I swear my DNA is at least 2/3 Italian, but if you look at me and my family, you'll quickly learn that this is not the case. However, for most of my life, I've been in love with cooking and eating Italian food. This infatuation runs deep enough that 6 years ago, a friend (who is half Italian) and I went to Italy and immersed ourselves in the food, the culture, the language (which I'm terrible at), and the wine...oh the wine! It was a truly remarkable experience - I cried when I first saw the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower is awe-inspring, and the Roman Forum is almost haunting. It was amazing to stand amongst the remains of structures built that long ago and to see Caesar's funeral pyre.
Anyway, I digress...back to the food!! In Italy, the pasta is fresh, the pizza is simple, with toppings that rest happily on a cracker-thin crispy crust, and the flavors are amazing! Italian restaurants here in the states don't even come close! So, when I cook Italian food at home, I do my best to bring the true spirit of Italy into my kitchen. I try to cook with the best ingredients and keep it simple...basically, I let the food do the talking. Here are a few of my favorite, easy-to-make Italian recipes:
(makes 9 pints)
3 T olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz tomato paste
10 lbs Roma tomatoes, peeled & roughly chopped
fresh herbs (Italian parsley, basil, oregano)
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until soft and translucent.
Stir in tomato paste and tomatoes. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking over low heat for at least 8 hours. Add herbs at the end, just before serving.
This sauce is great for canning and freezes well.
Olive Oil Dough (from ABin5)
2 3/4 c lukewarm water
2 packets, or 1 1/2 T granulated yeast
1 1/2 T Kosher salt
1 T sugar
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
6 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
Mix the yeast, salt, sugar, and olive oil with the water in a 5-quart bowl. Using a mixer with a dough hook, add in the flour until completely incorporated.
Transfer the dough to a lidded, but not air-tight container. Let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in size (about 2 hours). Store in the refrigerator or use immediately.
Preheat the oven to 425, with an empty broiler tray on the floor of the oven.
Grease a cookie sheet with a bit of olive oil and set aside.
Dust the surface of the olive oil dough with flour and cut off a 1 lb piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball. Flatten it to 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick round, using minimal flour. Place the round on the prepared cookie sheet.
Top the dough with fresh herbs, sauteed vegetables, or whatever your heart desires. Finish with a light drizzle of olive oil.
Allow the focaccia to rest and rise for 20 minutes.
Place the cookie sheet on the center rack in the oven and pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray. Quickly close the oven door.
Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the crust is a golden brown.
Cut into wedges and serve.
Preheat the oven to 550, with a pizza stone one the center rack of the oven.
Dust the surface of the olive oil dough with flour and cut off a 1 lb piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball. Flatten it to 1/8-inch-thick round, using a rolling pin if necessary and using flour to keep the dough from sticking.
Transfer the dough to a corn-meal covered pizza peel.
Top the dough with the toppings of your choice.
Turn on your kitchen exhaust fan now (the cornmeal from the pizza peel will smoke at this temperature.)
Slide the pizza directly onto the pizza stone. Check for doneness in 8-10 minutes, and turn the pizza if it is cooking unevenly. It may need up to 5 more minutes in the oven.
Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving.