Stephen Yasko makes a dang good Burnt Orange Martini

The New Italian Sunday Dinner

I grew up in one of those stereotypical Italian Families in NJ.  Even worse, we had shore house in Seaside Heights.  Yep, Home of Jersey Shore.  In fact, my husband and I have been to the bar where Snookie got punched out.  But I left that all behind me when I ran away to DC for college at 18.

Oh… Did I mention that my Cousin owned a deli in West Caldwell about a mile from the Soprano’s house?

There are a lot of things about growing up Italian in NJ that don’t translate well to today’s lifestyle.  However, I’ve adapted one very proudly!

Anyone whose family comes from Newark knows Sunday Dinner is an event.  It starts with Grandma sneaking a snort from the bottle under the sink at about 10 am while she peels the eggplant and starts the gravy.  Sundays in the Summer in Seaside were a crapshoot.  You never knew how many people were going to show up.  After all, Grandma was one of nine and Grandpa was one of six. At last count, I had about 68 second cousins.  We could have anywhere from five to 25 people for dinner.

Dinner started with eggplant rollatini defrosted from the freezer and put on the table at noon.  At three, the Antipast was put out (no one made better stuffed mushrooms than my Grandma Edna).  The wine, often homemade and in Tropicana quart Orange Juice Jars, was on the table at the same time.  Then came the pasta course.  Sometime Cannelloni, sometimes Lasagna, sometimes Ziti–with Pot Cheese.  And always accompanied by the gravy pot full of sausage, meatballs, pig skin, pork bones.  Heaven!

After all that might come some meat. A steak, a broccoli, or a pork roast. Then the cookies, the espresso and  the sambuca.

An how I miss it.

But times change.  I’m married with no children and live hundreds of miles from my brothers and sisters and mother….more on that in another post.

But a few years ago my husband and I decided to get into classic cocktails as the speakeasy craze started going.  We decided to have Sunday Happy Hour.  Which has now transformed into my version of the the traditional Italian Sunday Dinner.

Around 2 pm I put out a cheese board that full of the small pieces of expensive cheese from Whole Foods.  You know, that basket of the ends they keep on the salad bar.  Some figs if they are in season, some olives.  Expensive Crackers.  You get the idea.

Then around 3:00 I shake the first of the cocktails.  We’re partial to Corpse Revivers #2 and Last Words.  I’ve come up with a few creations like the Burnt Orange Martini.  Oh, and there are specialty ones like the Sharknado when there’s something fun on TV.

We sit and sip the first one and spend quality time talking about our lives, our dreams, our plans and, in true Italian tradition: what ticks us off about each other.  It’s the best couple of hours of the week.

If we decide to invite the neighbors to share in our Sunday, they come after this first drink.  Oh, and by the way, no one leaves the house sober if you come for Sunday Dinner.  If friends are coming, I do get a bit more creative with the apps.

If we’re alone, I shake the second round and we watch a campy movie.  If friends are here, I move to cooking a big bowl of pasta with gravy and less heart attack inducing meats and fish.   The wine these days comes from a bottle with a cork and costs $20 a bottle.  Or less…we’re partial right now to Apothic Red.

Then we settle in for the night for Sunday Night TV like Billions, The Walking Dead, Madam Secretary and we fill in with House Hunters International.  And maybe a glass of Port.

Steve Yasko makes a Shape of VodkaAll in all, I have to say, Sunday Dinner, now and then, has been an important time of my life.  It makes me value my chosen and my biological family and gives me a chance to pretend my Grandma Edna is still with me, watching over my shoulder telling me not to cook the calamari too much or to use a little more garlic.

You can take the boy out of NJ but you can’t take NJ out of the boy.

The Secret Ingredient for Perfect Pizza Dough

You’d be surprised just how personal I take a Bad Pizza Dough recipe.  I used to own a pizza restaurant (we’ll tell that story later–No, it wasn’t called the Yasko Pizza Shoppe!) and that’s where I learned how make a dough that’s elastic, easy to work with and tastes great.

Even worse, I get all worked up whenever i see a Food Network post on Facebook for pizza dough I just think they way they do it isn’t exactly helpful for the inexperienced.

So here’s Stephen Yasko’s Perfect Pizza Dough Recipe:

Yields two Steve Yasko’s Perfect Pizza Dough Balls.

3 cups bread flour, though all purpose will do
1 package yeast (if you can get the one for Pizza Dough great..but not required.
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil.

And here is Stephen Yasko’s Magic Ingredient:

1 cup ICE COLD WATER (put some water in a measuring cup with some ice.  Stir till half the ice is melted. Remove the ice and measure out a cup.)

Most recipes want you to use warm water.  Not me.  Pizza dough in pizza shoppes is made in advance using this method because the dough they use on Saturday has to be made on Friday or even Thursday.  Since yeast grows faster in warm water, if you make it the day you use it then any you don’t use will be ‘blown’ the day after.  Blown down is loose, sticky and hard to handle. It rips.  Use this method and the dough you get will be perfect.

So… You need to make the dough the day before you’re going to use it–That’s the Steve Yasko Rule.

To make the dough you should use a mixer with a dough hook.  You can knead by hand, but it’s going to take you an hour of kneading to get done what the mixer will do in 20 minutes.

Put the water in the mixing bowl

Add the yeast. Wait 3 minutes till dissolved.  You can stir any that doesn’t dissolve quick enough for you.

Add the salt, sugar and oil.  Give a stir.

Add the Flour. 

Start the mixer slow till the flour mixes in enough not to make a mess when you turn up the speed.

Turn up the speed to about 3/4 power and let it go for about 20 minutes.  The dough should crawl up the hook and be silky looking. You might have to let it go longer depending on how your mixer works. Steve uses a Kitchen Aide.  The bowl should be clean too, with no flour sticking to the side of the bowl.

Turn out onto a kitchen counter with a little flour and knead by hand a few times.  then divide in half.  Form into two balls and twist the bottoms using your thumb to seal.

Place the balls around the end of an 11 x 13 pyrex baking dish. NO OIL IN THE DISH. push down to form a disk.  Cover TIGHTLY with plastic wrap so the dish is sealed.  Try to do this with one piece of wrap to form a tight seal.  This keeps the dough moist so a dry crust doesn’t form while resting and rising.  Place in the fridge.  Yep, in the fridge.

Let rest/rise for at least five hours.  Now if you double the recipe to make four balls, don’t double the yeast, just let the dough balls sit in the fridge for 10 hours.  The yeast will work, it will just take longer and the longer the better.

Take out of the fridge about 1 hour before using. 

Let me know how it works for you.


Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash