Dining Outside the Home: Café Portofino in Lihue, Kauai! Do you need a reason to love lasagna? Might it be the oven-baked pasta bathed in layers of zesty spices, fresh herbs, meat sauce, and Italian cheese? Just thinking about it is mouth-watering. Well, you don’t need to travel to Northern Italy from the Pacific Ocean. Café Portofino, a beachfront restaurant on Kauai, serves up a plate of happiness and satisfaction by bringing the Italian deliciousness right to your table. Their classic lasagna combination features the rich meat sauce of cravings as well as a creamy white sauce to die for. This is not your ordinary lasagna. Taste it to believe it.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Something to Savor: Neapolitan Tomato Cheese Pizza! Before you roll your eyes, let me explain about Neapolitan pizza. The dough itself is made of four basic ingredients. I like that. The Italian flour makes the dough stretchy and easy to work into shape with your fingers. If you cannot find Italian flour, bread flour is an acceptable substitute. I went on a quest to find it, though. A Neapolitan pizza is made to be eaten with a knife and fork as a personal pan pizza. And it is not precut, simply because the center of the bottom crust is soft and chewy. Trust me, it’s worth every bite. This dough recipe will make six individual servings of thin crust pizza. Bellissimo!
NEAPOLITAN TOMATO CHEESE PIZZA
4 cups Italian “00” flour plus extra flour for dusting
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/3 cups water
1/2 cup tomato sauce
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced rounds
6 basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine flour, sea salt, yeast, and water into a Bread Machine. Set to “Dough”. When finished, divide dough into 6 portions, cover each in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 72 hours. Remove 45 minutes prior to preparation for dough to come to room temperature. Transfer one ball of dough to a medium bowl that has a handful of flour in it. Flip to coat. Pat off excess flour and transfer it to a floured surface. Gently stretch dough, with fingertips, into a circle. Pick it up and place it on a sheet of parchment paper. With one hand in the center of the dough round, use the other hand to stretch the edge outward without tearing, rotating as needed. Place the oven rack on its highest setting. You should still be able to place an iron skillet on it. If not, lower the rack. Preheat the Broiler on High. Dust the iron skillet with flour; tap out excess. Heat the empty skillet until it is smoking lightly, approximately 3 minutes. Transfer dough to the skillet. Moving quickly, top the dough with tomato sauce, mozzarella slices, and fresh basil leaves. Sprinkle with kosher salt and drizzle with olive oil. Transfer skillet back to the broiler and cook until pizza is puffed and charred in spots, up to 4 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove from oven. Serve immediately. For more than one pizza, repeat process.
Dining Outside the Home: Bocca di Bacco Theater District in New York, New York! Pay attention when a waiter tells you where he goes for dinner when he’s off work. It’s usually one of those best-kept secrets. If you don’t have a reservation, no worries. Snag a seat at the bar. Bartenders are usually pretty friendly, you can linger over drinks, and when you’re ready for dinner…they happily accommodate. Bocca di Bacco in the Theater District is hip, trendy, popular, and within walking distance of a Manhattan hotel. You’ll realize that as soon as you cross the threshold of this neighborhood trattoria, people flock here for a cozy atmosphere. Distant laughter and glasses clinking are cause for celebration. If Italian small plates are more your style, prepare to be amazed. Not everything is pasta, but it is Italian, so sit back and inhale the aromas.
Dining Outside the Home: The Mariner in Mystic, Connecticut! In the center of Historic Downtown Mystic enjoy a meal, or two, at this upscale coastal restaurant where the seafood is fresh, food is made from scratch, and the cocktails go down real smooth. Try their version of New England Clam Chowder. Made with the freshest clams, the richest cream, and a secret recipe they’ll take to their grave. Is it any wonder it’s the top favorite in the restaurant? But don’t stop there. The gourmet chef also specializes in Italian cuisine from pastas to gnocchi as well as dry-aged steakhouse attractions that include tender filets and pan roasted rib eyes. Are you getting the picture? Perhaps you need to make The Mariner your regular eating house.
