Pizza Margherita

I have nine pizza cookbooks, and seven of them have  a recipe for Pizza Margherita.  In part this is because it is a classic, and in part because the story of its creation is clearly known and iconic.  In 1889, the Italian royal couple King Umberto and Queen Margherita paid a visit to Naples.  While there, local pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito made three types of pizza for them: a marinara pizza with anchovies; a bianca (white) pizza with lard, provolone or caciocavallo cheese, and basil; and a pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, featuring the red, white, and green of the Italian flag.  The queen was particularly delighted by that last one, and when Esposito received a note of thanks from her, he dedicated the pizza to her.

THE DOUGH

Start dough at 4p for dinner between 8p and 9p
1 cup warm water
2 tsp instant-rise yeast
3-1/4 cup bread flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin not necessary)
Combine ingredients and knead by hand for 10 minutes or machine
for two to five minutes. Coat dough ball in a thin film of olive oil or cooking spray, cover in plastic wrap, and let rise in warm place until about doubled in size.

THE PIZZA

1 Tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped canned Italian-style plum tomatoes with as little juice as possible
1/2 cup loosely-packed torn fresh basil leaves
6 oz. (1 cup) fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thin or chopped coarse (You can also substitute Fontina, as I often do.)

Although not traditional, for this pizza, I also used:
6 oz. sliced pepperoni
1 can of anchovies, drained

About an hour before dinner time, turn the oven up as high as it will go, preferably 500 degrees. Thirty to forty minutes before baking, roll dough out to 15” circle. [Or divide dough if you want to make two smaller pizzas.] Place on pizza screen if available, being careful not to press the dough into the mesh. With your fingers, press and form a 1/2 inch border around the edge.  Gently brush or rub the dough with the olive oil.  Cover with plastic wrap for this second rise.

Spread the pepperoni and anchovies (if using) evenly over the dough up to the border, followed by the tomatoes.  Sprinkle half the basil leaves evenly over the tomatoes.  Arrange the cheese over the tomatoes so that some of the tomatoes can be seen.

Bake the pizza on the bottom rack of the preheated oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is brown (as you can see, mine got a bit darker than I would have liked).  Sprinkle on the remaining basil leaves as soon as the pizza comes out of the oven.

I’m thinking only a true Italian wine should go with this, such as a Dolcetto, Barbera, or Montepulciano.

Mangia! Mangia!

Serves 4 to 6.

The dough for this recipe came from James McNair’s excellent New Pizza Don’t be discouraged by the one-star reviews, they are bogus, imho.  One dweeb complained that McNair didn’t cover such arcane techniques as cold fermentation.  Geez.  If you want a cold ferment, use room temperature water and let the dough rise in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  But, you’re not going to have pizza tonight, and you won’t taste the subtleties a cold ferment brings to dough under all those toppings.

The Margherita recipe itself is derived from one in The Ultimate Pizza by Pasquale Bruno, Jr., another quite reliable pizza book.

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Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

If you are looking for an easy and delicious week-night meal, you can’t go wrong with Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, or literally Spaghetti Garlic and Oil.

Here’s how to make it:

Serves 4 to 6

1 lb. of spaghetti
3 tsp. salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup garlic (about one whole large head), sliced, chopped very fine, or run through a garlic press, depending on how you like it
2 2-oz. cans of anchovies*
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup chopped parsley. (The stems are slightly bitter. Remove them if you don’t like that, include them if you do.)  Flat-leaf Italian parsley is traditional, but curly parsley will work about as well.

Because this is a “peasant” dish, it is susceptible to many variations.  With Italian sausage?  Tuna?  Shrimp?  Broccoli?  Except one: no cheese.  Never any cheese.

1. Add salt to 4 to 6 quarts of water and bring to boiling. Add pasta, stirring occasionally during the first couple of minutes to prevent sticking. Total cooking time will be about 10 minutes, or according to package directions.

2. While the pasta is cooking, put the anchovies, olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes in a large skillet (12″ is best) and turn on heat to medium low. Cook and stir the garlic until it becomes colored a pale gold. Do not let it become brown. Depending on your stove, this may take a very short time; monitor it constantly. Once done, remove from heat and add 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water to the skillet to stop the cooking.

*Note: Don’t fear the anchovies!  Personally, I love anchovies.  They lend no fishiness to this pasta, but they do bring a big umami punch.  To maximize this, I don’t drain the anchovies, adding the entire contents of the cans including the little fishes and the oil they are packed in. However, this may be too intense for younger or more sensitive eaters. If you like, drain before adding to the skillet, or if you are really nervous, drain, rinse, and pat dry before adding.  You can omit them entirely, but you will miss out on a lot of flavor.

3. Using tongs, remove the pasta from the water and add to the skillet. (Or, if the pasta water has already been added to the aglio e olio in the skillet, drain in a colander if you prefer.) Turn the strands over and over in the skillet to coat them evenly until a slightly creamy texture forms. Add the chopped parsley, toss once again, and serve immediately.

Based on a recipe by Marcella Hazan in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

This pasta would go nicely with some of these wines:

https://winervana.com/ser-winery/

https://winervana.com/lightning-ridge-cellars/

https://winervana.com/lachini-vineyards/

https://winervana.com/brutocao-cellars/

https://winervana.com/cecchi-wines/

Fajita Pizza

Many people like fajitas.  Many people like pizza.  So, how about … a Fajita Pizza!  Ole!  Grazia!

Start marinade (see below) as early in the day as you like.

THE DOUGH
Start dough at 4p for dinner between 8p and 9p
1 cup warm water
2 tsp instant-rise yeast
3-1/4 cup bread flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin not necessary)
Combine ingredients and knead by hand for 10 minutes or machine
for 2 to 5 minutes. Coat dough ball in a thin film of olive oil, cover in plastic wrap and let rise in warm place.

