So here it is, the last day of the year 2015..oh how time flies, and so much has happened! I’m so thankful for all the wonderful opportunities that have come into my life and the lessons learned along the way. Here are some of my Top / Most Popular posts from The Artful Gourmet blog this year — and wishing everyone a safe and Happy New Year 2016!
We sat around a big table in a private room upstairs and learned the techniques, traditions and passions behind producing a perfectly thin crispy Neapolitan pizza while sipping on Italian wines and making new friends.
We learned the intricacies behind making and kneading our own dough accustom to the Neapolitan style by making wells of flour filled with yeast water and the patient process of kneading using only 2 fingers as the dough slowly came together by kneading, mixing and adding more flour and water.
We watched Chef Chris toss pizza dough in the air and even tried it ourselves (too fun!).
We then made our own Margherita sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, and topped off the pizzas with cubes of fresh cow’s milk Mozzarella and fresh basil before our pizzas were thrown delicately into a 900 degree oven on a pizza peel to reveal a perfectly crispy gorgeous pizza of bubbly cheesy goodness.
Layer the dough with sauce…
Add some delicious Fresh Cow’s Milk Mozzarella and Basil…
Patiently waiting for the oven…
And let the deliciousness devouring begin.
The story behind Neapolitan pizza goes like this: In June 1889, a Neapolitan tavern owner Raffaele Esposito served the Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, a special dish named in her honor. The wood-fired Flatbread was topped with Melted Mozzarella, Tomato Sauce and Basil leaves, symbolizing the colors of the Italian Flag. The Queen was so pleased with her meal that she had a wood-fired “flat-bread oven” built into the palace. And history was made.
The art behind making a perfect, true Neapolitan pizza has become a standard practice with strict rules of approval. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana is a non-profit official governing association in Italy that maintains the standards and regulations of all Pizzaioli and Establshments serving Vera Napoletana Pizza. It was founded in Naples in 1984 by the oldest and well-known Neapolitan pizzaioli, and according to the “rules” proposed by them, there are specific ingredients and techniques that must be used to pass the official Italian seal of approval.
So just what are the secrets behind making that crispy crust with gooey cheese and succulent sauce? Here’s a few secrets from Restaurateur/Chef and native New Yorker, Nick Accardi of Tavola in Hell’s Kitchen:
Measure by weight rather than volume to get the perfect water to flour ratio for your crust. Many elements can change the density of ingredients such as age, storage temperature, or environmental climate. Measuring by weight assures the perfect hydration ratio.
Use double zero (type 00) flour which is a highly refined flour that has been milled to a standard “00” and completely free of bran or germ.
Use natural Neapolitan yeast or brewer’s yeast, sea salt and water. (New York City tap water is the BEST secret ingredient in making the perfect pizza dough!)
Keep yeast refrigerated and check the expiration date on the package to make sure it’s fresh.
The dough must be kneaded by hand or with a low-speed mixer.
Allow the dough to rise for 24 hours at room temperature. The bare minimum standard is 6 hours (after mixing let the dough rise for 2 hours, then hand cut and roll into small balls, let rise for 4 more hours).
After the rising process, the dough must be formed by hand without the help of a rolling pin or other machine, and may be no more than 3 millimeters (0.12 in) thick. Use your hands to gently work the dough from the center outward.
Use San Marzano tomatoes, which grow on the volcanic plains to the south of Mount Vesuvius, for the pizza sauce like a bona fide pro (easy to find in grocery stores or Italian markets).
Vera Napoletana Pizza must be made using only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients including Fior di Latte (Cow’s Milk) or Bufala Mozzarella, fresh basil and drizzled with real Extra Virgin Olive Oil. You can find Genuine imported EVOO also at Italian markets such as Eataly or Tavola in NYC.
Less is More: Don’t drown a pizza in sauce and toppings. The most delicious pies use smaller portions of the highest quality of fresh ingredients.
A thin crust is the signature trait of Neapolitan pizza. While having a wood fired oven at home is not common these days, making your crust as thin as possible will allow for fast cooking time, which intensifies and seals in the flavors of each ingredient. Note: The Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana requires the thickness of the crust to be 1-2 cm.
The pizza must be baked for 60-90 seconds in a 905°F stone oven with an oak-wood fire. When cooked, it should be crispy, tender and fragrant.
There are three official variants to Neapolitan pizza: Pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, Pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra-virgin olive oil, and Pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, mozzarella from Campania in fillets, basil and extra virgin olive oil.
1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes, passed with juices through a food mill
12 ounces Mozzarella di Bufala (see note) or mozzarella fior di latte cheese, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
4 large or 8 small basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
Medium coarse sea salt
Special equipment: a pizza stone and peel
Make the dough: Sprinkle yeast over water; let stand until yeast is creamy, 5 to 10 minutes. (If yeast does not become creamy, discard and start over with new yeast.)
