Tag Archives: Tom

Almost 100-layer lasagne

2 Jan

Don’t bother counting. There are 70 layers here, not the 100 that were planned. That’s what my friend Tom tells me anyway. And he was in charge of keeping track. Of course, he was drinking at the time.

We certainly had fun trying to recreate the 100-layer lasagne from Del Posto restaurant in New York. Eating it wasn’t such a hardship either, but that’s another story.

We need to get something out of the way before moving on. The hundred-layer lasagne isn’t made with 100 pasta sheets. It’s made with 50 “layers” of pasta and another 50 of sauce. I know. Sounds like cheating to me too.

Anyhow, we went with super-thin pasta sheets, the No. 1 setting on my pasta machine. The sheets are around a 6-inch square. Rather than using a lasagne pan we went with a round Dutch oven, the idea being that we’d need room around the assembled tower to position utensils for lifting it out when it was done. (This reasoning proved horribly flawed but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

The sauces are a combination of Bolognese and béchamel.

Everything was going pretty well for a while, I at the pasta machine, Tom at the layering station. I don’t know what number of layers we’re on at this point, but you can see that things are stacking up nicely.

Except that we’re not as smart as we look. As the tower grew larger the weight of it wound up forcing the pasta sheets downward and outward. This might have been avoided by using skewers to keep things in place, but now is not the time to be pondering such things. What’s done is done, no?

In the end this is what we wound up with, a round Dutch oven-shaped lasagne that required sculpting to mimic the square version that it was meant to be.

I’m hoping for better luck the next time Tom and I get an idea like this. If there is a next time.

Happy New Year everybody!

Bubbles make great pizza

16 Apr

The last great pizza I had was at Brooklyn Central, a new Neapolitan-style joint in my old neighborhood. We’re talking thin crust wood-fired pizza here. With just the right amount of char and, equally important to me, lots of beautiful bubbles.

“You like these?” I said pointing to one of the three pies on the table, the Margherita I believe. “The bubbles I mean. You think they’re a good thing?”

I was speaking to my friends Tom and Beth, fine pizzaioli in their own right and regular customers of the place where we were eating. Tom, the verbose member of the pair, spent the rest of the pie-eating session advocating the bubbles-on-pizza theory.

Not only that, but he actually knew what he was yammering about. Clearly my friend had studied this crucial topic, so much so that I asked him to share his knowledge with all of us here.

Take it away, genius.

The bubble theory
by Tom Strenk

Bubbles are a sign of great pizza, but they’re more than that. Bubbles give baked goods their tender character, from the delicate sponge of a chocolate layer cake to the flaky layers of a croissant. Depending upon the baked good, the bubbles come from carbon dioxide created by leavening such as baking powder used in cakes or butter folded into puff pastry dough. Pizza gets some of its bubbles from yeast, a beneficial microorganism that converts fermentable sugars in the dough into carbon dioxide.

But the bubbles our friend Meatball was so fixated on at Brooklyn Central derived from a different source: steam. When vaporized, water expands over 1,600 times in volume, according to Paula Figoni, writing in her book, How Baking Works. For this phenomenon to work, though, the dough has to be wet, soft and loose, and the oven must be super hot.

That’s exactly the conditions called for by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, a group dedicated to preserving the Neopolitan pizza tradition. AVPN sets forth the exacting principles governing the one true pizza, and its regulations are many and persnickety. Dough can only be made from ultra-soft double-zero flour, with 1 liter of water to 1.8 kg. of flour ration, with the flour absorbing 50-55% of its weight in water. That translates into a wet, almost sticky dough, with a soft and elastic texture, says the AVPN. Ovens must be hotter than Dante’s Inferno, with a minimum floor temperature of 905 degrees, and a cavity temp of 800 or more degrees; the pizza cooks fast, in 60-90 seconds.

When the pizzaiolo slides that pie (14 inches in diameter, 0.8-inch thick crust, 0.1-inch thick in the center) into the oven, water in the mix vaporizes, the wet glutinous dough is flexible enough to stretch and contain the vapor, then the extreme heat dries and chars the bubbles. The end result: a delicate, light and airy crust.

