French Onion Soup

In case you’re already thinking about warding off the winter blues, I bring you the inimitable fragrant and hearty French onion soup. What could better warm your innards than a hot steaming crock of this soul warming ambrosia?  Just imagine the creamy melted cheese spilling over the rim of the crock, the crunchy round of French bread underneath and the oniony aroma filling your nostrils.

Now it’s only fair to tell you up front that it does take a bit of time to achieve this luscious result.  I obviously think it’s worth it.  If you want the real thing, prepare to spend a little time in the kitchen keeping an eye on it and stirring from time to time.  You can make other preparations at the same time, but don’t leave the kitchen for too long.


3 strips bacon

½ stick butter (4 oz.)

3 lbs. yellow onions, peeled and sliced thin

1 t salt*

½ t freshly ground black pepper

2 t sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T flour

4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned*

4 cups water

1 cup dry white wine

½ cup Cognac or brandy

1 T balsamic vinegar

Sprig of fresh thyme

1 Mediterranean bay leaf

Sprig of parsley

1 t Worcestershire sauce

½ t hot pepper sauce

6 slices dry French baguette slices, toasted

1 lb. Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated


In a large Dutch oven, sauté bacon over low heat until crisp.  Remove bacon strips and add butter to bacon fat.   Add the onions and cook slowly about 10 minutes.   Stir in the salt, pepper, and sugar and increase the heat to medium.  Stir mixture from time to time until the onions turn to a deep amber color, about 90 minutes. If they begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, stir in a little water or white wine. Add garlic.

Sprinkle on flour, stir and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and add stock, slowly stirring in the first 2 cups and then adding the rest of the stock and water.    Bring to a simmer and add wine, Cognac, and vinegar.  Tuck in thyme, bay leaf and parsley tied in a bouquet garni of washed cheesecloth.  Add Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and simmer for 30 minutes

Remove bouquet garni and taste for seasoning.  Add salt if necessary.  Fill 6 ovenproof crocks, place toasted baguette slices on top and sprinkle generously with cheese.  Set crocks on a metal cookie sheet and place under broiler until cheese is melted.  Makes 6 servings.

*If using canned chicken broth, don’t add salt.

The Incomparable Victor Ribaudo Whets Your Appetite for More Cool Weather Soups

I love this time of year.  The brisk air hints at cozy evenings on the sofa, and something warm on the dinner table.  Like soup.


Lentil bean ham soup SHI Symbol blog,

Ham and Lentils with White Beans

Not the chilled gazpacho you enjoyed in July. I’m talking about the rich, gratifying warmth only a bowl of soup can bring as we enter the colder months. It’s amazing what a satisfying dinner soup can make, especially when served with crusty bread and a salad. Extremely nourishing. Economical, too. I just can’t say enough about it.

Chicken soup SHI Symbol blog,

Chicken Soup

Growing up, I was treated to an amazing variety of soups. That’s just it about soups. There’s almost no end to the array of recipes for them. Of course, a good chicken soup is always the perfect place to begin. Recipes vary, but they always start with a plump, fresh chicken. Then you build…carrots, onions, celery, potatoes. Almost always present in American versions, with noodles or rice, of course. Add dill and parsnips if you’re going for a Jewish take. And don’t forget to serve with matzo balls or kreplach. Feeling Italian? Add canned plum tomatoes, parsley and a chunk of parmesan rind (it won’t melt as you simmer…promise!) When serving, add some pastina (small pastas like ditalini are perfect) and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Really good for what ails you.

Pasta Fragiole SHI Symbol blog,

Pasta E Fagiole

Beef soup is outstanding, as well. I use short ribs. After enjoying the soup with noodles, I like to serve the ribs and potatoes (I leave them whole) with a side of salad. The meat falls off the bone and has an indescribable sweetness. A complete meal, for sure. You can also add barley to your beef soup, if you want something that really sticks to your ribs.

