

My last offering this past Monday was for a Sicilian pesto that is quick, easy and doesn't skimp on taste. Pesto Trapanese is but one version of this famous salsa cruda that the island has to offer. Every region (like every family) has its own interpretation of what we've all come to expect as a smooth amalgamation of basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil. As good as Pesto Genovese is, I hope you'll try the version(s) made by its neighbor to the south.
As I said on the program, you can experiment with any sort of herb and use any sort of nuts you like or a combination. I've seen some recipes that call for as many as four different kinds of nuts.
But I will keep this one simple and also pay tribute to that city by the sea, Trapani, a place I once spent a sweltering, yet somehow lazy, afternoon cooling off with a variety of the best granite, Italian ices, I ever hope to taste in my life.

Pesto Trapanese

3/4 pound ripe cherry tomatoes
1 cup basil leaves (packed)
1/3 cups roasted almonds
1 large clove garlic
Pinch chili pepper flakes
Large pinch salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound pasta of choice
Pecorino cheese

In the bowl of a food processor, grind all ingredients except oil. (Do not over process as you want some texture and not a smooth paste.) With the motor running, slowly pour olive oil through the feed tube. Dress pasta, add about a cup of cheese, toss again and serve.
Spaghetti is a good choice for this but I can see using other shapes as well such as gemelle or fusilli.


  1. Yum yum yum yum yum.
    I want to try that pesto!

  2. I hope you will, Joy. I love it and there's so much room to improvise with different kinds of nuts and herbs like mint and parsley.

  3. Just testing to see if able to post comment.