In a large bowl, whisk together flour and salt; form a well in center. Add yeast mixture and warm water; stir until dough just comes together. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead vigorously, for 10 minutes. Cover with a damp dish towel and let rest for 10 minutes, then knead vigorously for 10 minutes more. Lightly oil a large bowl. Form dough into a ball, transfer to bowl and turn to lightly coat with oil. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Punch down dough with your fist (dough will be stiff), then fold sides over one another, turn dough, tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
Divide dough into 4 pieces; shape pieces into balls and place on a lightly floured work surface, leaving a few inches between balls. Loosely cover with a damp dish towel (not terry cloth) and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled, about 2 hours; time may vary depending on room temperature and freshness of yeast. If skin forms on dough while rising, lightly spray surface with water.
Heat Stone While Dough Rises: Position rack in lower third of oven. Place pizza stone on rack. At least 45 minutes before baking pizza, heat oven to maximum temperature (500 to 550 degrees).
Assemble Pizza: On a lightly floured work surface, press 1 dough ball with your fingers to begin to shape into a round. Use your fist and hands to gently stretch dough to a 10-inch round. (A floured rolling pin can be used to help roll out dough.) Transfer dough to a lightly floured peel; gently shake peel to make sure dough does not stick.
Working fairly quickly, spread a 1/3 cup sauce over dough, leaving about a 1/2 -inch border. Tear 3 ounces cheese into pieces and arrange on top of sauce. Tear 1 or 2 basil leaves into small pieces and arrange on top. Drizzle very lightly with oil and sprinkle with salt. Slide pizza onto stone. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbling in spots and edge of dough is crisp and golden, about 7 minutes. Using the peel and a large spatula or pair of tongs, transfer pizza to a plate and serve. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Note: Soft “00” flour produces a pliable, easy-to-work-with pizza dough and a tender yet sturdy crust with a crisp yet not too dry edge. Mozzarella fior di latte has a firmer texture than Mozzarella di Bufala, which falls apart when cut, though both cheeses are creamy when melted. You can find “00” flour, San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, mozzarella fior di latte at Italian markets, specialty stores, and online.
I recently went on a cool roadtrip with some friends over to Teterboro, NJ to go on a private Factory Tour and Tasting event at Sun Noodle’s Ramen Lab, led by Kenshiro Uki and George Kao, owners and managers of the 6,000 square foot ramen noodle factory. I met Kenshiro and team at the NY International Foodservice and Restaurant Show a few weeks ago in the Japan Pavillion and was impressed by their authentic ramen noodles and how they pair them with specific broths and toppings to create Ramen dishes from varying areas of Japan. I found out about their tasting tours from a friend who urged me to go and sample some of these amazing noodles, which have been the leading Ramen maker in Hawaii since 1981 and more recently in LA. Owner Mr. Uki and Chef Nakamura decided to open the Ramen Lab not only to produce their unique and amazing noodles, but also to educate the public and Ramen-obsessed Chefs and foodies on the process of how it’s really done in Japan.
Upon arrival, we were given crazy hair caps and Mr. Kao took us behind the scenes for a private tour of the factory to see the machinery and ingredients that they use to make all the different varieties of their ramen noodles.
We then headed up front to a 6-person tasting bar where Executive Chef Nakamura dazzled us with his authentic Japanese cooking techniques as he prepared the five different Ramen dishes for us.
Our first bowl was a ramen soup that is popular in Tokyo, with thin, yellow noodles in a chicken broth base made with soy sauce topped with seaweed, green onions, bamboo shoots and colorful fish cakes.
The second bowl was Kyushu-style in a creamy white broth, made from slow-cooked pork served over thin, straight white noodles. The Chef added the noodles dramatically to our bowls and then garnished them with roasted garlic oil, sliced pork, mushrooms and scallions.
Our third bowl of Ramen was a Sapporo-style dish made with wavy yellow noodles topped with wok-cooked ingredients, including miso, vegetables and ground pork. The fresh hot corn was topped with a pat of creamy sweet butter and the ingredients were all nestled in a gorgeous spicy miso-based broth – this was definitely my favorite of all of them!
Our fourth bowl was Mazemen, which consisted of fat, round noodles served in chicken fat topped with a dark savory sauce, topped with a soft-boiled egg, sautéed mushrooms and fried crispy bits to give it a nice crunch.
Last but not least was a bowl of Tsukemen, which had chewy, wavy noodles that we dipped in a savory, brown broth with fish flavors, spices and green onion slivers.
The coolest part of all was just sampling all the different textures and flavor combinations which are meticulously planned and prepared and served with style. They encouraged us all to eat the Ramen quickly and not be afraid to slurp or be a bit messy, as that is the way the locals eat them on the streets of Japan.
