Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rome Cooking Class Part 2: View from the Rooftop and Fried Pizza Dough with Tomato-Basil Dipping Sauce



The hands-on cooking portion of our class in Rome was held at the gorgeous private apartment of chef Violetta.  After climbing up the winding and narrow stairs to the 3rd story of the building, we were led into her beautiful apartment and out to one of her rooftop patios.  This patio you see in the photo above was draped with flowy white linens to tame the hot sun and lined with pots and pots of lavender and rosemary and small citrus trees. 


Looking out from the patio, we were surrounded by views of cathedrals and buildings, many with their own rooftop gardens.  It was hard to believe that we were in the heart of the city because it seemed so peaceful there.


Back inside the kitchen, Violetta fried some pizza dough which she had purchased from a pizza shop and served it with a delicious chunky tomato basil dipping sauce.  So simple, yet so delicious.  It was probably my favorite of all the delicious things we ate that day.  

I couldn't wait to reproduce it at home because I knew the kids would love it.  I also wanted to make it when the tomatoes were at their prime and fresh basil was abundant in the garden, and that is right now - so there was no delaying!  Of course you can also buy pizza dough already made from your local pizzeria, but you can also easily make it yourself with the recipe below or use your favorite pizza dough recipe.  The tomatoes in the dipping sauce should be of the small sweet variety and do not need to be peeled or seeded.  Try this appetizer and you can imagine that you are in the heart of Italy, eating a specialty of Rome!


Neo-Neopolitan Pizza Dough
adapted from American Pie by Peter Reinhart
Makes 2 10-inch pizzas or  about 24 fried pizza balls

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons honey or sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 Tablespoon olive oil
7/8 cup room-temperature water
Peanut or vegetable oil for frying

Combine flour, salt, and yeast in a mixing bowl.  Combine the honey, olive oil, and water in a cup and add to the flour mixture.  Stir with a wooden spoon until combined.  Set the dough aside to rest for 5 minutes.

Turn dough out onto work surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking too much.  Or knead using the dough hook in your mixer bowl.  Generally speaking, you want the dough to be wetter and stickier than your typical bread dough. It should be dry enough that it holds together and pulls away from the side of the bowl when you mix it, but it will still be a bit sticky.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning the dough so that the oil is on all sides of the dough and cover with plastic wrap.  Let the bowl sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then refrigerate overnight.  If you want to make the fried dough that day, then let the dough sit at room temperature one hour and then refrigerate at least two hours.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator two hours before using.  The dough can sit in the refrigerator up to two days or placed in an oiled tiptop baggie and frozen for up to 3 months.

Heat 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees F in a pot (I used a small pot and therefore less oil).  Break off golf ball-sized rounds of dough and drop the dough into oil and fry on both sides until golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel-lined plate.  Serve warm or at room temperature with dipping sauce.




Tomato-Basil Dipping Sauce
Makes enough for 24 Pizza dough balls or one recipe of the above dough

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed with the side of a knife, but still whole
2 pints small sweet plum tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
About 20 small fresh basil leaves, preferably torn, not chopped, into small pieces



Heat olive oil in a sauté pan with the garlic until the garlic is fragrant but not browned.  Remove the garlic and discard it.  Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper and simmer until thickened to desired consistency.  Remove from the heat and add the basil leaves.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Rome Cooking Class Part One: Campo Di Fiori


During our visit to Italy, one of the highlights was a cooking class that was arranged for our group.  The class included a walk around the Campo di Fiori, a well-known produce market in the heart of Rome, to choose our fresh ingredients for the class.  We then took a short walk to the chef's personal home where we learned to make a fresh tomato compote with fried pizza dough, an eggplant cake, and a raspberry tart before sitting on the rooftop patio to eat lunch and enjoy the spectacular view.


I will share the recipes and photos of the class in the upcoming days, but first enjoy the rainbow of colors we saw at the Campo Di Fiori.  We cooked with local, in-season ingredients which we found in abundance at the market.  In Rome, late summer is the season for figs, eggplant, tomatoes and peaches (much like it is here in Pennsylvania!).  The market was small compared to the huge markets of Istanbul, but you could find everything you needed to make a delicious Italian meal.


You could find dried pastas of every shape and color, olive oils, spices and Italian cookies.  Surrounding the temporary stalls of produce are small specialty shops where they sell delicious meats and cheeses, and other items for cooking.  I picked up some figs (green and brown for taste testing), balsamic vinegar, soft amaretti cookies, Acacia honey, a bag of lentils and some dried borlotti beans to bring home.  


My suitcase was filled with things for the kitchen!  The airline security in Chicago didn't like the looks of my lentils and beans and pulled me aside to test the packages for traces of chemicals and ran them through the security x-ray twice.  Finally they determined that the lentils were safe and we were on our way home.   I guess I just need to decide what I want to make with my imported ingredients!  I'd love any suggestions you might have!

Tomorrow I will share a simple and fantastic appetizer recipe we learned at the class!

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