Da Vinci Wedding Soup, SHI Symbol blog,

Da Vinci Wedding Soup

Vegetable soups really lend themselves to the economical chef. They’re also extremely nutritious. Varied, too. That’s to say that you can take almost any veggie combination and turn it into a satisfying bowl of steaming goodness. Start with a good minestrone, brimming with fresh peas, carrots, onions, beans, tomatoes, potatoes…you name it. Throw in a hand-full of pastina and you’ve got the consummate vegetable soup. I particularly like bean soups. From complex Cuban black bean to hearty Italian bean (pasta e fagioli) to smoky lentil or pea soups (the ham bone does the trick). All outstanding, I think. I also enjoy pureed soups. Potatoes and leaks form a good team in this arena. So do carrots and ginger. Add a touch of heavy cream if you’re daring enough. And speaking of cream, who doesn’t love a substantial bowl of New England clam chowder? I mean, really…does it get any better than that?

Tuscan bean soup SHI Symbol blog,

Tuscan Bean Soup

Now I couldn’t possibly mention every type of soup there is out there. I mean, I haven’t even touched upon Chinese wonton or Japanese miso. I just love them all. However, if I had to choose my all time favorite, I’d have to go with French onion soup. I’ve tasted so many – homemade as well as restaurant prepared. Some using roasted beef bones for the broth. Others depending on the caramelization of onions for the rich, brown color and depth of flavor. Doesn’t matter to me. They’re all exceptional. I believe the cheese is what really gets to me, though. Gooey, slightly browned. I especially love the bits that get stuck on the side of the crock. And what about the surprise within…a crusty (not so soggy, if it’s done correctly) piece of French bread. If that’s not a meal, I don’t know what is.

Chilly out tonight? Fill the pot with water or chicken stock and start simmering your own homemade soup. Plan ahead and shop for the ingredients. Or see what you have in the fridge and cupboard. Leftovers are allowed, you know. I mean, use the carcass of last night’s roasted chicken as a base, and create from there. So when the weather calls for soup, you’ll be prepared to answer with a wholesome bowl that will do you good. I think you’ll sleep better that night, too.

Victor Ribaudo

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin,
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
Blog syndicated at the


See You at Breakfast!

The Classic French Omelet

I learned to make a French omelet from the late Bert Greene, cook, cookbook writer and proprietor of The Store at Amagansett. His class was the first in my career as a perennial cooking class student. A small group of professionals from various walks of life gathered in an Eastside townhouse of a friend of Bert’s to learn from his genial expertise.

No teacher could have been more approachable than Bert, yet at the end of the first class, a young New York Magazine staffer confessed, “This class is over my head.”
Bert, quite surprised, responded, “What did you find difficult?”
“I was lost at the beginning,” she said, “when you said, ‘Take a saucepan and . . . ‘ I don’t know what a saucepan is!”
Bert persuaded her to continue.

One of my favorite classes was Crepes and Omelets Ad Infinitum. Bert had asked us to bring our own crepe pan to class advising us never to use it for anything else. I felt like the star of the class when Bert pointed out to the assemblage that mine was the only seasoned pan of the lot.  T-fal and its successors had moved into the market, demonstrating an apt competitor for the perfect crepe and French omelet. Now I use my nonstick GreenPan Bert would be impressed with the results.

Ingredients  (Serves one)

  • 2 large eggs (not medium and not extra large)*
  • One teaspoon finely chopped chives, plus more for sprinkling
  • One tablespoon sweet butter
  • One tablespoon cream or water (Bert said cream makes a creamy omelet, water, a fluffy omelet)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Beat ingredients together with a fork.

Heat an 8-inch nonstick pan to hot.  Add butter.  When the foam subsides, pour in egg mixture.  Mix vigorously with a heatproof spatula.  Shake pan back and forth.  Continue mixing in a circular motion until egg starts to set.  Lift edges to make sure egg is not sticking.  Jerk pan back and forth until egg gathers up in the far side of the pan.  Just before the egg is totally set, slide onto a warm plate holding the handle of the pan with your thumb topside and, tilting pan at a 45 degree angle, allow the omelet to fold over on itself.  Use a couple of forks to smooth any raggedy edges. The omelet should be soft and creamy with no browning.  Smear top with a bit of butter and sprinkle a pinch of chives on top. Voila!

