Posted by: familiabencomo | Monday, March 17, 2008

Festa Italiana


I’m always up for a challenge and one of my favorite Food Muses, Marie, happens to be hosting a “Festa Italiana” food event this month with her friend Maryann. Although the dishes that I prepared were not as appealing to the eyes as the amazing culinary delights of Marie & Maryann, they were tasty & thoroughly enjoyed by my biggest fans – my adoring, always ravenous family.



To start, I prepared an Insalata Facile. Never underestimate the flavor of simplicity! I was at my friend’s Evelyn home over the weekend & she had prepared a salad with the barest dressing of just extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar & salt. All of the ladies at her home were asking the name of the dressing & were surprised to hear how simple it was. I went straight home & imitated Evelyn’s salad immediately. Alfredo LOVED it!

Insalata Facile

  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Roasted Walnuts
  • Gorgonzola Cheese
  • Diced Picked Beets
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Sea Salt
Insalata Facile

Next, I prepared Cozze Italiano. This is a baked mussel appetizer that I usually make first during one one of those Christmas marathon cooking days to set the mood for the feast we will be enjoying later AND to feed the family so that they don’t nibble while they wait. The entire preparation can be dull with all of the scrubbing of the mussels, but SO WORTH THE WAIT!!!

Cozze Italiano

  • 3 lbs. fresh Mussels in their shells
  • Fresh Rosemary
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Handful Garlic Cloves
  • 1/2 Water
  • 1/2 White Wine
  • Sea Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • 2 Tbsp diced Onion
  • 1 Cup Bread Crumbs
  • 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp Butter

In a deep pan layer rosemary, parsley, thyme, several garlic cloves on the bottom. Add water, wine, salt, pepper & lastly cleaned mussels. Heat moderately until mussels open – shaking pan if necessary & removing some as you go. Once all mussels are open, remove from pan & reserve liquid. Break empty half of shell off & discard. Arrange all shell halves with mussels close together in a baking dish. Some mussels may have fallen out of shell – just double them up with another mussel in shell. Meanwhile, reduce reserved liquid by half. Sprinkle mussels with combined onion, minced garlic, diced parsley, breadcrumbs & Parmesan. Pour reduced liquid into baking dish without splashing the mussels (I sometimes pour this before topping the mussels). Dot with butter. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Serve immediately. I always have bread on hand for dipping – the sauce is molte bene!

Cozze Italiano

Lastly, for Festa Italiana, I made Pizza Pepperoni. Maybe it’s not very original, but it was a lot of fun to make since I’ve never in my life have made pizza from scratch. The best part is that I know exactly every ingredient in this pizza without having difficultly pronouncing the words (try looking on a box of pizza these days!).

Pizza Pepperoni

Pizza Dough

  • 1 Cup warm Water
  • 1 pkg Active Dry Yeast
  • 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt

Combine water & yeast first. Add about half the flour, mix well. Then, add oil, salt & remaining flour. Dust flour on the counter & “work” the dough for about 5 minutes adding flour if it feels sticky. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with towel & let it rest for about an hour until it doubles in size. Once risen, place on lightly dusted counter again, divide it in two (or more) balls & cover again for 15 minutes. Finally, dough is ready to be shaped, topped & baked.

Pizza Sauce

  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Onion
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3/4 Cup Red Wine
  • 2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
  • 14.5 oz can Tomato Sauce
  • 14.5 oz can Diced Tomatoes
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Fresh Rosemary

Dice all veggie super-fine & saute in olive oil until golden. Add wine & simmer for a bit. Mix in all tomato items, blend well. Lastly, add finely diced herbs & simmer low for at least an hour.

This makes a lot more sauce than you could possibly need for two pizzas, but you will have extra sauce for emergencies. You can always add meat to the sauce later.

Pizza Assembly

Shape dough on an oiled pan. Dust corn meal (I heard this somewhere & it seems to work). Spoon sauce on dough, add toppings (I used grated mozzarella, organic pepperoni & Evelyn’s olives). Bake on 400 for approximately 20 minutes.

Pizza Pepperoni

Alfredo & the kids LOVED this! It wasn’t really as time consuming as it seems. While the dough was rising, I made the sauce. Then, while the sauce was simmering, I shared a glass of wine with Alfredo. Really a low-stress meal. The next time I make pizza I will add rosemary to my dough & brush olive oil around the edges before I bake the pizza. As far as toppings go…. Until my children out-grow pepperoni, it will have to be my favorite too!

Thank you, Marie & Maryann for hosting the Festa Italiana. This was a lot of fun challenging myself to come up with something to contribute to your Festa!



  1. Nice job! Thanks for joining us for our festa Italiana 🙂

  2. Terrific! I will make something this weekend and submit on Monday!!!

  3. There is NOTHING better than a homemade pizza. And this salad, with the pickled beets, looks just amazing. Yes, I wish I could have been the for this feast!

  4. Maryann, Grazie mille for inspiring us to cook festively. My family appreciates it!

    Mom, you better make something during the week & submit it by Saturday…..

    Jessie, now that I know I can make pizza from scratch I’m going to always have some supplies on hand. We had a last-minute playdate yesterday & I was a Rock Star whipping up a pizza in a matter of minutes with the leftovers.

  5. The pressure is on!!! I am planning on Osso Buco for Friday night dinner…so the above mussels recipe will work great as an appetizer…

  6. Would you believe I just made a pepperoni pizza for the first time close to 15 years? We had it over the weekend and my husband swooned. Yours looks terrific with all the melty, gooey cheese. Mmmm….

  7. OK, Mom, no pressure – just fun!

    Susan, how funny?!?! Great minds think alike! Pizza is a good “I’ll cook, but I don’t really wanna cook” meal….. Well, in my case it is. I made it again Wednesday night adding rosemary & garlic to my dough…..yum. Your husband is a lucky man because you are always posting great meals!

  8. Three gorgeous dishes–they all look scrumptious!

  9. They all sound terrific.

    We make a lot of pizza, my nephews (5 & 3) love to help. Pepperoni is always one of the ingredients.

    I really like your salad bowl and utensils!

  10. Mrs. W – thank you, dear!

    Lori Lynn – Thank you! You know, you really can’t go wrong with pepperoni – how nice you let your nephews help! The salad bowl was bought at Pier 1 about 10 years ago and the salad tongs were given to me by my friend Evelyn from a recent trip to Italy. I love your blog’s name (& your blog!) – Alfredo always says you taste with your eyes first. So true.

  11. Hello there, pleased to meet you. This all looks thoroughly delicious. We love making pizza here too. I stopped for a while and had a snoop around your lovely blog. What a beautiful garden you have with all that lavender and rosemary, we have mainly rubble here at the moment but they will be my plants of choice when the time is right. Ciao Amanda

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