I got to experience this magic hands-on at Forcella, a New York restaurant devoted to Neapolitan pizza. Under the tutelage of certified pizza master Giulio Adrian, I learned to properly handle the demanding dough, shaping a certifiable crust, topping the classic Margherita with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di Bufala, fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, and baking it in Forcella’s imported Italian oven. I’m sure the AVPN would approve.

Even better, when that blistered, bubbled pie was whisked out on a peel, I got to eat it.

The four days of gluttony

3 Jan

Every year my friends Tom and Beth spend four or five days here in Maine to celebrate the new year. It is a nonstop food-and-drinkfest, of course, and it’s rare that a meal isn’t memorable or, at the least, photographed. Judging from some of the reactions to the foods we ate this year (check the Facebook page) I thought a recap might be enjoyable, and so here goes. (Note: this isn’t everything we consumed, but you get the idea.)

The dish above is just something I threw together for the night my friends arrived. It’s a long bus trip from New York and so a simple meal and an early bedtime usually is how things go the first night. The pappardelle are homemade and handcut; the sauce is an oxtail ragu that I’d frozen and saved because I knew Tom and Beth would like it.

Roasted veal breast served over polenta, courtesy of my associate.

One of the best seafood chowders you’re apt to run across, also from my associate’s hand.

As were these sauteed (in olive oil and butter) jumbo shrimp.

The whole suckling pig that we roasted in the wood oven was the highlight of the visit, for sure. However, as many find the sight upsetting, here is a detail of one of the pieces that landed on my plate.

Beth and Tom collaborated on an awesome pumpkin pie. There are crumbled bacon bits in the crust and a slice of candied bacon served along with the whipped cream.

My friend Ish dropped by one night with a mess of whole sardines, and proceeded to toss them into the wood oven.

The standout on New Year’s Eve was this tourtiere, a combined effort by Beth and my associate. I’m speechless.

The last of the great Bordeaux that were hangin’ in my cellar. Sorry to see them go but a real nice match with the meat pie.

As promised, Tom unwrapped a 3-year-old fruit cake. The boy makes a fine one, for sure.

New Year’s brunch was homemade cotechino over lentls. (I’m working on a separate post about this which should be up on the blog in a few days.)

That night, the last of this year’s visit, called for a super simple meal, and so homemade tortellini en brodo did the trick.

See you next year. I hope.

How to make a great fruit cake

1 Dec

I used to think that all fruit cakes pretty much, well, sucked.

Then my friend Tom turned me around. Eight or ten holiday seasons ago he showed up at my place with a specimen he had baked an entire year earlier. This fruit cake was wrapped so tightly, and in so many layers of different materials, that it took us several minutes just to unwrap and have a look at the thing.

What I remember most is the smell. Tom’s was one boozy baked good, all right. Not only was there bourbon in the recipe he’d used, but every few weeks the guy would strip the cake down to its cheesecloth skivvies, drizzle more whiskey over it, rewrap and then return the cake to its assigned resting place inside the fridge. That’s a lot of drizzling that went on over the year.

Tom’s fruit cake was like none I had ever tasted. The thing weighed a ton, yeah, but it was also incredibly moist and satisfying. Best of all, the flavors were spectacular, owing much to my friend’s prominent use of figs and prunes and nuts and other good things he’d taken from the cupboard and tossed in.

It’s gotten so that Tom really cannot afford to show his mug around here during the holidays without a fruit cake stuffed into his backpack. Not if he wants a place to sleep, he can’t.

This year his fruit cake may have company, because a couple weeks back I decided to get hold of Tom’s recipe and give it a try myself. The foundation comes from a recipe provided by King Arthur Flour, which I’ve reprinted in full below. However, like my friend, I messed with it some.

Here you’ve got 1 1/2 pounds of mixed fruit. There’s a variety of candied fruit and orange peel, plus dried figs, prunes and apricots.

Then there’s a 1-pound mixture of golden and purple raisins.

The nuts (walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts) weighed in at 1 1/2 pounds.

The fruit, raisins and nuts get combined with 4 cups of all-purpose flour, and then you add to that a mixture of butter, sugar, eggs and brandy or rum (I went with Jack Daniel’s).

Stir it all together so that the ingredients are well combined (at this point I decided to add a little more Jack, though I’m not sure why).