*It’s important to use the right amount of egg mixture. Too little and you won’t wind up with a creamy omelet; too much and the bottom will brown before the egg has set.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s . . .   or Vic’s or Bill’s or Phyllis’

by Victor Ribaudo

Beautiful breakfast - eggs, Food & Wine Section, Dating Symbol blog

You know what they say. It’s the most important meal of the day. That may be so, but breakfast has often been the most delicious meal of my day. I include brunch in this statement. Living in the city, brunch is a mainstay of weekend living. I adore it, whether I’m partaking in a café or treating friends to my own creations.

breakfast at Tiffany's, Food & WIne Section, Dating Symbol blog

Breakfast wasn’t always a household favorite of my youth. Rushing off to school, and my perpetual tardiness, often resulted in a mealy shake with raw eggs in it. Needless to say, I wasn’t always pleased with my morning repast. As I grew older, and made time for a good breakfast, my idea of a morning meal shifted dramatically. Now one of the last things I think of before I drift into a dreamless sleep is what the following morning’s meal will bring. I know, you’re thinking “Gee… what an exciting guy!” Guess I’m just a simple man, but that’s the way it is for me.

Given schedules, breakfast can be just as the word suggests, a “fast break” before heading off to a busy day. When time is at a premium, I often turn to a morning sandwich of some sort. Now, I’m not talking about fast food offerings. I’m thinking of a nice bagel brimming with cream cheese, premium smoked salmon and a bit of raw red onion. Or a pepper, potato and egg sandwich on a crusty roll. Even the ubiquitous bacon, cheese and egg in an English muffin. Something portable, but always delectable.

breakfast at Tiffany's, Oatmeal, Food & WIne Section, Dating Symbol blog

Cold cereal is not really on my radar. But that’s just me. Please enjoy. I’d rather sit down to a hearty bowl of coarse cut oatmeal or creamy grits. A little butter, heavy cream, brown sugar, cinnamon… maybe some fresh blueberries…and I’m set. It’s warm, substantial and gratifying. That’s what I’m after to get my morning metabolism jump started. Especially on colder days.

Guess if I had to choose, I’d say that omelets are my preferred breakfast item. A fluffy French omelet, peppered with fresh chives, is what I call heaven. Check out Phyllis’ recipe. It’s divine. But really, any type of omelet does the trick. Inventive combinations abound at your favorite eateries, and may be created easily at home. All kinds of veggies, herbs and cheeses, as well as bacon, sausages and ham, are fair game. Whatever you do, please don’t be intimidated by the preparation. Just be sure to use a well greased, non-stick pan. Single serve omelets are a cinch. Just press the sides in towards the center and jiggle until the runny center hits the rim of the pan to cook. When done to your preference, fold and cook for just a few more seconds. Larger omelets, or frittatas, are simple as well. When the bottom is done to your liking, they may be finished off in the oven, or under the broiler, to solidify the top. I like to sprinkle on some grated cheese before I pop in the oven. It gets brown and crispy when the heat does its magic.

Of course, sweeter breakfast options are always welcome, especially when I’m looking to indulge. Waffles (no, not the ones you pop into the toaster) are dreamy when served with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Pancakes, especially when buckwheat and other nourishing grains are included in the batter, make for a bountifully fulfilling morning meal. I prefer real maple syrup. A bit thinner than the artificial varieties, but I fix that by simmering for a while to reduce and thicken. I really pour it on. I suspect you do as well.

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Pancakes, Food & Wine section, Dating Symbol blog

There’s nothing more heartwarming than a first-rate breakfast. Think about it. Waking up to the aroma of frying bacon and freshly brewed coffee. Brings you back, doesn’t it? So while my cousins in Italy are satisfied with a Continental breakfast – usually a hard roll and coffee – my American sensibilities require more to start my day. It’s part of our national food experience. I encourage you to make time for breakfast. And have a better day to follow.

Recipe  by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
Blog syndicated at the

More on Mac n Cheese

Move over apple pie. I do believe that macaroni and cheese is slowly taking over as the quintessential, all American standard. Well, perhaps I speak too soon. Nevertheless, it’s right up there with baseball and apple pie. And like all things American, mac n cheese is so versatile. I mean, think about it. Hundreds of cheeses in the culinary glossary from which to choose. Lots of pasta shapes, too. That spells creativity to me.

I’ll admit that I didn’t exactly grow up with macaroni and cheese. Being Italian, macaroni was a staple in my home. However, it was usually adorned with some type of red sauce, meatballs, or at least a vegetable sautéed in garlic and oil. I remember the time I asked my grandmother for mac n cheese. I had seen it on a television commercial. She proceeded to serve me macaroni laden with ricotta and Parmigiano cheeses. Delicious. But definitely not was I was looking for. It wasn’t yellow! My Mom eventually got the picture, and from then on the macaroni and cheese I was served came straight out of a box. Those convenient varieties still exist. But it’s the homemade and restaurant made creations that we’re all really after, isn’t it? And talk about your comfort food. Hot and steamy pasta loaded with all types of gooey cheese in a creamy sauce. How bad could that be on a cold winter’s day?

I’ve conducted lots of experimentation where mac n cheese is concerned. When I first began, I used only the processed cheese that so many of my friends who grew up with Southern Soul Food swore by. I usually served it right out of the saucepan. As my horizons expanded, so did my recipe collection. And recipes do abound. Of course, they almost always start with a béchamel cream sauce. Easy enough to prepare. What I like about Phyllis’ recipe (below) is that her béchamel incorporates shallots and garlic directly into the roux. Ingenious, as far as I’m concerned. If your base sauce boasts lots of flavor, you can only move up on the taste scale as you begin to fold in your cheeses. I use the plural here, because that’s really the only way to go. A combination of cheeses can only intensify and build a complexity that your mac n cheese is craving. What cheeses? The choice is wide open to you. Use your favorites. If you like the way they taste with crackers and wine, you’ll love them in your dish. Try to balance sharp with mellow, however. Too much either way and you might be disappointed.

Now, I mentioned that I used to spoon my mac n cheese straight from the saucepan. Kind of shortsighted at the time. A really magnificent macaroni and cheese should be baked. It gives the cheese, cream sauce and pasta some time to meld and get acquainted. And the crust that baking produces on top is a must. Whether you’re using breadcrumb or crumbled crackers, the contrast between the crunch and cream is heavenly. One note. Be sure to prepare your macaroni al dente. That’s to say, ever so slightly underdone. It will continue to cook in the oven.

Additions to your mac n cheese recipes can include smoky bacon or ham, or a spicy chorizo. I sometimes add steamed broccoli or spinach. Any complementary ingredient will contribute to a whole new dimension. And it will all be scrumptious. It’s like I said. We Americans are extremely resourceful. Mac n cheese is no different. No matter what flavorings you add, it will always be a quintessentially American dish.

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika
Food Stylist BrianPreston Campbell
Blog syndicated at the

Cheese Sophistication


With Vanilla Wafer Crust

This light, ethereal Italian cheesecake will not disappoint. Unlike the New York style cheesecake which traditionally uses only cream cheese, the Italian version includes sour cream for tang and ricotta for lightness as well as cream cheese for structure.  The citrus zest is a must.

This cheesecake was inspired by one served in the 1990s in a little northern Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village called New Port Alba.  It’s both rich and delicate.  You can serve it with a few fresh berries or a fresh fruit coulis and a dollop of whipped cream.  Just don’t overwhelm the luscious cheesecake.

