Today is Italian Independence Day, and what better excuse to enjoy the best that Italy has to offer? An early trip to the store is bound to yield antipasto classics like salami, prosciutto, olives, anchovies, cans of caponata, with fresh mozzarella and provolone cheese, if you are lucky.
Around that it's easy to construct a quick first course. With prosciutto, try figs or apricots instead of the usual melon. Pair mozzarella with peppers in place of tomatoes, dressing them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Even Caesar salad with its dressing of anchovy and grated Parmesan cheese is remarkably Italian in flavor.
The main course is three pizzas, each with a red, white or green topping in patriotic echo of the Italian flag. The vibrant tomato topping of red pizza, for instance, is spiked with sun-dried tomatoes and roasted sweet red pepper.
White pizza is spread with a full-bodied mixture of onion and leek cooked until tender with garlic and olive oil, then topped with goat cheese. Green pizza is a simple mixture of slivers of zucchini, aromatic pesto sauce made with fresh basil (you also can find it in bottles) and mozzarella cheese.
All three pizzas can be prepared ahead and frozen, or refrigerated a couple of hours. Key to baking is the hottest of ovens with a preheated pizza stone or baking sheet so the dough crisps and browns underneath while the topping remains moist.
After this feast, dessert may seem superfluous. But in case appetites remain, stock some ice cream-- gelato if you can find it--in vanilla, hazelnut and espresso flavors. Top them with toasted nuts and a splash of an Italian liqueur like amaretto or Strega, or best of all with sparkling white Asti Spumante. Then with a glass of the same wine offer a cheerful toast to Italian cuisine and independence.
ITALIAN CELEBRATION FOR SIX
Mixed Antipasto Red, White and Green Pizzas Celebration Ice Cream Suggested wine:
sparkling white Asti Spumante
This is a menu to dress up with generous antipasto, or down with a simple salad. Either way, little needs doing at the last minute.
Up to one day ahead, prepare ingredients for antipasto or salad. Make pizza dough and prepare toppings.
Up to one hour before serving, arrange antipasto on plates. Knock down pizza dough, shape and add toppings.
About 30 minutes before serving, heat pizza stone or baking sheet.
About 15 minutes before serving, bake pizzas and toss salad.
After serving pizza, scoop ice cream and top with nuts and liqueur or wine.
RED, WHITE AND GREEN PIZZA
1 (1/4 ounce) package dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water, about
4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sprinkle yeast over 1/4 cup water. Let stand until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Sift flour with salt onto board and make well in center. Add dissolved yeast, oil and remaining 1 cup water. Mix with fingertips to form soft crumbs, gradually drawing in flour with pastry scraper. If crumbs are dry, add more water. Press dough together into ball. Dough should be soft and slightly sticky.
Knead dough until smooth on floured surface, about 5 minutes. Form into ball. Place in oiled bowl. Turn dough so top is oiled also. Cover with damp cloth and leave in warm place until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or refrigerate up to 24 hours.
Knead dough lightly 2 minutes and divide into 3 equal size balls. Roll balls to flatten slightly, then pull and stretch to 9-inch rounds. Set on floured pizza paddles or baking sheets.
For Red Pizza, spread sauce to within 1/2-inch of edge and arrange strips of sweet red pepper on top. For White Pizza, spread onion mixture to within 1/2-inch of edge and crumble goat cheese over top. For Green Pizza, arrange mozzarella slices on dough to within 1/2-inch of edge. Arrange zucchini slices in spiral on top, slightly overlapping each slice. Spoon pesto sauce evenly over zucchini slices. Pizzas may be prepared up to 2 hours ahead or frozen up to 3 months.
To bake pizzas, put heavy baking sheets or pizza stones in oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Gently slice pizzas from paddle or baking sheet onto preheated pan or stone and bake until crust is brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Three pizzas make 6 servings.
Note: If in hurry, make triple quantity of just 1 topping and use to make 3 pizzas as described.
1 sweet red pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 whole or 6 halves sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup red wine
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme or oregano
Place sweet red pepper directly on rack and roast until skin blackens and blisters, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and cover with wet towel until cool. Peel off skin, discard seeds and core and cut into strips. Set aside.