Then get yourself some buttered-and-floured cake pans and fill them with the mix. (Note: the recipe claims to make one 10-inch cake, but that’s not even close to being true. The blue pan at the top is a deep 10-incher, and I got another couple of smaller cakes out of the batch.)

Once the cakes are out of the oven let them cool for 15 minutes. Then drizzle some more liquor on top and allow them to cool thoroughly.

I decided to take my friend’s lead and age these cakes, at least for a few months. Wrap them in cheesecloth, then moisten the cloth with whatever liquor you like (I stuck with the Jack Daniel’s all the way). Add a layer of plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, and then toss into a Ziploc-type bag. Store in the fridge and occasionally take the cakes out and pour a little liquor over the cheesecloth, just to keep things nice and moist.

Tom is promising to have a two-year-old fruit cake in his backpack when he arrives for his annual weeklong visit in a few weeks. By that time my cakes will be around six weeks old, and so maybe we’ll break into one of them and do a side-by-side comparison.

There are worse experiments to participate in, you know.

King Arthur’s Light Old Fashioned Fruit Cake 
From “The Baking Sheet Newsletter”

4 cups (17 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 pounds pecan halves (I used a mixture of pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts)
1 1/2 pounds whole candied cherries (I didn’t use any cherries. Instead I went with a mix of candied fruit and orange peel, and dried figs, prunes, and apricots)
1 pound golden or purple raisins (I mixed the two together)
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups (15 3/4 ounces) sugar (I only used 1 3/4 cups)
6 large eggs
1/4 cup (2 ounces) brandy or rum (I used 1/2 cup of Jack Daniel’s)

Preheat your oven to a 275°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan, two 9 x 5-inch bread pans, four 1-pound coffee cans (the wide, short kind) or 8 small bread pans. (They’re insane. I got three cakes out of this recipe; Tom says he usually does too.)

In a very large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and spices. Add the nuts and fruit, mixing until they are well coated.

In a second bowl, cream the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture thoroughly after each addition. Stir in the brandy or rum.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry and mix only until they are well combined. Fill whichever pan you use 2/3 full and bake for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size of your pans. (My two smaller cakes took an hour to cook; the larger one, an hour and forty minutes.)

After you remove the cakes from the oven, let them cool in their pans for 15 minutes. After this rest, remove the cake from its pan and immediately sprinkle brandy or rum over them; then let them cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. Store in a cool place to let the flavors mellow and mature. You can sprinkle a few drops of brandy or rum over them every few days during the storage period if you wish. The alcohol evaporates and leaves only flavor.

These fruit cakes will last for months if you can keep them that long. They taste so good, they are hard to give away, but they do make wonderful gifts.

To serve, cut the cake in very thin slices. It is very rich and will go a long way.

Mister Meatball’s flying circus

17 Oct

I don’t always dress this way when I’m cooking. You’ll have to take my word on that.

And yet, had you been around my place much last winter, especially at dinner time, odds are good that you witnessed firsthand this preposterous sight.

I dread the coming winter. So must the hungry people who share it with me.

Face it. It’s impossible to pay attention to what’s going on in the kitchen when you’re continually having to escape to the attic. Dressed up like the Hamburglar and battling armies of wild beasts.

I’m afraid you will need to accept my word on this as well.

Minutes before this frame was shot, on a very snowy evening last January, I was two flights down, standing at the stovetop in a warm kitchen, chatting with friends and tending to a veal breast stuffed with sausage and pine nuts and fresh herbs. On the counter that serves as my pasta-making station rested a batch of freshly cut pappardelle that I had just prepared. On the turntable (yes, I still have one) Tony “Don’t-Call-Me-Norman” Perkins was wrapping up the A Side from his 1958 LP “Long Ago and Far Away,” with a respectable rendition of “On a Rainy Afternoon.”

Anticipating an imminent vinyl flip, I grabbed my wine glass and headed to the living room. There, Otis the Wonder Dog napped near the fire, dreaming (I’d imagine) of the Parmigiano-Reggiano he would surely be gifted once dinner time came around.

An all around lovely evening going on here at La Casa di Polpetta, don’t you think?

I thought so too.

Which makes us both wrong.

