It has been so long since I posted that I feel I should apologize to my loyal Breadheads! I'm not sure what has kept me from blogging, but I suspect that at least part of the reason is that I haven't done much of anything new lately. I've bake a lot of potato rolls and made a few waffles, baked cookies once or twice. But no new recipes, nothing exciting---until this past weekend, when I finally had the chance to make pizza in an authentic wood-fired oven. To a pizza lover like me, that's like getting free play-off tickets!
I often am assigned to hear confessions and celebrate Mass at a parish about 45 minutes from the abbey, Immaculate Conception Church in Morris IL. Every year they have an Oktoberfest auction (a fundraiser for their grade school) and for a few years now I have offered "Baking Lessons with the Bread Monk" as an item up for bid. (I have no idea how much money it generates.) I had done a pizza fundraiser at the parish on behalf of the Knights of Columbus, so my dough tossing skills were well known. As a result a couple of years ago I was asked by the auction winners to have a pizza night in their home. I brought all my stones, pans and peels, along with a Mason jar of my own sauce, homemade sweet hot Italian sausage, and a double batch of pizza dough. We had a big crowd of family and friends enjoying some excellent pizza. In fact the the evening was such a success that the family had a wood fired pizza oven installed on their patio!
I got an invitation to bless the oven and bake in it, and let me tell you I was excited! I've been reading about wood-fired ovens for years and have high hopes to put one in at the abbey eventually. When I arrived with my supplies, Greg had had a fire going for several hours, so the interior temperature of the oven was just under 800 degrees, perfect for making thin crust, Italian-style pizza. I used a very simple dough recipe---flour, water, yeast and salt---kept the toppings to a minimum as well. One appetizer pizza was simply mornay sauce, sun dried tomatoes, and sliced almonds, the other a bruschetta topping with diced tomatoes, onion, kalamata olives and some grated cheese. Later on we enjoyed a meat lovers' (lots of teenage boys around!), a Four Cheese Tomato Top (a perennial favorite), and a supreme pizza that developed some lovely light char around the edges of a thicker crust.
I knew in theory that pizzas in a wood-fired oven bake more quickly and need to be rotated more often, but in practice there was a bit of a learning curve! But I'm feeling a bit more confident and the next time I think I can avoid a burnt crust like this one on the bruschetta pizza. A little hint: in the winter when tomatoes are from the hothouse rather than the garden, a splash of balsamic vinegar can brighten up the flavor.
Started on your New Year's resolutions yet? "Make more pizzas in a wood fired oven" is definitely at the top of my list for 2018!
Br. Luke has been bringing in tubs of tomatoes from the abbey garden, so I decided it was time to put up my yearly supply of pizza sauce. Although I have a recipe for "Big Ol' Batch of Pizza Sauce" I let the herb garden decide on the seasonings for me. As you can see, it's a banner year for garlic chives, and since they tend to self-sow rather vigorously it seemed best to harvest the abundance before they had a chance to take over a portion of the lawn. The other standout in the herb garden this year is the oregano. I already had one variety of it growing in abundance, and I planted two more varieties after our herb guild plant sale in May. So garlic chives and oregano were the primary flavorings, along with seasoned salt and a bit of thyme. The tomatoes were so sweet that I had to add red wine vinegar to give the sauce enough acidity. We had plenty of mason jars to choose from and the kitchen's giant steam kettle, normally used for big batches of spaghetti, makes a sizable container for the hot water bath. I'm blessed to live in a monastery with a long history of food preservation---we've got all the equipment!
I also had plenty of practical, professional know-how, thanks to a recent program from Illinois Extension at my herb guild's monthly meeting. The demonstrator showed us how to can peach preserves, but gave us plenty of resources for other kinds of canning. Find out more: web.extension.illinois.edu/foodpreservation/tomatoes.cfm I learned a lot about canning and freezing produce by exploring all the resources they have available.
Unfortunately, I didn't use a proper jar on one of the pints of sauce and it didn't seal, so I had to put it in the fridge to use as soon as possible. Oh, darn.
If it weren't for bacon, burgers, meatballs and sausage, I might be able to live as a vegetarian. For the most part, I can live without steak, I'm not fond of pork chops, not even fried chicken holds much appeal for me. But sausage . . . . . mmmmmm. However, I am rather particular about the exact flavor of sausage depending upon whether it is served at breakfast, as an accompaniment to pasta in link or in sliced form, or crumbled on a pizza.
My first cookbook, Breaking Bread with Father Dominic (1999), included a recipe for Italian sausage for pizza, one that uses half lean pork and half ground turkey. I include it below, in spite of the fact that I rarely make it any more, because I discovered a Hot Sausage spice blend that is just as good. It's not a national brand---you can only get it at DiGregorio's on the Hill in St. Louis, but fortunately they will ship it to you, along with any number of other authentic Italian foods you might not be able to obtain in your locality. I like their Pizza Sprinkle, too, and their spice blend for olive oil for dipping your bread into, and the sun dried tomatoes, and the nice selection of Chianti and other Sangiovese-style wines. (I hasten to note that I haven't received any compensation from DiGregorio's---I just like their shop a lot!) As for the sausage seasoning, 3 to 4 teaspoons of seasoning mixed with a pound of ground pork butt yields a robust sausage with plenty of flavor and just enough heat. But until you can get your own jar, here's my recipe. Note: for link sausages, I recommend using all ground pork, but this version works great for pizza sausage.
Fr. Dom’s Italian Pizza Sausage
Mix together until well blended:
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground turkey
1 Tbs. Italian herb blend
1 Tbs. garlic powder
1 Tbs. fennel seed
2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp crushed red pepper
And as long as we're at it, here's another reduced fat sausage recipe, one for breakfast sausage that I make regularly. I usually mix it up, form it into patties on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and bake them at 350° F. in a convection oven for 7 or 8 minutes. Many websites say 450° F. for 10 minutes, then turn them over, rotate the pan and bake for another 10. I can't imagine they would take that long at that temp---maybe if they were frozen. The main issue is, the interior temperature of the patties should be 165° F., but don't let them get too much above that or they get dry and tough (reduced fat, remember?) After they cool, I wrap them in cling wrap, two at a time, and then freeze them in a larger zipper bag. Handy single servings for breakfasts or mid-afternoon snacks.
Reduced Fat Breakfast Sausage
Mix together until well blended:
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground turkey
2 tsp. dried rubbed sage
2 tsp. salt (perhaps more to taste)
1 to 1-1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 to 2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
Whenever I'm in STL with my publisher Josh Stevens of Reedy Press, I can always count on him to find a new pizza joint for us to try, This time it was Melo's Pizzeria (2438 McNair, 314.833.4489) behind Blues City Deli. It's a tiny joint housed in a former garage with a small patio out back. But holds a 55oo pound wood-fired oven that was custom built in Naples, Italy.
Melo's specializes in Italian style pizza with a New York twist. In other words, hand-stretched dough (no rolling) cooked on high heat with simple ingredients *(no Supreme Meat Lover's pizzas here). The New York twist is that the crust is chewy but soft enough to fold the slice in half for eating. (If you want a cracker crust go to Pi). You can find a more complete review by Ian Froeb of the Post-Dispatch HERE. I had "the Dom" (how could I not?) with tomatoes, sausage and basil. I enjoyed the flavors but I must admit I prefer a traditional St. Louis crispy crust. But the outer crust was chewy with just the right amount of char. My only serious criticism is that their hours are listed as "changes daily---see Facebook for details". As far as I can tell, that usually means only Thursday and Saturday. ????
Last year's pizza sauce was a disappointment, because many of the tomatoes I used were rather flavorless---not the best year for growers, from what I understand. I still have a little bit of last year's vintage in the freezer, but it may end up in soup rather than on a homemade crust.
This year's harvest is much more promising, flavor-wise, but our usual grower Br. Luke had classes all summer and leaves this weekend for school at Lewis University, so he didn't plant a garden at all. I put the word out to my students and fellow teachers and they came through in a big way. My usual method is to do about a gallon of sauce at a time, since I have to work at night when the kitchen isn't being used for the school, and I don't want to be up until midnight washing Mason jars. It feels rather artisanal, like I'm making small batch bourbon.
The work has been facilitated by my purchasing a Victorio tomato mill (the company also makes grain mills) at a second hand shop in Chillicothe IL. The $59 to $69 retail price had kept me from getting one at Ace Hardware---this one cost me five bucks. It makes short work of quartered tomatoes, spewing puree out the side and the seeds and skins out the front. I think you could produce a lot of applesauce with this device as well. It is certainly more efficient than a Foley food mill, which does the job but requires a bit more stamina to process 50+ pounds of tomatoes. The Stage Rats who came out that helped me in previous years were as grateful for the purchase as I was!
Big Ol’ Batch o’ Pizza Sauce
About 25 pounds fresh tomatoes (enough to produce 2 gallons puree)
4 (12 oz) cans of tomato paste
1 Tbs. minced fresh thyme
1 Tbs. minced fresh basil
2 Tbs. minced fresh chives
2 Tbs. minced fresh oregano
4 cloves of garlic, minced extra fine
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbs. granulated sugar (optional)
1 to 2 tsp. salt (optional)
Remove stems, skins and seeds from ripe tomatoes; chop tomatoes into 2-inch pieces. Process, in batches, in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer puree into a 9- or 10-quart stainless steel pot. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, for three or four hours, until reduced by half. Do not allow to come to a full boil or it can scorch on the bottom—be patient.
Add tomato paste; mix thoroughly. (You might want to transfer sauce to a smaller pot.) Add thyme, basil, chives, oregano, garlic, pepper and cheese; stir to mix. Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Add salt and/or sugar to taste (your tomatoes may be sweet enough; the salt may be unnecessary if you use salty toppings like pepperoni, bacon, or anchovies). If the sauce seems to acidic, add 1/2 tsp. of baking soda and stir thoroughly.
Place the pot in a sink full of ice to cool the sauce. Divide into freezer bags or other airtight plastic containers. Store in freezer until needed. You may also can this sauce in mason jars.
If you use dried herbs, cut the amounts in half. The flavor of dried chives is a bit bland, so you might substitute 1 or 2 teaspoons of onion powder.
Last year when I asked Breadheads on my Facebook Fan Page what area of baking I should explore this year, many people suggested homemade pasta, which isn't really about baking unless you're making lasagne or baked ziti. So I'm not sure where that's going to go. BUT a lot of people requested gluten free breads. I must confess that my success with GF baking has been limited to pumpkin scones with sweet cream cheese filling (click HERE for the recipe), but after attending the Homa Baking Association convention, I realized that a lot of companies are making GF products available. So I've been getting samples from some of these companies and will posting reviews from time to time. I hope we'll hear from other GF bakers in the comments section, too.
I started with pizza, in part because it's one of the things I know best, but also because so many GF bakers are searching fo a good crust recipe. I tried Hodgson Mills Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix first (They sent me a case of free samples, but that's the whole of my reward!). My first surprise was how liquid the dough was--like a thick batter, really---so when you try it don't let that throw you off. The directions suggest dusting cornstarch on your hands to push the dough into shape on the greased pan, but I wonder if olive oil might be a better solution. In any case, the directions also have you covering the crusts (the box makes two 12-inchers) with plastic wrap, but I recommend that you give the wrap a good coating with non-stick cooking spray: my wrap stuck to the crusts a bit.
After rising, the crusts are par-baked for 10 minutes, then adorned with toppings and then go back in for another 10 to 15 minutes. I got good results by this method overall, but got better results when I par-baked in a pan and then finished the pie off on a pizza stone.
My GF friend Brittany and her husband John were the taste testers and gave the crust good reviews. I thought it wasn't quite as grainy as some GF breads can be, but that sort of added crunch wouldn't be out of place in a pizza crust anyway. Some people might want to add a little sugar, and I'm wondering if the crust would brown better if one used milk as the liquid---more excuses to test, yay! The process didn't take too much more time than traditional yeasted pizza dough, and the results are pretty good overall.
At the same time I was planning my GF baking lab, I ran across this link on Facebook for a 2-ingredient pizza dough: Greek yogurt and self-rising flour in equal portions. The recipe said you could use GF self-rising flour. Alert and food-savvy Breadheads will know that this is really a biscuit crust, and will not have the taste or texture of traditional pizza crust, GF or not, but it was so simple I had to try it. The easiest way to measure, by the way, is to empty the yogurt into your mixing bowl and use the same container to measure the self-rising flour. (I actually used a cup of Hodgsom Mills Multi-purpose Baking Mix, along with a half teasoon of salt and a scant teaspoon of baking powder.) A minute in the Kitchen Aid on high with the paddle, and I had dough. Because this is a quick bread, it doesn't require a first proof, so I spread the crust n the greased pan and popped in the over for a 10 minute parbake, added toppings and finished it off on the pizza stone. The center was still a little too soft for my taste, but I may have loaded on too many toppings. It was definitely a biscuit crust in flavor and texture, but the speed and convenience were appealing.
It seems likely to me that I might have even more success with mini-pizzas, just because they would cook faster and thereby produce a crisper crust. Too many toppings also seems to be a problem, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to create a GF deep dish like Lou's LaGrotto or Uno's. If GF Breadheads have had other successes, I'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, God bless and happy baking!
