Musing: Dining in the Time of Pandemic

A Pasta Frittata

Solace and joy. This is what I feel almost every night I prepare our dinner while confined during this pandemic. The relief and comfort that come from making an old family recipe or the joy from discovering a new one, along with a nightly cocktail, keeps us going.

Today, I’m highlighting just two examples of dishes from last week that sustained not only our bodies but our souls.

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Musing: Pizza


I don’t know exactly why, but it seems that when I make a homemade pizza, everything seems OK. Maybe it’s my Neapolitan heritage, but when the simplest of ingredients come together and cook in just a matter of minutes, for me, all’s well with the word.

Let others enjoy the “gourmet,” multi-topping pizzas so popular today; for me, a plain Margherita is the only way to go.

Wine Pairing: Gragnano, Dry Lambrusco

Pizza Crust V


Pizza was on the menu last night and thanks to a video on the New York Times “Cooking” website, I’ve improved my pizza stretching technique. I’ve abandoned my rolling pin and now use only my hands. As a result, my pizzas are now closer to being round and hole free.

In an earlier post, I wrote both about the pizza-crust recipe from Rebecca’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn and the Baking Steel, which recently replaced my pizza stone.

Below are before and after shots of the two pizzas we made last night. With the Baking Steel pre-heated for an hour at 500°F, the pizza cooks at the same temperature for about 9 minutes.

If you’re looking to improve your pizza-making skills, I highly recommend taking a look at this video and trying out the recipe.

First Pizza Uncooked
First Pizza Uncooked
First Pizza Cooked
Second Pizza Uncooked
Second Pizza Uncooked
Second Pizza Cooked
Second Pizza Cooked

I used my oven’s broiler for about a minute to get a browner crust.

Wine Pairing: Lambrusco


Pizza Crust IV


My quest for the perfect pizza continues. But after last night’s attempt, I’d say that I’m pretty close to achieving my goal. A few weeks ago, fellow food blogger, Diane Darrow, sent me a link to what I believe to be the best recipe so far for my pizza dough. And so far, I’m sticking with it.

However, my last two posts on pizza switched the focus from the dough to the cooking medium and highlighted Breville’s “Crispy Crust” pizza oven. This counter-top appliance yields very good pizzas with a nice balance between the crisp and chew factors. But after experimenting more with this oven, I felt that its size limited me to making smaller pizzas, about 10 inches in diameter, if I wanted to achieve a balanced crust.

After my first post about the Breville oven, Ms. Darrow wrote to me, saying that she had discovered another tool that promised even better results than the Breville. Last week, she posted a story about it on her blog, Another Year in Recipes.

Named  “The Baking Steel,” it’s a 1/4-inch thick slab of steel weighing 15 pounds that’s preheated for 45 minutes in a 500° or 550° oven. Like a pizza stone, it provides a hot surface on which to bake a pizza, but does so at an even higher temperature.

Baking Steel
Baking Steel

Following Diane’s post, I read more about the steel on Serious Eats. It provided directions for achieving excellent results with the steel by cooking the pizza in the prescribed preheated oven on the second highest rack, but right before putting the pizza into the oven, you turn the broiler to high. Serious Eats has a richly illustrated story on this method.

After reading both blogs, I thought that the steel’s 16” x 14” inch surface would allow me to make larger pizzas, so I went to the manufacturer’s website and ordered one. It arrived the next day.

Last night, I used it for the first time. I’m a convert. It worked as advertised and delivered the best pizzas I’ve made to date: one Margherita, pictured above, and one mushroom, pictured below. I was hesitant to cook the pizzas so close to the broiler so I placed the steel on the third position in the oven. And although they took about 6 minutes more than those on Serious Eats, they were perfectly cooked with an even better balance between the crusts’ crisp and chew factors.

Mushroom pizza
Mushroom pizza

I’m sure that I shall experiment further and next time I will probably take the plunge and move my steel to the higher rack.

One word of caution: if you’re like me and don’t have an air-conditioned kitchen, between the pre-heating and the baking, it does get quite warm in there.

I recommend reading both blogs to learn more about this tool and, if you’re still interested, going to the manufacturer’s website.