Squirrels—flying ones—are after me. Have been for years now. They live in my house, wreck my property and frequently interrupt my slumber. To fight them I have broken laws I did not know existed, risked serious harm to myself and to others, and skipped out on kitchen duties when they were most crucially required.

I hate these squirrels. HATE. Just the thought of them turns me into, well, this guy…

Go ahead and be disappointed in me if you want. I don’t care. You probably think flying squirrels are cute. Try living with them. Then tell me how cute you think they are.

I should have gotten the hell out of this house years ago, when the Pteromyini (that’s science speak for the squatters in my attic) first arrived. The kitchen wasn’t nearly as workable or enjoyable as it is today. I hadn’t converted the stovetop to gas yet, or redone the countertops. Even the wall oven was a piece of crap. Who’d miss it?

Instead I had to go and meet a man named David Sparks. Sparks is a wildlife expert in Southern Maine. Should you or a loved one require wildlife “rehabilitation,” or “nuisance relocation” expertise, or just a fun-filled birthday party for a bunch of 4-year-olds, Dave is your man. His shop is called—are you ready for this?—Sparks Ark. For real.

Exploring the attic and crawl spaces with Sparks did a complete kill on my appetite the day we first met, possibly a decade ago now. I remember clearly having my eye on the leftover pork with clams (a Portuguese favorite) from the night before, thinking it would make a fine lunch. But Sparks showed up in his truck just before noon. When he left, around an hour and way too much “evidence of infestation-gathering” later, I was off to the showers, not the refrigerator. I don’t think I ate for the rest of the day.

I’ll be merciful and spare you the details. You’re welcome.

Anyhow, back to that snowy winter night last year. No sooner did I lift the stylus from the Tony Perkins LP than my attic tenants’ presence became known. I knew by the sound that they were not running roughshod over the fiberglass insulation; clearly the Havahart traps had been tripped while the music was playing. Somewhere above me was one or more creatures lured into “humane” animal traps by Snickers bars, peanut butter, and a Meatball who could not bear dispensing more severe punishment on living things guilty only of needing a warm place to stay after daylight ended.

It was time for me (and my friend Tom, who was visiting and baking a nice crusty bread to go with the veal breast) to get dressed and go to work. (I know, I know: “Who you gonna call?”)

As it happens, two of the four deployed traps were, shall we say, with squirrel. Which meant that I needed to, A) Leave cooking the rest of the meal to others and, B) Commence to unlawfully transporting live creatures to a new home in “another municipality” while driving in dangerous snow-and-ice conditions, and in a hungry and irritable state.

See, you can’t just carry these traps a few blocks and release what’s inside them. Not even close. Some say a successful “wildlife relocation” (meaning the critters won’t find their way back to the place where their joy ride began) requires going a 50-mile distance away. And not just any meatball is allowed to transport wildlife across town lines; it’s actually against the law to do it. And you thought it was pretty easy being me.

So I loaded the SUV with the incarcerated (and not-at-the-moment flying) squirrels, kicked it into four-wheel drive and slowly drove off in the direction of “an undisclosed location,” leaving my friends to finish cooking the dinner that I had so carefully planned out. (Tom wanted to ride shotgun but I wouldn’t let him; not much sense in both of us getting pinched if a copper happened upon this caper.)

I did not drive 50 miles from my kitchen that evening, or the many other evenings just like it through these years. I’ll need to be evasive on details here, but suffice to say that a wide river provides man many opportunities. Traveling, say, a bridge that goes over such a river could be a useful exercise for a man in my position, if you catch my drift. Particularly if on the other side there is a cold, dark place where freight trains travel slowly and precious few witnesses (er, citizens) roam. Translation: I drop the suckers off on the side of the river where I (and my kitchen) ain’t.

And so one night this winter, while you are cooking something fabulous in your fragrant kitchen, surrounded by loving family and dear and devoted friends, think of your pal in the wilds of Maine, four-wheeling through snow over icy roads and bridges, an outlaw in search of no witnesses to his crime.

Just try and drop the bandana from the image, okay.

And maybe the hat.

The best homemade pizza

18 Mar
It’s a beautiful thing, right?

A homemade pizza, baked in a standard gas oven. I don’t know about you, but this is the first such specimen I have ever seen that looks quite like this.

