March 8, 2013 |

Summer Specials

By Pasquale Bruno, Jr.

Summer SpecialsHave fun with this “five-course” summer special: appetizer, salad, pizza, pasta and dessert. I have a lot of recipes to cover, so let’s get right to it. Each of these recipes can be scaled up in direct proportion. ?


Mozzarella Cheese Puffs

These golden puffs are flavorful and fun. Kids, especially, love these. You just might have to move them from a special to the regular menu.

Makes 12 puffs

2 cups fl our

½ teaspoon salt

8 ounces unsalted butter, softened

1 pound shredded mozzarella

fiveGreat01Combine the fl our and the salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter. Fold in the mozzarella cheese. Add the fl our mixture and combine thoroughly. Shape the mixture into small balls (around the size of a golf ball) by rolling them in the palms of your hands and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the balls puff and are golden brown. Serve with a warm marinara dipping sauce.


Bean and Tuna Salad with Radicchio

A cool, light and refreshing salad that works particularly well in the summer months. Put layers of thinly-sliced fresh tomatoes on the plate to form a flavorful and colorful base on top of which you can portion the salad.

Yield: 4 servings

2½ cups canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups coarsely chopped radicchio

1⁄4 cup red onion, chopped

2 tablespoons fl at-leaf parsley, chopped

1 cup water-packed Albacore tuna, drained, flaked

1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium-size bowl, combine the beans, radicchio, onion, parsley and tuna. Toss gently to combine. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar until completely blended. Add salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.


Pizza alla Funghi (Mushroom Pizza)

Earthy, flavorful, delicious. Call it a “Mushroom Lover’s” Pizza if you care to.

Yield: one 14-inch pizza

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ pound shiitake mushrooms

½ pound portobello mushrooms, sliced about 1⁄4-inch thick

½ pound cultivated (white domestic), sliced about 1⁄8-inch thick

2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 14-inch pizza shell

8 ounces shredded mozzarella or combination of mozzarella and Provolone

In a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the garlic and the mushrooms and cook and stir until the mushrooms give off their liquid, about 4 minutes. Add the oregano and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the mushrooms out of the pan and reserve (can be made several hours ahead). Spread the mushroom mixture evenly over the pizza crust. Sprinkle on the cheese. Bake.


Baked Macaroni & Cheese

Mac ‘n’ Cheese is one of the hottest dishes around, and this is my version of this classic dish. I use a combination of cheeses instead of the usual sharp cheddar. But the all-important flavor kicks — dry mustard and cayenne — are still included.

Yield: 6-8 servings

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1⁄4 cup all-purpose fl our

4 cups milk

1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard

1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

1 Pound cavatappi or similar corkscrew shaped pasta

1⁄4 pound shredded provolone cheese

1⁄4 pound shredded Asiago cheese

1⁄4 pound shredded mozzarella cheese

1 1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled

In a heavy sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the fl our and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes. Add the milk in a steady stream, whisking steadily, and bring to a boil. Add the mustard, cayenne, and salt, and whisk to combine. Whisking the sauce, simmer until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Set aside. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until it is almost al dente. Drain well. While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a shallow 3 to 4-quart baking dish. In a large bowl, stir together the cooked pasta, white sauce, provolone, Asiago, mozzarella, and 1 cup of the Parmesan, then transfer the mixture to the buttered baking dish. Smooth off the top with a spatula. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, oregano, and remaining 1⁄4 cup Parmesan and sprinkle it evenly over the pasta. (This recipe can be prepared several hours in advance, covered and put in the cooler. Bring to room temperature before baking.) Bake the pasta in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cheese is bubbling.


The standard trinity of Italian desserts consists mainly of tiramisu, cannoli, and gelato, so maybe it’s time to think outside the box. Here’s a quick and easy dessert that offers relief from that boring old box.

Ricotta all’Espresso

This is a dessert you can count on for whipping up (no pun intended) real fast. Creamy and rich-tasting with a mousse like consistency, it’s one that adults and children alike will enjoy. If you don’t have espresso in-house, simply use strong black coffee (or even instant espresso coffee).

Yield: 4 servings

2 cups ricotta cheese (not low-fat)

3⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1⁄4 cup espresso or strong black coffee, cooled

2 tablespoons sambuca (optional)

½ cup finely chopped pistachios

Put the ricotta, sugar, coffee and optional sambuca in a food processor or blender and process until creamy and thick. Spoon the mixture into tall serving glasses and refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours, until thoroughly chilled.

Just before serving, sprinkle some of the chopped pistachios on top of each serving.

Another option to jazz up this dessert would be to fold mini-morsel chocolate chips into the cheese after it has been chilled.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.