Dining Outside the Home: Rosati’s Pizza in Estero, Florida! You learn a lot about a business by talking to the owners. Perhaps that is why I sometimes visit a restaurant in the off hours of the day. You are more apt to find the owners working face-to-face with customers. Rosati’s Pizza is owned and operated by a family who not only strives for perfection, but also cares about the people who walk through their door. When they expanded their business in Estero for dine-in service, Covid hit with a vengeance and caused them to shift to delivery and carry-out service only. That takes a chunk out of overhead, which translates to selling a boatload of pizza. Yet, they endured. And thrived because they do things the old-fashioned way: like sourcing local ingredients, fresh mozzarella, and homemade crusts. Their story goes all the way back to the first pizzerias in Chicago; Italian roots to the core. So proud, they live by the motto, “We don’t cut corners, just slices of pizza.” Dine in, smell the aromas, chat with the staff, and over-order so you have extra servings for leftovers. Don’t forget to add a jar of the Hot Giardiniera. It is ah-mazing!
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Marinated Mozzarella Flatbread! You’re probably like everyone else right now and could go to the freezer to pull out a prepared flatbread for supper. Another shortcut is to use marinated mozzarella cheese which already comes sliced in a blend of herbs and olive oil. Oftentimes, I freeze a surplus of cooked meat as well. In this case I already had seasoned Italian sausage, but you could certainly switch things up with pepperoni or sun-dried tomatoes. That’s the beauty of cooking at home. The results bring satisfaction. Just be careful of those piping hot stretchy cheese pulls.
MARINATED MOZZARELLA FLATBREAD
1 prepared naan flatbread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 cup cooked and crumbled Italian sausage
16 ounces marinated mozzarella slices
Crushed basil leaves
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°. Rub 1 tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of the flatbread. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Carefully flip it over onto a pizza stone. Rub the remaining olive oil onto the top of the crust. Make a layer with the crumbled Italian sausage. Arrange marinated mozzarella slices over meat. Bake for 15 -20 minutes for a crispy crust. The longer it bakes, the more gooey the cheese becomes. When finished, remove from the oven and garnish with crushed basil and red pepper flakes.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Date Chile Salad! One of the best kept secrets in cooking is infused olives oils. It kicks things up a notch. The flavors intensify ordinary ingredients by beginning with organic and aromatic extra virgin olive oils, which in turn, are infused with delightful natural flavors. Some oils contain the essence of herbs, while others may be crushed with fresh citrus or toasted seeds. Be adventurous. Visit a specialty store where premium olive oils and balsamic vinegars are sold. Most stores offer samples to encourage “taste testing”. One of my favorites is Lime Olive Oil and Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar. Another is Sicilian Lemon Olive Oil paired with Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar. Recently I added an Italian Black Truffle Oil to my collection. I was told it tastes divine drizzled over popcorn or as a finishing oil on pizza. I can’t wait!
DATE CHILE SALAD
2 navel oranges, pith and peel removed
1/3 cup dried dates, chopped
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 red or green jalapeño pepper, sliced into rings
1/2 serrano chile pepper, sliced into rings
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1-2 tablespoons lime olive oil
Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
Slice oranges into thin rounds. Arrange on two salad plates or bowls. Divide chopped dates between them. Sprinkle on crumbled feta cheese. Add jalapeño and serrano pepper rings. Tuck in mint leaves. Drizzle lime olive oil over salads. Season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Serve.
Dining Outside the Home: Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza in Estero, Florida! You’re probably wondering what the big deal is about mentioning “coal oven” in the name of this pizza joint. Basically, it boils down to the deliciousness of a charred crust enclosing a chewy center without overcooking the toppings. You get this from very high, dry heat contained within the oven walls. The coal oven is a little larger than the others, so it holds more pizzas. Makes sense, amirite? There’s nothing worse than sinking your teeth into a pizza pie loaded with extra cheese only to discover the bottom crust is a bit soggy. That’s not going to happen at Tony Sacco’s. In fact, customize your creation like I do. For cheese-lovers, request shredded mozzarella, smoky provolone, grated parmesan, and fresh mozzarella over authentic Italian marinara. The cheese pulls will practically make your mouth drool in public. Slowly wipe your chin. Then garnish a pizza slice with freshly chopped basil and dig in.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Underrated Summertime Supper! Does anyone have a Himalayan Salt Block besides me? Well, one of the things I like about it is, it can take the guesswork out of adding seasoning to food. It’s a block of pink salt, after all. When serving cold foods like salads, fruits, and cheeses, refrigerate the salt block overnight before using. This helps to keep foods chilled for hours when you need it. Simply arrange the ingredients directly on the block, drizzle on the dressing, and you’re good-to-go. Clean up is easy. Never use soap; salt is naturally antibacterial. Remove food residue with a damp cloth or sponge. Rinse it with a clean swipe, then dab dry. Allow the salt block to air-dry before next use. You’re done.
