Pizza with Pesto Sauce (and Other Stuff)

Sunday afternoon I felt the irresistible urge to make pizza dough — just because — even though I was making gumbo for dinner that night, because I knew I would want some delicious homemade pizza real soon.  As it turns out, that was a good decision.


I made a batch of dough using the formula and method in my earlier post, Pizza Party Recipes, which makes enough for three 12″ pizzas.  Two of the dough balls I froze for later, and one I kept in the fridge to let those flavors percolate for a couple extra days.  At least an hour before you’re ready to bake, pull the dough out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature.  If you’re using frozen dough, obviously you’ll want to thaw it first — it’s a little hard to shape if it’s still hard enough to crack someone’s noggin.

Before you start assembling anything, remember to put your pizza stone in the oven and let it heat up to the 450-475 range for at least 30 minutes — you want that bad puppy to be rippin’ hot when that pizza crust hits it so you get a beautiful crisp bottom.

There’s actually not much complexity to this pizza recipe — more an example of how yummy things can be with just a little spontaneity and creativity.  For my sauce base, which was made up totally on the fly, I used the following ingredients:

  • 2 ounces prepared pesto
  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

I normally use store-bought jarred pesto, not because it’s hard to make, but because it’s easy to buy and store until you need it, and there are plenty of good brands readily available.  I used Barilla tonight, for example, but Delallo also makes a nice jarred pesto.  Another consideration is the cost of homemade — pine nuts are not cheap, in case you were wondering.

In any event, mix these ingredients in a bowl and smear it over your stretched pizza dough, leaving about a half-inch margin around the edge.  For the rest of tonight’s toppings I used:

  • 2 oz. sliced red onion
  • 1 roma tomato, sliced
  • 4 oz. ricotta
  • 4 oz. whole mozzarella, sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
  • sliced pepperoni to taste


I almost forgot to add the pepperoni, and had to throw it on after the pizza was already on the stone — obviously I hadn’t had enough to drink yet, so I immediately set about to remedy both of those little oversights.  Long day at the office, and all that.

Anyway, once it’s in the oven it should only take 12 to 15 minutes to bake that crust to a beautiful crunch and melt whatever needs melting.  When it looks yummy to you, pull it back out with your pizza peel, slice it up, and munch it down with a big happy grin on your face.  I mean, seriously folks, does it get much better?  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!




Baking Class Week 13

Hard to believe we’re coming down the stretch already.  Hard to believe it wasn’t just yesterday that I walked into the bakeshop at Midwest Culinary Institute for the first time, as a total pastry noob who was likely to put my eye out with the pointy end of that cake I just oafishly brutalized in what would be construed a war crime in several foreign jurisdictions.

Just thirteen short weeks later, and I have improved my bread-baking skills, worked my way through sweet dough, éclairs and Parisian macarons, and made tons of ganache.  I have experienced the joys and sorrows of both French and Italian meringue.  I have learned to work with puff pastry, gained a least minimal competence with pies, cakes and tortes, and delved into the mysteries of custards, mousses, crème brȗlée, crème Anglaise, tuiles, chocolate coins and fruit coulis.  I even know how to use a piping kit, a chef’s torch, a tuile template, gelatin sheets and a candy thermometer — not all at the same time, of course.  That would be awkward.

Hard to believe I can now make this:  an orange chiffon torte, with a touch of Cointreau and raspberry marmalade, frosted with whipped ganache and enrobed with poured ganache — I told you, we make tons of ganache in this class.


We even hand-made those little decorative chocolate motifs — how cool is that?  Anyway, just wanted to take a few minutes to share what I have been doing with my Monday nights since late August — continuing to chase my passion for the kitchen.  I like to think I’m better for the experience, even if I still prefer to sauté and flambé to get my jollies.  Until our next culinary adventure together:  Eat well, my friends!


Yumbo Gumbo

Yet another reminder of rule number 1 in Dave’s kitchen:  what Lolly wants, Lolly gets.

Today Lolly says “I want a rich soup that has okra — absolutely must have okra — and maybe some Andouille sausage, and ooh yeah, I really like a rich, creamy sauce…”  To which I responded, “You want a gumbo.”

Lolly answered, “Gumbo.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.”  To which I responded:  “But that will take hours to make.  Can’t I just do a jambalaya instead — most of the same ingredients, half the time.”

Lolly answered, in a crestfallen tone, “Yeah, okay, I guess.”  To which I, the ever insightful interpreter of Lolly responded, “Gumbo it is.”


Here are your ingredients to serve 8 hungry souls with a yummy gumbo they are unlikely to forget anytime soon:

  • 1 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 3 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 lb. boneless chicken breast
  • 2 oz. + 6 oz. vegetable oil
  • 6 oz. flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 12 oz. onions, chopped
  • 12 oz. celery, chopped
  • 8 oz. green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 12 oz. Andouille sausage, sliced
  • 6 oz. okra, sliced
  • 8 oz. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Cooked rice and sliced scallions for garnish

To make this properly you’ll need a good four hours counting prep time, but it’s worth the effort.

Start by mixing the white pepper, black pepper and paprika until well blended.  Cut the chicken breast into bite-sized chunks, season with 1 tsp. of the pepper mixture and 1 tsp. of the salt, then dust with flour.  In a large soup pot, heat 2 oz. of the oil and sauté the chicken until browned.  Remove the chicken and set it aside for the moment, reserving the oil in the pot.

Now comes the fun part — making the roux.  This is the flavor backbone of a good gumbo but also takes patience.  Add  the other 6 oz. of oil to the pot and heat it up over medium flame.  Whisk in the flour until it forms a paste — and then use a wooden spoon to stir that [bleep]ing mess for the next 45 minutes to an hour until it gradually turns a rich brown color.  Don’t you dare take your eyes off of it.  As roux cooks the starches in the flour break down and it becomes less pasty and more sauce-like.  The depth of flavor increases along with the likelihood of burning the darker it gets.  If it burns, fuggeddaboudit — that burned taste will permeate your dish and there’s no way to get rid of it.  Trust me, I speak from experience.  So keep on stirring and don’t let it burn.

When your roux reaches the color you want, or in my case, when I am convinced it’s about to burn, toss in the onion, peppers, celery and garlic.  Stir thoroughly and cook for a couple minutes, then add the stock, bay leaves and the rest of your salt and pepper mixture.  Bring it up to a simmer, and let it cook for about an hour, or even better, an hour and a half, to blend the flavors, stirring occasionally.  Next, add the chicken and Andouille, and simmer it for another hour.

At this point we’re almost home.  In a separate skillet, heat up some more oil and sauté the sliced okra until tender and somewhat dried out — if you add raw okra straight into your gumbo it will be slimy.  Nobody likes slimy.  So add your cooked okra to the gumbo, then use the same skillet to sauté the shrimp for a couple minutes in a little more oil, and toss that into the mix too.  Cook for about 10 more minutes, stir in the cayenne and tweak your seasonings if needed.

And bada bing, you’re done.  Garnish each serving with a couple tablespoons of cooked rice and a sprinkle of sliced scallions, then sit back and watch with smug satisfaction as the oohs and aahs begin to roll in.  We munched this bad puppy down with a big happy grin on our faces — and found ourselves saying over again “Dang, that’s good.”  I hope you’ll try it and enjoy it just as much as we did.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!





Steak with Dijon Shallot Cream Sauce

My beautiful daughter Angelee is visiting from California for the holiday weekend, so as the guest of honor she gets to tell Chef Dad what to cook.


She wanted steak, so steak it is.  I found a couple nicely marbled ribeyes at the local market and decided to prepare one of my favorite home-brew pan sauces.  This is the first time I ever tried to write this recipe down, so it’s probably a tad imprecise but it should get you pretty darned close.


