The Art of Real Italian Cooking ~ Tantalizing Summer Pizza Recipe!

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The Art of Real Italian Cooking ~ Tantalizing Summer Pizza Recipe!

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 099-2000

Sidetracked…again!  Here I was faithfully slogging away at ‘The Big List’ I mentioned on Monday.  Then Rebekah got home from work…and wanted to ‘get out’.  I virtuously justified this impromptu outing by shopping for my son’s  care package to be sent to Afghanistan…and a trip to the thrift store to get rid of a space hogging giant TV from our bedroom that couldn’t be sold.

pedicure 007-2000

This would all be fine if the cosmetology school weren’t located in the same parking lot as the Salvation Army. Drat her! The next thing you know…I’ve got a pedicure….  Good news? The school will do Jacob’s buzz for $2.00 on Wednesdays. (Buzzes are expensive to maintain!)

The bad news (or perhaps best news) is that we got to talking about Father’s Day on the drive which I totally forgot was coming up—THIS Sunday. Somehow it never made it on my ‘BIG List’. (Oops! Quick…what to do?) Ahh…Italian food. Hubby ADORES it.

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 092-2000

One thing led to another…and the next thing you know..I’m covered head-to-toe in flour and spend the next two hours making the world’s best ever homemade pizza! And I happen to know for a fact..exactly what makes up the best pizza… (This did not help either my diet or the BIG LIST—but no one’s perfect! Tee-hee!)

Let’s assume for the moment, that you already know that the pizza you get at Domino’s, Ci-Ci’s, or even most of your fancy restaurants…is not REAL Italian pizza. How do I know? Only because Filippo, a 24 yr.old grad student from Southern Italy, lived in our home while working with my Dear Hubby for six weeks. That’s how.

One night, we ‘treated’ Filippo to a dinner at Buca De Beppo..which served supposedly authentic Italian food. He said the the food tasted great..but it didn’t even begin to resemble ‘real’ Italian food.


Turns out that American Italian food has as much to do with Italy as Tex-Mex has to do with REAL Mexican food..or maybe less..since at least we are actually neighbors to Mexico..and have plenty of experts to cook the real thing around here.

Don’t believe me that there’s a huge disparity between authentic cooking of various countries…vs. the Americanized versions? I have a cookbook from Harlingen, Tx (where I swear English is the ‘second’ language..not the first) and in the front of it are all the usual Tex-Mex style recipes…but the first ‘gourmet’ recipe I came across (in the back mind you) started with a goat. Ok..nuff said about that topic!


Apparently, our version of Italian starts with spices…and lots of them.  Wrong…  They don’t use tons of spices in Italy. Every food in America is over spiced…period.  We eat out way too much in my opinion and always need a new and bigger ‘taste’ sensation…so our restaurants oblige and add more spice (or fat, salt msg..etc).

Filippo, we soon discovered, loved to cook. A geologist/programmer grad student by day…he was a stunning cook by night…as well as other things which I won’t go into because I absolutely know nothing about the night life in downtown Houston..and I don’t really want to know..Hello?

chicken feeding

Filippo thought our neighbors must be real ‘hip’..they got in at 4:00am too… right? No, Dear..those lights…and all that great music are coming from their chicken coop. Turns out if you keep chickens (meat chickens that is) up all night and day with music and lights (good ole’ Country tunes)…they will be WAY fatter at judging time for the local 4-H County Fair.  The neighbors won BIG..every year! (Meat chickens do only one thing when awake….EAT!)

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 070-2000

All I had to do was buy the ingredients and Filippo would teach me ‘authentic’ Italian cooking. Sounds easy right? No….  Because I didn’t know that to have really good Italian cooking you will have to use fresh ingredients and these are not easy to come by in a rural Texas town.  That rubbery stuff we call Mozzarella, he thought might make a nice neighborly gesture, if I donated it to the neighbors’ chickens.

I discovered that downtown Houston’s The Market Place will sell you the good stuff…fresh the whey..for a VERY hefty price and and an hour’s drive.  But the people working there made me a little nervous. Friendly..but not at all like my neighbors..LoL!  HEB rescued me! They not only had the cheese…but great fresh fruit…Barilla pasta (Filippo’s favorite brand.) and Hunt’s tomato paste. (Not Barilla..but close enough.)

parmesan cheese 001-2000

Sam’s Club, it turns out,  sells prosciutto (I’d never even heard of it.) and big chunks of solid Parmesan (Oh heaven!!! We’re addicted now.)  And REAL Italian coffee, Lavazza,…well..I ordered that online…thank you Amazon.  Filippo warned me to take it easy on the Lavazza as I would be unlikely to sleep for the next 24 hours. Now the nightly runs to downtown Houston begin to make sense…

Every morning found our little newly transplanted country/urbanite family sipping Espresso (borrowed a machine from our friends from Willis-Thanks Debbie!) and munching on fresh fruit and croissants…a typical breakfast from home for Filippo. (I’d never even HEARD of espresso until Filippo came to stay.) I was giddy!! I had a REAL Italian person staying with us. We were all fascinated!

 pasta sauce

Lunch was always pasta…with a little sauce..and there are a LOT of ways to make a sauce..none of which require a can opener I might add. Chop a little bacon (minus the fat)…onion, fresh tomatoes, garlic cloves and just a touch of fresh basil or oregano…a few dollops of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and ‘Voila’ and of course, ground Parmesan…  Ahhh!!..heaven in a pan!

Sometimes heavy cream worked into the occasion…and one time crab. Marinara implies the ocean..duh? How come I never thought of that?  turns out that it’s perfectly Italian to mix seafood and tomato sauce. Being American and not entirely ‘cultured’ I had no idea.


