Thursday, October 23, 2014


Stuffed pizza with sausages, Swiss chard, and mozzarella.

We were recently invited to a birthday "pie party", where the host asked us specifically to bring an "Italian dish with sausages". The request put me in a tough spot: Although sausages are a specialty of the Veneto region where I'm from, it is hard to find them in a dish that you can bring pre-cooked to a buffet-style dinner. Sausages in Veneto—peppery and coarsely ground, with no fennel seeds or other spices—are mostly grilled on the spot and served with polenta.

As I started thinking about a dish that would be appropriate for the occasion, I remembered the pizza dough from The Italian Store in the freezer, calling me hauntingly like Poe's tell-tale heart. I also remembered a recipe for "Escarole-Stuffed Pizza" in an old issue of Gourmet Magazine that sounded pretty fantastic. I knew what to do: a stuffed pizza with sausages, Swiss chard, and mozzarella.

The only problem was, I'm still completely terrible at stretching dough. I'm too clumsy and impatient, and I always pierce several holes in any dough (or fabric, actually) that passes through my nervous hands. (Upon close inspection, you will notice that my pies are just a perplexing puzzle of broken pieces haphazardly thumbed together.) I needed help, and my very helpful and patient husband was happy to do the stretching with the lovely but fundamentally useless assistance of MiniBee, our oldest son. So I stood on the side and took the pictures, and begged my husband to write a little how-to for you coordinated and smart readers. (You'll find it below; keep on reading.)

How to make stuffed pizza with sausages, Swiss chard, and mozzarella.
The pizza is fairly easy to make once you have mastered the dough-stretching part: It is simply a pie filled with sausages and Swiss chard, to be eaten warm (or any temperature, really) in slices. The only trick I learned from the Gourmet recipe is cooking the crust first in the oven so that it does not get too soggy once you add the stuffing. The final pizza is soft, chewy, and perfectly salty. The sausages add a decadent joy to this recipe, but pizza is so versatile, you can really stuff it with anything you like. Although pardon me for repeating myself: NO PINEAPPLE AND NO CHICKEN. Don't make me come there with my perforating fingers and Poesque delusions.

Stuffed pizza with sausages, Swiss chard, and mozzarealla.


3 sweet Italian sausages (about 1/2 lb)
1 crushed garlic clove
1/2 bunch Swiss Chard, chopped
1 C cubed mozzarella (drained for 10 minutes)
2 tbsp EVOO
Kosher salt 
1 pizza dough at room temperature (only best-quality dough—DC people, you can only use Vace or The Italian Store or make your own)

  • Heat the oven to 500 degrees and put a large pot of salted water to boil.
  • Blanch the Swiss chard in water for 2 minutes, then strain it and dump in ice water. Dry with paper towels.
  • Squeeze out the meat from the sausages' casing. If you don't love doing this like I do, find someone who will.
  • Cook the sausage meat, breaking up large lumps with a wooden spoon, in a large skillet for 8 minutes or until browned and cooked through. Transfer a large mixing bowl.
  • Cook the crushed garlic in the rendered fat for 2 minutes. Discard.
  • Add the Swiss chard to the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes. 
  • Mix the Swiss chard with the sausage, let cool for for a few minutes, and then add the cubed mozzarella.
  • Sprinkle with one tablespoon of EVOO and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cut 1/3 of the pizza dough and stretch on a floured surface to a 9'' diameter.
  • Place the dough in the cake pan, sprinkle with EVOO, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is golden. Let cool for 10 minutes or until you can touch dough and pan with your bare hands without risk of erasing your fingerprints.
  • Spoon the filling on the crust, keeping it about one inch away from the border.
  • Stretch the rest of the dough to a 10'' diameter. Place the dough it over the pizza and carefully fold it underneath for about an inch. Press edges so that the stuffing is perfectly enclosed.
  • Brush the top of the stuffed pizza with olive oil and sprinkle with additional salt.
  • Cook in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until your pizza looks like the one in the picture above.
Whether you have been a show-off and made your own pizza dough or simply bought it from your local pizzaiolo, you'll still need to transform that sticky ball of goodness into a soft, elastic, and impossibly thin disc. The first thing is, the dough should be room temperature. Too cold and you will actually feel it resisting your touch (insert joke here). Then, you should have plenty of flour on your working surface. Once you're ready, plop the dough on the flour and dust it liberally. Do not to fold the dough over onto itself: The time for kneading has passed, and all you would be making is a really crappy croissant. Instead, flatten the dough with your fingers, pushing it outward from the center, and flip it often in the flour. Soon the dough will begin to soften, and at that point you can start to stretch it—literally, pick up the flattened dough, hold it in front of you, and pull at it gently while turning it like a steering wheel. Eventually the dough's own weight will be enough to continue stretching it (that's why those guys flip it in the air!). You really want to make the dough almost paper thin, but without creating any holes. There are other tricks to making non-compliant dough more elastic, including dousing with olive oil, but really—flour is your best friend. —Alec

Find the original recipe from Gourmet here: Escarole-Stuffed Pizza.

Monday, October 13, 2014


Deep-fried pizzas with mozzarella, tomatoes, and eggplants.Last week I had my birthday. If you're dying to know, I turned 38, which apparently is considered the best age, at least according to this article I found by googling "38 is the best age". To celebrate, my dear husband fulfilled my dreams (and his) by getting me a deep-fryer. Of course, we had to put it to work right away, and the first dish that sprang to mind was deep-fried pizzas.

That's right: These are mini-calzones minimally filled and deep-fried. Please note this recipe is not a culinary junk dare like these deep-fried donut bacon cheeseburgers that I don't even want to comment on. It's actually inspired by a traditional Neapolitan recipe: the pizza fritta.

