Welcome to the new and improved Carano's Cucina. I make a lot of kick ass food and go out to some amazing restaurants. Take a look around and make yourself at home :)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Zucchini Pizza Are You Insane??

Nope.  I'm not.  I've actually made zucchini pizza before with great success.  And considering it's getting to be end of summer and everyone has zucchini for sale to give, I decided to make it again, but just a bit different.  I, of course, start with Grandma's pizza dough.  It's always perfect so I'm not messing with a good thing.  While the dough was rising, I got four shallots.

Tops and bottoms cut off, skin still on, a drizzle of olive oil and a little salt, into some foil and then into a 400 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes.  When they come out, they are soft and delectable and full of yummy.

Now for the zucchini.  I had a pretty good sized zucchini from my brother's garden and two small yellow zucchini that I picked up at a farmer's market for 25¢ each.  Hey can't go wrong there!  Sliced thin and then a quick saute in some olive oil, salt and pepper. 

There's not need to go too far here, maybe a little color, but not a lot.  This is how my Grandma taught me to make a veggie pizza, always with a light saute before putting them on the dough.  I like it much better than putting the veg on raw.

Once the dough has risen, get it stretched out and and put on your pizza tray, your pizza peel or whatever you use to make pizza. 

Grandma's pizza pan... just an aside.   Anyway, once you have your dough laid out, give it a light brushing with some extra virgin olive oil and then sprinkle your chopped roasted shallots all over the dough.

Then, spread your zucchini on top.  And then some fresh basil leaves.

Now, what are we going to do about cheese?  There must be cheese!!  Well pull up a chair.  Because it's cheese rantin time!   There was one thing I wanted to make this pizza something different, something special.  Fresh ricotta.  Is that so much to ask?  Apparently it is.  While I was out Wednesday, I hit two grocery stores both with high end cheese counters.   No fresh ricotta.  One even said it's a seasonal item?  What does that even mean?  What is ricotta season?  After that debacle I went to an Italian imports store.  The minute I walked in the door I asked, "do you have fresh ricotta?" And was told that in fact they do.  Ahhh, saved!   I'm chastising myself for not having gone there in the first place.  But then, what do I see?  The woman behind the counter take out a big honkin tub of Miceli's ricotta.  For those of you not in this region where Miceli's is sold, it's the plastic tub of ricotta you get in the dairy aisle of the supermarket.  You know the stuff, right next to the sour cream.  This is NOT fresh ricotta.  There is a big difference.  My shock lead to my purchase of the lesser cheese because I couldn't pick my mouth up off the floor in time to object.

Now, armed with cheese I don't want for this pizza, what can I do?  Well, I can try a couple more places.  I had in my sights the gourmet market, West Point Market in Akron and DeVitis Italian Market in Akron.  I'm quite positive both places will have it, but since I'm already out and driving past West Point Market, I went there first.  JACKPOT.   But holy shit!   Fresh ricotta at West Point Market is $8.79 a pound!   This being an item I don't buy all that often, it seemed steep to me.  But alas, the bee in my bonnet about it would not stop buzzing so I bought half  pound and was on my way.

The ricotta gets dropped by teaspoonfuls onto the pizza in lovely little dollops of joy.  That ricotta was worth every single penny and I'd go back and buy it again, sticker shock and all.  It was absolutely delicious straight out of the container. 

Bake at 450 until the crust starts to brown, but not too brown (15-20 minutes)! 

And of course, the obligatory zebra plate picture.

Pretty damn delish.  Buon Cibo mia Amici

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Muffaletta This Pal

Just the word Muffaletta makes my mouth water... that combination of good crusty Italian bread, olives and garlic and herbs and cheese and capicola and ham and and ..... ohhhhhh ecstasy!   I love it, love it all, crave it, want it right now.   But as I strive for healthier living, I needed to find a way to have all those amazing flavors and still be kinda healthy... sort of.  Maybe.  I could be fooling myself here, but go with it, don't harsh my buzz.

Pasta salad.  Why not?  Just substitute the deliciously fatty Italian meats, for pasta.  Sacrilege you say!?  Try it first!