Filiipo spent one entire day with his laptop in our kitchen working and simultaneously making real lasagna from a recipe his mother emailed him. It was all written in Italian so sadly, I can’t actually read it but, thank goodness, you can get it in English here.  It’s called Pasticcio Lasagna but to was just normal lasagna.

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 043-2000

It was nothing like any lasagna I had ever tasted!  Several layers of paper thin noodles about six inches long (from Barilla) were divided by layers of béchamel sauce (white sauce) and a meat paste called Ragù alla Bolognese  ( a meat/vegetable sauce) that took most of the day to cook. No cheese…no discernible tomato taste…Ok..this was NOT like any lasagna I’d ever heard of. Case in point.

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 086-2000

But heaven on earth…or something like it…came when Filippo made us Pizza Margarite. He told us quite a story about the origin of it, but for the sake of time, I will skip it.  It was the most simple…elegant and luscious pizza I’d ever tasted. The crust was a delicate bread…light and fluffy… We used plain Hunts tomato sauce because he said that was all he ever used.

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 060-2000 

I watched, mesmerized, while he poured in a couple of cups of warm water, stirred in the yeast..and then flour…and kept stirring and adding flour until he had a ball which he just squeezed a few times. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall him ever kneading the dough. I wished I’d paid better attention.

 Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 066-2000Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 068-2000

Every American recipe for pizza I’ve ever seen calls for 6-8 minutes of kneading..just like normal bread dough.  This is why I could never re-create Filippo’s pizza.

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 094-2000

I had tried and tried to make his pizza. I remembered that we spread the dough..paper thin…onto the cookie sheet which is what he wanted to use.

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 095-2000

Then we spread on the tomato sauce, sliced the circles of fresh mozzarella (tastes absolutely divine and NOTHING like normal American mozzarella…where are those chickens?!!) and spread them out on the dough.  That’s all there is to Pizza Margarite--No spices…just sauce, soft crust, and fresh cheese.

A more tantalizing version was the pizza he made when he sprinkled some gorgonzola cheese, which I’d never tasted before but is similar to blue cheese, on it (good in very small doses) and arranged pieces of fresh prosciutto on it.  On this pizza, we sprinkled some fresh basil leaves. It was just too good for words!

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 061-2000

Sadly…I could never make his pizza…because I didn’t have a recipe for the dough..and he never used one. Drat. I tried and tried to make my dough lighter and finally gave up in despair…until last night!

Oh my goodness!! We had heaven for dinner last night! As I said,  Tim’s favorite food is Italian so I went hunting for some good recipes…like Filippo’s.  I’ve never been able to find anything..all these years…until I accidentally stumbled upon..of all things..Olive Garden’s website! They actually have 56 recipes of many of their dishes available for public use.

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 101-2000

So I thought restaurants didn’t make authentic Italian food..but it turns out that at least Olive Garden’s pizza IS! I haven’t looked over the rest. I decided to try their Summer pizza recipe and lo and behold…it does not require ANY kneading!
This pizza was so reminiscent of the real thing…and the crust which is unlike anything you normally buy or make just to die for.

Pizza, Rebekah, Tiger 087-2000

We followed the Olive Garden recipe, Summer Pizza to a tee, including grilling the red and yellow bell peppers and green onions..except that I sprinkled some fresh Pecorino/Romano on it. It was so good that EVERYONE including me (sigh..) ate way too much! It was a lot of pizza and we were all stuffed to the gills. But the noises everyone made..including my stoic Rebekah..were music to a homemaker’s ears. Mmmmm!!! Ahhh…Ohhhh! My…  Wow!!

So you just have to try this pizza and tell me what you think. We have our recipes all picked out for Father’s day and hopefully, I can share our Italian cooking adventure next week.

Here’s our  Father’s Day Menu....
chocolate pot-2000 photo by Rebekah

If not..I’ll share Rebekah’s baked chocolate pots de’ crème. This is a deadly recipe not to be done within the vicinity of any dieters…  It’s now her specialty.

Wow..for someone who doesn’t ‘like’ to cook, I' certainly have waxed ‘eloquent’ today. LoL!  Maybe it’s just Rebekah’s cooking obsession rubbing off on me… Whatever it is…it sure taste’s good!

What is your favorite cooking genre?  Have you ever experienced the disparity between Americanized food and some actual ethnic food from other countries?

Linking with Raising Homemakers

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Miss Rodgers said...

I have to say mom, that was definitely the best pizza you've ever made. Delicious! :) (Not quite as spectacular as my chocolate pots of course, but not everyone can be perfect like me.) ;)

GardenOfDaisies said...

Well it all looks very good and sounds like you had a good teacher. My husband is half Italian. (His father's side of the Family was 100 percent Italian. Northern Italian.) So we enjoy cooking and eating Italian food too. We have a lovely Italian import shop that isn't too far away that we like to pop in every once in a while to pick up some special cheese.

Breathing In Grace said...

That pizza looks soooo good!!! Glad you had someone to inspire you living with you!!! That's awesome! And, that chocolate dessert...YUMMY!! Yes, it seems the word "diet" doesn't fit into this meal...but so worth it!!! HOPE you have a great Father's Day weekend with your precious family!!!

Marcus M. said...

Thanks for making me hungry yet again Donna!

Caroline said...

oh Donna, the story about your italian visitor is so fun! and funny! It made me smile all the way through it. I can just see you with this young man. What fun memories. And a wonderful dinner, it sounds like. Your husband is blessed!

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