Grilled pizza

Pizza is a staple around our house.  Homemade (or semi-homemade) pizza, that is.  No takeout for us.  Unless it’s from Centro, but even that doesn’t happen often. 

The advent of premade crusts makes it a cinch to prepare pizza on a weeknight, and the incredible deliciousness of homemade crust can make it a truly special meal for when you have a little more prep time. 

Pizza is quick, customizable, and filling, meaning there’s little need for sides, other than maybe a salad.   The Husband likes meat, meat, and more meat on his pizza.  The kids like–surprise!–pepperoni and cheese.  (Though my birdgirl likes mushrooms, so she and I sometimes split a girly pizza with mushrooms, herbs, and, ideally, goat cheese.  I love that she’s an adventurous eater!)  And I want anything but the standard–give me unorthodox sauces, not-your-typical pizza cheese, and just about any vegetable. 

And right now, there are so many veggies at their peak.  When the veggies are young and tender, they need nothing more than a quick chop and to be thrown on top of a crust for a quick, fresh dinner. 

But on a day like yesterday, when the heat index was hovering in the triple digits, I was not about to turn on the oven.  

The grill, however, was calling me. 

I’d grilled pizza once before.  It was edible, even good, but our old grill presented some challenges and the result wasn’t as good as I knew it could be. 

Enter the new grill:  a big, beautiful, spacious fixture that’s so much easier to use.  Big bonus:  the heat from the burners is actually adjustable!   With the old grill, it was “high” or “off.” 

The gist is that the new baby is perfect for grilling pizza, and I’ll bet that, if your grill was made in this century, you can make this dinner, too! 

What you’ll need: 

The crust:  I started with premade crusts, though rolled out pizza dough works, too.  (Dear Trader Joe’s, Please hurry and get that store in West Des Moines up and running!  Would love, love, love to try your delicious pizza dough on my new grill.  Many thanks, JC) 

The toppings:  Cook any meat toppings, obviously.  Prepare your veggies as you like them.  Set out your sauce and cheese (or cheeses).  Julienne some basil, chop some parsley, strip some thyme — whatever suits your fancy.  The key here that you have to work fast once the pie is on the grill, so ready everything you need and assemble all of the toppings in bowls near the grill. 

The heat:  Preheat the grill on high for about 10 minutes.  Turn the heat down to medium-low once you’re ready to toss the crust on.  

  

The basic idea:  Grill your pizza crust on one side for about 3 minutes, or until it’s got a few grill marks and develops some color.  Flip the crust and–work quickly here–spread a thin layer of sauce (or drizzle with olive oil, S&P), add your toppings, and close the grill for another couple of minutes to brown the bottom of the crust and melt the cheese.  Check the crust often because it does cook quickly. 

Remove to a pan to rest a few minutes.  Then slice, serve, and savor! 

No two pizzas in my house are ever the same; I mix it up every time.  Last night’s pizzas were inspired by what’s fresh right now at the farmers markets and by this photo here.  I made a bruschetta pizza 

 

and a riff on Deb’s 

 

Both were amazingly delicious.  

And since my little birds have flown the coop this week (to the grandparents!), I was able to enjoy a couple glasses of this

 

(Ignore the surrounding mess…) 

Served with a twist of lime and on the rocks, this is some good stuff!  It totally made grilling in the heat bearable. 

  

Bruschetta Pizza 

 (inspired by various sightings on the Internet) 

2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped 

1/2 of a small red onion, finely chopped 

1 clove of garlic, minced 

Chopped basil to taste (I have spicy globe basil and the leaves are tiny enough that I just left them whole.  They were perfect.) 

Combine these ingredients, toss with a bit of salt and some pepper.  Go easy with the salt, because the pepperoni offers plenty.  Drizzle with olive oil and a few sprinkles of balsamic.  Toss again and then let it rest while you prep everything else.  That rest time will allow the tomatoes to release their juices and all those fantastic flavors to marry and make some magic. 

Mmm...