Check out Ramen Lab online and book your own tasting tour for only $40-60. Sun Noodle doesn’t sell their Ramen to the public (primarily only to Chefs and top Japanese restaurants such as Momofuko and Chuko in NYC), but if you want to buy some of their packaged fresh or dried Ramen you can find them at a Japanese mega market in NJ called Mitsuwa Marketplace (among other fun and authentic Japanese items and produce!)
Sun Noodle Ramen Lab
375 N St
Teeterboro, NJ 07608 | (201) 530-1100
The Crosby Hotel Bar is a fun, trendy place in SoHo I have passed by several times but finally took some friends to on a Sunday afternoon recently. With it’s sun-drenched lounge, modern decor and lighting and a buzzy atmosphere this is a perfect spot for a weekend cocktail and brunch. The menu has a great variety of small plates such as Pulled Pork and Beef Sliders, a Smoked Mozzarella, Bacon and Ricotta Flatbread with Caramelized Onions (see photo above!), Leek Potstickers, and Lamb Kofta Kabobs plus a whole slew of other tasty treats to pair with a nice glass of wine. They also offer entrees of fish, short ribs, burgers, steaks, sandwiches, risotto and plenty of gorgeous veggies sides to accompany. The atmosphere is relaxed and fun – you can sit at the bar or at one of the cozy lounge couches in the atrium and also enjoy breakfast, brunch and one of their signature cocktails with friends. The hotel also serves an English Afternoon Tea in The Crosby Bar all day. It includes a variety of teas served in the traditional style with delicious cakes, scones, tarts and sandwiches. Champagne is a glamorous addition and residents can also take their tea in the drawing room. Don’t miss it.
I don’t know about you but I absolutely LOVE homemade fresh pasta over store-bought fresh or dried pasta any day of the week. But, if you have ever made it before you know that it’s a total labor of love mixing and kneading the dough, and flattening it through a hand crank machine or cutting into those gorgeous shapes by hand. There’s a great new machine called the Viante Pasta Maker that makes all of this so easy to do it’s almost crazy to not get it. With a powerful mixing motor and 10 interchangeable cutting discs you can make restaurant-quality vermicelli, ziti, tagliatelle, fettuccini, spaghetti, rigatoni, pappardelle, linguini, and biscotti in minutes. Just pull the slider to extrude dough into your desired shape. No more hand cranks or crazy kneading and cutting by hand – for only a buck and a half (about $150) – this makes anyone’s pasta obsession so much more fun, and gives you more time to be creative with all the toppings and sauces. Love it.
I stumbled upon this place one night while I was walking home and was immediately drawn in by its stunning artwork, interior design and sparkling chandeliers when you walk in the door. Originating in Brooklyn, Forcella is know for its Neapolitan-style pizza made in their wood burning ovens that reaches over 1000 degrees, cooking the pizza in 90 seconds flat. They claim to have a secret recipe for the dough, that makes it perfectly chewy and crispy with all those gorgeous browned puffy bits on top.
I sampled the four-cheese Arancini rice balls and the Truffle Parmesan Fries with Aioli for a starters while sipping a lovely Aperol Spritz at the bar. They have a great happy hour too – 2 for 1 drinks and reasonable small plates such as Prosciutto and Cheese, Fried Calamari and Grilled Octopus. For lighter fare, you can try one of their salads or a sampling of fresh handmade mozzarella and burrata.
Their Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizzas, created by their certified pizza master, Guilio Adriani, come in about 20 different varieties (or you can create your own). They also have a nice selection of entrees such as Risotto, Ravioli and Pasta, Grilled Lamb Chops or Pan-Seared Jumbo Shrimp wrapped in Bacon in a Brandy Cream Sauce (which I have yet to try but it sounds divine!)
Visit their two additional locations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn or the Bowery – all are open 7 days a week – until 11 pm Sunday through Thursday, and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Definitely worth a visit (if just to watch them make their fabulous pizzas in one minute!)
377 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016
I found these awesome, colorful illustrated Bon Appetit foodie totes online at A-Thread and fell in love with them at first sight. I might just have to get one of each! Designed by the team from TheyDrawandCook.com, the Bon Appetit Tote comes in four designs – each a gorgeous, one of a kind TDAC illustrated recipe. Choose from Butter Beans, Chocolate Apricots, Hot Toddy, and Pretty Parsnip.
The tote is made from 12 oz natural cotton canvas and features a slip pocket in the side gusset – the perfect place for sunglasses, wallet, or a bottle of wine. The bag measures 10″w x 14″h x 5″d, and the handles are 24″ long and 1″ wide. The best part is that with each purchase of this tote, a donation will be made to the World Food Program USA and will feed 5 children!
