Monday, July 28, 2008

Sicillian Pizza

Celebrity chef, world traveler visits Hoptown
John Ashton to host Relish Cooking School and Expo in September
By Emily Parrino, New Era Features Editor
Wednesday, July 30, 2008 12:42 PM CDT

Jon Ashton picked up a bunch of chubby carrots from farmer Patrick Holland’s table at the Founders Square Farmers Market.

“They’ve got character,” he said as some other vegetables caught his eyes, “The tomatoes look so happy, don’t they?”

A celebrity chef originally from Liverpool, England, Ashton has made numerous TV appearances and traveled, cooked and tasted foods from all over Europe and Asia. But he felt right at home in a small-town American farmers market.

“This is more quaint than pushing a shopping cart through a place where every 15 minutes there’s a thunderstorm and the mist comes down on the produce,” he said.

Ashton will be the host at the Relish Cooking School & Expo to be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at the James E. Bruce Convention Center. The event will feature a variety of food and home related exhibits and hands-on activities. Those who attend will also have the chance to win a $10,000 kitchen makeover from Cayce Mill Supply.

Ashton visited The Kentucky New Era and Hopkinsville recently to scope out the surroundings and prepare for the expo.

“It’s great to bring children to a place like this and have the farmers tell their stories,” Ashton said as he perused the market, “This gentleman retired and began farming, this other gentleman left teaching to become a farmer. Most people don’t follow their passion in life.”

Locally grown food and nutritious eating are among Ashton’s passions. He has a kitchen garden of his own at his Florida home and loves cooking up meals for his neighbors with his homegrown produce.

“It’s addictive, isn’t it, when you start gardening?” Ashton said to Holland. “Now I name all my vegetables. There’s Willie the Watermelon, Elvis Parsley.”

Ashton also agrees with Holland that plants will thrive with some tender words of encouragement. But getting to know his veggies on a first-name basis doesn’t stop Ashton from eating them or sharing the bounty with friends.

“My neighbors are all welcome to my garden,” he said. “My daughter, Mei, will pick herbs and knock at the doors and give them to the neighbors. My goal is to encourage them to eat fresh produce.”

The chef requires no encouragement, he was craving a salad with mint, lemon juice and tomatoes for lunch. He also recommends oven-drying garden tomatoes to intensify their flavor.

“I heat them at 275 degrees with some oil and herbs,” Ashton explained. “It makes a lovely gift for the neighbors. You can use it to make tomato sauce or a tapenade, to spread on sandwiches.”

Full of vitamin C and the anti-oxidant lycopene, the nutrition conscious cook couldn’t praise the tomato enough. Another way to enjoy the tart vegetables is on a thin-crust pizza reminiscent of the snack served in Sicily.

Jon’s Sicilian Pizza Crust

“This is a wet dough, after it has proofed it will be easier to handle,” Ashton says. He believes cooking the crust on a clay stone in an oven that’s been preheating at 500 degrees at least 30 minutes will produce the most authentic results.

3 3/4 cups bread flour, plus additional for rolling out.

1 packet dried yeast

pinch salt

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

2 tablespoon white wine

Fresh Garden topping:

4 ripe tomatoes

1 head garlic

1 small yellow onion

1 cup fresh basil, divided

a few shakes dried oregano

olive oil

Coarsely chop basil, onion, garlic and tomato. Sauté garlic and onions in oil. Once fragrant, add tomatoes and ¼ cup basil and oregano to taste. Cook down until most of the juices have evaporated.

Mix dry ingredients with fingers and make a well in the center. Add wet ingredients and knead. It makes a really sticky dough. Knead for 7 to 10 minutes. Divide dough into four balls. With each ball, push out the dough with the heel of your hand to stretch it. You’ll see the strands of yeast. Then roll out to the thickness of a tortilla. The shape doesn’t need to be perfectly round. Let the dough rounds rest 30 minutes.

Use a dusting of cornmeal on the bottom of each crust to keep them from sticking. Brush the top with oil. Add garlic, salt and pepper, homemade tomato sauce. Cook pizza on the clay stone for 6 minutes. Then bring it back out and add basil, real buffalo mozzarella and reggiano-parmesan. Return to the oven until cheese is melted and basil crispy.

QuickInfo: Jon Ashton

Who: Celebrity chef with a passion for children, healthy eating and locally grown produce

What: Ashton will host the Relish Cooking School & Expo

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 11, 2008

Where: James E. Bruce Convention Center


Tickets: $10 general admission or $25 V.I.P. admission which includes cookbook, up-front seating, and pre-show “Meet, Mingle, and Munch” with Jon. A $2 discount applies for New Era subscribers if tickets are purchased at the New Era. Tickets are available at the New Era, Cayce Mill Design Center, the James E. Bruce Convention Center and the Fort Campbell Courier office.

Have a winning recipe?

Some lucky New Era reader could share the stage with celebrity chef Jon Ashton on Sept. 11 during his appearance at the Relish Cooking School and Expo, sponsored by the KNE.

Send us your favorite recipe and, if it’s chosen the winner, Ashton will call the local cook on stage for assistance during his show and the recipe will be distributed to everyone attending the show to be held at the James E. Bruce Convention Center.

Choose whatever category you’d like – appetizer, drink, salad, soup, entrée or dessert.

Many of the recipes will be featured in a special KNE cooking section on Sept. 4.

Send the recipe to KNE reporter Julia Hunter at Box 729, Hopkinsville, KY 42241. Recipes must be received by Aug. 20 and must include the submitter’s name, address and daytime telephone number.

Emily Parrino can be reached at 270-887-3235 or

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