Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Pizzas

My first foray into grilled pizzas had it's ups and downs. After watching Micheal Chiarello easily slide his perfect pizza doughs on and off the grill grates, I thought 'I can do that, it doesn't look that hard'. Maybe someday I will learn that Mr. Chiarello tends to get me into trouble in the kitchen. (see the great gnocchi battle of 2008) Okay it wasn't all bad, and I think the next go around will be perfection, I just need to work out a few kinks.

The first dough to go onto the grill bubbled like crazy, and then once it was turned over the bubbles were so big, well, lets say they 'charred' (that's the grill-masters' way of saying it burned, without actually admitting fault). Everything seems to turn out better on the second try. They say you should always throw away your first crepe, your first pancake, but I didn't think I could spare an entire pizza dough the same way. So, I kept the 'charred' dough and went ahead. The second crust was beautiful, which is why I only took pictures of that one. Editing is GREAT.

Toppings are endless, and the method I used for making these allowed me to prepare all the topping ahead of time, and then just rewarm on the grill. One of the topping combinations was amazing, one of them not so much, but here is what I learned about making pizzas on the grill:

1. Do not use too high of heat, you will get crazy bubbles and burned edges. (if you are using charcoal I would recommend spreading one single layer of coals all over the bottom grate, and set your dampers so that you are over a medium heat)
2. Do not oil your dough too much, the heat will smoke the oil, turning your dough gray. This is NOT pretty. It won't ruin your pizza, but it will not enhance the flavor either.
3. Do not use a cheese that only tastes good when it is brown and bubbly. If you want brown and bubbly cheese, you may want to invest in a pizza stone so you can get your grill heat VERY high and not burn your dough (or finish it under your broiler). Hard cheeses and fresh mozzarella are good choices. Fontina....not so much (it kind of looked like snot, but more on that later).
4. Do grill toppings separately, this just adds to the deliciousness of the pizza.
5. Do not overload your pizzas with toppings, they will get very hard to maneuver, as the crust can be very fragile.
6. Use toppings that just need to be warmed briefly, in other words cook all your raw toppings ahead of time.
7. Use a sturdy dough recipe, one that calls for high gluten bread flour, or a similar additive.
8. Have fun with your flavor combinations, and don't be afraid to mess it up...maybe make some extra dough just in case though.

Pizza Dough
My notes in green

Smitten kitchen is one of my favorite food blogs, and I often turn to it to get great recipes, especially for the basics (bread dough, pasta, pizza etc.). If you haven't checked her out yet, do it, she has awesome recipes and great photography. This dough worked really well, as it wasn't too delicate to throw around on the grill.

1 1/2 cups flour - I used my typical All-Purpose with added Vital Wheat Gluten combination
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix all dry ingredients, including the yeast, in a large mixing bowl. You can also start this in the food processor with the dough blade if you wish. Add the water and olive oil and mix until it starts to form a ball. Turn the shaggy mess out onto a floured surface, and knead until everything combines into a nice clean ball, just a minute or two.

Lightly oil the mixing bowl -a cooking spray such as Pam works well for this- and place the dough in, turning it around a few times so all sides of the dough are oiled as well. Cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise for and hour or two, or until it has doubled in size.

Dump it out onto a well floured surface and gently press the air out of the dough. Fold the piece into a basic ball shape and let it sit under plastic wrap for another 20 minutes.

At this point, the dough is ready to be rolled out and grilled up. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out until it is about 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick.

Goat Cheese, Zucchini, and Prosciutto Pizza

1-2 medium zucchini or summer squash, sliced very thinly on a mandolin
1 package of prosciutto, cut into thin strips
1 4 oz. package of goat cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh minced thyme
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Pepita Pesto, Mushroom, and Fontina Pizza

About 3/4 cup peptia pesto (you can use any pesto, homemade or jarred)
1 package button mushrooms, sliced thinly
3/4 cup shredded fontina cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

While the dough was on its final 20-minute rise, I fired up the my trusty Weber. I tossed the zucchini and squash with some olive oil and salt and pepper, and grilled over high heat until just cooked through. This only takes a few minutes if the slices are very thin.

I also sauteed the prosciutto and the mushrooms separately until crisped and cooked through.

Mix the lemon juice, thyme, and goat cheese in a small bowl and set aside.

