Grilled Margherita Pizza

A wood-burning oven won’t seem so glamorous once you try this recipe.  I’ve been wanting to recreate the pizza I had in Positano for some time now, but I was discouraged by my kitchen’s lack of a wood burning oven.  Well, after deciding to grill my pizza, I wasn’t missing that fancy Neapolitan fixture one bit.  Grilled pizza is perfect for summer, incredibly versatile and a breeze to make.  Plus, since all of the prep is done up front, this recipe would be great for outdoor entertaining!

Out with the old...

Out with the old…

In with the new!

In with the new!

For the dough, you will need:

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil

Begin by mixing the yeast with 1 tablespoon flour and 1/4 cup warm water.  Next, in a large bowl combine 1 1/4 cups flour, salt, oil, the remaining 1/2 cup warm water and the yeast mixture, and stir to combine.  The dough should form quickly.  Once it does, move the dough to a heavily-floured work surface.

Creating the dough will take a matter of minutes, once you become familiar with the recipe.

Begin kneading the dough, adding flour as necessary when the dough becomes too sticky.  Continue kneading for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough becomes soft and elastic.  Once the desired consistency is reached, separate the dough into two pieces and place into 2 dry bowls and cover with plastic wrap.  Leave the dough to rise for 1-2 hours, until it doubles in size.

Before...

Before…

After!

After!

Again, heavily flour your work surface and begin to press out the dough.  Our instructor in Italy, known only as “Pizza Man,” encouraged us to use the “disco” method wherein you turn the flattened pizza dough, as though you’re working a turn table, stretching the dough ever so slightly as your rotate it counter-clockwise.  He was a whiz at doing this– I’m nowhere near as good, but it’s a pretty straightforward technique and allows the dough to retains more air and texture than a rolling pin would.

The Artist known as Pizza Man.

The Artist known as Pizza Man.

Allow the dough to sit and rise for another 10 or so minutes before grilling.  In the meantime, prepare the sauce.  For the Margherita, you will need:

  • 8-10 plum tomatoes, seeded, peeled and coarsely chopped (canned tomatoes work, too)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, plus additional for brushing
  • 1 tbsp white wine
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 6 oz grated mozzarella
  • lots of fresh basil
Simple ingredients that compliment each other perfectly.

Simple ingredients that compliment each other perfectly.

Simmer the tomatoes, salt, olive oil and white wine in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and reduced, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Add the crushed garlic about 2/3 of the way through and continue to simmer.  Have the sauce, mozzarella, basil and prepared dough ready at the grill.  Lightly brush the dough with olive oil as well as the grill rack. Place the dough, oiled side down, directly onto the rack and grill for 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown (I like to pre-heat my grill on high and then reduce it to medium for cooking, to ensure I get nice grill marks!).

Oil the upward-facing side before flipping.  After flipping, add your toppings.  For the Margherita, add the chunky tomato sauce, followed by the shredded mozzarella and basil leaves.  After 2 minutes, turn off the heat and close the top of the grill to allow the cheese to melt fully, another 1-2 minutes.  Cut and serve immediately!

Mmm.

Intense grill marks!

The crust is perfectly crispy yet light while the toppings are fresh and well-balanced, reminiscent of the simple, straightforward recipe I learned in Positano.  On the side I made a quick, clean arugula salad with lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, black pepper and shaved Pecorino Romano.  The salty cheese with the acidic dressing and peppery greens is both authentic and delicious.

Positano pizza.

Positano pizza.

Chicago chargrilled.

Pizza Man would be proud.

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Berry Crisp with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream.

Conor and I recently registered for and received an ice cream maker (thanks again, Matt and Annie!).  We tested it out last weekend and the results were perfect.  Here’s a quick and easy summer dessert recipe that’s best served with homemade ice cream.

For the berry crisp, you will need:

  • 1 pint each:  raspberries and blueberries (sometimes I substitute blackberries for the blueberries)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature

Begin by heating the oven to 350.  Rinse clean the berries and pat dry.  Toss the berries in a large mixing bowl with 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 tbsp. flour and corn starch.  Toss to coat the berries and then pour into a pie pan or comparably-sized baking dish.  Next, in the same bowl, combine the butter, flour, cinnamon, oats and sugar.   Mix the crumble topping using your fingertips and then spread over the berries.  Bake until the crisp is golden brown, approximately 30-40 minutes.

