Friday, May 28, 2010

Naples Style Pizza at an Old Family Favorite

When I was a child my parents loved taking us to Johnny Costa’s in Desert Hot Springs. Like Capri, another historical Italian restaurant in DHS, Johnny Costa’s was known for its great food and old fashioned hospitality. Run by the Costa family and employing the entire family, the restaurant became a quick favorite to me and my sister because of the talented waiter Tony Costa who could whip a table cloth out from underneath a fully set table in three seconds flat without moving a single item on the table. We requested this trick time and again at the end of an evening and he would graciously perform it as if it were the first time we had asked.

It’s been a long time since those days and I recently went to Johnny Costa’s for dinner in their downtown Palm Springs locale surprised to see the same faces of the family members, only older and wiser. The menu items hadn’t changed much, still serving up classic Italian dishes, drinks and desserts in a warm and jovial atmosphere. Steak Sinatra was still on the menu as well as an assortment of seafood delights.
But I was there for the pizza after hearing that they had started serving it about six months ago. I was pleasantly surprised when the pies arrived steaming at my table to note that the Costa family had stayed true to their Naples roots by making a thin crusted large and flat pizza, not overrun with sauce and dotted with fresh ingredients.   

I am definitely going to consider Johnny Costa’s when I want to pick up a pie from now on. The simple Margherita is divine: buffalo Italian-style mozzarella, fresh basil, fresh tomato sauce and an olive oil drizzle. The Le quattro stagioni (Four Seasons) pizza comes with four corresponding ingredients to the seasons and can be served with the ingredients separated into four quarters as it is served in Italy, or all mixed together to serve up a delicious morsel in every bite. You can eat the pizzas in or you can call in to pick up an order. I will probably be calling in on Thursday nights when the cocktails are half off and I can imbibe at the small and intimate bar while waiting for my steaming slices to go!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Classic Breakfast With A Twist

 My all time favorite five minute breakfast is the quick two egg scramble topped with grated cheddar cheese and two strips of crispy microwaved bacon on top of a crispy, porous slice of hearty sourdough bread. On the weekends, when I have a little more time to devote to cooking my morning meal, I like to explore variations on this classic.
Yesterday I spent an early morning hour with my friend Leslie who has a full scale garden in her backyard. We walked the aisles of her sturdy garden boxes, followed by her green bean picking daughter Elle, all the while stuffing a big white canvas bag full of over-running and flush treats for me. Massive cabbages and wild kale and eggplant. But my favorite was the rich and mellow thyme sprigs that I couldn't wait to bring home and translate into this morning's new scrambled eggs dish. Instead of bacon, I sauteed a few turkey kielbasa slices and put all of it atop a slice of whole wheat bread. Bell warning comfort for the morning.

Creamy Scrambled Eggs with Parmesan and Thyme
Serves 4

You’ll need:
2 tablespoons butter
8 large eggs
¼ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
6 3-inch long sprigs of thyme

Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk them until the yolks and whites are well combined. Strip the thyme leaves off their stems and add them to the eggs. Whisk in the crème fraiche and Parmesan. The crème fraiche will look a bit lumpy once it’s mixed with the eggs. Don’t worry—just make sure it is evenly distributed within the egg mixture.

Heat a 10- to 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium low heat.  Add the butter and swirl it around in the pan as it melts, coating the sides. When the butter begins to foam, pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Immediately begin stirring the eggs with a fork, scraping the edges of the pan as you go. Don’t be tempted to cook the eggs on medium or medium high heat–they will stick to the pan and develop a rubbery texture.

When the fork begins to leave a trail in the pan, set the pan onto a cool burner and continue stirring the eggs vigorously for about 30 seconds. This helps prevent the eggs for sticking and encourages the development of big curds. Place the pan back on the burner and continue stirring, lifting the eggs from the bottom and folding them over the top as they thicken. Continue cooking the eggs until they develop a soft, pillowy texture. Remove from the heat, and shower with thyme, flaked salt and pepper. Serve immediately with buttered toast.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Green Girl

There's nothing quite like some good greens. I come from a family of Iowa style eaters whose idea of vegetable was the almighty spud and was never really introduced to the exotic world of greens until I lived on my own and stumbled onto the organic market. Suddenly I was in the world of greens and fell in love with the easy preparation, multitude of possibilities and health aspects. Today, I find myself craving greens just like I do dark chocolate--quickly sauteed mustard greens as garnish on top of any soup; steamed escarole with bacon bits as a side to any salad or meat; and wild doses of arugula cold or hot in peppery salads or streaked into Sunday morning omelets. 

But my favorite of all is swiss chard. With big leaves and a slightly bitter taste, this green can stand alone as a main dish in a meal or as a side. I was lucky enough recently, while dining at the home of my close friend Arlene (whose private garden is always full of greens as well as chickens, goats, pastel colored wildflowers and roadrunners) to acquire a fat bag of them. 

This recipe below is a standard for me. A ten minute saute that makes a nice bowl of savory, buttery and flavorful spiked greens that is good enough to stand on its own and slightly spicy!

Spicy Swiss Chard
  • 1 large bunch of fresh Swiss chard
  • 1 small clove garlic, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • Salt

Rinse out the Swiss chard leaves thoroughly. Remove the toughest third of the stalk, discard or save for another recipe. Roughly chop the leaves into inch-wide strips.

Heat a saucepan on a medium heat setting, add olive oil, a few small slices of garlic and the crushed red pepper. Sauté for about a minute. Add the chopped Swiss chard leaves. Cover. Check after about 5 minutes. If it looks dry, add a couple tablespoons of water. Flip the leaves over in the pan, so that what was on the bottom, is now on the top. Cover again. Check for doneness after another 5 minutes (remove a piece and taste it). Add salt to taste, and a small amount of butter. Remove the swiss chard to a serving dish.