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Category Archives: Italy

Fresh Leftover Pizza

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It’s beginning to be my favorite food time of the year, filled with persimmons, pomegranate, squash and apples. I officially welcomed fall when I made a big pot of chili last Sunday, despite the fact that it was a hot Indian summer night (and I followed up my two bowls of chili with a walk to a gelato shop). Quite fittingly, today was cold and rainy and I said goodbye to summer by finishing the last of my home-canned heirloom tomato sauce. I also had to get rid of some hot and sweet peppers that had been in my fridge for a while, and I remembered that I had some mozzarella cheese leftover from when I made lasagna. So of course, it had to be a pizza night.

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Saucy Pizza with Hot Peppers and Sausage 

  • 1 pizza crustpeppers
  • 1 cup homemade tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
  • 1/3 lb spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4-5 small peppers, sweet and spicy
  • 2 TB shaved parmesan
  • dried oregano
  • fresh basil

My neighbor (who shall be known as Jimmy from this point forth) introduced me to TJ’s par-baked organic pizza crusts, which are an okay substitution for my sorely missed Giorgio’s rolled-out doughs. They come with two per package, and can be found in the freezer-section of TJ’s near the other pizzas. These are perfect for a night when you just need to throw some leftovers on a pizza, which is exactly what I did!

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and place a baking sheet in the oven to get hot. Meanwhile, brown sausage in a nonstick skillet for about 8 minutes. Drain the oil, wipe out the pan with a paper towel, then coat with a thin layer of cooking spray. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, then add peppers and continue to sauté over a medium flame for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

sausage

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Remove baking pan from oven and cover with parchment paper, then place dough on top of paper. Top pizza dough with tomato sauce, then mozzarella and Gruyère. Add onions and peppers, then sausage, and top with shaved parmesan and a sprinkle of dried oregano. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove and let cool for 3-5 minutes before cutting. Top with fresh basil and enjoy!

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Between the sausage and the hot peppers, this pizza was pretty damn spicy! It called for a fruity yet powerful Zinfandel, like the 2011 Seghesio Old Vine or the 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs – both from vines that are 90-100 years old in Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. These wines exhibit red fruit with spicy pepper and sweet, firm tannins, and stand up well to spicy, Italian food.

Amazeballs

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As you may have heard, “amazeballs” was recently added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, along with “hangry”, “douchebagery” and my personal favorite, “totes”. I’ve been using the word amazeballs since I was a wee sorority girl, so I’m all for this addition of popular slang; especially when I can use such a word to describe a meal!

Last week Panini Girl posted a recipe for eggplant meatballs that she picked up from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, which I will soon be getting a copy of. Panini Girl knows her stuff when it comes to Italian food, and as she writes in her post, she is very picky about meatballs. So I knew that if she liked it as much as she said she did, then the recipe had to be attempted by yours truly! And when I saw some beautiful, huge eggplants at the Sonoma Farmer’s market on Tuesday, I knew the cooking Gods were telling me something.

eggplant

Beautiful eggplant from the Sonoma Farmers Market

Setting up for my first dinner party!

Setting up for my first dinner party!

This past Friday presented the perfect opportunity when I hosted my very first Napa dinner party. In attendance were two coworkers, a vegetarian friend and her meat-eating boyfriend, and my upstairs neighbor. I knew it was a risky move to make something I had never made before that also required quite a bit of prep, but I was determined! I doubled the recipe because there were six of us, and I also made some farro, green beans, and a Greek salad. Needless to say, there was a bit too much food. But better to overserve than underserve!

Eggplant Meatballs aka Amazeballs (serves 8-10)

  • 2 large purple, shiny eggplants
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 x 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, torn, plus 2 TB fresh minced basil
  • 5 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 4 oz shredded Parmesan
  • 2 TB minced parsley
  • 1 cup flour for coating, or more as needed
  • vegetable oil, for frying

Preheat the oven to 350. Poke the eggplants all over with a fork, then place on a rimmed baking sheet and cook for one 60-75 minutes, or until inside is completely tender. Let cool for a few minutes.

The skins will be crinkly and brown when it's ready.

The skins will be crinkly and brown when it’s ready.

Meanwhile, in a large pot (big enough to fit tomato sauce and all the meatballs) heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add 3 cloves of garlic and crush with a wooden spoon, then sauté for about two minutes. Add onion and red pepper flakes and sauté for another two minutes, until onions begin to soften. Add tomatoes and their juice, salt and Italian seasoning and heat until the sauce begins to bubble. Then lower heat to medium-low and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

tomato sauce

Peel eggplant and discard skins. In a large bowl, use your hands to mix eggplant, bread crumbs, eggs, the rest of the garlic (minced), Parmesan, parsley, minced basil, salt and pepper. Form the mixture into golfball-sized balls and coat each in a thin layer of flour, then set onto a platter covered with wax paper.