I first took a red bell pepper and roasted it off.  You can do this on a grill, in a broiler, on a stove top, in a freakin toaster oven if you want.  Just do it.  Don't buy it.  It's cheaper and tastes better when it's done fresh.  After that's done, give them a chop and toss them in your big bowl that will hold all your ingredients.  Now come the olives.  I only used one kind and Muffaletta generally has several, but when you're talking Kalamata, why mess with a good thing.  I would bathe in Kalamata's if I could.  Wow, a Kalamata olive bath.  That's something to aspire to.  Anyway, yeah... as I shake myself out of my reverie, add a big amount...a cup?  two cups?  Use your judgment, of Kalamata olives, chopped.

From there, I added the fresh mozzarella.  Now I suppose if you must, you can add a lesser motz, but why would you want to?  Soft, creamy, yummy fresh mozzarella!   Don't be an idiot.  Fresh is best, make this your mantra.

Cut in cubes, and add to the olives and peppers.  And then, ahhhh a bounty from my garden.  Chives, basil, Italian parsley, tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes! 

What you see here are a couple San Marzano's, a couple Green Zebra (did you honestly expect me not to have zebra tomatoes?) and 16 Black Cherry's.  I only used the Black Cherry's (and the herbs) for the salad.  The rest will be used in something else or just eaten with some extra virgin olive oil and that crusty Italian bread I mentioned earlier.

So, 16 Black Cherry's.... true, I'm sure most of you don't have a giant 6 foot tall Black Cherry tomato plant in your yard, but if you do, use them!  If not, another fresh tomato would be fine, or as a last resort, grape or cherry tomatoes from the grocery.  And then pile on the herbs.  Don't be shy, add them to where you may even think it's too much.  It won't be, trust me.

A pound of whatever pasta you like is needed here.  You can use anything.  Don't feel confined to using tri-color rotini or whatever most pasta salads are made from.  I did use a tri-color farfalle because I had it on hand, but you can use anything ... penne, cavatappi, orzo, whatever.  And now the dressing.  I use my standard 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and that's it.  There is so much good stuff in this salad, but it's also big so you may need more dressing.  Probably not a full double recipe but more.  Season as you go of course, but there is no need to be aggressive with the salt, the olives add a lot.

Enjoy the hell out of it... make it often!  Buon Cibo mia Amici

Thursday, August 5, 2010

5th Annual National Hamburger Festival!!!

It wouldn't be July in Akron, Ohio without the National Hamburger Festival.  And this July was business as usual.  Nick and had been looking forward to this day for months and no damn 90+ degree heat was going to keep us from going!   Oh yes, it was a scorcher of a day.  Neither of us are any good in this kind of heat.  But we went.  And as you can see, so did many many others.

We go with a plan, walk the festival a few times and see who has what and what sounds good.   This does not sound good to me...

Nick tells me quite often that I would eat anything as long as it were fried.  That's just not true.  I won't eat a deep fried Twinkies.  No way, no how.   The other stuff, I'm kind of on the fence about but given the opportunity, I think I'd say no to them all.   I also have no desire to try deep fried pickles and I certainly don't want to try deep fried butter.  That's just crazy talk.

So back to the festival.  We scouting out what we thought we might want and then, since it was still kind of early and weren't ready to eat just yet, we found a spot in the shade and hunkered down for awhile.  We got to spend about an hour and a half listening to the Carlos Santana cover band.  Now no offense to Santana fans, but that is so not my gig.  It was welcome relief when they ended and the Burger eating contest began!

From where we were sitting, we couldn't really see the mayhem of the burger eating contest but we did hear that "The Lion" won the contest.  I think just about everyone who completed had a nickname, but I would expect someone named "The Lion" to win a meat eating contest.

The heat was a running theme and a big factor all day.  I just didn't think I could handle eating and walking and sweating so we decided, since we live very close to downtown Akron, to buy our burgers and make our way home to our central air and eat in cool comfort.  Oh yes, that's the plan.  So off we went to make our burger purchases.  My first one that I knew I had to have was from Cleveland food truck phenom, Dim and Den Sum.  Reading over their menu, they had me.  They hooked me in and I was not going to be deterred from trying the Hawaiian Burger.

Seriously... homemade sesame brioche bun, grass fed beef, cheddar fondue, pineapple relish and bacon.  I dare you not to try that one!

That's the half size, which is what I was going for with all my choices.  This burger was insane and by far my favorite of the day.  The beef was incredibly juicy and full of flavor.  The cheese, the pineapple, the bacon!  OMG,  I have died and gone to burger heaven!

But even though this was my favorite of the day, the others I had did not disappoint.  Nick's first half was from Metro Burger, an Akron area favorite.

It was, as the sign says, an American Classic.

A cheeseburger with the works, tomato, lettuce and onion.  Nick loved it!

From there we decided, in the interest of time and getting our burgers home still relatively warm, to buy two whole burgers and split them.  Our first choice was from the Steel Trolley Diner in Lisbon, Ohio.

Last year, Nick got a burger from Metro and from Steel Trolley.  What can we say, when we find something good, we stick with it!  The description this year had me right from the get go.  The Tuscan Holiday burger.

Since I dream of an actual Tuscan holiday, it sounded like a burger we should try.  On top the burger was homemade bruschetta topping (tomatoes, herbs and other yummies), shredded provolone and pesto mayo.  Nick is not a mayo guy, but the pesto made it appealing to him.  Like I said, none of the burgers disappointed!  

Last up was the Barley House, located practically within the festival itself.

This was the Stuffed Deep Fried Greek burger.  Olives, feta, salami... burger, oh yeah, sign me up!

How can you go wrong here?     Please!   It's fan-freakin-tastic!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lunchin and Lola's

After many many years of friendship online, my friend April was making her way to Cleveland from LA.  We were going to be meeting in person for the first time.  It's a momentous occasion!  One I really wanted to do in style.  So when I found out she was staying in downtown Cleveland I asked if she would want to have lunch at Michael Symon's restaurant Lola Bistro.  "Don't kill me, but who's Michael Symon?" she asked.  Hmm.  Well I was just about to scratch that idea when I thought, she won't know of any other places or chefs in Cleveland either so let's just go for it!  So after a quick walk through Tower City Center so we could purchase our newly released, The Runaways DVD, we took a short drive around Cleveland and then came back and walked to Lola's. 

We arrived around 2:15 pm and the sign on the door says that lunch is served until 2:30 pm.  I figured that was that, they weren't going to want to seat us now.  How wrong I was!  We were greeted at the door by a very friendly hostess who happily showed us to a table.  She even asked where we'd like to sit and since the kitchen is open, I asked if we could sit near there so I could watch the goings on. 

Both April and I were only planning on having a light lunch so we first got to enjoy some of the delicious bread and butter that was brought to our table.  I'm kind of bready, so I'm always happy to see bread put on my table.

After looking over the menu, April chose a Greek Chopped Salad and I chose to have a salad and half sandwich.  The salad was Bibb and Watercress Salad (it also has gala apple, oranges, chives and hazelnuts... they had me at hazelnuts - and um, hold the oranges of course!) with the Grilled Rosemary Ham and Cheese Sandwich (grilled ham with rosemary, reclette, whole grain mustard on French bread and pressed in a Panini press).

I know it's just a salad and a panini, but it wasn't just your run of the mill salad and panini!   The salad was scrumptious, truly.  In my book, you can't go wrong if there are hazelnuts in involved.   And the dressing was light and flavorful.  

The sandwich certainly seemed like more than half to me!   In fact, I took half of my half home.  And believe me, Nick was not sad to "have" to eat it later.    The rosemary was perfect, the bread crisp on the outside but not at all hard, the ham and cheese were lovely and the mustard was just right.  Yeah, I liked it.

I loved that my sandwich was packed in a cardboard box.  Very often when taking home leftovers, I have to specify to the server to bring it to me wrapped in a napkin or foil or something, anything other than that horrible bulky Styrofoam container.  I don't want them, I don't want to dispose them and wish restaurants would stop using them. 

And then what happened?  Our server told us that they had Chocolate Pots de Creme with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream for dessert.   April and I looked at each other and said, "sold!"   We shared one, and O.M.G. 

What an amazingly lovely capper to a delicious lunch.  Thank you sir, may I have another? 

So a beautiful lunch, with a beautiful friend, on a beautiful day in Cleveland.  What could be better?