Four freshmen Stage Rats came out today to help me process tomatoes and can pizza sauce. One or two had had some canning experience, so the whole project went smoothly from start to finish. If you are wondering about the sauce recipe I used, I've posted it HERE. It's the "Big Ol' Batch of Pizza Sauce" recipe from season two of Breaking Bread with Father Dominic, also found in my cookbook Thursday Night Pizza. The recipe starts with 25 pounds of tomatoes, and can be frozen in ziplock bags as well as canned.
I asked them if they wanted me to make a snack as a reward for their labors, and we settled on funnel cakes, an appropriate treat as we come to the end of the season of county fairs and food festivals. I was delighted to discover this summer that the funnel cakes served at Coors Field in Denver are made from scratch with real batter, not just reheated in oil like I had once at a minor league park---blech! That recipe is also a fave and can be found HERE. The Rats get them several times a year. I spoil them, I know---but they work hard for me all year. This crew will be at the top of the list of invitees to my next pizza party!
It's the season of fresh garden tomatoes and aromatic herbs in the garden, so I thought I'd share some recipes to make use of all that bounty. My favorites: Four Cheese Tomato Top Pizza (pictured to the left), a bruschetta topping made with tomatoes, garlic, herbs and kalamata olives, panzanella (Tuscan tomato and bread salad) and Tomato Gallette (new for me this year, from Midwest Living). I'm going to be presenting a demo at my next herb guild meeting on this very topic, and I'll have some more photos for you then. But click HERE to get the recipes I'll be making.
While researching recipes, I came across a webpage from Southern Living with 31 recipes for fresh tomatoes and herbs, with lots of great ideas: find it HERE.
A few photos from my most recent pizza party, with a couple older photos mixed in---didn't always have time to take a picture! Had great help from an alum and his wife, both with kitchen and waitstaff experience. The dessert course was a big hit: double chocolate biscotti and maple pecan biscotti served with pistachio almond ice cream. The chocolate biscotti recipe you can find all he over Internet, but the maple pecan recipe came from HERE.
When a Loretto sister asks you if you'd be willing to do a fundraiser for an orphanage, you'd better say "yes" or you'll go straight to hell. That's what went through my mind when Sr. Mary Ann of the Loretto community at Lockwood Center in Webster Groves asked if I'd be willing to provide some kind of auction item for St. Vincent Home for Children. "Pizza Party for Eight" I said, with only the slightest hesitation---after all, you never know if the person who buys your party is going to have decent ovens or be any fun to be around.
Happily, for my most recent venture I was lucky on all counts: lovely home, enjoyable company, gracious hosts and a pair of terrific ovens. The pizza menu (voted on by the guests) included Pesto and Prosciutto, Italian Beef, Four Cheese Tomato Top, and Pizza Diavolo (the hot one!). The pizza pictured above was our first of the night, made with pesto cream sauce and prosciutto rotola.
"Rotola" is a product made by Volpi Meats in St. Louis and as a pizza topping it's nothing short of spectacular. The folks at Volpi roll up sheets of mozzarella with prosciutto, salume, basil, or sun dried tomatoes, so once you lay down a little sauce, all you have to do is cut slices of the rotola and arrange them on top, and there's your cheese and toppings in one step. I added some red onions to the one pictured above, but the rotola alone works just fine.
Actually, just "fine" is an understatement, because what you end up with are pools of melted mozz with a spiral of fried ham embedded in the center of them. Here they are on top of a regular tomato-based pizza sauce (OK, I say "regular" but it's actually completely homemade from Br. Luke's tomatoes and my herbs!) Want to check out Volpi's rotola? Click HERE, and if you get a chance to visit their shop on the Hill in St. Louis, bring a cooler to take home some fresh salsiccia as well.
(And no, I don't work for Volpi and they haven't paid me for this post, although I am friends with some of the staff and sometimes they give me free guanciale!)
Okay, I know you're dying for the pesto cream sauce recipe, but I can't really give you much here except the base sauce:
Any kind of milk will do from skim to half and half, or even (as I used for the party last night) heavy cream. Then I whisked in about a quarter cup (??) of pesto sauce, just the stuff from a jar, and some "pizza sprinkle" herb mix I found in an Italian grocery somewhere. This produced way more sauce than a needed for one pizza, but some lucky guest at the party went home with the rest to make a knockout pasta for her Monday brown bag lunch.
Here are some photos of the other pizzas as well:
Fr. Dominic Garramone AKA