At the beginning of last summer, we decided to abandon our patio as a dining room. We had the obligatory table and chairs outside and never ever sat there. Because the patio is right spanking next to our eat-in kitchen, it just always seemed so pointless to lug all of our food outside. And then the table was always dirty and covered with pollen — and well, I am lazy.
So we sold the table and chair set at our yard sale and bought an outdoor loveseat, two chairs with big ottomans, and a coffee table. And we threw down an outdoor rug and proceeded to spend the entire summer sitting on our patio. We would have a glass of wine while the kids played in the yard before dinner. After putting the two year old to bed, we would sit out there with our daughter and read mystery books. We had friends over and lots of impromptu, small parties. On several occasions, my husband and I sat out there after the kids were in bed and fell sound asleep.
We couldn’t wait to get our furniture back out this spring and start to enjoy it all over again. And guess what? We eat out there more now than ever before. The kids eat their lunch at the coffee table and we have relaxed dinners in our comfy chairs. It was all a matter of redefining our space and not feeling so bound by the rules. (“We have patio. Must buy table and chairs.”)
So our outdoor dining matches our new space — small plates of easy to eat things that are relaxed and fun. Grilled pizzas are one of our favorites. We usually do two pizzas — the first one with sauce and cheese (or tomatoes and basil once summer is in full swing) to please the kids and the second one with ingredients more suited for grown-ups. We cook on charcoal and have found that the best way to grill the pizzas is over indirect heat, with a brief stint over the coals if you want to crisp it up even more. If you have all of your ingredients ready to go, just bring them out on a tray and make the pizzas in stages. It’s great small party food. Let the kids run wild and eat as you go.
Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, and Brandied Figs
Serves 6 (makes 2 large pizzas)
Makes 2 lbs.
I like to make my own using the dough cycle of my breadmaker, but feel free to buy a ball of dough from your grocery store or local pizza shop. Here’s my recipe for the breadmaker (use your dough setting — which is one hour and thirty minutes on my machine). Just dump the following in and get the rest of your stuff ready while you wait. (BTW, this makes enough for two pizzas.)
2 cups of white whole wheat flour
2 cups of all purpose white flour
3/4 t. sea salt
2 t. active dry yeast (about one package)
1 3/8 cup water (room temperature or slightly warm)
3 T. olive oil
If you want to make the dough ahead of time, just put a bit of olive oil on it and cover it tightly in a bowl in the fridge.
This makes enough to top one large pizza. If you want to do both of your crusts with these ingredients (i.e. you don’t have picky kids who only want sauce and cheese), just double the following ingredients.
1/2 onion, sliced
1/3 cup Olive Oil (plus additional for sauteeing)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
1 small bunch of Asparagus, trimmed and chopped into one inch pieces
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, freshly grated (or other cheeses — Fontina and Camembert are great too.)
6 dried figs (or fresh if you have them), stemmed and chopped
Salt and Pepper
Fresh herbs, optional (basil, chives, etc.)
1. Caramelize onion. Here’s my quick method… Saute the onion over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until starting to brown. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water and scrape up any brown bits. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5-7 additional minutes uncovered until nicely caramelized and soft. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. Saute asparagus in a bit of olive oil until just slightly softened (they should still be a bit crunchy). Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Warm a bit of brandy in the microwave or on the stove (on a low power level) with the chopped dried figs. Let them sit in the warm brandy for 10-15 minutes until softened. Give them a quick rinse to remove the heavy alcohol flavor, pat dry, and set aside.
4. Make your seasoning oil by warming the 1/3 cup of olive oil over low heat until just warmed. Add chopped garlic, red pepper flakes to taste, and salt and pepper. Set aside.
The Pizza Grilling
1. Preheat your charcoal (indirect method — which means coals should be on the perimeter, not in the center) or gas grill to about 350 F.
2. Roll out half of your pizza dough (about a 1 pound dough ball) until it is very thin. I like to do this on a parchment lined jelly roll pan with a small wooden rolling pin (a clean bottle works too). It should roll out to about 10″x12″. (Rectangular shapes are easier for the grill.)
3. Brush a bit of olive oil on the crust. Put the oiled side down on the grill. Don’t worry about getting the dough on the grill — just lift it off the sheet pan and drape it down onto the grilling grate. It is pretty resilient.
4. Let cook 3-5 minutes until starting to crisp and brown slightly on the underside. Using tongs or a spatula, flip the pizza crust over.
5. Drizzle several tablespoons of the garlic/red pepper seasoning oil onto the crust.
6. Scatter the caramelized onion, sauteed asparagus, and chopped figs over the pizza crust. Cover with shredded cheese. Drizzle with additional seasoning oil if desired. Close or cover grill to help the cheese melt. Cook 2-3 more minutes, making sure underside does not get too brown. If you want it extra crispy, move the pizza over the coals for a minute or so.
7. When cheese is melted, use a big spatula to help you guide the pizza onto a tray. Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, and fresh chopped herbs if you like.