Pour oil into a large, cast-iron skillet so that it’s about 1 inch deep. Heat over a medium-high flame, then test heat by adding a small piece of the eggplant mixture. If it sizzles, then the oil is hot enough. Using tongs, add half of the eggplant balls into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes, until browned and crispy. Then turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or plate lined with paper towel, and cook the next batch of eggplant balls.

amazeballs

fried amazeballs

Warm sauce over a medium flame, and add torn basil leaves. If too thick, add a bit of water and continue to cook. Once the sauce has reached a desired consistency, add the meatballs and cook for about 10 minutes over a medium-low flame. Transfer to a large serving bowl and serve with a side of farro, pasta, or toasty bread – or just eat as is!

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These eggplant balls were a HUGE hit, even with the carnivores! The consistency was perfect, and they actually tasted a little bit like meat. They were very hearty and flavorful, and were just as good the next day. We had a wide selection of wine at the meal because several of us had brought bottles of mostly full Cabernet that were left over from various work tastings (one of the many industry perks). I also served a Seghesio Barbera that one of my coworkers brought, which paired nicely with the Italian flavors in the amazeballs.

Special thanks to Panini Girl for sharing this recipe with her readers, and an even bigger thanks to my friends who joined me for my first Napa Dinner Party! There will be many more to come 🙂

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

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Last week I splurged and bought the $17.99 frozen Wild Argentinian Red Shrimp from Trader Joe’s. They don’t always carry them at my local Trader Joe’s, so I usually pick a bag up if I can spot them. I suppose it’s a high price tag for TJ’s, but a pound of frozen shrimp goes a long way when you’re cooking for one. I usually use 4 shrimp for one meal since they’re so big, or double it up if I plan on having leftovers. To defrost, place how ever many shrimp in a sealed ziploc bag and put in a large bowl of warm water for about 30 minutes, or until no longer frozen. Then cook and use in a salad, stir fry, as an entree, or in a pasta.

Last night I was in the mood for something tomatoey, so I decided to make Shrimp Fra Diavolo. In place of canned crush tomatoes, I picked up a pint of assorted cherry tomatoes at my local farm stand, along with some fresh basil. The rest of the ingredients were on hand, and I even got to use a mini bottle of Limoncello that I had been saving for some sort of Italian occasion!

tomatoes

Shrimp Fra Diavolo (serves 2)limoncello

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 lb jumbo shrimp (about 8), peeled and deveined
  • 6 oz dried linguine
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup Limoncello
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 10 basil leaves, julienned
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Parmesan, for serving

Set a medium-sized pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add linguine and cook for 8 minutes. Strain and run a bit of cold water over the pasta to keep from sticking. Set aside in strainer.

pasta

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high flame. Generously season shrimp with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, sear shrimp for two minutes on each side. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds, then transfer shrimp to a plate.

shrimp

Add Limoncello and wine, then stir in tomatoes. Add lemon juice and Italian seasoning and sauté for 3 minutes. Crush the tomatoes using a slotted spoon, and cook for another 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed.

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Add shrimp back into the pan and toss to coat with sauce, then add pasta and toss to combine. Top with basil and serve with grated parmesan.

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I enjoyed this meal with the white wine that I used to make the sauce, Navarro Vineyards 2012 Mendocino Chardonnay. It’s light and bright with subtle oak flavors and hints of citrus; very adaptable in regards to pairing with food. I was very pleased with this pick since I didn’t have a lot to choose from – most of my wines are packed up for my impending move to Napa… but that’s another story.

Revisiting Signorello

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I spent this past weekend touring Napa with some gal pals from my hometown in NY, including a pair of Italian sisters and a recent San Francisco convert. Back when they started planning this in early May, I offered to plan out their entire Winetinerary. They graciously excepted the offer, as long as I could join them for Saturday and Sunday. To sweeten the deal, they hired a driver for the weekend from My Napa Valley Driver (which I highly recommend). How could I say no?

The sisters posing in the vineyard at Robert Biale

The sisters posing in the vineyard at Robert Biale

The weather was beautiful both days, and although we had a bit of a rough start on Sunday – due to a wee too much wine at dinner the night before – the girls perked up when we arrived at Signorello Estate. If you haven’t been to Signorello yet, you’re seriously missing out. The iconic view from their infinity pool patio is not to be missed, but it’s the wine that keeps drawing me in.

Panorama of the infinity pool

Panorama of the infinity pool

I first visited Signorello back in 2009 when I started making regular trips to Napa Valley. I was in awe of their friendly and knowledgeable staff, matched with their beautiful views of Oak Knoll District and their distinctive French-style wines. I’ve always had a great time at Signorello and never wanted to leave, once staying until the reflection of the sky was a mirror image on the surface of the pool. Until this past weekend, I hadn’t been to Signorello in more than two years. So you can imagine how excited I was to revisit this special spot on the hills of Silverado Trail.

