Alecia Sawyer writes, “With summer picnics, Fourth of July and family reunions, I'm looking for some favorite potluck menu items for main dish, sides, salads and desserts. Do your readers have some favorite go-to recipes to share?”
She wrote that back in June.
Although Independence Day is over, family reunions and summer picnics are still possible. Come on, readers, help me here.
I have a reason for dropping the ball on Alecia’s request. I was trying to knock off another goal on my bucket list.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to climb Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that erupted in AD 79 that destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum?
Especially for an out-of-shape, unprepared senior citizen with no climbing experience.
Well, I didn’t actually climb the mountain. A bus dropped me off a couple of miles from its peak and I had to walk a steep path to the summit. It was a rigorous trek, one that took me hours, probably longer than anyone ever.
And when I made it to the top and looked into the crater?
Nothing. No lava spewing, no fire shooting into the sky. For an active volcano, it was a dud.
I also made my second trip to Pompeii, and it was just as sweltering hot there as in 2009, the first time I visited. That time I traveled with granddaughter Kaylie. This time I cruised the Mediterranean with Kaylie’s mother, my daughter Lonnette.
While in Rome, we did all the touristy stuff: shot selfies at the Colosseum, stared up at the hole in the ceiling of the Pantheon and visited the Vatican. After tossing coins over our shoulders into Trevi Fountain (legend says that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you will return to Rome; hey, it worked twice before!), we searched for a place to snag a piece of pizza margherita, a thin-crusted pie adorned in the colors of the Italian flag: green from basil, white from mozzarella cheese and red from tomato sauce.
Best pizza I’ve ever eaten.
• 12-inch round pizza dough, stretched, recipe follows
• 3 tablespoons tomato sauce
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 3/4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
• 4 to 5 basil leaves, roughly torn
Place a pizza stone or tiles on the middle rack of oven and turn heat to its highest setting. Let it heat for at least one hour.
Place the sauce in the center of the stretched dough and use the back of a spoon to spread it evenly across the surface, stopping about 1/2 inch from the edge.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the pie. Break the cheese into large pieces and place these gently on the sauce. Scatter basil leaves over the top.
Using a pizza peel, pick up the pie and slide it onto the heated stone or tiles in the oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling, about four to eight minutes.
Makes one pizza.
• 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
• 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
• 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt.
In a small mixing bowl, stir together 200 grams (a little less than 1 cup) lukewarm tap water, the yeast and the olive oil, then pour it into the flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately three minutes. Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.
Knead rested dough for three minutes. Cut into two equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth and let rest and rise for three to four hours at room temperature or for eight to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.)
To make pizza, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into rounds or squares. Top and bake.
Makes two pizzas.
This trip was the first time I ever visited Majorca (or Mallorca), the Spanish island in the Mediterranean.
First thing that impressed me was the size of Palma, its capital. It’s a beautiful city and port.
It’s not on my bucket list, but I’m glad I got a chance to see it, and to enjoy my favorite new passion: Ensaimadas.
Ensaimadas are warm, yeast-based pastries fashioned into round, coiled shapes. The following recipe yields 18 small coils.
However, I ate a large one in Palma, meant to be sliced into eight servings. And finished one off at my hotel in Barcelona, and one on the famed La Rambla, a tree-lined pedestrian mall in Barcelona.
I probably gained five pounds in Spain alone.
• 3 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
• 1 1/4 cups milk, heated to lukewarm
• 25 ounces white bread flour, divided
• 4 large eggs
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 7 ounces vegetable shortening
• Confectioners’ sugar for decoration
Mix the yeast with lukewarm milk in a glass measuring cup until dissolved. Place half of the flour in a large mixing bowl. Gradually pour in the milk-yeast mixture while stirring. Mix until the ingredients form a dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot. Allow to rise until the dough has doubled in size, approximately 1 hour. While the dough is rising, remove the eggs from the refrigerator to come to room temperature.
Once the dough has risen, add the eggs to the dough, one at a time. Use a large spoon or your hands to incorporate the eggs into the dough. Then, add the sugar and stir until the dough absorbs the sugar. Mix in the remaining flour, kneading the sticky dough with your hands for four to five minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise 30 to 45 minutes.
Lightly flour a board that is approximately 24 inches square. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough very thin. It should stretch to cover the board. Using your hands, rub the vegetable shortening on the top of the dough.
Roll up the dough as if you are making a jelly roll. Cut into rounds about 1-inch thick. (It should make approximately 18 rounds.) Transfer rounds to a plate.
