Mini Inside-Out Pizza

January 26, 2014 Menu No Comments

Panzarotti…pizza turnovers…calzones. Whatever you may call them, they are all a type of an inside-out pizza, which is  pizza dough that is folded in half, sealed, and either baked (calzone/pizza turnover) or fried (panzarotti) to make half-moon shaped pockets packed with mozzarella cheese, sauce and other classic pizza toppings. These are not to be confused with stromboli, which is pizza dough topped with cheese and other pizza toppings, then rolled and baked like a stuffed bread.

I grew up knowing (and enjoying) the panzarotti version. On the corner of my Grandparent’s street there were not one, but TWO panzarotti shops. The original Mr. Panz, and directly across the street, Florida Style Pizza. Now, if you are at all familiar with the corner of Beechwood and Snyder in South Philly, you’ll know that there may be no more than 25 feet between the two corners, so competition between the two storefronts was fierce (our choice was always Florida Style). Mr. Panz is now long gone, but Florida Style is still around, and still frying up their classic inside-outs.

While the panzarotti is fried and usually filled with basic pizza toppings (cheese, sauce, pepperoni, mushrooms), the calzone is more of a classier dish. They are baked, and can be filled with more gourmet-style ingredients, such as spinach, broccoli, sautéed veggies, ham and other cheeses and meats.

Because my kids have yet to try either a calzone or a panzarotti , I thought it would be fun to make both, have a little taste test, and let my kids figure out the difference on their own. We rolled out some basic pizza dough and used a 4″ circular cookie cutter to make mini circles of dough. If you don’t have a cookie cutter, you can use a large glass or a small bowl to cut the dough. We then placed some shredded mozzarella cheese  and a tablespoon of pizza sauce in the middle of each circle, then folded and sealed them. Half were brushed with olive oil and went into the oven at 400˚ for 15 minutes, and the other half went into a deep frying pan, filled with 1″ of canola oil. The fried versions were flipped back and forth until brown and bubbly, while the baked ones were done when the dough was starting to brown.

After letting them all cool for a minute, we sliced them in half and served them to up to the kids. Surprisingly, they picked the baked version, because they said that the dough tasted more like traditional pizza dough. This, of course, didn’t stop them from devouring the fried version in minutes. “They taste like pizza donuts!” is what I kept hearing about the panzarotti style inside-outs.

I gotta admit, I was a bit disappointed that my kids didn’t quite appreciate the greasy, bubbly pockets of pizza heaven that I grew up with and enjoyed. But I am glad that they did enjoy trying them, and had fun judging the big taste-test. I’m sure we’ll be making these again some time, especially when the kids have friends over, or we have a family party. It’s a fun, tasty snack food to make and enjoy with a group!

Oh, before I finish, we did also make a gourmet version of the baked calzones. I went with the trendy prosciutto, goat cheese and arugula toppings (way to classy and delicate to be fried), and they were off the charts. I can see myself having a lot of inside-out fun in the kitchen.

Mini Inside-Out Pizza

Basic pizza dough, rolled thin (one rolled-out dough will make about 5 mini circles)
(you can use store bought or click here for a basic pizza dough recipe)
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Pizza Sauce

Plus…
Your choice of any other pizza toppings

Cut out 4″ to 6″ round pieces of dough using a round cookie cutter, large juice glass or small bowl. Place some shredded mozzarella cheese  and a tablespoon of pizza sauce (along with any additional toppings) in the middle of each circle, then fold and press the edges to seal them shut. If you are baking them, brush the tops with olive oil and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 400˚ for 15 minutes, or until the tops start to brown. If deep-frying, fill a large frying pan  with 1″ of canola oil. Carefully place the folded pizzas into the hot oil, and use a slotted metal spoon to flip back and forth until golden and bubbly on each side. If you are planning to use gourmet-type ingredients, such as vegetables and multiple meats, I would recommend baking. The basic ingredients work best for frying.

The basic ingredients for inside-outs.

The basic ingredients for inside-outs.

Topped and ready to be folded.

Topped and ready to be folded.

Folded and ready for frying or baking.

Folded and ready for frying or baking.

Panzarotti in the pan.

Panzarotti in the pan.

Calzone in the oven.

Calzone in the oven.

Fried (left) and baked (right) inside-outs, ready to be enjoyed!

Fried (left) and baked (right) inside-outs, ready to be enjoyed!

Gourmet calzone stuffed with prosciutto, goat cheese and arugula.

Gourmet calzone stuffed with prosciutto, goat cheese and arugula.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Baked Polenta with Shrimp, Asparagus and Peppers

January 19, 2014 Entrees, Menu No Comments

I’ve been planning to put together a recipe that incorporates polenta for a while now. If you check back again in another month or so, I’m hoping to have a breakfast polenta dish to share. But for today, I’m talking about a baked polenta dish mixed with shrimp, asparagus and red bell pepper. It’s like an Italian version of shrimp and grits. Grits and polenta are both, after all, very similar porridge style dishes – grits being made from stone ground white corn and polenta from yellow corn. The preparation, for the most part, is fairly easy. Sauté the shrimp, asparagus and peppers in garlic, olive oil and the zest and juice of one lemon, then fold into prepared polenta and bake. But it’s the type of polenta that you use that will determine if this dish is just good or out of this world.

Which polenta to use?
There are two common forms of polenta. There’s the pre-made tubes, which I like to use sliced thin for grilling or baking, topped with sautéed veggies or maybe a nice slice of cheese and some tomatoes. Then there’s the traditional version made from boiled cornmeal, often mixed with a little butter and maybe some parmesan cheese to form a creamy porridge-like dish. Because I wanted to mix in some other ingredients, then bake it in a casserole dish, the traditional method was what I needed to make. If you’ve never made traditional polenta, it involves about 20-30 minutes of cooking and a lot of stirring. A LOT of stirring. Similar to risotto (the other Italian dish that requires dedicated stirring), the trick is to keep a constant stir going to maintain a nice, creamy consistency. At first, it seems like a lot of work. But as you get into it and develop a nice rhythm, it almost becomes like a well-calculated dance. You allow it to get away from you just enough, then you bring it back together and gently keep it moving, and then you repeat this form until the dance is done. The end result is always worth the effort.

While doing my research for this recipe, I found yet a third option for making polenta…instant polenta. The cooking method and preparation are very similar to the traditional style. You add the cornmeal mixture to boiling water, and you stir. Only it’s done in literally under 5 minutes. Now I’m not exactly sure what is done to the cornmeal to make it instant, but there were enough recipes available online from reputable chefs that used instant polenta. It’s gotta be good then, right?

Wrong. Gotta say, I was not happy with the instant stuff. Yes, it did take under 5 minutes to prepare. But you go from start to finish in such a quick time, that you really have no control over the polenta. There is no careful stirring, no playing, no dance. It goes from liquid to solid so quickly that I felt that it just got away from me. I didn’t even have time to properly season it as I normally would. I did make sure to add some extra seasoning when folding in the shrimp, asparagus and peppers, but would have preferred to add a little butter while cooking the polenta. And I saw no chance of doing that while using the instant, which left it very bland and dry on its own.

To help add a little extra flavor, I put together a quick lemon greek yogurt sauce to use as a topping. This gave it a well needed, flavorful punch (see recipe below).

The bottom line here is use the traditional method for a dish like this. It’s worth the time and effort, and you will be very happy with the end result!

Baked Polenta with Shrimp, Asparagus and Peppers

Ingredients:
12-15 raw jumbo shrimp, cleaned, shelled and devenined
1 small bundle (12-15 pieces) of asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into small pieces
2 tbspn olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice plus zest of one lemon

Basic Polenta recipe
(courtesy of Giada DeLaurentiis)
6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions:
In a large pan, heat oil and garlic over medium heat. Add asparagus and peppers, stir and cook until veggies are tender. Add the shrimp, continue to stir until all shrimp are pink. Add the lemon juice and zest, mix well. Remove from heat, cover to keep warm. Set aside.

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted.

Fold in the shrimp, asparagus and peppers. Pour the mixture into a lightly greased baking dish. Place the baking dish into a 350˚ oven, bake for 15-20 minutes. Slice, serve and enjoy!

Lemon Greek Yogurt Sauce
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
Juice plus zest of 1 lemon
2 tbspn olive oil
1/4 tspn salt

Optional:
1/4 tspn chopped parsley
2 tbspn crumbled feta

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Cheesesteak Egg Rolls

January 5, 2014 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu No Comments

Being born and raised in South Philly, it was only a matter of time before I put together a dish inspired by our flagship sandwich, the coveted South Philly Cheesesteak. My in-law’s annual New Year’s Eve party was the perfect opportunity to do so. While there is never a shortage of good food at our family parties, I wanted to contribute something special and unique to help ring in the new year. I came up with a tasty South Philly-inspired appetizer …a cheesesteak egg roll.

Although the idea of a cheesesteak egg roll is not completely original (you can occasionally find them on restaurant menus), my recipe was totally off the cuff, inspired by the traditional tastes and ingredients of a true South Philly Cheesesteak. Just four basic ingredients – steak, provolone cheese, onions and egg roll wrappers – were the perfect combination. To help bring a sweeter, robust taste to the cheesesteak, I used caramelized onions in place of the traditional fried onions. You need a good 45 minutes to an hour to caramelize onions, so you’ll want to do this step a day or so in advance. I also used shredded provolone cheese in place of traditional sliced cheese (or, cheese whiz for some hard-core cheesesteak fans), and folded it along with the caramelized onions into the cooked steak, so that you get the full taste and flavor in every bite. I also baked the egg rolls instead of the traditional frying method. The steak, cheese and onion combination will create enough of their own oils within the egg roll, so there is no need to fry them in additional oil.

I’m very happy to say that the egg rolls were a big hit with everyone, and I’ve even gotten requests for a buffalo chicken cheesesteak version for my brother-in-law’s birthday. You can look for that follow-up post in another month or so. In the meantime, be sure to give my cheesesteak egg rolls a try. They’re an easy, delicious and filling snack food…perfect for your upcoming game day parties!

Ingredients:
(makes 20 egg rolls)
1.5 lbs thinly sliced rib eye or top round steak (if you cannot make it to your butcher shop, frozen steak sandwich meat such as Steak-umm will work)
4-5 onions, caramelized. You’ll want to do this a day or so ahead of time. Recipe below.
2 cups shredded provolone cheese
1 pack of egg roll wrappers (found in the produce section of your super market)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Directions:
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the steak to the pan, a few slices at a time. Add a little bit of water to the pan while cooking the steak. You want to make sure that the steak does not dry out while cooking. Just as the steak starts to brown, chop it in the pan and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Chop and flip the steak until fully browned, then remove and set aside. When the steak is cooled a bit, mix well with the onions and shredded cheese. You don’t want to add the steak mixture to the wrappers when the mixture is hot. It will soften up the wrappers and make it difficult to assemble.

*NOTE – full assembly instructions are included with the wrappers. You can also follow the step-by-step photos below.

Pre-heat oven to 400˚. Place an egg roll wrapper on a clean, flat surface, endpoints at the top and bottom (diamond shaped). Add one tablespoon of the steak mixture to the middle of the wrapper. Fold the bottom portion of the wrapper over the meat filing, then fold the left and right sides over, then gently roll it 3/4 of the way. Moisten the top corner of the wrapper with a bit of water (as if you were sealing an envelope), then fold it and seal it. Repeat steps with remaining wrappers.

Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Place the egg rolls seam-side down onto the sheet. Lightly brush the top of the egg rolls with olive oil. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Serve immediately and enjoy.

You can also bake these ahead of time, and warm them up again for about 5-7  minutes.

eggroll_steps

The basic steps on how to fold an egg roll wrapper.

 

CARAMELIZED ONIONS
(courtesy of SimplyRecipes.com)

Ingredients:
Several medium or large onions, yellow, white, or red
Olive oil
Butter (optional)
Salt
Sugar (optional)
Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Slice off the stem ends of the onions and place them cut side down on the cutting board. Cut them in half through the root end. Peel the onions. Lay them cut side down and make angled cuts into each onion, aimed at the center, cutting almost all the way, but not completely through the root end.  Make the cuts to your desired level of thickness. The root end will help hold the onion together as you cut it, making it easier to cut. Then cut a V in the root end to cut out the tough root holding the slices together.

Use a wide, thick-bottomed sauté pan for maximum pan contact with the onions. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil, or a mixture of olive oil and butter (about 1 teaspoon per onion). Heat the pan on medium high heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the onion slices and stir to coat the onions with the oil. Spread the onions out evenly over the pan and let cook, stirring occasionally. Depending on how strong your stovetop burner is you may need to reduce the heat to medium or medium low to prevent the onions from burning or drying out. After 10 minutes, sprinkle some salt over the onions, and if you want, you can add some sugar to help with the caramelization process. (I add only about a teaspoon of sugar for 5 onions, you can add more.) One trick, by the way, to keeping the onions from drying out as they cook is to add a little water to the pan.

Let cook for 30 minutes to an hour more, stirring every few minutes. As soon as the onions start sticking to the pan, let them stick a little and brown, but then stir them before they burn. The trick is to let them alone enough to brown (if you stir them too often, they won’t brown), but not so long so that they burn. After the first 20 to 30 minutes you may want to lower the stove temperature a little, and add a little more oil, if you find the onions are verging on burning. A metal spatula will help you scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the caramelization proceeds. As the onions cook down, you may find you need to scrape the pan every minute, instead of every few minutes. Continue to cook and scrape, cook and scrape, until the onions are a rich, browned color. At the end of the cooking process you might want to add a little balsamic vinegar or wine to help deglaze the pan and bring some additional flavor to the onions.

Store refrigerated for several days in an air-tight container.

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