My first visit to Signorello in  May 2009

My first visit to Signorello Estate in May of 2009

Taken in November 2010, with an early sunset over the Sonoma mountains

Taken in November of 2010, with an early sunset over the Sonoma mountains

Signorello offers a variety of tasting experiences to please your palate. Since we were short on time, we opted to sit on the patio (sans umbrella) and take our tasting outside. Our server, Chris, poured six current releases, including the Seta, Hope’s Cuvee, the Carneros Pinot Noir, Estate Syrah, and a side by side comparison of 2008 and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Each wine was better than the last, but they all possessed a unique Bordeaux-meets-Napa style of winemaking (thanks to their French winemaker, Pierre Birebent), and were ideal representations of the vineyard in which they were grown. We all loved the Hope’s Cuvee, a tribute to owner Ray Signorello’s mother who passed away in the mid-1990’s. The wine was the perfect combination of elegant French oak and delicate hints of citrus – my kind of Chardonnay!

I thoroughly enjoyed the side by side comparison of the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Chris reminded us that 2011 was a rough year for Napa, with two very bad rain storms. But the winery worked hard to monitor the growth of the vines and achieve balance in the finished wine – and it shows! The resulting wine is slightly tannic at first taste, but improved as it opened up in the glass; the initial aroma of bell pepper transformed into dark cherry. Alternatively, 2008 was a great year for Napa Valley and their Estate Cabernet was lush and full-bodied with promising aging potential. If you ever have an opportunity to taste side by side vintages of the same wine (also known as a vertical tasting), I highly recommend it! It is the ultimate viticulture assessment for the effects of a factor that is out of our control: climate

All of us posing by the pool

All of us posing by the pool

Served with our wines was a basket of crostini and a selection of local cheeses and dried fruit. Pairing any type of food with a wine tasting goes a long way in my book. This style of tasting is the traditional practice in Italy and other parts of Europe. Not only does it enhance the flavor of the wine, but it also reminds your palate that wine is and has always been meant to be paired with food. With a deep understanding of this notion, Signorello offers several different food and wine pairing activities at their estate. In addition to cooking classes and private dining events, they have created Enoteca Signorello, a private fine dining experience offered by appointment only and curated by in-house chef Britny Sundin. It’s been described as “one of Napa’s best dining experiences” by Mary Orlin of the Huffington Post. I’ve only been able to experience it vicariously through her review of the meal, but I’m eagerly waiting for the right occasion to partake in this special opportunity.

Be sure to make an appointment at Signorello for your next visit to Napa Valley, and if you splurge for Enoteca Signorello, let me know how it goes! Don’t forget to take a photo of the glorious infinity pool – but dare not dip your toes in because that’s the fastest way to get kicked out! And you certainly wouldn’t want that.

A Slice of Italy in Healdsburg

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This past weekend was the annual Morrison Family Wine Weekend, which takes place every February somewhere North of San Francisco. Unfortunately my brother was not able to attend this trip, because he had some educational business to attend to. And while he was missed at all the fantastic meals and wineries, I had an incredible time with my parents in Sonoma – beginning with Thursday night at Campo Fina in downtown Healdsburg.

I didn’t make reservations anywhere for Thursday night, because I wasn’t sure what time my family would be getting up to Healdsburg. We stayed at Best Western Dry Creek Inn, which was about a four minute drive from Downtown Healdsburg. After a few glasses of Robert Sinskey’s Vin Gris in my parents Tuscan-inspired suite, we started researching dinner options. There was some debate over price range and cuisine style, but we eventually agreed to check out Campo Fina, a casual Italian pizza restaurant.

Wood burning brick pizza oven

Wood burning brick pizza oven

We arrived and decided to sit on the heated patio in the back of the restaurant, which also features a full-size bocce court that is open for anyone to use, including children. The pizza is made in a wood-fired brick oven that gets up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Although there are only 6 pizza options (including a special), they are prepared and cooked to perfection with the freshest ingredients.

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After starting off the night with a few Negroni’s (now my dad’s new favorite cocktail) and castelvetrano olives, we shared a dozen Beausoleil oysters and a large mixed green salad with ricotta salata and white balsamic vinaigrette. My dad then ordered a bottle of Sicilian Nero D’avola to go with our two pizzas: Pizza Campo and the special of the night, a white pizza with braised pork belly. The Pizza Campo had tomato, mozzarella, anchovy, garlic, chili flake, chard, pine nuts, currants and red onions. Both of them were fantastic and so different from each other! The restaurant also served a homemade chili oil that we drizzled over the pizzas – amazing.

Pizza with pork belly and kale.

Pizza with pork belly and greens

Campo Pizza

Pizza Campo

After dinner we took to the bocce court for a game, my mother and I versus my father (she is a beginner so I let her play with me). It was a close game, and we only played to 5 points, but my dad threw the winning shot. Luckily we were able to get on the court because the restaurant wasn’t too crowded on a Thursday night in February, but I’ll bet it gets a little crazy on the summer weekends.

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The food was delicious and just what we were looking for, but I was particularly fond of the inviting staff and enthusiastic pizza chefs. The atmosphere is warm and energetic with fast and friendly service. You definitely get a family vibe from the place, as also evidenced by several small children running around when we first got there.

I would certainly recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for a casual and fun place to dine in Healdsburg. It’s great for families, large groups or a bunch of friends looking to throw down on the bocce court.

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