The dough recipe is from Jim Lahey’s book, “My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home.” Lahey is revered in his circle for good reason. His Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan produces some of the finest breads you will ever lay hands on.

And so when Mister Meatball‘s in-house pizzaioli Tom and Beth spied Lahey’s recipe in the March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit, it didn’t take long for them to get to work.

Poor me.

The full recipe is below, but here’s how it starts: with a dough that rises for around 18 hours.
Lahey’s recipe makes a lot of pizza, six of them actually.
And so the batch needs to be carefully divided and handled.
Look at those beautiful bubbles. I’ve never seen a homemade pizza dough act quite this way before.
What can I say? My head’s still spinning.

Tom and Beth insist that they will never again use another recipe. And that’s good enough for me.

Makes 6 10″ to 12″ pizzas

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (1000 grams) plus more for shaping dough
4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball.

Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72°) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).

Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to center to create 4 folds. Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.

Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap and chill. Unwrap and let rest at room temperature on a lightly floured work surface, covered with plastic wrap, for 2-3 hours before shaping.

To Make the Pizzas
During the last hour of dough’s resting, prepare oven: If using a pizza stone, arrange a rack in upper third of oven and place stone on rack; preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500°-550°, for 1 hour. If using a baking sheet, arrange a rack in middle of oven and preheat to its hottest setting, 500°-550°. (You do not need to preheat the baking sheet.)

Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust dough generously with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a 10″-12″ disk.

If Using Pizza Stone
When ready to bake, increase oven heat to broil. Sprinkle a pizza peel or rimless (or inverted rimmed) baking sheet lightly with flour. Place dough disk on prepared peel and top with desired toppings.

Using small, quick back-and-forth movements, slide pizza from peel onto hot pizza stone. Broil pizza, rotating halfway, until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, 5-7 minutes.

Using peel, transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat, allowing pizza stone to reheat under broiler for 5 minutes between pizzas.

If Using a Baking Sheet
Arrange dough disk on baking sheet; top with desired toppings. Bake pizza until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat with remaining pizzas.


How to make panettone

12 Feb
My friend Tom has spent much of his professional life learning and writing about food. Several times a week he attends elaborate dinners at some of the country’s best restaurants and hotels. The food he is accustomed to sampling at these events is prepared by some very talented chefs.
And so it might surprise you to learn that, in some matters culinary, my friend can be a real pinhead.
He won’t eat Asian food of any type because his mommy used to feed him crappy Chinese takeout when he was really really little. Nor will he eat seafood except under duress, also something he blames on his poor mother.
But it is on the matter of panettone where my friend and I have often come close to blows. Tom’s position has always been that he never met a box of the Italian sweet bread that he has liked. And that because of this one does not exist.
“Why not just eat the cardboard box that it comes in?” he has said to me many times when we visit over the holidays. “It’s just as dry and doesn’t have the calories.”
Except that this past holiday season Tom showed up at my doorstep one afternoon with a grin on his ugly kisser and a half-eaten panettone tumbling out from his backpack.
“I don’t know why you say this stuff is so dry,” he teased while releasing the fragrant bread from its plastic wrap. “This is delicious. And moist!
“Hell, Meatball, I might even bake it for you one of these days.”
Turns out that he did. And he didn’t.
Yesterday I received not a box of bread from Tom but an email with photographs. Of the panettone that he had made for… Who the hell cares, it wasn’t for me.
I had to settle for the instructions on how to make one of my favorite breads. And so will you.
Just one thing about the recipe, in case you ever think about trying it yourself. Tom used the King Arthur Flour Panettone Recipe but fiddled with it some. He tells me he’d feel a lot better if people went with the King’s recipe, and I’d have to admit that I would too.
This is the biga, a starter of flour, water and a small amount of yeast, which fermented for about 14 hours.
The biga is added to a mixture containing flour, eggs, butter, flavorings, yeast, sugar and grated nutmeg. This gets kneaded in a machine with a dough hook for five minutes and then finished by hand for another two minutes. The dough should be silky, not sticky.
After the dough rests for an hour, flatten into a rectangle and add golden raisins and candied orange peel.
Knead the fruit into the dough.
Tom doesn’t have a panettone pan, so he used the pot that he uses for his morning oatmeal. The pan was buttered and lined with parchment so that it could rise above the pan’s height. The dough doubled in size.
Here’s the finished loaf after peeling away the parchment. Looks just like it came out of a fancy box from Milano, no?
The crust, says my friend, was crisp and buttery, the crumb dense but well textured. The flavor? Spot on. Unique in the way that only panettone can be.
Not bad for a pinhead, I guess.