Lightly flour the cutting board again. Roll each piece of dough into a long coil or rope, using your hands. Then, roll up each of the coils like a snail shell. Cover cookie sheets or a baking stone with parchment paper. Place ensaimadas on the parchment paper leaving lots of space between them because they will expand. Allow to rise until they have doubled in size, preferably overnight. The overnight rising time allows further fermentation to occur, adding flavor and size. In fact, the ensaimadas may triple in size.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the ensaimadas for 12 to 15 minutes on the center rack, until browned on top. Allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes, then sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and call me.
Makes 18 ensaimadas.
This trip, I also made my second visit to La Sagrada Familia, the large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona designed by famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (1852–1926). Gaudí's work on the building is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica.
It’s a must-see if you travel to Spain.
You also can’t go to Spain without indulging in tapas, the small appetizers or snacks, and I discovered one I can make a whole meal out of.
Think little meat balls wrapped in mashed potatoes and fried, and served with a creamy, spicy sauce.
I enjoyed them twice. Once before an entree of paella, and a second time before an unusual dish of fried eggs and prawns (french fries topped with over-easy eggs and shrimp).
The only recipe I could find includes a coating of panko bread crumbs. I think the restaurant I dined at skips that step.
Bomba de Patata y Carne Con Salsa Brava
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 1/2 cups tomato coulis (recipe follows)
• 1 canned chipotle pepper, with sauce
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
• 6 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 pound ground pork
• 1/2 pound ground beef
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 tomato, chopped
• 1/2 cup hot sauce
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
• 4 beaten eggs
• 3 cups panko bread crumbs
• Sunflower or canola oil, for frying
To make the hot sauce, place all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then cook on low for 10 minutes. Reduce to a smooth puree (straining through a fine sieve if necessary). Set aside.
To make the mashed potatoes, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and reduce to a smooth puree, combining with the olive oil. Season with salt.
For the filling, in a skillet, heat the oil and brown the meat. Add the onion and continue cooking for several minutes. Add the tomato and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes more, or until the meat is well cooked. Allow to cool.
To assemble, shape the mashed potatoes into balls, about 2 tablespoons per ball.
On plastic wrap, flatten each potato ball into a disc. Place 2 teaspoons meat filling in the center of the disc. Using the plastic wrap, close the disc around the filling and shape into a ball. (The best technique is to use two silicone molds to form perfect balls of filling, and to freeze them before wrapping in the potato.)
Preheat deep fryer to 350 degrees and the oven to the same temperature.
Dip the bombas into the beaten eggs and then roll them in the bread crumbs. Fry the bombas in the oil for two to three minutes, or until golden.
Transfer to the oven for two to three minutes so that the centers are heated through. Place a bomba on the plate and serve with Brava Sauce or the rest of the hot sauce.
Makes 24 bombas.
• 4 medium fresh tomatoes, quartered
• 4 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
• 1 garlic clove
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 5 basil leaves
• Pinch of crushed red pepper
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a blender, puree the fresh tomatoes with the drained sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and black pepper.
• 1/2 small yellow onion
• 1 medium garlic clove
• 1 teaspoon spicy paprika powder
• 8 ounces canned pureed tomatoes
• 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
• Olive oil
• Salt and pepper
Peel the garlic clove and onion. Chop both finely. Add a splash of olive oil to a small saucepan and place it over medium heat until hot. Add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook for four to five minutes until the onion is starting to soften.
Add the spicy paprika powder. Stir well. Add the pureed tomatoes. Cook for two more minutes. Add the white wine vinegar and season with a little pinch of pepper and salt to taste .
Take the pan off the heat and then stir in the mayo. Stir the sauce well. Let it cool a bit first and then transfer it to a clean blender. Pulse into a smooth and creamy sauce. Check the seasoning again and add extra pepper, salt or vinegar to taste if necessary. Then pour the sauce in a serving bowl.
Makes four servings.
One last thing: We had a stop in Monaco and walked around Monte Carlo, probably the prettiest city I’ve ever seen. I ate a wonderful ham and cheese quiche along some side street and visited the church where Princess Grace (the former actress Grace Kelly) is buried. I traipsed through James Bond’s casino and paused at a topless beach.
I kept my clothes on.
After all, some day I hope to go back.
Looking for a recipe? Have one you’d like to share? Write to Potluck, Times Record, P.O. Box 1359, Fort Smith, AR 72902. Email: email@example.com.