Pizza Crust III


A Saturday night without guests for dinner offered us a chance to play with our new Breville pizza oven which I wrote about in my post last month. Rather than changing too many variables, I used the same NY Times recipe as I did the first time I used the new “toy.” However, to improve the balance between the crisp and chew factors, I made 10-inch rather than 11- or 12-inch pizzas and adjusted the amount of sauce used.

I found that making smaller pizzas gave me the perfect amount of chew without decreasing the pizzas’ crispness. I cooked one of the pizzas at the highest temperature (the “thin” setting) for 7 minutes and the second on at a slightly lower temperature (closer to the oven’s “medium” setting) for about 10 minutes.

Both pizzas were very good; but, as the second pizza was sauced a tad more heavily and had a longer cooking time, we thought it was better than the first. The extended cooking at a lower temperature allowed the sauce to develop more flavor and the edges to cook a little more evenly.

The second pizza
The second pizza

Some other variations from last month’s pizzas included using smoked mozzarella and topping one of the cooked pizzas with some wild arugula. Using the smoked cheese added a meaty flavor to the pies, which was perfectly complement by the wild arugula topping on the second.

One side note: when we purchased the oven at Williams-Sonoma a couple of weeks ago, it was $149. Last week, it went on sale for $129. We returned to the store with our emailed receipt and without any hassle they refunded the difference.

Wine Pairing: Lambrusco, Chianti

Pizza Crust II


Yes! I admit it. I’m a kitchen gadget addict. It started almost 36 years ago with the purchase of one of the original Cusinarts, back when they were still made in France. I was still in graduate school and had a postage-stamp size kitchen with almost no counter space. But that little wonder enabled me to turn out some pretty sophisticated stuff.

Only a few of the many gadgets and appliances that I have bought over the years rank up there with the Cuisinart, and kitchen space is still at a premium, but my addiction, albeit somewhat in check, still persists. My most recent purchase, Breville’s “Crispy Crust” pizza oven, is a case in point.

The latest gadget
The latest gadget

It started with a promotional e-mail from Williams-Sonoma. The $50 savings made the offer attractive, but I was still skeptical. A visit to the Australian producer’s website provided all the technical specs as well as videos of this appliance in action. But I still wasn’t convinced. Could this little oven deliver the 660° F baking temperature its manufacturer was promising? I still resisted the urge to run out and buy it. But for two days, I kept checking the web for reviews. Sure, I found some negative assessments, but the majority were positive. I was hooked.

So Friday night, we went to our local WS and after a quick demo from the sales associate we bought it. We waited until Saturday to unpack it, found a place for it in our kitchen, and tested it out last night.

This was also an opportunity to try a new pizza-dough recipe that was suggested to me by food writer and fellow blogger Diane Darrow. In a comment to my August 4th post on pizza crust, she said she had achieved “excellent results” from this recipe published in April 2014 in the New York Times.

Based on a recipe from Roberta’s in Brooklyn’s Bushwick section, it’s one of the easiest I’ve ever used. Although it calls for super precise measurements, it requires no stand mixers or food processors. The dough is mixed and kneaded by hand and takes 20 minutes, exclusive of 3 to 4 hours for the dough to rise. It uses both “00” and all-purpose flour, to which I attribute the crust’s perfect balance between its chew and crisp factors.

I’m happy to report that the combination of the new dough recipe and pizza oven yielded my best homemade pizza to date. As the oven only accommodates at most a 12-inch pizza, I chose to make two Margherita pizzas with the dough, each slightly shy of the appliance’s maximum diameter.

I cooked the first pizza, which I had failed to stretch out evenly and was consequently super thin at its center, on the oven’s “thin” setting. In about 7 or 8 minutes, the oven, which had been preheated on high for 30 minutes, turned out a very good pizza. The unevenness of the dough, however, made for some undercooked portions of the crust.

The first attempt
The first attempt

While we dined on the first pizza, I left the oven on so it would be ready to accept my second attempt. This time I was more careful with the stretching and baked the pizza at the high end of the oven’s “medium” setting for about 10 to 11 minutes. This time the pizza was more evenly baked, crisper on the bottom, and had a chewy, slightly blistered crust on the edges. Success!