UNDERRATED SUMMERTIME SUPPER
4 ounces goat’s milk cheese, plain
1 teaspoon Italian dry mix spice blend
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 ounces mixed greens, washed
1 Roma tomato, chopped
4 assorted mini sweet peppers, stems and seeds removed, sliced into rings
2 radishes, sliced very thin
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
Balsamic Reduction Sauce
Crusty Artisan Bread
On a sheet of waxed paper, sprinkle Italian dry mix spice blend and red pepper flakes. Form the goat’s milk cheese into a ball. Roll it in the spice mix to cover all sides. Place cheese ball on the chilled Himalayan salt block. Next, arrange mixed greens in a single layer. Arrange Roma tomatoes, mini sweet peppers, radish slices, and red onion rings. Sprinkle Herbes de Provence over top. Drizzle balsamic reduction sauce over salad. Serve with crusty artisan bread.
Dining Outside the Home: Pepper’s Mexican Grill & Cantina in Shalimar, Florida! Sipping on a salt or sugar-rimmed margarita, with a grand marnier floater, is the only way to peruse the menu of a Mexican restaurant. The orange-flavored cognac not only adds a zing of citrus, its deep amber color elevates an ordinary cocktail to a vacation status offering perfect relaxation. A basket of homemade chips act as a modifier while you make up your mind for the main course. Tacos de Carnitas or the Taco Salad Fajitas will tickle your taste buds with marinated grilled meats that become the star attraction, enhanced by sautéed onions, chopped cilantro, and restaurant-style salsas. Seriously, this is the best way to pass the time before checking into the cottage rental on the beach.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Culinary Crab Rolls! Seafood lovers will look for any excuse to substitute chicken or beef. Do we really need a reason? Building healthy lifestyle choices could be enough to make me try new things. Seafood is a lean protein option which does fill me up the way fruit, vegetables, and nuts do. The fact remains that I truly like the taste of seafood. Pairing it with bread is practically a bonus. Need I say more?
CULINARY CRAB ROLLS
6 frozen bread dough rolls, thawed according to package instructions
3/4 cup crabmeat, precooked and chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon green onion, chopped
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray muffin tin with nonstick oil. Set aside. In a bowl, combine crabmeat, mayonnaise, green onion, and red pepper flakes. Once dough has risen, press into a 3-4” circle. Fill the center of each circle of dough with a heaping tablespoon of crabmeat filling. Gently pull the edges around the filling to form a ball, lightly brushing the seam with beaten egg, then pinching the edges to seal. Place in muffin cup, seam side down. Brush tops with beaten egg. Repeat with remaining rolls. Set aside to rise until puffy. Dough should be nearly doubled, about 30 minutes. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Zia Marianna’s Grilled Peppers! Did you know there are three ways to roast peppers? You can use a grill pan over a burner flame, a broiler for fast charring, or roast them in the oven. The results are amazing, compared to raw peppers sliced into a salad. The incredible flavor is so smoky and sweet you may wonder why you don’t take the time more often. Pay attention to your taste buds! This is how we add depth to any dish, I promise you that.
ZIA MARIANNA’S GRILLED PEPPERS
10 mini sweet peppers, mix of red and orange
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Heat a grill pan on high heat until hot. Rinse the mini sweet peppers and garlic cloves; pat dry. Place the whole peppers and garlic cloves onto the grill pan, charring the skin completely on all sides until black on the outside and soft on the inside, 5-8 minutes per side. Remove and discard charred skin of peppers, seeds, and stems. Cut the peppers into thin slices about 1/4” thick. Transfer the charred pepper slices and garlic cloves into a container with a lid. Slightly wilt celery leaves on grill pan. Add to pepper mixture. Drizzle with vegetable oil. Add the seasoned salt and cracked black pepper. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Warm slightly before serving.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Mediterranean Chickpea Salad! Either you can use a recipe or not. This salad is very forgiving if you wish to add or subtract ingredients. Some prefer to add crumbled feta cheese, others pass. Some prefer to remove the skins of the chickpeas, others eat them the way they come out of the can. If the skins rub off during the rinsing process, so be it. Either way, this no-cook meal can be ready in a few minutes giving you more time to sort through the day’s mail and play with the family dog.
MEDITERRANEAN CHICKPEA SALAD
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup celery tops with leaves, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 baby seedless cucumbers, sliced
3 mini yellow sweet peppers, sliced
1 15-ounce can cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained, skins removed
To make the dressing, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, oregano, sea salt, and black pepper. Set aside. In a serving bowl, combine sliced red onions, celery leaves and tops, cherry tomato halves, sliced cucumbers, yellow sweet peppers, and chickpeas. Mix well. Pour the dressing over all. Toss to combine. Refrigerate for half an hour before serving.