There’s something about homemade Strawberry Jam that takes me back to my childhood when my Mom would pick fresh berries from her summer garden and make big batches of this sweet lovely jam for us. I haven’t experimented with canning yet but have been dying to make my own homemade concoctions – but in a tiny NY apartment i just haven’t found the space to store all the canning equipment and jars to do so. Ball now has a cool automatic jam and jelly maker that makes the process of making jellies and jams easy with a machine that does all the work for you.
The FreshTECH™ Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker with SmartStir™ Technology brings ease and convenience to homemade jams and jellies. The jam maker stirs the ingredients while it cooks so you don’t have to! Use your favorite fruits, fruit juices and even peppers to create delicious, natural jams and jellies in under 30 minutes. It is the perfect tool for both new and experienced canners, and a great way to incorporate fresh ingredients for healthier eating. The pot has a nonstick interior, making for easy clean up between batches. The pot, glass lid and stirring paddle are dishwasher safe. Can’t wait to get my hands on this fun tool so I can recreate Mom’s Strawberry Homemade jam in a flash!
Check out the video showing how cool and fun this machine is!
Get it online at Amazon.com. Photo credit: Ball USA.
7. Elephant Ceramics by Michele Michael
I can’t remember exactly where i first discovered Elephant Ceramics, but I fell in love with this gorgeous work the second I saw it – thinking these pieces of art would be perfect for my food styling and photography props. I have always loved ceramics and actually took a class once to make some of my own – I love their rustic and artistic nature, and imperfect organic shapes and textures. Michele Michael is the creator of this beautiful line of ceramics, from her studio on the coast of Maine. – The calm and cool white, blue and green palettes and rustic textures of her pieces emulate rugged, coastal scenery which seems to be an obvious source of inspiration for her gorgeous handmade creations. Can’t wait to get my hands on some of these beauties and I’m sure you will too once you see them.
This is a new fun Mexican joint that just opened in Murray Hill – created by The Spotted Pig and The Breslin team. Located inside the cool POD39 Hotel, it has a snazzy bar in front that opens into a huge recreational room in back, complete with lounge couches and tables, a second bar, fireplace, and two ping pong tables. The atmosphere is buzzing with after work crowds and is perfect for happy hour if you just want to grab a few margaritas and some authentic Mexican bar snacks. They offer amazing small tacos (2 per plate) ranging from $3 to $6 (steak, pork, chicken, cauliflower curry and Korean BBQ) and have great homemade guacamole and tortilla chips, crispy pig ears, quesadillas, beef chili, beer-braised short ribs, Morrocan Lamb on Naan and more. Open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner – you can get your Mexican fix any time you like in this delicious fun and trendy casual spot.
EAT Boutique is the brain-child of Maggie Battista, a dynamic food blogger and business woman I have met a few times through IACP and the Cookbook Conference in NYC. Her site is full of gorgeous photos, fun stories, and best of all – create-your-own gift boxes full of awesome foodie items and small batch foods by boutique food makers. EAT Boutique’s team curates seasonal and regional homespun gift and tasting boxes as gifts for food fans, and also sell their cool discoveries individually for the home cook. They have also recently started hosting intimate tasting events and convivial local pop up markets for their favorite food makers, cookbook authors and small batch food fans in different cities. You’ll find goodies such as a delightful box of macarons, exotic sea salts, handmade ceramics and kitchenwares, gourmet syrups and ice creams, vinegars, sauces, coffee and teas or local made wine, and I guarantee you’ll find something you love on this site!
So who DOESN’T like an awesome rockin’ outta this world Mac and Cheese? I usually make my own but when I’ve got the craving for that ooey gooey cheesey bowl of sin and don’t feel like cooking I always order online or make a visit to S’Mac in Murray Hill or the East Village in NYC. First off, they have about 11 different flavors and varieties. Secondly, you can order four different sizes depending on how hungry you are (Nosh, Major Munch, Mongo or Partay!). Last but not least, they are all made to order with awesome ingredients and baked to a crunchy, gooey existence served in a cast iron pan giving it that brown crispy crust with a melted world of yum on the inside. Choose from Classic Four Cheese, Cheeseburger, Alpine (Gruyere and Bacon!), Napoleanata (Mozzarella with roasted tomatoes, garlic and basil – yum!), Parissiene (Brie, roasted figs and Shitake mushrooms and fresh rosemary), Indian Masala, Buffalo Chicken, or you can create your own fantastic flavor combination with whatever meats, cheeses and veggies you want. Choose from traditional elbows or whole-wheat pasta and add a topping of buttery, crunchy breadcrumbs to make it even more sinful. Once you taste this You can also get your lip smacking goodness, you’ll never open a box of that yellow-powdered cheese stuff again.