What We’re Cooking Now: Italian Celebration


A few weeks ago we celebrated a late birthday for one of my dear friends with a dinner gathering at our house. We decided to keep it simple…well simple as we can be….and just throw some pizzas out, make an easy risotto and a salad and call it a day.

However, when I went to my local Newflower market for supplies I was inspired by the beautiful veggies I found in abundance and decided to add a caponata/ratatouille recipe I had been playing with in my head but hadn’t actually attempted yet. (I am so glad I did…sometimes playing in the kitchen really pays off.) A quick stop at Jimmy’s for pizza dough and we start our day of cooking. We had 9 over for dinner that night so all recipes served the group easily with lots of left overs.
With a focus on Italian we pulled a few bottles of Italian wine from our stash….a Pinot Grigio from Albino Armani, an Italian wine producer in the heart of the Veneto region of Italy for over 400 years and the maker of a delicious, food friendly Pinot Grigio. They leave about 10% of the grapes on the vine past the normal harvest for about 10 days to really concentrate the juice and give it the optimal amount of sweetness. The result is an elegant and very fruit forward wine.
We also pulled a Valpolicella from Tenuta Sant’ Antonio “Monti Garbi”. I love a Valpolicella, and it’s papa an Amarone, and knew from tasting this one previously that it would be a great match to the Capatoullie (caponata/ratatouille) recipe I was going to try, as it has bold leather and tobacco aromas and an amazing palate filled with dark cherry, smoke and dried fruit flavors.
Grilled Romaine with Parmesan and a Champagne Caper Vinaigrette
2 heads romaine lettuce
1 tablespoon + 1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow tomato
2 red vine ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup shaved parmesan
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons capers, crushed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Cut each head of romaine in half and then in quarters, leave the stem on so the leaves stay together and wash, towel dry and set aside. Preheat grill or grill pan on a medium heat. Chop tomatoes and set aside. Whisk Champagne vinegar, Dijon, garlic, capers, lemon juice and zest, parsley and about 1 teaspoon black pepper together. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil. Taste and then season with salt to your taste. Capers are salty so you may not need much.
Brush each quarter of lettuce lightly with olive oil, just enough so the lettuce won’t immediately burn. Place each quarter, cut side down, on the grill and cook until just barely charred and warmed through . Immediately plate and sprinkle with mix of red and yellow tomatoes. Lightly season with fresh cracked pepper and salt. Drizzle vinaigrette over both and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Serve while the lettuce is still warm.
This is kind of a blend of both an Italian Caponata and a French Ratatouille. Basically if you have some or all of these ingredients in your kitchen you are set. Most of this just came from what I thought might be tasty in the dish, so be adventurous.
2 medium eggplants
2 zucchini
2 carrots
3 ribs celery
1 large red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can Cannellini beans
1/2 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons capers
2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons chopped basil
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 cup either veggie stock or water
1/2 cup red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Preheat oven to 400. Cut eggplants into large chunks. Toss eggplant with about 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar to coat. Lay eggplant on a rimmed sheet pan and place in oven to roast for about 10-15 minutes or until the eggplant is nicely softened and browned and has a sweet flavor. Meanwhile chop zucchini, pepper, onion, carrots and celery into medium size chunks. In a large dutch oven or sauce pan heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and carrots and saute until tender. Add zucchini and peppers and continue sautéing the mixture until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add whole can of tomatoes (with liquid) and continue cooking.
Add tomato paste, red pepper flakes, Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon, and red wine. Mix well. When eggplant is soft remove from oven and let cool slightly. Add to the Capotouille and mix well. Drain the beans and stir into the mixture. Add the stock, raisins, capers and herbs and season to taste. Bring to a simmer and let the stock reduce almost entirely. Prior to serving toast pine nuts and mix in. Serve on its own or with a toasty baguette.

Vine Ripe and Heirloom Tomato and Basil Pizza
I am not a huge pizza fan, but there are a few that I just love. Using the freshest ingredients and really good dough makes this one extra special. I use 1 dough ball from Jimmy’s to make 2 pizzas.
1 pizza dough – divide in half
1/2 cup good basil pesto
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 red vine ripe tomatoes
2 yellow heirloom tomatoes
8 large fresh basil leaves
1 8 oz ball scamorza (a slightly aged mozzarella cheese)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to your taste)
Black pepper

About an hour prior to baking your pizza divide your dough in half and thinly roll out 1/2. Freeze the other half for use another time. (Pizza dough freezes well and thaws pretty quickly so don’t worry about if it will not work next time if you freeze it.) Brush dough with 1 tablespoon olive oil and cover with a damp cloth. The dough will rise slightly. When you are ready to bake preheat the oven to about 375. Brush the dough liberally with the pesto. Cover with sliced tomatoes. Slice the scamorza and place each slice to cover the pizza randomly. Place the basil on the pizza. Cover with the parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.


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