Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pizza Pizzazz!

Was there life before pizza?
Such a recent arrival
As popular and beloved as pizzas are in the USA, it's hard to believe that the dish is such a recent arrival. Italian immigrants introduced the dish to America in the late 19th century, but it was GIs returning home from Italy after WWII that really got the pizza ball rolling. By tradition, it is thought that pizza probably originated in the backstreets of Naples late in the 18th century.
New versions appearing constantly
Styles and ingredients can vary enormously with new versions appearing constantly. Traditional Italian pizzas include such classic styles as: Napoletana (tomatoes, Mozzarella, anchovies, capers, and oregano), Marinara (fresh tomato sauce), and Margherita (tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella, torn fresh basil leaves with a dash of Parmesan). Calzoni are half-moon shaped pizza "Foldovers" that are prepared with pizza dough and feature similar fillings. Before baking they are usually brushed with olive oil and then baked in a hot oven just like pizzas.
Originally baked on the hearth stone of the fireplace
Focaccia derives from the Latin word "focus," as they were originally baked on the hearth stone of the fireplace, which was indeed the center or "focus" of the home. This style of flatbread dates from the very ancient Mediterranean world. Our Basic Quick Crust can also be used to make excellent Focaccia. Although often topped with olive oil, coarse salt and herbs, toppings can include many possibilities.
Cook it hot and cook it fast
Making your own pizzas at home will quickly ruin you for the usual commercial chains. Homemade pizza can even be baked on a pizza "stone" that will approximate the results obtained in a traditional brick oven. The following recipes are from one La Cucina's most popular classes. The key to wonderful homemade pizzas is simple- start with the best ingredients and cook it hot and cook it fast!
Basic Quick Crust: Yields: Dough for two 9 or 10 inch pizzas
  • 3 cups Unbleached white bread flour (approximately)
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Sea Salt*
  • 1 package Fleischman's RapidRise yeast
  • 2 tablespoons Olive oil*
  • 1 cup Warm water


  1. Mix dry ingredients including yeast together in a mixing bowl. Make a hollow well in the center. Pour olive oil and warm water into the well.
  2. Stir together until liquid is mixed with flour and then work the mixture with your hands until it is smooth. If it is too sticky, you may need to add a little more flour, but be careful not to make it too dry. Each bag of flour will have slightly different moisture content.
  3. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and a warm, damp cloth and allow it to proof (or rise) about 30 minutes. While dough is proofing (rising); prepare the sauce.
Basic Uncooked Sauce: Yield: sauce for one pizza


  1. Combine all sauce ingredients in a blender on high for 1-2 minutes and set aside.
AMERICA 'S FAVORITE PEPPERONI PIZZA Yield: One 9 or 10 inch pizza
· 1 half recipe of Basic Quick Crust
· 1 recipe of Basic Uncooked sauce
· Two cups of Mozzarella cheese, grated
· Sliced Pepperoni (2 to 3 ounces), grated Parmesan and oregano* to taste