Candied orange peel

16 Jan
The holidays do strange things to me. One morning between Christmas and New Year’s I decided that I must — MUST — whip up a batch of orange biscotti before house guests Tom and Beth arose. It was 5 a.m. and the worthless slugs don’t stir much before nine, so timing would not be a problem.
The problem was the candied orange peel that I needed in order to make the biscotti. There wasn’t any. Somehow it had disappeared from the cupboard. I’m not accusing anybody here, okay. I’m just saying.
Rather than do the sensible thing and bake something else instead I became obsessed with replenishing the (purloined?) supply of orange peel. Immediately. Later that day, after it became apparent that there was no candied orange peel to be had locally, I decided (without discussion or debate) to put the house guests to work and make some.
No, I had never candied an orange peel before. (Do I look like a confectioner to you? Well, do I?) Neither had anybody else in our group. A quick consult with Mister Google netted a variety of approaches to the task, this one appearing to be the simplest. Since I had a few extra hands around to do the painstaking knife work on the oranges, I doubled the recipe so as to secure an ample supply.
Hey, I fed these people for six days. They can cut a few oranges for me, am I right?
The first thing to do is peel the orange and cut the rind into manageable pieces that you can work with. Then, using a sharp knife, cut away as much of the pith as you can.
You could leave more pith on the rind than this, or clean it even further. Either way is fine.
Slice the rind into 1/2-inch pieces.
We used 8 large organic oranges and so we filled a pot with 8 1/2 cups of water and 5 cups of sugar. Stir that together and bring to a boil over medium heat, then add the rind and turn the heat down to low. We allowed this to simmer for around 3 hours (without any stirring, per the instructions).
When the liquid has reduced to the point where it’s just covering the rind, turn off the heat and allow to cool.
Once cool remove the rind with a slotted spoon and place in a colander to drain.
We saved the liquid, which is basically an orange-flavored syrup.
Tom used some of the syrup to make cocktails one night, but I didn’t try any of them. He hates the idea that I don’t drink cocktails and thinks I’m a Luddite for sticking with straight whiskey, wine or beer. For the record, I don’t care much what he thinks.
After the rind has cooled toss a bunch of sugar in a bowl and then, in small batches, roll the rind around until well coated.
At this point all they need to do is dry. We went the oven-dried route, lining them on parchment and baking at a low temperature (no more than 200 degrees F) for an hour or so. But you can also just leave them out on a counter to dry overnight.
Once dry all that’s left to do is rub off some of the excess sugar. How much you remove is up to you; the more sugar left on the sweeter the rind will be.
On the left is the rind with plenty of sugar left on it; the rind on the right has been pretty well cleaned up.
Candied orange peel will keep for some time stored in an airtight container. However, since we made so much of the stuff, I wrapped it up tight and tossed it in the freezer (behind the tripe and the pigskin and the sweetbreads) for safe keeping.
I would appreciate your keeping the whereabout of my orange peel supply to yourself, by the way. I think it best if certain (unnamed) persons do not know its location.