The second attempt: Success!
The second attempt: Success!

Am I happy with my new gadget? Yes. Although I can’t say for sure that the oven reached the manufacturer’s touted 660°F, I can say that the texture and appearance of the crust, as well as the shorter cooking times, support a claim of attaining a higher temperature than with a standard home oven. I’ll continue to experiment with the new oven’s settings and work on my pie stretching, but at least for now I think I’ll stick with my new recipe for the dough.

Pizza Crust


Recently a friend on Facebook asked me for a simple pizza dough recipe. Over the years, I’ve accumulated quite a few of them, each with its own tip or trick to achieve the ideal crust. But since easy execution was the determining factor, I opted to send him the one below. (Unfortunately, I do not know the source of this recipe.)

In addition to being simple, it yields a very crisp, crunchy pizza and it’s the one I’ll typically turn to for a last-minute pie.

I use half of the recipe’s dough at a time to make a 12-inch pizza. I bake it on a pizza stone on the lowest shelf of a 500° F oven for about 15 minutes or just until the crust turns a light brown. (I store the other half of the dough in the fridge and bring it to room temperature before rolling it out.)

While we enjoy this pizza a lot, I am still looking for a way to increase its “chew factor.” Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Pizza Crust
3 scant cups of 00 flour
½ T salt
¾ cup warm water
½ tsp sugar
1 package yeast

Mix with paddle of a stand mixer. When it forms a ball change to dough hook and knead for 3 minutes.

Allow to rise for 2+ hours in a greased bowl, covered with plastic wrap. It should double in size.

Punch it down with your fist and divide into two equal parts.

Roll out each half into 12” or 13” pizzas. You will need some extra flour on your board or table and on your rolling pin.

More often than not, I use this crust for a Pizza Margherita and sometimes top it with either arugula and prosciutto or a fried egg. The sauce for the pizza is made from uncooked, canned crushed San Marzano style tomatoes, a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano. For cheese, fresh mozzarella and some grated pecorino Romano. I finish it with some torn fresh basil and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Wine Pairing: Chilled Gragnano or Lambrusco

Pizza Margherita Redux


Last night saw another pizza Margherita from my kitchen. On a quest to improve what’s already a good pizza, I keep trying different flours, kneading times, cook times, and the like. Yesterday’s attempt involved a change of ovens.

For quite some time now, I’ve been relying on my Breville Smart Oven for baking pizza. It does a very good job, especially with the help of a pizza stone. But the more I read on the subject, I’m finding that cooking temperature plays a key role. Every pizza enthusiast dreams of having a wood-burning oven that can reach an ideal temperature between 700°F to 750°F; but for most of us having one will more than likely only remain a dream.

Before baking
Before baking

So last night, following my favorite pizza recipe from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table, I used the lowest shelf of my oven with a pizza stone and baked the pizza at 500°F. The higher temp made a difference not only in the cooking time, but in the texture of the dough. The cooking time was reduced by 5 minutes and the dough definitely had more chew.

What I’m looking for now is more height to the pizza, those “bubbles” in the crust that you get from cooking in a wood-burning oven. If any of you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Here’s a link to the Pizza Recipe.

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Pizza Margherita

blogpizzasmallYesterday, I had an early evening engagement and wouldn’t be home in time to cook for dinner. So I thought: pizza. It’s really easy to make at home, even in a small NYC kitchen and, in my opinion, is far better and maybe even quicker than delivery.

Just before noon, I made the pizza dough following one of the best recipes I know. It’s from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table. It makes a thin crust that perfectly balances crispy and chewy. The dough can rest covered for about 8 hours if you want to make it ahead of time like I did.

I sauce my pizza with a raw sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of oregano, some crushed red pepper, salt and pepper and cook the pizza for about 10 minutes before adding the cheeses and basil. I then top the pizza with some grated Romano, torn pieces of fresh Mozzarella, a few ripped fresh basil leaves, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and cook for about another 7 minutes or until the crust is brown and the cheese melts.blogprepizzasmall

Here’s a link to Lynne’s recipe online: Classic Pizza Margherita. It includes the dough recipe as well as one for the sauce.

Wine Pairing: Chianti, chilled Lambrusco, Zinfandel