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Donal Skehan’s reliable Italian comfort food — foccacia-style pizza, Tagliata T-bone steak and baked cheesecake

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Tomato & Mozzarella Focaccia Sheet Pan. Picture: Donal Skehan

Tomato & Mozzarella Focaccia Sheet Pan. Picture: Donal Skehan

Tomato & Mozzarella Focaccia Sheet Pan. Picture: Donal Skehan

Tomato & Mozzarella Focaccia Sheet Pan. Picture: Donal Skehan

Tagliata T-Bone Steak with Lemon, Parmesan & Butter Lettuce. Picture: Donal Skehan

Tagliata T-Bone Steak with Lemon, Parmesan & Butter Lettuce. Picture: Donal Skehan

New York Style Baked Cheesecake. Picture: Donal Skehan

New York Style Baked Cheesecake. Picture: Donal Skehan

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Tomato & Mozzarella Focaccia Sheet Pan. Picture: Donal Skehan

There’s always a particular point during the summer when I reach peak laziness when it comes to what I cook. I find myself turning to three-ingredient pastas, something grilled on the bbq, or tomatoes on griddled sourdough. When I do make an effort, or we end up entertaining, I prefer recipes I can prepare in advance, and it is worth coming back to the classics.

When we lived in LA, we relied on Friday-night suppers at a little American-Italian joint complete with red-check tablecloths and autographed photos of stars framed on the walls. I often lean into their menu of crowd-pleasers when it comes to a slice of nostalgia and reliable comfort food that can be served anytime of the year. Here are the recipes, all of which can be prepared in advance or served simply à la minute.

The first is a tomato and mozzarella sheet-pan pizza — no fancy pizza tricks here, but a reliable recipe for a basic bread dough which is one to cut out and use again, as it will work for dinner rolls, loaves, or even rolled thinly for pizza bases. The topping here is basic but an ode to mini focaccia pizza-bread-style pizzas I used to devour growing up. Feel free to add toppings of your choice. I often do a version with lots of pepperoni slices drizzled with olive oil and chilli flakes. The bread can also be transformed with slices of red onion pushed into the dough or a garlic and herb mixture spread across the top before it’s baked.

A summer steak recipe is essential, and this one has its roots in Florence. Go to any restaurant in the Piedmont region of Italy and you will most likely come across Tagliata T-bone steak grilled over coals and served simply. I had it recently in Florence’s Osteria Tripperia Il Magazzino, a restaurant which specialises in tripe. There it was served sliced very simply on a bed of lettuce with lemon and plenty of salt.

Lastly, as make-ahead summer desserts go, New York-style baked cheesecake is a winner. This recipe can be adapted with a whole host of different flavours, even when strawberries aren’t in season. Be sure to line both the base and sides of the baking tin well to allow easy release of the cake.

Tomato & Mozzarella Focaccia Sheet Pan

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Tomato & Mozzarella Focaccia Sheet Pan. Picture: Donal Skehan

Tomato & Mozzarella Focaccia Sheet Pan. Picture: Donal Skehan

Tomato & Mozzarella Focaccia Sheet Pan. Picture: Donal Skehan

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Cook time: 2 hours Serves: 10

Ingredients
750g bread flour
1 x 7g sachet of dry yeast
2 tsp salt
450ml lukewarm water
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling

For the topping:
4 garlic cloves, very finely minced
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
500g passata
1 tsp red chilli flakes
500g mozzarella cheese, grated
A good handful of basil,
leaves torn

