Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It's not delivery...it's HOMEMADE!

I like to grill food. Shrimp, corn, steak, fish...it might be in my head, but something about grilled food screams summer and summer makes me happy. Almost anything you make in a skillet or in the oven works on the grill. So why not pizza? (Nothing against Pizza Hut, by the way...but why get delivery pizza when you can make one yourself in almost the same time it takes for one to show up at your door?)

Simply put, grilling pizza is fabulous. Our go-to favorite toppings are caramelized onions and crisp pancetta (an Italian pork product, similar to bacon but not smoky...look for it at the deli counter), but any toppings can work. Think of the grill as one of those fiery ovens in the really good pizza joints. It crisps the crust with a hint of char that you just can't get from the regular oven.

I've only made it once, so this is my attempt at explaining the technique. Experiment with your grill, as charcoal will probably produce a different result than the gas grill I used. And again, top it however you like, but if you enjoy salty pork and sweet onions, this combo is to die for.

Grilled Pancetta and Onion Pizza
serves 4 to 6
16 oz prepared pizza dough (Publix makes a great one -- ask for it in the bakery.)
2 good-sized sweet onions
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing
6 1/4-inch-thick slices of pancetta, diced
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups baby arugula, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat outdoor grill to medium-high heat. (I suppose an indoor grill would work, but it's just not quite the same...)

Divide dough in half and roll into thin circles (or as close to a circle as you can get). Brush each side with olive oil and set aside.

Slice onion into half-moons. Put 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet and set over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and stir often until onions are golden brown and very soft, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a smaller skillet over medium heat and add pancetta. Stir occasionally until crisp at the edges, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towel-lined plate.

When onions and pancetta are finished, carefully place dough on grill. After about a minute to a minute and a half (when air bubbles start to appear on the up-side), flip the dough. Remove after one minute. (You want this side to be a bit under-done so it won't burn when you put it back on.)

Off the grill, top each pizza with half of the onions, pancetta and cheese. If using a gas grill, turn off the flames and place pizzas back on grill. (If using a charcoal grill, move coals to one side and place pizza over the now cooler side of the grates or just finish in the oven so the crust doesn't burn.) Cover grill to finish cooking pizzas and to melt the cheese, about 3 to 4 minutes.

While pizza is finishing, toss arugula with lemon juice and remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. When pizza comes off the grill, top with arugula salad and serve.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Like Buttah

When I got to choose a special meal for my family birthday dinner, I thought about things I don't often make myself. I landed on the perfect celebratory, once-a-year kind of dinner: New Orleans-style Cajun barbeque shrimp. If you've never had it, trust me: you're missing out.

Shrimp (head-on, mais oui!) are slowly cooked in a bath of Cajun-spiced butter. Rumor has it, it was created at an Italian/Cajun restaurant called Pascal's Manale in New Orleans. Served with a hunk of fresh French bread and a simple green salad, it's one of the most decadent, delicious meals ever. And even though it seems rich, it's truly not too heavy.

Be ready to get messy. This isn't the meal for your finest linens. Spread some newspaper on the table and set out a roll of paper towels for napkins. Serve the shrimp in a big bowl with empty bowls for the discarded shells. Serve with a simple green salad, lots of French bread and cold beer or a crisp white wine, turn the music up, and enjoy.

Cajun Barbeque Shrimp
serves 6
4 pounds shrimp, heads* and shells on
1 pound butter
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
3 tablespoons black pepper (the stuff in the can is just fine here)
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon salt
Juice from 2 lemons

Rinse and dry shrimp and set aside. Combine butter and oil in a large saucepan or stockpot
over medium-low heat. When butter melts, add spices, Worcestershire and salt, and stir to combine.

Add shrimp. Toss to make sure shrimp are completely coated and cook until pink and firm. Off the heat, stir in lemon juice and serve.

*Though they're kind of hard to find, shrimp with the heads still on are crucial for the flavor of the dish. Also, whenever possible, I look for wild American shrimp. The flavor is incomparable.

Creamy Comfort

One of my favorite go-to comfort meals is pasta with tomatoes and sour cream. I think my mom created this dish out of empty-fridge/late-dinner frustration, but there's something about the combination of the creamy, lightly tangy sour cream and the freshness of tomatoes (especially delicious summertime tomatoes*) that just works. With a heavy dose of freshly grated Parmesan and a handful of fresh spinach wilted in, it could just be my perfect comfort supper.

Creamy Tomato Pasta

serves 2
1/2 pound dried short pasta (such as orzo, penne, rotini...)
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes*
1/3 cup sour cream (reduced fat works fine here)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 or 3 big handfuls of washed baby spinach, stems removed

Cook pasta according to package instructions. While pasta cooks, score the skin of the tomatoes with a paring knife in an X shape. Dunk tomatoes into the boiling pasta water for about 30 seconds or until skin starts peeling away from flesh. Remove with a slotted spoon and run under cool running water for a few seconds to cool.

Peel skin from tomatoes and cut in half. Discard seeds and excess liquid, then roughly chop. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix together sour cream and Parmesan. When pasta is al dente, drain and return to pot over very low heat. Add olive oil, stir, then add sour cream mixture. Toss in tomatoes and spinach and stir until everything is combined and the spinach is wilted.

This is best eaten on the couch in comfy clothes.

*You can use canned tomatoes, drained, when the tomatoes aren't in season but it's not quite the same. "Amarosa" tomatoes in the grocery store tend to be pretty good almost year round. They're pricey, but worth it.