For tonight’s dinner I used a pair of inch-thick cuts weighing a little over a pound each.  Start by wrapping them in paper towels and let them sit about 10 minutes to remove all excess moisture.  Preheat the oven to 400, and at the same time heat up a cast iron skillet over medium-high until it just begins to smoke a little bit.  While your skillet is heating, generously season your steaks top and bottom with kosher salt, cracked pepper, and your favorite dry rub.  Add about two tablespoons of vegetable oil, which should be just enough to coat the bottom of the skillet.  When the oil is hot, add your steaks and give them a hard sear.


After about 5 minutes they should be forming a nice crust on the bottom.  Turn them over, then toss the skillet into the hot oven for about 10 minutes.  That should be enough to bring them up to an internal temperature of about 135, which is right where you want them, although thicker cuts may need a few more minutes.  An instant-read thermometer comes in very handy at a time like this.  Remove the skillet from the oven, transfer the steaks to a plate, and tent them loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil to let them rest for 5-10 minutes.  The interior of the steaks will continue to cook to about 145.  While that is happening, use the time to make your pan sauce from the following ingredients, which will make enough for 4 servings:

  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 oz. beef stock
  • 4 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Pour off any excess fat from the skillet before starting to make the sauce, leaving about a tablespoon in the pan.  Over medium heat, sauté the shallots until tender and lightly caramelized.  Deglaze with the beef stock and cook until nearly dry.  Reduce the heat to low.  Stir in the mustard, followed by the cream, and cook just until heated through.  That’s it.  Now your ready to serve this delicious sauce over your perfectly cooked steaks.


These were served with some oven-roasted fingerling potatoes and steamed broccoli, and you can bet your sweet knickers we munched it right down with a big happy grin on our faces.  I hope you’ll try this simple but surprisingly yummy steak recipe — I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!


Dave’s Monster Garlic and Sausage Sauce

You probably won’t like this sauce.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  If you have a timid palate, stay the heck away, ’cause dang! this is a garlicky monster of a sauce.  Vegetarian readers, you’re out of luck on this one (unless you leave out the sausage, I suppose).  Still undeterred?  Curiosity aroused?   Well then, brave soul, read on.


I’m going to challenge both your palate and your culinary presuppositions with this recipe.  It is entirely my own — no cheat sheets on this one.  You probably have never seen this much garlic in a pasta sauce before, but trust me, it works.  Here we go.

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 can (28 oz.) San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 4 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves plucked
  • 3 large heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
  • Grated parmesan and chiffonade basil for garnish

Did you catch that part about three whole garlic heads?  That was not a misprint.  They are the backbone of this recipe, and I say again:  trust me, it works.

Heat your oven to 400° and arrange the garlic cloves on an oil-sprayed baking sheet.  Roast them until they are tender and turn a deep brown color, which will take about 20 minutes, maybe a tad more, and set them aside.

Next, heat the oil in a large deep skillet and sweat the onion until tender but not brown.  Add the San Marzano tomatoes and break them up with the back of a fork or wooden spoon.  Stir in the oregano leaves, followed by the diced tomatoes and tomato paste.  Next come the sugar, salt, cinnamon and roasted garlic cloves.  Bring this mixture to a low simmer for about 30 minutes to blend the flavors.

Meanwhile, it’s time to cook the sausage.  If you’re using links, remove the casings and slice them into bite-sized chunks.  Brown the sausage in a separate skillet over medium-high heat.  When it is cooked through, add it to the tomato sauce and continue to simmer another 30 minutes.  After the sauce has simmered about an hour in total, turn off the heat and stir in the chopped basil.  That’s all there is to it — you’re ready to serve it up with your favorite pasta and a parmesan and basil garnish.

Now, you might think something with this much garlic would be a punch in the face, but you’ll be surprised.  Yes, the garlic is pronounced, but the beauty of garlic is that it sweetens as it roasts, and that will come through beautifully in this dish.  We munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces to lots of oohs and aahs and “that’s so good”.  If you’re brave enough to try this one for yourself, I believe your reaction will be the same.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!