Method
1. Place the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and, with the back of a spoon, make a well in the centre. Pour the water into the well alongside the oil. Slowly combine the wet ingredients with the flour, incorporating in small amounts at a time, until a dough forms.
2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 6-8 minutes until it becomes smooth, elastic, and bounces back when pressed with fingertips.
3. Oil the mixing bowl, place the dough back in, cover, and allow to rise for 45 minutes to an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
4. Once risen, punch down the dough, transfer to a floured surface, and knead for a further 2-3 minutes.
5. Form the dough into a large, flat, rectangular bread, place into a 50cm x 40cm
oiled baking tray. If you don’t have one large baking tray, use two smaller trays.
6. Mix the garlic with the olive oil and spread over the surface of the bread
dough. Poke parts of the dough with your thumb and then sprinkle generously with sea salt.
7. Place in an oven at 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7 for 10 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven, spread generously with passata, and sprinkle with chilli flakes, mozzarella cheese and basil leaves.
9. Place back in the oven and continue to cook for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and just about to turn golden.
10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Tagliata T-Bone Steak with Lemon, Parmesan & Butter Lettuce

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Tagliata T-Bone Steak with Lemon, Parmesan & Butter Lettuce. Picture: Donal Skehan

Tagliata T-Bone Steak with Lemon, Parmesan & Butter Lettuce. Picture: Donal Skehan

Tagliata T-Bone Steak with Lemon, Parmesan & Butter Lettuce. Picture: Donal Skehan

Cook time: 10 mins Serves: 4

Ingredients
1 x 1kg dry-aged T-bone steak, removed from the fridge at least an hour before cooking
Neutral oil, for frying
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
50g unsalted butter
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs oregano
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 head butterhead lettuce, leaves separated and roughly torn
3 ripe vine tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 lemon, plus a few wedges for serving
50g 30-month-aged Parmesan

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Place an ovenproof frying pan over a high heat — cast iron is great for this —and smear a small amount of oil over both sides of the steak. Season well with salt and pepper.
2. When the pan is very hot, add the steak and cook for 3 minutes, until golden brown and caramelised. Turn over and cook on the other side for a further 3 minutes. Turn the steak on to its fat side and cook for 2 minutes. Then add the butter, rosemary, oregano and garlic to the pan. Baste the steak for 1 minute, then transfer the whole contents of the pan to the oven.
3. Cook until the steak reaches 52C/125F on a meat thermometer for medium rare — for rare, you want 48C/118F, and for medium, 58C/136F.
4. When it’s at your desired temperature, remove the steak from the oven and transfer the contents of the pan onto a high-sided dish lined with an excess of tin foil. Wrap up tightly and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.
5. To assemble, place the butterhead lettuce onto a serving platter and top with the thinly sliced tomatoes. Remove the steak from the tinfoil and slice, serving on the platter next to the salad.
6. Pour the meat juices from the tinfoil into a bowl and whisk in the balsamic vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice to slightly emulsify. Drizzle this mix over the platter and shave over the Parmesan. Serve straight away with an extra seasoning of salt and pepper and a few lemon wedges.

New York Style Baked Cheesecake

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New York Style Baked Cheesecake. Picture: Donal Skehan

New York Style Baked Cheesecake. Picture: Donal Skehan

New York Style Baked Cheesecake. Picture: Donal Skehan

Cook time: 1 hour 30mins Serves: 6

Ingredients

For the base:
300g digestive biscuits, blitzed to a fine crumb
150g butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
500g cream cheese
150g sour cream
175g caster sugar
3 large free-range eggs, 1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Zest of ½ lemon

For the topping:
5 tbsp strawberry jam, sieved
Juice ½ lemon
200g strawberries, hulled & halved

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/360F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin with parchment paper on the base and sides.
2. Combine the biscuit crumbs and butter until completely mixed through. Press this mixture into the base of the cake tin.
3. Place in the oven to bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
4. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, sour cream and caster sugar until smooth and creamy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until completely incorporated. Fold through the egg yolk, vanilla bean paste and lemon zest.
5. Pour the filling over the biscuit-crumb base and smooth off the top.
6. Transfer to the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Once baked, turn off the heat and allow to cool in the oven.
7. Place the strawberry jam and lemon juice in a saucepan over a medium-high heat until it comes to a gentle simmer. Cool before using to garnish the cheesecake
8. Once the cheesecake has cooled completely, decorate with strawberries and then brush over with the strawberry jam mixture.


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