Tag Archives: flour

Crispy-Crust Pizza with Sausage and Ricotta

I had an excess of fresh ricotta and some spicy Italian sausage in the refrigerator this week and decided to build two meals around these ingredients: the pizza here, and a fabulous spaetzle. If your ricotta is runny and wet, set it in a strainer over a bowl to drain off water for a few hours in the refrigerator before using, or the pizza will be soggy once baked.

When making pizza, allow overnight rising for the dough to develop good flavor. Don’t rush the process and you will be rewarded with a memorable pizza with truly artisanal taste. I find baking the pizza on parchment directly on a hot baking stone is much easier than sliding pizza off a pizza peel onto a baking stone, and the difference in the crispness of the crust is not discernible.

To learn more about making pizza from scratch, join me in our upcoming pizza workshop on September 6 at noon.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer

For the dough:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cups room-temperature water, plus extra as needed
  • extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the bowl

For the topping:

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup canned chopped Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta
  • 1/4 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed, finely crumbled
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into fine strips

Make the dough: Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. With the motor running, add enough room-temperature water (about 3/4 cups) to make a soft dough that rides the blade. Process for 45 seconds. Add a little water if the dough is dry or a little flour if it is sticky. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky; if you add too much flour, or not enough water, the pizza will be dense and heavy.

Lightly oil a bowl, place the dough in it, shape into a ball, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate overnight. When you are ready to shape the dough, return the dough to room temperature before cutting it and shaping it.

About 1 and 1/2 hours before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven with a baking stone on the bottom rack to 550 degrees (if your oven only goes to 500 degrees, that is fine too). The baking stone needs to get VERY hot for at least 1 hour before you bake your first pizza on it.

Cut the dough into 2 pieces. Shape into 2 balls on a lightly floured counter. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes (this allows the gluten to relax, making stretching easier). Using your hands, shape into 12-inch circles; the edges should be slightly higher than the center.

Top the pizza: Place 1 dough circle on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. Place the parchment paper on an upturned baking sheet. Rub with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Top with 1/4 cup of the tomatoes and spread gently with the back of a spoon. Season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt.

Top with half of the ricotta and then finally with half of the sausage; be sure the sausage is in tiny pieces as it needs to cook through in just a few minutes in the oven.

Use the upturned baking sheet to transfer the pizza (still on its parchment paper) to the baking stone in the oven. (In other words, use the upturned baking sheet almost like a pizza peel, to slide the parchment paper and pizza into the oven quickly).

Bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and browned around the edges and the sausage is cooked. Top with half of the basil. Continue in the same manner with the remaining ingredients and serve each pizza as it emerges from the oven.

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Rosemary Spaetzle with Ricotta and Sausage

Spaetzle are tiny egg gnocchi made across Europe, especially Hungary, Austria, and Germany. They are typical of Trentino-Alto Adige, a region in Italy’s northwest that was under Austro-Hungarian rule. I often make spaetzle when I am short on time and still want a fresh pasta. They are easy to make, as long as you have a spaetzle machine (more on that later): just whisk an egg and some milk into flour, beat until smooth, and pour through the spaetzle machine into gently boiling water. When the spaetzle bob to the surface, they are ready to scoop up and toss with whatever you like: olive oil and grated Parmigiano; crushed poppy seeds and Ricotta Salata; melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon for a sweet treat; the herb-infused juices from a roast veal or chicken; or the savory sausage sauce below. One thing I do not suggest with spaetzle is a heavy tomato-based sauce, which would overwhelm the delicate flavor of the gnocchi itself. Spaetzle are also an excellent accompaniment to hearty stews and roasted meats.

There are many Spaetzle machines on the market, and some work better than others. Some people like to use a spaetzle press, which looks like a potato ricer. Other people opt for the machine that has a sliding box set atop what looks like a box grater; I prefer this model. Mine is all stainless steel and, as long as I wash it before the batter dries on it, takes just minutes to clean. I toss the machine into a sinkful of warm, soapy water while the spaetzle cook, then wash it easily afterwards.

When making spaetzle to serve with sweet embellishments, omit the pepper and rosemary in the batter, and add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg instead.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer

For the spaetzle:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon 2% or whole milk

For the sauce and to serve:

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • ½ pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed and crumbled
  • Salt as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper as needed
  • ¼ pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta

Make the spaetzle: Place the flour, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, the pepper, and rosemary in a bowl. Mix well with a whisk. Make a well in the center and add the egg to the well. Start whisking the egg into the flour while you pour in the milk little by little. The aim is to have a perfectly smooth batter, so whisk vigorously when all the milk has been added. Whisking thoroughly also activates the gluten, making the spaetzle lighter when cooked. If not using right away, cover and set aside for up to 12 hours in the refrigerator; return to room temperature before cooking.

Make the sauce: Place the olive oil, garlic, fennel seeds, and chili flakes if using in a 12-inch skillet. Set over medium heat and cook until just aromatic, about 2 minutes. Watch that the garlic does not burn. Add the crumbled sausage and cook, stirring often to break it up into small pieces, until browned all over, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat until you are ready to serve; the sauce can be made to this point up to 2 hours ahead.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the remaining tablespoon of salt and, using a spaetzle machine, drop the spaetzle into the boiling water. Cook until the spaetzle bob to the surface, about 1 minute, then drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

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Spoon the spaetzle into the sausage in the skillet. Add the reserved cooking water and sauté over high heat 1 minute, or until the flavors have melded.

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Taste for seasoning and adjust, adding salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot, scattering dollops of Ricotta over the spaetzle here and there so you can combine the Ricotta with the spaetzle as you eat.

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Wild Rice and Ricotta Fritters with Scallions

These wild rice fritters are amazing. I had some leftover steamed wild rice last week from a recipe I was testing, and my husband suggested I make fritters with it. We talked about various options (adding some grated zucchini or sliced mushrooms, or incorporating shrimp), then landed on just the right combination to allow the sweetness of the rice to shine through: fresh, milky Ricotta, sliced scallions, and just enough egg and flour to bind everything.

The fritters will stick to your spatula when you try to compress them unless you brush the spatula with olive oil first. Compressing the fritter mixture is key to success, as it exposes more of the batter to the hot pan, making for extra crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside fritters. Don’t overcook the fritters or they will dry out: when they feel firm and are golden on both sides, they are ready.

Turn these fritters into a rich main course by making them larger and topping them with a dollop of fresh tomato sauce and a poached egg.

Note: If you’ve never steamed wild rice, it’s easy: rinse 1/2 cup of wild rice, then place in a heavy pot. Add 1 and 1/2 cups of cool water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Then lower the heat to simmer, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and cook 45 minutes, or until the rice is swollen, some of the grains have unfurled, and the rice is tender to the bite. Let rest 10 minutes, covered, then enjoy as a side dish or in the recipe below. Some wild rice varieties require more water, others less; there is no way to know ahead but 3 cups water to 1 cup rice is usually enough. If the rice is still raw when all of the water has been absorbed, add more water and continue cooking until done; if there is leftover water in the pot when the rice is ready, drain off the excess water.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer

  • 1 and 1/3 cups cooked wild rice, cooled to room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup whole-milk Ricotta
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the spatula

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In a bowl, combine the cooked wild rice with the egg, scallions, Ricotta, salt pepper, and flour. Mix thoroughly. If the wild rice was not salted during cooking, add more salt to compensate; about 1/4 teaspoon more should do the trick.

Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. After 1 minute, spoon in half of the egg mixture in small mounds, making 4 fritters. Flatten with a spatula (I find it easier if you brush the spatula with olive oil to prevent sticking) and brush the tops with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Cook until golden on the bottom, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook until the other side is also golden and the fritters are set. Remove to a plate.

Repeat with the remaining wild rice mixture and olive oil. Serve hot.

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Chive-Scented Bread Gnocchi in Sage Butter (Canederli)

These gnocchi are a specialty of Trentino-Alto Adige in Italy’s northeast, where they are called knodel in German or canederli  in Italian. They are usually rolled by hand (like gnocchi) and served floating in soup, but I prefer them pan-fried until golden brown in sage butter. I like my canederli quite soft, so I make the mixture too sticky to roll out on a counter, and use 2 spoons to drop it into simmering water instead.

Canederli should be made with a close-textured, dense, unflavored, stale bread: if the bread is light and airy, or if it is too fresh, it will absorb too much liquid and therefore call for too much flour, resulting in leaden dumplings.  You can use rye bread or whole wheat bread if you like.

I serve canederli as a main course, with an assortment of roasted vegetables, cured meats like Speck (a smoked Prosciutto from Trentino-Alto Adige), and savory cheeses like Asiago or Piave. You can also serve them alongside meat and poultry, where they’ll pick up the sauce; or drop them in a bowl of chicken soup as a soothing starter.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer or side dish

  • ¼ pound crustless day-old white country bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup snipped chives
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 tablespoons plus ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½  cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup to ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra if needed
  • 2 tablespoons  unsalted butter
  • 12 sage leaves, thinly sliced

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Place the bread in a large bowl. Add the chives, caraway, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper. Stir a bit to mix, then add the eggs and mash vigorously with your hands until the bread breaks down. Add the milk and mash again; the point is to create a dense paste with the ingredients at this stage.

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Add the flour and mash again with your hands; the mixture should hold together and form a gluey paste; add more flour by the tablespoon if it does not. The mixture should be sticky at this point; if it is not sticky, it will form heavy canederli once cooked. Depending on how stale and dry your bread is, the mixture will require different amounts of flour: drier, staler bread requires less flour. If not cooking right away, cover and set aside for up to 2 hours at room temperature.

Before cooking all the canederli, I suggest testing their texture so you can adjust with additional flour if needed.

When you are ready to serve, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of the salt. Using 2 spoons, drop 1 tablespoon of the batter into the boiling water, and cook until it bobs to the surface. The canederli is not fully cooked at this point, but you can gauge its texture; if it has fallen apart and disintegrated into the water, the batter requires additional flour to hold it together, so add a bit of flour and mix again to incorporate, then test the batter again.  It is fine if a few small bits do come away, but the test canederli should remain mostly whole.

Return the water to a gentle boil. Drop the batter  by the tablespoon into the water, forming about 20 tablespoon-sized dumplings. They will look misshapen and lumpy, and some small bits may float off and break away, but that is fine.  Maintain the heat so the water is just simmering, not vigorously boiling, or the canederli may disintegrate. Cook 8 minutes, uncovered.

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Remove with a slotted spoon to a tray.  You can do this up to 4 hours ahead and hold at room temperature on an oiled tray, covered with plastic wrap.

Melt the butter with the sage over medium-high heat in a nonstick 12-inch skillet. Add the canederli and sauté 5 to 8 minutes, or until golden all over, turning to cook evenly. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and serve hot.

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