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. (If using a pizza stone, place it in the lower third of the oven to pre-heat it.) After dough has risen, divide it in half (you may freeze it or make another pizza).Shape it into a ball.
  2. Place on a lightly floured surface and flatten it with your hands.
  3. Finish rolling out the dough with a rolling pin until it is about 1/8" thick and about 9 or 10 inches in diameter. With a little practice, you can toss and spin the dough using centrifugal force to help stretch it. It is really much easier than it looks and your friends will be dazzled.
  4. BAKING ON A SHEET PAN: Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of cornmeal on a pizza pan or sheet pan and then place dough in the middle of the pan. BAKING ON A PIZZA STONE: Sprinkle 2 teaspoons cornmeal on a pizza peel and then place dough in the middle of the peel.
  5. Pinch edge of dough to form a border to keep the sauce from running out.
  6. Pour sauce onto dough and spread evenly with a spatula or wooden spoon. Be careful not to get sauce or other ingredients on the border.
  7. Next sprinkle 2 cups mozzarella cheese evenly over the pizza.
  8. Now top with as much sliced pepperoni as you wish. You may finish topping your pizza with grated Parmesan cheese and a little leaf oregano.
  9. Of course you can use an assortment of your favorite ingredients: sliced mushrooms, chopped green onion, chopped bell pepper, sliced olives, Italian sausage, etc. However, with whichever toppings that you choose, distribute them evenly and do not add too much. The biggest mistake made by novice pizza bakers is to add too many ingredients and pile them up in the middle of the pizza.
  10. When you have finished adding all the toppings and cheeses; IF USING A SHEET PAN; place it in the lower third of the oven and bake for about12 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. IF USING A PIZZA STONE; slide pizza off peel and onto the hot pizza stone in the oven and cook for about 12 minutes.
  11. Before cutting, serving, and eating; allow the pizza to rest for 3 or 4 minutes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"You should always trust your own data."
A favorite Burgundian appetizer
Gougeres are small baked appetizers of choux paste with Swiss cheese and are a favorite Burgundian appetizer, typically served with a Kir. Choux Paste without the cheese can also be used for cream puffs, éclairs or even filled with savory fillings as starters. I've been making them for over thirty years and have always had perfect success with the recipe. Looking back at that reality, I have no idea what prompted me to decide to serve another recipe, especially without trying it first.
Well, yet another lesson learned yet again.
Maybe, it was the simply the gravitas of a very famous chef's reputation and an assumption that his must somehow be superior to mine. The only real difference was the famous chef's version had another egg and a bit more butter. The results were not inedible but, they were kind of flat and deflated looking. As an IT skilled friend of mine put it "you should always trust your own data." Well, yet another lesson learned yet again. I assure you that although the following recipe does not come from the repertoire of a world famous chef, it does work consistently and taste great. Gougeres are usually served cold but, I really prefer them served hot as a hor-d'oevre.
*Available at avantisavoia.com
  • 6 Tablespoons Butter
  • ½ Teaspoon each Fleur de Sel Sea salt*, freshly ground white peppercorn* and nutmeg*
  • 1 Teaspoon Sugar
  • 1 Cup hot water
  • 1 Cup sifted flour
  • 3 Whole eggs
  • 1 Cup grated Gruyere or other Swiss cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Combine butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg, sugar, and hot water in a large sauce-pan. Bring to boil. Lower heat and add flour.
  3. Stir vigorously until batter pulls away from the side of the pan.
  4. Remove from heat and place batter into a mixing bowl
  5. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each one. Fold in grated cheese.
Using an ice cream scoop, drop mounds of paste on an un-greased baking sheet. Bake in hot oven for 20 minutes; reduce temperature to moderate heat (350) and bake about 20 minutes longer. Enjoy hot or cold!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Porcini Tagliatelle with Alfredo Sauce and Wild Mushroom Medley
Pasta with classic Alfredo sauce enhanced with the exciting earthy flavor of mushrooms
Serves 4 to 6
Preparation time: 20 minutes (plus overnight soaking for mushrooms); Cook time: 30 minutes
Available at avantisavoia.com *
Wild Mushroom Medley:
Pasta and Sauce
  • One 8.8 ounce package of Morelli Porcini Tagliatelle*
  • 2 ounces Sosalt coarse salt* (for cooking the pasta)
  • ¼ cup butter, unsalted
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 clove garlic, minced and mashed
  • 1 ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly grated nutmeg * (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon each (or to taste) Fleur de Sel Sea Salt* and freshly ground white peppercorns*
Mushroom Medley
  1. Remove soaked mushrooms and strain and reserve the soaking liquid.
  2. Heat 3 Tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and add mushrooms and garlic cooking for just a couple of minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved soaking liquid, Marsala wine and Truffle salt and freshly ground white peppercorns. Simmer for about 30 minute on low.
Pasta and Sauce
  1. In a big pot bring 1.5 gallons of water to a boil, salt the water (2 ounces of salt for 1.5 gallons of water) add the pasta and bring back to a boil. Lower the flame and cook the pasta until it is "al dente", 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add heavy cream and bring to a boil. Cook until sauce has reduced slightly, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, Parmesan and grated nutmeg; blend well and remove from the heat. Toss hot pasta and ¼ cup pasta water together with the Alfredo sauce. Serve topped with Wild Mushroom Medley and garnish with chopped Italian parsley.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Spaghetti Carbonara with Fried Sage Leaves

One of our favorites!
Spaghetti Carbonara with Fried Sage Leaves

Spaghetti Carbonara with Fried Sage Leaves
Spaghetti with Carbonara sauce is a special recipe, fast and flavorful. Please note that authentic Carbonara sauce does not contain cream!
Serves 4-6
Preparation time: 15 minutes; Cook time: 15 minutes
Available at avantisavoia.com *
1. In a big pot bring 1.5 gallons of water to a boil, salt the water (2 ounces of salt for 1.5 gallons of water) add the pasta and bring back to a boil. Lower the heat and cook the pasta until it is "al dente", 8 to 10 minutes, stir occasionally with a wooden spoon.
2. Put the grated Pecorino cheese in a large bowl and add the 5 egg yolks, the whole egg, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil , freshly ground black pepper, (to taste) and freshly grated nutmeg (to taste). Stir vigorously with a whisk.
3. While the pasta cooks, put the diced bacon in a frying pan with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, cook until the bacon is crisp.
4. When pasta is cooked, drain it and put it in a big bowl, add the egg mixture and stir well; then add the hot fried bacon, stir well. This all must be done quickly, the heat from the pasta and bacon cooks the eggs and melts the cheese.
5. Heat the olive oil to approximately 325 degrees; add sage leaves to hot oil and fry until crisp but not burnt. It will only take a few seconds.
6. Garnish with the sage leaves and chopped chives and serve immediately.

Friday, February 21, 2014

2014 DOGWOOD ARTS HOUSE & GARDEN SHOW:: Celebrating 36 Years

Dogwood Arts Festival's House & Garden Show
A beautiful Valentine gift
From February 14th through 16th, Dogwood Arts presented Knoxville and the region with a beautiful Valentine's gift… the House and Garden Show. The 36th annual Dogwood Arts House and Garden Show is one of the Southeast Tourism Society's Top 20 Events, as well as the largest annual fundraiser for the annual Dogwood Arts Festival. "The Dogwood Arts Festival takes place every April in Knoxville and celebrates our region's arts, culture, and natural beauty," says Dogwood Arts Marketing Manager, Erin Slocum.
Selfless acts of kindness
Presented by the Knoxville News Sentinel, the House and Garden Show relies on hundreds of volunteers who give many hours to bring this early celebration of spring to life. Co-chair Shanna Browning says, "A show of this magnitude simply cannot happen without the volunteers. I am more than grateful for their selfless acts of kindness to the people that come to the show."
An amazing array of displays, services and products
Scores of exhibitors (including Avanti Savoia) offer an amazing array of displays, services and products. Avanti's participation not only includes our booth where visitors can sample and purchase many of our unique products but, also the Avanti Savoia Cooking School. For the last 4 years La Cucina at Avanti Savoia has presented 13 cooking demonstrations over the 3 days of the festival in a beautiful demonstration kitchen provided by Pattersons Appliances.
Con un tocco!
Our demonstrations have always centered on Italian classics highlighting our products and the Italian philosophy of relaxed family dining. This year our theme was "Cucina classica Italian con un tocco!" or Classic Italian Cuisine with a Twist! Chefs Joseph and Karen offered step by step instructions on how to properly chop and prepare the ingredients, cook the sauce and boil your pasta. Then we added "un tocco" a modern twist to the classics. Our menu included Spaghetti Carbonara with Fried Sage Leaves, Porcini Tagliatelle with Alfredo Sauce and Wild Mushroom Medley and this year's standout dish, Farro Pilaf with Roasted Butternut Squash and Salt Block Seared Scallops Drizzled with Basil Infused Olive Oil.
A food staple of the Roman legions
Farro is an ancient cereal grain that was a food staple of the Roman legions. Pilafs are rice or other grains lightly browned in butter or oil and cooked in water or stock. In this recipe Farro is prepared in a pilaf style and combined with roasted squash, pancetta, grape tomatoes and savory flavors. Finally it is served topped with seared scallops and pickled onions. This is a recipe that is ancient and contemporary all at once. This baby was a Chef Karen creation that is spectacularly delicious but also elicited "oohs and ahs" from the crowd because of its gorgeous appearance.
Healthy, tasty and visually stunning
Chef Karen comments, "My inspiration for this dish was the idea of taking a very old grain (Farro) and cooking technique (pilaf) and to turn it into something healthy, tasty and visually stunning." The chef added a seasonal element (butternut squash), pungency (quick onion pickles) and the crowning glory of Salt block Seared Scallops. Chef Karen especially enjoys teaching the method of Salt Block Cooking and looks forward to sharing another variation next year.
Family and friends coming together to share the love of good food and each other
Although our stated intention was to inspire "your inner Italian chef", our philosophy can be stated very simply. The heart of cooking is all about family and friends coming together to share the love of good food and each other. Buon Appetito, Y'all!