Dining Outside the Home: Duetto Pizza and Gelato in Key West, Florida! Just a stone’s throw off Duval Street is a cozy Italian eatery that serves New York-style thin crust pizza by the slice. Because a single slice can be bigger than your hand, you may see people folding it in half, especially if they’re peddling toward the beach or heading over to the waterfront pier. No judgement. If it keeps one from burning the roof of their mouth on the gooey cheese, I’m all for it. Whatever you choose, save a little room for fresh gelato. It’s made daily with milk, real fruit, and natural ingredients. No wonder it tastes so good.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Timeless Classics: Italian Bread Salad! Panzanella. Travel with me to Tuscany for a delightful dinner on a gardened terrace. Indulge in a bountiful salad of artisan bread, juicy tomatoes, sweet onions, and green bell peppers. Appreciate the herbs de Provence perfectly blended with garlic wine vinegar whisked in extra-virgin olive oil. It’s enough to make you swoon. The ingredients are very forgiving. Tomatoes a little soft? Has the bread gone stale? No worries. This classic Italian meal was originally meant to be eaten that way. It’s truly amazing!
ITALIAN BREAD SALAD
1-pound loaf artisan bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence, crushed
8 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine garlic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
Cracked black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 300°. Slice and cube the bread in bite-size pieces, leaving crusts on. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick oil. Form a single layer of bread cubes. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with Herbs de Provence. Bake 10 minutes; flip over and bake 10 minutes longer. Cool. For dressing, whisk together olive oil, red wine garlic vinegar, and sea salt. In a large salad bowl, combine bread with tomatoes, green pepper, and onion. Pour vinaigrette over all and toss to coat. Refrigerate for one hour before serving. Stir occasionally to blend flavors. Just before serving, gently toss with fresh basil. Add cracked black pepper to taste.
* Serving suggestion: Italian Bread Salad is best eaten the day it is made.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Timeless Classics: Cheesy Burrata! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Burrata cheese, allow me to tell you a little bit about it. Imagine a soft delicate layer of mozzarella cheese stretched thin like a piece of hand-formed pie dough. It is placed into a bowl so the center can be filled like a porcelain white water balloon. Inside is heavy cream as rich as butter and luscious cheese curds. The pouch is then tightly tied at the top to ensure maximum freshness. The taste is extraordinary. It’s enough to make you roll your eyes and swoon.
8 ounce Burrata cheese
Cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
Herbs de Provence
Sea salt to taste
Place the Burrata cheese on a platter surrounded by fresh basil and cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil. Add a sprinkling of Herbs de Provence and sea salt to taste. Serve with crusty artisan breads or crackers.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Timeless Classics: Burrata Meatballs! Time is of the essence. You can either make your own homemade meatballs, or you can bypass one step and use a store bought variety like I did. I put my energy into the homemade marinara sauce simply because the results are between night and day, in my opinion. If you choose to use your favorite pasta sauce, be my guest. The focus today is actually on that incredible Burrata cheese! I think I could drown in a bathtub of Burrata and happily eat my way out of it. Don’t judge me.
1 pound Italian sausage-style meatballs, precooked
2 cups San Marzano crushed tomatoes*
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/8 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
7 ounces mushrooms, sliced and drained
6 ounces Burrata cheese, chunks
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, combine crushed tomatoes, basil, marjoram, oregano, garlic powder, and mushrooms. Simmer until sauce thickens. Add meatballs. Spoon marinara sauce generously over meatballs. Transfer portions to individual serving casseroles. Randomly place Burrata cheese between meatballs. Bake 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve Burrata Meatballs with garlic bread or spoon over pasta.
* I receive no recompense for the suggestion of San Marzano Certified Italian Tomatoes.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Mini Caprese Skewers! Can you tell I’m trying to squeeze as many foods in my picnic basket as possible before Summer ends? For a quick veggie burst of flavor, these off-the-vine cherry tomatoes are a match made in heaven when paired with fresh basil. It doesn’t hurt that the marinated mozzarella balls are skewered together for lovely presentation. It’s all about the finger food.
MINI CAPRESE SKEWERS
12 mozzarella balls
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon Italian spice blend
24 fresh basil leaves
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
12 black olives, sliced
Olive oil for drizzling
In a shallow bowl, place mozzarella balls. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with Italian spices. Toss cheese to cover well. Beginning with a cherry tomato half, thread tomato on a toothpick or skewer. Then place one basil leaf, followed by a marinated mozzarella ball. Finish with the remaining cherry tomato and another basil leaf. Repeat with remaining cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, and mozzarella balls. Thread black olives on separate skewers. Drizzle olive oil mixture over finished caprese skewers. Transport in jars or covered containers.