Nov 19, 2008

Got Some Italian In You? Want Some?

I’m taking a break from Cajun and Creole foods. This week I’m all over pizza and biscotti—two Italian classics. Although, I’ve been reading that some food historians credit the Ancient Greeks with being the first to create pizza, topping flatbread with olive oil and herbs, others claim that the idea started with Egyptian flatbread. I’m pretty sure most people aren’t keeping score though.

Eating pizza is associated with fun. You know...mall rats hanging out with their friends in the food court, birthday parties, watching football games, and so forth. I think the actual pizza-making process is fun. We love to make pizza at home and turn it into an event. I guess it’s like family game night, only here the object of the game is to see who puts together the best topping combo. Besides, I’m never satisfied with delivery pizza. Even if it gets to you in less than 30, it always ends up steamed inside of the insulated carrier.
For the record, my favorite homemade pizza is: chicken, bacon, and roasted peppers. If we’re talking gourmet, caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza is what I like. The perfect balance of sweet and funky. Just like me.

The dough recipe below is easy to work with and, as an added bonus, is super fast since the rising time is short. This recipe is so easy and fast that I’ve even used it for make-your-own-pizza parties for a whole mess o’ kids. (Side note: of all the kids I’ve made pizza with, 90% of them have said that their favorite part is sprinkling the bench flour everywhere...and I do mean everywhere.) The recipe comes from the Cooking for Your Family group on Babycenter. Occasionally I substitute whole wheat flour for part of the all purpose. Other than that, I haven’t found the need to change the recipe.

It requires yeast, which some people steer clear of. If you have a hang up about dealing with yeast, don’t worry...really. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s only food. Actually, it’s only fungi. Wait...don't go developing hang-ups now. Yeast is an amazing thing. It’s a single-celled fungus that assists the fermentation process. Without yeast, we wouldn’t have pizza, bread, doughnuts, beignets. Yeast convert sugars and starches into the carbon dioxide that allows dough to rise. Without yeast, we wouldn’t have beer and wine. Besides carbon dioxide, yeast also produce alcohol. Winemakers use specific types of yeast to achieve specific qualities in their wines. The same goes for brewers. So go on and try out this intriguing fungus amongus.

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And now for something completely different...
I think biscotti, the Italian twice-baked cookie, are sometimes overlooked. Except, perhaps by the coffeehouse crowd. And that’s a shame. It isn’t difficult to make, just slightly more time consuming than regular homemade cookies. It’s can put just about anything in there, not to mention that it can be made sweet or savory. Traditionally, they are flavored with anise, almonds, or hazelnuts and dunked in coffee or dessert wine. If you aren’t a traditionalist, your own creativity is the limit. My favorite biscotti: Double Chocolate Walnut (or pecan, or almond).

Let’s get to the recipes.

Master Pizza Dough
courtesy of Aimster aka Amy from Cooking for Your Family
Makes 1 (14-inch) thick-crust pizza or 2 (12-inch) thin-crust pizzas.

3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 package FLEISCHMANN'S RapidRise Yeast *see note below
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup very warm water (120 to 130 F)
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

In large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, undissolved yeast, and salt. Stir very warm water and olive oil into dry ingredients. Stir in enough remaining flour to make soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 4 to 6 minutes. Cover; let rest on floured surface10 minutes. Lightly oil 1 (14-inch) or 2 (12-inch) round pizza pan(s). Sprinkle with cornmeal. Shape dough into smooth ball. Divide and roll dough to fit desired pan(s). Bake in preheated hot oven (450) for about 10-15 minutes.

Amy’s Notes: Honestly, I think this recipe is so easy, I just mix it with a spoon at first and then switch to using my hands. I only knead until it is smooth --probably about 4 or 5 minutes. Test it after a few minutes to see if you can pull a piece of the dough into a thin, tight membrane that you can see light through. If it breaks before you can get it there, knead some more.

*Note: There are several types of yeast available for baking. Make sure you buy Rapid Rise yeast for this...that’s what makes the rising time so short.
For the dough:
Mix the dry ingredients together. A whisk works well, incorporating everything nicely.
Add the wet ingredients and mix. Make sure your water is the right temperature. Too cold, and the yeast will do very little to nothing. Too hot, and they’re dead! Hands work best, by the way. Don’t worry, they’re washable.

Add more flour as needed and knead. I just knead the dough in my classy big pink bowl.

Shape into a pizza. Yeah, I could've done a better job.

Add sauce. Add toppings and bake.


Sure. Ok. I only ate one slice. And, I went back for salad.

Double Chocolate Walnut Biscotti

from Ms. enPlace

2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
/4 stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup walnuts, chopped (can also use pecans or almonds)
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a cookie sheet. In a bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together. In a mixer bowl, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in dry ingredients to form a stiff dough. Stir in walnuts and chocolate chips (I found it easier to incorporate with my hands than by stirring).

With floured hands, shape dough into 2 logs, each roughly 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Try to get both logs the same size. Sprinkle logs with powdered sugar. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut each log into 3/4" slices. Place slices cut side down back on cookie sheet. Bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.

For the biscotti:

Mix dry ingredients together.

Beat butter, sugar and eggs.

Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Nothing unusual so far.

Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. You may need to get in there with your hands. Probably easier that way.

Divide the dough in half and form two logs. Hint: If they are roughly the same size, they’ll bake in the same amount of time.

Bake one time for 35 minutes. Take 5 to cool.

Carefully place on a cutting board and cut into slices. This is the tricky part. When you slice the logs, they may start to crumble. Use your other hand to help hold the half-baked dough together by applying some pressure.

Place the slices back on the cookie sheet and bake a second time, about 10 minutes. They aren’t called Biscotti for nuthin’.

Now that’s a treat!

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