Junk food in America is traditional cuisine in Italy.

The original pizza fritta was born in the poor neighborhoods of Naples after the devastation of WWII. People could not afford pizza cooked in a wood-fire oven, so they started frying it in the streets instead. The pizzas were filled with ricotta and chitterlings, or left empty. In one my favorite movies, Vittorio De Sica's "L'Oro di Napoli" (The Gold of Naples) from 1954, you can see a young and impossibly beautiful Sophia Loren as a pizza fritta vendor. The pizza fritta is not as common today in its original form, but you can still find the calzone fritto: a whole calzone filled with ricotta, mozzarella, salami, and ham and deep-fried to perfection.

How to make deep-fried pizza with mozzarella, tomato, and eggplants.

But back to my birthday. I have no illusion our deep-fried pizzas would compete with their Neapolitan inspiration, but they were super delicious: soft, chewy, salty, and not at all greasy. We filled them with mozzarella, a little bit of San Marzano tomato sauce, and fried eggplants. We didn't make the dough ourselves because, living in D.C., we are blessed with great ready dough from two delicatessens, Vace and The Italian Store. We used Vace this time, and were thrilled to try their own mozzarella, prepared in-store every day.

These pizzas are fairly easy to make, and definitely very fun for a Sunday with friends. Of course, this is if your guests don't mind the smell of fryer oil on their hair and clothes for a week. Present it as a party favor: You might get away with it.

Deep fried pizzas with mozzarella, tomatoes, and eggplants.
D.C. people: Start frying.


Makes 16 little fried pizzas.

3 quarts of frying oil (or 3 inches if you are doing it in a dutch oven over stove heat)
2 pizza dough disks
2 whole mozzarellas, cubed and drained for 10 min in a colander
1 1/2 C of tomato sauce (make your own with San Marzano tomatoes)
1 large eggplant, cubed and deep-fried
fresh basil leaves

  • Heat the oil in your deep-fryer or dutch oven to 375 degrees.
  • Cut each dough in 8 parts on a well floured surface (flour is your friend, it helps soften the dough and make it more elastic) and then flatten each mini-dough, starting from the center (about 4'' diameter). Be careful the dough doesn't tear. Use your hands here; using a rolling pin is not advised for pizza. (It will cause it to tear more easily.)
  • On each pizza disc, place a small handful of mozzarella cubes, 1 tablespoon of tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon of fried eggplants, and a basil leaf.
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little EVOO.
  • Fold the dough over and press firmly to seal the pizzas into tiny calzones. It is important to create a good seal so the moisture from the cheese and sauce does not mix with the hot oil and splatter. 
  • Deep-fry until the pizzas are puffed-up and golden, turning once, just under 2 minutes. 
  • Serve immediately.

Note: These pizzas can be easily made vegan. Fill with tomato sauce, eggplant, olives, and everything you would like to see on pizzas with the exception of pineapples. 
Another note: Pizza fritta can also be made like this. My friend Checco makes this kind every year in Italy, and it's a celebration to remember. Just fry the open pizza dough and then spoon over tomato sauce and grated cheese.


I woke up this morning and was shocked to see it's October and not August. Where did late summer go? Halloween decor has been gracing the shelves of my CVS since July 5th, so perhaps I've trained my brain to screen out all references to Fall. But I know whom to blame for my confusion: My CSA is still offering zucchini and squash, so I'm still in summer mode. You'll have to scalpel away the Haflinger cork sandals from my dead, tan feet. (Sorry, this is a horrible image.)

Today I present you with a classic Sicilian recipe that my grandmother and mother prepared many times for my sister and I when we were little girls. The main ingredient is zucchini, thinly sliced and fried until golden brown and then spooned over spaghetti and topped with grated cheese. The sweet juices from the zucchini are going to give your spaghetti a nice brown color once you mix all the ingredients, which is something I remember perfectly from my childhood.

Standing in front of a frying pan for 20 minutes, carefully turning over zucchini slices is not my ideal approach to summer heat, so maybe it's really better if we make this pasta in October, when the air is nice and cool and our sunny past is just behind us.

Fried zucchini
Fried zucchini at rest.


And here's the Garlic Rule you've been waiting for since reading this post's title. As you will see in the recipe below, the garlic is just crushed, added to the hot oil until golden, AND THEN DISCARDED. This is key concept in Italian cooking that people used to Italian-American cooking might not realize. Italians love garlic and use it often, but they like it mostly in moderation, as a small pungent accent. Heaps of minced garlic are NOT a thing in Italian cuisine. By frying the garlic for a minute, you basically infuse the oil with garlic flavor and perfume and you don't turn it into a branding tool to stamp the word "garlic" on your entire meal.

Eat me.


4 medium zucchini
2 garlic cloves, crushed 
1/4 C EVOO (or enough to fry the zucchini)
1 lb spaghetti
1/4 C grated pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano

  • Cut the zucchini in 1/4'' disks and set up a large pot with water for the spaghetti.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan.
  • Cook the garlic cloves in the hot oil for one minute, or until golden. Then discard.
  • Place the zucchini disks in one layer in the pan and fry on both sides, a few minutes per side, until golden brown. You might need to fry the zucchini in batches.
  • Remove the zucchini and place them on a plate covered with paper towels to drain the excess oil.
  • Cook the spaghetti al dente. You might want to use the technique for pasta with uncooked sauce outlined here.
  • Mix the spaghetti in a large bowl with the zucchini, the cheese, and some freshly-ground black pepper.
  • Serve immediately.

And since we're making spaghetti, let's refresh our basic pasta skills: