Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Chinese Refreshment" & "Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood" - Fried Dumplings and Savory Bean Thread Noodles

Date I made these recipes: August 24, 2008 – The Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics

Chinese Refreshment edited by Li Yung
Published by: Wan Li Book Co., Ltd. Hong Kong
© 1979
Recipe: Fried Dumplings p. 35-39

Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood by Ken Hom
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-394-58785-8 © 1997
Recipe: Savory Bean Thread Noodles – p. 251-2

So the Olympics are in China, thus the Chinese recipes for today’s blog, but let’s be serious: the entire thing could really be called The Michael Phelps Show.

In case you haven’t been watching (and sadly, I didn’t have time until the first weekend), Michael Phelps is a young man (kid, really) who won eight gold medals in this Olympics. Eight. Whoa. The last event, the 4 x 100-meter medley relay was a heart-stopper and even though I knew the results in advance, I still leapt out of my chair. And sure, part of it was the excitement of number eight, but part of it was my own walk down memory lane when once upon a time, I swam that relay on my high school team.

Despite the fact that my school was tiny (about 120 students per class), once Title IX came out mandating equal sporting opportunities for women, my school got on the bus and never looked back. I was on the tennis team for a couple of years and in 1975, was on the women’s swim team, a team that lasted all of one year for reasons I cannot remember, prompting a fellow swimmer to call the phantom 1976 team “The team that wasn’t.”

But for one, glorious season we swam and people, we did so under interesting conditions…which is to say that we had a pool but it was built in around 1940 and therefore not regulation. This short pool required us to swim double laps to prepare for meets, and the drain was such that every once in a while, it would clog up causing the water to turn from chlorine blue to an emerald green. I kid you not. Of course, the students complained but we were made to swim anyway and at that time, no parent ever spoke up about any adverse conditions. Today, I can about bet the farm that this would be an outrage.

Despite having orange and black as our school colors, we had green and gold swimsuits and while that was fine by me, Packer fan that I am, it seemed a little silly. We didn’t have warm-up jackets (I don’t think anybody ever even thought of that) and often had to take the short buses to meets, the long buses being reserved for men’s sports.

Now I wouldn’t say that our team wasn’t motivated but we were so outnumbered at most meets and so not in tip-top shape (we never worked out and more than a few members were a little on the chubby side), that I think we unconsciously adopted an attitude of “We don’t care because we don’t have to.” Clearly we were not destined for Olympic glory. That’s not to say that we didn’t do okay for ourselves because we did, often surprising the opposing teams, but for the most part we were fish out of water at these competitions. Hahaha.

Since we were a small school, most of the men were engaged in basketball or wrestling and therefore not interested, but we did have one, lone male represent the men’s side of things at a meet. Now, this guy’s name was George but our coach must have abbreviated it for roster purposes to “Geo” and sure enough, when the announcer called the lane assignments, he said “And in Lane 1, Geo Cowell.” Poor Geo, he never lived that down.

As far as competition went, I ended up swimming the backstroke simply because – go figure—not every swimmer could swim the freestyle, our collective favorite stroke. These silly officials seemed to think that some of us should do other strokes and I tried but I never could get the hang of the breaststroke kick and was too wimpy for the butterfly so backstroke it was. But people, I hated that stroke. I swam the 100 backstroke, as well as the backstroke in the 400 medley relay but the 400 meter freestyle relay was more my style and I often anchored the women’s team to a respectable finish. Not quite an Olympic-proportion finish but a decent one at that in pools that seemed endlessly long compared to our kiddie pool back home. Oh well, in my next life, it would have been in China.

And so okay, now back to China (you were wondering, weren’t you). Finding recipes in the Chinese Refreshment book was challenging because the recipes often weren’t clear if the meat should be cooked first or not, plus many of the dumplings required Chinese flour that I didn’t want to buy (and lard, which I also didn’t want to buy!). In the end, my attempt at cooking a recipe from this cookbook turned out to be my own Olympic event!

Let’s start with the Fried Dumplings. I should have known I was in trouble right away because all recipes were printed first in Chinese then translated into English. I about had a headache when I was done. (“What do you think they mean by this?!”)

As an example, the main ingredients for the fried dumplings consisted of 12 oz. of pork and 5 ½ shrimp. The recipe didn’t say what kind of pork or whether to cook the pork first and seriously – 5 ½ shrimp? Seemed odd but that’s what it said. I asked a butcher at my grocery store what he thought I should do and he thought I should cook everything first (as did I) and that I couldn’t go wrong with pork tenderloin. And in fact, I didn’t go wrong with pork tenderloin or any of the other ingredients…at least until we got to the dumpling dough.

Oy, the dumpling dough! What.a.mess. I have a sneaky feeling that we should have used Chinese flour because regular flour combined with all the water the recipe required created one gloppy mess such that we ran to a local market for wanton wrappers!

And then there was the cooking thereof of the dumplings. The recipe said to use pork fat but didn’t say how one obtained the pork fat so I used peanut oil. The directions also said to fry with a “bright fire” until golden brown (are they kidding me??) and I did but the frypan was very hot and a few of them were scorched. Yikes.

And let me just say a word about working with wanton wrappers; they tell you to use a triangle method to fold the wrapper over the filling but don’t do it. Instead, do what my husband did—instead of fighting with that design (which proved hard to do), he worked with it instead and so we produced very lovely wanton rectangles! You’ll thank me later.

By comparison, the other recipe for Savory Bean Thread Noodles was a piece of cake. No fuss, no muss and more importantly, no guessing as to the method of preparation.

As for taste, the dumplings scored about a 7 (I’m not a big fan of salt and they were slightly salty) and the savory noodles about a 9. Neither hit the perfect score, but that’s okay because we had athletes like Michael Phelps to do it for us with his big eight win.

Enjoy this small taste of the Orient. As for me, I’m already gathering my British Isles cookbooks to get ready for London four years from now. Kidding! That’s a little early even for me but the 2010 Winter Games, to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, aren’t. Let’s see, what do I have in the way of Canadian cooking?

Fried Dumplings (good luck!!)

For the filling:
12 oz pork (I used pork tenderloin, then browned it on all sides and then finished it off in the microwave)
5 ½ shrimps (yes, that’s what it said. Buy cooked)
1 lb. cabbage (the recipe says use Tientsin but unless you live in a very Asian part of the country, substitute Napa).
6 mushrooms, soaked (not to be confused with 5 mushrooms or possibly 4!)

For the seasonings:
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons sesame oil
3 teaspoons soy sauce
Dash of monosodium glutamate (I didn’t use this)
Ground pepper, a pinch

For the dumpling wrappers, the recipe said you’ll need 2 ½ cup flour, 2 ½ cup boiling water and 1 ½ cup cold water. As I mentioned, we used wanton wrappers and they were okay but not quite what we were looking for. But definitely use them versus the flour mixture.

Rinse cabbage and then cut into very thin slices. Cook in boiling water for 10 minutes. Take out from pot and dry. Then add salt and monosodium glutamate. (I highly recommend using very little salt; 2 teaspoons was too much).

Cut pork, shrimps and mushrooms into tiny bits. (I diced the hell out of these ingredients and you should, too!). Add the sauce mixture. Now let’s pause here a minute: the recipe lists ingredients for the filling and then “seasonings” and the outer layer but no where did it mention “sauce.” Since I used the salt for the cabbage, as directed, I didn’t add it to the sauce I made, composed of the sesame oil, soy sauce and a pinch of pepper. And still the recipe was salty!! (And so the quest for the perfect instructions continues…)

Once you add the “sauce” mixture, stir the filling and sauce mixture in a big bowl until the ingredients thicken, then add cabbage and mix well. Put in refrigerator for about half an hour.

I’m going to skip the directions for the outer layer and just go right to the end! Place about a ½ teaspoon to a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wanton wrapper, fold, seal and then fry in about two teaspoons of fat (and if you have pork fat, go for it!) with a “bright fire until dumplings get golden brown colour (Note: the author used the British spelling of color).” Spray a little water and sesame oil and vinegar on the dumplings, then cover the pan until the moisture is rather evaporated.

This is supposed to make about 40 dumplings but we made about a dozen or so and called it a day.

Savory Bean Thread Noodles
2 2-ounce packages dried bean thread (cellophane) noodles (look for the words “Vermicelli Green Bean Thread” on the wrapper)
1 teaspoon peanut oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
½ pound ground pork
1 cup homemade chicken stock or reduced-salt canned broth
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Asian sesame seed oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped scallions (for garnish. Optional)

Soak the noodles in a large bowl of warm water for 15 minutes. When they are soft, drain them and discard the water. Cut the noodles into 3-inch lengths, using scissors or a knife.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the peanut oil and when it is very hot and slightly smoking, add the garlic and stir-fry quickly for 15 seconds. Then chuck in the meat and stir-fry, breaking up the meat, for 3 minutes. Then pour in the stock, rice wine oyster sauce, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Cook the mixture over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes. Now toss in the drained noodles and the sesame oil and cook for a further 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Ladle onto a platter, sprinkle scallions on top and serve at once with rice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"The Provence Cookbook" by Patricia Wells - Roast Chicken Stuffed with Rice and Figs

Date I made this recipe: August 10, 2008

The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 0-06-050782-9 © 2004

Recipe: Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Rice and Figs – p. 106-107

I recently finished reading Patricia Wells’ newest book, We’ll Always Have Paris…and Provence and was inspired to bring out her last book, purchased at a book signing event a few years ago, The Provence Cookbook. (PS—she is very nice in person - tres sympathique!)

I’ve been to Provence twice in my lifetime, both times to visit a French friend who lives in the area, and really enjoyed exploring the small towns in the area.

The first time I went was with my friend, Susan, in 1988, just before my 30th birthday. Susan used to live in Paris as an Au Pair and was fluent in Parisian French but speaking French in Provence is the equivalent of a northerner trying to “translate” a southern accent in the U.S. It took a while to get the nuances. (If I haven’t mentioned it in a previous blog, the trip was the equivalent of Lucy and Ethel Go To Paris as we had one hilarious mishap after another).

As for me, I spoke some French and did pretty well in Paris but was a fish out of water when we got to Provence. I will never forget one of the first nights there. My French friend and a few others took us to a health club where we used the steam room (sure, it’s an odd thing to do on vacation, but what’s your point?) and I was in tears within minutes because I didn’t understand a single word that was spoken. As a result, I got the reputation for being quiet, a fact that cracked Susan up to no end as I’m really pretty chatty—some might say a real conversationalist! Not only that, but I felt so stupid I can’t even tell you. I ended up answering “Oui” (“Yes”) for things that required a “No” answer and vice versa. It really brings home how frustrating it is to not be able to converse in or even understand another language.

Patricia Wells understands that and when, in her new book, she relayed how lonely she was the first few months she and her husband lived in Paris, I could completely relate. Lucky for me, I finally got the hang of the dialect, such that by the time we got back to Paris, I was ordering wine with a Provencal accent without realizing it. Everybody at the table laughed but I have to confess to being momentarily confused (“What did I say? What did I say?”).

Lucky for us, her recipes aren’t at all confusing and are as comforting as all get out. I really wouldn’t care if I was all by myself in a foreign city if I had myself a plate of this stuffed chicken!

Now, the use of rice and figs to stuff a chicken is as foreign to me as the dialect in Provence and it was good but I can’t say this was a home run hit. The chicken itself was fabulous—all moist with a beautifully browned skin and the rice and the figs were fine. Sad to say, it was the onions that made this recipe miss the mark. If I were you, I would caramelize the onions instead of cooking them until soft and I would also cut them into smaller pieces instead of thinly sliced rings. I think a caramelized onion would be a better flavor fit for the other ingredients.

So Bon Appetite everyone and enjoy this small taste of Provence!

Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Rice and Figs – 4-6 servings

Equipment: A large skillet with a lid; a roasting pan just slightly larger than the chicken, fitted with a roasting rack; a fine-mesh sieve.

2 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
Sea salt to taste
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups cooked rice
10 small, fresh purple figs, stems trimmed, and quartered lengthwise
1 best-quality farm chicken (about 5 pounds) with giblets cleaned and chopped
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
2 T unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In the skillet, combine the onions, salt, and olive oil. Sweat—cook, covered, over low heat until soft but not browned—for about 3 minutes. (Note: that is way to short a cooking time. I went about 10 minutes and even then, the onions were still a little crisp.) Add the rice and figs, and stir to blend. Cook just to blend the flavors, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the giblets in the cavity. Stuff with the rice and fig mixture. Rub the skin of the chicken with butter. Season all over with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken on its side on the roasting rack. Pour about ½ cup of water into the bottom of the pan to help create a rich and pleasing sauce later on. Place in the center of the oven and roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken to the other side, and roast for 20 minutes more. Turn the chicken breast side p, and roast for 20 minutes more, for a total of 1 hour’s roasting time. By this time, the skin should be a deep golden color. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees. Turn the chicken breast side down, at an angle if at all possible, with its head down and tail in the air. This heightens the flavor by allowing the juices to flow down through the breast meat. (Note: I’ll leave the gymnastics to you!) Roast until the juices run clear when you pierce a thigh with a skewer, about 15 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to a platter, and place on an angle against the edge of an overturned plate, with its head down and tail in the air (Again with the gymnastics!). Cover loosely with foil. Turn off the oven and place the platter in the oven, with the door open. Let rest a minimum of 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes. The chicken will continue to cook during the resting time.

Place the roasting pan over moderate heat, scraping up any bits that cling to the bottom. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping and stirring until the liquid is almost caramelized. Do not let it burn. Spoon off and discard any excess fat. Add several tablespoons cold water to deglaze (hot water will cloud the sauce). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, remove the rice and fig stuffing from the cavity of the chicken. Place it in a serving bowl. Carve the chicken into serving pieces and transfer to a warmed platter. Strain the sauce through the sieve and pour into a sauceboat. Serve immediately.

Author’s variation: While this recipe is ideal for the months when fresh figs are in season, a good winter variation is to replace the figs with a mixture of 4 tablespoons pine nuts and 4 tablespoons golden raisins that have been plumped in warm water for 10 minutes then drained.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Untangling My Chopsticks" & "Japanese Cooking" - Japanese Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl and Japanese Fried Pork

Date I made these recipes: August 3, 2008

Untangling my Chopsticks – A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto by Victoria Abbott Riccardi (this is an essay with recipes)
Published by: Broadway Books
ISBN: 0-7679-0851-1 © 2003
Recipe: Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl (Oyako Donburi) – p. 31-32

Japanese Cooking by Gail Weinshel Katz
Published by: Weathervane Books (This book is part of a Creative Cooking Series that published cookbooks of food from several countries)
ISBN: 0-517-244861 © 1978
Recipe: Fried Pork – p. 35

“Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so…” (lyrics from Turning Japanese by The Vapors, 1980).

Okay, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration and yet for one moment in the kitchen, I did turn Japanese in order to make these recipes.

I was inspired to take out these two books after meeting with a Japanese friend who used to play clarinet with me in my community band when she and her husband lived here while he was going to graduate school. Now, ten years later, she and her husband returned for a brief visit along with her two sons, now ten and eight and I met up with them for a very American dinner. She wanted someplace kid friendly and so we met up at Yum, a very fun restaurant by Minneapolis’ Lake Calhoun. (I highly recommend the macaroni and cheese)

No sooner had they caught the plane back to Tokyo then I made a grocery list and went shopping at an Asian market, United Noodles, in Minneapolis.

Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, United Noodles is a fun store. They carry grocery items for every Asian food imaginable along with house wares and even Chinese herbs. I was soon overwhelmed in the Japanese aisles, mostly because I didn’t know what I was looking for, but quickly sought help and all was well. Well, actually, all was almost well; I was so excited to have the dashi I needed for a recipe that I didn’t stop to consider that the jar I bought contained a half a cup and not the cup I needed for the recipe. Oh well, oh well. It still turned out just fine.

I do apologize to those of you who are not near an Asian market because you will likely not find the two main ingredients, mirin (Japanese cooking wine) and dashi (Japanese cooking stock, similar to bouillon) , in a regular grocery store. But you might be able to substitute by using another type of cooking wine and regular granulated bouillon. Let me know if you try it. If all else fails, it looks like you can mail order some ingredients; check out United Noodle’s website for more details: (By the way, dashi is listed under the full product name of AJINOMOTO hondashi. Make sure you buy two bottles!)

Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl (Oyako Donburi) – makes 4 servings
4 cups hot cooked rice
1 cup dashi
¼ cup soy sauce
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mirin
4 large eggs
½ pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into ½-inch nuggets
1 bunch of scallions (about 6), trimmed and cut into 1-inch batons

Prepare the rice

Pour the dashi into a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, along with the soy sauce, sugar and mirin. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2 minutes.

Break the eggs into a bowl and stir with chopsticks until the yokes and whites are mixed but not totally blended.

Add the chicken to the dashi mixture and then gently pour in the egg. Sprinkle the scallions over the egg. When the egg starts to become firm, after about 3 minutes of cooking, gently stir it with your chopsticks. (The chicken and scallions will have finished cooking in the hot liquid). NOTE: That’s not quite what happened. The egg was firming up way before the chicken got done and since nobody likes raw chicken, I threw the whole thing in the microwave for a minute or so. The egg got a little bit more done than I would have liked but the flavor was still there.).

Lay out four deep soup bowls. Spoon even portions of the rice into each bowl and top with the soupy chicken and egg mixture.

Fried Pork – Makes 4 servings
1 medium red pepper
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
2 tablespoons ground sesame seeds (Note: forget that noise—I threw them in whole!)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or sherry (Not to be confused with rice wine vinegar)
1 pound sliced pork, ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoons oil
2 ounces transparent noodles or very thin spaghetti
1 medium cucumber, cut into thin strips
1 medium tomato, cut into thin strips

2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar

Remove seeds from pepper; dice it fine. Mix with scallions, sesame seeds, soy sauce, and rice win or sherry. Marinate pork in this mixture for at least an hour.

Heat oil in frying pan. Drain pork; brown well on both sides in hot oil. Cut into smaller pieces, if desired.

Prepare noodles or thin spaghetti. Combine with cucumber and tomato strips. Place on platter along with the pork.

Prepare sauce by blending the vinegar, black pepper and sugar.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

"American Pie - My Search for the Perfect Pizza" - Pizza Margherita

Date I made this recipe: July 27, 2008

American Pie – My Search for the Perfect Pizza by Peter Reinhart
Published by: 10 Speed Press
ISBN: 1-58008-422-2 © 2003
Recipe: Pizza Margherita – p. 171-172; sauce recipe - p. 142; dough recipe – p. 107

Sometimes a recipe gets made because of a need to use up an ingredient, in this case, mozzarella. My mozzarella was left over from the Italian Corn Salad recipe I made the week before. It took me about a second to settle on pizza as the recipe de giorno and a couple more seconds to find this cookbook, American Pie.

Pizza Margherita is a classic pizza recipe and one that my grandmother made countless times when I visited her and it was so delicious my cousins and I often ate it cold for breakfast. The reason we could do that is that my grandmother, unlike any other pizza-maker I’ve ever known, put the mozzarella on top of the dough and then put the sauce on top of the cheese. This allowed the cheese to stay moist rather than turn into that awful hard crust the way most leftover pizzas do. I must confess that old habits die hard and so my version of this pizza is really my grandmother’s, save for the anchovies that she usually put on half of the pizza (although I actually like anchovies, I didn’t think to add them!).

Now I have to admit that I cheated when it came to the pizza dough and went to an Italian deli where I used to work, Broder’s Cucina Italiana, in south Minneapolis to get my pizza dough (they carry both small and large dough, freshly-made and oh-so-yummy. In fact their dough is close to the hot roll mix my grandma always used for her pizza). Cheating is a good thing as it saved me time and effort. Since I didn’t use the recipe our author included, and since it is rather long, I’ll let you track down the book should you feel that you want to do it from scratch.

As to the sauce, it was close to what grandma made and was very robust. I made one large pie instead of two small ones, put most of the sauce on it and it was fine—not too soggy and not too strong on the tomato flavor.

When you’re done with the pizza(s), do like my grandmother did and yell “A mangia!” (Basically “let’s eat!”) in order to get your crew to the table. Eat and enjoy!

Pizza Margherita – Makes two 9-inch pizzas
2 Napoletana Pizza Dough balls, 6 ounces each (page 107) – or – any other pizza dough mix – or – pizza dough from a pizzeria (if available)
Unbleached all-purpose flour, cornmeal, or semolina flour, or a combination, for dusting peel
½ cup Crushed Tomato Sauce (page 142)
16 fresh basil leaves
¼ pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into rounds, coarsely shredded, or cut into small chunks
2 T freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino Romano, Asiago, or other dry aged cheese (optional)

To make the sauce: (yield 4 cups)
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil (optional)
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil (optional)
1 tablespoon granulated garlic powder, or 5 cloves fresh garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice, or a combination
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

In a bowl, stir together all the ingredients, starting with ½ teaspoon salt and adding more to taste. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week. (Note, the beauty of this recipe is that it doesn’t require cooking!!)

Now then, as to baking instructions, I’m going to take a sharp turn away from what’s in the book because there are many variations available depending on whether or not you have a baking stone (I don’t). In general, preheat the oven to 500 degrees for at least an hour. Make sure you have the lowest shelf available for baking. If you are using a baking stone, place it first on the middle shelf of the oven and preheat on the highest setting for at least an hour. If you do not have a pizza stone, use a sheet pan but still warm up the oven at the highest setting for an hour.

If you are using a sheet pan, the author recommends brushing it with oil first. I was way ahead of him on this one as my grandma always did that. Then spread out your dough on whatever surface you are using.

Next and this is my personal preference for pizza, lightly oil the crust of the pizza and then place your mozzarella cheese on top. The author directs you to spread ¼ cup of the tomato sauce over the surface of the dough, leaving a ¼-inch border uncovered. It’s up to you, but I like cheese first, then the sauce. Place 4 basil leaves on top of the cheese (or sauce) one in each quadrant. If you make it my way, you will spread the sauce over the cheese, add the remaining basil and then sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese. If you do it the author’s way, you will arrange half of the mozzarella over the top of the sauce and basil and then sprinkle with the grated cheese.

Carefully slide the pizza from the peel onto the baking stone. It should take 7 to 9 minutes to bake. When it is done, the crust should be puffy and slightly charred on the edge ad thinner in the center, and the cheese should be fully melted and just beginning to brown in spots. The underside of the crust should be brown and crisp, not white and soft. If the underside is not ready when the top is finished, lower the shelf for the next pizza.

Note: if you are using ready-made pizza dough or a pizza dough mix like I did, you will not get the puffy, slightly-charred look the author is going for. You’ll still get a wonderful pizza crust but it will be more like a bread crust than a cracker crust.

Remove the finished pizza from the oven and immediately lay 4 additional basil leaves on top, placing one in each quadrant but not directly on top of the previous basil leaves. Serve the pizza whole (usually 1 pizza per person), or let it cool for about 2 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make the second pizza.

For Minneapolis residents, Broders’ Cucina Italiana is a great source for all items Italian, including pizza dough. Check it out at

If you want to enjoy authentic Neapolitan pizza without having to make it yourself, head to Punch Pizza (several locations). Check it out at