So easy and so good.

So easy and so good.

For the ice cream, you will need:

  • 6 cups cream
  • 4 1/2 cups half and half
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean

Combine the cream, half and half and sugar in your ice cream maker.  Slice open the vanilla bean, scrape out all of the seeds and mix into the cream mixture.  (When you’re finished with the vanilla bean, don’t discard it!  Instead, consider retaining it for use in flavoring syrup, coffee beans or try placing it in your sugar canister to add a delicate flavor!)  Follow the directions on your ice cream maker for churning and freezing.

How cute is this?  Sure, it might be more economical to get the KitchenAid attachment, but this wooden bucket is awesome.

How cute is this? Sure, it might be more economical to get the KitchenAid attachment, but this wooden bucket is awesome. Nostalgia Electrics, Indeed.

The ice cream maker we have directs us to place the contents in the freezer until thoroughly chilled.  Then, layer the bucket with ice and salt.  (Salt lowers the freezing point of water, so adding salt hastens the freezing process for the ice cream.)  Then, simply turn on the churning mechanism and wait (about 40 minutes).  I like to make the ice cream right before serving and to churn it only long enough for it to thicken.  In other words, I like for it to remain soft and not to freeze completely.  The softer texture seems more homemade to me, I guess.

Before...

Before...

After!

After!

Enjoy!  If you want to get your own Old Fashioned Ice Cream Maker, try Amazon.


Authentic Homemade Spaghetti Carbonara.

I’ve been on a diet since getting engaged, but in order to stay with it, I allow myself weekend indulgences.  This past weekend, my indulgence of choice was homemade carbonara.  While in Rome this past summer, we sampled a variety of carbonaras and I think our homemade version was just as good.  I used Desiree’s recipe, because, when it comes to food (and everything else, for that matter), she has never pointed me wrong.

Mmmmm.

For the pasta, you will need:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • .75 oz olive oil
  • .75 oz water
  • 1 cup semolina flour, for tossing

For the sauce, you will need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 8 oz pancetta
  • ground black pepper

To make the pasta, use the same volcano method we’ve covered before.  This time, I decided to use another pasta dough recipe that calls for more wet ingredient.  I’ve found that this recipe makes the dough more malleable and so its good for spaghetti.  Once the wet and dry ingredients are incorporated and the dough is well-kned, place it in plastic wrap and set aside for about a half-hour.

Meanwhile, start on the sauce.  Simply beat together the eggs, milk, parmesan and a generous amount of black pepper and set aside.

Cholesterol me.

Crisp the pancetta in a pan that has high sides.  Once crispy, place the pancetta aside and tear into small pieces.

Now, roll out your pasta.  Make sure to coat the dough in semolina after each run through the machine to prevent it from getting sticky.

Piece o' cake.

Coat thoroughly with semolina once you've cut the dough into spaghetti strands.

After cooking the pasta al dente in salted water, strain and add to the pan in which you crisped the pancetta, coating the spaghetti in the excess pancetta fat.  Add the crispy pancetta pieces and the sauce.  Stir for a minute or two to allow the sauce to thicken (i.e. cook) and incorporate fully with the spaghetti.

Once you've made this recipe a few times, it won't take but half an hour.

On the side, I served broccolini that I blanched and then dressed with olive oil, white-oregano balsamic vinegar and red pepper flakes.  Simple and delicious, just like the pasta!

Buon appetito- and thanks again Desiree!

My homemade version...

Spaghetti carbonara at Ristorante Al 34 in Rome.


Chorizo Burgers with Avocado and Fried Leek Rings.

It is somehow summer in Chicago in mid-March, and nothing says summer like grilling outside.  We got the idea for chorizo burgers from Conor’s mom, Adele.  We topped our burgers with a simple avocado spread and some fried leek rings.  The creamy avocado provides the perfect contrast to the crispy leeks and the chorizo makes any burger savory and moist.  Delicious.

Yum.

Yum.

The burgers are fairly straightforward: simply mix your desired meat (ground beef, ground pork or ground turkey) with chorizo, form into patties, and salt and pepper each side.  Next whip up an avocado spread- I mashed an avocado with salt and a little lime juice.  (As an aside, I’ve seen “avocado mayo” at various restaurants and I do not see the point.  Avocado is naturally creamy and makes a delectable condiment all on its own.)