Farro Pilaf with Roasted Butternut Squash and Salt Block Seared Scallops
Serves 6-8 - Preparation Time: 35 minutes - Cooking Time: 1 ½ hours
Available at avantisavoia.com *
Prepare the various components in the order listed for ease in assembling the pilaf.
Roasted Butternut Squash
Pre- heat oven to 350°
1. Peel and cut butternut into 1 inch cubes.
2. On a cookie sheet toss butternut with the olive oil and salt.
3. While the butternut squash is baking cook the Farro. Bake 45 minutes or until fork tender, do not allow it to become mushy. Remove from oven, transfer to a plate and set aside.
Since this particular Farro is pearled it will cook quicker.
1. Add olive oil to pot, bring to medium heat, and add Farro stirring to coat each grain.
2. Stir sea salt into hot water and add to pot.
3. Bring to a boil, cover and boil for 20 minutes. Turn the heat to low and cook for 10 more minutes. Pull off heat and let sit for 5 minutes and drain off excess water. Set aside until ready to use. While the Farro is cooking cook the Pancetta and the pickled onions.
Quick Pickled Onions
These pickles are good on just about anything!
1. Pour all ingredients in a small sauce pot, and set the heat to medium high.
2. Julienne onion, when the pickling liquid comes to a boil, add onion, and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes or more if you want softer pickles. Drain and set aside or refrigerate for other use.
Salt Block Cooked Scallops
Pre-heat the salt block
1. Combine all the ingredients, except scallops, in a glass bowl and set aside.
2. Pat the scallops dry, add to the bowl and gently toss to coat the scallops.
3. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on the paper towel pad and quickly wipe the top surface of the salt block with a light coat of oil. Be careful the salt block is VERY hot.
4. Place the scallops 1 ½ inches apart on the salt block and cook 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove from salt block and serve.
1. Cook the Pancetta until brown and crispy. Remove from pan, drain and set aside.
2. In the remaining grease add grape tomatoes, sauté for 1 minute, then add garlic sauté for an additional 2 minutes. Pour in the wine cook for 2 minutes, add Farro cook for 5 minutes. Gently fold in the roasted squash, cook for 3 minutes. Toss in parsley and pancetta, salt and pepper to taste, spoon pilaf onto serving platter.
3. Top with scallops, pickled onions, and drizzle with Basil infused olive oil and serve.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Chocolate Equals Love