Vanilla Wafer Crust

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

20 vanilla wafers (Nila is a good choice)

1 T sugar

4 oz. butter, melted

Tightly cover the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine the wafers and sugar. Process until the wafers are fine crumbs.  Drizzle butter into the crumb mixture.  Pulse to combine. Press this mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.


1 lb. whole milk ricotta cheese

1 lb. sour cream

1 lb. cream cheese (or mascarpone)

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 stick sweet butter, melted

Pinch of salt

3 large eggs

3 T flour

3 T cornstarch

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 ½ T pure vanilla extract

¼ t fiori di sicilia (optional)*

Finely grated zest from one orange and one lemon

Have all filling ingredients at room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl beat together ricotta, sour cream and cream cheese until well mixed.  Beat in sugar and then melted butter and pinch of salt.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add flour, cornstarch, lemon juice, vanilla, fiori di sicilia and zest, beating until completely mixed.

Lower oven heat to 300 degrees.  Transfer to prepared pan and bake for one hour.  Turn off heat and let cake stay in oven, door closed, for another hour.  Remove and let cake cool completely in pan, set on a wire rack.  Cover and refrigerate.  Remove sides of pan and serve slightly chilled.

*fiori di sicilia-an intense vanilla and citrus flavoring available online from King Arthur Flour.

Cheese sophistication -

Cheese–Milk’s Leap Towards Immortality: Victor on Cheese

They say that long ago a man had a container made from an animal’s stomach. Not uncommon in the BC years. He filled his pouch with some fresh milk one day in preparation for a long journey. Well, the rennin from the stomach lining helped coagulate the milk, producing curds and whey. Voila! Cheese was born. Of course, there’s no way to substantiate this story. I believe it – or something like it – is true. I like to call these phenomena “food accidents.” I’m sure that’s how wine and bread leveners were discovered as well. Call me a dreamer. But isn’t it amazing how such delicious foods can have such meager and haphazard beginnings?

Cheese & Fruit,

There’s actually nothing meager about cheese. I believe it’s one of our most sophisticated foods. So many varieties, all with nuances that distinguish them from one another. Some have actually been knighted with the names of cities. I’m not surprised. Cheese, like no other food, shows that we are truly fortunate to possess taste buds. It speaks of history, craftsmanship and creativity. It makes for incredible pre-dinner fare, marvelous entrees and indulgent desserts. Not many foods can say that.

Soft Cheeses,

There are thousands of types of cheeses, from hard to runny, pungent to mild. Cheese can reflect the gentle fragrance of wind swept fields. Or it can be a bold and brassy thing that dominates the plate and fills a room with aromas. Excellent examples of the range of cheese experiences include everything from the delicate, milky texture of fresh mozzarella to the creamy, mushroom-like flavor of brie to the robust, in-your-face aroma of Roquefort. What’s for you? Well, I’m tempted to list every one of my favorites, and describe each one of them. But cheese is a purely personal thing. Really subjective. The best advice I can give is to visit a fine cheese shop, or even your supermarket, and explore. Use your eyes. What looks interesting? Take a sample. Better cheese establishments will gladly offer. Then take your choices home, and enjoy with crusty breads, fresh or dried fruits, nuts and of course, wine. You’ll know straight off what turns you on. Once you’ve established that, then you can begin to incorporate cheese into your culinary repertoire.
Italian group of cheeses,

I personally look to add cheese to as many recipes as I can, to heighten complexity of flavors. When I’m simmering a chicken soup, I place a pecorino Romano rind into the pot. It doesn’t melt, I assure you. For my chicken pot pie, I incorporate a sharp cheddar into the crust. Really savory. My sizzling steak almost always includes a dab of blue cheese in the final presentation. As for my cream sauces, the addition of cheese is always a refinement. I usually begin with a béchamel, and then rely on my kitchen cleverness. I stir in grated parmesan to top my steamed asparagus. Edam is added when saucing my blanched broccoli. My Alfredo sauce gets a dollop of blue cheese, too. Just my taste. It all works.