The lunatic is in the hall

22 Oct
I indulge my friends far too much.
Tom especially. The guy’s too lazy to start his own blog, see, and figures he can just use mine anytime he wants. Like when he read my Lasagne alla Bolognese post a couple weeks back. He just had to make his own. And then show everybody.
I must put a stop to this, I know. But until the doctors get his meds straightened out I don’t want to upset the guy, know what I mean? Just go ahead and click on some other link, let me do this thing so we don’t have another “incident” with my friend.
I’ll be back next week.
TOM: I swear it’s a coincidence. Key Food had a sale on ricotta, a big tub of the stuff, and the best way to use it up is in lasagne. I mean if you don’t use bechamel. Thought you might be interested in my non-Italo take.
MM: Lasagne, what a great idea, Tom. Good for you. Glad to see you doing so well.
TOM: Good lasagne starts out with fresh pasta. Note the curly edge; that’s difficult to achieve.
MM: Yes, difficult, I can see that. How about we sing a song together, would you like that? “Ronzoni sono buoni. Ronzoni tastes so good.” Wasn’t that fun?
TOM: Two staples in my version are sweet potatoes (good for you, a superveg) and chorizo (well-known to prep cooks working in the best Italian restaurants in NYC). Si, Senor Meatball.
MM: Are you really supposed to be playing with knives, Tommy? Is Beth around? Let me speak to her for a second.
TOM: Layered in the dish with celery, red pepper, green olives. Lots of color. (Note the traditional Italian seasonings.)
MM: Seasonings, right. Now, I want you to stay away from the Bon Ami next to your pasta maker, okay. It’s not for eating.
TOM: No bechamel in this lasagne, just plenty of ricotta spooned straight from the tub. There’s some of that rubbery mozzarella in there too, and gratings of real Parmesan from Argentina.
MM: That’s great, Tommy. Tell me again, what time do we need to be at that nice doctor’s office today?
TOM: The finished dish. Come on, looks good, right? Tasty too. Ask Toby.
MM: Looks wonderful. Can’t wait to try some. (Toby, for those who are not aware, is a stuffed bear.)
TOM: Of course I have half a tub of ricotta left. Maybe make a real Italo cheesecake? With sweet potatoes?
MM: Yes, do that.
(No, do not send me the pics.)

Torn between two pizzas

28 Sep
My friend Tom, the aspiring pizzaiolo whom you met last week, seizes every chance to try and browbeat me into making a pie. “Enough with the pastas already,” he harangues, implying that pasta making is, at best, a dubious skill. “You love pizza. You should make pizza. What’s wrong with you?”
I told you he was a pain in the ass, didn’t I?
In the couple decades I have known him, though, not once had his bullying proved successful. Until now.
Last week, after an item entitled “Roman-style pizza farce” appeared on this blog, an item where I may have mildly criticized his pizza-making abilities, my vowel-deprived compatriot managed to whip himself into an uncontrollable frenzy. Like a good man suddenly possessed (think Father Damien in “The Exorcist” except not as cute), Tom decided that he simply would not rest until I attempted to reproduce a pie he’d made, so as to see if I might make it as well. 
He emailed to me his demands, commented upon them on this blog, Skyped me incessantly to argue his case fully (and freely); the cheap bastard even picked up the phone one afternoon just to insist — insist I tell you — that I walk a mile in his King Arthur-dusted kitchen clogs before so recklessly stomping on them again.
I worry about my friend. And believe he isn’t well. His blood pressure is not so good and so he must be medicated. Did I mention that he drinks? Probably shouldn’t have. Forget I said anything, okay.
And so, after consulting, on Tom’s behalf of course, an eminent mental health specialist in Vienna (or maybe it was Moonachie?), I decided to do the responsible thing and to make a freaking pizza, so that my dear, afflicted friend could just finally calm down. 
Here’s how it started, a dough made with “00” and all purpose flour, adapted from a recipe provided by none other than my nemesis (thanks, nemesis). I’m not sure about this, but methinks it did not rise quite enough, as the dough turned out to be a bit dense. (That, or Tom is one very fine saboteur masquerading as an innocent bearer of alleged-to-be-simple pizza dough recipes.)
Into a baking pan (per Tom’s Roman-inspired method) and topped with a quick fresh tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella (that’s a type of cheese, Tommy).
Fifteen or so minutes in the oven at 550, and there you go.
The “upskirt” shot: Considering that this was my first completely solo attempt at pizza-making, I would argue that it turned out pretty well. It tasted good. But the crust didn’t char properly, and the dough, as I said, was more dense than it ought to be.
An associate (one with strong ties to Tom, I might add) offered a less encouraging assessment: “It’s definitely not the worst I’ve had.”
Oh, joy!
There was enough dough to attempt a do-over, but instead I went in another direction. Just garlic, fresh rosemary, fresh mozzarella and olive oil.
Tasted even better than the first one, but, alas, the dough was of the same (defective) lineage.
You may commence with the brutal criticism now, Tommy. Just watch your blood pressure, okay. 
And don’t call me. Please!