Now, onto the fried leeks:

Slice the leeks into quarter-inch discs and separate the layers, discarding the inner-most layers.

Conveniently smaller than onions, crispy leek rings make for the perfect bite-sized topping.

Next, set up your “dredging” stations– one bowl filled with flour and the other with a few beaten eggs.  Conor decided to add in some panko bread crumbs to the flour for added texture.

Dunk each leek ring into the egg mixture, then roll in the flour, and then repeat once more.

Meanwhile, set a small sauce pan filled with peanut or grape seed oil (they have higher smoke points than vegetable or canola oil, so they’re better for frying!) over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is warm, begin frying batches of rings until golden brown, only about a minute.

Take care not to overload the saucepan with leek rings, or they will get stuck together.

When the rings are sufficiently fried, set them onto paper towels to cool.  Top your burger and enjoy!  If you want to serve these as a side, rather than a burger topping, consider throwing together a spicy dipping sauce.  The leeks have a slightly softer flavor than onions and the smaller size makes them way easier to eat.  Cheers!  And thanks, Adele!

The perfect pretend-it-really-is-summer treat.


Sprout Restaurant, Chicago.

I recently turned 28, and to celebrate, Conor took me to Sprout for my birthday.  Sprout is fairly well known by Chicago food enthusiasts as former Top Chef contestant Dale Levitski’s restaurant.  The eatery regularly received critical acclaim, although it seems to be stuck at 2.5 stars on Chicago Magazine’s restaurant guide.  We had a lovely dinner and I’m excited to go to Sprout again, but, I must admit, in certain areas it left a little to be desired.

Sprout is located on Fullerton, just West of Southport, somewhat of an odd location for a higher-concept bistro.  When we ate there, a Thursday, the restaurant was fairly empty.  The wait staff, however, made the space feel cozy and inviting.

The menu at Sprout contains a list of ingredients instead of names and/or descriptions for dishes.  Our server informed us that some diners prefer the waitstaff to make up for the vague descriptions with detailed recitations of exactly how the ingredients are combined and prepared, whereas others want to be completely surprised with the finished course.  And surprised they would be, as several of our dishes appeared in forms I hadn’t anticipated.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

Items can be ordered a la carte, but we opted for the prix fixe menu, which contains three courses of your choice: an appetizer, entree and dessert with two intermezzi.

Conor started with the foie gras mousse with mushroom, cocoa and banana served with crostini.  I generally dislike foie gras because I find it too rich, but incorporating it into a mousse cut the richness and made it taste creamy and smooth without an overwhelming taste or texture.  We loved this dish.

Simple, pretty preparation.

I started with the “seaweed” with tuna, sirloin, mussels, shiitake and chili, which was a more refined take on classic pho.  The seaweed soup broth was intensely flavorful, and the tuna was perfectly rare and melt-in-your-mouth.  My one complaint about this dish was that the components were presented and the broth was poured over them table side, but the broth cooled down substantially in the process, resulting in a lukewarm dish.  I think if it had been warmer, this would have been one of my favorite appetizers of all time.

Fancy pho.

The first intermezzo was a straightforward but delicious parsnip puree soup with apples, honey and black pepper.  We ate it up in seconds and it did cleanse the palate nicely for the next course.

Next, the entrees.  Conor ordered the short ribs with broccoli, mushroom, endive and potato.  The dish was good, but subpar as compared to our other selections.  The meat was a bit dry, but the cauliflower mash and accompanying sauce were complex and delicious.

Not a great picture, but you get the idea.

I ordered the duck two ways, per our server’s suggestion.  The dish was to be served with a crispy duck confit and a succulent smoked duck.  My first bite was the smoked duck and it was truly sensational.  So rich and smokey.  Unfortunately, that was the only piece of smoked duck on the plate.  The rest was manly veggies mixed with a few, lesser pieces of overly crispy duck confit.  While I enjoyed the presentation and the combination of flavors, overall, it was quite disappointing.

I loved the wide swipe of colored sauce.

The second intermezzo can only be described as INSANE, although our server chose to refer to it a “composed cheese course.”  It was basically a grilled cheese made completely of cheese- the outer crust was a fried cheese that tasted like a fancy cheezit, and that cheese shell was filled with a creamy melted cheese and fig puree.  It was so rich and delicious, I was stuffed after eating it, but yes, I ate the entire thing in seconds.  It struck me as an odd choice for an intermezzo, but I was anything but complaining.