Salsa Dip & Cheese,

Truth is, cheese really enhances and romances a meal. When I want to dazzle my love, it’s brie en croute as an appetizer, for sure. A Gruyere soufflericota, brie en  croute for dinner, absolutely. Decadent cheesecake – especially the Italian ricotta variety – a must. It just adds richness to the occasion – especially when we’re not celebrating anything special. And that’s what I’m usually looking for. A way to make our culinary journey exceptional. Cheese surely does that. With sophistication. And in great taste.


The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. ~G.K. Chesterton (They obviously don’t know everything.)

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe by Phyllis Kirigin,
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
Blog syndicated at http:/

Homemade Pizza is Heaven

Your Own Pizza Pie? That’s Amore!

Are you ready for a pizza that’s worlds apart from what you pick up in that big square box? Read on at your own risk. Don’t say you haven’t been forewarned. You might just start making your own pizza from now on. My husband is the pizza-maker in our house. He makes his own pizza dough and garnishes it with fresh ingredients. His techniques guarantee a crispy crust and caramelized toppings.

The highlights of this recipe are partially baking the dough rounds before adding toppings and sautéing the toppings before adding them to the pizza. The pizza doesn’t bake long enough to give the raw ingredients a caramelized taste. (Serves six.)

Pizza dough:

1 package (2 ¼ t) active dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water (110 degrees)
4 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
2 t salt
2 T extra virgin olive oil

Toppings (go nuts, prepare your favorites):


Avoid prepared pizza sauce. Instead, chop up a tomato or handful of tiny tomatoes and sauté in a nonstick pan with a teaspoon of olive oil, pinch of salt and pepper. Mash as tomato softens.

½ cup sliced mushrooms, sautéed

I cup thinly sliced sweet pepper (think yellow, red or orange for color) lightly sautéed.

1 small sliced Vidalia onion sautéed until beginning to caramelized

4 cloves of thinly sliced garlic added to caramelized onion

One hot and one sweet Italian sausage, crumbled and sautéed

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata or Turkish olives sliced in half

2 T fresh basil, chopped

½ t red pepper flakes

¼ t dried oregano

½ t salt

¼ t freshly ground black pepper

¾ lb. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced*

The dough:

Proof the yeast by dissolving it in warm water. It should foam up. Put the flour and salt in a food processor using the steel blade. Pulse briefly and then add the yeast mixture in a slow stream. Stop processor, add oil and pulse a few times.

On a lightly floured surface knead dough briefly and form into three balls. * * Place on a baking sheet, cover with a towel and let rise about 45 minutes until double in bulk.

Place baking stone in a 450-degree oven.

Shaping, Topping and Baking:

Press out dough with your fingers from the center out on a floured surface (preferably a marble slab). Shape dough into three 12” rounds about ¼” thick.. Allow a lip on the edge. Poke a few holes with a fork in the dough to keep it from puffing up. Lift onto a peel, slide onto hot baking stone and bake one at a time, unless baking stone can accommodate more, for four minutes until lightly baked. Take out of oven and divide toppings among crusts. Arrange slices of cheese on top. Return to oven and bake another 6 minutes, just until cheese is melted and starting to bubble. Run under the broiler for a couple of minutes to brown the top. Don’t overbake or cheese will become leathery. Cut into wedges with a pizza cutter.

*Place cheese in freezer for 20 – 30 minutes to make slicing easier.

** At this point dough can be refrigerated or frozen for use later. Each ball will make pizza for two.

Victor’s Heavenly Pizza

My Mom makes awesome pizza. That’s not a subjective statement, mind you. Everyone says so. And even though there were three terrific pizzerias within a ten block radius of my block growing up, nothing compared to her creations. Perfect crust, aromatic sauce, just the right amount of mozzarella and other toppings. A gastronomic experience, really, even though the art of pizza making is not all that complicated. Mom says it just takes a good recipe, and some practice. Mostly love, really.

