Saly Cortile Cucina – A Pizza Party To Remember!

Peach and Mascarpone Pizza

Many moons ago, my brother and I were regulars at a local Jewish summer camp. We’d spend weeks bunking with our friends, Israeli dancing, and taking part in the fun activities of our choice. Being the nerd that I am, I actually really enjoyed the educational programming as well, because our advisers challenged us to see the world in new ways and to think outside the box. Our counselors, charged with keeping us alive and well during the few weeks of the year we spent away from home, were usually young adults who not long ago were campers, themselves. This camp left lasting impressions on both my brother and me, and through our experiences there, lifelong friendships were fostered.

Fast-forward a good many years, and all of those little campers and counselors have grown. We lead different lives with varying interests, but through the web of social media, many of us have reconnected. In fact, after acknowledging our fellow foodie status online, an old camp friend reached out to me, and invited me to a pizza party at her house. Dana, one of my very first camp counselors, works as a registered dietitian, is mom to two incredibly cute and articulate young girls, and is wife to my brother’s former counselor, Matt. Dana and Matt have created a very inviting atmosphere in their backyard, complete with an urban garden that rivals the one I picture in my dream house and a brick pizza oven that guarantees fun and tasty gatherings.

I was so excited to be included in one of the Saly Cortile Cucina’s famous pizza parties for two reasons. First, I was going to reconnect with old camp friends. My last camp memory of Matt included him personifying one of my favorite Muppets, Kermit, as he serenaded us with The Rainbow Connection. And Dana was the counselor responsible for teaching me and my bunkmates some of the more significant lessons for any tween girl, how to shave our legs (I wonder if she remembers that), and more importantly, how to be a great and memorable counselor.  Second, Dana had recently posted photos of the bounty from her urban garden, and I couldn’t wait to forage through it, myself.

Found, growing in the garden.

Found, growing in the garden.

When I asked Dana what I could bring to the party, she explained the guidelines. She provides the dough, and the dinner guests come bearing the toppings of their choice. They’ve had everything from Asian teriyaki mushrooms with truffle oil, garlic shrimp scampi, and everything in between. At that point, I knew the bar was set pretty high, and I had a great time dreaming up the toppings I would bring.

Dana, prepping the kids' pizza.

Dana, prepping the kids’ pizza.

As the guests arrived for the party, many of us camp alumns, we schmoozed, imbibed on some of the best wines Paso Robles has to offer, and observed the chefs in action, each of us waiting our turn.

Matt, manning the brick oven.

Matt, manning the brick oven.

I watched guest after guest meticulously designing their colorful, mouthwatering works of art, and patiently waited as Matt attended to them in the oven. Finally, with a nudge from my sidekick, Kenny, I took my turn. The guests gathered around as I smeared honey-sweetened mascarpone cheese on the dough Dana prepared for me. Then they grew quiet as they observed me assembling slices of juicy white peaches, like a fan. Peaches on a pizza? Bare with me. I gave Matt the cue that my pizza was ready for the oven, and when it came out, I was ready with the toppings: balsamic reduction drizzled on the warm fruit, topped with a bundle of fresh peppery arugula and salty strips of prosciutto. I knew I had done well when the biggest skeptic of them all, my dear husband, nodded with his mouth full of gooey peachy goodness.

Pizza Toss

Pizza Toss

For my next trick, I tried my hand at a sweet variety of the ever-popular peach pizza. Again, Dana prepared the dough, and John, master pizza tosser, prepped it for the toppings. I smeared a layer of the honey-sweetened mascarpone cheese, fanned more slices of white peaches, and sent it to bake. When Matt returned with a bubbling pizza, I drizzled more balsamic reduction, and topped it with torn mint leaves. This pizza signified the start of the dessert pies!

Some of the delicious offerings of the evening.

Some of the delicious offerings of the evening.

As the evening wound down, Kenny and I said our good-byes to both old and new friends, with our stomachs full and hearts content. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a warm summer night than with a group of friends, playing around in the outdoor kitchen, tasting each others experiments, and enjoying the company.

Thanks again to the good folks at the Saly Cortile Cucina!

White Peach and Mascarpone Pizza
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: California-style
Serves: 6/pizza
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
 
Juicy white peaches adorn this memorable summer dish.
Ingredients
For the dough
  • 1½ cups hot water
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 packet of dry active yeast
  • 2 cups white flour
  • 1½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • extra flour and oil for prep
For the pizza
  • ¾ cups balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1-2 large white peaches, sliced
  • 6 fresh mint leaves, torn
Instructions
For the dough
  1. Dissolve sugar and yeast in hot water, and set aside for ten minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine white flour and whole wheat flour. Make a well in the center of the flour.
  3. Add 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil and ½ tsp salt to the water/yeast, and pour into flour well. Mix with a dough hook set on second speed until fully kneaded.
  4. Remove doughball and coat in oil in a large bowl. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for one hour.
  5. Punch down, cut into three sections, and roll each into individual balls.
  6. Coat the three balls with oil, and place in individual tupperware containers for one more hour. (You can also freeze at this point. When ready to cook, make sure dough is at room temperature for at least one hour).
  7. Dump each ball into a well floured surface, flatten, turn over, and flatten again (Do not knead!). Work dough by hand into pizza shape, and brush with extra virgin olive oil.
  8. Top as desired and bake according to pizza recipe.
For the pizza
  1. In a saucepan, cook balsamic vinegar over medium heat until it reduces by about half. Set aside.
  2. Prepare pizza dough according to package directions.
  3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  4. Combine the mascarpone cheese and honey together until they are well blended, and smear the mixture onto the pizza dough.
  5. Fan the peach slices on top of the cheese, and bake for 10-15 minutes, until pizza bubbles.
  6. Remove the pizza from the oven, drizzle balsamic reduction to taste, and top with torn mint leaves.
  7. Serve immediately.
Notes
If you want to save time, I recommend the wheat pizza dough from Trader Joe's. It's certainly not as good as homemade, but it works well if you are in a pinch for time.