 

Grill the first side of your pizza crust.  Flip and drizzle with olive oil, (little) salt & pepper, then top with pepperoni and about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of mozzarella cheese (fresh would be fantastic; all I had was shredded).  Close the grill lid and cook until the crust browns a bit and the cheese is nearly melted.  Remove from the grill and spoon the bruschetta topping all over the pizza.  Let rest a few minutes so the balsamic/oil soak into the crust.  Slice and savor!

Garden fresh

There are so many things to love about summer:  the abundance of green–and, likewise, the distinct absence of that white crap that hung around for, like, ever; sunshine; baseball; garden-fresh produce; farmers markets featuring said produce, along with beautiful blooms, artisan cheeses, and other fabulous, funky eats and treats; baseball; lounging on the deck with a cold beer; and, have I mentioned yet, baseball? 

Perhaps my favorite thing about summer is the food.  And, no, not just the ballpark food. 😉 

I love that, in the summer, dinner possibilities are endless and practically effortless.  Our meals are fresh and tasty–and probably healthier because the fridge is practically bursting with fresh veggies, and what’s not in the fridge can be found just outside the back door! 

Tomatoes, peppers, onions, greens and herbs in pots on the deck

 

The bonus?  I find that my kids are much more likely to eat their meals when the meals feature veggies from our own backyard.  

Cucumbers:  The kids are pretty crazy about cucumbers anyway, but if there’s a bowl of fresh cukes from the garden on the table, I think they eat twice as much. 

Greens:  What kid won’t eat something dipped in ranch dressing? While mine will nibble on a single leaf of lettuce from the grocery store, they’ll eat an entire bowl if the tender greens were harvested from our own garden. 

Tomatoes:  My son pops tomatoes like they’re grapes, so long as they’re fresh off the vine. And they seem to taste even better if he picked them himself! 

Beans:  The kids will eats second, and even thirds, of beans picked from our very own plants. 

So, one evening last week, our dinner featured these garden green beans 

Batch 1

 

with sides of sweet corn and barbequed chicken. 

Green beans with bacon, sweet corn with a side of herbed butter, BBQ chicken

  

I prepped the green beans using my favorite method for cooking fresh veggies:  adding bacon. 

Okay, just kidding!  

Sort of. 

My favorite method for cooking veggies comes from Pam Anderson’s How to Cook Without a Book.  Her steam-sauté technique is fantastic and practically foolproof.  I have yet to meet a vegetable that doesn’t adapt well to the method. 

The basic idea is this:  Drizzle some oil in the bottom of the pan; add your veggies and about 2 tablespoons of water; salt the veggies (it’ll brighten the color and flavor!) and add onion or garlic, if desired; cover and crank the heat to high.  Set the timer for six to eight minutes, depending on the quantity (and tenderness) of the veggies.  The water will come to a boil and steam the veggies. After the steam session, remove the lid and sauté until the water evaporates and the veggies brown just a bit. 

 

Mmm, delish! 

Finish with a dash of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a little squeeze of lemon (to brighten any green veggie).  

Or forgo the additional salt, and throw in some bacon! 

The end! 

Two thumbs up! Must have been good if it's all gone!

Burger alternative

It would probably be improper or unwise for me to admit that I don’t like to read the newspaper.  I find it a peculiar form of torture to wade through pages of strife and bad news while not letting the whole venture ruin your day. 

However, I won’t give up our newspaper subscription just yet.  If I did, I might miss the fabulous gems in Pam Anderson’s occasional (is it monthly?) article in the USA Weekend magazine insert in the Sunday paper.  I’m a big fan of Ms. Anderson’s.  Her book How to Cook Without a Book was pivotal in developing my confidence as a cook.  I’ve recommended and gifted that book countless times.

Her article in last Sunday’s paper offered alternatives to the standard hamburger and featured an herbed salmon burger and a turkey burger.  We’d been out of town for the weekend. Once we got home midafternoon, a trip to the grocery store was the last thing on my mind.  I needed something I could make with what I had on hand, and between the garden and the freezer, I had everything I needed to make those salmon burgers!

I used four small-ish frozen salmon filets, fresh herbs from the garden, and some pantry staples to create this perfectly light summer dinner.  Some lightly dressed greens and garden-fresh cucumbers and onions rounded out our plates. The kids didn’t care much for the sauce, but the burgers were juicy enough that they really didn’t need much else. 

