It's officially summer here in Maine and I am celebrating! After a long, drawn out winter, the sun is out and the temps have made our pond feel like a true gift from the Gods. With the heat comes a need to move the family cooking operation outdoors. Standing inside, directly in front of the oven is no fun task, especially when sweat drips from your brow as you try to stay cool with a frosty beverage.
A few years ago I was gifted my first propane grill and although I prefer to cook with wood, it is a real treat to have a grill just steps outside my door. Which brings forth a special need to celebrate, especially after the brutal winter we endured just months ago. With longer days comes the heat and spending hours inside the kitchen is never really enjoyable. So, I strive to cook more outdoors, using my propane grill, smoker, and fire pit to produce meals for myself and my family.
My oldest son Wilder has been begging me for pizza. For the past few weeks now, he will enthusiastically call out his favorite toppings, hoping I'll take the bait and whip up a few batches of pies. Well, this kid lucked out because I happen to have extra pizza dough leftover from my weekend catering gig. As temps rose into the 80's yesterday, I certainly did not want to crank up my oven to 400°F, so the grill seemed like the perfect balance. I cranked it up, placed my stone on top of the grates and let it heat up.
How You Like Your Pie?
Pizza is one of those foods that calls on personal preference. Some like thin crust, some like fluffy. Others want lots of toppings, while some prefer just a hint of sauce and cheese. I stick to my New Haven roots and most enjoy a crust that is thin and crisp, with a few burnt edges. Although my favorite pizza is the white clam from Pepe's, I live it to them to do it right and never try to duplicate their mastery.
During my last year of culinary school, I apprenticed under chef Todd English at his two restaurants Olives and Figs. Olives is where I spent most of my time, but was able to sneak in a few days a week over at his rustic Italian pizza and pasta eatery on Bunker Hill in Boston. I still remember the sticky pizza dough getting worked on the big wooden table. His motto was "Never trust a round pizza". The shape perfectly fit the bottom of a half sheet pan and was cut into long strips, not the classic triangle you see from most round pies. His toppings were different then what I as use to, but worked perfectly. Gone were the classic toppings of sausage, peppers, and pepperoni. Instead, potatoes, figs, balsamic glaze, and prosciutto hit the dough with near perfection. So, when I make pizza, I stick to what I love and his recipe book still gets used the most in my kitchen. You can find the recipe HERE.
Always on the Hunt
Camille needed to get some work done on her car yesterday, so I followed her to the rural home where our mechanic lived and worked. In the afternoon, we headed back to pick up the car. As I was driving out, I kept my eyes open wide as I creeped along the dirt road. As I was just about to hit the concrete I noticed a large white flush out of the corner of my eye and quickly stopped the car. I got closer to realize it was a beautiful oyster mushroom specimen and future pizza topping! I made my farm stand rounds and picked up some beautiful asparagus from my friends over at Peacemeal Farm. Suddenly pizza night was all coming together. Rather than cook up a sauce, I decided to keep it light and use a lovely herb oil that I had leftover from the weekend gig as well. Fresh ricotta in the fridge would serve as the cheese and some sautéed spinach would round out the ingredient list.
Get it HOT!
The trick to a good pizza is working with a hot oven, or in this case, a hot grill. I cranked up all 3 burners and set the stone on top, closed the lid, and kicked back. I dusted my peel with cornmeal and rolled out the dough by hand, applied the toppings, and set it in the grill with the lid closed. Within 10 minutes, I had a nice brown crust, melty toppings, and an aroma to live for!
I ended up making 4 pies with ease and not steamy hot kitchen to bare as I prepared dinner. A cold beer went along nicely with the crisp crust and springy toppings. Although I still dream about building a cob oven, my grill is now the perfect match for perfect pizza. Happy Summer Solstice!