One of the first things to consider is the type of pizza you’re contemplating. The thin crust, round Neapolitan pie is always a hit. How thin to make the crust is a matter of preference, of course. I like it really slim – almost cracker-like – and well done. Doesn’t fill you up as much, so you get to eat more. The thicker crusted, square Sicilian pie is Mom’s personal favorite. I don’t believe it has anything to do with our Sicilian heritage. I think it’s all about the abundance to her. Hefty pieces (she doesn’t call them slices) that really hit the spot, if you know what I mean. You might also consider deep dish Chicago style pizza. Similar to Sicilian, but not as crispy on the edges. Really quite nice.

QuantcastOnce you’ve decided on the type of pizza you’re creating, you’ve got to make a critical decision. Pre-made dough, or homemade? I opt for homemade. Again, it’s not all that difficult. Mom says you’ve got to establish a relationship with your dough. OK, maybe that’s a bit much, but after making my own pizza for a few years, I kind of see what she means. A few tips here. Remember, it’s going to get messy the first few times, but that’s alright. Have fun with it. If you own a mixer, that’s great. If not, be sure you use a very large bowl. No…larger that that! You’ll need it. And use lots of flour on the counter while rolling and stretching the dough. Less sticking means fewer holes to patch up. I also found that when baking, pizza stones are OK, but a pizza screen achieves an even, crispier crust. You can also try grilling. It enhances the final product with a smoky goodness, almost like the wood burning oven pizzas my great grandmother undoubtedly treated the family to back in the old country. Just be sure to coat with plenty of olive oil. You don’t want three quarters of your pizza to remain on the grill! The rest is all about imagination.
Be sure you have a good sauce recipe. Not too sweet, like those jarred varieties you’ll find at the supermarket. Nice and savory. Then get to building your pizza. A traditional sauce and mozzarella pie is a good place to start. You can step it up by adding pesto or anchovies to the mix. I like that a lot. Some pizza fanatics say no mozzarella, just sauce and grated parmesan cheese. OK by me, but I like to add Italian tuna in olive oil to that one. Want more? Pepperoni, sausage or sliced meatballs are popular. Mushroom, peppers, zucchini and eggplant appeal to the vegetarian set. A white pie featuring mozzarella, ricotta and grated parmesan is also delectable. Anything goes, really. Left over breaded or grilled chicken cutlets in the fridge? Slice them up and top the pizza. Baked ham last night? Chunk it up, add pineapple, and call your pie a Californian. When visiting Sicily, I actually tried a pizza topped with scrambled eggs, artichoke hearts and grated parmesan. It was phenomenal. I kid you not.

The point is that once you’ve got your homemade dough and sauce down – the basics of the pie – you can achieve greatness as a pizza chef in your own neighborhood. Just think about the foods you like to eat, and top your pizza with them. Get your creative juices flowing and there’s no telling what you’ll come up with.

Oh, I should mention that sweet pizzas are definitely an option for you. You can transform a white pizza into an excellent dessert by adding cinnamon, sugar, grated orange peel and chocolate chips to ricotta. Just spread evenly over the dough, and bake. I also like a chocolate-hazelnut spread as a topping. You can make your own, but here’s one instance where the store bought spread works just fine.

Fire up the oven or grill, get some dough on your fingers, and be inventive. That’s Mom’s motto when it comes to crafting pizza. And you’ll create a slice of heaven for family and friends every time.

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin,
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
Blog syndicated at the

Grilled Pizza with Ham and Pineapple

You don’t really want to light the oven to 500 degrees on a hot July day,  do you?  This easy grilled pizza should get you in the mood for some outdoor summer relaxing.  Just a few simple ingredients showcase the smoky flavor and crispy crust.