This recipe was written for a conventional kitchen oven. If you are lucky enough to have a brick pizza oven, adjust cooking time accordingly.

 

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A trip to remember, and a refreshing welcome home.

Refreshingly juicy bite with a nice zing.

Recently, the hubs and I went on a last minute getaway, and explored a part of the country neither one of us knows too well: The American Southwest. We had two concrete places on our itinerary, and decided that we would take the leisurely and scenic routes, stopping if anything catches our eye.

The first stop on the itinerary was The Grand Canyon National Park. Kenny had been to the Grand Canyon previously with his dad, and swore to return with me in tow. Far be it from me to deny him this pleasure, but the truth is the pleasure was all mine. We hit the ground running at the wee hours of the morning. After a brief jaunt in Barstow, CA (to caffeinate) and Laughlin, NV (to refuel. read: eat lunch), we arrived at our first destination just in time to watch the sunset.

The Grand Canyon and Kenny.

The Grand Canyon and Kenny.

There are simply no words nor photographs that can aptly depict the awe-inspiring vista that is the Grand Canyon.  The sheer depth and scope took my breathe away. Literally. To be completely honest, I never had a huge hankering to visit the Grand Canyon, but let this act as a warning to any of you stateside readers: Get ye to the Canyon!

Once the sun set and the temperature dropped, we ventured into town in search for a bite to eat. We found what can best be described as Podunk Dinner Theater. Little did we know that Big E Steakhouse and Saloon was home to “singers,” “dancers,” “illusionists,” and more (no, the quotation marks are not there by accident). With our bellies full and our brains thoroughly stimulated, we decided to call it a night, and returned to the Yavapai lodge for some much earned shut eye.

Hiking along the Grand Canyon National Park.

Hiking along the Grand Canyon National Park.

The following morning, we got an early start, and hiked along the rim of the Grand Canyon. I thought the canyon was beautiful at sunset, but this hike proved to be even more spectacular. With each bend of the trail, we were greeted with better and bolder views, showcasing the different shades of rusty red, the deepest crevices and even the brilliant color of the Colorado River, whose raging rapids crashed through the canyon floor.

Despite the spectacular sites and refreshing breeze, the arid climate and high altitude were starting to take their toll on us, and we decided it was time to head towards our second point of interest on the itinerary, Sedona, AZ. Plus, Kenny had booked us a ride on one of the Pink Jeep tours, and we had a reservation to catch.

Fast forward through a beautifully lush and forested drive, and we arrive in Sedona with enough time to drop off our bags, and head in the direction of the pink jeep tours meeting place. Since we planned this trip with such haste, I didn’t do my research about the tour, and trusted Kenny, as this was something he really wanted to do. It’s probably a good thing, because had I known what I was getting myself into, I probably wouldn’t have done it (and I’m REALLY glad I did).

Sedona Pink Jeep

View from the Pink Jeep tour.

A group of 6 of us, plus the tour guide, loaded into a customized jeep painted Barbie pink, and headed for areas in the Sedona landscape that you would never reach via foot. The guide lead the jeep up rocks and down 45-degree angles, assuring us that the vehicle was built for these types of “bumpy” trails. I was definitely scared, but by taking this daredevil tour, we came up close and personal with the true beauty that Sedona has to offer (and I’m not talking about the Reiki leader at the corner store…there’s a lot of that, too). The jeep made a couple stops, and we were able to take advantage of the scenery with kodak moments. Two hours later, the tour ended as the sun was setting once again.

Happy to be on solid ground. Sedona, AZ

Happy to be on solid ground. Sedona, AZ

If there’s one thing to note about my dear husband, it’s that he appreciates a good sunset. And so…we found an inviting bench, and plopped ourselves down for the panoramic view of the passing of time.

Watching the sunset in Sedona, AZ.

Watching the sunset in Sedona, AZ.

The next morning, we visited a few of Arizona’s most artistic towns, Jerome and Prescott. It was in Jerome that we found our souvenir from the trip at a local art gallery called, “Pura Vida.” Pura Vida literally translates to “pure life” in Spanish, but references the Costa Rican saying that life is good. I can’t think of a better motto for this roadtrip. Life certainly is good, and it was exceptionally so on this mini-getaway.

That being said, when we returned home thoroughly dried out from the desert, I craved something refreshing and hydrating. Neither Kenny nor I were happy about heading back home after such a short trip, but I managed to whip up a little something to soften the blow back to reality. I leave you with my “welcome home” dish: chunks of juicy ruby red watermelon mixed with crumbled salty feta, coated with a dressing of mint, lime, and honey.

Enjoy!

 

Watermelon and Feta Salad
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
Prep time:
Total time:
 
A refreshing bite for a warm day.
Ingredients
  • 1 small seedless watermelon, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 limes, zested and juiced
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tbs mint leaves, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, combine the watermelon and feta. Set aside.
  2. In a container with a cover (a mason jar would be perfect for this), add the zest and juice of the limes, honey, mint leaves, and salt and pepper. Cover, then shake to combine.
  3. Pour the dressing over the watermelon and feta mixture, and toss to coat.
  4. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until serving time.
Notes
This makes a lot of dressing. You may use the whole amount, or reserve some for later use.

 

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