Tag Archives: Italian Food

pizza on the grill: a summer obsession

margherita on grillThis is an ode to one of summer’s perfect foods, pizza on the grill!  Ever since I figured out how easy this was, I’ve been making it on a regular basis during grilling season.  It took us a few tries to perfect the technique, but once you get the feel for it, it’s a breeze, and one of the quickest (and most economical) things you can make on the grill.  Plus, your friends will be blown away by how good it is.

I’m sure I’m far from the first food blogger to write about grilled pizza, but if you haven’t tried it, you’re in for a real treat.  It’s the closest I’ve come at home to the wood-oven flavor of a traditional Italian pizza (thin crust, not too many toppings*, crust charred just so in a few spots…).  It makes great party fare, as you can cut the pizzas up into small appetizer-sized slices and pass them around as they come off the grill, which is what we did at Sarah & Steve’s Memorial-weekend-Katie-visiting-from-Denver BBQ (yes, it’s taken me that long to post this! Sigh).  I made a double recipe of dough** and divided it up into four balls, each making an approximately 9″ pizza.

za'atar flatbreadThe first pizza we put on was actually more of a Middle-Eastern style flatbread brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar.  It got a little more charred than we would have liked, but it helped us gauge the temperature and timing for the subsequent pizzas.  I suggest doing a plain one to start with if you’re new at it, so you don’t waste a bunch of toppings if it does burn.  The dough tastes great just brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt- a “pizza bianca”, as it’s known in Italy.

margherita topping in bowl

pepper topping in bowl

Once we got our test pizza out of the way, we made two more pizzas, one with a classic Margherita*** topping (tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, salt & pepper) and one with roasted red and yellow peppers, feta, kalamata olives and basil.  I often don’t use sauce on my grilled pizzas, but if you want to, just make sure to go easy and use a light hand with the toppings in general.  You’ll want to use pre-cooked toppings, as the heat from the grill just warms them through rather than cooking them.  The varieties of topping combinations are as limitless as your imagination, but just keep in mind that for this style of pizza, less is more; you can’t achieve a crisp crust if it’s bogged down with too many extras.

pepper pizza on grill

I think I’ve made a convert out of Sarah, who used the fourth ball of dough a few days later to make another grilled pizza for her family.  If you have kids, this is a great recipe as it’s really easy to make individual-sized pizzas and let them choose their own toppings.  If you make the pizzas a little smaller, you can easily do two or even three at a time.

*There was a recent post on the Village Voice about “food words we hate“, and “toppings” was mentioned as a hated word.  Ever since I read that, I can’t stop thinking it does sound weird!  But what on earth could you replace it with, especially when talking about pizza?  Anyway, if the word “toppings” is bothersome to you, I apologize in advance for using it several times throughout this post, and welcome suggestions for alternatives.

**There is much debate about how to make the best pizza dough, what flour to use, etc.  I leave this up to you, as I think almost any dough you use will turn out pretty darn good.  One word of advice, though, would be to shape the dough by gently stretching it rather than rolling it.

***OK, technically, my sauceless pizza was a hybrid of Pizza alla Napoletana (cherry tomatoes and basil) and a Pizza Margherita (light tomato sauce, mozzarella & basil).  I usually use the cherry or grape tomatoes because in Michigan, for most of the year, they stand the most chance of having any flavor.

Pizza on the Grill (printer-friendly version)
This isn’t so much a recipe as it is some loose guidelines on the actual grilling process.  Although it is rewarding and not at all difficult to make your own dough (especially if you have a stand mixer), this is something you could have for a weeknight supper using store-bought dough.  margherita crop I’ve used the pizza dough from Trader Joe’s and had good results- you’ll just need to bring it to room temp and flour it a little so it won’t be too sticky.

As for toppings, like I said, the sky’s the limit.  Think of the dough as a blank canvas on which to paint flavor.  Don’t limit yourself to “traditional” pizza toppings- one of the best pizzas I made had no tomatoes, sauce or cheese; instead I used crème fraîche, corn, bacon and scallions.  It’s also a great way to use up odds and ends in the fridge! 🙂  Update: I recently posted a recipe for Tarte Flambée that can easily be made on the grill.

Directions: Arrange the coals so that there are more on one side than the other- this will give you two “cooking temperatures”.  Shape the pizza dough into rounds no bigger than 8″ or so in diameter.  Don’t fret too much about the shape, as rustic shapes work fine, but do try to get them as thin as you can without tearing.  Get your toppings organized and have them within easy reach- once the dough’s ready, you’ll need to work quickly so your crust doesn’t burn.

Put your pizza dough on the hot side and cook until the bottom becomes lightly browned (watch carefully to avoid burning), 1-2 minutes.  If the heat is a little uneven, give the dough a 180-degree rotation at some point.

Flip over the dough, place on the cooler side of the grill, and quickly add your pizza toppings.  Cover the grill and cook for 3-6 minutes, checking periodically, until the pizza is heated through and the bottom crust looks done.  If the crust begins to burn and the cheese isn’t yet melted (assuming you’re using cheese), you’ll need to adjust your coals by pushing some from the “cool” side over to the hotter side.

Please note that this isn’t an exact science, and the best thing you can do is be willing to go through some trial and error until you get a method and timing down that works for you and your grill.  You’ll be rewarded with pizza that tastes better than you ever imagined you could make at home!

lasagne of emilia-romagna (daring bakers)

This is the second month in a row that the Daring Bakers challenge has been a recipe I’ve already made, but it was certainly one I was happy to revisit!

lasagna-lead

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

If you’ve only ever had Italian-American style lasagna, this version is quite different.  There is no ricotta and no mozzarella, and barely any tomato in the sauce.  Instead, a rich meat sauce is layered with béchamel and a small amount of parmesan.   I do like the gooey, cheesy tomatoey version, but I don’t think I exaggerate when I say this version is heavenly.  Rarely have I tasted anything with such an intense meatiness.  And the homemade spinach noodles added just a hint of vegetal flavor to keep the whole thing from being too one-dimensional.  As Kasper puts it, the dish should always be a “vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheese; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavours. The results are splendid.”

The last time I made this recipe was about 3 years ago, and sadly, I think that is also the last time my pasta machine got used!  I can’t recall which sauce recipe I used that time, but I think I used half venison and half pork for the meats and it was delicious.  This time around, I stuck to the given recipe (veal, pork, beef, pancetta and prosciutto) with the exception of using pre-ground meat instead of grinding it myself.  This was partially due to time constraints, and partially due to economy- the ground meat was much less expensive.  (When I gave my shopping list to the butcher and told him what it was for, he said, “You’re going to grind these?” and steered me towards the already-ground meat.)  I was a little disappointed not to get to use my meat grinder, but as it was, I was short on time.  I had decided, since I was going to so much trouble, to have a few friends over for dinner to help me eat the lasagna.  And, as is typical for me, I was rushing to get things done at the last minute!

phil-noodleLast time I made the spinach pasta, it came off without a hitch.  This time, I used the food processor to mix the dough and I don’t know where I went wrong but it was a mess.  When I added the flour, it turned into a crumbly mixture about the texture of cornmeal.  I tried adding a little water and it still wasn’t coming together.  Then I thought maybe if I put it in the stand mixer and used the dough hook I would have better luck.  I added a smidgen of olive oil and then it turned pebbly but still wasn’t cohesive.  I added a little more water, kept mixing, and FINALLY it started to resemble pasta dough.  Luckily, my friend and former roommate Phil, who had stopped by to pick up some mail, offered to roll up his sleeves and help out by rolling out the pasta.  If he hadn’t been there, I probably would have had to resort to using boxed pasta because the sauces had taken longer than I expected and I was running short on time.  However, with his help I was able to have everything on the table just when I wanted to.

cheers

The dinner party went off without a hitch- everyone loved the lasagna and my friend Ian even said it was the best he’s ever had.  It was a lot of work, but I was glad to be able to share it.  For our first course, I made a carrot and avocado salad, and for dessert a blood orange sorbet, both of which I’ll post soon.  For now though, I’ll share a “photo essay” of the making of the sauce and lasagna assembly.

To make the sauce, you start off by browning a mirepoix (the “holy trinity” of diced carrots, celery and onion) with some diced pancetta:

mirepoix-prep

mirepoix-chopped1

mirepoix-prosciutto-in-pan

The next step is to brown the ground meats.  It’s funny because even though I’ve smelled meat and onions browning hundreds of times, it still almost takes me aback how great it smells each time.

meat-cooking

After the meat is browned, the recipe instructs to put it in a strainer and drain the excess fat.  I did do this; however, nothing really drained off.  Anyway, you have to remove the meats from the pan in order to deglaze the pan with the wine:

wine-reduction

The recipe instructs to transfer everything to a saucepan at this point before the next step of adding the remaining ingredients.

sauce-ingredients

First you add stock in 1/2 cup increments, cooking it off as you go.  Next, you add 2 cups milk.  I didn’t take any photos of this stage because frankly, it looked really unappetizing.  Before the milk reduces, it gets kind of curdly and the color of the sauce looks… well, not like something you’d want to consume.  After cooking for an hour, you add three plum tomatoes and cook for another 45 minutes.  Fortunately at this point, everything looks much more appealing.  I forgot to get a shot of the finished sauce, but you can kind of see it in the photo of the lasagna being assembled.

As for the pasta, I should have taken more photos but was discouraged and distracted by the fact that it took so much effort to get it to the right consistency.  The way the pasta machine works is that you start by rolling it through on a fairly wide setting and then once it goes through that setting smoothly, you go up a setting and continue the process until the noodles are the desired thinness (we went up to setting 6; I think the machine goes up to 12).

pastabike-dough

pastabike-noodle

In the photo above, you can see the dough tearing as it goes through the machine; you just have to keep putting it through until it goes easily before ratcheting it up to the next level.  The photo of Phil holding the pasta shows what it looks like as it gets to the right thinness.  Phil trimmed the noodles to fit into the 9 x 13 pan I was using, but we forgot to take into account the expansion of the noodles when cooking so they were a little long and I had to trim them when assembling.

noelle-lasagna-assembly

lasagna-mid-assembly

The only deviation from the instructions on the assembly was accidental- the final layer was supposed to only be béchamel and parmesan, but I hadn’t paced it out right and still had a little meat sauce, so that went onto the top layer too.  I think the main difference was aesthetic more than anything.

The only other slight deviation was that when serving the lasagna, I passed chopped fresh parsley at the table in addition to parmesan.  I’m a firm believer in the addition of a little parsley to brighten such a rich, heavy dish; not alot, but just enough to perk up your palate.

lasagna-side-view

I’ll finish things off with another photo of the happy diners (who, incidentally, supplied some very nice wine to complement the meal).  Can’t wait til the next one, guys!

happy-diners2