Pizza dough:

2/3 cup warm water (105 to 110 degrees)

2 t instant dry yeast

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 t salt

1 ½ T olive oil

Add yeast to warm water, mix and set aside. Place flour and salt in food processor.  Add oil and mix.  Pour yeast mixture around mixture and pulse just until a ball forms.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briefly.  Transfer dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise about one hour until doubled in bulk.  Punch dough down and divide into two equal balls.

Tomato Paste:

2 large flavorful tomatoes cut into 1-inch slices

1 medium Vidalia onion, cut into ½-inch slices, salt and pepper to taste

Place tomato slices on a vegetable grill pan. Set on grill over indirect heat. Turn over after one side begins to char. Place onion slices directly on grill over indirect heat.  Turn over after one side becomes charred. When both tomatoes and onions become soft, mash together and add salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

2 T yellow cornmeal for baking sheets


1 1/3 cups coarsely grated fresh mozzarella (Place in freezer for 15 minutes first.)

3 T freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

4 canned pineapple slices, coarsely chopped

6 thin slices cooked ham, coarsely chopped

Prepare a hot grill.  Sprinkle cornmeal over two baking sheets. Roll out each ball of dough into a 10-inch round. Place each on a baking sheet. Slide onto the grill until lightly browned.  Lift up with a large spatula to check the underside.  They cook fast..  Take off the grill with the spatula and turn over onto those same baking sheets.  Brush the tomato paste over each, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle the two cheeses over the pizzas.  Arrange pineapple pieces in a single layer over pizzas and sprinkle with ham.  Slide the pizzas onto dry grill.  Cover the grill and cook until the crusts are crisp and brown and cheese is melted.   They can take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes.  Keep a close watch. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.  Serves 4 to 8.

Photographer Bill Brady
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell

Briarcliff Indoor Farmers Market Season Finale

The very first eggs from Feather Ridge Farm's pullets

A last look at this season’s lively Briarcliff Indoor Farmers Market. Time to check the local outdoor farmers markets--Community Markets.

THE PLACE for artisan bread and cheese

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Macaroni and Cheese revisited

macaroni and cheese 4

Macaroni and cheese you say?  How tres ordinaire.  But there is a crisp chill in the air and I don’t know about you, but I say comfort food is my plat du jour.  Yes, I know that you can no doubt find a recipe for macaroni and cheese on the back of a pasta box, but as with all food favorites, there is a palatable version and there is an ethereal version.  The best macaroni and cheese I have tasted is the Croton-on-Hudson, NY  Umami  Cafe’s award-winning white truffle oil laced dish and, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario,  the restaurant Zee’s creamy version.

I have put together the best features of both and added, what I think is the crowning feature, an abundant crusty topping of buttery fresh breadcrumbs.

Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups coarse crumbs from good quality bread, crusts removed

5 T butter (divided)

2 medium shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely minced

3 T all-purpose flour

1/8 t smoked sweet paprika

2 t Dijon mustard

1 quart whole milk

½ t freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. elbow macaroni or corkscrew pasta

4 cups cheese, grated   (combination of sharp cheddar, gruyere and colby)

½ cup finely grated Parmegiano reggiano

(white truffle oil optional)

Lightly sauté the breadcrumbs in 2 T butter and set aside.  Sauté shallots and garlic in 3 T butter in a 4-quart saucepan just until translucent.  Add flour and stir over medium heat for two minutes.  Add smoked sweet paprika and mustard.  Slowly add and stir in milk. Add pepper. Grate cheese on grating disk of food processor or large holes of box grater.

Cook macaroni 2 minutes less than package directions instruct.  Set aside ½ cup of cheese mixture for topping. While macaroni is cooking, add remainder of cheese to milk mixture a little at a time, stirring constantly.  Taste for salt.  You may not need any as the cheese is salty. Stir well-drained macaroni into cheese mixture and pour into an oven-proof casserole dish.  Sprinkle reserved cheese over macaroni and then the breadcrumbs.  Bake covered in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes.  Remove cover and bake for another 10 minutes until there is a light crust on top. Guests can sprinkle a few drops of white truffle oil on top if they like.

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