The burgers were beautiful (wish I had thought to take pictures!) and so tasty.  These are definitely on my short list for quick grilled favorites!

Herbed Salmon Burgers with Lemon Tartar Sauce

from Pam Anderson at USA Weekend

1½ lb. skinless salmon filet, finely chopped

¼ c. chopped fresh parsley, divided

2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill

7 scallions, thinly sliced, divided (I used a bit less here, for the benefit of the kids…)

2 ½ tsp. finely grated lemon zest, divided

12 saltines, finely crumbled

1 large egg, beaten

½ tsp. salt

1 Tbs. olive oil

¾ c. light mayonnaise

¼ c. drained, chopped capers

6 whole-wheat sandwich buns

4 tsp. lemon juice

Thoroughly mix salmon, 2 Tbs. parsley, dill, 6 scallions, 2 tsp. lemon zest, crackers, egg and salt in a medium bowl.  Form into 4 to 6 patties.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to grill.

Preheat gas grill for about 10 minutes with all burners on high.  Clean the grill rack with a wire brush, then use tongs to swipe a vegetable-oil-soaked rag over the rack. (I, uh, skipped this step.  Our grill is ancient well-seasoned and, well, I didn’t want to bother.  Burgers came out just fine.)

Brush burgers with oil; place on hot rack. Cook for about 3 minutes per side, or until nicely browned.  Grill buns until spotty.  (Watch them!  They cook fast!)

Meanwhile, mix mayo, capers, lemon juice, and the remaining herbs, scallion and zest.

To serve, spread a bit of sauce over the grilled bun pieces and top with burger and lettuce and tomato, if desired.

The kids didn’t care for the sauce, but the burgers were juicy enough that they really didn’t need much else.

Full pasta meal + one pan = YES!

Maybe it’s the little bit of purist in me, but why did I never think to cook pasta IN its sauce??  Certainly it’s easier to control the quality (of each ingredient, I suppose) when the pasta’s made separately but, for this recipe, it’s worth taking exception to that rule.

This week, Amy over at The Mother Load posted a skillet meal recipe based America’s Test Kitchen’s book.  The photo is beautiful, and the prospect of making an entire dinner in one pan totallywon me over.  Now, it’s not exactly indulgent fine cuisine but it is perfect for feeding my birds — or for a quick weeknight meal for anyone.

See Amy’s post here.  I used the recipe as a basic formula and did just a few things differently. 

First, I had a little less than half a pound of Graziano’s sausage in the freezer (and I suspect finding turkey sausage in the markets around me would be…well, not that easy).  I sautéed the garlic about 40 seconds, then added the crumbled sausage.  I browned that for a few minutes and then added about half a box of sliced mushrooms (The Pink One and I are wild about mushrooms!) and some thyme. 

Added the pasta, stock and milk; once the pasta was pretty much done, I added S&P and grated a little fresh nutmeg in the sauce.  I realized too late that I should have done that earlier but, eh, no harm done.  

Wilted the spinach as directed and added the cheese and tomatoes.  I did pour off a bit of the liquid at the end; I didn’t measure and probably added too much in the first place.

Final assessment:  First, the kids actually ate it!…okay, so they may have picked out the pieces they didn’t like, but they did eat most of it!

Also, the flavors were great.  The (slightly overdone, but I know better for  next time) pasta, sauce, mushrooms, and spinach were mild and an ideal backdrop. The tomatoes were the perfectly light zing.  And the Graziano’s was a standout.  I will definitely make this again.

I loved the versatility of this and, since last night, have thought of about 10 other ways to make it.  Bacon instead of sausage; peas instead of spinach; steamed beans instead of spinach; evaporated milk instead of regular milk; whole wheat pasta; different cheese.  If I was inclined to dirty more than one pan, I would have done the garlic, sausage and mushrooms in a separate pan, then added a splash of wine to deglaze the pan, maybe some stock to sauce it all together and then dump that in the with the pasta.  It surely would up the flavor a few notches, which might also make it less palatable to the kids.

 I’m thrilled to have something new in the rotation!