 “Who, being loved, is poor?” ~Oscar Wilde 

Rather vague origins

Celebrating St. Valentine's Day is a familiar and widely recognized holiday in America, but one with rather vague origins. The holiday as we know it is primarily a western traditional, although many other global cultures have occasions in which romantic love is celebrated. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes at least three different Saints named Valentine, and stories and legends abound.
188 million Valentine cards
Apparently, greetings, love messages and other gifts (especially chocolates, flowers and jewelry) have been exchanged in Great Britain and the US for some 300 hundred years. Our modern Valentine customs date from the 1840's, when it was basically reinvented as a marketing ploy to sell greeting cards. With the introduction of mass produced cards around 1900, our card exchanging habits were permanently established. Permanently established to the tune of 188 million Valentine cards exchanged annually!
Theobroma cacao, the Food of the Gods
I certainly do not expect jewelry or care about greeting cards but, sign me right up for the chocolate part! So a pre-Valentine's day chocolate cooking class at La Cucina seemed appropriate. We selected several luscious recipes that celebrated three different approaches to appreciating Theobroma cacao, the Food of the Gods. Legends recount that the Mayan God Quetzalcoatl stole the sacred cacao seeds and gave them to mankind, and was punished by the other Gods because this miraculous beverage had been reserved for their exclusive use. In fact, the Mayans were among the first to cultivate cacao trees over a thousand years ago.
Modern chocolate
The modern chocolate with which we are familiar is a mixture of cocoa butter (the fat part of the cocoa seeds), cocoa powder and sugar. Dark Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and sugar, with a 50% to 90% percentage of cocoa. Basic chocolate contain at least 35% cocoa and not over 65% sugar. Milk Chocolate is a blend of sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, milk or milk powder, and vanilla. It should not be less then 25% cocoa. White chocolate is not really chocolate because it doesn't contain any cocoa solids. White chocolate is a concoction of at least 20% of cocoa butter, sugar, milk or milk powder, and vanilla.
Our menu
Our menu for the class included Chocolate Raspberry Truffles, Dark Chocolate Balsamic Ice Cream and Queen of the Cumberlands White Chocolate Cake with Sour Mash Chocolate Icing. We will share the recipes for the Truffles here and post the others during the week of St. Valentine's Day.
Chocolate Raspberry Truffles
These confections are so named because the rather misshapen cocoa coated candies resemble the famous fungus of the same name.
Servings: 25 to 30 pieces
Ingredients :
  1. Combine cream, butter and corn syrup in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer; remove from heat and cool for about 5 minutes.
  2. Break chocolate into small pieces and stir into the cream mixture. Stir until melted and add Raspberry liqueur and Raspberry Flavor.
  3. Cool 2 to 3 hours at room temperature.
  4. Whip truffle mix with an electric mixer, on medium for about 1 minute.
  5. Use a mini ice cream scoop to shape truffles. Place truffles on a tray lined with parchment paper and chill for 1 hour.
  6. Roll chilled truffles in cocoa powder and enjoy.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Best By Dating On Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Freshly Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil (avantisavoia.com)
Right out of the press
Dating on olive oil: The perfect time to consume extra virgin olive oil is directly from the press at the time
of pressing. At that point the oil has 100% of everything nature could provide.
After that, olive oil begins to slowly lose some of its vitality. Have you ever noticed that high quality olive oil has a best by date on it, and the grocery store variety does not?
That is because they don’t want you to know how old the oil is (one year, two years, five years?).
It is not a problem if you intend to saute or bake with it, but it becomes problematic when you want to use it for dipping, or salads, or as finishing oil over vegetables.
Face it—common grocery store olive oil tastes flat and lacks depth.
Now back to best by dates: olive oil begins to lose vitality once it is bottled, generally speaking 18 months after bottling, the oil is no longer at its very peak.
Here is the point of these ramblings; occasionally in our enthusiasm for a great extra virgin olive oil, we buy too much, and 18 months later we have a dilemma.
Oil that is still great and certainly better then the common garden variety you can expect at the grocery store. Unfortunately for us, we can no longer, in good conscience, represent this oil as being in its original peak condition. In our minds it has now become some of the finest cooking, all purpose olive oil in the world.
Long story short: we are selling this oil at the same price you might find at your local grocery store, $10.00 per bottle!
The producers may vary, but the quality will be excellent and well worth your consideration.
As always, Avanti Savoia stands behind everything we sell with a 100% money back guarantee.

Try for yourself and see the difference.


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Try for yourself and see the difference.