THE PIZZA
About an hour before dinner time, turn the oven up as high as it will go.
Twenty to thirty minutes before dinner, roll dough out to 15” circle. [Or divide dough if you want to make two smaller pizzas.] Place on pizza screen if available, being careful not to press the dough into the mesh.  Cover with plastic wrap.

2 Tbs chili powder
2 Tbs ground cumin
1 Tbs ground coriander
1 tsp crumbled dried oregano
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Ground cayenne to taste
1 pound beef skirt or flank steak, or chicken (thighs are best), cut into slices about 3 in. long and 1/4 in. thick. (I actually used duck, but My Lovely Wife wasn’t amused by the extravagance.  And honestly, the nuance of the duck was lost in this pie.)
2 medium bell peppers.  Any color will do, but I like red
1 medium onion, cut into thick slices
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup water
3 cups freshly shredded cheese: cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, fontina, whatever you like
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1-1/2 cups chunky salsa, store bought is fine.  I like Pace.

In a large zip-lock bag, combine all of the ingredients except the cheese, cilantro and salsa.  Marinade for as long as you like.

While the dough is undergoing its final rise, place a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  When the oil is shimmering, pour the entire contents of the zip-lock bag into the skillet.  Cook until the meat is done, the vegetables have softened, and the liquid has evaporated.  Remove plastic wrap from dough and brush liberally with olive oil.  Spread salsa evenly over dough.  Spread contents of skillet evenly over salsa.  Evenly spread the cheese over the pizza.

Bake in rippin’ hot oven until crust nicely browns, about 10
minutes.  Remove pizza to a cutting board, sprinkle with cilantro, slice, and serve.

This would go nicely with a robust Italian or Spanish red wine or a good Mexican beer.

Serves 4 to 6.

Cecchi Wines

La Fea Selección Especial 2018 with Deep Dish Pizza

Two Unusual Wines from Italy, and One of My Original Pizza Recipes

Altolandon Rayuelo

This recipe was derived from James McNair’s excellent New Pizza Don’t be discouraged by the one-star reviews, they are bogus, imho.  One dweeb complained that McNair didn’t cover such arcane techniques as cold fermentation.  Geez.  If you want a cold ferment, use room temperature water and let the dough rise in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  But, you’re not going to have pizza tonight, and you won’t taste the subtleties a cold ferment brings to dough under all those toppings.

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Chicken alla Joe

Gene & Georgetti is a legendary old-school Chicago steakhouse, founded in 1941, and still with us during the plague, happily. On November 1, 1987, the Chicago Tribune‘s food critic at the time, William Rice (excellent name for a food writer, no?), published this baked chicken recipe. Like Spicy Grilled Tuna, I have made this recipe many times. Unlike that one, however, I have modified
it extensively. And about ten years ago, I realized I almost always made this in January. So, now I must make it in January. Sometimes late, like January 31, 2020, and sometimes early, like January 1, 2021.  (Photo: Nancy Young)

Chicken alla Joe is named for the man who invented it. Gene & Georgetti retains servers for years, if not decades. One of them was Joe Pacini, a native of Tuscany, who worked tables beside the bar in the restaurant`s front room. He had a regular customer, Morris Krumhorn, who liked spicy food. He would order broiled chicken and ask Pacini to have the chef, Mario Navarro, put red pepper on it. “One night I went to the chef and told him, ‘My customer is complaining that the chicken you make is not spicy enough,'” Pacini recalled.  Chef Mario responded, “What can I do?” and Joe says, “He really likes it hot. Let’s put some hot pepperoncini with the chicken and green pepper and hot red pepper.” After serving the dish, Joe returned to the kitchen and said to Mario, “Mr. Krumhorn is a happy customer. He asks what you call this dish?” Mario answered, “It was your idea, not mine. I call it Chicken alla Joe.”

Chicken alla Joe

Serves 6 to 8

3-1/4 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs, or a mix of thighs and breasts, skin removed
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried red-pepper flakes
9 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper and 1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into broad strips or chunks, about 12 each
16 oz. jar of pepperoncini, drained, rinsed and left whole (but pierced once, so you don’t get a mouthful of vinegar when you bite into one)
3 – 4 russet potatoes, sliced into spears
2  lemons, cut in half

  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a zip-lock bag, mix the salt, pepper, oregano, red-pepper flakes, and 3 Tbls oil together. Add chicken, seal bag, and toss until coated.
  3. In a large bowl, add the remaining 3 Tbls oil, salt and pepper to taste, potatoes, and bell peppers, and toss with your hands to evenly coat.
  4. Add 3 Tbls oil to an 18″ x 12″ roasting pan and coat the bottom. Add the chicken pieces (just the thighs for now if you are using breasts also) and potatoes. Place pan in the oven and cook until the chicken pieces begin to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove roasting pan from oven. Turn chicken pieces (add breasts now if using) and add bell-pepper strips or chunks and pepperoncini. Return to oven and cook until chicken is tender and pepper strips are soft, an additional 20 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from oven. Squeeze juice from lemon halves over the chicken pieces, then transfer them, the peppers, and pepperoncini to warm serving plates. Spoon pan juices over each portion.

Serve with a green vegetable such as spinach, and an Italian red wine, perhaps Dolcetto.

You can read William Rice’s original column and recipe here: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1987-11-01-8703230187-story.html

And if you are ever in Chicago, you can try Chicken alla Joe at Gene & Georgetti itself, where the dish remains quite popular to this day. https://geneandgeorgetti.com/

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