If I could eat one of these everyday, I'd be a very happy, 500-pound lady.

Onto dessert, the highlight of the meal.  I’ve been known to enjoy a dessert in my day, but I generally tend more toward savory than sweet.  I will never take that approach at Sprout again.  Both desserts, but especially Conor’s selection, were perhaps the best I have ever tasted.

Conor ordered the apple pie with black pepper, sage ice cream and a whiskey reduction.  Holy crap it was good.  Despite my nearly hemorrhaging stomach, we finished every last bite.

Cute presentation, too.

I went for the goat cheese key lime pie, which was also excellent.  I will say, though, I didn’t especially care for the decomposed presentation of my dish.  There were so many components that I wasn’t sure what to eat with what and how.  In any event, the goat cheese key lime portion was incredible- the lime flavor was strong and tart and the goat cheese cake was rich without being overwhelming.

Too much going on here, but all of it was delicious.

Also, the wait staff deserves another shout out- they were incredibly informative and prompt in their service and appeared genuinely excited to tell us about and have us experience the food.  Check out Sprout for your next date night.  The prix fixe menu was $65 per diner and they offer great wines and cocktails at varying price levels.


Blueberry Bacon Pancakes.

On a recent trip to Madison, WI to visit Sonia and Chip, we stopped into Eldorado Grill.  Eldorado is the perfect brunch location, especially if you’re suffering from a hangover like we were- they make a killer margarita, the coffee is strong and the food is quick and delicious.  Sonia insisted that we order an “appetizer” of blueberry bacon pancakes, so we did.  These pancakes were the perfect balance of savory and sweet and after my first bite I vowed to create something equally delicious when I returned home to Chicago.  Really, re-creating this delicious breakfast was not much of an undertaking.  I used my favorite pancake recipe and simply added plump blueberries and crispy pieces of bacon to the batter.

I meant to take a picture when I first plated the stack of pancakes, but I got distracted by the aroma and forgot 🙂

The bacon goes so perfectly with the maple syrup and the blueberries offer the perfect pop of sweetness.  Next time you’re in the mood for breakfast, try this spin on the classic pancake.  Enjoy!


Goat Cheese and Chipotle Pepper Deviled Eggs.

I recently fell in love with deviled eggs.  They’re the perfect appetizer for entertaining, really- delicious, easy to make and convenient to serve.  And, you can experiment with a variety of fillings.  Today, I opted for a spicy chipotle pepper and goat cheese filling.  The resulting amuse-bouche was creamy in texture and rich in flavor with the perfect amount of peppery punch.

In addition to trying new filling combinations, I experimented with my camera's manual focus...

You will need:

  • 12 eggs
  • 3-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeded and thinly chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp light mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp goat cheese
  • paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

Begin by boiling the eggs.  I feel like everyone has their own “fool-proof” way of boiling an egg, but in case you don’t, here’s mine:  Place the eggs into a saucepan and fill with cold water, just to the point where the water covers the eggs.  Bring water to a boil and once you’ve done so, turn off the flame, cover and allow to remain standing for 14 minutes.  At this point, run the eggs under cold water until they become chilled (this helps the egg retract from the shell, making them easier to peel).

Easy.

Next, peel the eggs, slice each in half and place the yolks into a small bowl.  Add in the olive oil, goat cheese and mayonnaise and begin to stir until the egg filling forms a smooth consistency.  Next, add in the adobo peppers.  As you know, I love me some spice.  So, I added the full 4 peppers and some of the discarded seeds.  For those with proper taste buds, I’d suggest starting with three peppers and no seeds and working your way up from there.  Add salt and pepper, if necessary.

Mmm mmm, cholesterol.

Next, pipe the filling into each egg white.  If you’re fancy, you might have piping equipment.  If you’re like me, you can use a plastic baggie and snip off the corner.

Simply spooning the filling in works just fine, too.

Finally, sprinkle the top with paprika and you’re ready to serve.  These should take no more than 30 minutes to make.  You don’t need to make many for a crowd since, due to the richness, each person will only want (read: knows they should only have) one or two.  Try to make these as close to serving time as possible.  If there is a delay, cover and refrigerate until serving.  Enjoy!

Devilishly delicious, indeed.