Lightly oil the pizza dough on one side, and moving gently and quickly, place the dough oiled-side down on the hot grates, and immediately oil the top side. It will probably start to bubble up and as soon as it starts to set, you can move it around a bit so that it doesn't burn in any spot.
Flip the dough over once the first side is nice and brown. This should only take 3-4 minutes on each side until the dough is fully cooked. (I obviously made 2 doughs, so I repeated this process)

I brought the doughs inside to where all my ingredients were ready and waiting to be assembled.
On the first pizza, I spread the goat cheese mixture thinly all over the crust, laid on the grilled zucchini strips and the prosciutto, and sprinkled the top with Parmesan cheese.

Onto the second pizza went the pesto, then the mushrooms, the fontina, and lastly the Parmesan.
Each of these pizzas went back onto the covered grill over low heat until all the ingredients were heated up and the cheese was melted, about 10 minutes.

The goat cheese pizza was divine. It was salty, fresh, and creamy. I would make it again as-is in a heartbeat. The pesto/mushroom pizza I would make again, but with many changes. I would add another component, something a bit sweet to offset the bitter pesto. I would also finish it under the broiler to get the cheese all brown and bubbly, instead of greasy and gooey like it turned out.
There were many lessons learned about pizzas making, and now that it is turning into autumn, I am looking forward to testing out my new skills with the coming fall produce.

Happy first day of Fall, may your week be filled with changing leaves, pumpkins, and cinnamon-flavored everything.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Until we meet again, my dear asparagus.

It feels good to be back. As you know I was recently laid off from my 9-5, and I thought that instead of lounging around in my PJ's here, it would be a great time to go spend some quality time with my family up in Minnesota. It was a week full of good friends, great food, and a lot of relaxation. There were many great meals, and lots of wonderful wine, but the company and support I received from my friends and family was just what I needed to recharge. The trip also left me quite a bit behind on my blog, and now its time to play catch up!

After making a big vat of hummus one weekend, I found myself with a whole tub of tahini leftover. I have never cooked with tahini before besides using it in hummus, so I went to Epicurious to see if they had any suggestions. There, I found a recipe for Roast chicken with asparagus and tahini sauce. At the time I made this, the asparagus season was waning, so it seemed like the perfect excuse to grab some of the last little sprigs of the summer.

This dish was bright and creamy, and the preparation for the chicken was something I will definitely be applying to other chicken dishes. It was easy and fast, great for a weeknight meal if you are one of those people who still have 9-5 jobs :-).

Roast Chicken with Asparagus and Tahini Sauce
Adapted from Epicurious.com
(my notes in green)


2 lbs. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-3 inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves - I used two whole skinless boneless chicken breasts, because that was what was on sale
1/3 cup tahini paste
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice - I used lime juice instead
1 teaspoon sugar
1 garlic glove minced - I used two because I LOVE garlic, just be sure to mince it very very finely

Preheat oven to 450, with the racks in the middle and lower third of the oven.

Toss the asparagus with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet, or glass baking dish and set aside.

Pat chicken dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. (I used my 13-inch All-Clad French Skillet, which I love...some would say I love this pan an abnormal amount, but I digress)

When the oil is hot, place the chicken in carefully and brown on both sides, about 3-5 minutes on each side, depending on how large your breasts are. (I am still talking chicken here. Sorry I am still a ten year old inside and cant resist a boob joke) Once the chicken is browned, place in the oven on the top rack and roast until cooked through.

If you are using smaller breast halves, place the asparagus in the oven at the same time as the chicken, it should take about 10 minutes to roast the asparagus and 5-10 minutes for the chicken. If you are using very large whole breasts, I would wait 5-10 minutes before placing the asparagus in, as the chicken will take longer, about 15-20 minutes. Remember the chicken can always rest for a while under tin foil if the asparagus is not done in time.

While the chicken and asparagus roast, combine the tahini, water, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, lime juice in a bowl and whisk together. The recipe calls for using a blender, but I think as long as you mince the garlic fine enough, it shouldn't be necessary.

Once everything is cooked, plate and drizzle the tahini sauce over the top. I served mine on top of some whole wheat pasta, but that is entirely optional.

Since it is no longer asparagus season, this dish would be great with any other roasted veggie, such as brussels sprouts or even carrots. Enjoy!

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